Commentary

Easier to improve in blocks than steals

Updated: January 6, 2011, 1:32 PM ET
By John Cregan | Special to ESPN.com

Happy New Year.

And happy end of the NFL regular season, because this means the end of the attention-diverting society-driving behemoth that is fantasy football.

Come back to us. Your fantasy hoops teams need you. Your lineups need you. Hell, I need you.

For many of you recently embroiled in the joys of owning Anthony Armstrong, this may be the longest look you've taken at your hoops teams since draft night.

Even if you're in first, you need to take a long look at your team's statistical strengths and weaknesses. You've got about 8-10 weeks to make any more substantive moves before your league's trade deadline. There's still plenty of time to make a move.

And the best place to really do that -- the truest snapshot of where your team is at -- lies in your league's cumulative stats. Even if you're in a daily transaction, head-to-head league, I'd recommend not looking at your weekly matchups in determining your team's pluses and minuses. The flukiness of head-to-head can mask and/or falsely amplify your team's true statistical leanings.

So you take a look. You need to make a move. Your team is lacking in certain categories. The question is, in which categories is it easiest to make the biggest, most dramatic gains?

During the next few weeks, I'm going to take an on-and-off look at sort of a "State of the Stats," analyzing the major categories in pairs.

Blocks versus steals

These most defensive of categories are two of the first areas savvy owners gravitate toward when needing a boost in the standings. Their relatively small, aggregate size -- a player can lead the league in either category with only around three per game -- means that it's easier to visualize climbing in each category.

Your team's scoring and rebounding numbers are in the thousands. Your percentages are based on thousands of attempts. But blocks and steals only number in the low hundreds at this point.

Blocks and steals are also a good place to look because they tend to be stats dominated by a select few players. The acquisition of just one elite contributor could vault an owner three or four places in the standings in just a few weeks.

So, how about the 2010-11 season? Which category would be more effective?

I like to start with the baseline averages.

In a 12-team league, the average player will chip in about 0.7 blocks and 1.0 steals a night. If your team averages around that per game, you will finish in the middle of the pack in those categories. League leaders in these categories will average only 0.95 blocks and 1.2 steals a game.

Child's play, right? Well, just remember that simply adding a steal or two to your team's output won't mean you'll jump a steal or two in your averages. That steal or two gets divided by the 10 players in your starting lineup. So adding one steal means you'll gain 0.1 steals in your average, which is still significant but not dominant.

Now, adding one block will obviously mean more in the standings, right? Not necessarily. As you see, the difference between a middle of the pack finish in each category is roughly the same -- around .25 per game.

To get a real feel for which stat is easiest to make a move in, I like to look at how the stat is distributed amongst the players themselves.

Carmelo Anthony
Ron Hoskins/NBAE/Getty ImagesCarmelo Anthony is currently posting a career high in blocks per game.

Again, I'll start with the baseline average.

In a 12-team league, the average player in blocks is Carmelo Anthony, with 0.7 per game. He's 55th in blocks. The average player in steals is Jamal Crawford, with a little more than 1.0 steals a game. He also ranks 55th in steals.

So if the average player in either category is ranked 55th, then both stats must be equally distributed, right?

Wrong. We have to look at how they're weighted toward the top. Some stats -- such as assists -- can be incredibly top heavy, with only 8-10 players dominating an entire category.

Let's take a closer look at how blocks and steals are weighted amongst their respective elites.

The trick I like to use is to see how many players are capable of doubling, tripling and even quadrupling the baseline average per game. By looking at the groupings, we can see how many players are available in each category that could actually make a difference.

Blocks

3.5-4.0 times the league average -- 1 player (Andrew Bogut)

3.0-3.49 times -- 5 players (JaVale McGee, Dwight Howard, Darko Milicic, Amare Stoudemire, Serge Ibaka)

2.5-2.99 times -- 7 players (Josh Smith, Pau Gasol, Al Jefferson, Tim Duncan, Roy Hibbert, Emeka Okafor, Marcus Camby)

2.0-2.49 times -- 10 players (Samuel Dalembert, Joakim Noah, Yao Ming, Tyrus Thomas, Wilson Chandler, Brook Lopez, Marc Gasol, Taj Gibson, Chris Andersen, Andrew Bynum)

1.5-1.99 times -- 9 players (LaMarcus Aldridge, Anderson Varejao, Rudy Gay, Elton Brand, Chris Kaman, Tyson Chandler, Gerald Wallace, Channing Frye, Andrei Kirilenko)

So, let's say you swap Chris Bosh (0.7 blocks per game) for Bogut (2.8). Discounting the other categories, you'd be gaining 2.1 blocks a night -- or a net team-wide average gain of around 0.2 blocks a night -- which would be good for a major rise in the standings.

And if you couldn't swing Bogut, you can see that there are several other players who are just behind him in blocks per game. Anyone from Camby to McGee would constitute an almost equally dramatic move in your team's totals.

Steals

3.5-4.0 times the league average -- 0 players

3.0-3.49 times -- 0 players

2.5-2.99 times -- 1 player (Chris Paul)

2.0-2.49 times -- 4 players (Monta Ellis, Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook, John Wall)

1.5-1.99 times -- 15 players (Stephen Curry, Mike Conley, Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd, Rudy Gay, Kevin Garnett, Andre Miller, Manu Ginobili, Tyreke Evans, Trevor Ariza, Josh Howard, Ron Artest, Dwyane Wade, Paul Millsap, Stephen Jackson)

As you can see, there aren't any players available who can make as dramatic a difference as Bogut in blocks. Despite both categories having a baseline player ranked 55th, steals are a much flatter stat. There isn't as much of a dropoff between players ranked sixth (Curry) and 20th (Jackson).

Yes, Paul would make a huge difference, but you also run into another issue: the difficulty of actually trading for said player.

The league leaders in steals also happen to be amongst the top players in fantasy, because most of them are point guards who also lead the league in assists. Yes, there are Stoudemires and Howards amongst the blocks leaders, but there are also McGees and Ibakas, players who should prove far easier to acquire.

This all, of course, depends on your team's individual needs, but by looking at how these stats are distributed, it should be easy to see which category gives you more opportunities to make a substantive move.

Advantage: Blocks.

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

John Cregan

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

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