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Week 8 Start 'Em and Sit 'Em

Fantasy Writer

Some weeks, you can point to one or two obvious outliers on the NBA schedule that represent either excellent or poor matchups for Fantasy purposes. Looking over the slate of games for Week 8 (Dec. 16-22),that definitely isn't the case this week, as few team's schedules stand out.

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Put simply, this is one of the most balanced schedules of the season. All 30 teams play either three or four times this week, so there aren't going to be a lot of matchup-based lineup decisions to make.

Assuming you have a core of reliable players, this isn't such a bad thing. If, however, you have been hit hard by injuries this season and have been playing the matchups or streaming different players into the lineup on a weekly basis, you probably aren't too happy to see this week's schedule. There aren't any five-game sleepers to plug into the lineup and you don't have a two-game schedule as an excuse to sit one of your borderline options.

My advice for Week 8 -- stick with your best options. Individual matchups (like the Nets getting a double dose of the #PhillyBump) might help you make a borderline decision, but there isn't much to be parsed when everyone plays either three or four times.

(All stats up to date through Nov. 22 games)

Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks run into a trio of bad defensive teams this week. It’s just too bad there isn't really anyone to take advantage. This team continues to have four excellent players, worth starting every week for Fantasy purposes, and not much more beyond that. Over the last five games, Shelvin Mack is averaging 9.2 points and 4.6 assists and could be worth a role of the dice in deeper leagues, as he appears to be the team's full-time backup at this point.

Schedule:Schedule: LAL, SAC, UTA
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 2nd
10-team starters: Al Horford, Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver
12-to-14-team starters: None
Deep-league fliers: Cartier Martin, Dennis Schroder, Lou Williams, DeMarre Carroll, Shelvin Mack

Boston Celtics

Kris Humphries' recent stats suggest he might be finding a measure of success, but I'd guess it's mostly a mirage. Humphries is averaging 9.3 points per game over the last five, but has missed two with a knee injury and has been held to six points in two of the other three. Humphries can still get rebounds and cheap points as a result, but I don't think he is in this team's plans, and wouldn't buy in on him at this point. Brandon Bass is a more intriguing option at this point, as he is averaging 14.3 points and 9.3 rebounds in six December games, and still managed to play 37 minutes with Kelly Olynyk back from an ankle injury Friday. With four games, I think he has emerged as a low-end starter.

Schedule: MIN, DET, WAS, @IND
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 15th
10-team starters: Jeff Green, Jordan Crawford
12-to-14-team starters:, Avery Bradley, Jared Sullinger, Brandon Bass
Deep-league fliers: Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace

Brooklyn Nets

Guards we like for Week 8
Player Own/Start
1. Shelvin Mack, Hawks 2/1
2. Jeff Taylor, Bobcats 14/5
3. Jimmy Butler, Bulls 82/27
4. Jose Calderon, Mavericks 82/40
5. Vince Carter, Mavericks 37/14
6. Jamal Crawford, Clippers 84/53
7. Anthony Morrow, Pelicans 1/0
8. Pablo Prigioni, Knicks 5/2
9. Reggie Jackson, Thunder 55/33
10. Tony Wroten, 76ers 64/33

Deron Williams and Brook Lopez are finally back and producing, which has really helped settle things down for the Nets. Their returns haven't done much to turn around the demise of Kevin Garnett (15.8 Fantasy points per game over last five) or Paul Pierce (21.3 per game in three since returning from injury), but at least the owners who stuck through Williams' and Lopez's issues are being rewarded now. One intriguing wrinkle for Brooklyn has been the recent play of Andray Blatche, who is averaging 15.8 points and 9.5 rebounds per game over the last four, even with Lopez playing three of those games. Lopez is expected to play through his ankle injury this week, but Blatche might be worth starting with a pair of games against the dreadful 76ers defense on the way.

Schedule: PHI, WAS, @PHI
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 3rd
10-team starters: Deron Williams, Brook Lopez
12-to-14-team starters: Joe Johnson, Andray Blatche
Deep-league fliers: Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett

Charlotte Bobcats

Al Jefferson isn't quite living up to expectations in his first season as the Bobcats' centerpiece, however it's not like he isn't getting chances. Despite the ankle injury that limited him over the first few weeks of the season, he still ranks sixth in the league in Fantasy points per game for centers. I point this out to stress that, while Fantasy owners might be frustrated, you simply cannot bench a big man who gets 15 shots per game, even if he is shooting just 40 percent from the field. With four games on the schedule, including a couple against below-average defense, I'm betting on Jefferson bouncing back starting this week.

