Grand Theft Roto: Exploit perception
Capitalize on "injury-prone" labels
It was suggested to me in an e-mail by a reader that injuries may be one of the biggest market inefficiencies when it comes to trades, and looking at the issue with some scrutiny, he may have a point.
Take Marcus Camby, for example. One of the most commonly injured players in basketball, Camby has never logged as many as 80 games in a season. But it seems owners often interpret frequency of injury to be the same as severity of injury, for many owners wouldn't touch Camby with a 10-foot pole. By the numbers, however, Camby has missed a total of 87 games the past six seasons, an average of 14.5 per season. In other words, you can gain top-notch per-game production for more than three-fourths of the season as long as you can deal with between 10 and 20 games of unavailability.
Personally, I have no problem embracing this risk. Consider a couple of deals I made this weekend in our ESPN Writers' keeper league. In one deal, I shipped out Chris Bosh and Michael Beasley for Marcus Camby, Caron Butler and Eric Gordon. Sure, I lost the elite-level production of Bosh, but you have to give something to get something, and on a per-game basis, would you believe that Camby (23rd) is outproducing Bosh (26th) on the Player Rater? Considering Bosh is averaging 24.0 points and 11.9 rebounds, that is an impressive feat, and a testament to just how much value Camby provides by contributing in such rare categories; Bosh's game, on the other hand, isn't nearly as diverse. Not only did I get the gaudy per-game production of Camby, I also grabbed Gordon for a below-market rate, probably due in no small part to the fact he was struggling to return to form from a hamstring injury. (To be fair, from my trade partner's perspective, Beasley's low cost as a keeper surely made him attractive, too.)
I also traded Luol Deng for Manu Ginobili, the type of deal I couldn't be more ecstatic in making. To date, Deng has been a top-50 performer, but faces the rubber-band-like reality of regression to the mean. Even fighting through a groin injury for much of this season, Ginobili is just one place lower than Deng on the Player Rater (per averages), at the back end of the top 50. But considering the categories in which he excels -- 3-pointers, steals, free throw percentage and assists -- are consistently valuable, he manages to contribute whether he's shooting well or not. As the confidence in his nagging groin increases -- which it seems like it has, considering his three-game average of 19.6 points on 54.8 percent shooting -- his value is only going to skyrocket. Indeed, while I may be about three games too late, Ginobili is my favorite buy-low in all of fantasy.
Of course, in any endeavor it's easy enough to cherry-pick positive examples; you could just as easily pick out a guy like Greg Oden, whose season-ending knee injury has left owners scrambling for a replacement. You do risk potential ruin, which by sheer odds must happen sometime or another. But you can also win big, and since there's only one winner in a league, sometimes you have to take calculated risks and go for the gold. In general, however, it is not a blanket strategy but one to use on a case-by-case basis. There is a method to the madness:
• Perception: It is a human tendency to compartmentalize, to group and, yes, even to stereotype, for it makes a common subset of decisions second nature. The problem is that it also makes you turn a blind eye to the exceptions. Vince Carter is a great example. He still is perceived as being brittle despite the fact he has missed no more than nine games in any of the past six seasons. Baron Davis and Camby also have awful impressions in the minds of many, increasing your chances of ripping off an owner when it comes to acquiring one of the two.
• Risk-aversion: Again, the idea here is to take advantage of human nature. On average, people happen to be risk-averse, a fine trait when it comes to survival of the species. But in fantasy basketball, it becomes a disadvantage, and you should look to manipulate that at every opportunity. Owners of Andrew Bogut or Chris Kaman may be ecstatic about the career years they are currently enjoying, but may also have a deep worry about their extensive track record of injuries, and could be looking to ship them out just to ease their minds. The problem is that many other people view Bogut and Kaman the same, so they don't make the best bait in terms of selling high on. If you swoop in with a seemingly fair offer, exchanging consistency for potential upside, chances are you'll get a deal done primarily by capitalizing on every fantasy owner's fear of the worst.
• Fungibility: How hard will it be to replace the production you are losing in the short term? This is mostly where league size and confidence come into play. If it's a relatively shallow 10- or 12-team league, there is an increased chance you can find some usable spare parts. The bigger an edge you have over your opponents, the more risk you can afford to take on. Remember Darren Collison? He averaged 14.9 points, 6.4 assists, 1.1 steals and 0.8 3-pointers in eight starts for an injured Chris Paul. If (when) Baron Davis goes down, I am confident I can find Collison types to keep me afloat until the reinforcements arrive. A point guard who hurts my field goal percentage but keeps me afloat in assists, steals and 3-pointers isn't that rare (think Jason Williams or Chris Duhon). But if we're talking first-, second- or third-round types (think Devin Harris), then you should be warier because, if he goes down, it's a hole that is harder to replace. How many point guards excel in points and free throw percentage? If a player like Camby goes down, you can find (or quickly trade for) centers who get boards and blocks on the cheap (Kendrick Perkins, for example), but if Harris goes down, who replicates that, Tony Parker?
Adam Madison is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.