- Neil Tardy, Fantasy Basketball
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Ours is becoming a campaign society. President Barack Obama hasn't been in office a week, but by the time he's halfway through his term, we'll be kicking off the 2012 presidential election campaign. The thing is, though, campaigns aren't just political anymore. They now are the norm in college football, where top players like Colt McCoy have their own Heisman Trophy campaign managers.
And now, the NBA has its campaign season. Minnesota is pulling out all the stops to get Al Jefferson on the Western Conference All-Star roster. Apparently inspired by Portland's iRoy campaign for Brandon Roy in 2008, the Timberwolves sent Western Conference coaches, who vote on the reserves, a GPS device with a Jefferson highlight video.
My first reaction is that while Big Al is a fantasy stud, he doesn't play enough defense to be an NBA All-Star. My second thought is that maybe the Forecaster should adopt a campaign mentality. I mean, fantasy sports articles are mostly about pitching players who can help your team. Why not go all out? For instance, players cited in this column include Jason Thompson and Keyon Dooling. Let's not just recommend these fellas -- let's market them.
The Thompson campaign offers an obvious tie-in. The rookie's Kings teammates recently hazed him by dumping garbage bags full of popcorn in his pricey ride. (The video is all over YouTube, if you're so inclined.) So, along with a glossy media kit, let's support Thompson's fantasy candidacy with popcorn balls. Maybe sprinkle them with that orange cheese dust so they look more like little basketballs. I know, I should think bigger -- like a fancy new microwave with a bunch of bags of unpopped kernels.
Dooling, meanwhile, has had a decent run behind Devin Harris, who was injured, came back and now is hurt again. So the centerpiece of the Dooling campaign could be a lifesaver, a lifeboat or a life insurance policy.
OK, I'll leave this PR stuff to the pros. On with the Forecaster.
Check the grid for the Week 14 schedule of each NBA team. Teams with the most games in the upcoming week are listed first.
Cleveland Cavaliers (SAC, @ORL, LAC, @DET): Last week, I surmised that Daniel Gibson might have the most to gain from Delonte West's injury. However, it's been Sasha Pavlovic and Wally Szczerbiak who have stepped up. In three starts for West, Pavlovic is averaging 12.3 points, 2.0 3-pointers and 1.3 steals, while Szczerbiak is averaging 10.0 points, 2.3 3s and 6.0 rebounds. For leagues with 12 or more teams, Pavlovic, Szczberiak and Gibson all are possibilities if you need 3s, but this schedule doesn't offer much. Those pranking Kings might be the NBA's worst defensive team, but keep in mind that Pavlovic is starting because of his defense. So against Sacramento, expect him to be occupied with Kevin Martin. As for the Cavs' other Week 14 opposition, Pistons and Magic opponents score the fewest treys, while Clippers opponents score the ninth-fewest.
Milwaukee Bucks (MIN, @IND, @TOR, ATL): No team has had a more fantasy-friendly January schedule than Milwaukee. The month is almost up, so enjoy what's left. The Raptors, Hawks and Pacers all are being outrebounded, so the 53 percent unrostered Charlie Villanueva, who has had at least 20 points and 10 rebounds in three of his past four games, should stay hot. Luke Ridnour is in for a good week because Raptors opponents have the third-most assists, while Pacers opponents have the sixth-most steals. Toronto's awful perimeter defense -- Raptors opponents get the third-most 3s -- is a point in Michael Redd's favor. Plus, Raptors, Pacers and Timberwolves opponents all shoot at least 45.8 percent.
Portland Trail Blazers (@LAC, CHA, Utah): Saying Greg Oden has been in some foul trouble is like saying Bernie Madoff has taken a few liberties with other people's money. But Oden had his best game this week -- 24 points, 15 boards -- against the Andrew Bogut-less Bucks. If Marcus Camby can't make it back (he is expected to play Friday, though), the Clippers become a very attractive matchup for Oden. Otherwise, with Emeka Okafor and Paul Millsap ahead, Oden will be challenged to stay in games. With Steve Blake probably out another week, Sergio Rodriguez is a cheap source of assists in deep leagues. But while Clippers opponents get the fifth-most dimes, Jazz and Bobcats opponents get the fifth- and seventh-fewest, respectively.
