Using values over rankings in trades
Generally, when I find myself scanning the Player Rater to see where certain players are ranked, I do a sort of intuitive calculation. That is, I assume that a player ranked, say, 21st is a little bit better than a player ranked 22nd, just as a player ranked 51st is a little bit better than a player ranked 52nd. That is how rankings work, and that is how I generally use them, and while my particular needs in a given category sometimes trump rankings, I find my judgments of players are closely tied to where they generally end up in the rankings overall.
The Player Rater, however, gives us more information than that, and -- all other things being equal -- when we are making trades, we should be using all of it. The Player Rater ranks players according to their value, and, in this case, value is a player's overall fantasy contribution over the eight categories we measure (based on how many standard deviations better than the league average players are in each category individually). That value is often more important than the ranking itself because it is what determines the ranking.
Let's take an example. Currently, Chris Paul is atop the Player Rater rankings, based both on total stats and per-game stats, largely due to his dominant performance in assists and steals. Let's use the rankings based on average stats, since they should be better at predicting performance down the road. The difference between CP3 and his closest competitor (Amare Stoudemire) is 1.59. By way of comparison, the difference between Amare Stoudemire and Kevin Durant (the player currently behind Stoudemire) is 0.05. Compared to the difference between Paul and Stoudemire, the difference between Durant and Stoudemire is hardly even worth considering.
So, all other things being equal, while you might consider trading Amare to get Durant, you probably wouldn't consider trading Paul to get either of them. When we make trades, we have to factor in other things, of course (in this case, the fact that Durant was the best player in fantasy last season might make you want to take a shot at risking Paul to get him), but the general point remains that the rankings, in certain cases, can be misleading if you don't take into consideration the overall value they attempt to represent.
Let's say your team has been dominant in rebounds, but you're starting to fall behind a bit in blocks. You happen to have Zach Randolph on your roster (which is probably why you are in this mess in the first place), and someone offers you Marcus Camby for him straight up. You pull up the Player Rater to see where each guy is ranked based on what he averages per game, and discover that Randolph (55th) is nearly 20 spots ahead of Camby (73rd). You decide that, while Camby's 1.8 blocks and 11.6 rebounds per game will probably help you more than Randolph's 0.3 blocks and 12.6 rebounds, you should not give up 18 spots in overall value.
What you're not realizing in this scenario is that the difference between those 20 spots in the rankings is only 0.69 in total value. That's only slightly greater than the difference between Josh Smith (currently ranked 18th) and Danny Granger (currently ranked 23rd). Would you entertain the notion of trading Smith for Granger if you needed 3-pointers? Of course you would; they are only five spots apart on the Player Rater and seem like comparable players in value. In actual value, as we have seen, the difference between Randolph and Camby is very comparable to the difference between Smith and Granger, but the difference in perceived value is greater.
This line of thinking brings you, eventually, to a very important -- if wildly simple -- conclusion: the best fantasy players are much more valuable than the average ones (even more valuable than the simple rankings themselves can show), because there is so much more separation at the top than there is among the guys outside of the top 30 or so. This is something we all probably are aware of intuitively anyway, but keeping this fact in mind in trades can make you much more successful in your fantasy deals. The Player Rater provides you with a source of leverage you can possibly use to pry top-level players away from your leaguemates.
Most fantasy teams that haven't been totally eviscerated by injuries have one or two guys on the bench from time to time who should really be starting. This is because at the end of our rosters we have a bunch of players who are pretty close in value, and we need to choose between them. The Player Rater has shown us, though, that top-level players are the key to accumulating overall value for your team. One Chris Paul, after all, is worth a couple of Jason Kidds. With that in mind, if you can trade a couple of lower-ranked guys and get a guy in the top 20 in return, your team will almost always be better for it.
Again, let's go with the premise that you could use some blocks and spare some rebounding. You decide instead of targeting Marcus Camby's 1.8 blocks per game, you'd like to target Josh Smith's 2.0 blocks per game (and at the same time end up with a more useful overall player instead). You want to dangle Zach Randolph again as trade bait, but obviously, no one is going to be willing to trade you Smith for Randolph straight up, so you've got to sweeten the pot. You decide to throw in Elton Brand (currently ranked 35th and a sort of watered-down version of Smith) and ask for Amir Johnson in return (currently ranked 106th and another shot-blocker).
Based on rankings, you're giving up 35 and 55 for 18 and 106, which might seem like a bad idea on the surface (giving up two seemingly top-to-middle-tier guys for an elite guy and a stiff), but that's not the best way to look at it. Instead, you're giving up 13.16 in total Player Rater value to get back 13.17 in return, which looks a whole lot more reasonable in terms of fairness. More importantly, you've traded two players who are known quantities for one elite fantasy guy and, in Johnson, an up-and-coming player who is achieving his fantasy value in just 24 minutes per game. You've also solved your shot-blocking problem without killing yourself in rebounds, and you've given your team room to improve without losing any value at all in the short term.
As for pulling off the trade: it's all in how you sell it, and using the perceived value that is inherent in the rankings is essential to creating a case for the trade you want to happen. The above is just one possible example, but in general the overall value assigned to players on the Player Rater is a great tool to use in order to find ways of acquiring elite-level fantasy players during the season.
Seth Landman is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
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