- John Cregan, Fantasy Basketball
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The final eight games of the schedule sort of offer an Epcot Center-style voyage through the left side of Donald Sterling's brain. It's operational anarchy.
Regular, dependable rotations have given way to shutdowns, day-to-days, and time-shares. Entourages are told to buy their own tickets. Dog and cats living together. You know what I mean.
Yet this is how championships are won and lost. That one decent month we got out of Joe Johnson? I hope the memories stick, because Johnson, like so many other fantasy stalwarts, is now locked in a "DTD" vortex for the rest of the regular season. Every hour brings news of another key player whose season has been brought to a sudden, premature end.
This is one of the chief reasons -- no, make that the chief reason -- I prefer the timeless elegance of the rotisserie scoring method to the ups and downs of head-to-head (H2H). But I do like the thrill of H2H, and have made it all the way to the finals of the 30-deep league playoffs (30 owners), only to run smack into a miasma of nagging injuries and shutdown situations. It's not over ... but trust me, it's over.
Please don't read this as a complaint. No one wins a league because they're some kind of shining genius. I believe consistently placing in the top three of your leagues is a better indicator of real fantasy acumen. The difference between third and first relies on copious amounts of luck.
Ah, but the skill comes in when trying to maximize said amount of luck. Fantasy sports, like all things in life, should be looked at in terms of odds. You may have only a 3-to-1 chance at winning blocks, but you can improve those to 3-to-2 with some savvy waiver-wire moves.
Now, in that 30-deep league, I am done and dusted because it's an insanely deep league with no one on the wire averaging more than 10 minutes a game. I'm better off taking my lumps with Ekpe Udoh than dumpster-diving at this juncture.
But I'm assuming most of you are in 10-12 team leagues, with plenty of add/drop options available at any given moment. And as long as you've got a decently stocked waiver wire, there's always hope.
Even when placed in an uphill matchup, where the other owner has been gifted with several peaking players, you can still try to maximize your long odds.
The key when locked in a near-unwinnable situation is to shrink your statistical space. I call it my "300 strategy." Place the few troops you have left in a small, confined area that's best suited to their abilities, and see how long you can hold out.
By way of disclaimer, let me stress that I advocate the 300 strategy only when you have no chance of winning via conventional means. It is to be used only as a last resort. But this can work, and might give you at least a puncher's chance at pulling off the upset.
A quick guide to the "300 strategy"
1. Punt points
Why, in "Hoosiers," was it possible for Hickory to pull off all those upsets? Because the games were all in the 30-40 point range. When your final scores are reading 38-37 or 42-40, it's easier for upsets to creep into the mix. The higher the volume of points, the easier it becomes for the favorite, because the odds are given longer to balance themselves out. Don't even think about the points column.
2. Think defense
This goes along with forgetting about points. The defensive numbers are fantasy basketball's lowest-volume stats. Blocks and steals, due to their relatively low totals, work best in the flukiness of a weekly matchup situation. They're the two easiest categories to sneak in a win with. They're also easy to acquire ... once you've given up on how many points a player scores.
Here's a list of readily available players averaging at least 1.5 blocks in the past seven days:
Chris Andersen, PF/C, Denver Nuggets
DeAndre Jordan, C, Los Angeles Clippers
Ekpe Udoh, PF/C, Golden State Warriors
Derrick Favors, PF, Utah Jazz
Gordon Hayward, SG/SF, Utah Jazz (note the blocks at a guard position)
Darrell Arthur, PF, Memphis Grizzlies
Ryan Hollins, C, Cleveland Cavaliers
And here are some players averaging at least 1.5 steals during the same period:
Tony Allen, SG, Memphis Grizzlies
Jared Dudley, SG/SF, Phoenix Suns
Ronnie Price, PG, Utah Jazz
Zaza Pachulia, C, Atlanta Hawks (note steals at the center spot)
Austin Daye, SF/PF, Detroit Pistons
James Johnson, SF/PF, Toronto Raptors (also a good blocks guy)
Chris Andersen, PF/C, Denver Nuggets (note Andersen's on both lists)
3. Play the percentages
The "300 strategy" works best when you've got a couple of high-percentage shooters (and free throw shooters), because you're going to be relying on winning the percentage categories. This works well in an uphill matchup because of the streakiness of the percentage stats. When you stop caring about points scored, it doesn't matter how many shots your team is attempting. You just need to be hitting them at a higher rate. The same goes for free throws.
If you have a couple of solid shooters anchoring your lineup, you then can go the wire looking primarily for blocks and steals. There are plenty of players sitting on your wire capable of swatting two shots or getting two swipes on any given night. This is important when moving on to the next item.
4. Maximize your games played
This is the most important aspect of the "300 strategy." You have to overwhelm your opponent in the few categories you've chosen by performing as many add/drops as your constitution will allow. The more games your team plays, the better chance you have of something positive happening. Don't get attached to anyone, and keep in mind how many games your players have left on the schedule.
5. Find that one extra category
You've got to look for your team's one additional built-in strength and try to eke out a win in that area. It might be assists, 3s or rebounds, but you need to try to take one of these three if you're going to have a chance at winning. If you've got Chris Paul, for example, then obviously you're going to want to win assists (if you haven't already).
If you've got a built-in stud in one of these areas, then maybe blocks or steals becomes the extra category. The 300 strategy is eminently adaptable to your team's strengths.
If you don't have a high-flying assist man at point guard, you could look at 3s for my extra category. Like blocks and steals, they are lower-volume, and less difficult to find on the wire. You can also find 3-point shooters at multiple positions -- even center -- which means you've got more opportunities to plug in 3s than with other categories.
Some possibly available players averaging more than 1.5 3-pointers during the past week:
Mike Bibby, PG, Atlanta Hawks
Ryan Anderson, PF, Orlando Magic
Jodie Meeks, SG, Philadelphia 76ers
Richard Jefferson, SF, San Antonio Spurs
Peja Stojakovic, SF, Dallas Mavericks
Marco Belinelli, SG, New Orleans Hornets
Donte Greene, SF, Sacramento Kings
Gary Neal, PG/SG, San Antonio Spurs
Brandon Rush, SG, Indiana Pacers
Anthony Tolliver, PF/C Minnesota Timberwolves
6. Above all, enjoy!
There's something liberating about throwing caution to the wind, especially when no one's expecting you to win. And with all the add/drops, it gives you plenty of opportunities to be very engaged during the final week or so of the season.
It also helps you for future seasons, because it forces you to look at a lot of players you wouldn't normally consider in conventional matchups. And it's never too late to broaden your horizons.
John Cregan is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.