Commentary

Grand Theft Roto: Deciding between low and high risk

Updated: January 21, 2009, 3:05 PM ET
By Josh Whitling | Special to ESPN.com

This is the point in the season when trading picks up as owners react to their league standings. All shrewd owners target players whose perceived value is lower than their actual value and address the owners' specific categorical needs. But it's also critical to respond to the standings and take risks with your roster accordingly. If comfortably in first place, it's smarter to round out your roster with dependable players who won't hurt you and will help maintain your solid standing. Same goes if you're near the top but expect improvement from your roster as is. In those contexts, there's nothing wrong with eyeing a low-risk player who will provide predictable rewards.

If you are looking to make a jump in the standings, however, and know the status quo won't cut it, you're going to need to strike gold with a player and have one or more players on your roster significantly outperform expectations. Thus, focusing on high-risk/high-reward players is one of the best ways to have a drastic effect on the standings if you aren't currently near the top.

Low Risk/Predictable Reward

Chauncey Billups: Point guards like Baron Davis, Steve Nash and Gilbert Arenas have vied with Chris Paul for the top PG spot over the past three seasons, but the name that is consistently in the top three is Billups, who simply wins fantasy championships. He provides the typical trio of assists, steals and 3s that you need from a point guard, and his combination of accuracy and high frequency from the stripe (90.9 percent on 6.5 attempts per game) perennially makes him the top player to target for free throw percentage. Furthermore, the fact that he takes and makes so many free throws means his 41.9 field goal percentage harms you less than it would coming from the average 19-points-per-game scorer, since it's on just 13 attempts per game. Other than Paul, there's no point guard around whom I would rather construct a team.

[+] EnlargeJoe Johnson
Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty ImagesJoe Johnson can score, but now he's doing more things for his fantasy hoops owners.

Joe Johnson: Most players who contribute in multiple categories like Johnson have off-years in certain areas. But for the past four seasons, he consistently has poured in points and 3s with fantastic assists for a shooting guard (5.8 per game last season, 6.0 this season), always at least one steal and decent boards for a guard. We've seen him score 25 for a season in the past, but now he has settled into his role with the Hawks and has proved he is comfortable doing nearly everything for them. This means you can depend on those stats night in and night out. The Hawks' roster is depleted by injuries to players like Al Horford and Marvin Williams, so Johnson has played at least 42 minutes in four of his past five contests and will continue to contribute high-volume stats on a consistent basis.

David West: CP3 provides the Hornets with flare, but West provides the steady scoring and magical shooting touch. You can count on him for 20 points with incredible percentages, and although rebounds, steals and blocks aren't his strengths, he certainly doesn't hurt you there. His 89.9 free throw percentage on 5.4 attempts per game is silly for a big man, and while I don't project significant improvement from West this season, I'd be shocked if his numbers dipped.

Antawn Jamison: Jamison's statistical contributions have varied throughout his career (Remember when he was the sixth man for the Mavs? Remember when he didn't shoot 3s?), but he's become remarkably consistent over the past four seasons, putting together four consecutive comparable campaigns. Take a look at Jamison's numbers -- 20.6 points, 9.0 boards, 1.3 steals, 0.4 blocks and 1.1 3s per game -- and if you like what you see, target him because you'll consistently get more of the same. And if your goal is to hold on to the top spot, that's not a bad thing.

High Risk/High Reward

David Lee: Lee is playing out of his mind (averaging 17.6 points and 12.5 boards per game this month), has center eligibility and is enjoying a breakout fantasy campaign after a slow start. But many feel the bubble will burst or are wary of the trade rumors surrounding Lee and the threat that he'll be robbed of the fantasy elixir that is Mike D'Antoni. I'm not worried about his numbers in New York falling off, but if he is traded, they likely will take a hit. That's the risk. See whether his owner is getting nervous, and if you can nab Lee for less than market value based entirely upon speculation, the risk should pay off.

