Big Picture: Setting the Pace

Now is a great time for those of you in leagues with games played maximums to get a few games ahead of the pace. Think about how many players in past seasons typically spent time on the IL, and then think about those players simply being inactive and still taking up a spot on your roster. Game-time decisions are inevitably going to cost you along the way, and players are going to miss time – only 26 players played the full docket of 82 games last season.

Start with the position-specific roster spots (PG, SG, SF, PF, and C) and get yourself a cushion of three to five games, especially at center, and try to maintain those cushions as the season progresses. The G, F, and UTIL positions are, of course, are easier to fill as the season goes on, so they should be a secondary concern. Take advantage of a healthy roster and/or hot starts by your bench players and rotate them in when your studs have a day off.

If you take care of this now, you can be more selective with match-ups and targeting specific scoring category strengths or deficiencies as the season rolls on – plus, you won't be scrambling to make up for the dozen or so games you are projected to be under at a certain position without enough time to make up for it once April rolls around.

Random Observations

The 7-0 Detroit Pistons are off to a phenomenal start, and Flip Saunders' system has proven to be very fantasy friendly, as well. The team is averaging nearly 10 more points this season (102.7) than last (93.3), and four of the five starters have raised there scoring averages to career-highs (Rasheed Wallace being the exception). Richard Hamilton, a career 44 percent shooter, is currently shooting 56 percent and averaging 22.7 points. Chauncey Billups is averaging 18.3 points and a career-high 9.4 assists per game. Tayshaun Prince is scoring 17.6 points per game and shooting 53 percent. Even Ben Wallace has gotten in on the act, averaging double-digit points (10.7) for the first time in his career. And if you thought the defense was suffering as a result, you would be wrong – teams are averaging fewer points so far this season (89.4) than they did last season (89.5).

This is the first season I've had Ray Allen on a fantasy roster, so naturally he's started slow. The 3-5 Seattle SuperSonics have been the bizarro-Pistons to this point of the season. While their team offensive numbers are similar to last season's, they are giving up almost 13 more points per game this year (109.5) than last (96.7), and opposing teams are making more than 50 percent of their shots. The team has struggled to adjust to new coach Bob Weiss, and several players have questioned his early-season rotation and their place in it. The upheaval in the locker room and the lack of a consistent post presence on the court have affected Allen's outside shooting – a few great games, including last night's 32-point performance, have buoyed his numbers but overall he has only made 32 percent of his career-high 8.3 three-point attempts per game. Perhaps last night was a sign of better things to come. Nick Collison has posted double-doubles in two of the past three games and should be in line for most of the minutes at power forward – he could be someone that helps open things up a bit for Allen. I, for one, am counting on it.

Chris Paul is living up to the Rookie of the Year hype, and P.J. Brown is once again putting up solid numbers, but the surprise fantasy contributor from the Hornets' roster has been power forward David West. He is averaging 12.9 points on 50 percent shooting, 7.4 rebounds, and 1.4 steals – he has had at least one steal in each of the season's first seven games. West was brilliant in college at Xavier – his four-year averages were 16.9 points, 11.4 boards, 1.8 blocks, and 1.4 steals, and he was named national Player of the Year by the Associated Press and the United States Basketball Writers Association as a senior in 2003, when he averaged 20.1 points, 11.8 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, and 1.3 steals. The preseason trade that sent Jamaal Magloire to the Bucks created the opportunity for West, and he has run with it. He should be a solid contributor all season and prove to be one of the better waiver additions of the season.

Injury Updates
Carlos Boozer (PF, Utah) – Boozer re-aggravated his hamstring injury Monday and the team has said that he is "back to square one" in his recovery. The original injury occurred on October 6, and he suffered his first setback on October 31, so an indefinite time-table certainly seems to apply in Boozer's case.

Samuel Dalembert (C, Philadelphia) – Dalembert and the Sixers are being very cautious with his injury, given his history, so much so that there is not a definitive time-table for his return. It could be within a week to ten days, according to the Philadelphia Daily News, but don't make any plans as of yet.

