Back in the Stone Age, homo sapiens realized a decisive step in human evolution: the invention of tools. The next thing cavemen knew, those thumbs became opposable, hunting was like a video game and life was much simpler. Here we are, just a few years later (relatively), and little has changed. Tools are beneficial. Even the bad kind, like the ones who repeat Dane Cook jokes as if they were originals and use the word "brah." They make stallions like us (isn't it universally understood that fantasy basketball general managers are virile beasts?) look that much cooler to potential objects of our affection. In the 21st century, the most evolved fantasy basketball owners are using tools to their advantage and looking beyond the box scores. This column will provide a weekly analysis of the preeminent fantasy hoops tool: the ESPN Player Rater.
Player Rater Explained
In each of the scoring categories, a number is calculated that represents the average total in that category. If a player has that average exactly, his rating for that category is 0.00. The numbers then represent how much a player is above or below that average. If the rating is positive, then that player is an above-average fantasy player in that category. If it is negative, the player is below average in that category. All ratings are then added together to get a grand total player rating, and the players are ranked accordingly.
I'll be monitoring whose stock is plummeting or soaring, whose ranking will surprise you and what kind of important information we can glean from the best tool available. This week, though, since it's a bit early to pay much credence to the Player Rater, I'm going to supply some tips about how to best use it to your advantage.
How to use the Player Rater as a tool
Overall value: At times, it's hard to tell what kind of overall impact a player has upon your standings. If he is a specialist and knocks down three 3-pointers a game, how negative of an effect does the fact that he gets no defensive stats have? Likewise, how valuable are filler-type players who put up decent stats across the board but don't shine anywhere specific? The rater is a helpful instrument when looking at the long-term outlook of your team and trying to get the most valuable players. You might need blocks early in the season and are thinking about picking up someone like DeSagana Diop, who will help there but barely anywhere else. Well, if your overall standings are mediocre to boot, adding a specialist like that is going to hurt. It would be smarter to add a player with a greater overall value and then address specific statistical needs later in the season when your needs becomes clearer.
Doesn't include turnovers: One mistake certain fantasy owners make is becoming a Player-Rater player-hater (I'm an emcee in my spare time) if they are in turnover leagues. Yes, the rater doesn't include turnovers, so it's important to temper the overall rating accordingly. But you still should use it on a category-by-category basis, because it's the best measurement of a player's actual contribution in the eight other categories. Don't hate.
Impact of percentages: One of the most difficult aspects of fantasy hoops is determining how much a player's good or bad percentages affect your team. Obviously, Tim Duncan's .637 free-throw percentage on seven attempts per game is going to have a much greater negative impact than Bruce Bowen's .589 percentage on 0.9 attempts per game. The Player Rater will tell you that. That's why the rater is superior to all other ranking systems, most of which count percentages as a total number rather than a ratio with those numerator and denominator things. Pay attention to the denominator, and you can become the dominator. Oh, snap! That might be the first single off my album.
Monitoring recent trends: Oftentimes, by midseason, your roster has become stagnant, and finding a difference-maker on the waiver wire can be nearly impossible. But if you click on averages for the past 15 days and see a name that surprises you, there is a good chance he isn't owned even though he is producing. In the NBA, any player can blow up on a given night, but two weeks of productivity typically means something. Sometimes it's capitalizing upon another player's injury, sometimes it's coming back from his own injury and sometimes it's simply proving to the coach that he deserves minutes. The rater will tell you who's been best for the past 15 days overall, as well as in specific categories. If you see a free agent on that list and need waiver-wire help, pay heed.
Sorting by averages: It's easy to forget halfway through the season that a player who has been hurt for the past month was blazing when healthy. That's why examining average stats is helpful. If a mid-value player who has missed half the season is about to come back and was tearing it up beforehand, his superior average statistics still will be accounted for if you sort by averages. Pick him up when he returns and capitalize upon the fact that most will look at his overall stats and not notice the effect he can have on a fantasy team on a per-game basis.
Addressing needs: Need boards and steals without taking a hit in free-throw percentage? Well, look no further than the trusty Player Rater, in which you can sort by category and see which players positively contribute in whichever combination of categories your team needs. This tactic is simpler than looking at aggregate stats, because it's not always clear how much of an effect adding 1.4 steals per game will have on your standings. But if you see how much a guy with that many steals helps you over someone at league average, then you get a better idea of how making a trade or waiver-wire addition for a specific need will actually help your team.
Worst in a given period: It can be difficult to tell how cold a fringe player really is over the past few weeks when you see it only one bad night at a time. But when you click on "worst" and 15-day total or average, and you see one of your fantasy starters on the list, it's probably safe to say you can bench him until he gets his act together.
Just for fun, I'm going to highlight a few things from this year's 2-days-old Player Rater:
Channing Frye is the sixth-worst player according to the rater, which could point to the fact that it looks like LaMarcus Aldridge and Joel Przybilla will be the primary big men for the Portland Trail Blazers. Keep in mind, though, that Frye is just another Przybilla injury away getting big minutes, and with his efficient percentages from the center position, he could be big at some point of the season.
I love Granny Danger, er ... Danny Granger, who is ninth overall on the Player Rater after his 20-point, 13-rebound, five-3, two-steal and two-block statement game to start the season. I'm not afraid to admit my love.
It doesn't matter that Jason Terry is coming off the bench. If he fell in your draft because of it, whoever snagged him late will reap the benefits.
Martell Webster played well in the preseason, and in Portland's opening-night game, he flexed his 3-point skills on his way to the No. 36 spot on the Player Rater. If you're looking to improve your team's 3-point shooting, add him. Now. I dropped Jason Kapono for him in one league because Webster's upside is far greater.
Don't be a tool. Capitalize upon the evolutionary process and use the devices at your disposal. The Player Rater is a symbol of man's progress, and, if used correctly, can help your team progress toward your league championship.
Joshua Whitling is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com.