If You're Hardcore: Stretch-run streaming
This being the final regular-season week in fantasy, my colleague Eric Karabell offered a handful of tips to give yourself a leg up on the competition. But one particularly useful -- and controversial -- piece of advice he didn't discuss is my personal favorite: streaming.
This strategy applies specifically to 10- and 12-team ESPN leagues, but I also realize there are a ton of inactive owners at this stage so it may even work in larger leagues. In our 10-team ESPN Writers League, John Cregan and I have both been streaming recently, but there's still no shortage of productive players available, so chances are you can probably pull it off on some level. I even dropped Corey Maggette last week as I really began to commit to the streaming process. I weighed the pros and cons of that decision -- Maggette is ranked 84th on the Player Rater when sorted by averages, after all -- and the numbers overwhelmingly supported my decision.
In our league, we have 10 starting slots available and a maximum of 40 games played per week. So say Maggette gives me, on average, 3.5 games per week. Since he's averaging 19.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.9 steals and 0.5 3-pointers per game, that means I have to replace 69 points, 20 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 3.1 steals, 1.7 3-pointers in a given week to make it worth it. Divide those totals into seven games, though, and my replacement streamers have to average only 9.8 points, 2.8 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.4 steals and 0.2 3-pointers; in other words, I'm making out like a bandit. Maggette's gaudy field goal and free throw percentages will be much harder to replace, but that's just the cost of doing business.
This week, if I left my lineup as is and didn't stream any players, I would get 45 games out of my team. The limit is supposed to be 40, though, right? Ah, but here comes the loophole: "If a team exceeds a games played limit during the middle of a game day, that team will continue to accumulate stats until the end of the day. Stats will not count for any position which the games played max has been exceeded before the game day begins." So that means I can get 39 games out of my players by Saturday, and then play as many people as I can find on Sunday, and I'll still get credit for all those extra games! Since I have 10 games scheduled on Sunday, that means I can get five games of streaming by then and ensure dominance in six out of eight categories. Lo and behold, streaming last week allowed me to win my head-to-head matchup over Karabell, who's been leading the league for much of the season. There's really nothing you can do at this stage to help your chances more than streaming.
And keep in mind I'm not necessarily limited to cycling just one roster spot to streaming per week. You can abuse this with any marginal or one-dimensional players. It closes the roster divide between the worst teams (because they have a number of players they can afford to drop to stream, and few active owners care to stop them) and the best teams (because they aren't going to be dropping their top-50 or top-75 players anytime soon).
You can also tailor your strategy to stream guys who contribute to the categories where you need the most help. So if you're facing the top seed and he has Dwyane Wade and Nate Robinson dominating points, you could punt that category and just focus on the other categories to make sure he loses in those. Remember, all you have to do is win, so a 5-3 decision is just as good as 7-1. Sure, it's cheap, but it's still operating within the parameters of the league rules.
Beware, though, as there is a counter against this: One of your league mates could drop one player on his team and then add and drop everyone from the free-agency pool you could possibly stream, placing them on waivers for two days and no longer making your endeavor worth it. No one has done that to me yet, but if I ever come across an owner shrewd enough to do that -- possibly when I face Cregan in the playoffs next week -- that would be my anti-strategy.
Comings and goings
Leon Powe, PF, Celtics (3.4 percent owned): With Kevin Garnett out until at least March 20, and Glen Davis currently battling a sprained ankle, not to mention ineffectiveness, Powe has been a beast lately, averaging 18.3 points and 10.3 rebounds his past three games. Those performances have come against a lofty set of defenses too: the Cavaliers, who rank first in defensive efficiency; the Magic, who are third; and the Heat, who are 13th and recently added defensive stalwarts Jermaine O'Neal and Jamario Moon. The fouls (15 in those three games) will always be a problem for the undersized power forward, but the fact is he's productive when he plays, and his playing time should see a boost down the stretch, especially if the Celtics are able to rest their starters.
Anderson Varejao, PF/C, Cavaliers (7.5 percent owned): When Joe Smith signed with the Cavs, many assumed he would eat into Varejao's minutes, but Varejao has actually logged 30, 37 and 36 minutes in the three games since Smith joined the team. He's averaging 34 minutes in six March contests, which is progress, considering that a couple of years ago Varejao could never stop fouling long enough even to stay on the court that long. He hurts you in free throw percentage but makes up for it with solid contributions in rebounds, steals, blocks and field goal percentage. He is being unfairly overlooked in many fantasy leagues.
Adam Madison is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.