Commentary

Fantasy Forecaster: Jan. 3-9

Updated: December 31, 2010, 6:51 PM ET
By Neil Tardy | Special to ESPN.com

What's the biggest surprise in fantasy hoops this season? Really, I'm asking, because I'm not sure.

I'm looking at the ESPN.com NBA Player Rater, and I'm seeing a lot of new names in the top 20. Raymond Felton, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love and Derrick Rose are there, but these players generally had legions of fantasy owners hyperventilating well ahead of draft day. Even if these guys are exceeding expectations, they entered the season with so much hype that it doesn't seem all that surprising.

I suppose Dorell Wright has to enter into this discussion. I can't imagine anyone saw Wright blossoming into a junior Danny Granger this season (save for the scoring, Wright's stats match up pretty well with Granger's). But still, I recall plenty of preseason talk about Wright's move to the Golden State Warriors, making him a solid fantasy option. Sure, he's a significant surprise, but somehow the shock level just isn't there for me.

What do I mean by shock level? Well, try this statement on for size: Luke Ridnour is now fantasy's most undervalued asset. I'm shocked to say that, but I'm serious. Call it the biggest surprise of the moment.

The groundswell is well underway, but as of this writing, Ridnour remains available in more than 70 percent of ESPN.com leagues. I must admit, this one snuck up on me. It sure seemed that when Jonny Flynn returned to action two weeks ago, it would be a matter of time before he was running the Minnesota Timberwolves. But Flynn, who was never comfortable or productive in coach Kurt Rambis' offense last season, is averaging only 18 minutes per game. On top of that, with the Wolves now confident that Ricky Rubio will finally make the move stateside next season, Flynn is apparently on the trading block.

So where does this leave fantasy owners? It leaves them with a chance to add a free-agent point guard who's putting up Mike Conley-type numbers, while being rostered in fewer leagues than George Hill. Injuries hindered him early on, but in December Ridnour is averaging 11.5 points, 6.5 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.2 3-pointers while shooting 50.0 percent. The shooting numbers will probably come down, but with the Wolves Ridnour finds himself in a good situation. Fantasy owners who move quickly could find themselves with a free-agent prize.

The Week Ahead: Teams to Watch

It annoys me when fantasy analysts say, "Watch this player." It's just an empty statement. Dedicated fantasy owners are always watching players -- their own players, players they want to trade for and players in free agency. Now, admittedly, I too have told readers to watch players. Plenty of times. In fact, I'm about to do it again. This time though, it seems appropriate. The player I want you to watch is Al-Farouq Aminu. He is virtually unowned in ESPN.com leagues, but in his past two games he's received solid minutes and has made the most of them -- 11 points and eight rebounds versus the Sacramento Kings on Dec. 27; 13 points, 8 boards and 3 treys two nights later against the Utah Jazz. It seems like the rookie is poised to pass disappointing veteran Ryan Gomes and return to the starting lineup. Unfortunately, the Los Angeles Clippers play just twice the week of Jan. 3. That makes "watch" the word here. Overall, the schedule is fantasy friendly, as 16 NBA teams have four games. The Indiana Pacers join the Clippers in playing twice.

Houston Rockets (@DEN, POR, @ORL, UTA): The 3s just keep coming for Shane Battier, who's now the most-added player in ESPN.com leagues. I wondered it if would last, but so far, so good. In December, Battier is averaging 2.1 treys per game while shooting an astonishing 47.6 percent from beyond the arc, after going 32.6 percent in November. This schedule is a mixed bag, though. Denver Nuggets opponents are seventh in 3s, while Utah Jazz opponents have done considerable damage from downtown lately (88 triples in the past 10 games). Of course, Battier is also big in the hustle categories, and Nuggets opponents are now tops in blocks.

Minnesota Timberwolves (@BOS, CHA, POR, @SA): All my talk about Ridnour being the player to get, and now I need to tell you he's not a great play with this schedule. Perhaps he catches a break against a Boston Celtics team without Kevin Garnett, but C's opponents are still 30th in assists, 28th in shooting percentage and 28th in 3s. Portland Trail Blazers opponents are 28th in assists and San Antonio Spurs opponents are 28th in steals. On the bright side, Charlotte Bobcats opponents are fourth in 3s and fourth in steals.

Philadelphia 76ers (@NOR, WAS, CHI, @DET): Two weeks back, I labeled Spencer Hawes as the Fantasy Find of the Week. Obviously, it wasn't one of my better calls. I thought Hawes might be a good play with his schedule, but the night after I recommended him he was devoured by Dwight Howard. He fouled out in 26 minutes, finishing with two points and two rebounds against the Orlando Magic. No crime there, but that game seemed to send him into a tailspin. In his next three games, he totaled nine points and nine boards. However, Hawes has rebounded a bit (with two decent games against the defensively deficient Warriors and Phoenix Suns), so let's try this again. Not a lot of blocks with this set (though Chicago Bulls opponents are fourth in rejections), but there is some potential on the boards, with Washington Wizards and Detroit Pistons opponents second and third in rebound differential.

Toronto Raptors (@CHI, @CLE, @BOS, SAC): I've never really liked Linas Kleiza for fantasy because he does little other than score and hit a few 3s. But since Sonny Weems went down, Kleiza has stepped up, averaging 20.2 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.4 treys over his past five games. There's no definitive word on Weems' return, but with his recent play Kleiza may have secured the small forward position for himself. Still, if you're also reluctant to add Kleiza, this is a good week to continue to be reluctant. Cleveland Cavaliers opponents are swishing a staggering 8.9 3s a night, by far the most in the league, but everyone else here is pretty stingy on the perimeter. Speaking of surprises, it continues to amaze me that Kings opponents are so poor from downtown (29th overall) --they're actually a spot lower than Celtics opponents. On top of that, Bulls opponents are just 22nd in treys.

Neil Tardy is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. Send him your lineup-related questions at editor_njt64@yahoo.com.

Neil Tardy | email

Fantasy Basketball
Neil Tardy is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com

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