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"Glue" guys integral to success

11/12/2009

Now, don't get me wrong. I love points. They're exciting, fun and tend to decide the outcome of basketball games.

But by and large, fantasy owners are suckers for the darned things.

Due to the way basketball is presented, covered and lauded, we simply place too much emphasis on points scored. And because our minds are mildly programmed to gravitate toward the "PPG" column, our fantasy perspective ends up being slightly skewed.

Today, I'm here to tell you how you can make this distortion work for you during the early stages of the season, especially when scouring the waiver wire.

I'm all for finding the Channing Fryes and Danilo Gallinaris of the world -- surefire fantasy starters left neglected in drafts -- but this bumper crop is picked over all too quickly.

When considering the leftovers, you need to be wary of what I call "empty points," a guy who might have one or two hot shooting nights, then fall of the face of the earth.

Here's a familiar scenario:

Don Nelson, dissatisfied with his midday meal, decides to pluck the 11th man from his bench -- recently signed from the D-League -- from obscurity and give him the start at power forward, despite the fact that the player has no NBA experience, and is a 6-foot-2 point guard. Caught on the wrong end of a 128-104 blowout, said player explodes for 18 points, 2 rebounds and nothing else. Owners across the globe stampede to the waiver wire and scoop up said player. Said player soon enters Don Nelson's vaunted doghouse, and is never heard from again.

I'm not looking for teases. What I'm looking for instead are statistical glue guys.

Guys who don't do anything flashy, but hold a fantasy lineup together. Players who do a little bit of everything rather than one-trick ponies.

I want scrappers.

In short, I'm always looking for Doug Christie.

There was once a time, say, about 10 years ago, when Christie was one of the best fantasy players around. Fortunately (for me), he was also one of the most undervalued in drafts. (Christie and his wife also were stars of one of the most undervalued reality shows of all time, "Committed," which centered around them showing everyone just how unbelievably married they were. It was a simpler, nobler time in reality television.)

Playing for the Sacramento Kings in 2001-02, Christie averaged 12.0 points, 4.6 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.2 3-pointers and 2.0 steals a night. He also shot .460 from the floor and .851 from the line. Considering he was a player generally acquired after the 10th round or off the waiver wire, it stands as one of the great fantasy seasons of the past decade.

And while both Christies may have moved on to greener pastures, we can still examine the current NBA landscape for those who would call themselves "Christiesque."

(By the way, being "Christiesque" by definition means you aren't an obvious fantasy star. Which leaves off players such as Danny Granger, Dwyane Wade, etc.)

Boris Diaw, SF/PF, Bobcats: Perhaps our closest modern equivalent to Doug Christie, Diaw is the rare player who notches more than five assists and rebounds a night. Throw in 1.4 steals and 0.7 3-pointers and you have a medium-sized but multiheaded fantasy monster. It actually physically pains me when I miss out on him in drafts.

John Salmons, SG/SF, Bulls: I'm embarrassed to admit I held off on Salmons in this year's drafts, thinking he was more of a one-year wonder. And while his production has fallen off a bit so far in 2009-10, Salmons is still putting up well-rounded numbers (13.4 points, 1.4 3s, 4.0 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 2.1 steals, 0.9 blocks).

Andrei Kirilenko, SF/PF, Jazz: Kirilenko has now completed the fantasy gamut, from sleeper to overvalued to bust, and now back to sleeper again. (What's caused his renaissance is hard to peg, but maybe Mrs. Kirilenko has reinstated her once-famous "annual pass" marital rule.) He's burned so many owners over the past couple of seasons that it's going to take awhile for people to begin to trust him again. But the numbers this season are undeniable: 13.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.4 blocks, 1.0 steals and 1.0 3-pointers. It's not a return to his glory days, but it's a good simulation.

Steve Blake, PG, Trail Blazers: Blake perpetually seems to be on the verge of losing minutes, but always comes out of it with his position seemingly enhanced. For now, he's starting alongside Andre Miller, largely thanks to the fact that he (as opposed to Miller) can shoot the 3 and spread the floor. One of things I love about Blake is that almost all of his field goal attempts are 3-pointers. When he gets hot, he's capable of 4 to 6 on a given night. He's also a natural point guard, a skilled passer who will notch about a steal per game.

Mario Chalmers, PG, Heat: Forget what I said about needing modest across-the-board numbers; Chalmers is going to be amongst the league leaders in steals for the next decade. Only in his second year, Chalmers is still trending upward, now hitting his 3s with more consistency, which means his scoring average will creep above 10.0 by Thanksgiving.

Lou Williams, PG/SG, 76ers: Historically, I've never been the biggest Lou Williams fan, but he's unmistakably thriving under new coach Eddie Jordan. He qualifies both at shooting guard and point guard, averaging 4.4 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 1.6 steals per night. Jordan's Princeton offense is obviously boosting the fantasy fortunes of several Sixers, including …

Marreese Speights, PF/C, 76ers: On the surface, he's just your average second center (14 points, 7 rebounds and a block per night), but he sneaks up on you in the percentage categories (.635 from the field, .840 from the line).

Larry Hughes, SG, Knicks: I know, I know. He's as streaky as they come, but a couple of sleepers are bound to emerge from this mess in Madison Square Garden. Why not Hughes? The Knicks' rotation is crying for his kind of production (any production). He can score and put up steals, but Hughes' hidden strength has always been his rebounding (4.0 per game on the season). Odds are that he's not going to keep up this torrid pace, but there is a chance he might approximate it.

Joakim Noah, PF/C, Bulls; Anderson Varejao PF, Cavaliers: Has anyone ever seen these two in the same room at the same time? These whiny, internationally flavored big men are actually at something of a crossroads this season; Noah's expanding role is now giving him a statistical lead versus his hyperflopping counterpart. As scorers, they both are strictly garbage men. You'll be happy with any point total above 10 a night. But you don't pick up these guys for their offensive exploits. You pick them up for the rebounds and defensive stats.

Rasheed Wallace, PF/C, Celtics: Wallace is a former fantasy great who still offers just enough across-the-board numbers to remain relevant in medium-to-deep leagues. As always, he will give you blocks, steals and 3s, but seems to be morphing into more of a 3-point specialist as a Celtic.

Corey Brewer, SG/SF, Timberwolves: Brewer's the kind of player I stalk on a long-term basis. He can't shoot, possesses athletic upside, plays tough defense and is a Timberwolf. That means he's a threat for 30 minutes a night on a bad team, which means two steals and a block per outing. And as long as he keeps his shot attempts in the 10-12 range, he'll hit double-digit scoring and won't kill your field goal percentage. Amazingly, Brewer is actually starting to hit the odd 3-pointer, and his passing is also on the upswing (20 assists in his past five games). There is Christie flowing in this fellow's veins.

The Houston Rockets: Rockets general manager Daryl Morey could have written this column. In the absence of the Rockets' two stars (Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady), Morey has constructed an entire team out of fantasy glue.

Take a look around the locker room. Trevor Ariza is the rising fantasy star who contributes in several categories. Carl Landry is the power forward without great rebound numbers, but who offers nice percentages and defensive categories. Aaron Brooks is the score-first point guard rapidly learning how to pass. Kyle Lowry is the slightly disappointing other point guard. Luis Scola is the center who can't block, but is solid everywhere else that you need him to be. Oh, and Chase Budinger is the mysterious rookie lurking in the shadows that no one thinks they can trust … yet.

John Cregan is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.