Schedule: SAC, @TOR, @DET, UTA
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 1st
10-team starters: Kemba Walker, Al Jefferson, Gerald Henderson
12-to-14-team starters: Josh McRoberts
Deep-league fliers: Ramon Sessions, Jeff Taylor

Chicago Bulls

Well, the Taj Gibson Starting Fantasy Experience seems to have come to an end as quickly as it began. After scoring 21.4 points per game over a five-game stretch, Gibson totaled just 28 points in his next three games combined. I figured Gibson's role in the offense was going to continue to be larger than it had in the past, given the Bulls' lack of other options, but you know what they say: you can't keep a good Boozer down. I am willing to keep Gibson around as a low-end starter for Week 8, with four games on the schedule, but he needs to show more than he did over the last week to stay there. Also, Jimmy Butler made his return to the lineup Friday and scored 16 points. He won't be a huge Fantasy producer, but if Luol Deng remains on the sidelines, you can go ahead and get him active. Mike Dunleavy naturally takes a hit with Butler back, and Deng's return Saturday probably ends his run of solid play.

Schedule: ORL, @HOU, @OKC, CLE
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 3rd
10-team starters: Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng
12-to-14-team starters: Kirk Hinrich, Taj Gibson
Deep-league fliers: Mike Dunleavy, Jimmy Butler

Cleveland Cavaliers

Fittingly, just as I begrudgingly accepted that Andrew Bynum might be a solid Fantasy option, he went out and put up five points and 10 rebounds in a two-game span. The fact remains, Bynum just doesn't look like a reliable NBA player right now, especially on the defensive end of the floor. As long as his mobility remains limited (which might be forever), it is hard to see Bynum emerging as someone who plays more than half of every game on a consistent basis. Against a slew of active, athletic big men, I wouldn't take the risk on him in Week 8.

Schedule: POR, MIL, @CHI
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 28th
10-team starters: Kyrie Irving
12-to-14-team starters: Anderson Varejao, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson
Deep-league fliers: Andrew Bynum, Jarrett Jack, C.J. Miles, Alonzo Gee, Earl Clark

Dallas Mavericks

Neither Samuel Dalembert nor DeJuan Blair has been able to hold down the Mavericks' starting center job and secure a full-time role. That is good news for Brandan Wright, who made his return Saturday after missing the first 23 games of the season with a shoulder injury. Wright will now step into the battle for minutes next to Dirk Nowitzki, and probably has a better chance than either of his competitors to take on the lion's share of the role. I wouldn't start him right away as he works his way back into shape, but Wright is definitely someone worth keeping an eye on; he averaged 17.0 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per-36 minutes last season.

Schedule: MEM, TOR, @PHO
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 25th
10-team starters: Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon
12-to-14-team starters: Shawn Marion
Deep-league fliers: Vince Carter, Brandan Wright, Samuel Dalembert, DeJuan Blair

Denver Nuggets

Ty Lawson was scoreless in his return from a hamstring injury Saturday, but it was still nice to see him back from a two-game absence. Andre Miller and Nate Robinson were solid in his stead, but this is a much better team with Lawson around, and Fantasy owners have to be happy to have a borderline top-10 guard back. One player whose Fantasy value seems long gone at this point is forward Kenneth Faried, who is no longer worth starting in the majority of Fantasy formats, as long as he remains in Brian Shaw's doghouse. Faried is averaging just 21.7 minutes per game over the last 10, and has just two double-doubles in that span. At this point, he might not even be worth hanging on to in 10-team Fantasy leagues.

Schedule: OKC, PHO, @LAC
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 22nd
10-team starters: Ty Lawson
12-to-14-team starters: Wilson Chandler, JJ Hickson
Deep-league fliers: Kenneth Faried, Timofey Mozgov, Andre Miller, Randy Foye, Nate Robinson, Jordan Hamilton

Detroit Pistons

The Josh Smith Problem continues for Fantasy owners, since he is too productive to sit, but too frustrating to embrace. His recent play, however, might be changing that, as Smith simply looks lost right now. Despite taking the second-most shots at 13.4 per game over the last five, Smith is putting up just 11.6 points on a pitiful 34.3 percent shooting. He simply isn't doing enough right now to be worthy of his formerly lofty status as a must-start Fantasy option. The Pistons face just one team not ranked in the top-10 in points per game allowed in Week 8, so you might not be crazy to sit him in a 10-team league, especially one where you are penalized for missed shots.

