Trade Deadline Strategy
The fantasy trade deadline is either here or around the corner for most fantasy leagues, so now is the time to make your last-minute deals to push for the prize. With that in mind, let's make a last-minute-deal checklist of things to consider before you put together that championship-caliber move to stun your league.
1) What do you need? The trade deadline for my keeper league was Tuesday night, and I ended up making two deals under the wire. All told, I traded Dwight Howard, Tyson Chandler and two future mid-round picks (3rd and 4th rounders) for Josh Smith, Andre Iguodala and Ray Allen. The biggest thing I had to do before trading was to identify my team's strengths and weaknesses. It's a rotisserie league, and I'm firmly slotted into my position in field-goal percentage, points, and rebounds. I have some potential to pick up or lose points in 3-pointers, assists, steals, blocks and free-throw percentage. Now, Howard is absolutely on a tear at the moment - he's the reigning Eastern Conference player of the month, he's been a walking 30-20 threat for the last few weeks and hasn't even been as horrid from the line as he usually is. But here's the thing: he was essentially useless to me. Outside of blocked shots, I was slotted in place in all of his main areas of strength (points, boards, FG%) so he was doing nothing for me. The same is true, to a lesser extent, for Chandler. Thus, I identified them as players on my team that had value but that I could move (like the draft picks, which I had stockpiled earlier in the season). On the other hand, I really wanted players that could help me in my areas of need. And there weren't many options better for assists, steals, FT% and 3s than Iguodala and Allen. With Smith there to at least diminish my blocked shots loss, these deals made a lot of sense for my team.
Moral to the story: it doesn't matter how good a player is, or even how good he might be playing, if what he is contributing isn't helping your team anymore. This is especially true in roto leagues, but in roto head-to-head leagues like Yahoo! runs, the same concept can still apply. Check out the 'Head-to-Head Stats' link on the main league page, and it'll tell you what categories you're winning and losing every week. If you're overloaded in some areas and can afford to trade from there, or if you have a big-time need, or even if you're reasonable in an area but want to overload to ensure you win those categories in the playoffs. Whatever your motivation, it's best to really examine your team so you can decide the optimal strategy for you at the deadline.
2) What are your fellow owners' motivations? In the trades I mention above, the owner I dealt with was more concerned with the future than the present since he wasn't convinced he could win this year. Thus, young keepers like Howard and Chandler and draft picks were more important for him than for me, while expiring contracts like Iguodala and vets like Ray Allen were less valuable to him. Knowing this made our trade process smoother. By now you have a general idea who the favorites, the contenders and the fringe teams are in your league. The favorites may be less likely to trade because they're enjoying the status quo, but the contenders and borderline playoff squads are likely to want to make moves to catch up with the favorites. The teams that don't have much chance may not even be paying much attention anymore, and in good conscience probably shouldn't be traded with. On the other hand, if you have no morals and want to win by any means, a struggling team might not drive as hard of a bargain (if you can get them to the table)... I'm not suggesting you do it, I'm just saying.
3) Who do you trust? Player health is just as important as player quality when it comes to making a stretch run. It doesn't matter how good a player is, if he's stuck watching from the sideline. A couple of weeks ago I had the flu and could barely finish a column or get up to go to work. Likewise, an NBA player that is sick or hurt is either going to struggle or else sit out just when you don't want him to. Obviously there is no crystal ball, but generally players that get hurt are more likely to get hurt again while the ironmen are also ironmen for a reason. I traded Howard, but history tells me he pretty much never gets hurt. So if not for my team needs, I absolutely would trust him on my team. If you glance at last year's games played leaders, you'll see names like Kevin Durant, Nene Hilario, Brook Lopez, Andre Miller, Paul Millsap, Lamar Odom, Luis Scola, Russell Westbrook and Amar'e Stoudemire among those that played all 82 games. On the other hand, guys like Andrew Bynum, Chris Paul, Danny Granger, Manu Ginobili and Kevin Martin have had major games missed in recent years. And players like Stephen Curry and Michael Beasley have had recurring nagging injuries this year. These are things to keep in mind when considering who you want to depend on for the most important time in your season.
