Fantasy Forecaster: Jan. 31-Feb. 6


Recently I asked who's been the biggest surprise in fantasy hoops this season. I still have yet to settle on an answer, but I have found another player who belongs in this discussion: Tracy McGrady.

If nothing else, T-Mac's quiet rebirth with the Detroit Pistons is one of the nicer stories of this NBA season. After playing in just 65 games total during the past two seasons with the Houston Rockets and New York Knicks, McGrady has not only seen the floor in each of the Pistons' first 46 games, he's become an important part of a team that's won five of its past eight.

And it's not just that McGrady has returned to an NBA starting lineup -- he's reinvented himself as a player. No longer the dynamic scorer he was during his years with the Rockets and Orlando Magic, McGrady now runs the Pistons offense.

T-Mac is available in more than 80 percent of ESPN.com leagues. However, despite two nice outings this week -- 20 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals against the Magic on Jan. 24 and 14 points, 6 boards and 8 assists against the Denver Nuggets on Jan. 26 -- interest has stayed flat.

Why have fantasy owners been slow to warm to T-Mac? I'll give you the reason for my hesitance: He's yet to prove he can handle playing in back-to-back situations. Since he broke out in mid-December, the Pistons have played three sets of games on consecutive nights. On Dec. 26, McGrady scored 15 points against the Chicago Bulls. The next night in Charlotte, he played just 11 minutes and finished with two points.

Things went much better the next week when the Pistons traveled west. McGrady just missed a triple-double -- 11 points, 9 rebounds and 11 assists -- against the Utah Jazz on Jan. 3. The next night he responded with 14 points and six assists against the Los Angeles Lakers. He played 25 minutes in L.A. after logging 34 minutes in Salt Lake City.

But in the most recent back-to-backs, McGrady had to take a big step back on the second night. After producing a season-high 22 points against the Toronto Raptors on Jan. 14, McGrady was scoreless in 10 minutes against the Sacramento Kings on Jan. 15. And after playing 31 minutes and finishing with 10 points, 6 boards and 6 assists at the New Jersey Nets on Jan. 21, he managed only three points in 24 minutes against the Phoenix Suns on Jan. 22.

The Pistons play only three times during the week of Jan. 31, but the games come in a span of four nights, culminating in a back-to-back. After hosting the Nets on Feb. 4, the Pistons hop Lake Michigan for a game with the Milwaukee Bucks on Feb. 5. I'll be interested to see how that goes, since this is the first of five back-to-back sets the Pistons have in February. The team plays only 12 games next month, so if McGrady isn't able to respond in these situations, he'll essentially be playing barely half the schedule.

Surely, McGrady is a nice story. And, if you're in a league that allows daily lineup changes, he can help your team if you're careful about using him. But until he shows he can completely tolerate the rigorous NBA schedule, McGrady's ownership is probably where it should be.

"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, their performance in home/road games depending on where the game is to be played, as well as their 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.

The Week Ahead: Teams to Watch

The schedule delivers an annoying number of off days this week. Four teams -- the Golden State Warriors, Bulls, Suns and Kings -- play just twice. I don't have to tell you there's some fantasy talent in that group. Still, with 14 other teams in action for four games, opportunities are out there.

Boston Celtics (@SAC, DAL, ORL): Even at full health, Kendrick Perkins is a useful but limited player for fantasy purposes. But I guess, given both his name recognition and the perpetual scarcity of blocks, I shouldn't be shocked that Perkins' ownership is already up near 15 percent in ESPN.com leagues. Encouragingly, in his second game out, Perk went for 10 points, nine boards and a block against the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday. Still, it's natural to wonder how ACL surgery will ultimately impact Perkins' shot-blocking, at least in the short term. Owners looking for rejections in the week ahead will most likely end up dejected -- Magic and Dallas Mavericks opponents are, respectively, 28th and 29th in blocks. As a spot-start, though, Perkins could work at Sacramento on Tuesday, since Kings opponents are 10th in blocks.

