Today's edition of the Numbers Game covers a variety of topics including each team's remaining schedule, season-long and recent player ranks, and the rest-of-season outlooks for key injured players.
Player Ranks (full season & past 20 days)
These full-season rankings only include players who have appeared in a minimum of 15 games, and both sets of rankings (full-season and past 20 days) are restricted to players averaging a minimum of 10 minutes per game. Keep in mind that these are 8-cat, per-game rankings based upon past performance, not a projection of future performance.
Editor's Note: Rotoworld's partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $1,000,000 Fantasy Basketball league for Wednesday's NBA games. It's $25 to join and first prize is $100,000. Starts at 7pm ET on Wednesday. Here's the FanDuel link.
There are many surprises among the top-100 players over the past 20 days, which accounts for the past 6-8 games for most players. Ersan Ilyasova, Ray McCallum, Trey Burke and Jae Crowder have all leapt into the standard-league discussion in 8-cat and 9-cat leagues in recent weeks. Ahead of them is a group including Terrence Jones, Danilo Gallinari, Jeremy Lin, Gerald Henderson, Rodney Stuckey, P.J. Tucker, J.R. Smith and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who have all emerged as reliable options down the stretch. Alexis Ajinca and Will Barton have been useful lately but may find themselves fading due to returning teammates (in Ajinca's case) or changes under a new coach (in Barton's case).
We're late enough in the season that I'm usually willing to put my skepticism on hold. Are Ilyasova and Bargnani likely to make it through their final 20-odd games without getting injured? Probably not, but that won't prevent me from deploying them with crossed fingers, and Bargnani's risk is abated somewhat by New York's upcoming five-game week (see below). The same
I've shared my schedule grid before and many readers have already seen it, or bookmarked the Google Sheets page I update on Sundays, but with the fantasy playoffs rapidly approaching it's more important than ever to focus on games played. Note that I'm only including games beginning next Monday, Mar. 9, so this spans Weeks 20-25.
The Cavaliers, Magic and Mavericks come in last for remaining games at 21 each, followed closely by the Bulls, Clippers, Suns, Thunder and Wizards with 22 apiece. The only teams with 25 games remaining in the final six weeks are the Celtics, Hornets and Warriors.
On the low end of the spectrum, the Clippers' schedule may not hurt you if your playoffs end prior to Week 24 (April 6-12), which is when the Clippers and 76ers both have a dreaded two-game slate. Otherwise, L.A.'s schedule is in line with the rest of the NBA. The Magic aren't as lucky. They're the only team with two games in Week 22 (March 23-29) which is in the heart of virtually all fantasy playoffs. Anyone relying on Nikola Vucevic or Tobias Harris down the stretch should try to beef up their games-played at other positions, or risk being sunk by the schedule-makers.
The Suns and Bulls have equally awful playoff schedules, with both teams playing nine total games from Weeks 21-23 (March 16 - April 5). There are 10 teams with perfect 12 game schedules during that stretch, putting guys like Eric Bledsoe, Alex Len, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah at a decided fantasy disadvantage through no fault of their own. Every playoff schedule is different, so take some time to pore over the numbers and fine-tune your strategies.
Speaking of fantasy-playoff strategies, I receive questions every day about whether certain injured stars are worth stashing away for the stretch run. Here are my quick takes on some key players -- as you'll see, I'm rather risk-averse this close to the fantasy playoffs. All of what I say refers to re-draft leagues.
Paul George - George went through a full practice last Thursday and said that his goal is to return in mid-March, though he admitted "[It's a long ways away, still got some steps and hurdles to overcome." He's up to 235 pounds after hitting the weights hard during his absence and all signs are positive, especially since he was doubtful to play at all this season.
It's important to temper George's optimism with coach Frank Vogel's quotes from that Thursday, when he emphasized that PG has been cleared to practice but not to play: "He's just been doing a little more and more ... Today was his first full practice," Vogel said. "[There is] no timetable for his return. He's got a long way to go before he gets cleared to play."
If George were to return vs. the Bulls on Wednesday, March 18, he could play in the Pacers' final 16 games. I fully expect George's minutes to be limited as a precaution upon his return, and he'll likely need a few weeks to reclaim his game-conditioning and rhythm. The possibility of precautionary DNP-CDs is another concern, but there's enough incentive to stash him away if you're confidently cruising into the fantasy playoffs, especially since his status should be clarified before most playoffs begin on March 16. (UPDATE: George has gone through three or four practices but coach Frank Vogel said the Pacers will "see how the next few weeks progress," which makes it sound like PG will return in late March at best. It's all the more reason to shy away from him.)
Kemba Walker - Walker is also targeting a mid-March return, though unlike George he has yet to resume practicing after having surgery on his torn lateral meniscus. His original timetable of 6-8 weeks would have him returning between March 11 and March 25, but it seems likely that he'll be on the later end of that spectrum.