Schedule: @IND, @BOS, CHA, HOU
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 27th
10-team starters: Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond, Brandon Jennings
12-to-14-team starters: Josh Smith
Deep-league fliers: Kyle Singler

Golden State Warriors

We might be reaching the point where Harrison Barnes' usage is leaving him overextended. He is attempting 14.2 field goals per game over the last five, but is scoring just 14.8 points per game with them. Barnes is never going to stuff the stat sheet, so his Fantasy value is going to rely on scoring efficiently, particularly by taking advantage of his open looks; he has made just four 3-pointers over the last five games. The return of Andre Iguodala looms large over any discussion of Barnes' value, and we're still not sure when Iguodala is going to return and knock Barnes back to his sixth-man role. He remains useful given the sheer number of minutes and shots he gets as a starter, but his time as a sure-fire, high-end starter might be coming to an end soon.

Schedule: NO, SA, LAL
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 9th
10-team starters: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, David Lee
12-to-14-team starters: None
Deep-league fliers: Andrew Bogut

Houston Rockets

This is not a favorable schedule for the Rockets, as they get set to face two of the league's stingiest defense to open the week. The upside is, I'm not sure that really matters for this team, which produces efficient shots with an assembly line's proficiency. I am wary of relying on the point guard duo of Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverley this week, and Chandler Parsons' back is a bit of a concern. It seems like he could miss a game at any point, without much warning. Despite that, this team can pretty much score on anyone, and should continue humming. One thing is for sure, however; with Lin back, Aaron Brooks heads straight back to the scrap heap.

Schedule: CHI, @IND, @DET
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 30th
10-team starters: James Harden, Dwight Howard, Chandler Parsons
12-to-14-team starters: Patrick Beverley, Terrence Jones, Jeremy Lin
Deep-league fliers: Francisco Garcia, Omri Casspi

Indiana Pacers

What is so frustrating about Roy Hibbert is, it's pretty clear he could produce more offensively than he does. The Pacers ask so much of him on the defensive end, it wouldn't be fair for him to be asked to take a dozen or more shots per game. But boy, it would be nice, huh? He gives us these glimpses of his tantalizing production potential, like consecutive games with 42 combined points, but will settle back down to his normal level before long. One player whose value does appears to be changing -- and not for the better -- is point guard George Hill His scoring has fallen to just 11.4 per game, a number that is all the way down to 8.8 per game over the last five. Given how deep guard is, he is by no means a sure thing as a starter, even with four games on the schedule in Week 8.

Schedule: DET, @MIA, HOU, BOS
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 14th
10-team starters: Paul George, Roy Hibbert, Lance Stephenson
12-to-14-team starters: David West
Deep-league fliers: George Hill, Luis Scola

Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers' schedule seems to have been heavy on the extremes this season. They have already played one five-game set, and they have four mostly solid matchups on the way this week. Unfortunately, an injury to J.J. Redick sapped this team of some of its Fantasy intrigue, and left them even more top-heavy. There isn't any reason to load your team up with Clippers despite their solid matchups, but Jamal Crawford is looking like a solid Fantasy option at this point.

Schedule: SA, NO, DEN, MIN
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 5th
10-team starters: Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Jamal Crawford
12-to-14-team starters: None
Deep-league fliers: Jared Dudley

Los Angeles Lakers

It doesn't come as much of a surprise that Kobe Bryant has attempted to slide into a playmaking role since his return from Achilles surgery, thought the results have been pretty spectacularly uninspiring thus far. Bryant has just one more assist (20) than turnovers (19) through three games. He will need to continue dishing the ball out with no healthy point guards on the roster, so don't expect him to up his scoring in Week 8. Kobe's return has not impacted the team's wing rotation too much, with Nick Young, Xavier Henry and Jodie Meeks averaging between 12 and 17 points per game in three games entering Saturday. One noteworthy exception is Wesley Johnson, whose shot has abandoned him with Bryant around. I still don't feel comfortable relying on anyone on this team right now, but a solid schedule for Week 8 makes starting any of the players listed here at least defensible.

Schedule: @ATL, @MEM, MIN, @GS
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 10th
10-team starters: Pau Gasol
12-to-14-team starters: Kobe Bryant
Deep-league fliers: Nick Young, Xavier Henry, Jodie Meeks

Memphis Grizzlies

Forwards we like for Week 8
Player Own/Start
1. Brandon Bass, Celtics 76/46
2. Tristan Thompson, Cavaliers 96/64
3. Kyle Singler, Pistons 7/4
4. Terrence Jones, Rockets 85/54
5. Jon Leuer, Grizzles 25/11
6. Amar'e Stoudemire, Knicks 41/11
7. Marcus Morris, Suns 19/10
8. Markieff Morris, Suns 69/37
9. Derrick Williams, Kings 63/39
10. Amir Johnson, Raptors 92/57

Jon Leuer has emerged as the most unlikeliest of winners as a result of Marc Gasol's absence. With Ed Davis sidelined by an injury, Leuer has emerged as the team's third option on offense, averaging 14.6 points and 7.8 rebounds per game over the last five. Leuer isn't without skill, but he has never put together a run even comparable to this one so far, so I am naturally a bit skeptical. Against some of the worst defensive front lines in the league however, it might not be crazy to take a chance on him in Week 8, especially if injuries to big men like Nene and Anthony Davis have left you thin up front.

