Fantasy basketball: Finding advantages within the NBA's second-half schedule

Jonas Valanciunas and the Grizzlies have an edge going forward due to their remaining schedule. Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

So, the NBA just released its second-half schedule.

And given this rollercoaster of a season, it's impressive to examine how they've managed to reconfigure the slate on the fly.

But we need to talk about the second-half schedule from a fantasy point of view. Immediately.

I'm going to skip the NBA-facing version of schedule analysis. Kevin Pelton posted an incisive article doing just that. (If you haven't read it? Read it. I'll be here when you get back.)

This schedule is big fantasy news. Because it's not only overstuffed, it's lopsided. Meaning the layout of the schedule is going to have a disproportionate effect on teams.

Some players will gain an advantage. Some will be saddled with a sizable disadvantage. And if your league has playoffs? It's going to affect that as well.

In a normal year, there would be small second-half disparities in terms of games left by team. But due to the pandemic, several teams have multiple games to make up. The result: two teams (Memphis, San Antonio) have 40 games left to play. Six teams (Golden State, Lakers, Toronto, Brooklyn, Clippers, Knicks) only have 34-35 games left.

In fantasy? That extra five-to-six games is a seismic difference. The Grizzlies and Spurs will be effectively playing an extra week and a half of games relative to the Warriors, Lakers, Raptors, Nets, Clippers and Knicks.

The second-half schedule presents myriad fantasy angles. The number of back-to-backs. The impact of more or less travel.

But the chasm between these two groups of teams in terms of remaining games is a big fantasy story. Because in fantasy, when you're talking about this big a gap -- about 15 percent -- raw volume is king. It becomes the most important differentiator we have.

Let's examine the two teams that project as fantasy winners.

Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies are now the NBA team offering the most second-half waiver wire opportunity.

Not just due to the extra games. But also due to all their fantasy-worthy talent. As players cycle in and out of the rotation due to injuries and COVID-19, their rotation will be churn in a state of flux for at least the start of the second half schedule. The question: will the rotation eventually lock in and give certain players a path to consistent production?

Start with the obvious. This may be the last time you read Ja Morant referred to as a "buy-low opportunity." Over his last three games, Morant has averaged 21 points, four rebounds, six assists and 1.3 steals. And his Usage Rate has been over the coveted 30.0 mark.

One problem...notice how I didn't mention 3s just then? Morant's only hit one 3-pointer over his last six games. For a point guard expected to deliver elite fantasy upside, that lack of 3s is going to hold him back. But if you have a chance to acquire Morant, do it now. Before he really heats up. Before his injury, we saw just how scary good Morant can be.

Remember who used to be Memphis' second-best fantasy player? For a good while last season... Memphis' best fantasy player?

You may have forgotten about Jaren Jackson Jr. He was supposed to be back from his meniscus tear weeks ago. Well, reports are pinning Jackson's return on the calendar. He's due back shortly after All-Star Weekend. Jackson will need some time to work his way back to fantasy-worthy minutes. But if Jackson is sitting on your wire? You might want to grab him.

Remember, we're talking about a big with 20 point, 2.5 steals + blocks, 2.5 3s potential. There just isn't another player on the wire with more late-season upside.

And don't forget who has been the Grizzlies' best fantasy player of 2021... by far.

In Jackson's absence, Kyle Anderson has gotten minutes, usage and touches. Result: a quiet career year (13.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.7 blocks, 1.7 3s, 59.0 TS%.) He's basically been about 80% of what managers expected from Jackson. Which is pretty darn good. Bonus factor: Anderson's helpful SF/PF eligibility.

Memphis best fantasy lineup right now starts Anderson alongside Brandon Clarke. Given his closing burst of fantasy goodness last season, I was expecting more from Clarke. Especially in Jackson's absence. But Clarke was putting it all together in January (14.6 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.1 steals + blocks, 0.8 3s) before injury struck.

Through all the flux, Jonas Valanciunas has been a rock. Canning double-doubles by the truckload and averaging 16.0 points and 11.2 rebounds. The problem: no supporting stats. Just 1.3 steals + blocks. For a big man, Valanciunas only offers decent percentages. The 0.4 3s are a nice bonus, but the fantasy manager in me is dying for Valanciunas to let it rip.

What happens to Memphis' frontcourt after Jackson comes back? It's easy to see this developing into a sadly stultifying time share. One could envision Jackson playing his way back into shape, with Clarke filtering back to a bench role.

But coming back from meniscus tears can be tricky. Clarke could end up the starter via sheer attrition. Either way, this is a position battle worth watching...especially with all those extra games.

Another player who's been good given opportunities: Dillon Brooks. He's a swingman, but he has the potential to turn small forward into more of a timeshare, since both he and Anderson have delivered.

Then there's even more young upside. Desmond Bane. De'Anthony Melton. Grayson Allen. Even Justice Winslow is back.

There's a ton of variables in Memphis. But one or two of these players could end up coming off your wire and helping win your league.

San Antonio Spurs

I'll be honest. The Spurs could play 10 extra games and I'm not sure how much new fantasy opportunity will be produce.

Historically, finding in-season upside in San Antonio hasn't been about Gregg Popovich slowly incorporating a new blue-chip lottery pick into the rotation.

When you've picked as consistently low as San Antonio over the last decade? New fantasy upside usually bubbles up as the result of: 1) an injury or 2) a role player catching fire in San Antonio's system.

If you look at the Spurs' production for the season, you won't find a seat deal of fantasy quality. In terms of players worth starting in most average-sized leagues? You've got Dejounte Murray, DeMar DeRozan and maybe Keldon Johnson. Add on top of this the fact that the Spurs have been hit extremely hard by COVID-19.

LaMarcus Aldridge has flashed some vintage effectiveness, in between bouts of poor play and injuries. Replacement Jakob Poeltl has been low-level effective, thanks to solid per-minute defensive counting stats and rebounds. If he sticks as a starter, Poetl could build some momentum. He doesn't need touches on offense to register decent fantasy value. Give Poetl a steady diet of 30.0 MPG, and managers should get a double-double, plus 3.0 steals + blocks in return.

The real opportunity here: Derrick White. He's been a frustrating player to roster so far. He finally returned to the Spurs' lineup at the beginning of February, and disappointed. Then he put it all together on Valentine's Day: 25 points, four rebounds, four assists, four 3s, and four steals. Then, of course, White had to enter the COVID protocol.

It's been rough going for those of us in the arena of Derrick White fantasy management. But think big picture. You've got a player with top-50 upside, set to play a huge number of games in the second half of the season.

I'm guessing White isn't on your wire at present. But I'm betting he's very available via trade. if you want to roll the dice on a buy low player with high-impact upside, White is an ideal trade target.