Grand Theft Roto: OK, it's time to trade
During a typical NBA campaign, I don't read too much into the performance of my fantasy team for the first four to six weeks. That's because just about any player can get hot or cold for a couple of weeks, and most coaches take at least that long to settle their rotations. That doesn't mean you shouldn't trade, of course, just that you should focus on acquiring individual talent in trades, rather than fixing holes in your roster.
The trouble we have in this compressed 66-game format is that after this third week of the 2011-12 campaign, about 20 percent of the season will have passed. It took about five weeks to reach this point last season. In other words, we've already reached that typical four-to-six-week time frame, so we have less time to be patient. It's time to assess our teams and start wheeling and dealing.
Assessing your team
Head-to-head points leagues
If you are in a league in which you earn a certain number of points for each statistic produced, trading is strictly based on talent and roster issues. Because you don't have individual categories, you won't have statistical holes in your team's production. In other words, Dwight Howard won't drag you down in free throws because free throws are just one of several stats that produce points. In the end, Howard's rebounding, scoring, field goal percentage and blocks are so prolific, they wash away the negative aspect of his free throws.
Obviously that makes trading in head-to-head points leagues fairly difficult because you aren't trading to fill statistical holes, you are trading simply based on which player you think will be better over the long run. The only other thing that can force trading is if you are weak at a particular position. If you're in a two-center league and are starting Chris Kaman and Emeka Okafor, clearly you'll want to improve that part of your roster. So you should look to trade with a team that's strong at center and weak at a position at which you're deep.
Head-to-head category leagues
If you're in a head-to-head league in which the number of categories you win over your opponent each week determines the outcome, then you'll need to pay close attention to which categories you're doing well in and which categories are causing you trouble. In this format, you may be able to get by with a guy like Howard killing one of your categories each week, but you'll have to construct your team properly to pull it off. If it's an eight-category league (no turnovers) and you "punt" free throws each week, you'll have to win five of the other seven categories to pull off the win each week. That means you should really focus on dominating five or six categories. Since Howard is going to give you a good start on points, rebounds, blocks and field goal percentage, you should focus on maxing those categories while finding players who can help you churn out threes, dimes or steals to solidify a fifth category.
No format tests your overall fantasy hoops skills better than the classic rotisserie-style game. It's also the best format for those of us who love to trade. That's because there are plenty of reasons to make a deal in this system. You may need to deal because you're weak at a certain position. You may need to deal because you are dead last in steals. You may need to deal because you churn out too many blocks and stand to gain from the excess. You may need to deal because you don't like a certain player on your team and you do like a player on someone else's team.
Despite the shortened season, I still wouldn't read too much into your position in the standings, but you can't ignore it, either. First, consider how many games you've played compared to other teams as you look at the standings. Suppose you've played 10 fewer games than most of your opponents and you're in last place in rebounds, 80 boards behind first. Then you know that if you fill those 10 games with a player or two who averages eight boards per game, you'll be caught up. In other words, you're not really behind statistically, only in games played.
On the other hand, if you've played 10 more games than most other teams, things may not be as good as they seem. If you're dead last and 10 games ahead, you'd better be concerned. If you're in first place and 10 games ahead, you probably aren't really in first place, because other teams will catch up to you. So don't get overconfident.
Games aside, if you are having trouble in a particular category, look at the average production of your players to see if it's a fluke or not. If you're behind in dimes and have Russell Westbrook, who is averaging nearly three fewer assists per game this season, you may be patient and assume those numbers will come up. On the other hand, if you're behind in dimes and have no legitimate point guard on your team, you better go get one before you fall too far behind.
Types of players to target or trade
Whether to trade or acquire a player who is injured, or even prone to injury, depends on several factors. To begin with, you'll need to consider his past health and how long his current injury might linger. Then you'll need to consider the talent level on your roster and your position in the standings. If you are in first place, or if you're in the middle of the pack but behind in games, you might consider trying to acquire the injured Dwyane Wade on the cheap from a team near the bottom of the standings, especially if that owner fears D-Wade may have a plantar fascia injury that might linger all season. If you're that last-place owner, you may want to invest in a safer play than Wade.
It's a little riskier to focus on young talent this season, because those players won't have the same amount of time to mature on the court. On the other hand, I'll always take my chances with youthful players with a ton of upside over an average player who is producing well primarily due to his role on a team. For instance, even though Spencer Hawes ranks 17 spots higher on the Player Rater (averages) than Andrew Bynum, I'll take Bynum's talent upside over Hawes' fast start this season. Bynum has a ton of talent and opportunity for success this season, and the only thing standing between him and a big campaign is his health. On the other hand, it's debatable just how talented Hawes is, and the Sixers roster is deep enough that his opportunity to maintain this pace could evaporate at a moment's notice.
Some guys you know are going to bring it eventually, but they've started off slowly. Dirk Nowitzki, John Wall, Kevin Martin and the aforementioned Westbrook come to mind. If you can find a frustrated owner, see if you can pry them out of his hands. If you're that frustrated owner, you'll need to decide whether you can afford to wait for them to get their games up to speed or whether you're better off dealing them for players who may not have the same upside but will get you back into the game now, before it's too late.
True fantasy hoops junkies love a well-rounded player who contributes in nearly every category across the board. However, players who really perform well in just one or two categories can have a very valuable place in roto leagues and head-to-head category leagues. Consider that three of the top six shot-blockers this season average no more than 7.5 points per game. Who cares if DeAndre Jordan, Greg Stiemsma and Serge Ibaka can't score? If they keep blocking shots at their current pace and you get them on the cheap, they will make a big impact in your season-long blocks tally. The same goes for 3-point shooters such as Paul George and Anthony Morrow, as well as steal specialists such as Mike Conley and Jeff Teague.