- Seth Landman, Fantasy Basketball
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However, the Grizzlies happen to have a player who has been making the leap from good to great over the past couple of weeks, and it's time we all noticed. Rudy Gay's average draft position in ESPN fantasy live drafts was 76, just behind such fantasy luminaries as Andrea Bargnani, Corey Maggette, and Mike Bibby. But wait! Over his past 10 games, young Rudy is averaging some absolutely all-star-worthy numbers. In just a shade under 40 minutes per game, he's putting up 23 points on 50 percent shooting. He's throwing in seven boards, a couple of assists, and more than a block and a steal per game. His numbers for the season have him at No. 26 on ESPN's Player Rater, a couple spots ahead of Paul Pierce and Amare Stoudemire.
There were some legitimate questions about Rudy Gay's drive to be a great player in the NBA when he was drafted, but he seems to be answering them emphatically. If you got him in the middle rounds of your draft this year, congrats! It's never happening again.
Besides Gay's continuing dominance of the association, what else can we expect this week? Read on to find out. Happy holidays!
On Tap (schedules through Dec. 30)
Teams with four games
Boston Celtics (@ SAC, @SEA, @ Utah, @ LAL)
Lineup Locks: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen
Outlook: The Celtics face their first Western Conference road trip of the season, and it'll be interesting to see how they respond to extended time away from Boston. Even so, all four defenses they'll face are in the bottom half of the league in points per game allowed, so feel free to start Rajon Rondo for assists and steals, and James Posey and Eddie House for 3-pointers.
Miami Heat (@ CLE, @ PHI, ORL, @ WAS)
Lineup Locks: Dwyane Wade, Udonis Haslem, Ricky Davis
Outlook: It should be a good week for the Miami point guard, but they don't seem to really have one at the moment. Still, point guard is probably the weakest position for every defense Miami faces this week. With Chris Quinn day-to-day with a sprained ankle, I'm making the case that you should start Jason Williams. Assists are always at a premium, and he can get them and hit 3s. He'll kill you with his 39 percent shooting, but if ever there is a week to start him, it's this one.
Teams with three games
Charlotte Bobcats (WAS, NO, @ CHI)
Lineup Locks: Gerald Wallace, Raymond Felton, Emeka Okafor, Jason Richardson
Outlook: Nazr Mohammed looked great in two consecutive starts against Utah and New York. He averaged 18.5 points and 11 rebounds while shooting a combined 15-of-24 from the floor. This Bobcats team was just waiting for someone to come in be the fifth best guy on the team, and Mohammed seems like a great fit. I'd start him this week, but all three of these teams outrebound their opponents and play pretty good frontcourt defense. I'd expect something along the lines of 11 points, eight rebounds, and 50 percent shooting for the week.
Chicago Bulls (@ SA, MIL, @ NY)
Lineup Locks: Luol Deng, Ben Gordon, Andres Nocioni
Outlook: I know Kirk Hinrich has been terrible, but he's been playing a little better as of late, and with Tony Parker slightly hobbled, no one he faces this week is going to be a too tough for him to matchup with. I'd start him with confidence and hope he continues turning his season around.
Denver Nuggets (MIL, @ GS, GS)
Lineup Locks: Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony
Outlook: Marcus Camby and Kenyon Martin are both automatic starts right now when they are healthy, but they are both questionable for Sunday's (the 23rd) game against the Raptors and I want to see if they play before I plug them into my lineup for this upcoming week. Having said that, this week's schedule is very fantasy-friendly for the Nuggets; the more games against the Warriors, the best for your fantasy team. You should start Anthony Carter, and monitor Chucky Atkins' minutes as well. He'll eventually replace Carter as the starter at the point, but it might not happen yet for this week.
Detroit Pistons (@ NJ, IND, @ IND)
Lineup Locks: Rasheed Wallace, Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Antonio McDyess
Outlook: For now, everyone is healthy, which means not enough playing time for Jason Maxiell and Arron Afflalo.