Schedule: LAL, @DAL, @NY
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 7th
10-team starters: Mike Conley, Zach Randolph
12-to-14-team starters: Jon Leuer, Kosta Koufos
Deep-league fliers: Ed Davis, Tony Allen, Jerryd Bayless, Mike Miller

Miami Heat

We're reaching a point where Chris Bosh's production is becoming a problem for Fantasy owners. No matter how you slice up the season, his production has been a concern, and doesn't seem to be getting any better. Bosh is averaging just 22.2 Fantasy points per game for the season, a number that drops to 19.8 over the last 10, making him a borderline starting Fantasy center, a shocking development. Bosh's minutes are way down, but the Heat are still succeeding in spite of that, so there isn't much of a reason to change things around. With only three games on the schedule, benching Bosh isn't just an option; it's advisable.

Schedule: UTA, IND, SAC
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 16th
10-team starters: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade
12-to-14-team starters: Chris Bosh
Deep-league fliers: Mario Chalmers, Ray Allen, Michael Beasley

Milwaukee Bucks

I probably get more questions about Ersan Ilyasova than any other player right now, and they're awfully difficult to answer. We have seen Ilyasova thrive as one of the league's better stretch-fours, but right now he simply cannot be relied on. Ilyasova is averaging just 6.4 points on 26.1 percent shooting over the last five games, and can be pretty safely benched until he shows signs of life. His struggles have given rise to John Henson, the lanky second-year big man who is playing like an All-Star right now. Over the last three weeks (12 games), Henson is eighth among all forwards and fourth among centers in Fantasy scoring, and his production has only increased in recent games. With Henson averaging 16.2 points, 10.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 2.4 blocks and 1.2 steals per game over the last five, he has to be considered a must-start player at this time.

Schedule: NY, @CLE, PHI
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 17th
10-team starters: O.J. Mayo, John Henson
12-to-14-team starters: None
Deep-league fliers: Luke Ridnour, Ersan Ilyasova, Brandon Knight

Minnesota Timberwolves

Corey Brewer got off to a really strong start to the season, and was thriving while snagging those long outlet passes from Kevin Love. Unfortunately, he hasn't been unable to sustain that production recently, while marred in a horrendous cold stretch. Brewer is averaging just 10.6 points per game on 35.7 percent shooting over the last five games, making this top-heavy unit even more unbalanced. Given how little Brewer gives you besides scoring, it's not inconceivable to leave him on the bench this week, even with four games.

Schedule: @BOS, POR, @LAL, @LAC
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 15th
10-team starters: Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Martin
12-to-14-team starters: None
Deep-league fliers: Corey Brewer, J.J. Barea

New Orleans Pelicans

Thankfully, Tyereke Evans' ankle didn't end up costing him any time when he initially aggravated it last week, but he suffered a re-aggravation Friday that leaves his status in doubt moving forward. At this point, that injury is a real concern, as it has now re-occurred twice since he initially suffered it in the preseason. With a back-to-back to open the league, it is possible Evans misses one or both games, making him a risk for Week 8. Anthony Morrow would stand to benefit if Evans is out, but he is no more than a low-end flier in category-based formats, as he can help in 3-pointers.

Schedule: @GS, @LAC, @POR
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 18th
10-team starters: Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson
12-to-14-team starters: Tyreke Evans, Jason Smith, Al-Farouq Aminu
Deep-league fliers: Anthony Morrow

New York Knicks

This is getting embarrassing. One upside of this roster's complete incompetence recently has been the re-emergence of Amar'e Stoudemire as something resembling a Fantasy option. Given his injury concerns and how little explosiveness he has left, Stoudemire's recent play might be something of a mirage. Still, with Andrea Bargnani starting to fall apart, the Knicks may need to rely on their $20 million man whether they like it or not. He is averaging 16.0 points and 5.3 rebounds per game over the last five, but is by no means a sure thing right now. This isn't the best week for Stoudemire to get into the lineup, but he is someone to keep an eye on.

