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Avoid shooting guards at all cost

1/21/2010

My own fantasy strategy is based on many things: overstocking centers, prioritizing percentages, rostering players with broad statistical appeal, avoiding specialists and so on.

But if you were to boil my fantasy worldview down to a simple credo, it would amount to this: Shooting guards are a plague upon us and must be minimized at all costs.

They amount to the dark side of what ye basketball gods have to offer. They are temperamental, the wide receiver of basketball.

When one puts together a list of the league's most diva-like players (we could start it with, say, Vince Carter), you'd be relatively unsurprised to discover how many of them happen to qualify at shooting guard.

To make a gross generalization, shooting guards are diva-like because, like wide receivers, their production is dictated by touches, and they are usually dependent on others to get said touches. This makes them a poor influence in your imaginary locker room. And if you think that's an ephemeral problem to have, ask anyone who's ever owned Carter when he suddenly ceases to care (like he has all of this current season).

When one puts together a list of the league's streakiest players (Stephen Jackson, Jason Richardson, Jason Terry, J.R. Smith) you'd also be relatively unsurprised to see how many of them qualify at shooting guard. This is because the majority of their positive production (3-pointers, points, free throw percentage) is shot-driven, and shooting guards tend to shoot whenever given even a sliver of opportunity.

In fantasy, shooting guards contribute in only four areas; 3-pointers, free throw percentage, steals and points. That's it. And despite their high free throw percentage, shooting guards generally don't heavily contribute to a teamwide percentage due to their low average number of attempts per game (about 5½ per game).

This is what an average top-30 fantasy shooting guard will do for you per game: 17.6 points, 1.3 3s, 1.2 steals, .443 field goal percentage, .780 free throw percentage, 3.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 0.4 blocks

Or, basically, Ben Gordon.

When Gordon is the prototype for a reasonable baseline expectation at a position, trust me -- it's a position to avoid.

Shooting guards are the league leaders in the condition I call "empty points"; they're players who inflate their value by scoring and not much else. Jamal Crawford, Richard Hamilton and Gordon are prime examples of this phenomenon. Kevin Martin (when healthy) is a nice player to have, but I guarantee you his ADP (44.3) is about 10 spots too high due to his point totals (if you drafted him this season, you'd probably say about 44.3 spots too high).

What to do?

Now, I'm aware that basic ESPN rules stipulate you must start at least one shooting guard. On top of that, the guard requirement and utility requirement usually add up to at least one more shooting guard in your starting lineup.

But unlike their backcourt mates at point guard who deliver assists, shooting guards don't do anything statistically special. Points, steals and free throw percentages? Numerical vanilla. Anyone, regardless of position, can contribute in these areas. And other positions are also capable of high 3-point totals. There are centers -- Andrea Bargnani and Troy Murphy, to name a couple -- who can keep pace behind the arc with the Ben Gordons of this world.

So what are some of the ways to minimize the damage a hyper-gunning 2-guard can do to your lineup?

Acquire a Tier 1 or Tier 2 shooting guard

The shooting guard position is somewhat top-heavy. I think most of us could agree that there are three elites (Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and Dwyane Wade) and three near-elites (Brandon Roy, Andre Iguodala, Joe Johnson) at the 2. O.J. Mayo is making a case for next season's drafts, but for now let's leave it at these six.

These shooting guards are exemplary because they're the only 2s in existence who can give you steady production in several categories, and don't particularly kill you anywhere. With the exception of Wade (0.9 3-pointers), these guys will all anchor a fantasy lineup while still producing from behind the arc.

Now, of course, if one of these guys goes down, you're screwed. Bryant and Wade are both big "rest down the stretch" candidates. Of the elites, I personally would draft only Durant given the chance. I'd rather have a second-tier guy in the late second round. But I don't worry about that because I …

Build 3s and steals in other areas

My draft manifesto this season was based on one thing: going big. I wanted as many centers as ESPN's draft engine could allow. And so far, it's paying off handsomely (I'm first in the ESPN Writers' Auction League as of this writing), primarily because I went after centers who gave me atypical production. Mehmet Okur and Troy Murphy are combining on my Writers' Auction League roster for 3.0 3-pointers a night. That's better than two Ben Gordons. And if you were lucky to pluck Channing Frye from the waiver wire in Week 1, you're enjoying one of the top 3-point shooters in all of basketball, regardless of position.

In the steals department, you can pretty much get them from any other position. Center-eligible Nene is averaging 1.6 a night. The league leader in steals (Rajon Rondo) is a point guard. I personally don't feel there's anything a non-elite shooting guard can give you that a savvy combination of point guards, centers and small forwards can't, and with far more diversified stats.

Pair swingmen and combo guards

This is my second-favorite strategy. Of the top 30 fantasy shooting guards in 2009-10, 22 of them qualify at a second position. Thankfully, small forward is the veritable opposite of shooting guard; it's the deepest position in fantasy basketball. Getting a solid small forward who happens to qualify at the 2 is a great way to minimize the negative effects of a haywire shooting guard. Durant, Iguodala, Roy, Johnson and Paul Pierce are all fine two-way swingmen who can fill this role.

I like to pair a swingman with a productive PG/SG, which, in my book, happens to be the most precious positional resource in all of fantasy basketball.

A PG/SG is a precious resource because these guys get you assists, which, at least for this season, has been the hardest category to build roster-wide strength. By and large, you need a Chris Paul or Deron Williams to really dominate in assists, and if Williams' wrist goes "boom" again, you're screwed (I know I will be).

So, who comprises this very valuable commodity? It's a very short, very exclusive list: Monta Ellis, Stephen Curry and Tyreke Evans. That's it. There are some backup options (Jason Terry, Jarrett Jack, Lou Williams), but they're all too streaky to rely on for the course of an entire season. Terry is one of the most notoriously streaky NBA players of the past 10 years. Again, this isn't surprising, due to the pathology of the position.

So, you whiffed on Items 1, 2 and 3? Then you, my friend, are left to …

Ride the whirlwind

This is Stephen Jackson territory, Jason Terry's domain, Jason Richardson's house. You get my point. There are plenty of shooting guards left who are seemingly capable of carrying a roster single-handedly for a one-month period. Take a look at the past 30 days from Jackson: 23.2 ppg, .452 field goal percentage, .800 free throw percentage, 1.8 3s per game, 5.4 rpg, 3.9 apg, 2.1 spg and 0.5 bpg. For you History Channel enthusiasts out there, Jackson's currently on a Napoleon-just-returned-from-Elba type of rampage. The problem was that Napoleon eventually ran smack into Waterloo. And Jackson will eventually run into another month like he had in November: 17.2 ppg, .408 field goal percentage and .266 from behind the arc.

If you're relying on one of these guys, you should stop reading this immediately and head over to Grand Theft Roto, because there's another credo you should heed: Buy low and sell high.

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