Charlotte Bobcats (@UTA, @DET, MIA, DAL): Speaking of unlikely comebacks, did you know that Kwame Brown still plays? Judging by Brown's 95-plus percent availability in ESPN.com leagues, you didn't know. But it's true: Brown has been the 'Cats' starting center for a month now, and he's racked up four double-doubles in his past seven games. Looking at his overall numbers for January -- 9.2 points, 9.0 rebounds and a paltry 0.4 blocks -- Brown merits consideration only in leagues of at least 12 teams. But with Jazz, Pistons and Mavericks opponents all in the top eight in rebound differential, he's worth a shot here.

Detroit Pistons (CHA, NJ, @MIL): I think fantasy owners are being a bit hasty in dumping Greg Monroe, whose availability is up to 75 percent in ESPN.com leagues. The rookie had three straight games of single-digit scoring (one of those came against Dwight Howard), but he bounced back with 14 points, seven rebounds and a pair of blocks against the Nuggets on Jan. 26. Though the 6-foot-11 Monroe has yet to distinguish himself as a shot-blocker, you might see something this week, since Bobcats opponents are second in rejections. Their opponents are also ninth in rebound differential, while Nets opponents are fifth in that regard.

Houston Rockets (@LAL, @UTA, MEM): On the other hand, if those owners who are unloading Monroe are adding Chuck Hayes, I can more readily understand their actions. Based on his terrific play since returning from an ankle sprain, Hayes' ownership in ESPN.com leagues has spiked from near nothing to more than 10 percent during the past seven days. In his past nine games, Hayes is averaging 9.4 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and -- here's the best part -- 1.4 steals and 1.1 blocks. Hayes should keep up the hustle numbers here, as Memphis Grizzlies opponents are tops in blocks and sixth in steals. In addition, Lakers and Jazz opponents are ninth and 12th in steals, respectively.

Los Angeles Clippers (MIL, CHI, @ATL, @MIA): Randy Foye is no Eric Gordon, but while Gordon is on the shelf Foye is worth adding in leagues of at least 12 teams. While Foye swished two 3-pointers in each of the first two games that Gordon missed, he'll be hard-pressed to maintain that pace with Atlanta Hawks, Bucks and Bulls opponents all in the bottom six in buckets from downtown.

Memphis Grizzlies (ORL, @MIN, CLE, @HOU): Tony Allen just returned from an ankle injury -- and just in time, considering that O.J. Mayo is now sitting out a 10-game suspension. While he could end up splitting time with Sam Young during Mayo's absence, Allen has already demonstrated he doesn't need a ton of minutes to get a ton of steals. The 29-year-old is averaging 2.5 takeaways in January despite playing only 19 minutes per game. Minnesota Timberwolves opponents are first in steals, while Cleveland Cavaliers opponents are 10th.

Miami Heat (CLE, @ORL, @CHA, LAC): Speaking of steals, Mario Chalmers is averaging 1.4 of them in January, along with 1.7 3s. And he's now officially the starting point guard for coach Erik Spoelstra. Hard to imagine a much better set of games than this. Cavs, Clippers are Bobcats opponents are first, third and fourth in triples. Clippers opponents are also third in steals.

Portland Trail Blazers (SA, @DEN, @IND, @CLE): With Marcus Camby sidelined, the Blazers are going small, and that means Rudy Fernandez is seeing a larger role. While Fernandez has struggled his past couple of outings, keep in mind that the Kings and Celtics are two of the tougher teams against the 3-pointer. Look for better things from Rudy in the week ahead. Cavs opponents are shooting an astonishing 43.0 percent from downtown, and the team right below them in this category is the San Antonio Spurs (though Spurs opponents are only in the middle of the pack in 3-point makes). Nuggets opponents are eighth in 3s, while Pacers opponents have racked up 90 treys in their past 10 games.

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