Week 21 Fantasy Basketball schedule preview

Fantasy fringe players of interest in Week 21 (Monday, March 20 through Sunday, March 26)

Ownership and stats accurate as of the Friday morning.

By Alex Rikleen
Special to Yahoo Sports

Jamal Crawford, LAC, SG/SF (5 games, 42% owned): The Clippers are the only team with five games in week 21, and Crawford is one of only two Clippers’ players who are on the fantasy fringe – the other, Austin Rivers, is trending in the wrong direction. Crawford has seen increased usage recently, and his stats have picked up correspondingly. Since he started seeing minutes in the mid-20s, eight games ago, he’s averaging 12.6 points, 2.3 assists, 1.8 rebounds, and 1.1 steals in 26.0 minutes per game. Though those numbers aren’t fantastic, over the course of five games, they will add up. Additionally, the Clippers’ slate includes a few favorable opponents – the Knicks, Lakers, and Kings are all below-average since the All-Star break in opponent points per-possession.

Marcus Smart, Bos, PG (4 games, 68% owned): Smart’s numbers have a taken a dive in March, after an impressive February, but he is still producing at his season-average levels. The Celtics have one of the easiest schedules of the week, in part because all four games are at home. In particular, the two games against the Wizards and Suns, look promising. Both teams are in the bottom third of the league in per-possession defense, and among the seven fastest since the break. The Suns are playing on the second night of a back-to-back for that game. The Celtics have a day of rest between each game, except for Monday, which is on the second night of a back-to-back where the first game was in Philadelphia.

Caris LeVert, Bkn, SG/SF (4 games, 20% owned): After the Clippers and Celtics, the Nets are probably the team with the most fantasy-friendly schedule. Like the Celtics, they face the Suns and the Wizards. Their other opponents are faster than those facing the Celtics, but they are also better at defense. LeVert’s play has taken some big strides in the past month – he’s outperforming his season average in seven of the nine standard categories, and one of the remaining two is blocks, where he does not contribute. He’s taken an even bigger leap over the past three games, increasing his averages to 14.0 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.7 steals, and 1.3 threes in 24.7 minutes while shooting 68.4 percent from the field. That is positive contributions in six categories, before next week’s favorable schedule.

Willie Cauley-Stein, Sac, PF/C (3 games, 54% owned): Even though the Kings only play three games this week, they have an incredible schedule for bigs. Most NBA teams grab between 48 and 52 percent of available rebounds, so when a starting big man faces a team below 48 percent, they usually border on must-start territory. The Kings this week face two teams, the Bucks and Clippers, who are below 47.2 percent since the All-Star break – the worst and second-worst marks in the league. Their third opponent, the Warriors, is in the bottom-third of the league since the break. It is very unusual for one team to face such a dramatic stretch of bad rebounding teams. If Cauler-Stein is taken and you need rebounds, take a look at Kosta Koufos or Skal Labissiere.

One note that doesn’t fit cleanly into this article, but definitely belongs in here somewhere: all three of the Thunder’s games this week are against very fast-paced teams. The Warriors, 76ers, and Rockets all rank in the top six for pace, both since the All-Star break, and for the whole season.

Down and Out: Players to avoid in Week 21

Thaddeus Young, Ind, SF/PF (4 games): Even though the Pacers play four games this week, this is a tough schedule, especially for a big man. A lot of Young’s value comes from his rebounding, as he averages 5.8 per game this season. Two of this week’s opponents, the Nuggets and Jazz, rank in the top four in rebound percentage since the break. The Jazz are one of the best per-possession defenses in the league, and the Celtics rank in the top half of the league since the break. The Nuggets are a relatively poor per-possession defense, but most of that is because they struggle to defend the three-point range, but Young has only attempted two threes since the All-Star break.

Clint Capela, Hou, PF/C (3 games): Capela’s value is entirely based on his scoring, rebounding, and field goal efficiency – he hurts teams in six of the nine standard categories. He faces the two best rebounding teams in the league this week, the Nuggets and Thunder, and their post All-Star break lead over the rest of the league is substantial. The Pelicans, ironically, have struggled to rebound since acquiring DeMarcus Cousins, but their scoring defense has markedly improved. In all three games, at least one of Capela’s three plus categories is in doubt.

The Memphis Grizzlies (3 games): If you have Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, you probably have to start them. But after those two, no one on the Grizzlies roster is safe. Their three games this week are at the Pelicans, at the Spurs, and at the Warriors. The Spurs and Warriors are first and second in the league in per-possession defense, while the Pelicans are eighth since the All-Star break. The three teams rank third through fifth in opponent field goal percentage during the same span, and all are better than average in opponent three-point percentage. The only way this schedule could be harder is if the Pelicans game was replaced by the Jazz – any other swap would be a lateral move or would make the schedule easier.

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Notable injuries

Dwyane Wade, Chi, PG/SG (4 games – elbow): Wade is out for the season with the elbow injury, which opens a big hole in the Bulls rotation. Wade was averaging 30.2 minutes and 18.6 points this season. It is not entirely clear who will be the primary beneficiary, but Paul Zipser will get the first crack at it – he is set to enter the starting lineup for Wade on Friday.

Eric Bledsoe, Pho, PG/SG (4 games – knee): Bledsoe is also shut down for the season, and his hole is even bigger than Wade’s, to the tune of 33.0 minutes, 21.1 points, and 6.3 assists. In Bledsoe’s case, however, the primary beneficiary is clear. Tyler Ulis is now the starter, and he will probably remain so throughout the remainder of the season. Ulis should be added in all leagues, but especially for teams need assists. Ulis’ per-36 averages over the past eight games are 15.2 points, 9.5 assists, and 1.9 steals.

Kyrie Irving, Cle, PG (3 games – knee): Irving is only included here for the sake of due diligence. He left Thursday’s game early with an injury to the same knee he injured during the 2015 Finals. After the game, however, he indicated that he expected to be ready to play for the Cavaliers’ next game, Saturday at the Clippers. If he does miss time, Deron Williams is probably the biggest beneficiary.

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