With only about seven weeks left in the regular season and the All-Star break at hand, I thought I’d look at the games-played schedule the rest of the way for analyzing pickups down the stretch. Of course, there are serious shutdown candidates to consider, as well as bad teams with nothing left to play for, which I’ll also take into consideration for this column. But the main focus will be on games played and who might be available on your waiver wire, on a per-team basis.
Week 19 Games Played (upcoming week)
3 Games: CHA, CLE, PHI, WAS
2 Games: BOS, CHI, DAL, DEN, DET, GSW, HOU, LAC, LAL, MEM, MIA, MIL, MIN, NOP, NYK, OKC, ORL, PHX, POR, SAC, SAS, UTA
1 Game: ATL, BKN, IND, TOR
The Sixers still have 27 games remaining, the most in the league, while the Timberwolves limp home with just 21 games left in their season. That’s six whole games if you own Joel Embiid instead of Karl-Anthony Towns, although with Embiid’s injury history, and KAT’s tendency to never rest, they could end up even by the time it’s all said and done. Here’s a look at every team in the league's remaining games played.
27 Games – Philadelphia 76ers
Not only do the Sixers have the most games remaining on their schedule, they also get three games in Week 19, while all but three other teams play just one or two times that week. That gives you at least two big reasons to target Sixers down the stretch. The only problem is that pickups in Philly are going to be slim to none. I have zero faith in Markelle Fultz and wouldn’t burn a pickup on him, even with the great schedule. T.J. McConnell had a recent triple-double, but is unreliable, and Marco Belinelli had a big game, but is also a huge question mark with his new team. If you’ve been thinking about dropping Robert Covington, the schedule is probably enough to hold onto him, while Richaun Holmes and Amir Johnson might be worth a look in case Joel Embiid is shut down. If J.J. Redick is available, you should pick him up. Otherwise, there’s not much on the wire when it comes to Philly.
26 Games – Cleveland Cavaliers, L.A. Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies
Like the Sixers, the Cavaliers play three games in Week 19, giving them an advantage over most of the league. They also play more games than most teams in the league over the final couple months of the season. This increases the value of guys like George Hill, Jordan Clarkson, J.R. Smith, Rodney Hood, Jeff Green, Tristan Thompson and Larry Nance. If any of them are available in your league, the schedule favors them enough for you to pick them up for a guy playing several fewer games at the bottom of this list.
The Clippers have a nice schedule, making guys like Austin Rivers and Milos Teodosic interesting. Avery Bradley could also finish on a high note after a disastrous season, meaning he’s worth a look if for nothing more than the extra games he’s going to play down the stretch. Just keep in mind that he’s been really bad thus far, so there are no guarantees that he’s going to get it turned around. Rivers looks like the pickup here.
The Grizzlies might be the most interesting team on this list. They have a lot of games left, but guys like Marc Gasol and Tyreke Evans are on the shutdown watch list. Meanwhile, Andrew Harrison looks like a fine pickup to me, while players like Dillon Brooks, JaMychal Green, Deyonta Davis, Jarell Martin, Mario Chalmers and Wayne Selden all deserve consideration. That’s the order I’d put them in. And as far as a Gasol or Evans shutdown watch goes, I’d put both of their target dates around March 12. Maybe they finish out the year in a lost season, or maybe a tweaked back or ankle shuts them down early. If Evans leaves, Harrison becomes must-own (although I think he’s there already) and if Gasol leaves, we might finally see a Davis breakout. He’s a speculative add if you’re with me and think Gasol might not finish this thing out.
25 Games – Charlotte Hornets, Chicago Bulls, Detroit Pistons, Houston Rockets, L.A. Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks, New Orleans Pelicans, Orlando Magic, Sacramento Kings, Toronto Raptors, Washington Wizards.
Most teams have 24 or 25 games left, so you’re not going to find any huge advantages here. But the Hornets do play three games in Week 19, while most others play just once or twice, and they take a hit in the final couple weeks of the season, playing just four times when everyone else tends to play five or six times. Hornets pickup candidates include Nicolas Batum (if he was dropped), Jeremy Lamb, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marvin Williams, Frank Kaminsky and Willy Hernangomez, in case Dwight Howard leaves early, although I don’t think that’s likely. I could see Marvin being shutdown at some point, which would help Kaminsky. The Hornets are 5.5 games out of the playoffs, so it’s likely they have nothing to play for over the final month of the season.
