The first month of the season always holds a special place in my heart, as I have possibly ripped more people off in trades during that time than the next five months combined. The main reason the first month is so vital is a simple one: knowledge is power. The less information there is to go on, the easier it is to pull the wool over someone's eyes. All it takes is some confidence and persistence, an objective eye, and a little luck.
But with the first month of the season in the books, clear trends have emerged, and the gap in information has decreased. I might have been the biggest Aaron Brooks fan before the draft, for example, but now a month into the season, he's averaging more than 16 points and five assists. No matter how you slice it, the advantage I thought I had regarding Brooks' potential is now public knowledge.
If you are now experiencing the benefits of investing in Brooks -- or any value pick late in your draft who is now paying off -- the temptation is often to cash in by "selling high." But I feel it's a lot easier to sell hope with Brooks than it is with players whose careers have been more defined. So in trades, your competition is more likely to view Brooks solely through the lens of this first month, thereby making him or her less objective and giving Brooks more trade value.
For players to whom the opposite applies, we shall dub the "No Man's Land," where a player's production, negative or positive, is not as easy to separate into neat little slices. Some guys unexpectedly deviate so far from their preseason expectations that there is just no way you can sell high on them and receive comparable talent back. Then there are some players you must draft with the expectation of being "stuck" with them even if they do cash in on their sleeper label. So let's get right to a few examples of these exceptions:
• With seven 20-point games in his past eight outings, Carlos Boozer has made mincemeat of all the perceived warts he had coming into the season. Rarely does a probable 20-10 guy slip into the fourth round, but Boozer had burned so many owners last season that too many had a foul taste in their mouth. Indeed, it was nearly comical the way even we supposed fantasy experts avoided drafting him in our leagues. But how will you look trying to sell high on Boozer's production now? With so many people still nervous about a possible trade or injury, or some other reason that gives Paul Millsap more playing time, chances are you are going to find it difficult to receive fair value for Boozer's to-date performance. While his numbers may drop off a bit going forward, his current production is so good -- with a level of play that has been previously established -- that there's not much danger in just standing pat with Boozer and pocketing his return on investment.
• Luol Deng was one of my favorite sleepers coming into the season, as a 24-year-old talent who has averaged 17-plus points in two seasons is usually a strong bounce-back candidate. Deng's lack of statistical diversity is somewhat annoying, tempting many of his owners to try to sell high on him. However, he's provided enough bang for the buck that I prefer to look at him as someone to build around, loosely speaking. Per averages, Deng is ranked 41st on our Player Rater, but good luck demanding a top-50 talent in return for him. Honestly, though, is there anything in his stat line that looks like a major anomaly? There's not much reason Deng can't continue to produce like this all season; after all, he's done it two times prior. November may go down as his best month -- it's folly to bank on him averaging nearly 39 minutes per game -- but his production should nonetheless remain stable, and as the saying goes, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
• As far as high-ceiling players go, Tyreke Evans may have the most long-term fantasy potential of any player in the league. That may sound like hyperbole, but Evans is a physical beast, and his athleticism is evident in the versatility of his numbers, as he's contributing in points (18.8), rebounds (5.0), assists (4.7), steals (1.3), 3-pointers (0.7) and even the ever-important percentages (45 percent from the field, 79 percent from the line). Many owners may think his stock isn't worth quite that much, as there is regression to the mean to think about, along with Kevin Martin eventually returning. However, as the best young player on an up-tempo offense with zero playoff hopes, is that really enough to pay less than full price for his performance? When your competition won't pay the going rate (in his case, 55th on the Player Rater when you sort by averages) but you still think he can finish the season with similar numbers, the thing to do is to just hold on to your preseason darling and milk every ounce of value out of him that you can. Let's put it this way: I would be looking to trade Brandon Jennings before I thought about trading Evans.
Heretofore, I have mostly just dispensed typical fantasy advice, but in my mind, this column is for the people, by the people. Nothing stirs more passion in a fantasy player than talking trades, so let's start getting you involved in the nitty-gritty. Send in your favorite early season trade steals and we can use these examples as the basis for talking more trade strategy. However, more goes into a "Grand Theft Roto" than just ripping off a clueless owner, so I'm looking for more than straight-up, clear-as-day rip-offs; trades that capitalized on perceived value at the time are what are really intriguing. I am slowly getting better at replying to your e-mails, too, so don't be shy!
Adam Madison is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. And no, he's not pretentious -- the "Mister" is only for show; just Adam will do fine.