Grand Theft Roto: Trade Jeremy Lin?
You know a sports story has reached epic levels when people who don't follow sports in any way are asking you questions like, "What's the deal with this Jeremy Lin kid?" Some want to compare Lin's mania to the buzz that surrounded Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow when he was on a six-game winning streak that helped lead his team to the playoffs this past season. There are some similarities: both stories expanded beyond the normal boundaries of the sports community, and there were questions about whether Tebow and Lin had the requisite skills to become successful professionals in their respective sports.
However, there are two enormous differences which make the Lin phenomenon that much more impressive than "Tebow Mania." First, Tebow was one of the greatest collegiate football players of all time, while Lin was -- to be blunt -- a nobody. Second, while Tebow had some incredible comeback wins that were impressive, he did not pile up statistics the likes of which no one -- I repeat, no one -- has ever done in the history of his game, like Lin has done in the NBA.
With this kind of buzz about an unknown player like Lin, there's no bigger question in Fantasyland than, "What's his trade value?" To answer that question, I'm going to use an actual example from one of my experts leagues to show how I assessed Lin's free-agent and trade value. What I want you to take note of as I go through my process is how you can use these factors to assess the value of any player in free agency and trades. Also, as I tend to note quite often, the trade value of a player has as much to do with your team's needs as the actual projected production and risk of the player involved.
This experts league has a head-to-head points system that rewards quality all-around play. That means that guys who have excellent percentages or pile up quality hustle stats are going to produce well. Chuckers who have poor shooting percentages and just score and board are going to have limited production. On Friday morning as I prepared to make my FAAB bid on Lin, my team had the second-best record and second most points scored in the league, and I had a two-game lead in my division. In other words, my team was solid and picking up steam, so I figured I was in prime position to make a play on Lin as a bonus add if he turns out to be the real deal.
Of course, that brings us to the big question: is Lin the real deal? Obviously, there is no true answer to that because he's an unknown who has done things that no one has ever done. But we can make an educated assessment by looking at what we know and don't know about Lin.
What we know about Lin
• He was a successful high school player in California. Lin averaged 15.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 7.1 assists and 5.0 steals as a senior, as he helped lead his team to the California Division II title. Despite being named to the California All-State team, he failed to garner a basketball scholarship offer, so he went to the Ivy League.
• He played college ball at Harvard. That means that he is very intelligent and motivated, which in turn means he's fully capable of grasping Mike D'Antoni's offense and making good decisions on the court as the point guard. It also means he's not likely to flake out like many young ballers would do in this type of situation.
• He was successful in college. He scored 30 points against UConn and was named to the All-Ivy League first team his junior and senior seasons. Lin averaged 16.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 2.4 steals and 1.1 blocks as a senior. In December 2009, ESPN's Dana O'Neil wrote this piece about Lin, which gives a nice background on who Lin is and how he approaches the game.
• He's 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds. That means that he's big enough and strong enough to handle himself against most NBA point guards. If you've watched any of his games in the past week, you can see he's quick and agile enough to play both sides of the ball, too.
• He failed to impress the right people in the NBA. Lin was unable to secure a role with the Golden State Warriors as a rookie. He failed to earn practice time with the Houston Rockets in December. And somehow he couldn't get any minutes at the point for the Knicks this season, even though D'Antoni was desperately trying to find someone -- anyone -- to run the point.
• He's been historically good. Lin scored more points in his first three and four starts than anyone in the NBA since the merger with the ABA. Magic Johnson? Michael Jordan? LeBron James? Kevin Durant? Larry Bird? Blake Griffin? Nope. None of them were as good as Lin has been out of the gate as a starter.
• He's averaged 27.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 8.3 assists, 5.5 turnovers, 2.0 steals, 0.8 3-pointers and shot 51.3 percent on field goals (on 19.5 attempts) and 74.3 percent from the stripe (on 8.8 attempts) in those first four starts. In Fantasyland, he was basically LeBron James for a week.
What we don't know about Lin
• Is he just lucky? Plenty of players have gotten hot for a week only to never be heard from again. Based on what we know about Lin, I think he can play in the NBA, especially once he can lean on studs like Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire instead of shouldering the entire team.
• Can he maintain this pace? No. Once Melo and STAT get back on the hardwood, Lin will not take 19.5 shots per game, nor will he average 8.8 free throw attempts. He did shoot better than 50 percent from the floor in his final two seasons at Harvard. While it's unlikely he'll maintain that pace for the rest of the NBA season, I do think he can maintain a respectable percentage -- maybe in the range of 45-47 percent.
• Will opposing coaches find a way to corral him? This is my biggest concern at this point (pun intended). Give a good coach enough time and film, and he should find a way to limit the production of most point guards who aren't among the elite at the position. Having Melo and Amare to limit the direct pressure on Lin will help. Another positive for Lin is his ability to work the pick-and-roll. It's nearly impossible to slow down a properly run pick-and-roll tandem. With Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler both solid as the big man in the pick-and-roll, Lin could be hard to stop in that respect.
With all of this in mind, I was buying on Lin as the hottest free-agent pickup of the season. Figuring that he should at least have a legit shot at being a reliable player in this format and possibly a stellar option, I dropped $53 of my $100 FAAB budget on him to be sure I landed him. I beat out several bids in the $20 range and one at $51. I got my man Friday evening.
First thing Saturday morning, I received a trade offer from the owner who bid 51 bucks on Lin. While my team has been dominant this season, this owner's team has been hit hard by injuries and poor play from guys like Zach Randolph, Kyrie Irving, Danny Granger and Stephen Jackson. That left him 0-6 and incredibly desperate to do something dramatic.
This brings me to my earlier point about how the fantasy value of a player is in the eye of the beholder, based on the specific needs of the owner's team. My team is solid and will be in the playoffs, so I'm focused on making sure my team is at its best for the postseason run. So I get a significant upgrade from Wall to CP3, and if Z-Bo can get back on the court in the next month, I'll have a much-needed quality forward for my playoff roster.
Meanwhile, the other owner gets an immediate infusion of talent and depth. Wall is fully capable of having a monster second half of the season, and maybe the owner gets lucky and Lin stays hot the rest of the way. It's his only hope for making the playoffs. In other words, while my good team was looking to be better in a month, his struggling squad was aiming for immediate improvements.
So when someone asks me whether Lin for Player X is a good deal, the true answer will almost always be that it depends on the needs of the teams involved. With that in mind, if you snagged Lin off waivers and are wondering if you should keep or trade him, consider your position in the standings and the statistical needs of your team. How much risk do you need to take to be successful? How much do you believe in Lin? Even more importantly, how much would another owner be willing to pay for him?
In a vacuum, not considering outside factors, I think a good starting point for Lin trade offers would run the gamut from injured guys like Z-Bo and Andrea Bargnani to midrange players with big upside like Paul Millsap, Kyrie Irving, Ty Lawson, Marc Gasol, DeMarcus Cousins and Ryan Anderson. Primarily, I think trading or acquiring Lin is best done through a multiplayer deal like the one I described. This way you can lessen the risk involved for both teams by spreading it among two or three players.
The bottom line is that his trade value will almost assuredly not be any higher than it is right now, so flip him quickly if you want to max out that value. If you're desperate to make a splash and believe he can maintain his studly ways, then go "all-Lin" and keep him on your roster (damn, I was that close to being the first person to write an entire column on Lin without making a pun out of his name).
Tom Carpenter is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
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