Commentary

Finding assist help difficult, but crucial

Updated: January 20, 2011, 1:23 PM ET
By John Cregan | Special to ESPN.com

I went to see the Blake Griffin-Kevin Love bout Wednesday night.

Oh, I'm pretty sure there were other players involved. I seem to remember Baron Davis actually caring. But seldom has a game between two lottery teams held such a Monitor-versus-Merrimack type of allure. Like Monitor-Merrimack, this also ended in a (statistical) draw, though in my opinion Griffin always gets extra points for his "OhmyGodpleasedon'tleavetheClippersin2014justextendhimnow" style. His pouty-to-puffed cheeks to I'm-gonna-rip-down-this-rim-with-the-force-of-10-Ike-Diogus act is a joy to watch; he's like my 2-year-old, but with hops.

Love may be more numerically rounded, but Griffin is currently the most thrilling player to own in fantasy basketball. Aside from the double-doubles and the anger-management dunks, what I appreciate the most is his broadening statistical palette. I cheered the loudest when Griffin stepped behind the line and calmly stroked a 3, as if he was telling Love, "That's right, I'm gonna start doing this, too."

Griffin is already one of the better big men in the league at secretly piling on the assists; at 3.4 per game, he's notching more assists per night than many guards. And Love is no slouch at 2.5 per game, another relatively high total for a power forward. Of course, Love is already there with the long ball, hitting 1.4 a night, which by default makes him one of the best big men in fantasy. The 20-20s are just icing on the cake.

Three-pointers and assists were on my mind Wednesday night, because before I left for the game I had finished crunching the numbers for part two of my "State of the Stats" series.

3s versus assists

As always, when looking at making a move in a category, I like to consider two main factors: baseline average and how the stat is distributed amongst the players.

When I say "baseline average," I'm talking about figuring out what the mean average is in your league for a given category. Whether you're in the bottom third of a category or in the middle of the pack, it's nice to get a feel for what you need to average to just be ... average.

By "distributed," I mean how concentrated the numbers are in a given category. Is it a stat spread out evenly amongst many players, or is it ruled by a select few?

Let's start with 3-pointers. Since 3s are easy to find, you'll see that to make a real difference, you'll need to find players that post almost twice the average in 3s per game (0.89) to shake up your league's standings.

3-pointers distribution

1.5 - 1.99 times the league average: 41 players (too many to list, from John Salmons through DeShawn Stevenson)

2.0 - 2.49 times the league average: 24 players
(Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Richard Jefferson, Rashard Lewis, Matt Bonner, Charlie Villanueva, James Jones, Stephen Curry, Eric Gordon, Danilo Gallinari, Wesley Matthews, Anthony Morrow, Deron Williams, Chauncey Billups, Gilbert Arenas, Peja Stojakovic, Brandon Jennings, Stephen Jackson, Daniel Gibson, Al Harrington, Kevin Martin, Mike Bibby, Danny Granger, Ray Allen)

2.5 - 2.9 times the league average: 3 players (Manu Ginobili, Carlos Delfino, Jason Richardson)

3.0 - 3.49 times the league average: 1 player (Dorell Wright)

3.5 - 3.99 times the league average: None

[+] EnlargeCarlos Delfino
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireWhen Carlos Delfino returns to action he'll be a popular addition, because of the effect he can have in 3-pointers.

Like blocks and steals, 3-pointers is an easy category to visualize making a move in due to its smaller aggregate size. The baseline average for a fantasy hoops player is only 0.89 3s per night. Which means the average fantasy hoops lineup will average 0.89 3-pointers per game played. A team leading its league in 3s will probably average about 1.1 3-pointers per game played. So making a significant move in 3s will require adding about two 3-pointers to your lineup a night (if you're looking to increase your average by about 0.2 3-pointers, spread over a 10-man lineup).

Three-pointers are a very easy stat to acquire. A stunning 125 players currently average at least 0.89 3-pointers per game, which makes it one of the most evenly distributed stats in fantasy basketball. The key when adding 3s is to look for out-of-position 3s (power forwards or centers), or to plug "superproducers" (my term for players who average at least two times the league average in a given category) into a utility slot.

Let's say you trade Griffin for Love. Adding Love will add 1.4 3s per game to your power forward slot, meaning a boost of 0.14 3s per night for your team average, a very substantive move. Love may contribute only a half a 3-pointer above the league average, but he's a full 3-pointer above the league average at his position.

Since trading for Andrea Bargnani or Love might prove difficult, you can always turn to the waiver wire, where 3-point specialists like Mike Bibby are in abundant supply. However, adding a specialist can hurt you across the board in other categories, so tread carefully when considering their services.

Assists distribution

1.5 - 1.99 times the league average: 12 players
(Chauncey Billups, Tyreke Evans, Brandon Jennings, Joe Johnson, Monta Ellis, Andre Iguodala, Luke Ridnour, Stephen Curry, D.J. Augustin, Jrue Holiday, Kyle Lowry, Jameer Nelson)

2.0 - 2.49 times the league average: 11 players
(Mike Conley, Tony Parker, Baron Davis, Devin Harris, Mo Williams, LeBron James, Andre Miller, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Jose Calderon, Jason Kidd)

2.5 - 2.99 times the league average: 4 players (Raymond Felton, John Wall, Deron Williams, Chris Paul)

3.0 - 3.49 times the league average: 1 player (Steve Nash)

3.5 - 3.99 times the league average: 1 player (Rajon Rondo)

Deron Williams
Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE/Getty ImagesDeron Williams is one of two players putting up twice the league average in 3s and 2.5 times the league average in assists.

As you can see, this is a far more exclusive list than the 3-point leaders. Since assists are the almost exclusive domain of one position (point guard), you'll find that assists are a very "top-heavy" statistic. By that, I mean that it's weighted toward a few "superproducers" at the top of the league leaders. It's no accident that the above list roughly corresponds to the amount of teams in the league; most squads have one bell cow in assists and no more.

A team leading its fantasy league in assists will average around 3.9 assists per game played. So you'll need to add a whopping 0.5 assists per game played to make a hard move. That means adding five assists per night to your lineup. And it's very hard -- nearly impossible -- to find a five-plus assists guy on your waiver wire. So, the only way you can acquire hard-and-fast assist help is to make a deal.

As with 3s, you can do some good by targeting out-of-position distributors (power forwards and centers). Players like Griffin and Al Horford can subtly boost your team's assist totals by about 0.2 assists per game. Add a couple of these players, and you'll make a sneaky move in the standings.

But in the end, I can recommend no more effective in-season trade in fantasy than dealing for an elite point guard. Unlike specialists in other categories such as blocks and 3s, assist specialists tend to produce in other areas such as steals, percentages and points. So dealing, say, points for assists will probably end up strengthening your team in several areas. Not to mention you'll be weakening a competitor in a category that's difficult to acquire.

I mock Baron Davis because my sense of propriety requires me to do so. Players with a "caring" problem are the chief enemy of fantasy excellence (look at the Nuggets' production during the past month and you'll see what I mean). However, his resurgence -- and his early availability on many waiver wires -- has actually made him one of the key players of this fantasy season. Adding Davis, and his capability to average seven assists per game, from the waiver wire may mean the difference in many fantasy leagues during the course of the second half of the campaign.

Advantage: Assists (by a mile)

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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