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Widely available, but useful guards

12/18/2009

My esteemed colleague John Cregan just focused his "If You're Hardcore" on big men, so as a complement, I'll key in on guards and the categories most typically associated with them. And as a compliment, I'll say "nice glasses, John!"

Other than reading fantasy columns suggesting whom you should pick up in order to get help in certain categories, here are some good ways to research this on your own:

Examine per-minute stats. See if a player is putting up the type of per-minute numbers that will likely earn him more playing time, or make them awesome if opportunity arises. This is a nice way to spot players who have talent and ability in the category, which is half the battle.

Utilize the statistical sorting tools we provide. Peruse the Player Rater over the past seven, 15 and 30 days and sort by category, as well.

Examine stats that don't show up specifically in the box scores, like assist/turnover, or steals per 48 minutes. For more information, sort by appropriate splits. For example, it's more valuable to know that Chris Duhon is averaging 8.9 assists in December than seeing his 6.3 assists per game for the season.

We get most of our assists and steals from our guards, and guard management is perhaps the key strategy in turnover leagues, so I'll highlight widely available guards who help in turnover formats.

A critical turnover-league strategy is identifying players who contribute in the categories that typically correspond with high turnovers -- obviously points and assists, but also steals and free throw attempts -- but who do it without the high turnovers. Guard management, as mentioned, is crucial, as they'll accrue a bulk of your turnovers. Target a few sure-handed guards to fill out your roster and avoid forwards and centers who hurt your turnover totals and give you an uphill battle to fight by harming you from a position that's typically neutral-to-helpful.

Free throw accuracy with high attempts is often forgotten when considering its correlation to high turnovers, but of the 15 guards who average 3.5 or more attempts per game and have played in more than seven contests this season, only Mike Dunleavy, Kyle Lowry, Ben Gordon, Jamal Crawford, Lou Williams, Jason Terry and Vince Carter average fewer than two turnovers. When considering the real fantasy studs, of the 21 players overall who average six or more attempts, only Dirk Nowitzki is below two per game, and he's obviously not a guard. It's easy to sort by assist/turnover and steal/turnover, but what about free throw attempts per turnover? This will be further examined in the future, but for now here are some turnover-league darlings to set it off:

Turnovers

C.J. Watson, PG/SG, Warriors (2.7 percent owned): He's shooting up the most-added list and could be featured in many categories after averaging 12.7 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.1 3s while shooting 50 percent from the floor and 89 percent from the stripe in 35 minutes per game this month. Those numbers are majestic, but they're made even more so considering he's doing it averaging just 1.2 turnovers per game in that span and is averaging just 0.9 flubs per game this season. In his career, he's averaging just one turnover per game in more than 21 minutes per game, and perhaps he relishes not having to constantly create offense after doing so on a regular basis for four years in college at Tennessee, where he averaged more than two turnovers per game against inferior defenders. Much like Will Bynum, he cut his teeth overseas and then in the D-League, and both players make the most of every minute on the court playing in the big leagues. His minutes should continue, as Don Nelson likes rolling small and starting Watson, Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry. Watson is worth adding in all formats immediately, but is worth trading for in turnover leagues.

DeMar DeRozan, SG, Raptors (1.0 percent owned): It's rare that an unpolished rookie guard who seemed forced into the starting lineup gets to the line as often as DeRozan or turns it over as seldom. He's averaging 3.4 makes on 4.3 attempts from the stripe in December with just 0.6 turnovers, the lowest number of any of the 25 guard-eligible players averaging that many attempts in that span. Although it comes with nothing else save an almost-decent 0.6 steals and 0.5 blocks per game on the season, DeRozan provides high accuracy and volume with basically zero turnovers. Need a cheap boost to your free throws but can't stomach any more turnovers? DeRozan is prime.

