- Neil Tardy, Fantasy Basketball
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That's a nice trio the Thunder have working in Oklahoma City. And, of course, the trio I'm talking about is Thabo Sefolosha, Nenad Krstic and Nick Collison. With Kevin Durant and Jeff Green sidelined, these players -- Sefolosha and Krstic, in particular -- are making themselves fantasy factors in deeper leagues. More on the Thunder in a bit.
March represents the dog days of the NBA season. The top teams already have an eye on the postseason, while a few middling teams are vying for playoff position. Then there are the dregs, the lottery-bound clubs. At this time of the season, bad teams have two ways to go. They can continue to play hard, like the Thunder, who've won three straight without Durant, or they can succumb to adversity and pack it in.
For an example of the latter, there's the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Wolves, of course, have an excuse for their recent wretched play. As much as Al Jefferson meant to your fantasy team, he was everything to Minnesota. Big Al was the go-to guy offensively, and the team's only NBA-caliber defender in the lane. The Wolves are 1-9 without Big Al, and now it's turned ugly. In their past five losses, they've allowed 112.6 points. In four of those defeats, the opposition shot at least 50 percent from the field. In the other game, Golden State canned 10 3-pointers.
Minnesota was always a primary team to target with your big men, because Wolves opponents have led the league in blocks the entire season. But now, any matchup with Minnesota is awesome. Without Jefferson, this is a small team that lacks the talent to run and (at least of late) the slightest interest in playing defense. Right now, the Wolves are every bit as across-the-board bad defensively as the Warriors, Knicks or Kings. And with three consecutive four-game weeks ahead, you can make Minnesota's misery work for your team.
Check the grid for Week 20 schedules of each NBA team. Teams with the most games in the upcoming week are listed first.
Denver Nuggets (HOU, OKC, LAC): The talented always get the benefit of a doubt. And J.R. Smith is talented. So when Smith gets inserted into the starting lineup and gives you a line like Thursday's -- 17 points, seven rebounds, five assists and two triples in 38 minutes -- you have to take notice, especially when George Karl is saying that Smith will remain a starter. I know it's hard to process transactions with one hand holding your nose, but go get Smith, who's available in more than 60 percent of ESPN.com leagues. This schedule actually helps him more than you might imagine. Clippers opponents have hit 42 buckets from downtown in the past five games, and even Rockets opponents have risen to 27th in 3s. That said, the Nugget this schedule is also good for Chris Andersen. Rockets, Clippers and Thunder opponents are seventh, ninth and 13th respectively in blocks. Andersen has 93 percent availability; keep adding him in leagues of at least 12 teams.
Oklahoma City Thunder (@SAC, @DEN, @PHO): In six games with the Thunder, Sefolosha is averaging 10.7 points, 6.3 boards and 1.7 steals. Those numbers -- along with nearly a block and a 3-pointer a night -- are pretty nice for a guy who can be had in 98 percent of ESPN leagues. Yes, Thabo's scoring (and probably his minutes) should decline once Durant and Green return, but the steals are legit. And, conveniently, Suns' and Kings' opponents are 1-2 in takeaways. Krstic, who's also 98 percent available, has had back-to-back games of 26 and 18 points. Of course, Shaquille O'Neal will be a handful, but Kristic and Collison should produce against the Kings and Nuggets. (Denver opponents get the fifth-most blocks.)
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.
Matt Barnes, SF, Suns (DAL, CLE, OKC, @GS): Barnes is averaging 2.3 3s over his past eight games, and now that he's a Suns starter, fun (and, perhaps, power forward-eligibility) is bound to follow. Mavs, Cavs and Thunder opponents don't get a lot of 3s, but give Barnes 30-plus minutes a night and he'll also contribute in rebounds, assists and steals. Grab Barnes while you can; his current 93 percent availability will be dropping like the Dow.
Ronnie Brewer, SG, Jazz (@IND, @ATL, @MIA, @ORL): Given his slim 17 percent availability, Brewer isn't typical Forecaster fodder, but the way he's going, I'm making room for him. Check out his numbers since the break: 19.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.8 steals, 1.1 blocks and just 1.1 turnovers. I suppose a dropoff is inevitable, especially now with Carlos Boozer seemingly near full strength. But as the Salt Lake Tribune notes, the Jazz are growing more reliant on the former Razorback. If you can actually get Brewer as a free agent, do it. And don't let the fact that Hawks, Heat and Magic opponents are in the bottom third in steals stop you.
Rasual Butler, SG/SF, Hornets (@ATL, @WAS, @MIL, @CHI): Butler is another player who seems to be improving by the game. But, unlike Brewer, the Hornets swingman is available in more than 90 percent of leagues. He's shooting an excellent 42.6 percent from downtown this season, and he's averaging 2.6 makes -- along with 17.0 points -- since the break. Butler's also becoming more productive in the hustle categories, averaging 1.2 blocks and 0.7 steals over his past nine games. While Hawks, Bucks and Bulls opponents are average to below average in 3s, Wizards opponents and their league-leading 8.2 treys a night give you all the reason you need to add Butler.
Marc Gasol, PF/C, Grizzlies (@MIN, @BOS, @DET): Here's another player you may assume is rostered but might not be. Gasol remains available in about 20 percent of leagues. The 24-year-old has produced three huge games in his past four; that includes a 17-point, 14-rebound night against big brother Pau Gasol and the Lakers. Marc's Week 20 gets tough after Minnesota (where he should give you crooked numbers in blocks), but then again, he shouldn't have to deal with Kevin Garnett in Boston. Pistons opponents, however, get the fourth-fewest blocks.
Larry Hughes, SG, Knicks (@MIL, @DET, @MIN, @CLE): After five weeks of inactivity in Chicago, Hughes needed to shake off the rust in New York. Hughes totaled just 10 points in his first three games with the Knicks, but then racked up 67 -- to go with nine 3s and nine steals -- over his next three. Hughes seems a perfect fit for coach Mike D'Antoni, and if Nate Robinson's ankle problem lingers Hughes will only become more important to the offense. With the Pistons and Cavs ahead, Hughes might be in for a couple of ugly shooting nights, but he should make up for it in Milwaukee and Minneapolis. What I said about Barnes goes double for Hughes, whose availability stands at 89 percent and shrinking. Get him.
Delonte West, PG/SG, Cavaliers (@LAC, @PHO, @SAC, NY): On Feb. 27, West had two steals -- to go with 17 points, seven rebounds and five assists against the Spurs. He was only getting started. In the three games since then, West has three, five and eight thefts. I would say that that pattern can't possibly continue, but again, Suns and Kings opponents are tops in takeaways. And Knicks opponents are seventh in steals. And Clippers opponents are ninth. And did I mention that Clippers, Suns, Kings and Knicks opponents all score at least 103.7 points while shooting 46.0 percent? The scary part is West is still available in almost 70 percent of leagues. Definitely add Delonte for Week 20 if you can. Honestly, I'm not sure the Forecaster has ever seen a forecast this perfect.
Neil Tardy is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
Neil Tardy previews Week 20 in the NBA and loves the week ahead for Delonte West.