From: Charlie Zegers
To: Justin Phan
Sent: Sun, December 6, 2009 6:10:55 PM
Has enough time passed since Greg Oden's grisly knee injury that we can start talking about fantasy implications? Too soon? OK, I'll start by talking about the injury itself… where does that clip rate on the "painful to watch" scale? I rank it somewhere between Shaun Livingston and Joe Theisman. And like just about every NBA voice has said so far, I feel just awful for the kid, and sincerely hope he can come back from this latest setback and become the player we all thought he'd be. The worst part is, we were just starting to see him reach that potential; he had 13 points, 20 boards and four blocks in 30 minutes against Miami on December 1st, in what would turn out to be his next-to-last game of the season.
That out of the way...
As anyone with the slightest familiarity with Portland's roster knows, the loss of Oden means Joel Przybilla's stock goes through the roof. (Of course, as Przybilla's owner in the Yahoo! Friends and Family league, you're well aware of this.) But what if you're an Oden owner and Przybilla isn't available? (He is owned in 28% of Yahoo! leagues as of Sunday night - I expect that number to rise, especially after what's likely to be an impressive fantasy performance against the Knicks on Monday.)
For me, the question is more about philosophy than individual player evaluations. When you lose a player like Chris Paul, you're screwed. Even leagues shallower than my kids' back yard inflatable pool don't have viable replacements for CP3 on the wire.
Losing a guy like Oden is different. At this stage of his career, lofty (#24) player rank in Yahoo! leagues aside, he's a boards/blocks specialist, though his shooting percentages are very good (.605 from the floor, .766 from the line). When you lose a specialist like Oden, what's your next move? Do you look to fill the open roster spot with the best-available shot blocker? (Are we going to see a run on the Ronny Turiafs of the world in the next few days?) Or are you more inclined to just fill the spot with the best warm body you can find, regardless of that player's strengths and weaknesses?
(Personally, I usually look to replace positions with positions - I don't want to get caught without a sufficient number of centers on my team - but if I have to replace a shot-blocker with a better-balanced player, so be it. In a head-to-head league, where you might build to try and dominate five or six categories, replacing production in those key categories is obviously paramount.)
The other issue raised by Oden's injury - it seems the trade market is starting to heat up. Portland is really short-handed - with Oden, Travis Outlaw, Rudy Fernandez, Patty Mills and Jeff Pendergraph all hurt and fifteen players under contract, the Blazers have zero flexibility right now. They might be forced to cut a deal. Meanwhile, there were strong rumors floating late last week about a potential Knicks/Bulls trade involving Al Harrington and Tyrus Thomas.
Thomas strikes me as a guy with tremendous potential, but one who's never really gotten along with management in Chicago. Could he be one of those guys who doesn't really emerge as an elite player until he's on his second team? (There are tons of examples, but Gilbert Arenas and Jermaine O'Neal are the names that spring immediately to mind.)
On the other hand, as a New York fan I'm terrified of any deal between the Knicks and Bulls, as two such trades brought Jamal Crawford and Eddy Curry to New York.
Any other players you think need a change of scenery before they become roster-worthy?
From: Justin Phan
Sent: Wednesday, December 09, 2009 3:03 AM
To: Charlie Zegers
Subject: Re: Oden
It wasn't so much the graphic nature of the injury itself that cut the deepest. It was the entire aftermath and the context in which it occurred. Is there another franchise that has had to endure as much as the Blazers have this season? Not only have they had to deal with major injuries to key rotation players -- Nicolas Batum (torn labrum; 3-5 months), Travis Outlaw (stress fracture; 3-5 months) -- but they have also had to cope with owner Paul Allen and assistant coach Maurice Lucas battling cancer. Now Oden is out for the year, coach Nate McMillan ruptured his Achilles' tendon, AND Rudy Fernandez is out 4-6 weeks? My heart goes out to Blazer nation.
By the way, I am going to lose it if I hear another Sam Bowie comparison.
It's rather obvious that Joel Przybilla gets a nice bump in value here as Oden's replacement, but there's much more to it than that. This has major implications for Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, who if you recall, were rather unhappy with how many touches Greg Oden was commanding in the post prior to his injury. They will now get the opportunity to dominate possession and get more than their fair share of opportunties on the offensive end. In other words, buy low while you can.
Juwan Howard hardly qualifies as 'frontcourt depth' so expect general manager Kevin Pritchard to test the waters and see what he can reel in with an Andre Miller/Jerryd Bayless package. The whole Miller signing hasn't really worked out for Portland as his presence has forced McMillan's hand to play a three-guard set that costs the squad more on the defensive end than it helps on offense.
There's no doubt you're screwed if a guy like Chris Paul goes down with an injury, but I still think you grossly understated how screwed you are. You wouldn't even be close to getting an equal return on your investment if Jason Kidd was on your waiver wire, let alone a Chris Duhon or Mike Conley-type. We could discuss the extent to which CP3 dominates the fantasy hoops landscape for a whole column if we wanted to. I would never advocate giving up on a team because of a few unforseen challenges, but I definitely wouldn't expect an owner who lost a guy like CP3, Dirk, LeBron, Durant, or Kobe to a season-ending injury to win his/her league.
