StrategyAugust 29, 2006

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Waiver Wire Alchemy
Turning Free Agents into Fantasy Gold

By Sam Clemens

Alchemy was a mystical chemistry of the Middle Ages, a “black art” practiced by wild-eyed zealots who sought to transform base elements into gold, which is also an apt description for diehard fantasy managers searching the waiver wire for early season value. Finding a free agent or two who performs like a mid-round draft choice can be a crucial element in a winning fantasy squad, and as important as value-based drafting and quality trading.

During the 05-06 season, David West, Boris Diaw, Raja Bell, Delonte West and others emerged to create significant value for managers lucky (or skillful) enough to pick them up. In this article, I’ll reveal the secret to finding the next great free agent. The secret is there is no secret, but there may be a few tricks.

Let’s break down three surprising performances from Week 1 of the 05-06 season:

Chris Duhon – PG (Chc vs. Cha [OT] 11/2/05): 38 min, 18 Pts, 10 Reb, 12 Ast, 2 Stls, 0 Blk, 2 TO, 5-9 FG, 2-3 3pt, and 6-8 FT.
Delonte West – PG (Bos vs. NY; 11/2/05): 41 min, 14 Pts, 9 Reb, 9 Ast, 3 Stl, 4 Blk, 1 TO, 5-9 FG, 0-3 3pt, and 4-6 FT.
Voshon Lenard – SG (Den vs. Por; 11/4/05): 30 min, 17 Pts, 10 Reb, 8 Ast, 2 Stls, 1 Blk, 2 TO, 8-18 FG, 1-5 3pt, and 0-2 FT.

None of these players had the top fantasy performance of their games, as that honor went to Gerald Wallace, Paul Pierce, and Marcus Camby respectively. Still, whenever a waiver wire guy puts up a triple-double, or even close to it, he deserves a second look. What then, if anything, can we learn from the above one game performances?

Chris Duhon – My first reaction to seeing this line was — Chris Duhon? The scrub from Duke is an NBA triple-double guy? Something’s not right here. He can’t be that good, can he? I saw the numbers, but was simply not prepared to make the mental leap. My reasoning: “It was an OT game so the stats were inflated.” Still, it was a triple-double, not something to take lightly early in the season when roles are often being defined. My decision: Take a wait and see approach because Chicago is loaded with quality guards. I waited and, sure enough, he’d been picked up in both my leagues by the next morning.

Delonte West – Hmm, this one was interesting. At the time, I knew less about Delonte than Duhon. I did some quick research and recalled he was Jameer Nelson’s sidekick on the undefeated St. Joe’s team, a team I’d never followed until I saw them lose in the NCAA tournament. Here’s a kid almost putting up a triple-double with nice defensive stats… crazy. I went deeper into the box score and two things jumped out at me: four offensive rebounds and four blocked shots. Four blocked shots!?!?!? Even a blind squirrel finds the occasional nut, but four blocked shots by an unknown PG struck me as too unusual to be sheer luck. My decision: I didn’t have enough information about Delonte to explain why his performance could be a fluke and I didn’t see any names on the Boston roster that would keep a talented young guy down, so I pulled the trigger and picked him up thirty minutes after the game ended.

Voshon Lenard – As a Nuggets fan, I had some insight into the team situation and I had no sense Lenard would parlay this one strong performance into a long-term starting role and consistent production. I had enough data on his prior NBA career to know I’d need to see more than one good game to consider him for a roster spot. My decision: Leave him in the free agent pool.

I ended up dropping Delonte after his early season injury, but picked him up again before his return to game action. He turned out to be a steal. Duhon put up better early season numbers than I expected so it was a missed opportunity. Voshon quickly climbed back into George Karl’s doghouse and was eventually shipped off to Trailblazer oblivion.

Another valuable free agent I identified early and grabbed, was Boris Diaw. This time not from a box score, but rather an article in a Phoenix paper I linked to from a fantasy hoops news site. The article described a young player with freakishly good skills turning heads in every Suns practice. In the article, Mike D’Antoni said there was no way he’d be able to keep Diaw off the floor because he was just too good. I glanced at a few box scores, considered it for about ten seconds, then picked up Diaw on speculation a week or two before he hit it big.

A well-executed draft and crafty trades can give you a great team, but don’t forget to look for the talented players who emerge every season. Information is power in fantasy sports, so pursue it wherever possible, including box scores, player/team updates, value calculators, expert columns, and of course, the forums at the Fantasy Basketball Cafe.

The author is a moderator of The FBC Octagon league.

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