Michael Finley (GF, San Antonio) – Coach Greg Popovich has said that he doesn't expect Finley to be available for Thursday's game. If he does not play Thursday, look for updates on Friday and early Saturday, as he could be activated for the Spurs' matchup with the Suns on Saturday night.

Jeff Foster (C, Indiana) – Foster, battling an Achilles injury, is expected to be out at least another week according to

Shaun Livingston (PG, LA Clippers) – Coach Mike Dunleavy said that the team is not taking any chances with Livingston and called his recovery a "long-term commitment." There is no return date set at this point, and it certainly doesn't appear that he's coming back any time soon.

Kenyon Martin (PF, Denver) – Martin will experience soreness in his left knee until at least January 1 as he continues to recover from offseason surgery, according to the Rocky Mountain News. This does not bode well for his fantasy owners – its means he is essentially day-to-day for the next six weeks.

Shaquille O'Neal (C, Miami) – Shaq's recovery may take longer than was first anticipated – O'Neal was injured in a November 3 game and the initial diagnosis was two-to-four weeks, but the latter and then some may end up being the case. Coach Stan Van Gundy said that there is still a "long way to go" in his recovery.

Andrei Kirilenko (F, Utah) – Kirilenko's ankle sprain is expected to keep him out of action for another 7-10 days.

J.R. Smith (SG, New Orleans/Oklahoma City) – Smith missed his second consecutive game yesterday for the Hornets and his ankle sprain will be re-evaluated sometime on Thursday. His status for the weekend should be determined at that time, so check for updates.

Lineup Changes
Jazz rookie Deron Williams made his first start of the season on Tuesday in a blowout loss to the Kings. Jerry Sloan may stick with the rookie, as veterans Keith McLeod and Milt Palacio have been poor, at best, but either way Williams will see the most consistent playing time and should be a good fantasy play further into the season … Corey Maggette has seen his minutes slowly increase since returning from a hamstring injury, and he should be back to starting and getting starter's minutes within the Clippers' next few games … Keith Bogans and Jumaine Jones have been starting in place of the injured Gerald Wallace, but any fantasy relevance for either player will be very short-lived … Nick Collison has replaced Reggie Evans in the Sonics' starting lineup. He could be a good cheap source of points and rebounds … Morris Peterson is now starting in Toronto in favor of rookie Joey Graham, but his playing time and production probably won't see dramatic spikes … James Posey is back from a thumb injury and starting for the Heat at small forward, but it remains to be seen how much of a fantasy impact he can make on that crowded roster … DerMarr Johnson is starting at shooting guard for the Nuggets in place of Voshon Lenard. Johnson could be a decent source of threes and steals if he plays consistently … Matt Harpring and Devin Brown will both see starts for the Jazz at small forward while Andrei Kirilenko is out, since Harpring himself is not healthy enough to start every day – neither will have much of an impact on fantasy rosters.

Stat(s) of the Week
DeSanga Diop's six blocks and 16 rebounds (11/15 vs Denver) put a lot of fantasy owners on notice. Erick Dampier's typically uninspired play (5.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 0.7 blocks per game) and low minutes thanks to foul trouble (19.6 minutes and 3.9 fouls per game) have opened the door for Diop. His performance on Tuesday, which included a game-saving block of Carmelo Anthony in the closing seconds of the 83-80 win, surely impressed coach Avery Johnson and he could see his role increase with more of the same. Fantasy owners short on big men should be watching this situation very closely, and adding Diop just on speculation could prove to be a wise move if you are considering it.

Stat-Line of the Week
Marcus Camby (11/13 vs Minnesota) – 18 points (7-13 FG, 4-5 FT), 22 rebounds, 7 blocks, 3 assists, 1 steal, 3 turnovers
Camby went off in the Nuggets' 102-91 win over the Timberwolves, as frontcourt mate Kenyon Martin was out with a sore knee. The 22 rebounds and seven blocks are both NBA single-game highs for the season.

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