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March 9, 2012
Start/Sit Projections
Week of March 12-18

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

These are 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.

Gustavo Ayon (Owned 4.7%, Opponent boost 11.4%): Okay, so Ayon hurt his foot and most of you fled his sinking ship like angry rats. He's supposed to return on Friday, so you are highly encouraged to revisit Ayon's per-minute numbers: 13 points, 10 rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks per 40 minutes, and he's shooting over 57 percent from the floor. Ayon's emergence has been one of the few bright spots in the first dismal post-Chris Paul season in New Orleans. Before he was injured, Ayon was getting 30 minutes per night, though he might not step immediately back into that role. If he does, the schedule will work in his favor. The Hornets have Charlotte (dead last against power forwards and centers), the Lakers (surprisingly middle of the pack), Washington (23rd against fours; 29th against fives) and the Nets (29th versus fours, 27th versus fives and now Brook Lopez is out). Load up on interior players from New Orleans.

Greivis Vasquez (Owned 12.7%, Opponent boost 8.7%): Vasquez was recently bumped back to the bench in favor of Jarrett Jack, but he's still getting 20 minutes per night and Jack's health is an ongoing concern. Besides at some point, Hornets coach Monty Williams has to realize that playing a stopgap veteran over a young player who may have a modicum of upside is a fool's errand. Right? Vasquez, and Jack for that matter, doesn't get as much of an opponent boost as New Orleans' bigs next week, but bad defense is bad defense.

Lamar Odom (Owned 31.8%, Opponent boost 7.8%): When you're almost sent to the D-League and your owner is yelling at you on the court, it might be time for you to heed the message. Odom is not just playing for the Mavericks, he is playing for his future. So it would be surprising if the super-talented veteran doesn't ramp it up at least a little bit over the rest of the season. His skills aren't an ideal match for what Rick Carlisle asks from him on offense and he's forced to play out of position too much because, let's face it, Dirk Nowitzki is going to get the lion's share of the minutes at four. Odom had a nice game against Phoenix on Thursday with 15 points on 6 of 10 shooting and, more importantly, he looked like he was in more of an attack mode. The Mavericks have two-thirds of a soft slate next week with games against Washington and Charlotte, which should provide Odom with ample minutes to further get his game back to a more respectable version. Dallas closes next week with a game against San Antonio but by then, we may have a better idea how the rest of Odom's season is going to play out.

Derrick Williams (Owned 35.4%, Opponent boost 5.7%): Williams has shown signs of translating his immense physical skills into real NBA production and may be on the verge of blowing up. Over his last 10 games, Williams is averaging 18.7 points and 9.8 rebounds per 40 minutes and is hitting 48 percent from 3-point range. He's been getting just over 22 minutes per game during that span but if Michael Beasley is moved at the trade deadline, Williams is going to become a very valuable contributor. Schedule-wise, the Timberwolves are in good shape at all five positions for the next week. Minnesota has Phoenix, Utah, the Lakers and Sacramento on the docket.

Ramon Sessions (Owned 23.1%, Opponent hit -1.4%): What's that, a player with an "Opponent hit" on this list? Well, that's if you consider Sessions to be facing Cleveland's schedule nextweek. If he were facing the schedule of, say, the Lakers, he'd be getting an eight percent boost and a lot more consistent court time. Just sayin'.

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.

Luol Deng (Owned 100%, Opponent hit -16.6%): Deng has been playing out the season with a fairly nasty wrist problem and while he's soldiered on for one of the league's best teams, his shooting has been inconsistent. He's had some big games (9 for 14 against Cleveland, when he was 4 for 4 from long range) but also contests like Thursday's 1-for-9 showing against Orlando. Beware of Deng's opposition next week. Chicago has New York on Monday, which has been above average against threes and Deng will be tasked with dogging Carmelo Anthony for most of the night. It gets worse after that when Deng faces some of the league's best-defending small forwards in Miami's LeBron James (Wednesday), Portland's duo of Gerald Wallace and Nicholas Batum (Friday) and Philadelphia's Andre Iguodala (Saturday). Iguodala's numbers against opposing threes this season are almost unreal -- he's allowing a 5.9 PER, according to 82games.com. He may unseat Dwight Howard as this year's NBA's Defensive Player of the Year.

