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March 2, 2012
Start/Sit Projections
Week of March 5-11

by Bradford Doolittle

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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 in the next week. (See 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.

MUST-PLAYS

These are players currently owned by less than half of owners in ESPN Fantasy Basketball 2012 that may be worth a roster spot in the week ahead.

O.J. Mayo (Owned 45.4%, Opponent boost 12.6%): Mayo's minutes have been locked in at around 30 over his last five outings, though his performance has been up and down. When he's on, he hits threes while chipping in with solid showings in assists, boards and steals. When his shot is off, his overall game tends to sag and he can kill your field goal percentage. This is a good time to pick him up if you're in one of the 54-plus percent of leagues that have Mayo on the free agent wire. The Grizzlies have Golden State, Phoenix and Denver on the docket starting Wednesday. The Warriors and Nuggets both feature pressure defenses which can mean a lot of open 3-point looks for Mayo and his teammates. The Suns are just a bad defensive team, the league's third-worst against off guards. And all three of those opponents play up-tempo styles, which is good for the counting categories. Also, this is the last full week before the trade deadline. Mayo will be a restricted free agent after the season and the cap-strapped Grizzlies aren't likely to retain him. So there is a chance that Mayo could be on the move within the next two weeks, which could land him in a starting role that makes him much more palatable to fantasy owners. Time to speculate.

Corey Maggette (Owned 34.6%, Opponent boost 11.1%): Maggette has been injured and ineffective in his first season for Charlotte despite being the only proven scoring threat on the Bobcats' roster. By now, most of fantasy owners have thrown in the tall on the former foul-drawing machine. This might be the week to crawl back into the ring and snatch that towel back. Maggette's right knee is still sore and can hamper him on any given night, yet his recent performance has been encouraging. He's played at least 20 minutes and scored at least 10 points in seven straight games. His free throw attempts are on the rise, which may mean that he's recovered enough explosion to resume his basket-attacking ways. The Bobcats' near-term schedule works in his favor, with three opponents worse than average against small forwards and one other one that is just above average. Of those, the best matchups are against Orlando on Tuesday and New Jersey on Friday. The Magic, thanks to the aging Hedo Turkoglu, are in the league's bottom third against threes, and only two teams are worse against that position than the Nets. Also, both of those games are the front end of back-to-backs. It's the day after those contests when you have to be wary, given Maggette's knee woes.

Kendrick Perkins (Owned 13.5%, Opponent boost 10.7%): Scott Brooks hasn't lost faith in Perkins, even if most of you have. He continues to log 30-31 minutes per night, grabbing double-digit rebounds and blocking shots. Perkins has struggled with his offensive efficiency, which is why he's owned in so few leagues. No one was expecting 15 points per game, not on a team with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, but we at least expected Perkins to be efficient. A career 56 percent shooter, he's mired at 45 percent this season. He's turning the ball over at a career-high rate as well, which doesn't help. His total of field-goal attempts tends to mirror almost exactly the number of offensive rebounds he gets, which tells you a lot about how he's used. You might think that his problem is finishing at the rim, perhaps because he lost so much weight in the offseason. In fact, he's converted about 66 percent of his looks at the basket, according to hoopdata.com, right on target with his career norms. The problem has been that he's taken to shooting occasional long 2s -- 15 of them this season. This is an exceedingly bad idea. Over the last two seasons, Perkins is 1 for 24 beyond 15 feet. This week, Oklahoma City is going against four opponents that have struggled against pivots, especially Charlotte, Saturday's matchup. If Perkins is going to boost his offensive efficiency, this may be the week it happens.

Derrick Favors (Owned 4.9%, Opponent boost 10.6%): Paul Millsap is battling a sore heel, giving a major minutes boost to Favors. The talented young big forward should be on your radar, with 36-minute averages of 14 points, 10 boards and nearly two blocks. He's compiled those numbers with solid efficiency, which should improve with consistent minutes. Sure, you're guessing on Millsap's health status, but if you're reading this section, you're probably desperate for warmer bodies anyway. The Jazz have three opponents who are favorable matchups for Favors, so to speak, especially Charlotte on Wednesday. Beware the Bulls, Saturday's game, as that's the second game of a back-to-back for Utah, and the Bulls are strong against power forwards.