Schedule: WAS, @MIL, MEM
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 29th
10-team starters: Carmelo Anthony
12-to-14-team starters: Andrea Bargnani
Deep-league fliers: J.R. Smith, Amar'e Stoudemire, Pablo Prigioni, Iman Shumpert, Beno Udrih

Oklahoma City Thunder

This team might have a bench they can rely on! Sure, Derek Fisher still plays too much/at all, but the young Thunder players are developing nicely. Jeremy Lamb is averaging 9.4 points per game over the last five, and probably just needs a bigger role. Unfortunately, he might be blocked by fellow reserve Reggie Jackson, who is putting up 15.8 points and 3.2 assists per game over the last five, and isn't leaving much room for Lamb to step up as the sixth man. The Thunder are going to have to grind out a couple of their games this week, but a four-game schedule makes Jackson a solid option in many leagues..

Schedule: @DEN, CHI, @SA, TOR
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 23rd
10-team starters: Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Russell Westbrook
12-to-14-team starters: Reggie Jackson
Deep-league fliers: Jeremy Lamb, Thabo Sefolosha, Steven Adams

Orlando Magic

Given how this season has gone, we might not be able to just assume that Tobias Harris is back for good after his most recent return from a high ankle sprain. Still, we do have to take him into account, crowding an already overloaded frontcourt for the Magic. Harris' return hurts Glen Davis at this point, especially since Davis has really struggled in recent games. I would advocate staying away from Davis, Harris or Andrew Nicholson right now; there is too much overlap in their roles.

Schedule: @CHI, UTA, SAC
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 12th
10-team starters: Nikola Vucevic, Arron Afflalo, Victor Oladipo
12-to-14-team starters: Jameer Nelson
Deep-league fliers: Glen Davis, Tobias Harris, Andrew Nicholson

Philadelphia 76ers

Michael Carter-Williams' recovery from a skin infection has been painfully slow, but Fantasy owners who picked up Tony Wroten on waivers certainly aren't in any rush to get the Rookie of the Year leader back. As a standing rule, Wroten should be considered an absolute must-start Fantasy option any time MCW is out; unfortunately, he remains day to day, so it is hard to just stick Wroten into the starting lineup when lineups lock Monday. In a 10-team league, Wroten might not be worth the risk, but he probably warrants a starting risk in any deeper league.

Schedule: @BKN, BKN, @MIL
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 13th
10-team starters: Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes, Michael Carter-Williams, Thaddeus Young
12-to-14-team starters: Tony Wroten
Deep-league fliers: James Anderson

Phoenix Suns

The Suns' unexpected competence this season has largely been fueled by their stellar backcourt. Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic have battled injuries, but have been exemplars of consistency otherwise -- they're even putting up eerily identical stat lines this season. Beyond those two, this team is nearly impossible to predict for Fantasy purposes, with the Morris twins emerging as the latest duo to post a series of strong performances after nearly disappearing. Markieff and Marcus are playing well right now, but given the way this season has gone, Gerald Green and Channing Frye could knock them off their lofty positions at any minute.

Schedule: SA, @DEN, DAL
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 19th
10-team starters: Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe
12-to-14-team starters: Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris
Deep-league fliers: Miles Plumlee, Gerald Green, P.J. Tucker, Channing Frye

Portland Trail Blazers

Another week, and I still don't have much to say about this team, With Robin Lopez's recent emergence as a double-double machine, he has certainly leapt into starting consideration at the center position. Over the last five games, the starting lineup is averaging 87.2 points per game, continuing a season-long trend that doesn't leave much room for any of the reserves to step up. Beyond the deepest of leagues, guys like MO Williams is the only player you can even consider off the Trail Blazers' bench.

Schedule: @CLE, @MIN, NO
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 8th
10-team starters: Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews
12-to-14-team starters: Robin Lopez
Deep-league fliers: Mo Williams

Sacramento Kings

Centers we like for Week 8
Player Own/Start
1. John Henson, Bucks 90/70
2. Brandan Wright, Mavericks 89/64
3. Kosta Koufos, Grizzlies 84/45
4. Andray Blatche, Nets 71/46
5. Jason Smith, Pelicans 96/66

Maybe the Kings have some sort of mind-control device, or the trip westward addled his brain, because Rudy Gay actually exhibited control over his worst impulses in his Kings' debut Friday. That won't last. Gay isn't without his merits, but he does not seem to know how to play without hijacking possessions and dominating the ball. I want to see how the Kings play with three super-high usage players in the starting lineup, because Isaiah Thomas and DeMarcus Cousins are going to need their touches too. Go ahead and start them all this week with four games, even while they work out the kings.. I kind of like the idea of Derrick Williams coming off the bench as a power forward, but not enough to think he's anything more than a low-end starting option at this point.

