StrategyOctober 14, 2008

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The Art of Handcuffing

By Phil Londen

Of the various strategies involved in fantasy basketball, handcuffing players is one that many managers do not utilize to its full potential. Handcuffing in its most common form can be defined as the strategy of drafting an injury-prone player and his backup on the same team. This can be viewed as a type of injury insurance when drafting injury-prone players. In addition, it allows you to draft a valuable injury-prone player that other managers are passing on due to the concern that he could miss games. The quintessential example of this last season would be a manager who drafted TJ Ford in the middle of the draft and grabbed Jose Calderon with one of their last few picks. When Ford went down, the wise manager who handcuffed Ford and Calderon simply plugged Calderon into his roster and did not miss out on valuable production. This basic type of handcuffing, “injury-prone handcuffing,” is the most prevalent of handcuffing strategies employed today in fantasy basketball.

A slight variant of “injury-prone handcuffing” occurs with an offseason injury to a fantasy stud that happened before you draft your team. In this case, you knowingly draft an injured stud and their fill-in. Depending upon the quality of the fill-in, he can usually be dumped when the previously-injured starter returns to full form. It sometimes may require reaching a round to nab the fill-in in order to insure that the injured stud does not handicap your team too much. This type of handcuffing can be referred to as “injured-stud handcuffing.” An example of this last season would be a manager who drafted Elton Brand and Chris Kaman on the same team banking on the fact that Kaman would fill Brand’s undeniably large fantasy shoes until he returned to full form. Managers who did this were rewarded immensely for their foresight — Brand ended up missing a large portion of the season, and Kaman had a great fantasy year in his stead. This technique can also be used with players who are serving suspensions at the beginning of the season.

Another situation where it is a good idea to employ handcuffing strategies is in position battles. When two guys are battling it out for the starting spot on an NBA team, it sometimes takes a couple of weeks for a clear-cut winner to emerge. Thus, if you draft both players, you insure that you will gain the production from that NBA team’s starting position on your fantasy squad. By the time the battle is over, you can dump the loser of the battle for the flavor of the week waiver wire pickup. This is what I have dubbed “position battle handcuffing.” The downside of position battle handcuffing is when two players never resolve the battle and end up in the dreaded platoon situation. In a platoon situation, two or more players share minutes and effectively cancel out each other’s fantasy value. For an example of this, see Luke Ridnour and Earl Watson throughout most of last season. If you find yourself in the feared platoon situation, it might make sense to cut your losses and go after two hot free agent pickups.

So the question is, when is it wise to handcuff a player? First of all, handcuffing is only effective when there is a clear-cut backup player who will be given the minutes that the starter would have had. In the case of Gerald Wallace last season, it was unclear who would gain the most from Wallace going down because he is such a versatile player and played both forward positions. The backup forwards were also not the most alluring of options. In this case, it made no sense to handcuff Wallace to a player that may or may not gain Wallace’s minutes and production if he went down. Second, handcuffing is generally utilized more frequently in rotisserie leagues, where the bench players play less of a role from day to day. However, handcuffing can be utilized in head to head leagues as well. Generally, handcuffing in head to head can be used in cases of extremely injury prone players, a league with weekly lineup changes, or a league with extremely deep benches. These are some of the basic things to consider when deciding whether or not to employ a handcuffing strategy.

Below are some suggestions of pairs of players that could be handcuffed together. They are divided by the type of handcuffing strategy.

Injury-Prone Handcuffing Possibilities:
• TJ Ford and Jarrett Jack
• Carlos Boozer and Paul Millsap
• Yao Ming and Luis Scola
• Jermaine O’Neal and Andrea Bargnani
• Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla

Injured-Stud Handcuffing Possibilities:
• Gilbert Arenas and Antonio Daniels
• Monta Ellis and Marcus Williams
• Brad Miller and Spencer Hawes (suspension)

Position Battle Handcuffing Possibilities:
• Luke Ridnour and Ramon Sessions
• Jason Maxiell and Amir Johnson
• Mike Conley, Jr. and Kyle Lowry

Phil Londen is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Phil in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of plonden.
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