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April 13, 2012
Start/Sit Projections
Week of April 16-22

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

Typically, we pick from 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. This week, we've expanded that to 75 percent or less, as injuries have made the picking pretty slim on the waiver wire.

Michael Beasley (Owned 37.7%, Opponent boost 11.1%): Now that the Timberwolves have fallen out of playoff contention and Kevin Love (concussion) almost certainly won't play again this season, it's Beasley's time to shine. Few players come up bigger when the stakes are low. He'll help you in raw points and rebounds, but not so much in shooting percentage. His production should be divided over the next few days as Minnesota faces two strong defensive teams (Indiana, Memphis) and two poor ones (Detroit, Golden State). Beasley is coded in our system as a small forward, but you'd expect him to spend more time at the four with Love on the sidelines. That tempers his opponent boost a bit. The Pacers and Grizzlies are in the top six against fours; the Warriors (18th) and Pistons (26th) are better plays.

J.J. Hickson (Owned 60.6%, Opponent boost 5.6%): The differences between Hickson's numbers from Sacramento to Portland are remarkable. He's gone from averaging 9.2 points per 36 minutes on 37 percent shooting, to 17.9 points per 36 on 57 percent from the floor. Most importantly, he's getting time -- more than 28 minutes per game for the Blazers, including a 40-minute outing in his last contest. The Blazers have Phoenix, Utah and Memphis next week. The Suns rank 29th against power forwards and the Jazz, despite its bevy of big forwards, are 19th. Memphis ranks sixth, so beware of that one.

Nikola Pekovic (Owned 61.7%, Opponent boost 3.9%): While Beasley will benefit from Love's absence in terms of more overall touches, Pekovic will become the default low-post option for the Timberwolves. Pekovic is shooting 63 percent from the field in April so even if the higher usage results in a dent in efficiency, he's got plenty of room for error. Also, with Love not around to gobble up every available board, Pekovic's anemic rebound numbers shoot improve. As for his opponents, he's got the same split as Beasley. Indiana and Memphis are excellent against centers, but Detroit (18th) and Golden State (26th) struggle.

Carl Landry (Owned 16.1%, Opponent boost 3.3%): As a free-agent-to-be, Landry has plenty of incentive to finish strong, and he's been getting enough minutes to put up some numbers. His numbers have been notably lower since he returned from injury, but perhaps the Hornets' slate this week will be the tonic he needs. It starts with Charlotte, which is last in the league against both frontcourt positions. Of the later opponents, Memphis is solid, Houston is average and the Clippers are excellent, so you may want to pick your spots.

Eric Gordon (Owned 74.2%, Opponent boost 1.9%): It's been a rough season for Gordon, who is currently still battling back issues. He hasn't been ruled out for the weekend, so you will have a chance to see if he is likely to be available next week. When he has played, he's been the same old Eric Gordon, which is a valuable commodity to have. If he is in the lineup, he'll get boosts against Houston and the Clippers. The Bobcats, believe it or not, are ninth in the league against two-guards, a testament to the athleticism of Gerald Henderson Jr. Meanwhile, Tony Allen looms for the Grizzlies, which is always bad news for opposing perimeter players. Overall, the schedule will work in Gordon's favor, though you wonder if he will play in the second part of the Memphis-Houston back-to-back.

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.

Danny Granger (Owned 100%, Opponent hit -11.1%): Granger has been on fire of late, averaging 21.5 points over his last 15 games and shooting 49 percent from 3-point range. He'll need that momentum to sustain him over the next week when Indiana plays Minnesota, Philadelphia (twice) and Milwaukee. The Minnesota matchup is favorable; the Wolves rank 22nd against small forwards and their defensive numbers continue to slide as they play out the string. However, the Sixers are still the league's top team against threes and have plenty to play for down the stretch. Milwaukee is in the middle of the pack.

Jordan Crawford (Owned 99.3%, Opponent hit -9.6%): Crawford continues his high-volume, low-efficiency ways, traits which promise to be even more pronounced in the days to come. The Wizards face the unholy trinity of Chicago, Milwaukee and Miami. The Bulls and Heat ranks second and third, respectively, against two-guards; the Bucks are 19th.

Ty Lawson (Owned 100%, Opponent hit -5.6%): Lawson has put up a couple of days lately, including a two-point, 1-for-8 effort against the Suns, but he remains a solid overall play. He's been hot lately, averaging 19 points on 56 percent shooting. He'll be hard-pressed to maintain the trend. Denver has Houston, the Clippers, Phoenix and Orlando in the week to come. We already know how Lawson did against Phoenix last time, and the Suns rank in the league's top 10 against point guards overall. The Rockets and Clippers also rank in the top 10. Orlando, at 15th, is the best it's going to get for Lawson.

Deron Williams (Owned 100%, Opponent hit -3.7%): Williams may be headed for free agency, but he's well past the point of needing a strong finish to whet the appetites of prospective suitors. In fact, his recent comments indicate a player that is anxiously waiting for this trying season to come to an end. His recent performance reflects the deflated attitude. His scoring has dropped and he's shooting under 40 percent over his last 15 games. The Nets have the Heat, Knicks and Bucks next week. That's seventh, 14th and 11th against point guards, respectively, and all three teams have plenty of motivation to finish strong.

Gordon Hayward (Owned 100%, Opponent hit -2.0%): Hayward has gone from a fantasy afterthought to universal ownership because of his recent box score-stuffing ways. Over his last five games, he's averaging 18 points, five boards, four assists and a steal, while putting up shooting slash stats of 54/44/88. (That's field goal, 3-point and free throw percentages.) Impressive. It'll be even impressive if he continues that pace next week when Utah plays Dallas, Portland and Orlando. All of those teams defend the wings at an above-average rate, though Portland's numbers have fallen since the Blazers traded Gerald Wallace. Hayward is playing with so much confidence that he may well traverse the tough stretch just fine. And Utah is still angling for a playoff berth, so we know Ty Corbin's team will be playing hard.

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.

Isaiah Thomas (Owned 94.8%, Opponent boost 17.0%): The last pick of the most recent draft, Thomas has been one of the most surprising players in the league on a Kings team desperately in need of his point guard services. A score-first player in college, he's proven to be a better playmaker than projected, something that's remained true lately even as his scoring totals go up and down. This may be a banner week for Thomas, with the Spurs, Thunder and Bobcats looming on the schedule. The Spurs have had terrible time with point guards this season, ranking last in the league against that position. San Antonio has also struggled with two-guards, though its frontcourt ranks in the top 10 against all three positions. Go figure.

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

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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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