Golden State Warriors (MIN, DEN, @ DEN)
Lineup Locks: Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson, Monta Ellis, Andris Biedrins, Al Harrington
Outlook: The Warriors won't be facing a ton of stingy defense this week; Minnesota and Denver will give up a ton of points and will probably be willing to run with Golden State. You could look at starting Kelenna Azubuike and Matt Barnes because the matchups are favorable, but they've both been a bit too inconsistent as of late for me to feel comfortable committing to them, personally.
Memphis Grizzlies (NO, HOU, @ SA)
Lineup Locks: Rudy Gay, Pau Gasol, Mike Miller
Outlook: In his first game back from injury (sooner than people thought), Gasol put up 10 points and 10 rebounds and blocked a shot in a terrible blowout loss to the Pistons. The Grizzlies have a pretty rough schedule this week, going up against three stellar defenses, but Gasol is too good to keep on the bench if he's going to play, and it appears he's going to give playing a shot.
Milwaukee Bucks (@ DEN, @ CHI, NJ)
Lineup Locks: Mo Williams, Michael Redd, Andrew Bogut
Outlook: Over his past five games, Yi Jianlian has averaged 14 points and seven rebounds while shooting 55 percent from the field. I'd keep leaning on him, as he only seems to continue improving.
Minnesota Timberwolves (@ GS, @ POR, @ SEA)
Lineup Locks: Al Jefferson
Outlook: I can't believe I'm writing this, but you can go ahead and start Sebastian Telfair this week. Anyone can put up numbers against the Warriors, and point guards have been especially productive against Portland and Seattle.
New Jersey Nets (DET, WAS, @ MIL)
Lineup Locks: Richard Jefferson, Jason Kidd, Vince Carter
Outlook: Coach Lawrence Frank is experimenting with Sean Williams and Josh Boone along the front line in place of Jason Collins and Jamal Magloire. I'd sit Boone, as he'll probably be matched up with Rasheed Wallace, Brendan Haywood, and Andrew Bogut, but I think it's worth starting Williams, who is averaging 2.1 blocks per game for the season and 3.3 blocks per game as starter.
New Orleans Hornets (@ MEM, @ CHA, CLE)
Lineup Locks: Chris Paul, David West, Tyson Chandler
Outlook: Peja Stojakovic is still nursing an injury, and while it's possible he'll play, I wouldn't start him. All three of these teams are in the top half of the league in opponent's 3-point shooting percentage.
Orlando Magic (NY, @ MIA, CHI)
Lineup Locks: Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu, Jameer Nelson
Outlook: This week you can start Keith Bogans as well. The Knicks, Heat, and Bulls all allow teams to shoot better than 36 percent from behind the arc, and 170 of Bogans' 240 field goal attempts this year have been 3s. That sounds like a perfect storm to me.
Philadelphia 76ers (MIA, @ SAC, @ POR)
Lineup Locks: Andre Iguodala, Andre Miller, Samuel Dalembert
Outlook: Miller has been playing terrific ball lately; he's averaging 17 points and eight assists on 51 percent shooting in the month of December. He's playing like an elite point guard right now, which means Philly should be able to get a lot for him when they finally trade him away. Even though you love him, keep Louis Williams on the pine this week; he's day-to-day with a fractured big toe.
Portland Trail Blazers (SEA, MIN, PHI)
Lineup Locks: Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge
Outlook: The Blazers have won 10 straight and they should be making it 13 this week. I'd definitely start Travis Outlaw, who has blocked a shot and scored in double-digits in six straight games (in the one he missed he had eight points and three blocks against the Hornets).
Sacramento Kings (BOS, PHI, PHO)
Lineup Locks: Ron Artest, John Salmons
Outlook: The three home games are nice, but I don't like Brad Miller this week; he faces tough matchups in Kevin Garnett and Samuel Dalembert, and he doesn't really have the speed to keep up with Phoenix.
San Antonio Spurs (CHI, TOR, MEM)
Lineup Locks: Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker
Outlook: My only pause here is that Parker is returning from injury, but three home games against mediocre competition should be just thing to help him get his feet wet.