Marco Belinelli (Owned 33.1%, Opponent boost 9.5%): It's surprising that Belinelli isn't more widely-owned. His minutes have been consistent and should remain so with Eric Gordon remaining out, and he generally gets you 15-20 points with 2-3 treys per contest. If you've been wavering on picking him up, this is the time to do it. The Hornets have four games this week, the last three of which are against teams that struggle against shooting guards. Only Portland, Monday's matchup, is a bad one for Belinelli. Wednesday and Friday brings the Kings and Nuggets -- the league's two worst defenders of Belinelli's position.

TOUGH SCHEDULES

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.

Paul Pierce (Owned 100%, Opponent hit -14.1%): Pierce has had three straight poor-shooting games and if his luck is to change, it won't be because of the schedule. The Celtics have the Rockets, Sixers, Blazers and Lakers coming up, all above-average against small forwards. The Sixers (Wednesday) are the league's second best behind Andre Iguodala. The Blazers (Gerald Wallace and Nicolas Batum) are third. Look for more productive, but inefficient, performances from Pierce over the next seven days.

Carlos Delfino (Owned 66.7%, Opponent hit -13.6%): Delfino has shot under 30 percent over his last five games and while his playing time has remained stable, the schedule won't be doing him any favors in the days to come. The first two of Milwaukee's four opponents are killers -- Philadelphia on Monday, Chicago on Wednesday. The other two games are against New York and Toronto, which are both averageish against threes, so if you have to have Delfino in your lineup, wait till then to put him in there.

Ersan Ilyasova (Owned 100%, Opponent hit -13.6%): The game's newest rebounding demon has a tough slate over the next few days. The one game that interrupted Ilyasova's recent flurry was at Chicago in the last game before the All-Star break. The Bucks have Chicago again this Wednesday, which bodes poorly for Ilyasova, who was a non-factor in the aforementioned matchup. The rest of the week is split. New York has been one of the top five teams against fours this season, while Toronto ranks in the bottom third.

Paul George (Owned 100%, Opponent hit -12.8%): The Pacers have won five straight, but three of those victories have come with George playing a bit of a reduced role. He's still stuffing the box score, with that unheard of combination of assists, steals and blocks. However, his shot has come and gone and with it, his minutes have ebbed and flowed. The Pacers have a tough slate this week for their wing players, especially George. The Bulls, Heat and Magic are three of the top seven teams against shooting guards. The Bulls and Heat are even better versus threes, so there is no boost for sliding George over there. He'll produce, but don't be surprised if his efficiency is off and his minutes become a bit inconsistent. But it's just for the short term -- George is a definite keeper in the big picture.

Ray Allen (Owned 100%, Opponent hit -9.8%): Even as the Celtics' overall performance is cause for anxiety in Boston, Allen continues to deliver exactly what you could have reasonably expected from him at draft time. This week, the Celtics face three opponents that are better than average against shooting guards. In particular, Allen's matchup with Philadelphia on Wednesday is tough. The Sixers are the league's top team against twos and no defense does a better job of chasing guys off the 3-point line. The only favorable opponent for Allen on paper falls on Tuesday, when Boston takes on Kevin Martin and the Rockets.

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 you're eye on 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.

Rudy Gay (Owned 100%, Opponent boost 16.0%): Gay may be headed for a big week for all the reasons outlined for O.J. Mayo above, though his boost is even greater. The biggest reason for that is the Golden State matchup -- always watch for small forwards to get into the lineup against the Warriors, who are worse against that position than any other team is against any other position. The Suns are better against threes than twos, but are still below average. The Nuggets are good against small forwards, but Gay's advantage against Memphis' other opponents more than offsets that. Gay has been incredibly consistent this year and can be counted upon to log 35-40 minutes per night. This may be the breakout week that has been the only thing his season to date has lacked.

(A version of this article originally appeared at ESPN Insider Insider.

(Get your copy of the most comprehensive guide to the new NBA season. Pro Basketball Prospectus 2011-12 is now available in .PDF and paperback format.

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

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