Commentary

Grand Theft Roto: Using early results to your advantage

Updated: November 5, 2008, 5:39 PM ET
By Guy Lake | Special to ESPN.com

Last week we discussed average draft positions (ADPs) and how to use them to find value and create the perception of value for your potential trade partners. We will be focusing on the latter aspect of trading this week. Trading is largely a game of perception. In order for most trades to succeed, both players must think they are getting a good deal. Your job is to identify what you need and what your opponent wants. ADPs are one way to find value gaps from the preseason through the first week of the real games. After this, you have to go Janet Jackson and ask each player on your and your potential trade partner's roster "What have you done for me lately?"

I tend to avoid making big deals too early in the season for a variety of reasons. For one, size matters -- sample size, that is. It is extremely foolhardy to project a player's total production after two or three games. A player may have benefited from a specific matchup and consequently be overvalued; see Andrea Bargnani after he horsewhipped the Golden State Warriors. Another problem is the coaches. Few are friends to fantasy owners, and at this time of year rotations are far from set in stone. Many players will see their minutes yo-yo as their coaches determine roles. Because so few games have been played, everyone's statistics are subject to being skewed. One poor start is magnified by making up one-third of the total games played. This is especially true in the percentage categories where a poor shooting night can send a player's field goal percentage to the nether realms.

This doesn't mean you shouldn't trade. Far from it. Indeed, if I took that attitude, this column would be ripped from my grip faster than you can say "Talented Mr. Roto." I am merely warning you not to read too much into the early-season results. On the other hand, I am advocating that you prompt your trade partners to do exactly this. Sell the exploits of players on your rosters and offer sympathy for the poor performances put forth by your opponents' players. It's called buying low and selling high. (You may have heard of this stratagem.)

Use whatever means you have necessary: e-mail box scores; post links to panic-stricken fan blogs on your league's message board; IM your intended victim, crowing about last night's sick line by Marc Gasol. You get the point. Don't wait for your trade partners to create their own perceptions. Help shape them yourself. Sometimes it's easy. Last week, I recommended buying Mehmet Okur. I still do. Yes, I know he hasn't blown up these first three games. This will make him even easier to acquire. Want some more ammunition? Check out the news icon next to Okur's name in ESPN leagues. You will see the following for Monday, Nov. 3: "Okur continues to be an offensive afterthought for the Jazz even with Deron Williams out of the lineup."

This is perfect. Not only does the spin trash Okur, it implies that he will have fewer looks when Williams comes back. With Deron driving and dishing, the exact opposite should happen. Okur should see better and more frequent looks as defenses sag, trying to keep Williams out of the lane. Tidbits like these are what you need to create a perception of bust for the players you target. Below is a list of players who I think are ripe for small sample-size exploitation.

Three I'm stealing

Kevin Durant, SG/SF, Thunder: It's amazing to watch the hype disappear. Many fantasy pundits -- this one included -- pegged Durant for big numbers in his sophomore season. Suddenly I am getting e-mails and seeing message board posts asking, "What is wrong with Durant?" and "Durant is killing me!" If you see any such immoderate posts on your leagues' boards, it is your duty as a righteous fantasy owner to make the disconsolate owner an offer. It is the only considerate thing to do. Durant is yet another victim of small sample size. He is currently shooting 41.8 percent from the field. There are good reasons to expect this to change.

Last season, he shot 40.2 percent before the All-Star break. After the break, he shot 47.6 percent. The change came about in part because Durant cut way back on his 3-point shooting: 3.4 attempts per game pre-break and 1.2 after. Through three games, Durant has attempted three 3-pointers. Durant faces the Celtics tonight. Make your pitch before the game and hope the Celtics' defense smothers him.