Seattle SuperSonics (@ POR, BOS, MIN)
Lineup Locks: None
Outlook: Just because he's the one guy on the team worth starting this week doesn't make Kevin Durant a lock to play well. In fact, I think he'll have a very, very tough night against Kevin Garnett, James Posey, and the rest of the Celtics' defense. But the matchups with Portland and Minnesota look good for both Durant and Chris Wilcox (neither team defends bigs very well), and so I'd start them both this week, albeit with a tinge of reluctance.
Utah Jazz (DAL, @ LAL, BOS)
Lineup Locks: Carlos Boozer, Deron Williams, Andrei Kirilenko
Outlook: This is a tough week for Utah; they're only 2-8 in their past 10 and they will be underdogs in all three games. Ronnie Brewer continues to fly under the radar although he's putting up some spectacular fantasy numbers, especially in steals and FG%. Still, I can't justify playing him in a week where he's going to have to go up against Ray Allen, Kobe Bryant, and Jerry Stackhouse/Josh Howard and face two of the best defenses in the league in Dallas and Boston.
Washington Wizards (@ CHA, @ NJ, MIA)
Lineup Locks: Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler
Outlook: You can absolutely start Brendan Haywood this week, as Charlotte, New Jersey, and Miami have all been shredded by opposing centers this year. Yes, Charlotte has Nazr Mohammed now to take up space in the middle, but I still think Haywood should be able to put up some monster rebounding games, as Charlotte and Miami are both near the bottom of the league in rebounding differential and New Jersey's best guy on the boards is their point guard.
Teams with two games
Atlanta Hawks (IND, @ DAL)
Lineup Locks: Joe Johnson, Josh Smith
Outlook: Most weeks, I'd have Al Horford and Marvin Williams as locks, but neither of these games are favorable to either of these guys. Horford will be dealing with Jermaine O'Neal (who is still a great defender) and the tough Dallas defense, and Williams will probably be covered by Danny Granger and Josh Howard.
Houston Rockets (@ MEM, TOR)
Lineup Locks: Yao Ming
Outlook: Besides Yao, everyone is a questionable play for the Rockets this week. It's looking like Tracy McGrady could miss a few games, and though it is still possible he'll play, it's likely he'll be ineffective if he does. I'd sit him; it's only two games. You may want to consider Bonzi Wells, who immediately becomes Houston's No. 2 scoring option when McGrady misses time. If you need 3s, you can start Luther Head and Shane Battier. Rafer Alston has been playing pretty well as of late, and should be a good start against both Memphis and Toronto, neither of whom have much defensive presence at the point.
Los Angeles Clippers (PHO, @ PHO)
Lineup Locks: Chris Kaman, Corey Maggette
Outlook: I would never call Tim Thomas a "lock," but if he's on your roster, you need to play him during a week in which all he had to do is play a home-and-home against his old team. He should have plenty of chances to shoot 3s against the Suns, who allow teams to shoot 36.4 percent from behind the arc. For the same reason, Cuttino Mobley's a good start this week as well, even if it's only for two games.
New York Knicks (@ ORL, CHI)
Lineup Locks: Jamal Crawford
Outlook: Normally I'd say you have to start Zach Randolph, but in Orlando and against Chicago he will be going up against teams that absolutely shut down power forwards. Crawford, on the other hand, should be the Knicks main scoring option in both these games, if you can stomach the 39.9 percent shooting and the 2.8 turnovers per game.
Toronto Raptors (@ SA, @ HOU)
Lineup Locks: Chris Bosh, Jose Calderon
Outlook: Calderon is a lock for good now, with T.J. Ford out indefinitely. For the month of December he averaged an obscenely good 8.9 assists to only 1.3 turnovers. Sit everyone else; the Spurs and the Rockets are not ideal fantasy opponents, especially when you have no easy games to pad the stats.
Seth Landman previews the week ahead for each NBA team and notes that the Celtics have four games despite the short week.