Sunday, October 20, 2013

This year's Fantasy Basketball Nerdery: Patience And A Loophole

Drafted Now, Arriving Later
Yes, I know you don't care, but, well, some of you might. And fantasy basketball is my favorite fake game, because it's so much better at rewarding paying attention to teams in addition to individuals. Anyway, you've probably heard all of that from me before, so let's get into it.

The league has a $200 contact cap, my keepers are marked with asterisks, and it's a single-round auction, which means that if you name a guy, you have last action on him. It's an eight category league (points, boards, threes, assists, steals, blocks, field goal percentage and free throw percentage) with no penalty for turnovers, so this is a situation where minutes are king.

Stephen Curry    GST    51*
Derrick Rose    CHI    21*
Ty Lawson    DEN    28
Paul Pierce    BKN    13
Dirk Nowitzki    DAL    25*
Otto Porter    WAS    3
Al Jefferson    CHA    41*
Tiago Splitter    SAN    10
Marcin Gortat    PHX    3
Andrei Kirilenko BKN    1
Caron Butler    MIL    1
Andrew Wiggins    FA    2     

Coming in with four players that are generally ranked in the first two rounds is obviously a nice place to start. And since I run the auction in addition to drafting my own team, I'm much more comfortable not having to be in so many pots early on. But man alive, it takes a lot of patience, especially when circumstances change.

To give you an idea of how this league is, the two-time champion protected 10 out of 12 players, and he's the runaway favorite to win again. He's got James Harden, Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Serge Ibaka, Blake Griffin, Kawhi Leonard, Derick Favors, Paul Milsap, Nicolas Batum and OJ Mayo, then added Victor Oladipo and Eric Bledsoe today. All of these guys are below market value. He's a monster at the draft, better in trades, relentless, and the best fantasy player that's ever been in any of my leagues. And this same situation was in place last year, which is how I wound up with Derrick Rose and Dirk Nowitzki for below market value, because I pretty much ate any championship hopes by loading up on injury risks and waiting.

Normally in basketball, stars go for a lot of money in the first 1-2 rounds, a middle game happens where you can easily get studs or overpay, and depending on how aggro guys have been, there's 2-3 rounds of dollar drafting for bench guys and keeper hopes. But this year, everyone kind of got the memo that with the top team so dominant, overpaying for veterans was just a recipe to be keeper-free against him next year. Teams left money on the table, rather than push each other. The top player in Yahoo who wasn't protected was Deron Williams, who I thought would go for nearly twice of the price that he wound up going for. Kobe Bryant, who is usually a catch and release guy in the $45-50 range, went for $30; the injury worries are only part of that. Rajon Rondo, with the discount of an injury issue, was in the $20s, or about 40% of his usual price. And so on, and so on. With the need to get the teams with money to spend so that I'd have a shot at having funds to secure sleepers later, I started to wonder if this was going to be just a washout of a year... especially after getting my hand caught in the cookie jar with putting in a price protection bid on Lawson. 

Not that I'm so sorry about getting a solid point guard in an up-tempo offense. With Andre Iguodala moving on and Andre Miller approaching retirement, I have hopes that Lawson's minutes and assists will tick up a bit more, too. But it did mean that I was sitting on my hands for a really long time. But, well, the joy of a league with a short bench is that when teams pick enough players, they can't keep picking. And I had an ace in the hole, assuming no one else thought to ask me about it. More on that later.

With teams starting to fill out, I got more active, and secured Splitter for $10. He's the kind of guy I like to go after in leagues; not sexy since he's been in the league for a while, but on the upswing, since it's not as the Spurs are going to give Tim Duncan more minutes in the regular season. He also provides reasonable board and block numbers without killing you in free throw percentage, and after watching DeAndre Jordan obliterate the FT efforts of Curry and Nowitzki last year, I didn't want to go there again. Soon after, I held my nose and took Pierce, who's about as roto-sexy as Bea Arthur, but usually logs major minutes, and will be as ornery as ever in getting his numbers in a new setting. Pierce isn't a star any more, but he's multi-cat goodness, and with the four studs at the top of the roster, I need consistent production more than sex appeal. At least in a starter.

 I got aced out of minute and defense studs Jimmy Butler and Luol Deng, so I throttled down and tried out Tobias Harris... only to spark all of the money that I wasn't drawing out of the market with guys like Williams and Rondo. Yeesh. Finally, Otto Porter was obscure and late enough to sneak through for a low price, which gave me the sense that things might turn around. I love his game and situation, since the small forward role in DC has been horrible, and he does everything in an NBA-ready body; potential at the right price. Marcin Gortat was a raise on an owner who had less money than I did, and while he's never been the same since Steve Nash left town, he still follows the same basic rule of board and blocks without being a FT disaster. He might also be a little better with Eric Bledsoe pushing the tempo, too. 

Next up was Andrei Kirilenko, who the cognoscenti have disdained, since he's going to a lower-tempo and stacked roster in Brooklyn. He's also not getting any younger, obviously. But on a Net team that's going to stress defense and ball movement, I don't see his numbers suffering too much, and he just doesn't give the air of being long in the tooth right now. I also have to think that the move to Brooklyn, since it came at a cash discount, had to have some playing time or role quid pro quo. For $3, I'm very pleased with another cheap multi category provider. Caron Butler is a similar move, with the hope that the move to a talent abyss in Milwaukee will make up for any shortfall from age.  But that move was made entirely for my sneak play late.

The draft prep this year, like everything else in my life right now, was really off-schedule and haphazard. Work has been a double-shift six and seven day experience. I didn't finish my rankings and room prep until sometime around noon. And that's when I started to think... well, if I was going to rank guys like Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel, almost entirely for what they might provide in future years... why limit myself to current NBA players?

Our rules state:In an offline draft, owners are responsible for compiling their own list of eligible players. If an owner drafts a player who is not in NBA, injured, suspended or otherwise unavailable, this is the choice of the owner. (Basically, this means you can draft anyone.) 

So... why not draft Andrew Wiggins? The Sixers are clearly tanking for him. Any number of other teams are going to do so as well. The scouting reports have him as the next Scottie Pippen. The YouTube clips show unreal range and handle. His dad was an NBA player, so he knows the life. If he works out at an All-Star level and stays healthy, I could have him under market value for a decade. 

The only downside was that if you are the commish of a league, you don't always get to act just in the best interest of your own team. Had I broached this move before the draft, there's no way that I get Wiggins, the same way that I don't get him. And anyone else could have, well, thought of this and asked. 

It's not a panacea. Not having a third bench player is going to do lots of damage to my hopes of finishing in the money this year; games played matter that much. If and when my guys get hurt, I'm going to be losing other protects if I keep Wiggins. If the Jayhawk freshman decides to stay in school, I'm hosed. If he blows out a knee, I'm hosed. And if Jabari Parker turns out to be the better player, I'm going to watch another owner cash in on that, since that pick was made right after I dropped my little bombshell.

We might change the rule later, we might not; I can see reasons either way. But having exploited the loophole, I'm grandfathered in, and might have the pick of the draft. At least, that's what I'm going to keep telling myself for the next year, while I watch Wiggins play for Kansas and hope like mad that he doesn't get hurt, or study worth a damn.

And, for the first time in a very, very long time, care anything about what happens in college basketball...

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