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Despite having just five games combined over Wednesday and Thursday -- compared to 14 a week ago -- the NBA schedule is still relatively normal in Week 9 (Dec. 22-28). The total number of games is still 100, down just eight from last week, and higher than two of the previous eight weeks.

That's good news for Fantasy owners across the board because it saves you from having to make too many tough decisions. And, with a few teams having swung major trades last week, there are enough rotations in flux that we don't need any additional question marks to sort through.

The biggest trade to go down was obviously the one that sent Rajon Rondo to Dallas. The motivation for the deal from Dallas' perspective was obvious, but it might not move the needle all that much from a Fantasy perspective. Rondo is a star, but he's not so much another mouth to feed as another cook in the kitchen. That can lead to problems, but at least you don't have to worry about Rondo taking shots away from the likes of Dirk Nowitzki, Chandler Parsons or Monta Ellis.

In Rondo's first game with the team, he touched the ball 92 times in 34 minutes and passed it 75 times, per NBA.com's SportsVU data. Jameer Nelson was averaging 49.5 passes in just 25 minutes, so it doesn't appear as if the ball is going to stick all that much more with Rondo around. Ellis still got 71 touches, Parsons got 83 and Nowitzki had 70, all of which were above their season averages.

The Mavericks are a well-oiled offensive machine, and the presence of a high-level distributor like Rondo shouldn't disrupt things much. Ellis' assist numbers may suffer, but he also got 10 uncontested field-goal attempts Saturday, so he could even see his scoring increase with Rondo around.

The more interesting aspect of the Rondo trade is the fallout in Boston. Rondo may not have been playing as well as years past, but he was still a singular force that impacted the game as much as just about anyone in the league. He was fifth in the league in touches per game with the Celtics, and no other Celtics player was even in the top-50. He dominated the ball, sure, but in a way that also got his teammates involved, as no player passed the ball more often than him.

The Celtics got a soft landing in the first game of the post-Rondo era, as they got to take on a dreadful Timberwolves' defense Friday night. They predictably tried to replace Rondo by committee, with seven players racking up at least three assists, led surprisingly by Avery Bradley's seven. Between Bradley, Marcus Smart and Evan Turner, the team got 15 assists, and those three are the players most likely to benefit from Rondo's departure, so Fantasy owners will want to take a look at them on the waiver wires.

Normally, I stick the waiver-wire recommendations at the end of my weekly planner, but with a very special, Celtics-centric group up for debate, I thought I would put it up here, since this is what everyone is wondering.


Add these players

Evan Turner, G, Celtics (52 percent owned), worth $10 FAAB bid
We scoffed at the notion of the Celtics playing Turner as a point guard before the season, but he actually hasn't been bad in a limited capacity. He is posting a career-best 21.2 assist percentage, and chipping in 5.2 assists per-36 minutes. Of course, he's also turning the ball over at a crazy pace, and is still a mostly inefficient scorer, even if he's shown signs of improvement. He is a safe, steady option for Brad Stevens to lean on, and Fantasy owners in need of a short-term replacement can do worse, though I don't think he'll have a ton of long-term potential.

Avery Bradley, G, Celtics (46 percent owned), worth $8 FAAB bid
Bradley had seven assists in Friday's game, one-fourth of his total for the season. Though it was nice to see him increase his playmaking in Rondo's absence, Bradley's track record as a passer is not good at all. Bradley has flashed an improved stroke from 3-point range over the last year and has made strides overall, but he averaged just 1.4 assists per game prior to Rondo's return from an injury a year ago, so we probably shouldn't expect much. Bradley's defense and shooting make him a decent low-end option in category-based leagues, and should see a small uptick in assists, but I would be stunned if he averaged more than 3.0 assists per game moving forward.

Marcus Smart, G, Celtics (70 percent owned), worth $15 FAAB bid
Smart is the lottery ticket here. He has predictably struggled with certain aspects of the NBA level, and a couple of lingering injuries haven't helped, but there's no reason to write him off after 191 minutes. He is predictably struggling with his jump shot, and hasn't attacked the rim as much as we might have expected, which is a big part of why he is shooting just 34.9 percent from the field. However, he is averaging 3.6 assists and 1.9 steals per-36 minutes, pretty good numbers, given his role so far while fighting injuries. Smart may have the smallest role of the three right now, but his upside down the road is considerably higher, and should be prioritized, if you can spare the roster spot.

