Commentary

Fantasy Forecaster: Week of Jan. 23

Updated: January 20, 2012, 9:16 PM ET
By Neil Tardy | Special to ESPN.com

The Milwaukee Bucks finished dead last in scoring during the 2010-11 NBA season. They averaged 91.9 points per game. Coincidentally, heading into Friday's action, the Bucks are averaging 91.9 points so far this season.

Lest you think the Bucks haven't gotten any better, they're actually, um, bucking the trend. This season -- this condensed, compromised season -- flat-lining on offense has carried Milwaukee from 30th to 23rd in scoring. Yes, seven teams lag behind the Bucks in points per game. The Detroit Pistons and Toronto Raptors are currently the most punchless, averaging just 85.0 and 85.1 points, respectively.

So scoring and offense are way down, but you likely knew that. If you've followed the NBA Fantasy Forecaster for a while, you know this sort of information can help fantasy owners with their tough lineup decisions. So let's dig deeper. Perhaps you've already learned to temper your expectations when your players run up against the Philadelphia 76ers. Doug Collins' group is currently second best in scoring defense (87.4 points per game). On top of that, Sixers opponents are last in 3-pointers made (4.0 per game), 28th in field goal percentage (.412), 28th in steals (6.8) and 27th in assists (18.1).

A team that's been a surprisingly good matchup for fantasy owners is the Miami Heat. Heat opponents are tops in treys, averaging 8.4 per game. Considering how deeply offense is down across the board, this is a bit startling. In 2010-11, Heat opponents were only 13th in 3-point makes (6.7). Heat opponents also are third in steals (9.3) after being 21st in that category last season. And they're seventh in scoring (98.4 points) after being 25th last season.

Of course, it's still early. I'm thinking the Sixers probably aren't this good defensively. Frankly, they've had an easy schedule early on. Only three of their first 13 opponents currently sport winning records, and when they met the then-9-4 Denver Nuggets on Wednesday, the Sixers yielded a season-high 108 points. Also, judging by the Heat's past two games -- blowouts of the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers -- they'll probably tighten up things and be a tougher play for fantasy owners.

But this is a different season. We know that much.

Week 5 at a glance

The Orlando Magic are the only NBA team with five games in the week ahead, but those of you with Dwight Howard and/or Ryan Anderson aside, I'm not really sure how fantasy owners benefit. That's because among those five games, the Magic have home-and-homes with the Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers. C's opponents are just 27th in 3s, while Pacers opponents are 16th. Even with Hedo Turkoglu (back) and Jason Richardson (knee) hurting, it doesn't seem worth activating or adding J.J. Redick for this schedule set.

And that part about the Sixers having an easy schedule? It continues. Philly hosts the Washington Wizards, New Jersey Nets, Charlotte Bobcats and Detroit Pistons in Week 5. If you're frustrated that Elton Brand is averaging only 10.3 points and 6.8 boards, don't do something crazy such as sit him or trade him. Not yet, anyway. With the distinct possibility that Spencer Hawes (Achilles) could be out into next week, Brand should be huge. Wizards, Bobcats and Pistons opponents are all in the bottom seven in rebound differential.

Players to watch

Arron Afflalo, SG, Denver Nuggets (@SAC, TOR, LAC): Afflalo re-signed with the Nuggets just before the season, and his numbers provide another snapshot of the lockout-interrupted offseason's impact. While his scoring and 3s are down only slightly from 2010-11, his percentages have plummeted: 43.1 percent from the field, 37.3 percent from downtown and 74.0 percent from the line. However, Afflalo has come on of late, averaging 13.6 points and 2.4 3s in his past five games -- although he's still shooting only 40.7 percent (22-of-54) in that span. While Raptors opponents are fifth in 3s, there should be better options for owners in standard-sized leagues that require weekly lineups.

Trevor Ariza, SG/SF, New Orleans Hornets (SA, @OKC, ORL, ATL): Ariza was excellent in his first game back from injury, putting up 18 points, seven assists and four steals against the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday. Of course, his two seasons of sub-40 percent shooting should trump that one performance. The fact that Atlanta Hawks and Magic opponents are only 24th and 26th, respectively, in steals is another reason not to buy Ariza. But if you must go in, I know from experience that Ariza is particularly inscrutable when it comes to evaluating him against the schedule anyway. Just go with your gut on this one.

Leandro Barbosa, SG, Toronto Raptors (@PHO, @UTA, @DEN, @NJ): The Raptors were blown out in Boston on Wednesday, ending Barbosa's nice four-game run: 20.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.5 3s and 50.0 percent (35-for-70) shooting. With the Raptors struggling as they are, coach Dwane Casey seems ready to tinker with his rotation. That makes Barbosa a bit risky. On the other hand, this set of games makes the veteran a pretty enticing play. Nets and Nuggets opponents are second and seventh, respectively, in 3s. Heck, let's just talk about the Nets: Their opponents are shooting a staggering 49.2 percent from the field and 44.6 percent from downtown. No other team approaches those numbers.

Courtney Lee, SG/SF, Houston Rockets (@MIN, MIL, WAS, NY): If you're in a standard, 10-team, 130-player league, feel free to scroll ahead. However, I'm in leagues of 14 and 16 teams, so I'm looking at Lee. In his second game back after missing eight contests due to a calf injury, Lee went for 17 points, a pair of 3s and three steals against the Hornets on Thursday. With the Rockets not having a lot of depth at guard (Kyle Lowry and Kevin Martin are playing a ton of minutes) and not finding much at small forward (current starter Chandler Parsons had only three points versus the Hornets), I'm betting Lee has an opportunity to play around 25 minutes a night going forward. And with this schedule, I'm doubling down. New York Knicks and Wizards opponents are fourth and sixth in 3s, respectively, while Minnesota Timberwolves opponents are first in steals. It's a reach, yes, but I see Lee as a worthy fill-in in leagues of at least 12 teams.

Evan Turner, SG/SF, Philadelphia 76ers (WAS, NJ, CHA, DET): I already discussed the Sixers' Week 5 schedule, but I'll mention Turner specifically since he remains available in nearly 70 percent of ESPN.com leagues. After missing a game with a quad injury, Turner posted a big double-double (20 points and 11 boards, along with two steals) against the Nuggets. Although he's averaged only 0.7 steals so far, he should increase his theft rate with Pistons and Nets opponents second and fifth, respectively, in steals. Turner might be the best free agent available to many of you at the moment.

From this point forward in this column, you'll see the chart below, which shows what each team has allowed to its opponents during its past 10 games. The numbers are entering Friday's games.

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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