- John Cregan, Fantasy Basketball
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The time for patience has come to an end.
We're now in the heart of the fantasy hoops season. By now, you're in a place where early season anomalies have ossified and become definitive trends. If your team has a categorical shortcoming, it's not going to even out with time.
It's the time for action, but still not the time for panic. The time for panic is, of course, after All-Star Weekend. We'll discuss how to panic properly at that time, but for now, I'm still going to preach making measured, calculated roster moves. At this stage, balance is still paramount.
If your team suffers from a specific statistical flaw, it's still way too early to start throwing what I call "Hail Mary" moves at your lineup. What needs to occur are smart, subtle moves that can help you make a move in a category without decimating your strengths in other areas.
A few weeks back, I wrote a column detailing how blocks, steals and 3s are three of the easiest areas to build a lead with the least amount of roster activity. This is due to blocks, steals and 3s (next to assists) being the most unevenly distributed stats in fantasy.
Basically, blocks, steals and 3s are the commodities market of fantasy hoops; like pork bellies, they're very volatile, with a higher risk, but with the possibility of a higher reward. And both markets are not for the faint of heart.
The mistake owners too often make when addressing blocks, steals or 3s is that they subvert strength in one area to build another.
You need to think of them as being linked.
I know, blocks and 3s tend to be diametrically opposed stats. Big men block shots, smaller players hit 3s. And it's even more of crapshoot when you plug steals -- which tend to be less governed by a player's specific position -- into the equation.
But there are players out there who produce in all three areas. Maybe they excel at only one of them, but they do enough in the other two to keep you competitive in the other stats.
This sort of production is commonplace with fantasy elites. The ranks of fantasy's top 30 players are annually stocked with big names who give you diversified production. But players like Kevin Durant and Dwyane Wade come at a heavy price. You're going to have to overpay, swindle someone or get lucky to add an elite player without taking a numerical hit.
The first thing to do when looking for attainable players who have linked blocks, steals and 3s is to not look at point totals. As soon as we start considering points, we're looking at inflated player value, or likely a big name like a Wade or a Dirk Nowitzki.
The second thing to do is to look at which players are trending upward. Due to the volatile nature of these stats, you need to consider who is showing improvement, not who has the best season totals, because, again, you'd be inflating or deflating player values.
So to make it a little more clear, I'm only going to list these players' averages in blocks, steals and 3s, and only for the past two weeks.
Jason Richardson, SG, Phoenix Suns (0.6 blocks, 1.4 steals, 1.5 3-pointers)
Gerald Wallace, SF/PF, Charlotte Bobcats (1.5 blocks, 1.0 steals, 0.7 3-pointers)
Stephen Jackson, SG/SF, Charlotte Bobcats (0.7 blocks, 1.5 steals, 1.7 3-pointers)
What do these players have in common, other than a Bobcats connection? They are three of the streakiest players in all of fantasy basketball. Thankfully, they're all trending upward (as of this writing), which means you may be able to catch an owner napping who might be only looking at seasonal averages.
Richardson has benefited from the "Phoenix Effect," where an inefficient player suddenly finds his normal production coming with fewer touches thanks to the Suns' high-paced but highly effective style. His minutes and scoring may be down from his heyday in Golden State, but his Phoenix-based box scores are sorely underrated. The fact recent totals are depressed due to a hand injury means his value is probably at a seasonal low but he's now coming off of back-to-back 20-point games, so act fast.
As real-life NBA teammates, Wallace's and Jackson's fantasy fates are intertwined, and both are on the upswing as the Bobcats have run off a recent string of impressive victories.
Wallace has been playing at a high level since November, and, even more importantly, has stayed healthy. Wallace is streaky behind the arc, but has been on fire (by his standards) as of late, hitting eight of his past 18 attempts. The most encouraging trend for Wallace is the fact he's doubling his early season block totals, averaging 2.0 per game in 2010.
