Grand Theft Roto: Italian Nice

Buena Sera!

This week, Grand Theft Roto is coming to you from an Internet Cafe; somewhere in a slightly frightening section of Rome, Italy! It's a very special episode, sort of the fantasy equivalent of when the Brady Bunch went to Hawaii.

My non-GTR professional life may have carried me far, far away from my NBA League Pass, but I've been able to still make one trade in the past 24 hours. If I'm willing to risk life and limb in a rising neighborhood in a country with no (current) centralized government to improve my fantasy teams, what excuse does that really leave you? If somebody e-mails me a trade offer, I'm going to respond, even if it puts off my search for a real Subbuteo game for my still-incubating first child (and, in the words of Luca Brasi, it is a masculine child). If you don't know what Subbuteo is, think of electric football, but with soccer, a lack of electricity and a high incidence of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

I've learned two things about Italy so far: 1) They apparently have not forgotten the magic that is Phil Collins' "Sussudio." 2) This is not a fantasy-friendly country. I had to spend 45 minutes at lunch today explaining to an Italian cameraman just why both Andrea Bargnani and the new Rambo movie have both been so personally disappointing.

When you travel for work, you have to consult your calendar constantly. Mine has been slipping into March, inching towards one date I have heavily alarmed in my iCal.

The ESPN Trade Deadline!

Did you know it's only five weeks away? I'm talking FRIDAY, MARCH 7th at 12 P.M., EST! Where has this season gone? It only seems like yesterday I was drafting Andrea Bargnani in the eighth round. Now, I'm considering picking him back up and giving him a second chance.

Why? Because he's a second-year player who excels in two categories that are easy to gain ground in my fantasy standings: Blocks and 3-pointers.

If you find your team in the middle of the pack, or just getting edged out on a repeated basis in head-to-head leagues, now may be the time for you to consider some rash measures. You may be familiar with one of my bedrock strategies: build up strength in percentage categories early, then, if needed, deal accuracy for blocks, steals and 3s around the All-Star Break. This strategy is based on sheer statistical sample size. By and by, it's easier to make up ground in March and April in blocks and steals than field goal percentage. For those of you who play fantasy baseball, think of it as the difference between steals and batting average.

I like to focus specifically on steals and blocks because I find that the difference-makers in those categories can be somewhat easier to acquire via trade than 3-point specialists. Why? Because 3-point specialists tend to score a lot of points, which tends to overly inflate fantasy value.

If you don't think 3-point specialists get a free ride in the world of fantasy, let me offer you several words in rebuttal: Kyle Korver. Is. Owned. In. Twenty. Seven. Percent. Of. Leagues.

Obvious names that will be really tough to trade for

1. Josh Smith, SF, Atlanta Hawks
Now, here's a fellow I dealt for early in the season when he was at a professional (and most likely existential) low point. As a matter of fact, I distinctly remember telling all of you to do the same. Well, it's probably too late to get him cheap, but there's no greater difference-maker in both defensive categories.

2. Amare Stoudemire, C, Phoenix Suns
He doesn't possess a single statistical flaw. And he plays at a position of need. But if you want to try to talk another owner down on Stoudemire, maybe bring up the fact that he's only averaging six rebounds a game over his past two games.

3. Marcus Camby, C, Denver Nuggets

Statistically, he should even be higher on this list. Maybe even first ahead of Josh Smith. There aren't many players who can single-handedly win a category. Camby can single-handedly win two: blocks and rebounds. He's also sneaky-good as a passer, averaging three assists per game from the center spot. The reason I can't rank Camby any higher is the fact that the sheer blunt force of probability dictates that he's going to get hurt at some point. As a Camby owner in a couple of leagues, I've been very happy for both of us that Camby's had a career year in terms of games played. I don't want to jinx anybody, but we're talking about a player who's averaged fewer than 60 games a season for his career. And as much as I've enjoyed the ride this season, I'm probably going to trade him in both leagues over the next couple of weeks.

As I type this update: Just saw Camby is day-to-day with a knee injury.

Unrelated to anything update: I don't mean to sound like Peter King here, but did you know I can type approximately 146 words a minute after four Roman doppio espressos? Good thing they have a defibrillator in this Internet Café.

4. Gerald Wallace, SF, Charlotte Bobcats

See Smith, Josh.

5. Caron Butler, SF, Washington Wizards
I told you these players were unattainable.

Obvious name I won't recommend until March 6th

1. Dwight Howard, C, Orlando Magic

I certainly would deal for Howard any time, any way, any place I could in a points-based league. But Howard is just too damaging from the stripe to give an overwhelmingly early recommendation in leagues that give equal weight to free-throw shooting. I know there are plenty columnists who would tell you otherwise, but I don't believe in punting categories unless absolutely desperation strikes.

More attainable names

1. Andre Iguodala, SF, Philadelphia 76ers

Since the dawn of 2008, Iguodala has been on a roll. With each passing game, he continues to resemble his top-15 fantasy self. He still hasn't fully regained his shooting touch, but he certainly doesn't hurt you in any statistical areas.

2. Andrei Kirilenko, SF, Utah Jazz

This has been a comeback season of sorts for Kirilenko, but he's still too offensively inconsistent to re-admit to the fantasy elite. The good news is that the occasional zero-point box score, while terrifying, depresses his trade value.

3. Chris Kaman, C, Los Angeles Clippers

I just had someone offer me a fantasy grab bag (Samuel Dalembert, Stephen Jackson, some pandering sentiment) for Kaman. Now, Kaman's been going through a mini-offensive slump, and has missed some time due to a shin problem. But I'm certainly not going to be bamboozled by a picture of Elton Brand on a stationary bike. Not this year.

4. Rasheed Wallace, PF, Detroit Pistons

Wallace and the Pistons are rolling, and Sheed seems to be coasting a bit as a result.
His streakiness may have angered an owner in your league to the point where he's willing to cut bait. Even when he's offensively putrid, he's still a force in blocks and steals, and is usually good for at least one 3-pointer per night.

5. Jose Calderon, PG, Toronto Raptors

Maybe I'm just compelled to mention an international player from an international team in this international column. But it seems that Calderon has been playing criminally underrated basketball. I certainly don't know why anyone would be willing to deal him, unless they're killing in assists and have needs in other areas. But I have seen him dealt in the past week. Until I see a picture of T.J. Ford on a stationary bike, I hang onto him.

More attainable names I wouldn't deal for until March 6th

1. Emeka Okafor, C, Charlotte Bobcats

All the same reasons I listed for Howard, but he's just not quite as good at killing your free-throw percentage. If Antonio Salieri wasn't an 18th-century operatic composer, and was, say, a 21st century 6-10, 250-pound center, he'd probably feel a lot like Emeka Okafor.

Bonus names that could be had as throw-ins or are waiver-wire material

1. Andrea Bargnani, C, Toronto Raptors
2. Jamario Moon, SF, Toronto Raptors
3. Samuel Dalembert, C, Philadelphia 76ers
4. Larry Hughes, SG, Cleveland Cavaliers
5. Rajon Rondo, PG, Boston Celtics

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