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 (@NY, PHI, GS): Given Tracy McGrady's and Ron Artest's ongoing health issues, Alston is heating up at a good time. The 37 percent shooter went 23-for-45 against the Heat, Nuggets and Jazz. (Yes, even with this hot streak, Alston is up to 37 percent from the field.) T-Mac and/or Artest could play sometime next week, but you see Mike D'Antoni's and Don Nelson's teams on the schedule. Plus, Sixers opponents are above average in assists and 3s. You might as well play the hot hand.
Raja Bell, SG, Bobcats (@LAL, @POR, @DEN): Larry Brown wanted Bell, and -- after being slowed by a groin problem -- Bell came through with back-to-back 25-point performances versus the Spurs and Grizzlies this week. Each of Charlotte's Week 14 opponents is somewhat susceptible to the 3 -- Lakers and Nuggets opponents make lots of 3s but shoot low percentages, while Blazers opponents get fewer 3s but shoot high percentages. Of course, Bell also must contend with Kobe Bryant and, I imagine, Roy on the defensive end. A tough read here.
Andray Blatche, PF/C, Wizards (PHO, @MIA, @PHI, LAC): As a starter, the 22-year-old is averaging 11.4 points, 6.2 boards, 0.8 steals and 1.1 blocks with 49.0 percent shooting. So he's not suitable for every league, but at 89 percent availability, Blatche clearly is undervalued. This is a good schedule for him, given Miami's trouble with bigs and the prospect of Shaquille O'Neal sitting out in a back-to-back situation. Also, Clippers opponents get the third-most blocks.
Keyon Dooling, PG, Nets (@OKC, TOR, @ATL, @PHI): This month, Dooling is averaging 12.2 points, 4.9 assists, 1.8 3s and a Jose Calderon-esque 1.7 turnovers. Unfortunately, he injured his ankle against the Hornets on Wednesday and is iffy for the Friday tilt at San Antonio. For the Nets, what's really unfortunate is that Devin Harris hurt his ribs in the same game. See which Nets point guard plays this weekend (New Jersey is at Memphis on Saturday). If Harris doesn't and Dooling does, Dooling looks pretty good for the coming week. In addition to drilling them from downtown, Raptors opponents get the third-most assists, while Sixers opponents are eighth in this category. Thunder opponents, meanwhile, get the fourth-most steals.
Danilo Gallinari, SF, Knicks (HOU, ATL, @IND): Now that he's playing, the rookie who was booed on draft night suddenly is a fan favorite at the Garden. Whether he becomes a fantasy favorite is another matter. He's had only 50 minutes of playing time over the past three games, but D'Antoni has said he'd like Gallinari to play 25 minutes a night eventually. See how his perimeter shooting holds up this week, particularly against the Rockets. Houston opponents register the third-fewest buckets from beyond the arc.
DeAndre Jordan, PF/C, Clippers (POR, CHI, @CLE, @WAS): A week from now, the Clippers could have Marcus Camby and Zach Randolph back, with Jordan watching from the sideline. Still, as an emergency starter this week, the rookie has been a revelation. After getting eight points, 10 boards and six blocks versus Minnesota, the rookie went for 23 points (on 11-of-12 shooting), 12 rebounds and four rejections against the Lakers. As you should know, the Bulls and Wizards struggle against bigs. Deep-leaguers should check Camby's status and watch for updates on Randolph this weekend. If Randolph can't go, minutes should be there for Jordan, at least for another week.
Jason Thompson, PF, Kings (@CLE, @BOS, CHI, OKC): Thompson finally supplanted Mikki Moore in Sacremento's starting lineup. Save for his 22-point, 11-rebound outburst against the undermanned Bucks, Thompson's recent play has been spotty. But such is life for an NBA rookie. As long as he keeps starting, Thompson -- who is available in 93 percent of leagues -- is as good a free-agent get as there is at the moment. Of course, having to deal with the Cavs and Celtics could make this a tough week.
Lou Williams, PG, 76ers (@NO, @HOU, WAS, NJ): It's understandable that Williams is 92 percent unowned. His line reads like a poor man's Ben Gordon: averages of 14.6 points and 1.5 3s per game and 42.1 percent shooting from the field in January. But with the Sixers taking more 3s under new coach Tony DiLeo, this schedule -- Houston notwithstanding -- makes Williams an excellent play. Wizards and Nets opponents are 1-2 in 3s made, while Hornets opponents sink the eighth-most treys. Also note that Williams is a decent source of dimes, as he's averaging 4.5 assists this month. Washington and New Jersey opponents are second and sixth, respectively, in assists.
Neil Tardy is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
Neil Tardy takes a look at the upcoming NBA schedule and highlights teams and players with favorable matchups.