Schedule: @CHA, @ATL, @MIA, @ORL
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 20th
10-team starters: Isaiah Thomas, DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay
12-to-14-team starters: None
Deep-league fliers: Marcus Thornton, Derrick Williams, Jason Thompson, Ben McLemore

San Antonio Spurs

Despite a historically disastrous showing late in last year's finals, Manu Ginobili seems intent on proving that reports of his demise were wildly exaggerated. Ginobili is playing some of his best ball of the last few years in recent weeks, as he is shooting 54.4 percent from the field with 12.2 points and 5.7 assists in the last 10 games. The Spurs don't have uniformly great matchups this week, but I'd say Ginobili is playing well enough to be worth getting into the lineup with four games on the way.

Schedule: @LAC, @PHO, @GS, OKC
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 11th
10-team starters: Tony Parker, Tim Duncan
12-to-14-team starters: Kawhi Leonard, Manu Ginobili
Deep-league fliers: Danny Green, Tiago Splitter, Marco Belinelli, Boris Diaw

Toronto Raptors

Well, this changes everything. The trade of Rudy Gay opens up a huge hole in the Raptors' rotation, and it will be fascinating to see how they decide to fill it. The biggest beneficiaries, by far, since Gay left are Terrence Ross and Amir Johnson. Johnson is averaging 22.7 points and 9.7 rebounds per game since Gay's departure, while Ross is putting up 16.3 points per game, up from just 6.2 prior to the trade. Johnson's recent hot streak looks like just that -- he is shooting an absurd 79.5 percent from the field, a mark he simply cannot sustain. He will remain solid if he keeps getting as many chances as he is, but there's a fall coming. Ross looks like the more intriguing option for Fantasy owners, especially since he is likely still available on waivers in a huge number of leagues. This is a former lottery-pick with three-point range on his jumper and otherworldly athleticism, making him a strong breakout candidate. It is a bit early to say for sure, but Ross could emerge as a solid contributor. As for the players Toronto received in exchange for Gay, I wouldn't plan on relying on any of them at this point, though the seemingly inevitable Kyle Lowry trade will thrust Greivis Vasquez back into the spotlight as early as next week.

Schedule: CHA, @DAL, @OKC
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 24th
10-team starters: DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Amir Johnson
12-to-14-team starters: Jonas Valanciunas, Terrence Ross
Deep-league fliers: Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson,

Utah Jazz

If I get more questions about Ersan Ilyasova than any other player in the league, Enes Kanter comes in a very close second. Kanters' expected breakout has not quite occurred, as his defensive lapses and offensive inconsistency have resigned him to a spot on the bench. Kanter is averaging just 9.0 points and 3.6 rebounds per game over the last five, continuing a season-long trend. With guys like Jeremy Evans, Marvin Williams and Richard Jefferson playing more than him right now, Kanter can't be started in the majority of leagues right now. Evans actually presents a pretty intriguing case for starting in a deep, category-based league, since he has big defensive upside in a four-game week.

Schedule: @MIA, @ORL, @ATL, @CHA
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 21st
10-team starters: Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Trey Burke
12-to-14-team starters: Alec Burks, Richard Jefferson, Marvin Williams
Deep-league fliers: Enes Kanter, Jeremy Evans

Washington Wizards

Two huge injury questions hang over everything with this team right now, as Bradley Beal and Nene continue to work their way back. Neither player really has a specific timeline to return, as the team seems to be considering them on a day-by-day basis at this point. Beal's return would likely push Martell Webster back into the smaller role he opened the season in, while Trevor Booker recent solid play has been almost entirely a result of Nene's absence with a foot injury. If my lineups lock before I heart concrete information saying that Nene and Beal are coming back, I obviously wouldn't start them, however their looming returns make Webster and Booker risky plays with only three games on the schedule.

Schedule: @NY, @BKN, @BOS
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 26th
10-team starters: John Wall, Marcin Gortat
12-to-14-team starters: Trevor Ariza, Martell Webster
Deep-league fliers: Trevor Booker, Nene, Bradley Beal

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Omer Asik ready to clean up in return to starting role
by Chris Towers |
(9/17/2014) Last season was a rough one for Omer Asik, who had to deal with returning to a reserve role after really shining as a starter the previous year. He should be much happier with his role this season, as the Pelicans acquired him this offseason with the intention of installing him as the starting center.

The Pelicans should have a fearsome frontcourt with Asik starting next to Anthony Davis, and Davis' presence should free Asik up to do the kind of work he excels at. Asik isn't a great offensive player, but he can be a dominant offensive rebounder, and should have many chances to clean up the boards with teams keying in on Davis offensively. Among players who have logged at least 5,000 minutes in the NBA, Asik is 22nd all-time in offensive rebounding percentage.

Asik had trouble staying healthy last season, but that was the first time he had ever missed a regular-season game in his career, so we can probably write that off as a fluke. He averaged a double-double with 1.1 blocks per game in 30.0 minutes per game two years ago, and should be capable of similar production as he returns to a starting role.

