- Josh Whitling, Fantasy Basketball
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Fantasy hoops boasts a brand of complexity that football and baseball lack, primarily due to the emphasis on a wide array of categories. In football, it's touchdowns and yards we're concerned with, and in baseball a player can contribute in no more than five categories in standard formats. But in basketball, there are at least eight primary categories that every player has the opportunity to accrue points in. A fantasy basketball season is a nuanced balancing act for 82 (err 66) games, and if you want to up the nuance factor, add turnovers to your scoring system.
Including turnovers makes roto leagues even more stimulating, because it adds an aggregate category that affects players negatively. It shifts the focus from targeting high-usage players to highly efficient players. It is also a fun addition to head-to-head leagues, because it balances out the strategy of simply trying to get as many games played as possible and bulldozing opponents with cumulative statistics.
Turnovers primarily affect guards, and most notably the assists and steals categories. Those with the ball in their hands and the ones defending the other team's ball handler are most prone to turning it over. Most top scorers also are turnover-prone. Thus, a key strategy is finding players who contribute in these categories without piling up the flubs. Let's take a look at some players whose values increase when adding this ninth category to the mix:
D.J. Augustin, Charlotte Bobcats: Don't let the presence of Kemba Walker fool you into thinking that Augustin won't be a fantasy factor this season. The starting job is Augustin's to lose, and head coach Paul Silas hopes that the two explosive young guards can be on the floor together for stretches. Augustin was fantasy gold last season, going undrafted in many leagues and churning out 14.4 points, 6.1 assists, 1.4 3-pointers and 90.6 percent shooting from the stripe with just 1.9 turnovers per game. That's a low mark for a starting point guard, and despite the low steals totals (0.7 per game), Augustin remains a valuable fantasy asset, especially in turnover leagues, as his 3.21 assist-turnover ratio ranked sixth in the league last season.
Ty Lawson, Denver Nuggets: Fantasy owners have pined for Lawson to have full claim on the point guard duties in Denver for awhile, but Andre Miller is in the picture, so 35 minutes per game is unlikely. Still, he should start and see closer to 30 minutes per game, compared to last season's 26, when he was primarily backing up Chauncey Billups. In 31 starts last season, Lawson averaged 14.7 points, 6.7 assists, 1.2 3s and 1.4 steals per game, with 2.1 turnovers. The upside is there, and even though his situation is still a bit uncertain, he's demonstrated the ability to be sure-handed and handle the starting role, so he's a nice gamble in turnover formats.
Kyle Lowry, Houston Rockets: Lowry emerged as a fantasy darling last season by averaging 13.5 points, 6.7 assists, 4.1 rebounds, 1.7 3s and 1.4 steals per game with a respectable 2.1 turnovers per game. With the unproven Goran Dragic and Jonny Flynn backing him up, he should get plenty of run again. His contributions in the typical point guard stats and solid rebounding numbers make him even more of an asset in turnover leagues.
Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies: Aside from assists and points, steals is the category in which it can be difficult to find helpers who don't turn the ball over in bunches. Allen proved to be a vital cog in the Grizzlies' team chemistry last season, averaging 13.3 points and 2.0 steals per game with just 1.4 turnovers after the All-Star break. He'll have to fight the mercurial-but-talented O.J. Mayo for minutes, but Allen proved his worth down the stretch and in the playoffs last season. He gets steals at such a high clip (first in the league with 4.14 steals per 48 minutes and third in the league with a steal-to-turnover ratio of 1.5) that he's a valuable late-round fantasy selection who shines in turnover formats.
James Harden, Oklahoma City Thunder: Harden emerged as the third wheel in OKC last season after Jeff Green was shipped to Boston, averaging 15.8 points, 1.7 3s and 1.2 steals per game after the All-Star break. With the ball in Russell Westbrook's and Kevin Durant's hands most of the time, Harden is able to work off the ball and rack up fantasy stats without the turnovers; he averaged just 1.3 per game in 26.7 minutes. His role will increase this season, and with his ability to handle the ball when needed and defenses focusing on the big two, Harden is in line for a breakout campaign that will look even better when factoring in his low turnover totals.
Wesley Matthews, Portland Trail Blazers: Matthews followed up his surprising rookie campaign with the Jazz with even more impressive sophomore numbers of 15.9 points, 1.9 3s, 1.2 steals, 84.4 percent from the stripe and just 1.7 turnovers per game. Much of his production came without Brandon Roy in the picture, although even if Roy is healthy and able to log big minutes, Matthews, Roy and Raymond Felton should be a three-man rotation in the Blazers' backcourt. He scores, drains 3s, and nabs steals while turning the ball over infrequently, and is a good bet to have another nice fantasy season.
