Author Archives: Allen Law

Fantasy Hardwoodyms: Snatching the Chain

Now you know I don’t like to pitch myself as an expert, analyst, or anything of the like. Nope, I’m just a dude playing fantasy sports for the love of the game. The only difference between us is that I set aside a little extra time each week to weave the stories of the magical leagues that only exist in our minds and browsers.

Today, though, well, let’s just say today is a little difference. Perhaps my swagger is set to ten hundred, thousand trillion. Maybe my hubris is out of control for a minute. Whatever the reason, today we’re going to discuss trades of the most incredible order.

Here’s where my ego comes into play, it’ll potentially be useful to open with a list I like to call “My Top 5 Little Louisiana Purchases:”

First, a disclaimer, just like you, I don’t play with fools. Trades like these happen in every league because everyone makes foolish moves from time to time, capitalizing on that tendency is the hard part.

5) Kobe Bryant and fodder for Chris Paul, Al Jefferson, and Kevin Martin (07-08)

I once strongly disliked Kobe, but that year I was the 3rd overall pick and he was totally chalked into that spot. Fortunately many, many people strongly like, one might even call it a man-crush, Kobe, and so I was able to nab these three breakout gems just a couple weeks after draft day. Side fact: that year I had Ron Artest, Brad Miller, and Martin. My team’s unofficial nickname was The Three Kings, which is also one of my favorite movies and Bible stories. Good things happen when you play to your strengths.

4) Joe Johnson and Michael Beasley for Josh Smith and Rudy Gay (09-10)

I get that double-upgrades happen all the time, but I keep it on the list for a few reasons. First, the opposing player had mistakenly, but correctly based on the player rater, drafted Josh Smith in the mid-second round. Second, said opposition had specifically reached 10 picks on both Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo to prevent me – a diehard Grizzlies fan – from scoring my favorite players. Third, Beasley fell off the cliff for the rest of the season, putting up waiver wire numbers once Spoelstra’s confidence shifted to Udonis Haslem and even Dorrell Wright, which is a sad thing indeed.

3) Derrick Rose, Emeka Okafor, and LaMarcus Aldridge for Dwight Howard and Gerald Wallace (08-09)

A particularly nefarious “trade rape,” for two weeks I periodically pimped Rose’s sickest plays on a friend’s Facebook. At the same time I also continually updated him on the jump-shot project, wherein I was teaching myself how to shoot with the high, elbowy release like LaMarcus Aldridge. Yes, tricks are fun to play, and if you play them often enough, people will fall for them.

2) Luke Ridinour for Corey Maggette (08-09)

Wait for it. Wait for it…

1) Corey Maggette for Rashard Lewis (08-09)

Oh, yeah, there’s the rub. If you remember, Rashard Lewis’s hand was so hot in 08-09 that he almost seemed to be worth his contract that year. Lewis shot the lights out, Maggette was mediocre, I had picked up Ridinour off free agency just two days before, and then grabbed Ramon Session once he eventually won the Bucks point guard spot and went nuts. Watch Tracy McGrady scoring 13 in 33 seconds, the rest of the league felt like the Spurs after this sequence.

Also, two nights after I had a mad vivid dream that Shard ran a crime ring and I did him dirty, so he threw me in the trunk of his ‘50s Cadillac. He was wearing a purple, crushed velvet, four-piece suit with a purple magic baseball cap. I’m convinced now that my peers were incepting me for revenge.

Now, to be completely fair, I’ve accepted some piss poor offers as well. I bought on Gilbert Arenas last year about three days before the whole “Finger Gunz!” charade. Right before the deadline and during his last year of fantasy dominance, and the only year since 1978 that he started in all 82 games, I traded Baron Davis away for scraps because I was so terrified of injury. And I even made a Godfather offer for Jamaal Crawford when he was traded to the Warriors – a match made in heaven, what could possibly go wrong? Everything, and Don Nelson, of course.

But these five trades represent more than just fleecings I’ve been lucky enough to pull, they have categorical significance as well. In fact, each is a specific type of trade that, typically, is going to benefit your team:

5) The hedger: Deal one or two players of a given value for multiple players with the potential for similar value.

Potential is a dangerous concept in fantasy. While potential is something ephemeral in the world of real sports, only manifesting itself in flashes, in fantasy it tends to be injected into each player during draft day.

A couple weeks into the season, when trading, most players kind of forget about that and look at either year to date or career performance. That’s why it’s often easy to deal your top 10 pick for a top 20, high upside guy, and two more shots in the dark.

Any deal that involves “shots in the dark” sounds risky, however, this type of move really isn’t; it’s a high-value move because, in general, you’ve only got to hit on 1 of 3 of your bets. If the top 20 guy plays like a top 10, the rest is gravy. If one of the shots in the dark is top 30, it doesn’t matter that you dropped off from the 6th pick to the 16th. If all three hit, then have fun bathing in ticker tape.