4) Revving up vs slowing down: As I've mentioned before, the length of the NBA season dictates that players tend to have peaks and valleys in their play as the season progresses. We're done with the "Dog days" of January and February, and are now entering what I would call "money time". Players are either preparing for the playoffs, preparing for the lottery, or preparing for their future roles. For better or for worse, these things do tend to affect player motivation and/or team philosophy as we go down the stretch. I tend to expect veterans on playoff teams, young players on lottery teams, and guys in contract years/position battles to ramp up their production while vets on lottery teams, rookies on contenders and injured players on lottery teams either slow or shut down. But every situation is different, so be careful just blindly applying these "rules". Here are some examples.
In Cleveland, I expected young and hungry Ramon Sessions to eventually out-produce former All Star Mo Williams down the stretch. Then, the Cavs traded Williams for Baron Davis, an even more veteran player with a history of playing to his motivation level. Thus, in this platoon I would feel more comfortable trading for Sessions and trading Baron away. I have mentioned before I didn't trust Antawn Jamison, another veteran on the lowly Cavs, and sure enough he has gone down for the season with a fractured left little finger.
Now, let's look at two veteran contending teams: the Spurs and the Celtics. Both are older teams that are on top of their respective conferences, but the situations are different and are personified by their older franchise players. The Spurs have a five-game cushion over the No. 2 Mavs in the West, and a seven-game lead over the No. 3 Lakers. Their entire starting five had been healthy for every game this year, then suddenly Tony Parker injured himself and is out for the next few weeks. While they can't completely take their foot off the gas, I'd expect the vets on the Spurs might start conserving themselves a bit in preparation for the postseason. And if you look at the last five games for Tim Duncan you see his scoring is similar, his rebounds are down slightly, his assists are down slightly, and his other numbers are right around what he's been doing all season. On the other hand, the Celtics are in a 3-team scrum for the top seed in the East with the Heat and Bulls only two games back in the loss column. Plus, they lost last year in the game 7 of the Finals because they lacked home court advantage. I'd have to think they're pushing hard right now to finish strong. Sure enough, over his last five games Kevin Garnett is averaging 17 points, 12 boards, more than three assists and three combined steals and blocks - all well up from his season averages (and marking his first stretch of five straight double-doubles since December of 2008). It looks to me like the veteran Celtics are ramping up, while the veteran Spurs might be idling or even slowing a bit down the stretch.
Around the League
• NBA Deadline deals: Last Thursay's NBA trade deadline was the wildest I can remember. I was following the whole thing on Twitter (@ProfessorDrz), and the trades were coming so fast and furious it seemed like my Twitter feed was going to explode.
Among the interesting moves, I mentioned above that Baron Davis was traded to the Cavs in exchange for Mo Williams and Jamario Moon. I think this is a downgrade for Davis, who was clicking for the exciting young Clippers and may lose out to Ramon Sessions in Cleveland. I like this for Williams, though, who should beat out Eric Bledsoe in La La land.
Another big trade sent Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson to Oklahoma City in exchange for Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic. On the whole, the biggest effect is that Green goes from startable to barely rosterable as the back-up to Paul Pierce in Boston. Meanwhile, for the Thunder, this move should open up space for Serge Ibaka and James Harden to get more minutes and play a bigger role in the Thunder offense.
I also took note of Marcus Thornton heading to Sacramento in exchange for Carl Landry. With Tyreke Evans hurting in Sac-town, Thornton is in a perfect position to emerge as a primary scoring option.
• Big Al post-trade: Since Jerry Sloan left and Deron Williams were traded, I have been pounding the idea that maybe the Jazz would start to feature Al Jefferson more and to allow him to do more 1-on-1 scoring (his forte) as opposed to the constant pick-and-rolls (not his thing). Early indication: winning! . In his last five games, Jefferson has averaged 26.2 points on 57% shooting from the field (19.6 FGA) with 11.2 boards per game - all wELL up from his season averages. Jefferson looks like a great fantasy trade deadline acquisition to me.
• Billups has been D'Antoni'd: Another trend-watching prediction seems to be panning out, as Chauncey Billups is averaging 23.3 points (including 11.3/12.5 from the FT line per night!), 6.0 assists, 4.8 boards and 2.5 treys in his four games as the point guard in the Mike D'Antoni system. Billups bruised his thigh in his last game out, but I still say he's a great trade target. He has "top-10 roto player" written all over him right now.
