I've managed to reach the finals in each of my ESPN head-to-head fantasy basketball leagues, and at this point my main goal has been to accumulate games. I rarely pay much attention to the percentages. I'm picking up two or three players per day in each league, trying to get a good start on the week, then pick up the stats I really need for the weekend games. In one league, it seems to be working. In the other, it's not. In neither case are the results entirely under my control. Welcome to the fantasy hoops playoffs, where there's only so much an owner can do!
The fact is my opponents have access to the same information I do about who is available, and they're using the same strategy of signing whomever they can to get the most in the counting categories. But how do we know which one-day free agents are the ones to own? The fact is we don't, and we're also at the uncomfortable mercy of hoping our stars continue to produce the stats we need. When Rafer Alston misses a game now, it's a really big deal, because I don't want to cut him, and he takes up an active roster spot.
Anyway, I checked through my ample transaction logs for the past few weeks, and kept finding the same names showing up over and over again. Not that I planned to do this, but fantasy owners do recognize some names more than others, and we get a comfort level with who is playing well, who we've used before, and who gets that fortuitous matchup against Seattle!
Here are 10 names I've been adding and dropping since the playoffs began, and will probably continue to do so, assuming this strategy remains relevant. They're available, and I've been careful not to fall in love with any of their numbers recently, deciding that I need as many player games as possible, and have been letting them go for other options when they're not in action.
Ryan Gomes, PF, Timberwolves: It's always nice to get points and rebounds from a guy who can shoot, and Gomes played well in March, averaging 15.9 points and six rebounds. In the past five games his production hasn't wavered, despite the fact he's faced the Jazz (twice), Pistons, Spurs and Rockets. On Friday he gets the Suns. I've got him active for that one!
J.R. Smith, SG, Nuggets: While Gomes and his teammates have had a difficult schedule of late, the Nuggets are scoring 120 points every night against the likes of the Grizzlies, Warriors and Suns (twice). I've enjoyed most of Smith's 3s over the past two weeks on one team, but he's also scoring 20 points per night, and had a game with seven assists. It's almost a shame the Nuggets, Warriors and Mavericks can't all make the postseason.
Anthony Carter, PG, Nuggets: Carter has been added and dropped on one of my teams three times in the past nine days, as I'm up against an opponent who has better point guards than I do, and should win assists. I remain hopeful I don't lose both dimes and steals, though. Carter seemed to be an attractive fantasy option for the back-to-back nights against Phoenix. In the road game, he delivered two assists and two steals. Not what I was hoping for. I kept him around for the next night and he rewarded my patience with 10 assists and six steals. I think we all know what Carter can do, and what he brings to a fantasy team.
Al Thornton, SF, Clippers: Rookies aren't supposed to be helping fantasy owners at this point of the season, and I'm normally not the owner choosing them, but the 39 points Thornton dropped on Memphis haven't been the end of the run. The next two games Thornton averaged 24 points and nine boards. It would have been nice if Thornton started months ago. The return of Elton Brand shouldn't hurt his recent hot streak too much. Of course, I cut Thornton again Friday morning, because he's not in action Saturday. Don't get too attached to your players, they don't even know you're relying on them.
Jamario Moon, SF, Raptors: His numbers haven't changed much of late, but he is shooting better, and there's always that chance he'll block a few shots and get a few steals, which is why I've signed him a few times. I've watched Moon's ownership numbers fluctuate for a month now, mainly as owners like me add him the day before his games. I think the main reason is because he generally shows up near the top of all available shot-blockers when you sort that way, and he's not a center.
Joel Przybilla, C, Trail Blazers: It's pretty clear he's never going to provide scoring, but over the past 10 days he has three games with 13 or more rebounds, and he's a shot-blocking threat. Both of my teams are getting plenty of points because I'm accumulating games, and Przybilla helps fill in the rebounds.