On offense: Target young studs from the year before. It works best if you’re offering a true stud – Kobe can make it happen, Vince Carter won’t.

On defense: Are you giving up all the sleepers on your team? Is your team’s average age about to bounce above 30? If you answered yes to these questions, decline.

4) The double-down: Swap two for two where you appear to be giving up the best player in the trade for an upgrade, even though you’re not giving up the best player.

“Value is value, is perceived value,” my moms always used to say. Lots of stars are piss poor fantasy options to keep on your team, but excellent as trade bait. I find jack-of-all trades without defensive numbers to be the most useful for this sort of pursuit, like JJ or Brandon “Purple Kush” Roy, as players known for 22-5-5 tend to actually put up 20-4-4, which is far less useful.

Offense: Steals are the most undervalued stat in fantasy basketball, so target the thieves with this type of offer. Threes also work well, as does free throw percentage as a function of free throws attempted. Most people are pretty attentive to points, field goal percentage, rebounds, and assists, though.

Defense: Looking at the player rater once a month, or, like, right before you’re about to make a blockbuster is a start.

3) The “Welcome to the league”: Any unbalanced, especially 3 for 2 or 3 for 1, deal that nets you a stud.

New fantasy basketball players tend to forget that the free agent pool has lots and lots of really great value at almost every point in the season. Unbalanced trades free up your roster to make more prospective adds, which means more breakout guys and less breakout guys you drop too early searching for talent.

Offense: One way to execute this deal is to add up the stats of the three guys you’re dealing and show them how you’re overpaying. Except you’re not, because Stephen Curry went undrafted in most league last year.

Defense: Unless you’re entire team is at a Yao Ming-level injury risk, there is really no reason to ever be on the butt end of an unbalanced trade. A wider talent pool is not a deeper talent pool.

2) The now and later: Swapping a sleeper or hot-pickup all over the front pages for an established, but forgettable, superior player.

Everybody’s excitable and everybody loves Matthew Berry, use that to your advantage.

Note, however, that this can backfire if you don’t ensure that said waiver wire fodder is actually a pretty middling basketball player. Check out some real basketball stat sites, read up on them a bit, maybe even watch a game. If they look really good, it might be smart to hold. If they look like Luke Ridinour, sell, sell, sell!

Offense: Works best to use against bottom-feeders who are grasping for straws in their dying breaths. I know it sounds cruel, but sometimes you’ve got to just finish the job. Imagine yourself as a Highlander – I tend to find that image useful.

Defense: Check the note. Remember the whole identities is identities thing last week? In time, crap tends to stay crap, so spot the crap early.

1) The Silky Johnston: Ridiculously unbalanced, unforgivable, likely to infuriate the entire league.

I don’t know what’s more difficult after the Silky Johnston: convincing the league manager that you’re not presenting your trade partner with sexual favors, somehow convincing your friend to trust you again. Put simply, if you were once on the fast track to best man, now your invitation got “lost in the mail.”

Assuming you can pull it off, get in bed with the commish, and don’t mind never trading or talking with someone again, you’ve just turned the league’s power balance upside down. Start writing your acceptance speech now.

Offense: Literally always have a Silky Johnston out to someone. You’re not offending anyone, at best you’re getting a free victory give-away, and at worst you’re subconsciously boosting your players’ value by comparing them to superior players. To that end, always send out trade requests with carefully worded descriptions. Offering an explanation is always a best practice, but mastering this skill is practically a necessity if you’re going to seal this deal.

Defense: No matter how hot a player is, how much you need a given stat, how out for the year your center just became, never, ever trade down several multiples of 10 on the player rater. A top 20 player is worth so much more than a top 70 one that the gap in value will almost never be filled.

A final piece of advice, to err is human, but to trade is divine. Look back at standings in your past leagues, chances are the most active players are at the top. The draft, by nature, is meant to be an equal process. Trading, by nature, is unequal, because if it was equal, why even bother? Both players trade because they think they’re winning the deal.

And when, more often then not, you know that you’re winning yours, it’s alright to get cocky. Just not too cocky, or you might end up with Luke Ridinour.

Fantasy Hardwoodysms: Identity Non-Crisis

Everyone has an identity. In fact, most of us have a few identities. For example I identify, among other things, as a Memphis Grizzlies fan, fantasy nerd, heavy drinker, basketball writer, and a forward-thinker.

I have not been all of these things my entire life, but I have been them for quite some time, and have no plans on changing because they are my identity. These descriptive little noun-phrases certainly don’t tell you everything about me, however, chances are you’d have a decent idea what you were in for if we met at the airport.

Players have identities too, after all, don’t we all put our pants on one leg at a time? And as it turns out, player identities tend to pretty much stay the same over time. No matter what system you plug Courtney Lee into, the kid’s pretty much giving you a solid but unspectacular shooter with good defense. So he’s basically a “Bowen.” That’s why we know that no matter where he goes, Lee’s not likely to enter fantasy relevancy – don’t waste those late prospective picks on players with role identities.

