Last night, I played a long and drawn-out game of Risk with some friends. We played the traditional way: One-by-one we claimed territories based on our own personal strategies. As is usually the case, our strategies were vague and ill-defined, and as I saw territory after territory fall off the board, I had a flashback to a recent fantasy basketball draft in which I participated.
In the fantasy draft, I went in with a clear sense of purpose, never wavered and ended up with all of the players I originally targeted. Sure, maybe I reached for a player here and there, but by and large those risks have been panning out well in the early going (Zach Randolph in the fifth round, Rudy Fernandez in the ninth), and I never even felt a tinge of regret in the moment. It was a rare feeling to be sitting back, cracking jokes and just taking the next guy on my board time and time again. It was stress free.
In the game of Risk, I wasn't so prepared. I found myself in the unenviable position of responding to the whims of my opponents. I didn't throw myself into any strategy with enough confidence, and I ended up with territories spread out over the wide world, unable to defend myself against either good strategy or bad luck. My friend Brian, on the other hand, dug in to a solid position in Australia, slowly increased his troop levels, and knocked me out of the game in one fell swoop just as I was preparing, finally, to mount my attack.
Brian had a strategy from the beginning and stuck with it. In Risk, that means you don't waste any resources on things that aren't part of your ultimate plan. In fantasy basketball, it means you have faith in your convictions, and that's a feeling that can net you some actual results. You are better prepared to make trades, better prepared to pick up free agents and, most importantly, more able to evaluate potential weaknesses on your roster.
This is all my way of saying that here we are, more than 10 games into the season, and it is time for you to start evaluating your position with respect to your league. In standard roto leagues, the way stats tend to accumulate means that if you plan far enough in advance, you can catch up from nearly any deficit. In just a couple of weeks, we will be a quarter of the way through the season, and you will know which categories are ripe for you to pull off a big move and climb the ranks.
The Player Rater is the perfect tool for such decisions, because it is a concrete way of judging how impactful a given player is in a given category. If you are behind in a category, use the Rater to figure out how effectively a particular player can help you catch up. For example, let's say you are getting slaughtered in blocks. Well, Tyrus Thomas, despite being ranked just 136th overall, has been the 10th-most impactful player in blocks. He is so good at blocking shots relative to the league average that his performance in that category is worth roughly the same as Chris Kaman's 58 percent shooting from the floor. If you are solid in enough other categories and can make a big enough leap in blocks, it might actually be worth it for you to have Thomas on your roster, even if his overall performance isn't worthy of such an honor.
The Player Rater isn't perfect. As we've explored in previous weeks, it doesn't account for games played and, thus, can be deceiving. As with any other tool, you have to use it appropriately, and if you do so, you can begin to adjust your team in order to keep your plan viable and you will begin to shoot up the ranks in your league.
Chris Duhon, PG, Knicks (54): It is absolutely ludicrous that this guy is still available in half of fantasy leagues. Duhon has played in at least 40 minutes in every game since Nov. 14. He is currently fourth in the NBA in minutes per game at 39.2, and with Jamal Crawford now playing in Oakland, there's no reason to think that number will come down any time soon. The point here is that Duhon is not at risk for losing playing time, and his numbers, based on that, are all totally sustainable. His ranking is not a fluke. Pick him up immediately.
Rajon Rondo, PG, Celtics (67): Like Tyrus Thomas in the example above, Rondo provides major production in certain categories. He is extremely useful in assists and steals. Yes, he has played in more games than most players, but he is top 10 in average per game in both categories as well. Owning him means taking a hit at the foul line, but if you have some room to work with in that category, Rondo could be extremely valuable. If he can manage to start scoring a little more (he's still below his average in points from last season), he'll climb up the rankings a bit.
Russell Westbrook, PG, Thunder (119): Westbrook's terrible field-goal shooting aside, he has been putting up some impressive numbers lately, averaging 12.2 points, 4.8 assists and 2.4 steals over his past five games. One has to figure that at some point he'll be able to at least bring his field-goal shooting up around 40 percent, but until then you really can't afford to play him unless you're really solid in that category already. Still, there aren't a ton of places to get the sort of assists and steals he provides on the waiver wire, so now might be the time to jump on him.
Chris Kaman, C, Clippers (14): Kaman has surpassed the 50 percent mark from the floor for a season only once in his five-year career, and that was three seasons ago. It goes without saying, then, that his 58 percent mark through 13 games is probably not going to sustain itself. I'm also concerned that he's attempting almost two fewer free throws per game than he did last season. Add to that, the fact that the addition of Zach Randolph is sure to eat away at least a little bit at the heavy minutes (37 per game) Kaman has been playing, and it's clear that he's probably peaking in value right now. Sell high if you still can.
Steve Blake, PG, Trail Blazers (78): While it is definitely time to start evaluating your roster, Blake is a good example that it's still early in the season. Largely on the strength of two games in which he was on fire against Sacramento and Phoenix and made a combined 10 3-pointers while hitting over half of his total shot attempts, Blake has worked his way up as high as he'll ever get on the Player Rater. His shooting stats are totally inflated at the moment, and they are very likely to come down. If you can find someone in your league desperate for some point guard help, you might be able to turn Blake into a better option somewhere else.
Paul Millsap, PF, Jazz (79): Right after Blake on the Player Rater is another guy you should look at trading. Millsap's a great player when he gets minutes. His minutes, however, have been a bit inflated as a result of all of the injuries the Jazz have suffered to big men. Millsap should continue to be a beast for about another week in all of the big-man stats, but once starting power forward Carlos Boozer is healthy, the numbers will start to correct themselves. I think you'll be glad if you can trade him by this time next week to someone who really needs the blocks.
Seth Landman is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.