Managing risk at the trade deadline
In a typical season, the NBA would have had its trade deadline right around the All-Star break, about the third week of February. That would be followed several weeks later by the fantasy trade deadline. That means there usually is plenty of time between the NBA's trade deadline and your fantasy deadline to see exactly how each player traded in reality performs in fantasy. This season is quite different, though. The trade deadline in standard ESPN fantasy hoops leagues is noon ET Wednesday, while the NBA trade deadline is 3 p.m. ET Thursday.
That means we will not be able to assess how well -- or how poorly -- a traded NBA player will perform in his new digs before the fantasy trade deadline passes. In fact, we won't even know who has been dealt due to the 27-hour gap between the two deadlines.
With that in mind, I have had a lot of questions the past week or so about several players who carry health risks and/or risks related to potential NBA trades. To help you determine whether you should trade or acquire them, let's discuss their situations and the level of risk involved in dealing or keeping them.
Andrea Bargnani, C/PF, Toronto Raptors: Before returning to action on Saturday, a severely strained calf muscle kept Bargnani out of action for all but two games since Jan. 11. It was an extremely long and brutal stretch of games to miss in this condensed fantasy season. This isn't the first time he's missed an extended stretch during his six-year career; he was limited to 65 games as a rook and 66 last season, his first as the centerpiece of the Raps' offense. So far, it appears the 7-footer's body can't handle the stresses of being the primary option, and he runs the risk of tweaking that calf muscle and missing more games as this season winds down.
Still, we're talking about a 7-foot center who can score in the 20s, hit the glass, drop 3s and maintain quality percentages, so there's plenty of reason to be intrigued about his upside for the stretch run. I think there are some good signs for Bargs the rest of the way, though. To begin with, the Raptors gave him a very long rest -- basically two full months -- so his calf muscle should be fully healed and no longer an issue. They also appear to be confident in his health, because they played him in back-to-back games right out of the gate. In fact, he played 30 minutes in the second contest (after playing 20 in his return), so it appears he's ready to get back to his full workload ASAP.
Level of Risk: Minimal. Take advantage of the weak production since his return and go get him in a trade. The risk is there, but I see it as minimal compared to his likely fantasy production.
Carlos Boozer, PF, Chicago Bulls: I can't find a lot of good numbers to support trading for Boozer right now. For instance, look at these digits: 51, 33, 37 and 59. Those are the games played in four of his nine seasons in the Association. That means Boozer has missed at least a quarter of the games in nearly half of his NBA campaigns. Now he is 30 years old and somehow has not missed a single game, despite this brutal and condensed season. If you have Boozer on your roster, you're basically playing Russian roulette with your team, because based on history his next nagging injury should be right around the corner.
That having been noted, though, plenty of teams can be helped by a guy who can pile up 15.6 ppg and 8.1 rpg, while knocking down 53 percent of his field goal attempts. Granted, he remains a poor free throw shooter and still contributes nothing in the form of dimes or hustle stats. Of course, that's good news if you're just looking for a guy who can score, hit the glass a bit and help your field goal percentage.
Level of Risk: Legitimate. If I'm in first place and trying to maintain my lead, I would deal Boozer to avoid the risk of him being injured again. However, if you need to take risks to make up ground, pull the trigger on acquiring him.
Stephen Curry, PG/SG, Golden State Warriors: It's hard to read too much into Curry's stats this season, because his bum ankle has continued to nag him. With the exception of scoring, his numbers across the board are nearly identical to what he did the previous two seasons. Despite being a point guard who can rack up more than two 3s per game, he maintains an excellent 49.0 percent mark from the field and piles up dimes (5.3 apg) and steals (1.5 spg). However, his scoring has dropped nearly four points per game since last season. Not coincidentally, he's also taking 2.8 fewer shots per game than last season. Some of that is caused by new coach Mark Jackson slowing the pace of the Warriors' offense down some (5.6 fewer points per game this season), but some of it comes from Curry's inability to stay healthy and maintain his role on offense.