The Bulls season is basically over. Kris Dunn should be back, but Jerian Grant and Cameron Payne should play down the stretch, hurting all three of them. Zach LaVine could be shut down at any point coming off surgery, but has looked great in his return. Justin Holiday should be safe, Denzel Valentine is fading, but could play this thing out, and Bobby Portis has been solid over the last month. And if they decide to shut down Robin Lopez, Cristiano Felicio or Willie Reed could become relevant. David Nwaba is the guy to keep an eye on here, as the Bulls could decide to turn him loose in a lost season.
The Pistons are only 1.5 games out of the playoffs, so there’s a decent chance the regulars keep playing until the end. Reggie Bullock is a strong pickup right now, while Stanley Johnson and Anthony Tolliver could stay relevant throughout the rest of the season.
The Rockets have the opposite problem of the Pistons, as they’ are cruising and are basically guaranteed either the first- or second-seed in the West. Maybe guys like Chris Paul and James Harden get a couple games off down the stretch, but there are no must-own pickups in Houston. Ryan Anderson had a monster game recently, and plays enough games to make him worth a look, while Eric Gordon, Gerald Green and Joe Johnson all warrant some attention.
The Lakers are only playing for the fans and we still don’t know when Lonzo Ball will be back, or how long he’ll play the rest of the way given his knee problems. Isaiah Thomas should be good to go and I’m still a huge fan of holding Josh Hart. My guess is Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will soon fade away, while Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle and Kyle Kuzma are all young enough that they should finish this thing out. Brook Lopez is a shutdown candidate, simply because of his tenure in the league, but the only player that helps is probably Randle. Hart looks like the pickup here.
The Bucks are locked into the playoffs, but would like to improve their position, as they currently sit at No. 6 behind the Pacers and in front of the Sixers in the East. Eric Bledsoe, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, John Henson, Jabari Parker, Thon Maker and Tony Snell should all get plenty of run the rest of the way, but there are no obvious pickups here.
The Pelicans are clinging to the No. 8 seed in the West, but sit just ½ game ahead of the Clippers and 1.5 games ahead of the Jazz. It should be fun to watch them down the stretch and Anthony Davis has managed to stay pretty healthy thus far. Rajon Rondo should probably be owned, E’Twaun Moore and Darius Miller are worth a look in most leagues, and Ian Clark, Cheick Diallo and Emeka Okafor are watch-list candidates.
The Magic are battling the Hawks for the worst record in the East (and the league) and have nothing left to play for. As someone who has been holding injured Aaron Gordon for too long, it makes me quite nervous. Yes, he’s a shutdown candidate, especially if he’s not ready to go right after the break. D.J. Augustin and Shelvin Mack are still pickup candidates with no one else to play point guard in Orlando, and Jonathon Simmons is young enough to keep playing in a lost season. Mario Hezonja should be owned until we find out the fate of Gordon, while guys like Jonathan Isaac and Khem Birch could make some noise down the stretch. The Magic have Nikola Vucevic set to return from a broken hand, but really don’t have many reasons to play him. Bismack Biyombo could finish up strong, especially if the Magic decide to shut Vuc down.
The Kings have an advantage over the rest of the league with five games in Week 20, but only have four games over the last couple weeks of the season. The five-game week in your playoffs is huge. They have nothing to play for, but young guys like De’Aaron Fox, Bogdan Bogdanovic (Rising Stars MVP), Willie Cauley-Stein, Justin Jackson, Skal Labissiere, JaKarr Sampson and Buddy Hield could all finish up strong for the disaster that is the Kings. Zach Randolph has been solid for several weeks, but I find it hard to believe he’ll finish out the season, and I don’t trust Garrett Temple, Kosta Koufos or Vince Carter at all.
The Raptors only play twice in Week 24, when everyone else in the league plays three or four times. That hurts, but the Raptors are the No. 1 seed in the East and would like to stay there. The pickup candidates in Canada are Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, C.J. Miles, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl, but VanVleet and Wright are the ones you should think about owning right now.
The Wizards are currently the No. 4 seed in the East and would like to stay there, so the studs should play. John Wall is not due back any time soon, so Tomas Satoransky looks like a must-own player to me right now. Sato gets a boost right after the break with a three-game week, while most other teams only play once or twice. Markieff Morris deserves to be owned in most leagues and Ian Mahinmi is worth a watchful eye at center, but other than that, there’s not much going on in Washington as far as your waiver wire is concerned. But if Sato’s available, go get him.
24 Games – Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets, Golden State Warriors, Indiana Pacers, Miami Heat, Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz.
