- John Cregan, Fantasy Basketball
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I want to take a brief look back at draft strategy.
I walk into my virtual war room with a set of statistical targets, what I expect my team to average on a night when all 10 roster slots are active. For the assists category, I aim to field a team that posts at least 45 assists on a full 10-man night, or a 4.5 per-game average.
As we've discussed in previous columns, assists are a scarce and precious commodity, highly localized within one position, and tough to acquire once the season begins. And as we know, there aren't a lot of Jeremy Lins just sitting around on the wire (or two, even). So I tend to build my team around point guards. I will, on average, draft four point guards, two of them borderline elite (Stephen Curry) to elite (Chris Paul).
If I pull that off, it means that those four PGs (preferably, at least one will be a PG/SG) will give me 32-35 of the assists I need to hit my target, leaving me with needing to squeeze only 10-13 assists out of the other six spots in my starting lineup.
We all remember how -- thanks to the delayed opening of this season -- we were forced to do our drafts during the height of the holiday season. And one night, I had the unfortunate privilege of conducting an expert auction draft during a holiday sing-along in a piano bar. (It's a long story. Let's just say that, on the whole, I prefer to remain married.)
Amidst the din, I ended up missing about a 25-minute chunk of the early stages of the draft, and by then end of the first hour was looking at Jameer Nelson and Norris Cole as my third and fourth PGs. To make matters worse, my lead guards were D.J. Augustin and Tyreke Evans, not one elite assist guy in the bunch.
What I needed here was a way to start a fifth PG. Sure, you could fill up every utility slot with floor generals, but in doing so, my lineup would be off-kilter, not to mention Norris Cole-heavy.
So I was forced to use my break-glass option; to build my own point guard out of spare parts from other positions. I call it, for lack of a better term, "Frankensteining." (I know, I've never been good at band names or movie titles, either.)
The strategy involves targeting out-of-position stats, where you can stitch together a missing player by trolling for out-of-position stats up and down your lineup. Since it was early in the draft, I could shift my attention to acquiring players at other positions who are above average in assists for their position.
That last part is important, because while a point guard that averages 3.5 assists is a liability, a center that averages 3.5 is basically an overgrown John Stockton. So I went out and got Joakim Noah, Gerald Wallace and Joe Johnson, added them to Kevin Durant ... and ended up with an extra 5.5 assists per game, or a Frankensteined Brandon Jennings. And now, despite my having to resort to a backup draft strategy, I'm in first place in that particular league.
This can work in the draft, but it can also work in-season. It makes for a good Plan B if you're getting stonewalled in trades on the point guard front. And the other stats point guards are known for -- steals and 3-pointers -- can be found at other positions. It's relatively easy to pad your lineup in those categories at the shooting guard and small forward slots. Remember that assists suffer from a uniquely high concentration at a single position.
Here's another way of looking at it; there are only a finite amount of assists available in your league. How many of those total assists are generated by point guards? Glad you asked. So far this season, it's about 40 percent (as seen in the pie graph to the right that I made for your enjoyment).
If you want to try to create your own Frankenstein, you have to start by looking at the current league-average assists at non-PG positions for a standard 10-team league. Luckily, I've done that for you.
(NOTE: The averages for the rest of this column are based on stats over the past 30 days, to give you a more up-to-date impression.)
Small forwards (Average: 3.0 per game)
LeBron James 6.6
Andre Iguodala 5.8
Paul Pierce 5.4
Luol Deng 4.3
Josh Smith 4.2
Trevor Ariza 4.1
Hedo Turkoglu 4.1
Kevin Durant 3.7
Carmelo Anthony 3.7
Gerald Wallace 3.4
You won't find more fertile territory for above-average assists than the small forward position. Think about it this way: In a sample 10-team league, in which there are 27 small forwards owned, James accounts for 9 percent of all assists generated at the position. And three players -- James, Pierce and Iguodala -- generate 23 percent of all available assists.
Deng's assists have been slightly inflated by Derrick Rose's absence, but he has shown he can be a 10-assist generator in a pinch. Playing armchair psychologist, I think Anthony's assists will go up because he wants to show he can coexist with Jeremy Lin. Turkoglu and Ariza are probably the easiest players to acquire on this list.
Shooting guards (Average: 2.9 per game)
Jamal Crawford 4.5
Dwyane Wade 4.3
James Harden 4.2
Joe Johnson 3.9
Lou Williams 3.9
Jason Terry 3.8
Monta Ellis 3.8
Manu Ginobili 3.8
Kobe Bryant 3.7
Ray Allen 3.1
Jordan Crawford 3.1
Exhibit No. 3,278 as to why I can't stand shooting guards: despite there being several combo guards on this list, shooting guards still can't muster enough dimes to pass small forwards on this list.
Jamal Crawford's average should climb as long as he remains the starter at PG in Portland. I also think Terry's assists will trend upward due to the uncertainty at PG in Dallas. And Lou Williams has put together one of the best under-the-radar seasons in fantasy. He's produced like this before, but only in one-month bursts. This season, he seems to have settled into a new level of consistency.
Power forwards (Average: 2.2 per game)
Boris Diaw 4.8
Josh Smith 4.2
Pau Gasol 3.5
David Lee 3.0
Blake Griffin 2.9
Tim Duncan 2.6
Dirk Nowitzki 2.4
Kevin Garnett 2.4
Greg Monroe 2.3
Paul Millsap 2.3
LaMarcus Aldridge 2.3
When it comes to assists, Diaw remains the Magic Johnson of big men. Unfortunately, in every other category, he's more of a Greg Ostertag. Gasol's assists have been on the upswing since January. I like Lee's chances to improve on his already impressive average; remember that the Warriors have the most favorable second-half schedule in the NBA.
For me, Noah has replaced Marc Gasol as the most underrated center in fantasy (it's sort of hard to call Gasol "underrated" anymore). He helps your team in every category but 3s, and is near-elite in blocks and rebounds. Kaman is obviously showcasing himself for a trade (and is in a contract year), but his production will take a hit if he's dealt.
John Cregan is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @JPCregan.
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