- Neil Tardy, Fantasy Basketball
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One of life's little satisfactions is being able to say you were first to do something. Sure, some firsts are legendary, like the Wright brothers taking flight or Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier, but I'm thinking of firsts on a personal level. Like being the first person you know to get into Entourage, or the first to master squeezing in Guitar Hero.
Opportunities to achieve little, everyday firsts abound in fantasy hoops. Perhaps you spent an earlier-than-anticipated pick on Derrick Rose, or maybe you were the first to pluck Rudy Fernandez out of free agency. (Come to think of it, you still could be. As of this writing Rudy is about 60 percent owned in ESPN leagues.)
I was thinking I'd be the first ESPN fantasy hoops columnist to hype the rookie forward, but Adam Madison got a one-day jump on me. So I guess I'll have to settle for being the first to nakedly overhype McGee. Actually, I just want to reiterate what Adam said. With the stats he's putting up in his limited time -- 25 minutes, 11.3 points, 9.0 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in his past three games -- McGee is worth watching.
As the 18th pick in the 2008 draft, the 7-footer was considered a project. However, the Wizards' frontcourt is a project in itself -- something along the lines of the Big Dig. Things aren't getting done and it's a mess. Last season's starting center, Brendan Haywood, is out indefinitely after right wrist surgery. Etan Thomas, barely a year removed from open heart surgery, is still working his way back. And Andray Blatche, a productive sub in 2007-08, has been on the outs with Wizards coach Eddie Jordan. Jordan, meanwhile, has gently praised McGee throughout camp and into November.
Ultimately, he might not be a fit for standard fantasy leagues and he's not assured of being a fantasy factor at all. Given his inexperience, McGee could easily string together a few 2-point, 4-foul, 10-minute lines and find himself back on the bench. But, given the state of the Wizards, there's opportunity here, and that's what I want you to know. So if you have an opening on your roster, here's a chance to be the first.
And if you get McGee, you may as well activate him for Week 4. Washington's opponents -- Miami, Atlanta, Houston and New York -- are all being outrebounded so far, with the Knicks, Heat and (believe it or not) Rockets all currently in the league's bottom five in rebound differential.
Check the grid for Week 4 schedules of each NBA team. Teams with the most games in the upcoming week are listed first.
Utah Jazz (PHO, MIL, @SA, @MEM): With the Jazz hurting in the frontcourt and no word on when Mehmet Okur will return from his personal leave, Paul Millsap (11.0 points, 6.1 rebounds) continues to be a strong play for deeper leagues. However, this is a mixed schedule for hustle production. While Suns and Bucks opponents average better than eight steals (a plus for Millsap and Ronnie Brewer owners), Phoenix, Milwaukee, San Antonio and Memphis opponents all get fewer than 5.0 blocks a night.
Portland Trail Blazers (@GS, CHI, @SAC, @PHO): You know, there's another rookie in Portland. In six November games Fernandez is shooting 50.8 percent while averaging 16.8 points, 2.8 3-pointers and 1.3 steals. This schedule shouldn't slow down Rudy or any of the Blazers. The Warriors and Kings allow more than 105 points a night, while the Kings and Suns yield more than 7.0 3s.
Oklahoma City Thunder (HOU, LAC, NO, @NO): The Oklahoman recently noted that Kevin Durant is struggling on his new home court. The second-year player has stellar numbers on the road (29.0 points, 53.2 percent shooting), but in Oklahoma City, he's averaging just 16.8 points on 38 percent shooting. Curiously, Durant's two most fantasy-relevant teammates, Jeff Green and Nick Collison, haven't been as productive at the Ford Center either. On the other hand, Russell Westbrook, Earl Watson and Desmond Mason have better home numbers.
While it's interesting, there isn't enough here to take the home/away splits seriously. Definitely don't let it keep you from playing Green -- especially if Durant remains sidelined into Week 4. After making just 21 3-pointers in his rookie season, Green already has 12 buckets from beyond the arc in 2008-09. And the Hornets, even though they're allowing only 93.0 points per game, are getting torched from the outside. New Orleans is surrendering 8.3 3s per night, second most in the league.
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.
Trevor Ariza, SF, Lakers: I can give you two reasons why Ariza should be owned in more than four percent of ESPN leagues: There's the one steal he averages per game, and then there's the other steal he averages per game. The 23-year-old is one of only nine players currently averaging two takeaways a night. And of the 14 guys with at least 1.6 steals, they're all playing at least 29 minutes a night -- except Ariza. He's averaging just 23 minutes. Now, with the Lakers on pace to win, roughly, all of their games, it's hard to imagine Ariza seeing significantly more court time. But those steals -- coupled with 10.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 0.9 3-pointers -- will do in a lot of leagues. Incidentally, opponents of Phoenix and Denver -- two teams the Lakers face in Week 4 -- are averaging more than 8.0 steals so far.
Aaron Brooks, PG, Rockets: At least until Shane Battier returns, Brooks is Houston's top perimeter threat. Ron Artest is making more 3s, but Brooks is approaching 50-50 from downtown (10-for-21). The Week 4 schedule, however, should challenge the second-year player. Dallas and Orlando opponents sink only about five treys a night. Oklahoma City has been reasonably good against the 3 as well. It may be worth it though to wedge Brooks into a packed Nov. 21 schedule. With 7.5 3s allowed over its first six games, Washington is again looking like one of the league's most ineffectual teams when it comes to 3-point defense.
Erick Dampier, C, Mavericks: Dampier amassed 27 points, 34 boards and six blocks in the past two games. I can only guess what's gotten into him, and here it is: Something about the Bulls makes Dampier, um, see red. Thursday's 16-point, 18-board showing at the United Center is only the latest episode. In his 2007-08 matchups with the Bulls, he swatted a total of 13 shots -- six in one game and seven the next. But seriously, Dampier is prone to random stretches of astonishing excellence, only to revert to his five-point, seven-rebound plateau. That said, riding the hot hand could pay off in Week 4: Houston and Charlotte opponents average better than six rejections per game. And for what it's worth, Dampier's next shot at the Bulls comes on Feb. 7.
Maurice Evans, SG/SF, Hawks: If Evans is alone on the perimeter, does he make a sound? Actually, he is. Evans is averaging 1.9 3s for the Hawks, who have guys named Joe Johnson, Mike Bibby and Josh Smith (when J-Smoov is healthy) to draw attention from him. For fantasy, Evans is strictly a deep-league find or an infrequent fill-in, like when Atlanta faces Washington and Charlotte (both allow more than seven 3s per game) in Week 4.
Neil Tardy is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.