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December 17, 2010
Start/Sit Projections
Week of Dec. 20

by Kevin Pelton

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Using opponent data for each team on the upcoming schedule, Basketball Prospectus can estimate how much a player's performance will vary because of the defenses he will face in the next week. (See here for more details on the process.) Each week, Kevin Pelton will take a look at five players to use, five to limit, and an ideal pickup.

Must Plays

Taj Gibson, PF, Chicago Bulls (plus-10 percent)
The holiday week produces some interesting choices. Some teams, like Chicago, have full four-game schedules. Meanwhile, the Toronto Raptors play just once all week, making it impossible to put Raptors in your lineup despite a favorable matchup against the Detroit Pistons. Everything comes together for Gibson, who gets the benefit of both an easy set of opponents and four games. With Joakim Noah sidelined by hand surgery, Gibson figures to be the same kind of valuable contributor he was when Carlos Boozer was out of the lineup for the season's first month.

Mike Bibby, PG, Atlanta Hawks (plus-7 percent)
Bibby gets three above-average matchups during the week ahead, which should help him build on his pedestrian season averages. If Jamal Crawford continues to be troubled by the sore back that held him out of Thursday's loss in Boston, Bibby becomes all the more worthwhile for fantasy purposes.

Al Harrington, PF, Denver Nuggets (plus-7 percent)
After getting through Wednesday's rematch with the San Antonio Spurs, Harrington and the other Denver big men can look forward to a solid weekend. Both the Oklahoma City Thunder, whom the Nuggets face on Christmas on ESPN, and the Philadelphia 76ers have been far worse than average when it comes to stopping post players.

Luol Deng, SF, Chicago Bulls (plus-7 percent)
While the Bulls' schedule isn't quite as favorable for wing players as it is for big men, Deng should also get a solid boost. Chicago faces three teams that rank among the league's worst 11 defenses, so there will be plenty of production to go around for the Bulls.

Arron Afflalo, SG, Denver Nuggets (plus-5 percent)
Keeping with the teammates theme, the numbers recommend a second Nuggets player. The logic is about the same as it is for Harrington: Out of Denver's three upcoming opponents, only the Spurs are strong against wing players. Add in that Oklahoma City's defensive ace (Thabo Sefolosha) may turn his attention to Carmelo Anthony rather than Afflalo and this schedule looks all the more positive.

Tough Schedules

Brook Lopez, C, New Jersey Nets (minus-14 percent)
Lopez is a class above the players who usually appear in this column. Ordinarily, he'd be a lock for your lineup regardless of schedule. But if ever there was a time to go against that strategy, it's this week. Not only do the Nets play just two games, both are against teams that have been outstanding against post players. Lopez has been inconsistent this season, so now may not be the time to expect him to overcome tough matchups.

Carl Landry, PF, Sacramento Kings (minus-10 percent)
The Milwaukee Bucks' slow start can't be traced to their defense in the paint. Milwaukee has contained opposing post players, especially on the glass, which spells trouble for Sacramento players who see half of their action next week against the Bucks. That goes for both Landry and teammate DeMarcus Cousins.

Grant Hill, SF, Phoenix Suns (minus-10 percent)
If you're setting your lineups on a daily basis, note that Hill's tough schedule is really entirely about Sunday's matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers. Consider yourself safe to play him normally on Monday and Thursday, when the Suns face teams that are average at defending wings.

John Salmons, SG, Milwaukee Bucks (minus-10 percent)
The Bucks' schedule sets up in much the same manner as the Suns'. They'll face two average matchups for wings sandwiched around one very challenging one: Tuesday against the Los Angeles Lakers in Milwaukee's case. Don't expect Salmons to get on track against Ron Artest and Kobe Bryant.

D.J. Augustin, PG, Charlotte Bobcats (minus-8 percent)
Both games the Bobcats have on the docket look unfavorable for Augustin's production, as the Thunder and the Washington Wizards have both held opposing point guards at least seven percent below their usual fantasy level this season.

This Week's Pickup

Travis Outlaw, SF, New Jersey Nets (plus-20 percent)
Available in 95.3 percent of ESPN leagues
First, the downside: The Nets get just two games next week, but they're both terrific matchups. As seems to be a theme in this column, the Memphis Grizzlies can't stop anyone on the wing, while the New Orleans Hornets have been most permissive to shooting guards and small forwards. Outlaw has been a disappointment to date in New Jersey, but Avery Johnson has few other options with Damion James and Anthony Morrow on the shelf and Terrence Williams dealt to Houston.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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