- Neil Tardy, Fantasy Basketball
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There are two things to know about the coming week's NBA schedule. The first is that the trade deadline sits smack in the middle of it (Thursday, March 15, at 3 p.m. EST). My utterly generic, not-so-bold prediction about the trade deadline is that whatever happens, it likely won't live up to the intensity of rumor-mongering. I know we saw Carmelo Anthony move just last year, but those blockbuster deadline deals seem like the exceptions to me. In other words, I don't expect Dwight Howard or Pau Gasol to be going anywhere for now.
The other thing with next week's schedule is that four -- four! -- NBA teams play five games between March 12 and 18: the Los Angeles Clippers, Phoenix Suns, Utah Jazz and Washington Wizards. But I'm not here to overhype this news, either. These teams just don't give fantasy owners many worthwhile free-agent options.
Week 12 at a glance
There are some players we can discuss, however. I'll begin with Josh Howard, who was just featured in last week's Forecaster. Even though Raja Bell has returned to the Jazz lineup, Howard has stuck as a starter, moving over to the small forward spot and putting Gordon Hayward on the bench. While Howard hasn't shown a lot in his recent run of eight straight starts (13.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 46.3 percent shooting), he is available in about 85 percent of ESPN.com leagues. The steals are Howard's most attractive fantasy attribute at the moment, but take note of the fact that four of the five teams the Jazz face -- the Minnesota Timberwolves, Detroit Pistons, Los Angeles Lakers and Suns -- are in the top 10 in opponents' steals allowed. In my book, that makes Howard (and here again is my new favorite thing to say) a "pure schedule play."
Another potential add is Randy Foye. As a starter this season, Foye is averaging 2.0 3-pointers while providing some help (1.0 steals and 0.6 blocks) in the hustle categories, but he's also shooting a brutal 37.5 percent, which explains why his availability in ESPN.com leagues is back above 90 percent. The Clippers' upcoming schedule suggests more mixed results with Foye. While Pistons and Houston Rockets opponents are in the top six in shooting, Boston Celtics and Atlanta Hawks opponents are in the bottom 10. For what it's worth, Foye's recent monster game (24 points and five 3s on March 7) came against the New Jersey Nets. Nets opponents are tops in field goal percentage. I wouldn't get Foye unless you can drop a player with zero value, though, because the Clippers could make a deadline deal for Jamal Crawford or some other shooting guard.
"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.
Players to watch
Trevor Booker, PF, Washington Wizards (@SA, @DAL, @NOR, @ATL, @MEM): While Howard and Foye are worthy adds for leagues of at least 12 teams, Booker might be the best "get" among fantasy free agents at the moment, a legitimate option for standard 10-team leagues. Things could change, but after Booker out-battled Andrew Bynum and Gasol, it just doesn't appear Andray Blatche is going to get back in the starting lineup. Blatche played just 10 minutes in the Wizards' stunning win over the Lakers on March 7, while Booker racked up 18 points and 17 boards, and even hit his first career 3-pointer. Don't expect him to do any more damage from downtown, but on a Wizards team often lacking effort and awareness, the aggressive and active Booker (12.4 points, 9.3 boards and 1.3 steals over his past seven games) seems to have won over coach Randy Wittman. This schedule gives Booker, who is available in about 80 percent of ESPN.com leagues, a chance to improve on his 0.9 blocks per game as a starter. New Orleans Hornets, Memphis Grizzlies and Hawks opponents are all in the top 11 in rejections.
Amir Johnson, PF/C, Toronto Raptors (@CLE, @NJ, @MEM, @CHA): After missing one game because of a knee injury, Johnson returned to post 14 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks against the Rockets on March 7. Performances like that have been common of late; Johnson is averaging 10.4 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks since the break. Cleveland Cavaliers opponents are fourth in rejections, while Nets, Charlotte Bobcats and Grizzlies opponents are all in the top 12.
Zaza Pachulia, C, Atlanta Hawks (@DEN, @LAC, WAS, @CLE): Given the playing time, Pachulia has always been a pretty decent rebounder. Recently, he has logged tons of minutes, 36 or more in five of his past eight games. In that span, Pachulia is averaging 7.3 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.0 steals. Despite that heavy playing time, Pachulia's minutes vary widely from game to game. Because of that, he strikes me as a bit overowned (he's down to about 70 percent availability in ESPN.com leagues). Still, you should get boards with this schedule. Wizards opponents, for instance, are fifth in total rebounds and rebound differential.
Luke Ridnour, PG, Minnesota Timberwolves (@PHO, @UTA, @LAL, @SAC): While Ricky Rubio continues to fade (just 6.0 points and 21.7 percent shooting since the All-Star break) and J.J. Barea continues to battle injuries, Ridnour continues to provide steady production (12.7 points, 3.5 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.0 3-pointers per game since the break). This schedule gives him a bit of everything. Sacramento Kings opponents are tops in assists and third in shooting, Suns opponents are sixth in steals and 10th in assists, Jazz opponents are ninth in shooting and Lakers opponents are 11th in assists.
Klay Thompson, SG, Golden State Warriors (@SAC, BOS, MIL, @UTA): Here's a fun fact: The Warriors don't have consecutive off days again this season. Well, that fact probably isn't so fun for Warriors players, but the reality is fantasy owners must watch this team down the stretch. I'll say it again: I think Ekpe Udoh, who is available in 90 percent of ESPN.com leagues, is a better fantasy option than Bismack Biyombo for the remainder of this season. Thompson's short-term fantasy prospects are far less certain, but between Stephen Curry's struggles to stay healthy and Dorell Wright's struggles, period, he could see substantial minutes from here. However, I don't think Thompson has quite proved himself yet. His two recent strong performances -- 18 points against the Wizards on March 5 and 16 points versus the Grizzlies on March 7 -- came in blowouts. But if he's getting even 24 minutes on a nightly basis, Thompson should be worth about 2.0 3-pointers. He's worth a flier in deep leagues (I've added him in my 14- and 16-team leagues), but in most formats you'll want to see a bit more. Milwaukee Bucks opponents, for what it's worth, are sixth in treys.
Opponent Performance, Past 10 games
All statistics are for teams' past 10 games played, and are defensive numbers. PPGA: Points per game allowed. FG%A: Field goal percentage allowed. 3PT%A: Three-point percentage allowed. RPG diff.: Rebounds per game differential. SPGA: Steals per game allowed. BPGA: Blocks per game allowed.
Neil Tardy is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. Send him your lineup-related questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Neil Tardy evaluates the fantasy basketball period of March 12-18 and explains why he'd consider picking up Josh Howard and Trevor Booker.