Kevin Martin
Tim Heitman/NBAE/Getty ImagesMartin is off to a slow start, but has shot better than 45 percent each of the past three seasons.
Kevin Martin, SG, Kings: Sensing a theme? You should. All three players listed in this section are shooting very poorly. Martin is hitting just 38.6 percent of his shots. The only time Martin shot below 40 percent for a season was his rookie year (38.5). Since then, he has shot 48.0, 47.3 and 45.6 percent, respectively. He will not be shooting this poorly all season. The Kings are missing a few ingredients. Brad Miller's post passing is one more game away and Francisco Garcia, whose sweet stroke helps space the floor for Martin, is out for at least another week. Their returns should help Martin. It's not clear that Beno Udrih will ever come back. The Kings also faced a few tough matchups in Philadelphia, Orlando and a hyped-up Miami Heat team in its home opener. I have seen several message board posts questioning whether Martin is a bust. Obviously, people are doubting, and therefore you have a great opportunity to grab him for less than his draft day value.

Luol Deng, SF, Bulls: If you manage to snare Deng this week, you should send him flowers, thanking him for his 1-point effort on Monday. This is the kind of game that sends fantasy owners running for cover. That's where you come in. Since his opening-game splash of 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting, Deng has been in a horrible shooting slump, connecting on just 6 of 31 field goals (19.4 percent). Deng is a career 47.8 percent shooter. Even last season, despite injuries and team morale issues, Deng shot 47.9 percent. The Bulls are going through growing pains. The sooner the players allow Derrick Rose to manage the offensive game, the better the numbers are going to be. Deng has been rushing his shots rather than letting them come to him. This will stop. And when it does, his fine career numbers will return and you will want him on your squad.

Three I'm dealing

Spencer Hawes
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty ImagesSpencer Hawes is unlikely to continue at his current pace once Brad Miller returns to the lineup.
Spencer Hawes, C, Kings: In the Kevin Martin capsule, I mentioned that Brad Miller is nearly done with his five-game suspension. In his absence, second-year center Hawes has put up nice numbers, averaging 31.3 minutes, 12.5 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.3 blocks and 1.5 steals on 48.8 percent shooting from the field and 85.7 percent from the line. Pretty good for a guy selected at the end of your draft. When Miller comes back, there is little chance that Hawes will average 31 minutes per game. He is a 7-foot center, not a power forward. I expect Reggie Theus to run some sets with Hawes and Miller together, but not enough to keep Hawes' value from slipping. The biggest problem with playing Hawes at the 4 is that the Kings have a young player who is chomping at the bit to take minutes from the current starter, Mikki Moore. Jason Thompson, the "who's that" pick of the 2008 NBA draft, has been lighting it up and completely outplaying Moore. It would hardly surprise me to see Miller and Thompson starting next month with Hawes remaining on the bench.

Quentin Richardson, SG/SF, Knicks: Consider Richardson the exact opposite of each of the players listed in the "Three I'm stealing" section. Q is burning up the strings at a 54.3 percent clip and hitting 3.0 3-pointers per game. For his career, Richardson has shot 39.9 percent from the field. Many folks are getting hyped about his reunion with Mike D'Antoni, under whom Q had his career-best numbers in 2004-05. Here's the thing: Even in that hallowed season, Richardson shot under 40 percent from the field. Play up the D'Antoni career resurgence theme and sell, sell, sell. There are other sources of 3-pointers out there and many won't torpedo your field goal percentage the way Richardson will.

Marc Gasol, C, Grizzlies: Sometimes it takes only a single game to create a market for a player. Gasol destroyed the Warriors on Monday night, putting up 27 points, 16 rebounds and 6 blocks on 9-of-11 shooting from both the field and the line. This is extreme stat inflation and owners who can spin this into a more proven asset will be well-rewarded. I do not think the younger and shaggier Gasol is a bust. Hardly. He was the MVP of the Spanish League last season and posted a double-double in his first NBA game facing Yao Ming. However, huge lines like what Gasol put up on the Warriors will be far from the norm. The Warriors are defenseless inside. Josh Boone had 17 points, 14 rebounds and 3 blocks against them on Nov. 1. Josh Boone? Marc Gasol is far better than Boone, but take this information as it is intended. The Warriors inflate numbers for centers and power forwards. Keep this information to your vest and pitch Gasol as the second coming of his brother.

Guy Lake is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.

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