- John Cregan, Fantasy Basketball
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We're about to enter the stretch drive of the fantasy season; the last couple of weeks before most leagues' trade deadline.
This is the time when you should be absolutely focused on exploring every available avenue to improve your lineup via trade. Because by the end of the month, it's going to be the waiver wire or bust.
But what I want to highlight today is what will happen after the end of this month: the final six weeks of the NBA regular season, which for many of you also means the fantasy hoops playoffs.
Unfortunately for all of us, the final six weeks of the NBA season -- the period that makes or breaks fantasy basketball championships -- is the NBA's "silly season."
That means it's the stage of the schedule when up to half of NBA teams go into one of two modes: playing for tomorrow or resting for the playoffs.
That means many once-solid rotations will begin to turn to mush. The JaVale McGees and DeAndre Jordans will see their minutes rise. The Kobe Bryants and Paul Pierces will spend more time on the bench. Some players will shut it down altogether. (Some people believe in the Rookie Wall, I believe in the Camby Wall.)
How to combat this ugly phenomenon? Well, you need to look at it the same way you hopefully guarded your roster against the specter of sudden injury and suspension.
By acquiring players with multipositional eligibility.
If you've been reading this column this season, you'll know that I am a huge proponent of rostering as many multipositional players as possible. I still get misty-eyed when I think about Boris Diaw's breakthrough season, the one when he went from the waiver wire in Week 1 to season-long, altogether-magical, three-position eligibility. Those were the high-water-mark days for the "7 Seconds or Less" offense. Sigh.
What I'm looking for is as much flexibility in my roster as it can stand. I want point guards/shooting guards, shooting guards/small forwards, small forwards/power forwards, and power forwards/centers. When I'm contemplating deals in the pre-trade-deadline flurry of activity, I'm prioritizing positional eligibility right after pure production.
Multipositional players also offer owners a bonus: statistical diversity. Players who defy pure positional categorization also tend to post box scores with atypical production. Maybe it's a PG/SG with a high rebound rate (Tyreke Evans) or a PF/C who racks up assists (David Lee). Again, when you're getting this type of production, you're not getting only positional flexibility but also statistical flexibility.
The way I approach multieligible players is to think of the four major multiposition classifications -- PG/SG, SG/SF, SF/PF and PF/C -- as their own positions. Here's a breakdown of each, in order of importance this season.
1. Point guard/shooting guard (PG/SG)
First tier: Stephen Curry, Monta Ellis
Second tier: Tyreke Evans, Jason Terry
Third tier: Jamal Crawford, Kirk Hinrich
Fourth tier: Lou Williams, Jarrett Jack, Beno Udrih, Randy Foye, Nate Robinson, C.J. Watson, Allen Iverson
Having a solid PG/SG is the rarest find in all of fantasy basketball. These players are wonderful because they do two things: rack up assists and qualify at shooting guard.
In the 2009-10 season, assists have proved the toughest stat to find. There's an incredibly top-heavy concentration in this category; you have a few mega-producers (Deron Williams and Steve Nash, to name a couple) and a bunch of other guards who are lucky to put up half the stats of a guy like Nash.
I recently talked about the need to undermine pure shooting guards at every opportunity, and there's no better way to do it than by starting someone like Evans at shooting guard. Getting point guard production at the SG spot is the perfect antidote versus the Ben Gordons of this world.
As you can see, there are only five solid PG/SGs in the entire NBA landscape (Curry, Ellis, Evans, Terry and Crawford). I, like many fantasy owners, may be counting down the months until Don Nelson, the Black Hole of Fantasy, finally moves on to new professional challenges, but I will say this for the man: He knows how to work a combo guard. Of the two Warriors, I'd rather have Curry down the stretch because of Ellis' ankle problems (and inefficiency), which could lead to a shutting down situation by year's end.
Terry and Crawford are two of the streakier performers in recent NBA history. However, it's hard to argue with the fact that both players are on fire as of this writing and stand a good chance of keeping this up the rest of the season (especially Terry, whose Mavericks likely will be clawing for playoff position until the final week).
Hinrich's outlook for the rest of this season will depend on what happens at the trade deadline (the NBA's, not yours, you egomaniac). If he gets dealt to the Celtics, he can kiss the third tier goodbye; it's hard to see him getting more than 25 minutes per game in Boston.
Like David Kahn and Ricky Rubio, Williams and Iverson's values are inexorably tied together. They could end up in a time-share, or Iverson could decide to retire again, or Iverson could decide he's going out with a bang and start chucking 30 shots a night. If Kevin Martin gets traded, we've already seen that Udrih is ready, willing and able to put up top-50 numbers.
