Fantasy basketball forecaster: Jan. 1-7

Isaiah Thomas is set to return to the Cavaliers soon. Is this is the week to put him in your fantasy lineup? Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

One of the most productive and fan-favorite players of last season will be making his season debut in the near future. The question is: Should you put him back into your lineups just yet?

Isaiah Thomas had been practicing with the Cleveland Cavaliers' developmental league affiliate, and on Friday he went through a full-speed, five-on-five practice with the big squad. However, he was not cleared to play in Saturday's game, which means that the soonest he would possibly be able to return to the Cavaliers' lineup is Tuesday against the Trail Blazers. The Cavaliers play three games next week, on a week when there are relatively few teams playing four games (see below). Should those that have held onto Thomas for so long slot the little giant back into their lineups in the hopes he returns on Tuesday?

I'm one of those fantasy managers that has stock in Thomas. I have him on several teams, in fact. With that said, I am unlikely to start him this week. It has been reported that Thomas won't play in any back-to-back games and that he will initially be on a minutes restriction. The Cavs start the week with a back-to-back, so the absolute most that he could play would be two games in the week, both on a minutes restriction. When you add in that there's still no official word on his return so there's no guarantee that he even plays the week at all, that's just too much uncertainty with not enough upside. Plus, we don't even know what Thomas will look like next to LeBron James, or whether his current "healthy" level is physically capable of the type of dominance that he demonstrated last season.

It is exciting that Thomas is nearing a return, and I look forward to getting him back into my lineups as soon as possible. But in weekly leagues, with all of the uncertainty surrounding his return, I don't anticipate starting the little big man for at least another week.

Matchup ratings are based upon a scale from 1 (poor matchup) to 10 (excellent matchup). These are calculated using a formula that evaluates the team's year-to-date and past 10 games' statistics, their opponents' numbers in those categories and their performance in home/road games depending on where the game is to be played. The column to the left lists the team's total number of games scheduled as well as home games, and lists the overall rating from 1-10 for that team's weekly schedule.


The week ahead

There are only eight teams with four games this week, 16 with three, and six with only two games. This slightly changes the dynamic, because even if you have to start a player with only two games, there's a higher than usual likelihood that your opponent will also have to do the same. However, this makes the handful of streamable players with four games relatively more valuable than usual, there are fewer such options available.

Of the teams with only two games, the Memphis Grizzlies, the New Orleans Pelicans and the Philadelphia 76ers are the only three to rank a minimum 1 on the Forecaster due to a combination of road games and difficult competition. Marc Gasol, Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins are all start-and-forget players, even with only two games. Even Tyreke Evans has played himself into that category, somewhat surprisingly. However, any other player on those teams, including impact guys like Joel Embiid (high risk to miss a game), Ben Simmons (bit of a scoring slump this month) or Jrue Holiday (not consistently star-impact when both big men healthy), should be contemplated as potential sit candidates.

On the flip side, there are also four teams with a Forecaster rating of 8 or higher, indicating great matchups, friendly schedules and/or plenty of games. The San Antonio Spurs have the highest rating of the week with a perfect 10, while the Minnesota Timberwolves' schedule rated them a 9, and both the Los Angeles Lakers and the Golden State Warriors rated an 8. The Warriors are the only members of this group with only three games, as the other three all play four times. Thus, the Lakers, Timberwolves and Spurs make good places to look for stream options. Here are a few names to examine further:

Tyus Jones, Minnesota Timberwolves (available in 88.8 percent of leagues): Starting point guard Jeff Teague went down with an unfortunate knee injury on Thursday night, which means that Jones is the starter for the next couple of weeks. He is not a big scorer, but Jones is a consistently good source of assists and steals when in this starting role.

Jordan Clarkson (49.3 percent available) and Josh Hart (98.4 percent available), Los Angeles Lakers: Starting point guard Lonzo Ball is dealing with a shoulder injury and starting shooting guard Kentavius Caldwell-Pope has legal issues that won't let him leave the state of California (which means he'll miss the game in Minnesota). The added opportunity makes both Clarkson and even Hart viable options.

Danny Green (88.7 percent available) and Kyle Anderson (92.4 percent available), San Antonio Spurs: Rudy Gay is out for the next couple of weeks with a heel injury, and Kawhi Leonard is being brought along slowly in his recovery from a quad injury. Leonard is on a minutes restriction, and has been sitting out every other game for the last week. Thus, Green and Anderson could both be called upon for larger roles in the next week.