Let’s move on to looking at some other negative identities that could have a little more relevancy, I’ve included an archetype with each, along with some players that most people probably haven’t seen much of (in order of relevancy), even though their names are likely to show up in fantasy drafts a few months from now. Now these guys aren’t all bad, in fact many are excellent players. They are constantly limited by their identity, though, so temper your expectations for growth and let someone else take them 10-20 picks above their spots on the player rater:

  • Combo-guard: Everybody knows this one ever since Dwyane Wade hit the scene as Finals MVP – combo-guards score, assist a little bit, steal some too, and, most importantly, are constantly confused with point guards. But they’re not point guards, and they never will be. Just because they’re young and have the PG tag doesn’t mean you should draft these guys looking for assists. Tyreke Evans, Aaron Brooks, Jrue Holiday, Mo Williams (he’s probably worse without LeBron), Rodney Stuckey, George Hill, Jarret Jack, Goran Dragic (barring a Nash injury, then he does the Collison-starter impression I’ll elaborate on later)
  • Goofy giants: Likely because of the shortage of impact big men, every year someone over 6’10” will have a big year, get massively overrated, then fall back to earth since they were never really great at basketball at all. Normally a free throw percentage under 60 and bountiful turnovers, despite low usage rates, are an indicator that these dudes have the scoring instincts of a 4th grader or Andres Biedrins. Most of these guy’s teams don’t get televised often, but if they did, you’d know why I think a regression, or stunted growth in the case of Noah and Lopez, is in order. Joakim Noah, Chris Kaman, Roy Hibbert, Serge Ibaka, Derrick Favors, Robin Lopez.
  • Volume shooters: I used to think that the term “volume shooter” didn’t make any sense. How could a player need to shoot every other possession to be valuable? Why can’t they do anything else, or just shoot less and up their efficiency? Then O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay came into my life, and now I know better. Some players are just meant to score, and aren’t ever going to fill up the boxscore; others show promise when they’re the number 1 on a bad unit, but are going to see their production plummet as their squad gets new, better options. Monta Ellis (usage or minutes dropping), Andrea Bargnani (never rebounding), Andray Blatche (not going to be running the offense with Wall and Gil), Kevin Martin (third fiddle if Yao returns), Marcus Thornton (just don’t see 20 a game with Paul, Ariza, West), Michael Beasley, Marreese Speights (defense, blackhole-ness keeps him off the court)

Obviously identities aren’t all bad, though. Lots of guys play like something more than their stat lines would suggest – you can see they are better players than they’re getting credit for.

  • True points: Assists aren’t the end all of a player’s passing ability, in fact they’re one of the most system-oriented stats in the game. Take Darren Collison for example. Stepping into the Hornets point guard spot for super-stud Chris Paul, he average practically the same assist numbers as CP3. But he also turned the ball over every other play. None of these guys will be averaging a double-double next year, but will a little tweak in their systems or a new environment they could catch up on the elite crowd Nash, Williams, Paul, Rondo. Stephen Curry, Brandon Jennings, Raymond Felton, Jose Calderon.
  • Stud finishers and high-flyers: Sean Marion never did create his shot very well, but he slammed enough home to complement the rest of his do-it-all game. These players, like Marion, lack the dribble skills to really be effective, so they need a great facilitator. Losing that facilitator means you’re dropping in the ranks, while gaining one means you’re jumping up. Gerald Wallace (scoring or efficiency is dropping), Carl Landry (whole team’s improving), Anthony Randolph (D’Antoni will find a way to STAT-ify him), Blake Griffin (good value pick with Baron Davis), Thaddeus Young (Jrue is a combo-guard, but they’ve got three passers now).
  • Amorphous blobs: Every summer we start talking about positional revolution, and every season we kind of forget about it. But some players, like Rondo, find a way to totally defy convention and party like they’re Magic. These guys are going to stuff your stat sheets in unexpected ways, remember, every extra assist David Lee picks up on Zach Randolph is the difference between Jason Kidd (pre-ranked 16) and Baron Davis (pre-ranked 45). For simple reference I’ve included each player’s unconventional abilities, and included some bigger name guys who do things you still might not know: Josh Smith (passing, steals), David Lee (passing, free throws), Marc Gasol (sneaky everything but threes), Nene (steals), Kevin Love (free throws, threes, passing potential), Terrence Williams (rebounds, passing, steals), Boris Diaw (almost gets 1-1-1 out of power forward spot, Andrei Kirilenko (steals, blocks, candidate for ‘never forget comeback of the year’).

Some of the big-name fantasy analysts will tell you to put players in tiers based on their position. I rather prefer to try to think of tiers this way because so many young players are drafted on what they “are supposed to do” as opposed to what they’ve actually done. A clearer grasp of the things that define these guys as players, for better or for worse, will keep you off the wrong hype trains, especially when you’re talking about guys you might not see on TV all season.

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.