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.
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.
Michael Beasley (Owned 37.8%, Opponent boost 23.3%): Beasley's court time has cratered during the 11 games since Minnesota lost Ricky Rubio for the season to a knee injury. Beasley has been battling a sore toe and when he's played, his minutes have ranged from 11 to 26. Nevertheless, the Timberwolves have dropped seven of 11 without Rubio and have put up a flagging offensive rating of just 104.6. Beasley remains one of the team's better wing options when it comes to putting up points, and Rick Adelman may have to turn to him in the week ahead when Minnesota takes on Sacramento, Golden State and New Orleans. All of those teams have been exceedingly weak against threes this season.
Kirk Hinrich (Owned 12.4%, Opponent boost 13.1%): Hinrich has been playing big minutes but remains an afterthought in Atlanta's offensive pecking order. With two games against Charlotte and one against Detroit, this will be a great week to load up on Hawks. Hinrich has been playing mostly shooting guard alongside Jeff Teague, which accounts for his projected 13.1 percent opponent boost. However, Teague has a 25 percent projected boost of his own, so Hinrich should also fare well when he slides over to the point. Despite his shaky overall numbers, Hinrich has averaged over nine points with 41 percent 3-point shooting over his last 15 games, numbers which he may fatten in the days ahead.
Nikola Pekovic (Owned 49.2%, Opponent boost 12.0%): While Beasley and the Timberwolves' other wings may get right this week, it should also be a good stretch on the inside for Pekovic. Despite Kevin Love gobbling up massive amounts of scoring and rebounding opportunities, Pekovic has averaged over 18 points and eight boards since Rubio was injured. However, that has come in just five games as Pekovic has missed six contests with ankle issues. The Wolves were hoping to have Pekovic back in the lineup for games on Friday and Sunday. If Pekovic proves he can go quasi-normal minutes, it'll be time to yank him back from the waiver wire. The Kings, Warriors and Hornets -- Minnesota's three opponents next week -- are all weak defending the paint.
Greivis Vasquez (Owned 11.1%, Opponent boost 10.6%): Vasquez logged 43 minutes against Golden State on Thursday with Jarrett Jack out with an ankle injury. It's not clear how long Jack will be out, but Vasquez put up 14 points and six assists in his stead. With New Orleans angling for the best possible lottery pick, no one is going to be pushing for Jack's swift return. That could make Vasquez an attractive option because New Orleans faces Denver, San Antonio and Minnesota. While that might not sound ideal, as a group that trio has struggled to stop opposing guards. Plus with those teams otherwise solid defensively (well, at least Denver and San Antonio), the Hornets are going to searching production. Vasquez's 3-point shot has really been coming on of late.
Eric Gordon (Owned 42.1%, Opponent boost 9.7%): If Vasquez doesn't do it for you, perhaps a well-rested Eric Gordon might. Gordon is a fantasy no-brainer when healthy and is due to return from his knee injury any day now. That comeback may happen on Saturday, giving you a chance to see him in action and him a chance to get back in the flow. With the Hornets severely shorthanded right now -- Monty Williams had just eight players dress against Golden State on Thursday -- Gordon should step right back into a featured role. Also, while he won't get quite as big of an opponent boost as New Orleans' point guards in the coming week, the schedule will work in his favor as well.
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 -17.7%): Pierce has the toughest road of any player in the league this week with matchups against Spurs, Bulls, Pacers and Sixers looming. Philly, Chicago and San Antonio all rank in the top five against small forwards. The Pacers are just 13th, but can and likely will slide Paul George over from shooting guard to check Pierce in a cross-match. Pierce has been red-hot, averaging over 24 points on 52 percent shooting in his last five games, but those numbers are going to be difficult to perpetuate in the week ahead.
Hedo Turkoglu (Owned 61.6%, Opponent hit -10.3%): Turkoglu has struggled with his shot all season, posting a true shooting percentage lower than it's been since he was a young player in Sacramento. It's not getting any better, either. Over his last 20 games, Turkoglu has averaged 9.2 points on 39 percent shooting. Don't look for the slump to lift this week. Orlando takes on Detroit, New York and Philadelphia. Detroit is a good matchup for small forwards and New York is just average on the season but the Knicks, of course, have been playing much better defense since Mike Woodson took the coaching reins. Any momentum Turkoglu might establish in those games will surely be stymied by the Sixers' Andre Iguodala.
Mike Conley (Owned 100%, Opponent hit -10.2%): Things are looking up for the Grizzlies, who have won two straight after a 2-6 stretch. Memphis in general, and Conley in particular, has struggled with re-integrating Zach Randolph into the lineup. The last couple of games, which included a road win against the Lakers, indicate that things are looking up. Conley has averaged 12.6 points and shot under 40 percent since Randolph returned, but his pure point guard skills have remained at a level most teams would die for. Unfortunately, the schedule turns gnarly for Conley in the days to come. Memphis has five games in the coming week, including a back-to-back-to-back set against Oklahoma City, Golden State and Dallas, a one day respite, then back-to-back games against Miami and Dallas. That's a brutal stretch no matter who the opponents are, but given that those five teams have combined to suppress point guard efficiency by more than 10 percent, you may want to hunt for another option.
LeBron James (Owned 100%, Opponent hit -10.2%): If you read this passage and decide you must sit LeBron James, then you're probably already out of playoff contention in your league. However, James does have a tough week coming up. Miami has four games, the first three of which are bad matchups for small forwards. It starts with a back-to-back set against Philadelphia and Oklahoma City, which is followed two days later with a hard test against Memphis. The Sixers are wicked good against small forwards. The Thunder and Grizzlies are a little better than average and also feature tough defensive matchups with Kevin Durant and Rudy Gay, respectively, that will force James to expend more energy on that end. By the time James finishes his week with a matchup against the Pistons, he's likely to be licking his chops.
Carlos Boozer (Owned 100%, Opponent hit -8.7%): The uber-deep Bulls have gone 6-2 in their last eight games, all without reigning MVP Derrick Rose. It's been more of a group effort than a step-up of production by any one player, and that includes former All-Star Boozer. Boozer's minutes haven't changed at all since Rose went out, nor has the quantity of his scoring opportunities. He has been very efficient, however, averaging 18 points on 62 percent shooting over his last five games. Boozer has some difficult matchups coming up, making it unlikely he can maintain his current pace. Chicago has just three games -- against Houston, Boston and New York -- in the next fantasy week. The Celtics and Knicks have been excellent defensively against bigs all season, while the Rockets have been much improved defensively in the six games since they acquired Marcus Camby.
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.
Andrew Bynum (Owned 100%, Opponent boost 12.7%): Bynum has been a bit of a sourpuss of late, but he should turn that frown upside down during the Lakers' next set of games. His numbers continue to be off the charts. Bynum has averaged 21 points on 62 percent shooting over his last 20 games, and has added 12 boards and two blocks per contest. To top it off, Bynum has a soft slate coming up, with matchups against the Nets, Clippers, Rockets and Suns. The Nets have been awful against centers and the Clips haven't been much better -- DeAndre Jordan guards the paint, not his man. Phoenix is also below average against centers. So is Houston, for that matter but as noted, that's changed since Camby arrived.
A version of this article originally appeared at ESPN Insider .
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