Best, worst fantasy schedules as NBA enters playoff stretch run
With only six weeks remaining in the season, team schedules become an important factor in fantasy leagues, especially for those who play in head-to-head leagues with playoffs. Squeezing a few more games played out of your fantasy team can be the difference between a playoff win and the end of the season. This is something to keep in mind when working the waiver wire. You'll have a distinct advantage over your competition if you stack up on players who have good schedules over the last few weeks of the season.
To assist in this process, we've ranked all 30 teams by the quality of their schedule over the remainder of the season, taking into account the number of games a team has left, the number of games they have over the last four weeks of the season (the playoff period), and the fantasy friendliness of their opponents.
A team's fantasy friendliness is measured by looking at how much better or worse their opponents perform compared to the league average across eight of the nine standard fantasy statistical categories (the exception is free throw percentage, which is independent of opponent). Teams that play at a fast pace and allow their opponents to rack up a lot of stats like the Knicks, Warriors and Timberwolves are teams that are very fantasy friendly. So are bad teams like the Cavaliers and Raptors. Good defensive teams who play at a slow pace like the Celtics and Bulls are the least fantasy friendly teams.
You can see the full list of teams and schedules below, but first here are the five teams with the best schedules and five with the worst schedules for the remainder of the season. Included in parentheses are the number of games a team has remaining, the number of games a team has over the last four weeks of the season and a team's rank in terms of the fantasy friendliness of their opponents over the rest of the season.
The Kings have more games from now until the end of the season than any team in the league (22) and also have a fantasy friendly schedule, playing the Warriors, Nuggets and Rockets twice. They play four games every week for the rest of the season, with the exception of the short week to end the season, when they play the max two games. This means a player like Francisco Garcia, who recently returned from a calf injury, could be a great pickup down the stretch for a team in need of threes, steals and blocks. Marcus Thornton will also continue to have a lot of value as one of the Kings' primary scorers while Tyreke Evans is out.
Oklahoma City benefits from having both a lot of games and an easy schedule the rest of the season. As long as Kevin Durant can stay healthy, he has the potential to carry a fantasy team through the playoffs with the Thunder playing against the Cavaliers, Suns, Raptors, Timberwolves, Warriors and Wizards, among others. With his strong play recently, James Harden is worth a pickup in all leagues, while Nick Collison is worth a look in deeper leagues as a potential double-double candidate as long as Kendrick Perkins is out. Perkins is still a week or two away from making his debut with the team, but as long as his recovery stays on schedule, he could be a great pickup over the last few weeks of the season for teams in need of a big man.
While the Mavs only play 20 games from now until the end of the season, they have the friendliest schedule for fantasy purposes, with three games against the Warriors in a little over a month. They also play the Timberwolves, Suns, Nuggets, Rockets and Clippers. Rodrique Beaubois, who scored 15 points in less than 15 minutes against the Grizzlies on Sunday night, is an explosive scorer who is primed for a big end of the season run for the Mavs.
Other than next week, the Bulls play max games every week from now to the end of the season. They also have a friendly schedule, playing teams such as the Cavaliers, Knicks, Suns, Raptors and Warriors. That probably won't make their shooting guard trio of Keith Bogans, Ronnie Brewer, and Kyle Korver any more appetizing to fantasy owners, but feel confident heading into the playoffs if you are a Derrick Rose owner.
The Suns are another team that plays the maximum amount of games throughout the fantasy playoff period. They are also hanging in the Western conference playoff race, so Steve Nash owners don't have to worry about him shutting it down any time soon. On the other hand, Vince Carter sat out Friday's game with a concussion and is always a shut down risk. Mickael Pietrus started in Carter's absence and played well, scoring 20 points and grabbing eight rebounds in the game. Pietrus becomes a must add if Carter misses any time at the end of the season. Jared Dudley has been inconsistent all season, but could also benefit from extra playing time if Carter were to shut it down. Marcin Gortat should also finish the season strong thanks to the Suns' good schedule.
While the Sixers still have 20 games left, they come against some of the worst opponents in the league for fantasy purposes. This includes the slow-paced Celtics and Bucks twice each as well as the Bulls, Heat, Magic and Blazers. The week of March 28 is especially bad for the 76ers. They have a three game week against Boston, Detroit and Milwaukee, three of the slowest paced teams in the league.
After stumbling halfway through the season, the Lakers have regrouped and are currently in the midst of a seven-game winning streak. Unfortunately, they see a heavy dose of West contenders to end the season, including the Blazers, Jazz, Mavs and Spurs; all tough fantasy opponents. That makes every Laker other than Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom non-factors in most fantasy leagues down the stretch.
Rudy Gay is sidelined for at least a couple more weeks with a left shoulder injury. A return by the third week of March would put him back on the court just in time for a tough week of games in which the Grizzlies play the Celtics, Bulls and Spurs. While Gay is out, Shane Battier will have the most -- and possibly only -- fantasy value out of the group of swingmen that includes Tony Allen, Sam Young and O.J. Mayo. But be on the lookout for the resurgence of Mayo, who is slowly earning more minutes off the Memphis' bench at the expense of Tony Allen.
New Orleans has arguably the worst fantasy playoff schedule of any team in the league, and Chris Paul owners will find themselves in a difficult situation with the Hornets only playing 11 games over the last four weeks of the season. If Paul were to miss a significant amount of time due to the head injury he suffered against the Cavs last night, expect Jarrett Jack to fill-in for Paul. However, Jack is primarily a scoring guard; he's scored in double-digits for 10 of the Hornets' last 11 games, but has only averaged 2 assists a game over that span.
The Hawks have the league's worst schedule for fantasy purposes over the next six weeks with only 18 games, including two games against Chicago and two against the Heat. They also play the Celtics, Lakers, Magic and Spurs. This puts Josh Smith owners in a tough bind as he's sitting out with a sprained right MCL and risks missing more games for the Hawks. It also limits the impact that Kirk Hinrich will have on fantasy teams down the stretch.
The Knicks and the Rockets are the two unfortunate teams that have a two- game week during the fantasy playoff period. The Rockets' occurs the week of March 21, while the Knicks a week later. Players like Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Kevin Martin are still must plays that week, but consider benching or even dropping more marginal players such as Landry Fields and Chase Budinger during those weeks in order to pick up players with better schedules.
Team (Games Remaining / Games Over Last 4 Weeks / Fantasy Friendliness of Opponents)
1. Sacramento Kings (21 games remaining/14 games over last four weeks/5th most friendly fantasy schedule)