Any player returning from knee surgery carries inherent risk. Walker said he'll take his time and doesn't plan to return until he's 100 percent healthy, and the Hornets have no incentive to push him -- Mo Williams is thriving in the starting PG role for Charlotte, and they owe Kemba a guaranteed $12 million per year through the 2018-19 season, so his long-term health is paramount. I'd avoid him unless you're absolutely confident that carrying his DNP-CDs won't jeopardize your playoff chances. (UPDATE: Walker was cleared to practice without restrictions on Wednesday and coach Steve Clifford suggested that he could return in about a week, so a mid-March return is now entirely realistic. We couldn't have asked for a more positive update, and Walker is now a terrific guy to stash in all leagues.)
Jimmy Butler - Butler's fluky elbow injury won't require surgery, but he still needs 3-6 weeks to allow his ligament to fully recover. "I'm doing all right," he said. "I'm just trying my best to hurry back, being careful, of course ... My ligament just has to heal, and I've got to be able to move my left arm like I move my right before I can get out there and do anything."
A return in three weeks, for the Bulls game on March 23, would give Butler 11 more games this season. A return in six weeks would keep him out until Chicago's final one or two games, though he'd still be ready to go for the playoffs. Butler's 38.9 minutes per game easily lead the NBA and he's a favorite for Most Improved Player, but even Tom Thibodeau might be inclined to scale back his activity and err on the side of caution with the postseason just around the corner. Given Butler's nebulous timetable, I'd rather stream hot free agents down the stretch than risk a string of zeroes from Jimmy B -- even waiver-wire staples like Rodney Stuckey and Danilo Gallinari can morph into must-own players for stretches, so why take unnecessary risks this late in the season?
Dwight Howard - Howard would be the last guy I'd recommend of these four injured stars. As of Feb. 28 he was still limited to swimming, weight training and some modified treadmill work. Updates should be plentiful in March, as he'll have a few MRIs in the near future, but I'm not anticipating a quick return. The Rockets frontcourt is solid even without Dwight, as Donatas Motiejunas, Terrence Jones and Josh Smith are ably holding down the fort, so there's even less incentive for the No. 3 seed Rockets to rush their star center's return. Gamble your chips on another player.
Kelly Olynyk - The Celtics' prized big man hasn't played since late January and he remains without a firm return date, which is enough reason to leave him on the waiver wire. I still like his upside if he ever gets 100 percent healthy this season, however, and wouldn't hesitate to grab him when he finally steps on the court.
Derrick Rose - Although he anticipates a return this season, and the removal of his meniscus requires a relatively short recovery time, I'm not going anywhere near Rose this season. Aaron Brooks, Tony Snell and Nikola Mirotic are all great guys to own with Rose, Butler and Taj Gibson all on the sidelines for Chicago.
Kevin Durant - Durant had a 'minor' procedure to shift a screw in his surgically-repaired foot, thus alleviating the pain and soreness that shut him down toward the end of February. He has resumed some light shooting and said there's "no doubt" he'll return prior to the end of the season, though OKC hasn't given so much as a rough timetable. I'd cut most players in his situation, but Durant's upside is too high to give up on him until you absolutely have to (likely in mid-March, if his return date still hasn't been established).
Jusuf Nurkic - Nurkic was posting nice top-80 value prior to his ankle injury. The Nuggets have only said that he'll be out "a while" and they're going nowhere this season, so his health is their No. 1 priority. He belongs on the waiver wire until we get some substantial updates.
Kyle Lowry - Lowry is resting a variety of nagging injuries and he may miss more games this week, but his rest-of-season outlook is too good to think about cutting him. He's struggled ever since DeMar DeRozan returned, and was shooting an abysmal 34.2 percent over his previous 10 games, so the rest may actually be a blessing in disguise for his fantasy owners.
Blake Griffin - Blake's elbow infection has healed nicely, it seems, and he's on pace to return as soon as Sunday's matchup with the Warriors. Nobody should have cut him given his reasonable 4-6 week timetable from early February, so talk of the waiver wire is irrelevant.
Josh McRoberts - Although McBob could return from his knee injury prior to the end of the season, he faces too many hurdles to bother with outside of the very deepest leagues.
Nikola Pekovic - Pekovic is clinging to 12-team value on both a season-long and recent-week basis, with his value mostly limited to 14.0 points, 8.5 rebounds and 81.6 percent FT shooting. He's struggling from the field and contributes very few assists, steals or blocks, giving him minimal margin for error. Throw in his chronically sore ankles and the Wolves' cellar-dwelling record, and Pek's rest-of-season outlook is rather bleak. I'm fine cutting him loose for a more promising free agent.
Ryan Anderson - The Pelicans gave Ryno a 2-4 week timetable with his sprained MCL, so he could return anywhere from March 8-22. He could also be out longer, of course, and in the absence of a firm return date I'm disinclined to own a guy who only produces late-round value at full strength.
That will do it for this week's Numbers Game. Thanks for reading, and feel free to message me on Twitter if you have any questions or insights. Good luck this week.