- Neil Tardy, Fantasy Basketball
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In fantasy, the best teams don't always make the best stories. Consider the defending champs. Kevin Garnett is no longer a top-5 player, but he still helps you big-time in about a half-dozen categories. Beyond KG, Paul Pierce is a scoring machine, Ray Allen rains 3-pointers from the rafters and Rajon Rondo gets better by the week (except from the line).
But then, you knew all this, didn't you?
For this reason, Boston players are infrequently mentioned in this space. Now, Chicago, that's a team to talk about. You might remember the Bulls from back in the day, when they had that Jordan fellow and were unfathomably good. More recently -- very recently -- you might recall that I mentioned the Bulls in last week's Forecaster. What can I say? Between the young talent, the injuries and the occasional player-coach spats, this is an interesting team to write about.
Another happening squad by fantasy standards is that new entry from the Sooner State. Yes, there's more about the Thunder this week, too. Read on.
Check the grid for Week 11 schedules of each NBA team. Teams with the most games in the upcoming week are listed first.
Chicago Bulls (SAC, WAS, OKC): Coach Vinny Del Negro got into it this week with Larry Hughes, Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas, something about the players violating a team rule by chowing down before a game. I don't think the incident has anything to do with Thomas' declining minutes, because Hughes (who has been unhappy coming off the bench) and Noah both played plenty in Chicago's embarrassing home-court loss to Orlando on New Year's Eve. While I still believe in Thomas, as the keeper of the Forecaster, I want to point you to Hughes. That's because this three-game set should be awesome for somebody besides Ben Gordon. The Kings, Thunder and Wizards are all in the bottom 5 in opponents' shooting percentage. Kings and Thunder opponents average better than eight steals, which is another good reason to slip the 91 percent-unowned Hughes into your lineup. As for Noah, who's coming off consecutive games of 30-plus minutes (with a total of 18 boards and 5 blocks), he's a reasonable play in deep leagues (at least 12 teams), with the Kings and Wizards among the worst teams in rebound differential.
Milwaukee Bucks (TOR, PHI, NJ, @MIN): The Luke Ridnour bandwagon is starting to roll, but he's still a free agent in 88 percent of ESPN.com leagues. With Raptors, 76ers and Nets opponents all in the top third in assists, this should be another nice week for him. In the right league, I might also look to Charlie Bell as a fill-in, with the Raptors and Nets being the two worst teams in 3-point defense.
Oklahoma City Thunder (NY, @MIN, HOU, @CHI): The Knicks alone make this a favorable schedule for the still-57 percent-unowned Russell Westbrook. New York opponents are first in points scored, first in field goal percentage, fifth in steals and sixth in assists. But I have another reason for bringing the Thunder back this week, and it has nothing to do with schedules. It's to remind you that the recently signed Nenad Krstic should debut with Oklahoma City in the next couple of weeks. Two seasons ago, the 7-footer was averaging 16.4 points and 6.8 boards for the Nets when he went down with an ACL injury. Krstic, who was playing in Russia when the Thunder signed him to an offer sheet, figures to be Oklahoma City's starting center by the end of January. He's far from an elite center for fantasy, but Krstic is a free-agent bargain who has yet to be picked up in 99 percent of ESPN.com leagues.
Washington Wizards (@ORL, TOR, @CHI, CHA): Andray Blatche and Mike James remain two seriously underowned players. Blatche, a free agent in 92 percent of leagues, has scored in double figures in 12 of 19 games since Ed Tapscott took over coaching duties. With each of the Wizards' Week 11 opponents getting outboarded (the Raptors are 28th in rebound differential), this is a good week to add Blatche. The schedule isn't as favorable for the 96 percent-unowned James, who's averaging 15.1 points, 4.1 assists, 1.8 3s and 1.3 steals as a starter. Still, Raptors opponents are second in 3s and fourth in assists.
Some quick tips for owners in daily leagues. Recommendations -- start, sit or add -- are made for specific days of the coming week, based on the schedule.
Rafer Alston, PG, Rockets (@PHI, @BOS, @OKC, NY): Alston's 36.0 shooting percentage kills in fantasy, but this week doesn't look lethal. Thunder and Knicks opponents are third and first, respectively, in shooting percentage, and 76ers, Thunder and Knicks opponents are in the top third in assists. And with Tracy McGrady not playing in back-to-backs (these four games come in five nights), Houston has a need for additional offense.
Rasual Butler, SG/SF, Hornets (@LAL, @Utah, LAC): In one of my less prescient moments, I recently speculated that Butler could lose his starting spot to Morris Peterson. Byron Scott obviously sees something in Butler, and the 29-year-old has been rewarding his coach's faith by averaging 12.0 points and 2.3 3s in his past nine games. His success from downtown makes Butler relevant in deep leagues, especially if you have the flexibility to spot-start him. Lakers opponents are fifth in 3s, but Jazz and Clippers opponents are both below average in this regard.
Jared Jeffries, SF, Knicks (@OKC, @DAL, @HOU): What color is the sky in Mike D'Antoni's world, anyway? Jeffries has started at center, replacing Al Harrington, the past two games, and the 27-year-old has logged 30-plus minutes in three straight. You'd probably have to be in a league of at least 14 teams to care about Jeffries, but if you're streaming players, he's a decent spot-start against the Thunder. Oklahoma City opponents are seventh in steals. Jeffries, with this amount of playing time, could be worth around 1.5 steals per game.
Sasha Vujacic, SG, Lakers (NO, @GS, IND, MIA): Here's another spot-play possibility for canyon-deep leagues. With Jordan Farmar shelved, Vujacic put up season highs in points (17), 3s (4) and minutes (31) versus Golden State on Dec. 28. Sure, that was the Warriors, but here they come again in Week 11. This week, the Lakers also draw the Hornets and Heat, who allow around seven treys a night.
Hakim Warrick, PF, Grizzlies (MIN, @NJ, @TOR): With his inconsistency on the boards, Warrick has never gotten steady minutes, but the 26-year-old is on a pretty good roll at the moment (17.5 points on 52.2 percent shooting in his past six games). With Wolves, Nets and Raptors opponents in the top third in field goal percentage, Warrick should keep it going.
C.J. Watson, PG, Warriors (@Utah, LAL, @POR, IND): OK, Don Nelson is a tougher read than Herman Melville and Phil Hellmuth combined. But don't take it out on Watson. At least until Monta Ellis returns, Watson should get consistent minutes, and he's starting to find his outside shot. The 24-year-old is averaging 2.4 3s in his past five. This shapes up as a decent week for Watson, a free agent in 99 percent of ESPN.com leagues. The Lakers, as noted, don't defend the 3 well. Same goes for the Blazers. Portland opponents have the fifth-best percentage from beyond the arc.
Delonte West, PG/SG, Cavaliers (CHA, BOS): West is one of the most-added players in ESPN.com leagues. That's fine, since he's averaging 17.1 points and 2.1 3s in his past seven games, but the schedule would have you hold off on putting him in your lineup, with the Cavs playing just twice in Week 11. In a daily-lineup league though, West might make sense on a busy Wednesday, since Bobcats opponents sink seven 3s per game.
Neil Tardy is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.