Dorell Wright, Golden State Warriors: Wright helped many teams win fantasy leagues last season, going largely undrafted and finishing 25th on the Player Rater. He provides across-the-board production, with 16.4 points, 2.4 3s, 1.5 steals, 5.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 0.8 blocks per game, numbers that fantasy owners aren't forgetting entering this year's draft. But little attention was paid to his 1.6 turnovers per game, which makes him a legitimate third-round selection in turnover formats.
Jared Dudley, Phoenix Suns: After finishing last season with 1.3 3s and 1.1 steals compared to 0.9 turnovers per game in 26.1 minutes, Dudley is in line to start in Phoenix. In 15 starts last season, he averaged 16.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.7 3s, 2.1 steals and 0.4 blocks while shooting 51.8 percent from the floor and turning the ball over just 1.2 times per game. Those are numbers worth starting in any format, but especially in leagues that count turnovers.
Luol Deng, Chicago Bulls: Lost amid Derrick Rose's breakout MVP campaign last season was the fact that Deng posted arguably his best season as a pro, with 17.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.4 3s, 1.0 steals and 0.6 blocks while playing in all 82 games. He averaged 1.9 turnovers, and is historically sure-handed, never averaging more than that in a full season. He's the type of player who seems like he's been around for ages, has burnt many a fantasy team in the past, and he fell to the 73rd pick in the first ESPN Fantasy mock draft despite finishing 46th on last season's Player Rater. Given his balanced stats and relatively low turnovers, he should be selected far earlier in turnover leagues, and is safe to target in the sixth round.
Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks: His numbers don't wow, but Horford was an underrated fantasy asset last season, contributing in every category other than 3s. He finished 21st on the Player Rater and of the top 25, only Pau Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki, Al Jefferson, LaMarcus Aldridge and the aforementioned Wright had fewer than two turnovers per game. Horford averaged just 1.5, which makes him a legit late second-rounder in turnover leagues.
Serge Ibaka, Thunder: Ibaka is the only player in the top 50 of the Player Rater from last season who averaged fewer than 30 minutes per game. The crazy thing is that in ranking 36th, he easily finished in the top 50, and averaged well under 30 minutes at just 27.0 per game. He's got nowhere to go but up, and his post-All-Star numbers of 10.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, 3.0 blocks and 0.4 steals with just 1.0 turnovers per game give us a glimpse of what's in store. Don't be afraid to reach for Ibaka, as you could make a case for him as a third-rounder in turnover formats.
Chris Bosh, Miami Heat: We all witnessed his numbers drop last season in nearly every category, although the silver lining is that included turnovers. He went from 2.4 per game in Toronto to just 1.8 per game playing alongside LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, as those two eliminate much of the need for Bosh to create his own shot. He's put on 10 pounds of muscle and is said to be dedicated to banging inside this season, which has many predicting a bounce-back campaign for Bosh. But as the rest of his numbers increase, I don't see his turnovers going up, and he should flirt with 20 and 10 with excellent percentages and less than two turnovers per game. Don't be afraid to spend a late third-round pick on Bosh in turnover leagues.
Tyson Chandler, Free Agent; Al Jefferson, Utah Jazz; Marcin Gortat, Suns; JaVale McGee, Washington Wizards: Most centers turn the ball over at a low rate, so target centers like these four, who average 1.3 turnovers or fewer, if you're concerned about turnovers based upon your initial picks in the draft.
The key with big men in general is noting those who do turn the ball over. The same way that we expect to accumulate some turnovers from our guards, we expect our forwards and centers to have relatively low turnovers to balance this out. Thus, forwards and centers with high turnover rates create difficulty in achieving roster balance in turnover formats, much like point guards with especially low free throw percentages do. Here are some power forwards and centers who turn the ball over well above average, so you can be mindful of this impact when drafting them in turnover leagues:
Dwight Howard, C, Orlando Magic; DeMarcus Cousins, PF/C, Sacramento Kings; Amare Stoudemire, PF/C, New York Knicks; Andray Blatche, PF, Wizards; Michael Beasley, SF/PF, Minnesota Timberwolves; Carlos Boozer, PF, Bulls; Josh Smith, SF/PF, Hawks; David Lee, PF/C, Warriors; Roy Hibbert, C, Indiana Pacers; J.J. Hickson, PF, Kings; Darko Milicic, C, Timberwolves
Josh Whitling is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
Josh Whitling highlights players whose values increase and decrease in leagues that incorporate turnovers.