These teams are boring schedule-wise, but there’s a lot going on with the Mavericks, who are one of the league’s worst teams. J.J. Barea is hot, but the Mavs really don’t have many reasons to keep giving him heavy minutes, Yogi Ferrell is young and could play a lot down the stretch, and they may want to give Doug McDermott a test drive the rest of the way. Wesley Matthews and Dirk Nowitzki have logged a lot of miles and are both shutdown candidates, while Dwight Powell looks like an automatic pickup after his strong play the last few weeks. And yes, Nerlens Noel deserves a look down the stretch, even though I’m not picking him up anywhere right now. Here’s how I’d rank the Dallas pickups: Powell, Ferrell, McDermott, Noel, Maxi Kleber. And as far as Dennis Smith Jr. goes, he had an amazing dunk in the Dunk Contest and is a rookie, so he should play a ton the rest of the way. I know his Basketballmonster.com ranking is bad, but I still think he’s worth owning the rest of the way.
The Nuggets are currently in the playoffs, but still aren’t a lock to make it, as the Clippers and Jazz are knocking on the door, while Denver has Portland and New Orleans right on their tail. Paul Millsap should be back at some point, but he may still be a whole month away. I can’t justify holding him in leagues without an IR spot for that long, but it’s also possible he comes back sooner. I’m also a little worried about his re-entry, as the Nuggets have been on fire, winning seven of their last 10 and only losing once in February. Will Barton, Wilson Chandler and Trey Lyles are the pickups for the Nuggets, and Lyles should be the one who fully disappears if we ever see Millsap again.
The Warriors will rest guys a bit down the stretch, but not enough to make any of the scrubs worth owning full time. Andre Iguodala, Omri Casspi, Shaun Livingston, JaVale McGee, Davis West, Nick Young, Patrick McCaw and Jordan Bell, if he ever gets over his sprained ankle, should all be worth owning for at least one night between now and the end of the season. But like I said, you’ll just have to pick your spot to stream them once we find out what games some studs might miss.
The Pacers are currently the No. 5 seed in the East, but have a realistic chance to move up to No. 3 or down to No. 7, depending on how they finish the season. Hopefully it goes better for them than it went for Victor Oladipo in the Dunk Contest. Darren Collison isn’t going to be back for another week or two, meaning Cory Joseph is still worth holding until further notice. It took a minute, but Joseph finally went off in his final game before the break with 15 points, 11 rebounds, three assists, two steals, two blocks and a 3-pointer. In addition to Co-Jo, Bojan Bogdanovic, Domantas Sabonis and Lance Stephenson all deserve consideration to be owned for one of the East’s best teams.
The Heat are the No. 8 seed in the East, so they’re going to be fighting like heck the rest of the way. Dwyane Wade gets new life in Miami and is worth a look, while Wayne Ellington hasn’t quite faded away yet. I just picked him up in a league or two, as Wade might not hurt him as badly as we thought he would. James Johnson is playing better of late, so think about grabbing him if someone dropped him, while Josh Richardson’s quieted down a little. He’s an automatic add if someone jumped the gun and dropped him. Bam Adebayo, Tyler Johnson, Justise Winslow and Kelly Olynyk (once healthy) are all worth a close look. I love Bam, but he’s yet to put it all together for much of a stretch.
The Blazers are currently the No. 7 seed in the West and will have to fight to stay in the playoffs. Al-Farouq Aminu seems to be available in a lot of leagues, while Ed Davis is also worth owning in some. Shabazz Napier, Evan Turner and Pat Connaughton could all see some value if any of their teammates are injured, but Aminu and Davis look like the two best free agents on this team.
The Jazz are the hottest team in the league, winning 11 straight games, playing awesome defense and getting strong performances from Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell, Derrick Favors, Joe Ingles, Ryan O’Neale and Jae Crowder, while Ricky Rubio continues to sit with a hip injury. Ingles might be available in your league and should be owned, while O’Neale has quietly been playing well for several weeks now. I like him a little more than Crowder, while Alec Burks might be worth keeping an eye on. Obviously, the dunk champion and everyone else I mentioned should be owned.
23 Games – Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks, Oklahoma City Thunder, Phoenix Suns, San Antonio Spurs.
