Commentary

Grand Theft Roto: Targeting specialists

Updated: December 10, 2008, 3:10 PM ET
By Josh Whitling | Special to ESPN.com

Trades are one of the two ways to address your team's needs in a specific category, and if you play with winners, the free-agent pool is likely sparse. But acquiring assistance in a category through trade isn't as simple as "I need more assists, so I'll trade for Jose Calderon." You must still employ explicit strategy and craft the best trade possible based upon the players' perceived value and what's best for your team. As far as perceived value goes, there are two main types: macrovalue (a player's overall perceived value among the fantasy basketball community, based upon player rater, history, the writings of my awesome colleagues, etc.), and microvalue (a player's perceived value to his specific owner, based upon dialogue or first-hand knowledge). This week I'll highlight players who will give you a boost in a specific category by trading for them.

These players fall into two categories: a) specialists and b) players who are underperforming in the category compared to what can be expected in the future, based upon their history, current circumstances, injury etc. Both types of players are ideal trade targets if they're on the right team. Owners of specialists are often searching for a more well-rounded player, especially if they feel set in the category already and there's an obvious surplus with a need elsewhere. As for the players who are underperforming in certain categories, this often corresponds with overall underperformance for the season, lower rankings on the player raters and laptop-woven lashings by experts (macrovalue). We'll get into these types of perceived value, and how to capitalize upon them, far more in the future, but I wanted to start making up words to describe the way I feel about things. It's therapeutic. This week I'll cover trade targets if you're in need of blocks, assists, steals and 3-pointers.

Blocks

Jermaine O'Neal: His shaky health makes him a perennial risk, but new coach Jay Triano's system is apparently looking friendly for JO. One thing he has consistently done throughout his career is block shots, averaging more than two per game for eight straight seasons. O'Neal was sixth in the league in blocks per game last year and one of nine players to average more than two. There are several indicators that his stats are going to increase: his 24-point, eight-rebound, six-block game Sunday night; the new system; his growing comfort level with the offense; the fact that he's seemingly healthy now, and one area he's almost sure to improve in is blocks. According to the Toronto Sun, when speaking of Tirano's system, O'Neal said " … it's easier for me to come over and block shots, take charge and support Chris [Bosh]." Blocks are a tough category to address, because they come from a limited pool of players, and O'Neal has the tools to be one of the better swatters in the game. Now's the time to target him while his value is low.

Pau Gasol: Pau's blocks are ridiculously low -- 0.8 per game, compared to 1.8 per game for his career -- so much that he could continue underperforming and the mark would still likely improve. But he's getting plenty of minutes, and scoring and rebounding well for the Lakers, who are so deep that most of the players on the roster have seen a decline in statistics due to "spreading the wealth." Gasol isn't slumping overall this season by any means, ranking 34th on the player rater with an average draft position of 36. But he is coming up short in blocks, and if you acquire him now, expect his block averages to be much higher for your team than his current mark.

Assists

Brad Miller: He's got the touch like the old-school "Transformers" theme, and provides valuable assists from the center position. He's very attainable, though, because his points, rebounds and blocks are underwhelming, he's injury-prone and Spencer Hawes is breathing down his neck despite the fact they've managed to coexist in the starting lineup of late. But if you're comfortable in the other categories and in desperate need of dimes, getting 4.3 assists per game from your center is like starting another guard and an ideal way to make up ground. And nobody does it like Miller (beer slogan?)

[+] EnlargeRaymond Felton
Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty ImagesFelton is currently averaging 6.2 assists per game, down from at least seven in the past two seasons.

Raymond Felton: D.J. Augustin is enough of a scorer that he fills the role of sixth man well and won't necessitate a premature dethroning of Felton, whose assist-per-game average is the lowest it's been since his rookie season. But over the past eight games he's averaging 8.2 per game, playing alongside Jason Richardson and Augustin, and despite his struggles the past few years, assists is one area where he has consistently contributed. Now that the backcourt has settled, expect Felton's assist average to increase as he regularly starts at point guard with three dynamic scorers on the wings with Augustin, Richardson and Gerald Wallace, and Emeka Okafor manning the middle.

