- Neil Tardy, Fantasy Basketball
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We're now one month into the season. NBA teams have played nearly 20 percent of their schedules. That's the bad news for fantasy owners. The good news is we know much more now than we did a month ago. For instance, we now know -- rather than merely suspect -- that Blake Griffin really is a monster. A monster who rebounds like "The Beast from the Regular East," but (so far at least) without the blocks.
OK, those are pretty obvious. And the NBA Fantasy Forecaster isn't about the obvious. Here at this virtual corner of ESPN.com, we're about digging into the stats to help you with your tough lineup decisions. Well, one month of an NBA season offers ample opportunity to have fun with numbers. So I thought I'd make a quick list of the NBA teams that are the best and worst match-ups for fantasy owners.
The teams on my the "best" list probably won't surprise you, that's because they're the teams that are currently Nos. 1-2 in points allowed, the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Phoenix Suns. However, it isn't just that these teams surrender tons of points. Timberwolves opponents also get the most assists, the most steals, the second-most blocks and the fifth-most 3-pointers. Suns opponents are tops in shooting percentage and rebound differential, second in assists and fourth in steals.
I'd say the Timberwolves and Suns are 1 and 1A in terms of best fantasy matchup. While there are some other poor defensive teams out there, no one else is this bad across the board. The one team that comes close is the Los Angeles Clippers. Clips opponents are tops in treys, third in assists and fourth in both field goal percentage and blocks.
As far as the toughest matchups, some of these teams might surprise you. When you think of strong defensive teams, winning teams like the Boston Celtics or Orlando Magic naturally come to mind. But it's also important to remember pace; teams that rate low in pace generally don't give up a lot of stats. An example is the Indiana Pacers, who've been a pretty difficult fantasy matchup so far. Pacers opponents are last in assists, 26th in shooting, 25th in 3s and 24th in scoring and rebound differential.
Another "pace-based" team that fantasy owners should avoid is the Milwaukee Bucks. Bucks opponents are last in scoring, which can be attributed in part to pace, since they're also 30th in field goal attempts. But on top of this, Bucks opponents are only 29th in shooting and 27th in rebound differential.
Still, the toughest two matchups to this point are indeed the Magic and Celtics. Magic opponents are 29th in points and rebound differential and 27th in field goal percentage and assists. Celtics opponents are 30th in 3s and steals, 28th in assists and 26th in points.
Speaking of the Celtics, it took but a pair of double-doubles to launch Shaquille O'Neal's fantasy comeback. More in a moment.
The Week Ahead: Teams to Watch
"R" matchup ratings are based upon a scale from 1 (poor matchup) to 10 (excellent matchup), and are calculated using a formula that evaluates the team's year-to-date and past 10 games' statistics, its performance in home/road games depending on where the game is to be played, as well as its opponents' numbers in those categories. The Games T / H column lists the team's total number of games played as well as home games (T / H), and lists the overall rating from 1-10 for that week's matchups.
A quirk-free week, schedule-wise. All 30 NBA teams play three or four games the week of Nov. 29.
Boston Celtics (@CLE, POR, CHI, @NJ): Kevin Garnett had this to say after Shaq pounded the New Jersey Nets for 25 points and 11 boards Nov. 24: "I told him he looked like the 2000 Shaq. (Also) the 1999 Shaq, the 2001 and 2002 to 2003 to 2004 to 2005 to 2006." O'Neal is looking good in green, but come on, KG -- and, especially, those of you who've brought Shaq's ownership to near 30 percent in ESPN.com leagues -- let's be realistic. The old Shaq was a shot-blocking machine, but the 38-year-old O'Neal is averaging a stunning 0.5 rejections this season. Put that together with his typically putrid 54.4 percent foul shooting, and in general, I don't think the points and rebounds are worth your bother. I say "in general" because, in spite of what I just wrote, this could be a good week to add and activate O'Neal. With the C's facing some imposing bigs in Marcus Camby (and the just-returned Joel Przybilla), Joakim Noah and Brook Lopez, Shaq will probably get a little more run than normal -- just this once.
Los Angeles Lakers (@MEM, @HOU, SAC): The Lakers are outscoring their opposition by 11.0 points, and all those comfortable leads lead to more minutes for role players like Matt Barnes and Shannon Brown. While Barnes' scoring is skewed by that 24-point outburst against the Timberwolves on Nov. 19, fantasy owners know he can contribute across the board -- he's averaging 5.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.2 3s and 0.9 steals in just 22 minutes per game this season. Brown, meanwhile, has scored in double figures in six of his past seven, averaging 15.0 points and 2.4 triples in that span. Given their limited minutes, it's tough to play either Barnes or Brown in any three-game week, but it could work here. Memphis Grizzlies opponents are second in 3s, Rockets opponents are third in points and Kings opponents are fifth in field goal percentage.
Minnesota Timberwolves (@DAL, @SA, CLE): You're probably too late to Darko Milicic, who's been added in more than three-quarters of ESPN.com leagues in the past week alone. But if you're in a league of at least 12 teams and you long just to get close to Darko, why not add his point guard, the widely available Luke Ridnour? In his first four games back coming off a hamstring problem, Ridnour is averaging 11.8 points, 5.3 assists and 1.3 3-pointers. This isn't a great schedule -- though Cleveland Cavaliers opponents are fourth in 3s and sixth in assists -- but with Jonny Flynn's return being pushed back, you could get 2-3 decent weeks from Ridnour.
New Jersey Nets (@NY, OKC, @CHA, BOS): The Nets have stuck with Anthony Morrow, and the young gunner is starting to reward their patience. Morrow has reached double figures in five straight, giving you good percentages (51.7 percent from the field and 88.9 percent from the line) and, of course, 3-pointers (1.6) in that span. Charlotte Bobcats opponents are third in buckets from downtown, while New York Knicks and Oklahoma City Thunder opponents -- while below average against the 3 -- are third and sixth, respectively, in shooting percentage.
Sacramento Kings (IND, @LAL, DAL): The struggling Kings have started veteran Luther Head for the past five games. While Head hasn't done a bad job, the fact that he's shooting 61.5 percent from downtown screams correction. While Lakers opponents have been surprisingly productive from 3-point range, they're only 28th in overall shooting. The Pacers, as noted, are 26th in shooting and 25th in 3s.
San Antonio Spurs (@GS, @LAC, MIN, NOR): As I suspected, Richard Jefferson (13.7 points and 1.3s on 41.4 percent shooting) is coming back to earth, but this could be a productive week for both him and Matt Bonner. Bonner is strictly a deep-league flyer, as it's next to impossible to predict when the Spurs will go to him. But Clippers, Timberwolves and Golden State Warriors opponents are all in the top seven in treys.
Neil Tardy is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. Send him your lineup-related questions at email@example.com.