I was on the shelf for most of December. Everything from about the second day of Hanukkah through Boxing Day remains a bit of a blur. I was so sick, I had to take a vacation from fantasyland.
Due to my forced hiatus from hoops, I endeavored to reanimate my basketball brain. I did so by re-exploring some of the writing that led me to a hankering for the hardcourt in the first place. In other words, I killed time by re-reading some of my favorite basketball books.
The roster of top-tier treatises isn't as deep for basketball as is the canon of classic baseball tomes, but the greatest hits still deliver. "Life on the Run," "24 Seconds to Shoot," and "Heaven is a Playground" all kept me company through my convalescence -- and David Halberstam's "The Breaks of the Game" still stands is one of the greatest books ever written, regardless of topic.
However, my personal favorite basketball book remains Terry Pluto's ABA chronicle "Loose Balls." I'm a ABA junkie -- a devotee of the red, white and blue basketball and an ardent admirer of Larry Brown's mid-70s OshKosh B'Gosh fashion choices.
The ABA is historically underrated for many reasons, but it's also numerically underrated. ABA-era stats positively fascinate me -- especially when compared with the relatively plodding numbers the NBA was churning out over the same period of time (1967-1976).
Most importantly, perhaps, from a fantasy perspective, the ABA is seminal for establishing, popularizing and normalizing the 3-point shot. If it weren't for the 3-point shot, basketball would look very different. It would be far more big man-driven. (More markedly Mikan-esque, one might say.) Heck, Ian Mahinmi might be a first-round talent in such an NBA alternate universe.
We also wouldn't have "1+1+1" players.
This is a term I use to describe players that average -- or have the potential to average -- one 3-pointer, one block and one steal per game.
1+1+1 players are a true fantasy delicacy. 1+1+1 players are rare. In fact, as of this writing only five players are currently true 1+1+1 producers. Let's take a look:
True 1+1+1 Talents
For all his statistical greatness, LeBron has only notched "1+1+1" in four out of his 15 seasons. He never accomplished it in Miami and, until this season, LeBron hadn't done it since 2009-10. The fact that he regained this status in his age 33 season speaks to just how much heavy lifting LeBron has been doing.
If Cousins hadn't gotten hurt? We'd be talking about how he was positioning himself to post one of the most unique fantasy seasons of all time. Relative to his position, there just hasn't been any other center to have thrown down the numbers Cousins managed in his 48 games. For all of the thrills the NBA has delivered this season, I can't remember a season that's been as cruel on the injury front.
Thanks to a more diversified numerical portfolio, multipositional players are more likely to provide 1+1+1 status. Green is also an example of how high-usage rates (his is just 17.2) aren't a prerequisite to joining this exclusive club. It helps, but it isn't essential, so long as a preponderance of a player's shot attempts are coming from behind the arc.
Speaking of which, Green is a prime example of just how underrated 1+1+1 production is valued. Despite his nicely diversified stat line, Green's low scoring average (8.6 PPG) means he's currently only rostered in 7.9 percent of ESPN leagues.
A recent spate of injuries and player movement for the Clippers afforded Johnson just enough playing time to break into this quintet. Despite his less-heralded status, Johnson actually averaged a full-season 1+1+1 back in 2013-14.
The 'per 48' 1+1+1 pool
If we expand the 1+1+1 distinction to include players that don't quite average 1+1+1 per game, but would make the cut on a "per 48 minute" basis, we can hand out the following membership passes:
Kevin Durant, SF/PF, Golden State Warriors: (2.5 3PG, 0.8 STL, 1.9 BLK)
For all of his offensive fireworks, in terms of fantasy statistics, I'm most impressed by Durant's 1.9 blocks per game. The vast majority of NBA players peak in block production in the first two seasons of their careers. Durant is swatting his career-high in his age-29 season. Somehow he's getting better as he's getting older, a full two seasons past the age where most players hit their peak.
Like I said, it's been a cruel campaign on the injury front. The idea that we may not see a fully operational Porzingis until 2019-20 sickens me. That's bad enough, but the notion that Porzingis could lose a permanent portion of his freakish athleticism is positively nauseating.
It took a couple changes of scenery, but this is (finally) the Oladipo I've been waiting on since his rookie year. Oladipo's career year is getting fueled by a sudden, impressive spike in both volume and efficiency. His 28.6 usage rate and 23.56 PER blow his previous career-highs (23.9 USG, 16.77 PER) out of the water.
For all his metrics-driven greatness, Towns' secret sauce remains his health. He hasn't missed a game since entering the NBA. Even with Jimmy Butler eating some of his touches, in a year beset by catastrophic injuries, Towns' ability to stay on the court cannot be underestimated.
After a slow start to the season, Jokic has been on fire since returning from an ankle injury. He's produced three triple-doubles in his last 15 games. Last week's monster 29-point, 13-rebound, 14-assist line against the Thunder could well be the line of the year.
Bazemore rates as one of fantasy basketballs most underrated producers. Like his ex-running mate Draymond Green, Bazemore does a little of everything (4.0 REB, 3.6 AST). His current Player Rater ranking (45) outpaces his ADP by over 60 slots (109.4).
Another underrated player, Covington notches elite status in both 3s and steals. Covington is only averaging 10.7 shots per game, but a healthy 7.1 of those attempts come from downtown.
Future 1+1+1 players
While these players aren't quite ready for full membership in the 1+1+1 club, consider these "interns" among those talents to keep an eye on, especially in dynasty/keeper leagues:
Tatum is already coming perilously close to 1+1+1 in his rookie season -- his age-19 season.
Another ADP All-Star, Richardson is outproducing his ADP by over 100 slots.
You know what Gordon's lines are beginning to resemble? Early Shawn Marion. For you young people, "early Shawn Marion" is fantasy-speak for "budding top-5 monster."
I'm looking for Chriss to make a strong push for true 1+1+1 status in the days following All-Star Weekend.
Andrew Wiggins, SG/SF, Minnesota Timberwolves: (1.4 3PG, 1.1 STL, 0.6 BLK)
I've expended many pixels belaboring Wiggins' points-driven, one-dimensionality in past columns. A player with his sublime athletic gifts should be on the 1+1+1 Board of Directors. So, in the spirit of equal time, I want to finish up by pointing out Wiggins has made some improvements in terms of pushing away from being an "empty points" player.