2. Shooting guard/small forward (SG/SF)
First tier: Kevin Durant
Second tier: Joe Johnson, Stephen Jackson, Andre Iguodala, Paul Pierce, Brandon Roy
Third tier: Vince Carter, Wilson Chandler, Jason Richardson
Fourth tier: John Salmons, Josh Howard, Trevor Ariza, Corey Brewer, Carlos Delfino, Mike Miller, Mike Dunleavy
As you can see, this is a deeper position than PG/SG. But SG/SF still ranks high because of two factors: the number of positions they qualify for and the fact that they also qualify at SG. Did you know that a SG/SF qualifies at more positions (G, SG, SF, F, UTIL) than any other classification? That extra versatility is what ranks SG/SFs so high despite their relatively deep talent pool.
Durant is playing at Tom Jones circa 1968 levels. He currently resides on his own planet, and is probably as close to untouchable as a player can get.
The second tier has one bona fide, take-it-to-the-bank star (Johnson), then four players who all feature great production adorned with various sizes of question marks. Jackson, perhaps the streakiest NBA player of the past 10 years, appears to have found peace, balance and inner harmony under the guidance of Larry Brown. He doesn't rebound like Durant, but during the past month, he's been the next-best thing at SG/SF. He's going to tail off at some point, but it's hard to recommend selling high at this point, because this is new (non-Don Nelson) territory for Jackson.
Maybe it's the trade rumors, or maybe it's his reduced offensive workload, but Iguodala is currently in an offensive nosedive that may not end until either he or Iverson leaves Philadelphia for good. He shot only 41 percent from the field and 30 percent from behind the arc in January. Within the pages of ESPN Fantasy, both Pierce and Roy consistently feature the scarlet "DTD" next to their names. It's not hard to imagine them both being rested once their teams' playoff positions are fairly assured.
Carter has had nowhere to go but up, and he finally broke out this past week, scoring more points in one game (48) than he seemingly did in all of January (at least it felt that way). If he's finally deciding to show up (not doing so has been a historical problem for Mr. Carter), this might be a nice time to buy low.
From the fourth tier, I'm most intrigued by Miller, Brewer and Delfino. All three are assured of 30 minutes per game going forward, and all have special fantasy potential. For Miller, it's just a matter of staying upright and being more assertive with his shot. It's been one of the more unexplainable phenomena in fantasy during the past couple of years: why one of the NBA's best pure shooters suddenly decided to become a facilitator on offense.
3. Power forward/center (PF/C)
First tier: David Lee, Chris Bosh
Second tier: Pau Gasol, Tim Duncan, Amar'e Stoudemire
Third tier: Al Jefferson, Nene, Al Horford, Marcus Camby, Troy Murphy, Andrea Bargnani
Fourth tier: Channing Frye, Joakim Noah, Luis Scola, Chris Andersen, Rasheed Wallace, Ben Wallace
In seasons past, I would be scrambling to rank PF/C at the top of this list. As we know, the ability to roster two decent centers has been one of fantasy basketball's more difficult tasks. This season, it's been very, very different. The abundance of good-to-very-good PF/Cs has made the quest for decent center play a relic of the recent past.
It's not only the overall quality that's been impressive (any time you've got Jefferson on the third tier, you know it's been a weird year); it's also the array of different types of production. Lee and Gasol are averaging 3.5 assists a night. Bargnani is averaging 1.6 3-pointers. Camby is averaging 3.0 assists, 1.4 steals, and 1.9 blocks.
This is a golden era for PF/Cs. The center position has been reduced to such an afterthought this campaign, it leads me to wonder if my compatriots at ESPN might consider a crackdown at this spot next season.
4. Small forward/power forward (SF/PF)
First tier: Gerald Wallace
Second tier: Josh Smith
Third tier: Danilo Gallinari, Lamar Odom, Jeff Green, Andrei Kirilenko
Fourth tier: Michael Beasley, Rashard Lewis, Boris Diaw, Shawn Marion, Charlie Villanueva
Fifth tier: Omri Casspi, Ryan Gomes, Jonas Jerebko
This classification simply isn't as important as the first three because of one reason, the overwhelming amount of quality depth at SF and PF. It's just so much easier to grab a serviceable forward off the waiver wire.
But if you're looking for second-half sleeper potential, I'd point you toward the bonus (fifth) tier on this list. Casspi, Gomes and Jerebko have all showed they can produce given the minutes, and all three should be in line for an uptick in playing time as the regular season unfolds.
John Cregan is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
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