• Deron in NJ: Deron Williams has averaged 15.7 assists in his three games in a Nets uniform, the most by any traded player in their first three games with a new team in NBA history. This isn't shocking, as the Nets have admitted to reconfiguring their offense to take advantage of Williams' strengths. On the flip-side he's shooting only 13-for-39 from the field (33%) and has 13 turnovers. More concerning, he has hand and wrist injuries on both sides that he admits he'd ideally need three-to-four weeks of rest to heal. I don't know what to expect down the stretch, as Williams himself was quoted as saying "I don't think the Nets traded for me to sit." On the other hand, he fits firmly into the "vet on a poor team" category, and the Nets want to impress him enough that he signs an extension with them, and they have no incentive to burn out their hopeful franchise point guard. I'm not sure, but I think I'd rather sell Williams than buy right now.
• Parker's calf: Tony Parker is expected to miss two to four weeks after straining his left calf muscle. This is awful timing for Parker owners, but if he comes closer to the two weeks out he could at least be ready for the fantasy postseason.
• Gallinari's toe: Danilo Gallinari has a broken left big toe and is expected to miss seven to 10 days. The timing isn't great for him, as he could lose valuable ground in the battle to snap up minutes in Denver post-trade. In the meantime, this news probably means an uptick for Wilson Chandler and J.R. Smith.
• Smith's knee: Josh Smith has a sprained right knee and is out against the Bulls on Wednesday. The Hawks don't seem to think the injury is serious, as they didn't even give him an MRI, but this is still worth paying attention to. He is considered questionable for Friday's game.
• Bucks big men down: Andrew Bogut is out for at least a week with a rib injury, and Ersan Ilyasova is out with a concussion. In the short term this opens up space for Larry Sanders, who started on Tuesday against the Pistons and responded with eight boards and three blocks in 30 minutes.
• Gordon's return: Eric Gordon is expected to return on Wednesday night for his first game action since injuring his wrist in late January. There is no word on whether he'll come back with any limitations, so you may have to temper your expectations a bit until he proves he's healthy enough to get his normal playing time.
• Chandler's ankle: Tyson Chandler is expected to miss at least the next two games with a sprained ankle he suffered on Tuesday night. The X-rays were negative, but ankle sprains are tricky, and he could end up being out for more than just those two games.
• Jamison's broken finger: As mentioned above, Jamison fractured his left little finger and is expected to be out for five to seven weeks after surgery. For all intents and purposes this is a season ending injury, so you can safely drop him from your team in most fantasy leagues.
• George Hill (61% owned): Hill is expected to be a beneficiary of extra minutes due to the Tony Parker calf injury. Hill didn't do much with his extra opportunity in his first game on Tuesday, scoring only six points with four assists and three boards in 27 minutes of play. Still, he is worth a follow if not a short-term add as he could still put it together.
• Marcus Thornton (44% owned): As mentioned above, Thornton is the new primary scorer in Sacramento while Tyreke Evans is out. Thornton has averaged 19.3 points and three treys over the last week, highlighted by a 29-point effort in his last outing on Monday.
• Chase Budinger (44% owned): Budinger has been the early beneficiary of the trades that sent Shane Battier and Aaron Brooks out of Houston, averaging 19.8 points and two made treys in more than 30 minutes per game over the last week.
• Wes Johnson (41% owned): Johnson has responded well to the extra playing time opened up by the trade of Corey Brewer. He has averaged 15.8 points with 4.5 boards, 2.8 assists, 2.3 treys and 1.3 steals in almost 36 minutes played per game over the week since the trade.
• Larry Sanders (1% owned): Sanders is a raw defensive specialist with hardly any offensive ability, but he can block shots and he can rebound. And with Bogut and Ilyasova injured for the short term, Sanders should be able to provide plenty of defense for the next week at least.
Keeping up with the Professor
If you're interested in my takes throughout the week, you can follow me on Twitter @ProfessorDrz. Also, don't forget that you can catch me on the radio every Friday afternoon at 12:30 PM EST on Rotowire Fantasy Sports Today with Chris Liss and Jeff Erickson on XM 147, Sirius 211.