Martell Webster, SF, Trail Blazers: Webster's past few games are proof that one never knows what they'll get when they sign a free agent. After hitting 11 3s over a three-game span against the Sonics, Wizards and Warriors, I added Webster for the Charlotte game, and he shot 1-for-9. I dropped him, and looked elsewhere for Tuesday when he dropped six threes on the Lakers. At least my opponent didn't enjoy that game. Webster isn't as enticing as J.R. Smith because his team doesn't score as much, and he doesn't contribute in any other categories.
Nick Collison, PF, Sonics: His minutes have gone up since Chris Wilcox bowed out for the season, and Collison has had some really large rebounding games in the past two weeks. I can't say he's really helped my team much, though, as his free throw percentage has been a drag for more than a month, and I could really use blocks to go with the boards.
Marko Jaric, PG, Timberwolves: I could have moved this phrase to earlier in the blog, but it dawned on me as I was looking up Jaric that nearly all the players on this list call the Western Conference home. Are there not any good East players? Of course there are, but teams generally play intra-conference games at this point, and let's face it, of the top 10 scoring teams in the NBA, Orlando and Indiana are the lone East teams represented. More points are scored in the West, and with points comes more rebounds, assists, you get the idea. Jaric generally scores in double digits, gets five or so assists and most importantly has three steals in three of the past four games.
Chris Quinn, PG, Heat: Even for the games at Detroit and Boston recently, when the brutal Heat didn't even reach 70 points, Quinn was getting the stats. He's averaged 13.4 points, five rebounds and 7.2 assists in the past five games, and piling on the steals. Yes, his field goal percentage is not helping, but at least he's out there. I had to drop first-round pick Shawn Marion on a team recently, as his season has been shut down. Quinn hasn't helped his team win games, but he is aiding fantasy owners.
By the way, a week ago I wrote about how I would have no problem letting go of a player who either wasn't performing to an acceptable statistical standard, or who was likely to miss more playing time than I could afford. Dirk Nowitzki was the topic. I ended up not dropping Nowitzki on the team I owned him on, because I had a large lead in the opening playoff round and wanted to see if his confident words about returning well before Mark Cuban said he would come true. It turns out they were.
Nowitzki played well on Wednesday, and became one of fantasy's most popular pickups, going from around 85 percent owned swiftly back to 100 percent. Shawn Marion is different, he's clearly done for the year. If there's any fantasy advice we can glean from the Nowitzki-Marion situations, it's that if you have to choose between two top players early in a fantasy hoops draft, the one on the good team is always more likely to finish his season active than the one on the awful team. Then again, when this season began Marion was on a good team, then was dealt. I didn't avoid Dwyane Wade because I thought the Heat would lose 65 or so games, rather it was because of the potential for injury. Good thing Al Jefferson is healthy right now, or he might get shut down. Brandon Roy owners certainly wish the Trail Blazers had something to play for.
One more thing: Way, way back in August 2007 I participated in the NBA.com expert draft, along with 11 other industry professionals, including our own Matthew Berry. I remember the reaction to the team I drafted was met with much skepticism, and I admit I wasn't so pleased with who I had selected. People made fun of me because I didn't draft a top point guard. I wanted to, really I did, but after taking Kobe Bryant and Vince Carter early I didn't see the need to overdraft assists, and guys like Andre Miller were going too early, so I built a well-balanced squad. I think I was even called out in the NBA.com magazine, and few expected my team to compete. Well, it's competing. It's winning, in fact, and has a six-point lead with 10 days to go. Late-round draft picks Rafer Alston and Jamaal Tinsley worked out to keep me solid in point guard stats, Kevin Martin was worth that third-round pick once he got healthy and I maintain Carlos Boozer, despite the lack of blocked shots, is one of the more underrated fantasy options in the game. I've managed the lineup effectively, made only four acquisitions all season, all of which had some meaningful impact (Earl Watson, Mike Conley Jr., Rashad McCants and Andray Blatche) and now I have a shot to win. Amazing how things can change from draft day, eh? (Hopefully I didn't just jinx myself!) I've won hoops leagues before, but I'd call taking this one a nice accomplishment if it ends up in my favor. I'll keep you posted.
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