Start 'Em

Dennis Schroder, Hawks (5 percent started)
Schroder is one of those rare handcuff options who might be worth owning in deeper leagues even when the starter ahead him is healthy he has shown a lot in his second season in the league, averaging 8.6 points and 3.4 assists per game in just 17.9 minutes, and has acquitted himself well enough in a pair of starts. If Jeff Teague's hamstring injury lingers, Schroder's averages of 9.0 points and 8.0 assists as a starter would make him a very solid option with four games on the way. I would start Schroder over... Brandon Jennings, Austin Rivers, Jose Calderon

Gerald Henderson, Hornets (2 percent started)
Henderson was buried by the arrival of Lance Stephenson, but Stephenson is dealing with an injury that should keep him out at least two of the four games of Week 9. Henderson is playing solid ball lately, posting consecutive double-digit scoring games with four assists each Friday and Saturday. The Hornets probably aren't going to rush Stephenson back, so Henderson makes for a solid fill-in this week. I would start Henderson over... O.J. Mayo, Alec Burks, Jodie Meeks

Reggie Jackson, Thunder (49 percent started)
Jackson has been a frustrating player to own this season, but he's too talented to cut in most leagues, given what he's done when given the opportunity. He showed that yet again Friday, scoring 25 points and adding five assists as the Thunder took on the Lakers without Kevin Durant. Durant's ankle injury might linger long enough to give Jackson a boost in Week 9, especially with the Thunder playing four games, including a back-to-back set Wednesday and Thursday. He's a risk, but it might be one worth taking. I would start Jackson over... Evan Fournier, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Trey Burke

Bust Alert

Brandon Jennings, Pistons (63 percent started)
At this point, Jennings might not even be considered a bust, except 63 percent of you are still starting him. He has shown a bit of life lately, recording double-digit scoring games Wednesday and Friday, the first time he has done so since the start of December. Still, even with his solid passing numbers and the potential for a big game, there's no reason to consider starting Jennings in Week 9, with the Pistons set to play just twice. At this point, Jennings isn't a sure-fire starter with four games.


Start 'Em

Marreese Speights, Warriors (15 percent started)
I've avoided buying in on Speights so far, mostly because it's hard to see him keeping his insane per-minute production up long-term. However, the Warriors will probably need more from him in the near future, with Andrew Bogut out indefinitely with a knee injury, and that should lead to good things in Week 9. The Warriors have the league's best schedule on the way, with four games against below-average defenses, including the two worst in the Lakers and Timberwolves. If he plays 20-plus minutes consistently throughout the week, he'll provide good value. I would start Speights over... Ersan Ilyasova, Solomon Hill, Amar'e Stoudemire

Wilson Chandler, Nuggets (67 percent started)
Chandler has gone cold of late, shooting just 37.9 percent from the field and logging as many field-goal attempts as points over the last five. However, he just became assured of a 35-plus minute role moving forward, following news that Danilo Gallinari has suffered yet another knee surgery that will require surgery. The Nuggets play four times this week, so Chandler's combination of scoring, shooting and rebounding should lead to good things. I would start Chandler over... Greg Monroe, Trevor Ariza, Thaddeus Young

Nikola Mirotic, Bulls (14 percent started)
Mirotic came into the league saddled with heavy expectations, after dominating the European circuit for years. And, though he hasn't had a consistent role throughout, he has mostly impressed in his first two months stateside, emerging as one of the most effective offensive players in Chicago. His per-minute numbers are fantastic, but playing time comes and goes for the guy who is fourth on the Bulls' big man depth chart. Fortunately, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson have been fighting nagging injuries of late, and Mirotic's development has allowed the team to exercise patience with them. The Bulls have four games on the schedule in Week 9, including one set of back-to-backs, so Mirotic should get enough playing time to contribute 3-pointers and scoring for you. I would start Mirotic over... James Johnson, K.J. McDaniels, Brandon Bass

Bust Alert

Trevor Ariza, Rockets (72 percent started)
Ariza has come mostly as advertised for the Rockets, giving them solid defense on the perimeter and a 3-point safety valve for James Harden and Dwight' Howard's work inside. However, he has logged a huge minutes load, and it appears to be taking a toll of late. Ariza is shooting just 32.8 percent from the field in the month of December, while adding just 1.0 assists in 41.8 minutes per game. His scoring, rebounding and 3-point shooting are still enough to make him a solid play in most formats, but you might have better options in Week 9, with the Rockets set to take on a gauntlet that includes the Trail Blazers, Grizzlies and Spurs, three of the best defense in the league.