Asik should be viewed as a starting Fantasy option this season, though he may not have the upside of some other younger centers at this point. 

Tobias Harris' Fantasy value a mystery at this point
by Chris Towers |
(9/17/2014) Perception is a funny thing. Just ask Magic forward Tobias Harris, who enjoyed by far the most productive season of his career in 2013-14 but was somehow viewed as a Fantasy disappointment.

Part of that stemmed from Harris' issues with availability, as he missed 20 games and got off to a slow start to the season as a result. It really took until January for Harris to find his stride, but he averaged 15.2 points and 7.1 rebounds per game from Jan. 1 on, without missing a contest.

Harris was probably better than the general perception of him a year ago, but the power of expectations hurt him. And now he enters his fourth season as something of a career crossroads, and it is hard to say just how Fantasy owners should approach him this season.

The Magic added Channing Frye and Aaron Gordon to the roster this season, further confusing what was already one of the most crowded frontcourts in the league. Harris can play both forward spots, but he is probably best used as a small-ball power forward; the presence of Frye, one of the league's elite stretch-fours certainly complicates matters for Harris, then.

At just 22, Harris still has a world of potential ahead of him. However, he probably profiles best as a reserve Fantasy option heading into the season, given concerns about his role.   

Hype may be too high for Giannis Antetokounmpo
by Chris Towers |
(9/17/2014) No matter what he accomplishes in his second NBA season, Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo is likely to be a historical outlier, given his age. The question is, how much of a leap can the now-20-year-old take next season.

Only 15 players in NBA history have logged as many minutes in a single season as a teenager as Antetokounmpo's 1,897, so he is occupying fairly rarified air already. His age is a big part of why he is considered a big-time breakout prospect for Fantasy purposes, but he has a long way to go from a statistical standpoint.

Antetokounmpo was good for a 19-year-old rookie, but his season averages of 6.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game left a lot to be desired. It is easy to dream about a Antetokounmpo taking a big step forward, but that next step is never guaranteed -- for every Anthony Davis there is a Michael Kidd-Gilchrist whose development follows a slower, less linear path. 

Antetokounmpo was very good -- for a 19-year-old. However, Fantasy owners don't get extra points, rebounds or assists if the degree of difficulty is higher, so you are betting on Giannis taking a huge step forward at the age of 20. Antetokounmpo has become something of an internet darling, and his play in Summer League and the FIBA World Cup dominated much of the offseason discussion, which only helped build the hype to potentially unsustainable levels. 

He is a lottery ticket, for sure, but he is one that might not be worth the cost at this point. 

Improved jump shot all Jimmy Butler needs
by Chris Towers |
(9/17/2014) Bulls guard Jimmy Butler had the breakout season many expected from him a year ago, but there were still plenty of flaws apparent in his game as he finished his third NBA season. With a better team around him, Butler just might have enough help to vault him to stardom.

Butler's jump shot abandoned him last season, especially after a toe injury forced him to miss 11 games in November and December. He was shooting 43.7 percent from the field and 38.5 percent from three-point range prior to the injury, but connected on just 39.3 percent of his shots overall and 27.1 percent from three-point range from that point on.

We can blame Butler's season-long shooting slump on the injury or his increased offensive role, but he should have neither excuse available for him this season. Butler should be healthy, and the Bulls added plenty of offensive firepower this offseason, in the form of Pau Gasol and Doug McDermott, not to mention a hopefully healthy Derrick Rose. Butler took 154 shots off the dribble last season, per, and made just 30.7 percent of them. With a better team around him, Butler should get many more opportunities to shoot with his feet set.

Butler has the skill set to be a tremendously efficient offensive player, given how often he bullies his way to the free-throw line. Last season, Butler filled up the box score extremely well, but his poor shooting limited his Fantasy value somewhat. If a new role helps his efficiency, he could be one of the very best guards in the league in category-based formats. 

Lance Stephenson set for bigger role in new setting
by Chris Towers |
(9/17/2014) Though there were fits and starts, Lance Stephenson finally began to live up to his considerable promise last season. Now in a new home in Charlotte, will Stephenson take another step forward in 2014-15?

By the end of last season, the Pacers were a mess, and Stephenson caught plenty of the blame for that. Still, he might have been arguably the team's most consistent player throughout the season, averaging between 25.8 and 29.7 Fantasy points per game from before and after the All-Star break as well as the playoffs. For as much of a mess as that team was, Stephenson emerged as something of a rock, at least for Fantasy purposes.

