If You're Hardcore: Time to get tradin'
When it comes to transactions, I am a very active, daring owner. In a head-to-head league especially, I am constantly picking up players, abusing the ability to stream if I need to. But I always run into a problem when it comes to trades: People are risk-averse and conservative. I'm sure you're familiar with the mantra: Do not panic and avoid making any significant early-season moves. Personally, I despise that line of thinking, if for no other reason than I am that confident in my ability to make better trades and pickups than my opponent.
Patience is a virtue, though, and in my experience there is definitely more activity in your average fantasy league once November is behind us. Owners have a clearer idea of their strengths and weaknesses and more definitive players they would like to sell high or buy low on. This is the time of the season where you can still get decent value on players' stock. For example, Peja Stojakovic is averaging 13 points and 2.4 3-pointers per game but shooting below 40 percent. However, because we're still so early in the season, he's still owned in 95.6 percent of leagues; if he has similar numbers by midseason, he would be just another name you bypass while sifting through free agency.
If you made a strong offer to his owner, whereas a couple of weeks ago you might have gotten politely rejected as the owner took a wait-and-see approach, now the owner might do a double-take. He might like Peja from here on out almost as much as you, but he's also been frustrated for a month, and to him there is a very real possibility that three or four weeks from now, Peja's value will have bottomed out to the point that all the owner can do is bench or drop him since no one will give up anything halfway decent. If you offer a safe, moderately valuable guy in return now (or someone who seems to be safe) -- someone who wouldn't be as productive as Peja if Peja did bounce back to form, but still close enough to be in the conversation -- then the risk-averse owner is going to take 80 cents on the dollar in fear of losing the whole dollar a couple of weeks from now. The opposite is also true: If you have a player many owners covet, or whose buzz is universally positive, you can trade him while he looks good now and not have to worry about the future fallout.
To put it succinctly, a good owner learns more about the first month of the season than his peers, as there's just enough of a sample size -- and not quite as much of a permanent impression -- to start taking smart gambles. I feel this is especially pertinent in deeper leagues, where being right (or wrong) on marginal players has that much more of an effect. Here's where you start wheeling and dealing and put your name at the top of the transactions list, if it wasn't already.
Stream or stash?
I have so many guys I like that I couldn't possibly get to them all. I like capitalizing on underrated players such as Rasho Nesterovic or Jason Thompson as long as they keep producing, and I also like looking smarter than everyone else. So in head-to-head leagues, I like to reserve a spot or two for feature guys I wouldn't mind dropping. So as Roger Mason's short-term value comes to an end, you ditch him to grab, say, Ryan Gomes before every fantasy column on earth features him. Every now and then you catch a guy in a good situation who keeps his value longer than you expected, and you make out like a bandit because you had the room to do so in the first place. If I'm in rotisserie leagues, it's the opposite; when all the obvious guys are snatched up, you stockpile talent (think Trevor Ariza), remind yourself there are five months left and have the patience to let guys like Anthony Morrow pass you by.
Short-term versus long-term
I always have a number of free-agent pickups or deep sleepers whose talent I am keeping a close eye on. As soon as their role grows or an injury strikes the incumbent -- or maybe I just completed a 2-for-1 trade and need a player to stash -- I want to be the first one to add them. It might be Aaron Brooks because I don't trust Rafer Alston, or other sleepers of various depth because I like their talent (Lou Williams and Marreese Speights, for example) or their situation (Linas Kleiza, playing in an up-tempo offense with injury-prone starters ahead of him).
That said, you don't get those guys until you have to get them, either because you're pretty sure your guy will get scooped up and you're not willing to risk losing him, or more importantly because you're too busy picking up Marquis Daniels, Kelenna Azubuike, Roger Mason and Paul Millsap every few weeks. My general rule of thumb is that if they're going to have significant value for approximately two weeks, they're worth an add over a lesser player in a better long-term situation, especially since there's always the chance the "short-term studs" might be valuable longer than you expect (such as Daniels).
Fouls are no joke
A couple of my favorite early-season pickups flamed out because of foul trouble, guys like Darrell Arthur and JaVale McGee. It was really easy to buy into them -- young, great per-minute numbers, on bad teams that need good players -- but I knew going in that fouls were going to limit their minutes. But the season was barely underway, and it was easy to convince myself their teams just might let them play through the fouls, or their foul rate won't be that bad, or even if it is, it will only get better as the season progresses. Lesson learned: Head coaches are risk-averse too, and a couple of early fouls can mean a trip to the bench no matter how skilled you are. Heavily discount the chances of a young big man making a major impact in the same season his foul rate is through the roof.
Tim Thomas, SF/PF, Knicks (3.9 percent owned): A lot of people hate Thomas, which is good because it keeps him underrated when he's actually doing something worthy of being mentioned. In four games with the Knicks, he's averaging 26 minutes, 14 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.5 3-pointers, not to mention chipping in two assists. No, he can't keep it up to such an extent, but he definitely excels in an up-tempo atmosphere and has the kind of size and versatility that Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni loves to deploy. He will be in the frontcourt mix all year; if you can deal with the ups and downs, I like him as both a short- and long-term add.
Sean May, PF, Bobcats (0.4 percent): I'm not going to lie: May is here mostly on the strength of his double-double Wednesday, when he had 10 points and 11 rebounds versus the Thunder. But have you taken a gander at the Bobcats' depth chart at power forward? It's May, Alexis Ajinca, and Jared Dudley. May at power forward and Gerald Wallace at small forward is the Bobcats' best lineup, and Bobcats coach Larry Brown, an old-school coach, definitely has to love the size and length that lineup offers. May is talented, and it definitely seems like the team is rooting for his success. Talent plus opportunity equals a must-grab in deep leagues, just to see how it pans out.
Adam Madison is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
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