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.
For those of you who don't know, streaming is the act of utilizing a player for one game, and then cutting him and adding a new one from the waiver wire each day to maximize your games-played limit in head-to-head leagues. At this point in the season, there are a ton of productive free agents out there in most leagues, from the sleepers like Thabo Sefolosha, Matt Barnes and Francisco Garcia, to injury replacements such as Anderson Varejao, Marquis Daniels and Roger Mason, to fringe players like Aaron Brooks to guys returning from injury like Chris Kaman.
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
Josh Howard's bum ankle has sidelined him the past three games, and The Dallas Morning News reports it could keep him out the entire month; he's set to be re-examined Thursday. Enter Jose Juan Barea, who has started the past two games, both Mavericks wins, and contributed a combined +21 when he's been on the court. With Jason Terry comfortable in his bench role, Barea's starting job could stick this time. Presented with a golden opportunity the past two games thanks to Rajon Rondo's sprained ankle, Stephon Marbury instead has laid an egg, totaling 4 points, 4 assists and 5 turnovers in two starts. Sure, it may just be rust, but he's also 32 years old; his athleticism isn't coming back anytime soon, and Marbury never was exactly the most graceful of players. Considering he knows his career is on the line, he should be giving it his all; instead, it's looking more and more likely that he's done. Bobby Jackson continues to start for the injured Beno Udrih, who's dealing with a sprained right foot. Frankly, there hasn't been much info on Udrih's status, and it's not as if the Kings have anything to play for, so it doesn't seem like it would take much to shut him down for the season. Jackson's value is looking better and better; he's now nabbed a steal in nine straight, and the Kings have six games in the next 10 days. The Nuggets' lack of frontcourt depth has been highlighted in recent days as Kenyon Martin has missed four of the past five games with a back injury. He returned Monday but may have aggravated his injury. Back injuries tend to linger, and Martin hasn't played more than 71 games since 2003-04. Renaldo Balkman has stepped up in his stead, though, with a whopping 38 rebounds in his past three games. Balkman is also a defensive ace and could contribute in steals and blocks if given the playing time. He double-doubled, going off for 14 points, 14 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and 1 block in 30 minutes on Wednesday, and if Martin's injury lingers, could prove himself valuable over the next few weeks.
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.