I only own Oden in one of many leagues (our staff keeper), but you're right -- his loss is certainly unfortunate, but it is definitely manageable. My advice to Oden owners would be to assess your team's status in three areas: blocks, rebounds, and field-goal percentage. These are the only three categories that Oden was providing positive, above-average contributions in. Pay special attention to blocks though because of these positive contributions, 51.5 percent of them was coming from his 2.3 BPG alone. If your team averages 0.8-1 block per game then you're probably fine settling with a guy off the waivers, but anything less than that and you should seriously be considering a trade (unless you're punting blocks of course). It obviously varies and is more of a case-to-case, team-by-team call, but that's the best 'universal' advice that I can offer at this point. Pryzbilla has kind of become a necessary Oden handcuff at this point, and I can only hope that Oden owners recognized this and covered their bases heading into the season.
Tyrus Thomas could definitely benefit from a change of scenery, but that's really only half of the problem at this stage in his career. He is a very poor fit alongside Joakim Noah in that neither is a really powerful bruiser who can handle opposing bigs in the mold of a Carlos Boozer. Pair him alongside a bigger post player and I have no doubt that he'd be able to crack the 2 BPG barrier. His offensive game is absolutely broke though. He has no post game, can't create his own shots, and often times settles for the worst shot possible -- the long two. That part of it is on him, which is why I haven't and am not going to strongly endorse him as a breakout candidate (no matter where he is) until I see that part of his game improve.
From: Charlie Zegers
To: Justin Phan
Sent: Wed, December 9, 2009 4:16:35 AM
Subject: RE: Oden
Sure, "handcuffing" Oden and Przybilla would have made sense - but is handcuffing a practical strategy in NBA leagues? For readers who aren't familiar with the term - "handcuffing" means drafting the backup of a key player, in case that player misses time due to injury. It's a strategy most often used in fantasy NFL leagues, primarily with running backs.
But fantasy NFL rosters are, for the most part, much larger than fantasy NBA rosters, where a standard league typically allows for just three "bench" players. Does it make sense to use one of those bench spots on a player who only has value if a regular gets hurt?
That aside, the reason that handcuffing works with NFL running backs is that, for the most part, when one guy gets hurt, his backup picks up most of the slack. If Adrian Peterson misses a game, it's reasonable to expect Chester Taylor to get the bulk of his carries. When a key NBA player gets hurt, that doesn't necessarily mean his backup will get more shots. As you point out in Oden's case - the injury probably means more touches for Roy and Aldridge.
I see that as one of the weaknesses of fantasy NBA in general - there's no good way to recover from an injury to a key player. We talk about how often teams get abandoned during the year - I bet a lot of the teams that get abandoned this year will be the ones that used their first-round pick on Danny Granger, who's out for at least a month with a torn plantar fascia. Those teams might be able to pick up a Dahntay Jones and make a go of it, but Jones is no Granger. And besides, Jones got picked up in lots of leagues earlier this season, when it seemed he'd pass Brandon Rush on the shooting guard depth chart.
This happens every year. Last year Caron Butler disappeared for weeks on end with no real explanation. The year before it was Yao Ming. And while you can plan for injuries to some degree - avoiding players like Manu Ginobili and Marcus Camby and Yao, who seem to get hurt every year, there's no way to avoid injuries entirely. Best you can do is hope they're distributed evenly in your league.
It'll be interesting to see what the Blazers can do. I don't think they want to give up on Miller, though it seems clear Brandon Roy doesn't like playing with him at all. And Bayless wants out, though that may change if he starts getting playing time with Fernandez on the shelf. You think Bayless is worth a roster spot at this point, based on increased playing time in Portland and/or the possibility of a bigger role on another team?
I agree with your assessment of Thomas, and I think it extends to the offensive end. I haven't seen many Bulls games this season, but from what I remember, you could add Thomas' range to Noah's and still not get to ten feet. That being the case, I'm not sure how much a trade to New York would really help - on defense, he'd have the same problem playing alongside David Lee that he has now with Noah. But he might find himself with a little more room to operate offensively, since the Knicks have so many "spread the floor" guys. Maybe he's a better version of Jared Jeffries. But I don't see how the Knicks - who are finally starting to look like a professional basketball team - can give up Al Harrington right now in return for a defensive specialist.
From: Justin Phan
Sent: Thursday, December 10, 2009 3:27 PM
To: Charlie Zegers
Subject: Re: Oden
Handcuffing in hoops leagues is more situational than anything. It makes more sense in deeper ROTO formats where you can stash a player on the bench without having to play him on a daily basis. Sure, the workload and touches has to do with why handcuffing a Joel Pryzbilla is not as viable as handcuffing a Jamaal Charles or LeSean McCoy, but it goes a bit deeper than that. In football a player's value is measured in yards and touchdowns (PPR excluded). So unless you're a RB sporting an anemic sub-3.8 YPC then you should be at least rosterable with a decent amount of carries. That's not the case with hoops though, where players are evaluated on a eight-to-nine category basis. Grabbing eight boards and blocking a shot per game won't cut it if you're not providing any other counting stats to supplement it. That's where potential handcuffs often go awry -- their games aren't well-rounded enough to fully capitalize on the opportunities presented to them when the player their behind of on the depth chart goes down with an injury.
Folks can complain all they want about the complexity behind the hoops scoring system and how it is too difficult to follow/manage, but that's exactly why I prefer hoops to football. It requires more than reciting how many yards and touchdowns a player totaled in a given week. It requires more time, more research, and a higher level of analysis that makes winning leagues all the more rewarding.