Level of Risk: Extremely high. Since Curry turns his ankle as regularly as day turns to night, no one can have him on their roster without the expectation that he will miss another stretch of games -- perhaps even a lengthy one. If my fantasy squad is in good shape, I'm dealing him ASAP. I would trade for Curry right now only if I realize that I'll need a lot of luck to win. The stats are there, but the risk is through the roof.
Paul Pierce, SF/SG, Boston Celtics: He's been the definition of a workhorse during his 13 seasons with the C's. Pierce has played at least 79 games in all but two seasons since his second campaign back in 1999-2000. Considering over the course of his career, he has averaged 37 minutes and 16.2 shots per game, that's a pretty impressive accomplishment. Unfortunately, there's inherent risk at this point of his career, because he's 34 years old and both of those aforementioned shortened campaigns happened during his past five seasons (47 games in 2006-07, 71 games in 2009-10). There's also the 43.0 percent shooting he's posted this season. Keep in mind the only other time he's been under 45.5 FG% in the past five seasons is that injury-plagued 2006-07 campaign.
Level of Risk: Legitimate. Like Boozer, there's a legitimate risk of injury with a veteran like Pierce, especially since he hasn't been playing up to his typical level at his advancing age. Still, if you can handle the poor FG% and withstand the risk, he should be a solid play down the stretch.
Ryan Anderson, PF, Orlando Magic: Anderson has established himself as one of the top 3-point bombers in the Association, basically playing like a Rashard Lewis-lite. While both Anderson and Lewis have taken advantage during their careers of playing the inside-out game alongside Dwight Howard, there's a pretty dramatic difference between Anderson and Lewis: Lewis was capable of being the primary scoring option for his team sans Howard. We don't know whether Anderson can maintain his rate of success without having Howard drawing opposing defenses away from Anderson, but we may find out soon enough if the Magic deal D-Ho at the deadline.
Level of Risk: Limited. The risk is in two parts: trade and ability. In other words, should Howard leave, how good will Anderson be? I would expect his FG% to drop, which could be a problem for fantasy teams since he's currently shooting a pedestrian 43.5 percent. However, I think his scoring and rebounding could rise, while maintaining his 3-point pace. That means I'm not very concerned about the risk and am buying him, unless I'm in a tight FG% battle in a roto league.
Jeremy Lin, New York Knicks: Some basic numbers here: in 18 starts, Lin has averaged 20.1 ppg, 8.6 apg, 5.1 tpg, 2.4 spg, 1.1 3s, 44.8 FG% and 75.2 FT%, but in his past six March starts (all with Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire at his side), he has averaged just 16.2 ppg, 7.3 apg, 3.8 tpg, 2.5 spg, 1.0 3s, 39.1 FG% and 74.2 FT%. Still, despite the obvious dip in success, he's averaged 14.5 shots and 34 minutes per game in March, so the opportunity for success remains.
Level of Risk: Limited. His skills are legit (did you see him reject Derrick Rose from behind last night?), he has the complete confidence of his coach and basically zero competition for minutes. In other words, I expect him to continue producing at a good clip. The only risks in my eyes are in field goal percentage (any young player is at risk of posting a terrible percentage for a stretch) and turnovers. If those don't bother you, don't hesitate to acquire or keep Lin.
Chris Kaman, New Orleans Hornets: When you're 7-feet tall, weigh 265 pounds, are pushing 30 and have seemingly been injured more often than you've been healthy the past four seasons, it's clear that you carry inherent risk. That's why both NBA and fantasy teams have been hesitant to acquire Kaman in a trade this season. Clearly, the Hornets have him on the trading block, as they've given him plenty of opportunity to show what he can do the past month or so. In 15 starts at center this season, Kaman is averaging 16.1 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 3.1 apg and 1.4 bpg.
Level of Risk: Extremely high. On top of the aforementioned injury history and age, the chance of being traded away from a showcase situation puts his risk at a very high level. The odds of Kaman taking 16.9 shots per game -- his current pace as starting center -- in a new locale are basically zero. And while the numbers he's posted in that role for the Hornets have been impressive, he's hit just 40.9 percent of those 16.9 shots per game, an embarrassing percentage for the career 48.1 percent shooter. You should have/want Kaman on your roster only if you consider him a bonus upon whom you won't have to rely.
Tom Carpenter is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
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