Jerryd Bayless, PG/SG, Trail Blazers (0.4 percent owned): His 29 points in 29 minutes Thursday night, including 16 in the fourth quarter, will undoubtedly garner Bayless attention, but he's been on my fantasy radar for weeks in turnover leagues, especially given the uncertainty surrounding Andre Miller's future with the team. Forget the 29 points, look at the combined 17-for-22 from the stripe in his past two contests, which is where he really provides value. Think DeRozan's free throw attempt/turnover ratio is impressive? In that 15-day span, Bayless is averaging four makes on 4.8 attempts per game, with just 0.8 turnovers, joining DeRozan as the only widely available guard who helps you in free throws with fewer than a turnover per game.

Assists

Ty Lawson, PG, Nuggets (9.5 percent owned): Don't be too discouraged about the fact veteran Anthony Carter is going to start while Chauncey Billups misses time with a groin injury, as Lawson will see a bump in minutes, and has been a consistent contributor in dimes, averaging 3.5, 3.5 and 3.2 per game in October, November and December, respectively. I wouldn't be surprised if he played more than Carter, and Lawson will be a steady source of assists from the backup spot all season with increased numbers in the short term.

Carlos Arroyo, PG, Heat (0.3 percent owned): The pride of FIU hoops (sorry Isiah), Arroyo has bounced in and out of starting lineups for several teams during his mediocre career, and is best known for bridging the John Stockton-Deron Williams gap by averaging five assists per game from 2003 to '05 as the Jazz's starting point guard. He's been a situational NBA player, and a situation has emerged in Miami, as Mario Chalmers came off the bench for the second straight game, after basically receiving detention for tardiness. I'm actually a big fan of Chalmers, believe he will reclaim his starting spot, and think this hiccup makes him a prime buy-low candidate. But Arroyo is a capable backup who is clearly going to get significant minutes until Chalmers slays his demons -- or learns how to set the alarm on his phone.

Steve Blake, PG, Trail Blazers (0.9 percent owned): Andre Miller doesn't fit with the Blazers, earning 34 minutes one night and 18 a few later, and I would be blown away if he wasn't traded in the coming months, if not weeks. Miller is a better scorer and rebounder than Blake, but their assist totals are alike, and Blake is actually above average in another category (1.6 3s per game), making him a more valuable fantasy player at this point. Expect about four assists and 1.5 3s per game consistently from Blake, with the chance for those to shoot up if Miller is eschewed.

Steals

Thabo Sefolosha, SG/SF, Thunder (1.1 percent owned): The Thunder are following the Nuggets' lead from last season, when they started the offensively average defensive stopper Dahntay Jones at shooting guard since their point guard and small forward provided plenty of perimeter offense. Sefolosha lets his teammates do the scoring and focuses on shutting down the opposition's best perimeter player, and is a lock for at least 1.5 steals per game.

Kyle Lowry, PG, Rockets (1.2 percent owned): I've featured him for assists before, but he's averaging 1.3 steals in December, and earning 25 minutes per game. He's averaging a steal per game in just 23 minutes for his career, and I'm shocked he's not owned in more leagues. I would add him in several, although I have a tendency to overload on point guards come draft day, so he'd sadly wither away on my bench. Darren Collison, Jordan Farmar and Randy Foye are all owned in more leagues than Lowry, who is outproducing them by far this month, and he does it with low turnovers (1.3 per game).

Jeff Teague, PG, Hawks (0.8 percent owned): This year's rookie crop is chock-full of point guard talent, from the obvious names like Brandon Jennings and Tyreke Evans to backups who have shined in limited minutes like Ty Lawson and Darren Collison. But Teague, who averaged 19 points, 1.9 steals and 3.5 assists per game on 48.5 and 81.7 percent shooting last season at Wake Forest and was drafted 19th overall by the Hawks, is flashing some brilliance and ranks second in the league behind Rajon Rondo in steals per 48 minutes. He gets lots of garbage time behind Mike Bibby, Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford, but is effective when on the court and should see his playing time only increase as he develops.

Josh Whitling is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.