StrategyDecember 15, 2008

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Down, But Not Out

By Aleksandar Jovanovic

We’ve passed the quarter mark of the NBA regular season and fantasy leagues are in full swing. Enough games have been played to give us a pretty good idea of most players’ values and what to expect from them for the rest of the way, so trading should be much easier and much less risky than few weeks ago. If you find yourself at the bottom of the standings, this is the perfect time to make a few moves and retool. If you were hit by injuries like me, don’t just give up, take it as a challenge and try to stay in playoff contention until you get your players back. We’re going take a look at how you can salvage your season in head-to-head leagues.

There are three main reasons why you can find yourself down:

- Injuries to key contributors. There haven’t been many “devastating” injuries to top picks, but quite a few good and solid players have missed significant time already.
- Drafting high picks who underachieved so far (Marion, Brand…).
- Bad team cohesion (or none at all). Meaning you tried to be good in too many categories but ended up near average or worse in almost all cats without excelling in any. This can result in getting regularly beaten by GMs that have built cohesive teams.

So, how to efficiently retool in head-to-head leagues?

First of all you need a clear strategy. Some people like to tank some cats during the draft, others like to try and be competitive in all of them, while some just draft best player available without much thought about team cohesion. All three approaches can be successful (some of them more often than others though), but if you find yourself down and decide to retool there’s only one way to do it and that’s strategy number one – tanking certain cats in order to improve in others.

Here we need to define term “value” for the rest of the article. Value will stand for players’ contributions in a certain category or in all categories combined. So if I say you need to trade blocks in order to get some value in different areas, that means making moves (trades or pickups) where you receive fewer blocks than you give up, but in return you get more contributions in some other categories.

The basic idea is to concentrate all of your value on a certain set of categories where you have best chance of winning and completely ignore all remaining ones (this is called building on your strengths). For instance, if you are tanking blocks you need to try to trade every single player who contributes anything here (in the case of blocks anything would be 0.5 and above). Your ability to do this depends on the overall value of your team, because you can not expect to gain much value through trades (if any; many times you will be forced to give up more value then you receive, just to get the trade done). Trades will help you redistribute the value you already have, more efficiently. Considering the importance of trading to this problem you should make sure you went through my earlier article Trading – Rules of Engagement.

In order to come up with a good strategy (set of cats you’ll try to win) you need to do a thorough analysis of your team and decide what are your strongest cats, compared to the rest of the league and what are the cats that you have absolutely no chance of winning with your current roster. Yahoo leagues have a very nice tool that can help you here – head to head stats (totals); it shows combined stats that every team has generated up to that point, much like in roto league, so this can give you a good idea of where you are compared to the rest of your league and what your potential strengths are. Those who don’t have this tool available in their leagues will have to do it manually. Next step is to decide how many cats you have to tank. This will depend on overall value of your team and on league settings (number of cats, teams, players per team…). I can’t give you a general formula here because it depends on league settings so much, but you have to go for enough cats to win every week (you can’t make the play-offs by losing), but at the same time you have to be careful not to spread your value too thin (over too many cats). In standard 9 cat leagues you can go for 5, 6, or 7 cats. Only GMs that were originally trying to win all 9 cats and whose problems come from lack of team cohesion, rather then overall lack of value can afford to go for 7 cats. Teams that are hit hard by injuries and underachievers should probably go for 5 cats because they don’t have the value needed to go for more. All others should try to go for 6 cats. If you think you can beef up in the needed number of cats and still have some tradable assets left, you can try to get at least some contributions in one of cats you were planning on tanking, so you can beat those who are completely tanking that cat, but as I already said you need to make sure you aren’t spreading your value too thin.

After you figure out what your strengths are and how many cats you need to win, usually it is much easier to decide on which cats to concentrate, but in some cases it’s still not an easy decision. Players that contribute in cats you decided to tank need to be moved and that can lead to further complications. Here’s an example:

Let’s say you decided to tank rebounds and you need to trade Andris Biedrins, but you still want to win blocks. One problem can be finding players who contribute in blocks but not in rebounds (since there are not many players who fit into that description and you probably already own most of them which made you take that route in the first place). Another problem can be getting near fair value in return for Biedrins since he is greatly outplaying his ADP (average draft position), and people are generally reluctant to pay fair price for players like that as I explained in Trading – Rules of Engagement article.

Conclusion: sometimes you need to try to build up weaker cat and tank stronger one because of the trade values of players you own and the way those cats influence other cats you are targeting. Some good combos to target: 3ptm+ft%, blk+reb+fg%, ast+ft%, pts+fgm. Some difficult combos: ast-to, fg%+ft%, pts+to.

Last step is implementing the strategy you came up with and it can be most amusing or most frustrating depending on a league’s activity level. Since you’ll probably need to make at least one or two major trades this can turn into a nightmare if your opponents are too trigger shy. You probably won’t have an easy time coming up with a trade scenario that benefits both you and your opponent, so it can be extremely frustrating to have it rejected with no explanation at all. What you need to do in that situation is to try to rework the deal and give him some additional incentive to accept, while sending him a comment to go along with the offer explaining why you think this is a good trade for both of you. In your situation trades that fit into your strategy are even more important than usual and you need to do your best to get them done, so it’s worth trying it again with added minor incentives and trying to engage the other GM in conversation. His response will give you a clear picture of if there is any hope for this scenario. At the same time, you need to start working on alternative scenarios because majority of trades that get rejected without any return comment are dead. On the other hand if your opponents are normal communicative people you can have fun negotiating and making trades that are mutually beneficial.

Here are some tips that can facilitate this process. Cats I like to target in situations like these are ft%, fg%, and tos, because in every H2H league there are few teams that are tanking each one of them which makes coming up with mutually beneficial trades easier. Another 2 cats that are interesting are ast and blk because contributions in these cats are very concentrated. League leaders in these cats are over 4 times better than the average player and there are fewer noteworthy contributors in these 2 cats than in any other. This means that by having several top 10 or top 20 contributors in those cats (depending on league size) will make you one of the top teams in it. Blocks are especially good cat to target because there are some cheap contributors that can help push you over the top if there’s need, while most players who provide assists can’t be had cheap. As I already said, rebounds are not easy to ignore if you are going for blocks. Ditching points can help you with %s if you can secure 1 or 2 relatively high volume high percentage shooters (form the field and from the free throw line at the same time) to anchor your %s, and then trade away as many points as possible so that none of your remaining players can have too much of an effect on your team’s %s.

Coming up with trades should be easier because you know exactly what you need out of them, but sometimes you can only improve one or 2 cats through a trade, so you should list all of your tradable assets and then try to work out several smaller deals rather than one or 2 big ones. Also when trying to improve in a certain cat, try to come up with several trades right away so if your first choice gets rejected you can immediately proceed with the next one. Finally you don’t have to trade absolutely every player who contributes in any of the cats you’re ignoring. If his wasted contribution isn’t too big (so it doesn’t account for majority of his value) and you can’t find a trade that makes up for all the positives he brings to your team, then it’s better to keep him. Ideally though, you want to trade as much of those wasted contributions as possible.

In the end let me just say this, no matter how bad things look try not to give up on your team. Do your best to build on your strengths and stay competitive. It will make you a better player for the coming seasons and it will earn you the respect of your opponents because everyone wants to play against a GM who is communicative and does not give up. And even if you decide that there’s nothing you can do so you want to quit trying to improve, at least make sure to set up your roster every week and allow other GMs in the league to have fair competition, because fantasy basketball is all about fair play and having fun.

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