Andre Miller: The Sixers haven't quite figured it out this season, as Andre Iguodala, Samuel Dalembert, Elton Brand and Miller are all having down years. Plus, Louis Williams and Willie Green lost all the flash they had last year, and would now only be cool if you could combine them into one player: Louillie (pronounced Louie) Grilliams. I'm down with Louillie Grilliams. But seriously, things are bound to get better for Miller, whose field goal percentage is the lowest it's been since 2002-03. He has a career assists average of 7.4, and hasn't averaged less than 6.9 since 2004-05, so his 5.6 per game mark will regress toward the mean. He's still getting the minutes, and once things click Miller will accrue more dimes as he better utilizes assets like Iguodala and Brand.

Steals

Anthony Parker: Parker is a career 46.5 percent shooter, so I'm not too worried about his 39.9 percent clip at this point, and figure his worst shooting skid of the season is behind him. That slump has hurt his scoring numbers enough that he's owned in just 60 percent of ESPN leagues despite his stunning combination of 1.7 3-pointers and 1.6 steals per game. He's often ignored despite these stats, because the rest of his numbers are pedestrian, especially this season. Once those percentages nudge up he'll no longer be a negative factor in any category, though, and perfectly addresses a need if you specifically need steals and 3s. Pounce while his perceived value is low due to the 10.5 points per game and awful shooting percentage.

Lamar Odom: Odom is painful to own, as he plays fairly well for his 25.4 minutes per game, but it's still 25.4 minutes per game. Matching last season's 10.7 rebounds or even his career 8.8 mark will be difficult in his sixth-man role, and he'll need an injury or lineup change to occur before he can provide big numbers across the board. But he's playing excellent defense in this role, averaging 1.4 steals per game, good for 16th in the league with 2.68 steals per 48 minutes. If you need the thefts, he's worth playing, and is a good player to stash on your roster and target now, because his value is negligible and he's got the tools to put up much better numbers if a slight change in circumstance occurs. Low-risk/high-reward players like Odom are much better guys to occupy bench spots than players who already find themselves in ideal circumstances.

[+] EnlargeRodney Stuckey
Allen Einstein/NBAE/Getty ImagesStuckey's move to the starting lineup will increase his fantasy value.

Rodney Stuckey: Coach Michael Curry made the logical decision to shift Kwame Brown to the bench and start Stuckey with Allen Iverson in the backcourt, along with Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace. He's already providing solid steals in limited time (2.12 per 48 minutes), and will see them and the rest of his numbers increase significantly if he continues getting around 36 minutes like he did Tuesday night. He could also be under the assist category here, as the starting role will provide even more opportunities to dish, and he's already ninth in the league with 9.1 assists per 48 minutes.

3-pointers

Leandro Barbosa: Everything has gone wrong for Barbosa this season, but he has scored in double figures in three of his past four contests, and has at least one 3 in six of seven. As he picks up steam, shakes off the rust and consistently gets minutes in the upper-20s, the 3s, points and delightfully helpful percentages will increase. He averaged two 3s last season and 2.4 the year before, and once the multiple hindrances -- new system, missed time in training camp, the death of his mother -- are at least somewhat alleviated, the Blur will start bombing away like back in the day. He made 164 3s last season and has just 18 so far this year. Expect that number to skyrocket.

Mike Miller: Talk about a disappointing season, and now he's day-to-day with an ankle injury. What does that mean? His value is shot, and screams "Buy me low." Now he has a new coach, the same guy who targeted him in the O.J. Mayo-Kevin Love trade. Miller, a much better player than his current numbers indicate, is an excellent shooter who simply needs to take more shots and he'll start pouring in way more than 1.4 3s per game. He also provides a nice combo of rebounds and assists (5.7 and 4.4, respectively), which makes him easy to start at guard or forward without leaving a gaping statistical hole in your lineup. His numbers are crap right now, but he's been too good for too long to continue this kind of futility. If he's still owned in your league, offer your worst player for him and see if the owner bites.

By the way, last week I didn't provide proper context for the Barack Paper Scissors reference, so make sure to search for it on YouTube. Next week: points, percentages and rebounds.

Got a trade advice question? Page Josh at whitlingsfantasy@gmail.com.

Josh Whitling

Fantasy Basketball
Josh Whitling is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.