Using opponent data for each team on the following week's schedule, Basketball Prospectus can estimate how much a player's performance will vary because of the defenses he will face. (Click here for more details on the process.) Each week, Bradford Doolittle will take a look at five players to use, five to limit and an ideal pickup.
These are players currently owned by fewer than half of the owners in ESPN Fantasy Basketball 2012 that may be worth a roster spot in the week ahead.
Tayshaun Prince (Owned 45.7 percent, Opponent boost 27.5 percent)
It's been a down year for Prince, the first of a head-scratching four-year deal he signed with rebuilding Detroit before the season. However, his minutes have been steady and this is the week to load up on Pistons, who have two games against the Nets and one against the Wizards. The Nets have rated as the league's worst defensive team by allowing 111.2 points per 100 possessions and the Wizards are 24th at 105.5. Both of those teams have been especially poor against small forwards, which bodes well for Prince. And if you feel like you just finished watching Prince put up 21 points, six boards and four assists against New Jersey, you're not wrong. He put up those numbers on Wednesday. In one of the odder scheduling quirks in this odd season, the Pistons and Nets play three times over a 10-day span.
Jonas Jerebko (Owned 11.4 percent, Opponent boost 27.5 percent)
Jerebko would be more of a dice roll. His minutes have been down since he was replaced in Detroit's starting lineup by Ben Wallace and Jason Maxiell. However, he came off the bench against New Jersey on Wednesday to put up 14 points in 31 minutes and has scored 39 points over his last three games. It's not much to go on, but with the Nets apparently a favorable matchup for Jerebko, it may be worth a gamble to see if he's won back the confidence of Pistons coach Lawrence Frank. Is so, he can get you 10-12 points, a good field-goal percentage, six boards and a few three-pointers. Does that make Jerebko rosterable? Depends on how desperate you are. If the answer is "very" now would be time to take a shot.
Byron Mullens (Owned 23.1 percent, Opponent boost 9.8 percent)
Mullens' minutes have been all over the map but he continues to score well on a per-minute basis. It's all about getting him on the court. This week, the struggling Bobcats play the Celtics, Bulls and Clippers. Believe or not, that might make the timing right to grab Mullens. The Celtics and Bulls have defensive designs that emphasize clogging the middle and are very good at doing so. However, centers who can shoot from the perimeter, like Mullens, can give teams like that trouble. Plus Clippers center DeAndre Jordan tends to get out of position because of his love of highlight-making blocked shots and is loathe to follow face-up bigs out to the perimeter. Mullens had 17 points, five boards and a 3-pointer in Charlotte's game at Chicago a couple of weeks ago.
James Johnson (Owned 43.9 percent, Opponent boost 9.7 percent)
If only Johnson could shoot he'd be a fantasy stalwart because he's a floor game wizard. Few players in the league can match his combination of steals and blocks. When he gets full-time minutes, you can mark him down for 6-7 rebounds and 3-4 assists. Unfortunately, Johnson is shooting barely 40 percent from the field and doesn't get many shots. He's fared better from 3-point range this season, which is an aspect of his game that he's been working on since he came into the NBA. If his 2-point stroke, not to mention his free throw shooting, are to bounce back, it might be this week, when Toronto takes on Washington, Milwaukee, Boston and the L.A. Lakers. Overall, it's not an easy set of opponents except as a group, they have struggled against small forwards and are average against power forwards. Johnson flips back and forth between the two spots, so he should benefit as long as he doesn't play too much four against Kevin Garnett on Friday.
Kawhi Leonard (Owned 8.9 percent, Opponent boost 8.0 percent)
Leonard owners have been jumping ship as the rookie seems to have played his way out of a full-time role. It seems now that Danny Green has emerged as Gregg Popovich's favorite toy off the bench. After starting 13 straight games, Leonard was replaced by Gary Neal on Thursday and was basically a non-entity in 12 minutes as a reserve. It's a shame, because Leonard looks like potential stud with defensive chops that you'd think would earn him plenty of court time. If you're feeling adventurous, maybe you want to assume this is just one of Pop's whimsies, because the Spurs play Memphis, Philadelphia and New Jersey. We've touched on the Nets, but the Grizzlies are also vulnerable against forwards because of all the minutes going to Marreese Speights. However, Leonard is more of a combo wing than a combo forward and is sometimes misidentified as a four. If you're wary of his minutes or these matchups, Matt Bonner might be a better play.
