StrategyDecember 24, 2008

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Risk Assessment in Fantasy Basketball

By Adam Laforet

The most commonly asked question in fantasy hoops has got to be, Do I make that move? The answer has everything to do with the risk of the move and where your team is at.

All season long we look at trade offers, make trade offers, and spend hours (some of us) pouring over the waiver wire looking for even a small advantage. Every now and then you get a gift from the fantasy gods in the form of a too-good-to-be-true trade offer or a waiver wire pick-up that turns out to be a complete steal. Although, that is not hot it goes most of the time. More often than not, it’s scratching and clawing for even a small advantage. How you answer the above question depends on a lot of different variables, but in essence you need to answer this simple question, How much trouble am I in? Here, we’re going discuss troubled teams and risk assessment for non-keeper head-to-head leagues.

Every roster move you make involves at least some risk. Even a fair trade for healthy and reliable players has some inherent risk. Will those new guys stay healthy? Will they continue to produce? Those risks are minor and not really what we want to look at here. The kind of moves we’re going to talk about are the type of moves that can make you shudder a little bit. Those speculative waiver adds or trades for injured or prospect players are moves where you’re trying for a home run and not a base hit. Deciding to pull the trigger on moves like those requires a different kind of analysis.

Analysisyou say, that sounds like it could be time consuming and boring. Well yes, but I’m not talking about player analysis, not yet anyway, but rather a more general roster and league analysis which is where you need to start. This is where you decide how much trouble you’re in. The good news is that it won’t take you long and it isn’t complicated.

First, you need to look at where you are in the standings. The goal in most head-to-head leagues is to make the playoffs, so you need to have a clear idea how much you’ll need to improve in order to make the cut. The farther out of the playoffs you are, the more likely you should be to make a bold move of some sort, or more specifically, the more risk you should be willing to allow in your moves. This needs to shaded by the injury history of your squad as well. Are you in the basement because you drafted poorly or because two of your best players have been out with injuries? If injuries is the answer, you aren’t in the same kind of hurry to hit that home run, provided you expect to get your players back soon (think Boozer, not Arenas here). The closer that the playoffs get, the quicker you’ll need to move.

Second, you need to look at your record and player production by week and decide if your team is trending up or down. If you did well early based on some surprise production but are tailing off now that those players are coming back to earth then you’re in more trouble than if your better players are slowly getting back to form. You should also look at strength of schedule here; the worse the teams you’ve been playing the more trouble you’re in. Simply put, have you been winning more games recently than you were earlier in the season and why. The bigger the downward trend here the more risks you’ll want to take to improve your team.

Now, you should have an idea how much trouble you’re in. What about the risks? If you’re in dire need, you can start to consider certain types of moves that wouldn’t make any sense if your team was winning. More importantly, you need to make those moves before it’s too late to salvage your season. The question now is what changes need to be made about your approach to your team. This applies in a couple of key areas.

Your approach to adding players from the waiver wire needs to change. Generally, it’s good policy to take a cautious approach to waiver adds. If a player gets traded, you might normally give him a game or two to see how he pans out. You’re past that now though. Now you want to add that player as soon as you read about the trade. A winning team waits on waiver pickups because they don’t want to drop a steady mid-range player for a potential bust. A team in trouble won’t be saved by steady mid-range play though. A team in trouble needs to be first on the wire because they need that home run and they can afford the risk inherent in adding that player, sight unseen. This applies to injured players on the wire as well. A team in trouble can afford to pick up that injured player earlier and with less information about his return date. So long as you think the player will be back in time to help you make the playoffs.

Coaching changes and roster changes can also affect player production. If your team’s in trouble, you can be more liberal in adding players whom you feel will see increased playing time or a larger role. Your waiver moves won’t all work out of course, and a troubled team might need to be quicker to cut ties with a failed experiment. You don’t have quite the same luxury to wait and see and you may need to make a cut if something else turns up. Don’t be too hasty, but keep in mind that time is of the essence and you need to improve now, or at least in time to make playoffs.

Your approach to trading will change in much the same way as your approach to the waiver wire. Teams in trouble can take more risks trading for prospects. You should be more willing to trade for certain types of injured players for example, but again, only if they aren’t out long term. Players experiencing a noticeable dip in production are good targets too, such as Samuel Dalembert. Recently traded players or players you suspect might be traded in the near future.

Perhaps the biggest change in your strategy should be to target guys who are filling in for injured players. Players like John Salmons, Marquis Daniels, Jose Juan Barea, or Paul Millsap, you get the idea. Why do you want these guys though? You want them because they’re often available at a decent price as other General Managers try to ‘sell high’ on them. Teams in trouble have a finite amount of time to make the playoffs and they need to worry first about making the playoffs, and only then about how well they’ll do once they’re there. That means that they can benefit a lot from the temporary help players like these can provide. You don’t want to add too many players in this category, but adding one or two can be a great idea.

In general, if your team is in trouble you need to be willing to make decisions more quickly and based on less information then normal. You can afford to take more risks with injured players, traded players, and players who rate to see increased playing time or touches. The moves you want to make actually aren’t different than normal pick-ups, you just need to make them a couple of days or a week earlier than you normally would. If you can be the first guy on the wire or the first guy with a decent offer for the right player, you stand the best chance of turning your team around. The worse your team is, the more of these risks you can afford to take.

Now that know you need to retool, go and read Aleksandar Jovanovic’s article Down, But Not Out, which has a host of great ideas about exactly how to best retool your roster.

Adam Laforet is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Adam in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of Fenris-77.
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