Fantasy Hardwoodysms: Treatise on Fantasy Basketball

Allen Law is the author of Straight Outta Vancouver. You may also know him from his work at FreeDarko. He most often goes by the name dj turtleface, which is, you know, neat. He’ll be dropping an unusual type of fantasy column on you here at HP. It’s based on the idea of… oh, okay, well.. I’ll just let him tell it.  -MM

Names and numbers are boring things.

Phonebooks have names and numbers. Why don’t I read those in my free time? Or, if I chose to be a bit more productive, I could sit and memorize the encyclopedia to make a nice little run at Jeopardy.  Now I’m no Krazy Ken Jennings, but  with the amount of time I spend playing fantasy basketball each year, I’m sure I’d at least be able to snatch one Daily Double.

The thing is pounding out statistics is not really my idea of a hobby. Or a job. Or anything, really. I hate dealing with names and numbers.

And ultimately fantasy basketball is a game of names and numbers. Names are the heart of fantasy. Names win you drafts and trades – the most interesting components of the game – and you begin the year with nothing but a list of names. But ultimately numbers are king. Stats win you points or matches, depending on your format of choice. When the time to deem a winner comes, the heartless machines inside ESPN don’t count LeBron’s or Dwight’s acquired, they just tally the ten categories.

Funny then, that I’m completely stuck on fantasy sports, isn’t it? It could be one of those loathsome, self-destructive, lose-lose relationships, I suppose. But it’s not. No, because I’m also here to tell you that if you hit up this very spot each week from here till the end of NBA days – sooner than you think, lockout baby! – it’ll give you all the fantasy basketball “expertise” that you’ll ever need.

Unlike names and numbers, theory, psychology, style and aesthetics, saying Queensbridge, systems analysis, creativity, and philosophy are all things I get behind. Unfortunately, you’ll probably notice a glaring absence these things when you read the sage advice of the Talented Mr. Roto.

There’s a better way to improve your fantasy basketball skills than looking at Player A and Player B, stunned to find out that Joel Pryzbilla is a poor man’s Marcus Camby. What’s the better way you ask, well, how about starting with actually improving you skills?

Traditionally fantasy advice is reactionary and, ultimately, a Band-Aid approach. Pick this guy up; check the stats. But don’t drop him; he’ll bounce back to the mean. Each week you get to see about ten hot names, so better hope they fit your struggling squad. No worries why your squad is struggling, by the way, because each week we’ll be here with a new Band-Aid.

Not to read like the back of a bottle of Pom, but just maybe the miracle answer to your fantasy woes is preventative, not a cure.

As an experiment, let’s try thinking about fantasy basketball through the frame of actual basketball. If you’re in a 10 man, head-to-head league, I suppose that’s a little like a big round robin, one-on-one tournament. Right? Yes, no? As a brief aside, consider whether you follow this flawed conceit or not a fair litmus test for whether you’ll like to RSS.

The names and numbers aren’t actually the game of fantasy, just like pump-fakes, crossovers, and step-back jumpshots are not the game of basketball. See, the players you have rostered are also only the most basic components of the game. They create the numbers that ultimately score the points that ultimately win the week, but those fantasy players do not actually create the victory.

Consider our one-on-one tournament, in which Carmelo Anthony is playing Stephen Jackson. I would drop a G on front row seats to see this, so we’ll stick with it for a minute. Anthony probably takes the Captain in the post. But Anthony’s eleventh point comes on a jab-step to a light fadeaway. The jab-step doesn’t win the game, nor do any of the preceding moves.

Carmelo Anthony won, and he didn’t win because he knows more about an up-and-under or jab than Jax. In elite competition, it’s not about knowing the components. Winning at the highest level is about who is best at combining and executing with those pieces, well, and luck’s in there too.

For a beginner, yes, it’s a helpful reminder that a drop-step without a dribble is a travel. And for a beginner, it’s perhaps worthwhile to debate whether you take Chris Paul with the number two pick this season. Or if Danny Granger is still a top ten player. Or if you can possibly pick Stephen Curry in the top twenty (OK, actually this is a relatively interesting debate, and one I will probably address, but not under the same terms you’re accustomed to).

And if you are going to spend time learning the components, then you damn sure better learn them right. Take the case of Amar’e Stoudemire signing with the Knicks. Where’s he on your board right now? It’s easy to think: A) He’s returning to D’Antoni, so no worries; or, B) He’s leaving Nash, which is bound to be bad news. Either is a overly simplistic assessment.

I see a very different D’Antoni, though, as well as a very different role. The new 7 seconds or less is even closer to the Dream than ever because Nash stifled his teammates’ creativity since his own star was so bright. If the system remains as free-wheeling as it has in Mikey’s first two years, Stoudemire stands to see some interesting gains.

Remember, David Lee averaged 3.5 assists in New York last year. Stat is no playmaker, but when you’re passing to Pretty Toney and Eh, Dano!, there’s a good chance they’re shooting fast enough to fill the little dime holders in each of Stat’s rides. Even more underrated, how about the 2 blocks from 07-08? That big swat boost came during his last year with D’Antoni, an underrated defensive coach, and on a bad team with no other interior defenders. Sound familiar? Him and Anthony Randolph should fluidly switch between big spots, which means Amare could easily apply his hops to swats again.

But, really, that’s neither here nor there.  We were talking about how to improve at fantasy basketball after you already know your players like the back of your hand. For that, we’ll return to my list of loves: theory, psychology, style and aesthetics, saying Queensbridge, systems analysis, creativity, and philosophy.

Saying Queensbridge probably won’t get you very far. But the rest of these guys? They should be your new best friends:

  • Having a fantasy theory and/or philosophy is tantamount to success. Very rarely can you completely out-class the competition in every way, however, you’ll always need to outsmart them.
  • Unless you kill it in the psychology category and you find a way to flip Derrick Rose for Dwight Howard, or something similarly absurd.
  • Style and aesthetics? You’ve got to run with your boys, the players you love, because it makes the game more engaging and you’ll be much more judicious. Similarly, drafting players you know is key to correctly evaluating their potential.
  • And when players change teams, systems analysis is invaluable. When I say systems analysis, I don’t mean knowing Nelly is bat-$h!t insane, I mean predicting whether Mario Chalmers is going to lead the league in threes on the Super Villains.
  • Creativity, finally, is what it all comes down to. In just about any game, you win by either improvising or crafting a plan so perfect that it either whips the competition even when they see it coming, or it’s so stunning in its devious beauty that it leaves them defenseless. Also, team names. Everybody loves the guy with the funny name.

If you prefer to stick with the names and numbers, I can’t blame you. They’re a simple distraction. If you want more, though, it sounds like we have plenty to talk about.

Seth Carstens