Gerald Wallace: His 2005-06 season, in which he averaged 2.5 steals and 2.1 blocks, gives us an idea of what he can do, although it's unlikely he'll be that dominant a shot-blocker again. The fact that his blocks have diminished since then is saddening but has been tempered by his consistently improving scoring over the past few seasons, as his points-per-game average has improved from 11.5 to 19.4 in that span. This season, however, that average has dipped to 16.4, and his 1.8 steals-per-game average is his lowest since 2004-05. On the bright side, he's become much less of a liability from behind the stripe, where he has shot as poorly as 61.4 percent in the past but has climbed to 80 percent this season. His 3-point totals also should improve, as his 24.6 percent from behind the arc on the season should trend closer to 30 percent. He likely can be had for less than his value will be, and if you're looking to make up ground in the defensive categories, target Wallace.

Travis Outlaw: Outlaw is a bit like a mini-Wallace, capable of stuffing the stat sheet in nearly every category on any given night. His 1.3 3s per game to go along with 0.6 steals and 0.7 blocks are the type of varied statistical contribution for which you look when rounding out a roster. Outlaw is a tough one to peg, however, because he has struggled to establish consistency and will have difficulty earning a jump in minutes due to the Blazers' depth. He's only trade bait in deeper leagues, but if you're looking for an upside-filled player who could have an effect on your team's standing if he plays to his potential or if an injury occurs, Outlaw is a prime candidate.

[+] EnlargeCharlie Villanueva
Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty ImagesVillanueva has all the skill and none of the consistent production.

Charlie Villanueva: Another deep-league option, Villanueva plagued my existence early this season, as I deemed him primed for a breakout and drafted him in a majority of leagues. He hasn't taken a significant step forward, but his 0.7 3s, 0.5 steals and 0.8 blocks per game give an indication of the diverse contribution he can provide, and if playing to his potential, he could be better one 3, steal and block per game. He has been in and out of the starting lineup and actually is averaging fewer minutes per game than last season, although he is doing more with them, with increases in scoring, rebounds, steals and blocks. Villanueva has been especially effective in January, averaging 17.4 points, 1.3 3s, 0.7 steals and 0.9 blocks while shooting 48 percent from the floor and 80 percent from the stripe. Those percentages, and the fact that he won't harm you in either, are other reasons I've always drooled over his statistical potential, and if he plays up to it, his owner will be handsomely rewarded.

Jermaine O'Neal: The emergence of Andrea Bargnani has made his return less crucial, and O'Neal's name has been swirling in trade rumors in just his first season in Toronto. His bothersome knee has held him out longer than expected, and it'll be awhile before he's playing at 100 percent. But if he's in a starting lineup and earning minutes, O'Neal can do serious damage, as he's averaged more than two blocks per game in eight consecutive seasons. He should be available for dirt cheap, and even if he stays with the Raptors and comes off the bench, he still should average something along the lines of 15 points, eight rebounds and two blocks. And if he does end up starting somewhere, the risk undoubtedly will reap dividends.

Rudy Gay: Gay has driven owners bonkers this season, as most likely spent a fourth- or fifth-round pick on him. Plus, he has the talent to perform like a second-rounder but is playing like a 10th-rounder, and there are no glaring indications this will change. He made a spectacular statistical jump from his rookie to sophomore season but is averaging fewer points, rebounds, assists, blocks and 3s this season in comparison to last. The primary culprit for the assassination of Gay's improvement is O.J. Mayo, who is averaging 19.3 points and has the ball in his hands all the time, taking touches away from Gay. Last season, Mike Miller was around instead of Mayo, and Miller averaged 11.8 attempts per game compared to Mayo's 16.3 attempts per game. With a rookie demanding that many shots, Gay suddenly is in an environment in which it is difficult to progress. In some ways, targeting Gay isn't too risky, since he's at a buy-low point after averaging just 14.3 points so far this month. The risk is that we won't see last season's numbers at any point this season, although it's one I'm willing to take since he has an extremely high ceiling and absurdly low value at the moment.

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

Josh Whitling

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

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