These are players owned in most leagues, perhaps even by you, that you may want to leave on the bench for a few days because of a rugged schedule.
Al Jefferson (Owned 100 percent, Opponent hit -9.5 percent)
It's easy to say that Jefferson has a tough week ahead of him so maybe you should look for another option. The reality is that unless you're in an extremely small league, you don't have any 19-point, nine-rebound guys stashed on your bench. Still, you should be aware that Jefferson's recent shooting problems aren't likely to improve in the coming days. Utah plays New York (Tyson Chandler), Indiana (Roy Hibbert) and Oklahoma City (Kendrick Perkins) -- all nasty opponents for interior scorers. The Jazz finish with week with Memphis (Marc Gasol), which may be even worse news. Only Portland has defended centers better than the Grizzlies.
Kemba Walker (Owned 100 percent, Opponent hit -9.3 percent)
Trevor Ariza (Owned 63.1 percent, Opponent hit -10.0 percent)
Ricky Rubio is the only rookie to be getting more court time than Walker so far this season, but he's struggled with consistency. That's typical for rookies and you might want to steer clear of him and all Bobcats this week. Charlotte takes on Boston, Chicago and the L.A. Clippers, all of whom are murderous against point guards. Walker has been playing the point exclusively with D.J. Augustin out with a toe injury. Charlotte catches the Clippers at the end of the coming week and L.A. has struggled against twos. So if Augustin is back by then, Walker would switch back to the two and would be a safer play.
Ariza's ownership percentage is shrinking by the day, which will happen when you make less than 40 percent of your shots in eight out of nine games. If you've been faithful to Ariza through his slump, now might be the time to abandon your admirable loyalty. Sacramento, Chicago and Portland are the New Orleans opponents this week. Okay, the Kings haven't been very good against small forwards, so maybe you leave Ariza in on Monday. But the Bulls (Luol Deng) and Blazers (Gerald Wallace) have been two of the league's best against wing players. And, yes, Deng is expected to be back in action by the time the Hornets play Chicago on Wednesday.
Kyrie Irving (Owned 100 percent, Opponent hit -10.1 percent)
Dirk Nowitzki (Owned 100 percent, Opponent hit -16.3 percent)
Tough week for the leading Rookie of the Year candidate. Miami's Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole have been a little below average on defense, but of course the Heat defense is outstanding overall and Irving might see a fair amount of Dwyane Wade or even LeBron James in key situations. Cleveland's other three opponents have been well better than average against ones. The Sixers are second to Indiana in defending point guards while the Bucks and Clippers are both in the upper third. If Irving gets through this slate with his field-goal percentage still better than 50 percent and his 3-point percent still over 40, look out.
You can't take Dirk out of the lineup, right? He's your No. 1 draft pick. Nowitzki of course just returned from a little four-game fitness retreat, but he's been even worse since coming back. He's hit just 11 of 39 shots in three games since returning and was 2 of 15 against Oklahoma City on Wednesday. It doesn't get any easier for Nowitzki in the days ahead. Dallas plays Denver, Minnesota and Portland this week, all of whom have been excellent against both fours and fives. Opponent strength used to a non-factor for Nowitzki, whom you would never consider pulling from a fantasy lineup. Right now, though, he's got to have you thinking.
This week's ideal "get"
This is the player not mentioned above who stands to get the biggest boost from this week's slate. If you've had your eye on this player via the trade market, now is the time to pull the trigger. If you own him, you may want to hold off on that deal for another week.
Greg Monroe (Owned 100 percent, Opponent boost 15.4 percent)
Monroe is listed as a forward for his primary position and that's how he's coded here, though in reality he's played center exclusively for the Pistons this season. That takes a little bit of the edge off his 15.4 percent opponent boost projected for this week, but even if you call him a center, you'd still be able to bump his production up by about six percent. He's still a solid play. Monroe has really been a bright spot on a putrid Pistons team, putting up solid across-the-board numbers with excellent efficiency. He just keeps getting better, too, hitting 22 of 34 over his last three games. The only downside is that he commits too many turnovers for his position. With the Pistons desperate for playmaking, that's probably not going to change.
A version of this article originally appeared at ESPN Insider .
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