Mason Plumlee, Nets (37 percent started)
Brook Lopez is making progress in his recovery from a back injury, but there is no guarantee Plumlee is going to give the starting job back to him when he is healthy. Plumlee is averaging 15.8 points and 9.5 rebounds per game in six starts in Lopez's absence, while adding 1.7 blocks per game and shooting 58.2 percent from the field, living up to the "Poor Man's Andre Drummond" hype his rookie season brought along. Lopez may return at some point this week, but Plumlee could start at least twice, with a back-to-back on the way. I would start Plumlee over... Larry Sanders, Andre Drummond, Nerlens Noel

Chris Kaman, Trail Blazers (20 percent started)
Kaman's role doesn't look like it is going to increase too much in Robin Lopez's absence, as he played just 18 and 22 minutes in the team's first two games without him. However, he is doing well enough to be worth a look anyways, having taking at least 10 shots in three of the last five games. Kaman is fitting in with the Blazers well, and it wouldn't be a total surprise if he got more playing time before long, given how ineffective the team's other Lopez replacements have been. I would start Kaman over... Kelly Olynyk, Tyler Zeller, Enes Kanter

Bust Alert

Enes Kanter, Jazz (55 percent started)
Because he's been a relative disappointment in his career and seems to have less upside than most of his teammates on the young Jazz, Kanter has been a forgotten man in Utah. However, he's showing a lot of improvement offensively this season, and that has flown under the radar a lot this season. You won't get anything from him in the defensive categories, and he's not much of a passer, but Kanter has emerged as a solid starting Fantasy option of late. Unfortunately, the Jazz have just two games this week, including one extremely tough matchup against the Grizzlies, so sit him down.

Schedule preview

(A higher strength-of-schedule ranking is a good thing, based on points allowed)

Hawks: Four games games, 2nd in strength of schedule
Celtics: Three games, 26th in strength of schedule
Nets: Three games, 11th in strength of schedule
Hornets: Four games, 10th in strength of schedule
Bulls: Four games games, 4th in strength of schedule
Cavaliers: Four games, 5th in strength of schedule
Mavericks: Four games, 8th in strength of schedule
Nuggets: Four games, 6th in strength of schedule
Pistons: Two games, 29th in strength of schedule
Warriors: Four games, 1st in strength of schedule
Rockets: Three games, 30th in strength of schedule
Pacers: Three games, 14th in strength of schedule
Clippers: Four games, 21st in strength of schedule
Lakers: Four games, 7th in strength of schedule
Grizzlies: Three games, 22nd in strength of schedule
Heat: Three games,18th in strength of schedule
Bucks: Three games, 24th in strength of schedule
Timberwolves: Three games, 14th in strength of schedule
Pelicans: Three games, 28th in strength of schedule
Knicks: Three games, 26th in strength of schedule
Thunder: Four games, 14th in strength of schedule
Magic: Three games, 8th in strength of schedule
76ers: Three games, 23rd in strength of schedule
Suns: Three games, 3rd in strength of schedule
Trail Blazers: Four games, 19th in strength of schedule
Kings: Three games, 17th in strength of schedule
Spurs: Four games, 19th in strength of schedule
Raptors: Three games, 12th in strength of schedule
Jazz: Two games, 25th in strength of schedule
Wizards: Three games, 13th in strength of schedule

Droppable players

K.J. McDaniels, F, 76ers (63 percent owned)
McDaniels is still doing the peripheral things that make him so potentially valuable, averaging 2.0 blocks and 1.0 steals per game over the last four games. However, he has seen his role shrink in that time, to just 22.3 minutes per game, as his offensive game has disappeared. He is averaging just 5.5 points per game in that span, while making just 7 of 26 from the field and 1 of 12 from 3-point range. McDaniels' all-around skill set makes him incredibly valuable when things are going well, but he's not a must-own in leagues deeper than about 12 teams.

Mo Williams, G, Timberwolves (57 percent owned)
Williams provided some solid value in the first few weeks after Ricky Rubio's injury, but it always seemed like he was playing on borrowed time. Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders made it clear he would have preferred to keep Williams' minutes limited, and his six-game absence recently due to a back injury is exactly why. Williams can be productive when given the chance, but playing big minutes probably isn't in his best interests long-term. With Ricky Rubio expected back within the next 10 days, dumping Williams now isn't a bad idea at all. I would rather have any of the three Celtics listed above than Williams.