The Hawks are one of the worst teams in the league and I have a feeling the Ersan Ilyasova show is rolling to an end. That should free up John Collins, who has basically been in this column every week with me begging the Hawks to turn him loose. It’s time. I guess guys like Dennis Schroder, Kent Bazemore and Dewayne Dedmon could all be rested at some point, but they don’t feel like shutdown candidates to me. Collins is the pickup here, while Dedmon has also been coming on for the Hawks. Malcolm Delaney will be worth using on nights when Schroder’s out, Tyler Dorsey is the guy when Baze is sitting, and DeAndre Bembry doesn’t have to do much to play better than Taurean Prince has all year.
The Celtics are in a battle with the Raptors for the Top of the East and the only interesting Wired angle is the return of Marcus Smart from his hand injury. That will hurt Terry Rozier, but Rozier has probably passed Smart in the mind of Brad Stevens, given how well Rozier has played since Smart went down. I’m thinking we should hang onto Rozier until the wheels fall off. And if you’re forced to make a decision between Smart and Rozier, I’m telling you to roll with Rozier.
The Nets are a mess and the potential shutdown guys look like they could be D’Angelo Russell, Caris LeVert, DeMarre Carroll and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. I’m moving on from RHJ is I own him, while I’d plan on riding DAR, LeVert and Carroll until they start to fade away. And it’s entirely possible that none of those guys are shut down. I think Skills Challenge star Spencer Dinwiddie should be good to go, Allen Crabbe is on fire and should be owned at this point, while Joe Harris has played well enough to be owned for a couple months now. And then there’s the human fantasy disappointment known as Jarrett Allen, who not only still hasn’t emerged as a force, but is seeing his minutes trending in the wrong direction lately. I’m still holding onto him if I own him, as it makes no sense for the Nets not to play him. And no, I’m not chasing Jahlil Okafor, or anyone named Okafor, for that matter.
The Knicks are a disaster, but I think Tim Hardaway Jr., Michael Beasley, Emmanuel Mudiay and Kyle O’Quinn will finish strong. I don’t see why they’d shut down Enes Kanter, but O’Quinn deserves more of a shot than he’s gotten thus far. And maybe they’ll give Luke Kornet another shot, but his brief first run to glory was short lived.
The Thunder have just four games to finish out the season’s final two weeks, which isn’t great, but you can rest assured that Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony and Steven Adams should all finish up strong for the current No. 5 seed in the West. Jerami Grant is the only guy I like as a pickup, although guys like Raymond Felton, Kyle Singler or Patrick Patterson could be worth a stream if Westbrook, George, Melo or Adams gets a night off.
The Suns also have just four games to finish out the final two weeks and Devin Booker could be a shutdown candidate if he tweaks anything down the stretch. There’s no point in messing with their future star if he’s not 100 percent. Elfrid Payton is must-own, along with Booker, T.J. Warren and Josh Jackson, while Tyler Ulis, Troy Daniels, Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender and Alex Len are all worth keeping a close eye on down the stretch. Alan Williams is also talking about playing before the end of the season and if it happens, the Suns might just turn the center job over to him. He might be worth a flier a couple weeks from now.
The Spurs only have two games in Week 20, when most other teams are playing three, four or five (Kings) times. That’s a big deal, as that week could fall in the heart of your fantasy playoffs, while the Spurs are famous for giving guys random nights off. I don’t like messing with this team, but Dejounte Murray, LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol should probably be owned in most leagues. The other worth a look include Danny Green, Patty Mills, Bryn Forbes, Kyle Anderson, Davis Bertans and Joffrey Lauvergne, who went nuts in one game just before the break. Manu Ginobili is hurt and will be babied, Rudy Gay is due back right after the break, and Kawhi Leonard will likely play at some point before the end of the regular season. I’m not stashing Leonard, as I don’t think he’ll play more than three games the rest of the way, but Gay is someone who could be worth a stash. I’m just not going to do it, as the Spurs will likely baby him coming off a pretty serious heel bruise that’s kept him out for a month. And that two-game week is a big turnoff for any potential Spurs pickups.
21 Games – Minnesota Timberwolves
The Timberwolves easily have the worst schedule the rest of the way and only play twice in Week 21 and four times to finish out the season. The good news is that they’re the No. 4 seed in the West and are in a battle to stay there, or possibly pass the Spurs to become the No. 3 seed. That means Jeff Teague, Andrew Wiggins, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Karl-Anthony Towns should continue to roll for the schedule-challenged Wolves. Jamal Crawford, Gorgui Dieng and Nemanja Bjelica are all worth keeping an eye on, but the starting five are the guys you want to own here.
Good luck the rest of the way!!