Dwyane Wade (Owned 100%, Opponent hit -15.9%): Sure, you're going to leave Wade in your lineup, but just be aware that you may doing so at the risk of a temporary loss of efficiency. Wade and the Heat face the league's top two defenses next week in Philadelphia and Chicago. Wrapped around those contests is a pair of games against the Magic. Orlando is perennially one of the NBA's top five defensive clubs but has slipped a few rungs due to what coach Stan Van Gundy has called a lack of desire to get better. However, with Dwight Howard in the middle, Orlando can dial up the defense big-time when properly motivated, as evidenced by Thursday's win in Chicago. Of course, the second Orlando-Miami meeting next week comes three days after the trade deadline. The Magic may in fact be a great matchup for Wade by then.

Roy Hibbert (Owned 100%, Opponent hit -14.8%): Hibbert's upward arc as an NBA center crested with this season's All-Star berth, but his production has become erratic of late. The old demon foul trouble has reared its head again, keeping Hibbert under 30 minutes in four of his last five games. He failed to score double figures in three of those games and made exactly one field combined in a two-game stretch against New Orleans and Chicago. If he's going to bounce back this week, he's going to do so against some top-flight interior defenses. Indiana has Portland (fifth against centers), Philadelphia (top overall defense in the league) and then New York twice. The Knicks' Tyson Chandler ranks first this season against opposing centers. Ouch.

Andre Iguodala (Owned 100%, Opponent hit -13.1%): With Miami, Chicago and Philadelphia all squaring off against each other this week, we've got some elite small forward matchups to look forward to. Unfortunately, that also works against the prospects for major production from Iguodala. Not only does he have to expend all that energy guarding guys like Deng and James, but he's tasked with producing against their all-league-caliber defense. The Sixers also face Indiana, which is middle-of-the-pack against threes. Whew!

Jeremy Lin (Owned 100%, Opponent hit -8.9%): Whether it's regression, tough opposition, the return to the lineup of Carmelo Anthony or that the clock struck midnight, Linsanity has ebbed a bit during the Knicks' current losing streak. It was bound to happen. Over his last five games, Lin is averaging just 15 points and shooting 36 percent from the field. Don't expect those trends to change over the next week. The Knicks start off with a matchup against Derrick Rose and Chicago on Monday and even though the reigning MVP is not known for his defensive prowess, he is capable of erasing opposing point guards from the equation, plus he has the support of an elite defense around him. New York then has Portland, which is above averaging versus ones, then finishes the week with back-to-back contests against Indiana. The Pacers ranked third in league against point guards. Nightmare matchup Paul George tends to take on the other team's best offensive guard regardless of position and Frank Vogel won't be putting him on Landry Fields or Iman Shumpert. Should be a week of more Linreality and than Linsanity.

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.

Ersan Ilyasova (Owned 100%, Opponent boost 24.0%): Mabye it's because it's his contract year, but Ersan Ilyasova has emerged as a force this season. He's not Kevin Love, or even Ryan Anderson, but he still supplies a rare combination of rebounds and 3-point shooting. His 11.6 points and 8.9 rebounds per game have come in just 26.5 minutes, an amount of court time that hardly seems appropriate for a player with a 19.4 PER. Scott Skiles has seen the light, however, and Ilyasova has logged more than 40 minutes in each of his last two games. This week, the playing time and schedule converge to make Ilyasova an attractive option. Milwaukee has New Jersey (29th against power forwards), Cleveland (25th) and Golden State (20th). The word is out on Ilyasova, hence his 100 percent ownership, but maybe, just maybe, because he's an emergent player, his owner in your league is looking to sell high.

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

(Get your copy of the most comprehensive guide to the new NBA season. Pro Basketball Prospectus 2011-12 is now available in .PDF and paperback format.

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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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