The ever-mercurial Jackson has keyed Charlotte's improved play as of late, and has started putting up the kind of lines we used to expect on a nightly basis in his salad days in Golden State. He's been sputtering with his 3s all season (.294 shooting), but has been subtly rising in this area as of late (.400 in January).
Channing Frye, PF/C, Phoenix Suns (2.6 3-pointers, 1.4 steals, 1.4 blocks)
Yi Jianlian, SF/PF, New Jersey Nets (0.7 3-pointers, 1.3 steals, 1.1 blocks)
Omri Casspi, SF/PF, Sacramento Kings (2.4 3-pointers, 0.7 steals, 0.3 blocks)
Martell Webster, SF, Portland Trail Blazers (2.9 3-pointers, 0.7 steals, 0.7 blocks)
I might as well have left Frye out of this column, relegating him to the elite level status reserved for names such as Wade or Durant. If an owner was lucky enough to draft him in Round 12, or pick him up off the wire in Week 1, he's not going to give Frye up without a fight. To be blunt, in these down economic times, Channing Frye is probably the best thing to have happened to that owner for the past several months.
I know I feel that way about Yi. Jianlian also has Frye-like potential, that is, the capability to go from waiver-wire material to untouchable within a matter of weeks. (In my ESPN auction keeper league, I'm getting the feeling Yi's going to be with me for a long time). Jianlian is, at present, in the eye of the perfect fantasy hoops storm: length, athletic upside and membership on a rebuilding project with nothing but minutes to dole out to its youngest players.
On the other hand, if you own Casspi, you'd probably be wise to sell high. It's hard to see him keeping up the pace he's established in the past five games once Kevin Martin returns later this month. I still love his long-term potential, but I think he's peaking as far as 2009-10 is concerned.
I've had an Yi obsession since he entered the league, but I've also been carrying similar a torch for Webster, adding and dropping him at various points throughout this season. The Jason Richardson-like potential is there; the key stat for Webster, as always, is minutes. The Blazers' backcourt rotation is in a constant state of flux, but Webster has come out on top as of late, averaging 38.6 minutes during his past five games. He's rewarded the Blazers -- and his savvy owners -- by hitting 15 of 34 3-pointers in that span.
Lamar Odom, SF/PF, Los Angeles Lakers (0.8 3-pointers, 0.8 steals, 1.0 blocks)
Shane Battier, SF, Houston Rockets (1.0 3-pointers, 1.0 steals, 0.5 blocks)
Rasual Butler, SG/SF, Los Angeles Clippers (2.5 3-pointers, 0.7 steals, 1.2 blocks)
Rasheed Wallace, PF/C, Boston Celtics (1.3 3-pointers, 1.7 steals, 0.8 blocks)
These guys tend to be once-great fantasy players whose fantasy fortunes rise and fall due to the injury status of their current teammates. Odom and Wallace certainly fall in this category, having gone on recent statistical binges thanks to injuries to Pau Gasol and Kevin Garnett, respectively. Odom is heavily rostered, playing out of his mind and a good sell-high candidate, while Wallace is probably worth holding on to for the length of Garnett's injury (one to two weeks).
Shane Battier is perpetually underrated both in NBA terms and fantasy terms; he doesn't score, but does enough of everything else to make him worthy of at least a bench spot in deeper leagues. Even in shallow leagues, he's a solid specialist in head-to-head situations if you need a boost in blocks, steals and especially 3s, since most of his shot attempts tend to come from behind the arc.
To me, Rasual Butler is the most intriguing name on this list. He's owned in only 2.4 percent of all leagues, and seems to have supplanted Al Thornton for the time being in Mike Dunleavy's affections. He provides an extra-special mix of blocks and 3s, especially for a player who qualifies at shooting guard. He's never going to crack 20 points per game on a regular basis, but will reward his owners as long as he's starting in Los Angeles.
John Cregan is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.