With the NBA All-Star Game just a little more than two weeks away, we're at that time of the year where midseason awards columns are commonplace. If nothing else it's topical, an easy way to fill space during what can often be the dog days of the season. But who wants to be subjected to another bland serving of names of All-Star performers you already know about? This is Grand Theft Roto, baby; you want to rip people off! You need to know what everyone else doesn't already know!
After giving it some thought, however, there is something to be gleaned as we pass the midpoint of the season. It's always important to take a step back and analyze what just happened so we avoid making the same mistakes we, or others, ended up making. It's important to be right, yes, but more important to be right for the proper reason.
What can we learn from this season's biggest surprises? The best time to maximize your return on investment is to notice, and act, on something earlier than your peers. To that end, early-season trades will often look extremely lopsided a few months down the road. So with the benefit of hindsight, we can often see something we missed that first time around, which will better prepare us to confront that bias in the future. Just as importantly, it will give us some insight as to what kind of concepts or opportunities to look for and exploit as the trade deadline in fantasy leagues rapidly approaches -- and that's what it's all about!
So, under the guise of a fantasy All-Star team -- you can think of the following players as guys who could front a list of this season's biggest values -- let's analyze a group of players who exceeded expectations and any possible market inefficiencies that might suggest:
PG: Baron Davis, Los Angeles Clippers (preseason ADP: 40.9) -- I think there's a large discrepancy in value when it comes to players perceived as injury risks, and Davis is a perfect example. People also have a tendency to underrate players coming off of a down year and overrate those off a good year. The funny thing about Davis is that, while he's currently 17th on the Player Rater right now, you'll find it nearly impossible to get that much in a trade for him. People are just waiting for him to get injured. That does leave you with one major downside: you will be forced to trade the player for pennies on the dollar if he doesn't work out.
Let's not discount the possibility Davis ends up missing 10 or 15 games, but even based on averages he still comes out 21st. As long as an injury-prone player produces at a high level when he does play, it's normally a good gamble to take. When he stays healthy, you can ride him to a title. If he doesn't, though, you're essentially gambling on this question: Can you take a top-20 player for 65 games and a waiver-wire or bench replacement for 17 games and equal top-40 production? Of course, the earlier you have to select him, the riskier it becomes, because then he has to give you that much more production to even out the times when he is injured.
SG: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors (preseason ADP: 92.9) -- I think John Cregan is absolutely right: Avoid shooting guards. If you haven't read If You're Hardcore from last week, check it out, because he makes many compelling points. Traditional shooting guards don't get you very many irreplaceable statistics, so it's best to plug the position with stopgaps or those with small forward or point guard eligibility. As for Curry, I think rookies have taught us a lot the past few years; if it looks like he'll get a lot of minutes, he's probably vastly underrated on draft day. They have a tremendous return on investment.
SF: Corey Maggette, Warriors (preseason ADP: 102.3) -- What Maggette teaches us is twofold. One, injury risks -- at the right price -- are worth the gamble; and two, bet on opportunity. When both Brandan Wright and Kelenna Azubuike were lost for the season, we knew the Warriors had precious few options left. Toss in coach Don Nelson's apparent hatred for Anthony Randolph and we should've connected the dots. Even last season, Maggette finished 51st on the Player Rater, so the facts said it wasn't much of a gamble at all. While no one could have predicted such a monster season, even a typical season from Maggette would earn you tremendous value. Also, keep in mind team circumstance matters a lot; on a team that doesn't run, like the Portland Trail Blazers, maybe the risk doesn't pay off, but on a run-and-gun team like the Warriors, the upside you get when it does pay off more than makes up for the times it doesn't.
PF: Carlos Boozer, Utah Jazz (preseason ADP: 48.4) -- I had an epiphany this season: the newest market inefficiency is power forwards who don't block shots. It may sound ridiculous, but the NBA's trend toward stretch 4s has dramatically reduced the available supply of blocks, and it seems that fantasy owners have overcompensated. I avoided power forwards like Zach Randolph and David Lee because they don't get many blocks, but I now realize they more than make up for it by allowing you to dominate rebounds and get a major leg up in field goal percentage; it's also important to grab a power forward who can contribute in free throw percentage, too. And since blocks are scarce, you need only one primary contributor in the category to stay afloat. That may mean a guy like Carl Landry, who is surprisingly 47th on the Player Rater this season, may still be underrated by his owner.
C: Kendrick Perkins, Boston Celtics (preseason ADP: 106.3): Now that blocks are in such short supply, center has become the one position you can take risks with. The de-emphasis of traditional centers in the league has opened up the position for fantasy. Now the one-dimensional guys who can block around two shots per game, like Perkins, Brendan Haywood and Chris Andersen, end up getting their values inflated. It also boosts the value of centers with upside, since even moderate improvement can place a player among the elite. And it's worth mentioning players like Marcus Camby and Chris Kaman. Once again, risks can pay off. Remember, where there is uncertainty there is value.
Adam Madison is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. Feel free to e-mail him about any potential deals in your league at email@example.com.