The Hornets are actually built in a somewhat similar way to the Pacers, so there wont' be much of a stylistic shift for Stephenson to get used to. Per, 11.8 percent of the then-Bobcats' possessions ended in post-ups, actually down from the 13.2 percent mark the Pacers' posted. Stephenson struggled at times with his post-entry passing, though his off-target feeds might find their mark more often when being lobbed in to the soft hands of Al Jefferson, as opposed to Roy Hibbert.

The Hornets might lean even more heavily on Stephenson than the Pacers did, since Indiana liked to spread the ball around with their starting five. The Hornets, on the other hand, look to be extremely top-heavy, and Stephenson will get plenty of chances to be the second or third option. We have him projected for 29.1 Fantasy points per game, and consider Stephenson a borderline top-50 Fantasy option for this season.  

Move to Houston won't alter Trevor Ariza's trajectory
by Chris Towers |
(9/17/2014) Trevor Ariza parlayed a career-year into a lucrative free-agency contract with the Rockets this offseason -- stop me if you've heard this story before.

Ariza was largely a disappointment in his first stint with the Rockets, though it did lead him to the best per-game numbers of his career. Still, Ariza was obviously miscast as a primary offensive option the last time he was in Houston, and that won't be a problem this time around.

Ariza joins a Rockets team with two established stars, and will likely spend much of his time trying to fill the departed Chandler Parsons' role. That should suit him nicely, as Ariza has just enough of an off-the-bounce game to serve as the team's third ballhandler when the shot clock gets deep. Ariza attempted 11.1 field-goal attempts per game last season, and should see a boost given Parsons' role; he attempted 13.3 shots per game.

Ariza's improved three-point shot seems legitimate, as he is shooting 38.6 percent from long range over 738 attempts since 2012. However, he will no longer have John Wall feeding him for juicy corner 3-pointers; Wall to Ariza was the league's most productive corner-three combination last season. His shooting numbers may take a hit with his move.

Even acknowledging the loss of Wall's help, we know the Houston offense is set up to get every player the most efficient shots possible, so Ariza shouldn't see much of a dip in his efficiency. His ability to fill up the box score makes him a perfect No. 2 option at forward in category-based leagues, especially now that he is a high-volume shooter. 

Despite new role, don't write off Isaiah Thomas entirely
by Chris Towers |
(9/17/2014) Suns guard Isaiah Thomas might see one of the biggest dropoffs in his Fantasy value from last season to this, as he joins the crowded Suns' backcourt.

The Suns might have three All-Star caliber guards in the backcourt now, with Thomas likely to backup Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe this season. That should put a serious dent in Thomas' value; Thomas finished 13th in Fantasy scoring among guards a year ago, but is projected to finish just 43rd this season.

Still, Thomas is definitely someone you'll want to add to your team when drafting, and almost certainly before the rest of the No. 4-type guards he is grouped with. Thomas is likely to see his numbers fall off from the 20.3 points and 6.3 assists he averaged a year ago, at least at first. However, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him end up starting upwards of 25 games throughout the year, given Bledsoe's injury-proneness. Bledsoe has missed at least 25 games in two of the last three seasons for knee issues.

Thomas probably profiles as more of a bench option for Fantasy purposes next season, but you'll be targeting him much earlier than nearly any other reserve. His upside as a handcuff option for either Bledsoe or Dragic is sky-high, and will make him well worth your attention on Draft Day. 

Eric Gordon cleared for contact
by Chris Towers |
(9/17/2014) Pelicans guard Eric Gordon has been cleared to take part in full-contact offseason drills ahead of training camp, The Times-Picayune reports.

Gordon underwent season-ending knee surgery last April, but is expected to be ready for the start of the regular season. 

Jrue Holiday cleared for contact ahead of camp
by Chris Towers |
(9/17/2014) Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday was able to participate in full-contact offseason drills last week, the first time he has done so since undergoing season-ending surgery last January.

"Getting out playing has been a joy," Holiday told The Times-Picayune. "I've been running and jumping and stuff, but getting my rhythm back on the court is definitely a big thing right now for me."

The Pelicans open training camp Sept. 30, and Holiday is not expected to have any limitations as the team prepares for the start of the season. Holiday averaged 14.3 points, 7.9 assists and 1.6 steals per game last season prior to the injury.

Kent Bazemore focused on conditioning in recovery
by Chris Towers |
(9/17/2014) Newly signed Hawks guard Kent Bazemore did not pick up a basketball until August, preferring to focus on conditioning in his recovery from foot surgery in April.

"I think the injury was definitely a blessing," he told the Daily Press, "because I was able to step away from the game of basketball. I took myself out of my element all summer. I did stuff I'm not used to doing."

Bazemore signed a two-year deal with the Hawks this offseason, and is expected to compete for playing time on the wing immediately, as he is fully recovered from the surgery. 

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