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Hoops Lab: When Injuries Force Your Hand

Andre' Snellings

Andre' Snellings is a Neural Engineer by day, and RotoWire's senior basketball columnist by night. He's a two-time winner of the Fantasy Basketball Writer of the Year award from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

Emergency Measures

I hate the Red Cross.

Not the charitable organization, of course. No, I hate the actual red square with a white cross on it that Yahoo! fantasy uses to signify a player is injured. I hate it, because I've been seeing way too much of it next to the players on my team, and it's starting to feel personal. In one league I'm in, there are currently red crosses next to seven of my players, and the entire roster is only 14 players with a four player bench. That means I have as many injured players as I have healthy, and I'm actually starting three guys tonight with red crosses next to their names that either won't play or are likely to be limited in what they can do.

I hate it.

The season was sailing along pretty well up until about three weeks ago, when suddenly red crosses started popping up all over the place. I blame Greg Oden, because I allowed him onto several of my teams as a stash player, and I think he infected them with injury-itis. Because once Oden went down for the season, the next thing I knew his teammate Brandon Roy was down, then Joakim Noah was out, then Brandon Jennings... I'm going to stop listing now, because I'm depressing myself.

And ironically, the worst thing about the injuries might be that they aren't season ending. Because at least, with Oden, I was able to cut him loose and pick up a replacement from the free agent wire. You likely lose quality with free agents, but at least you get something. But with guys that are slated to come back this year, I'm forced to keep them on my roster as big fat zeroes for as long as they're out. There is no injured list in Yahoo, which means I'm just stuck. Not surprisingly, since the injury bug hit my head-to-head Yahoo! league teams have plummeted.

I had hoped to ride the injuries out, but if this continues much longer I'm worried I'll lose touch with the pack to the point that it won't matter if I get healthy down the stretch. So, it may be time to break the glass and pull out some emergency measures. I've written about these measures in years past, but I still hesitate because the strategy is hugely risky. Once you initiate the plan, you're all in – it either works, and you have a shot at the title, or it doesn't, and you get used to life in the basement of your league. Also, important to note this plan only has a chance to work in roto head-to-head formats like the one that Yahoo! runs. Don't attempt this in a rotisserie or points-based league.
The plan? Essentially, you choose five categories you want to win every week and you overload your team in them. You completely punt the other four, making trades that essentially give your team a puncher's chance. Here's how you go about implementing this strategy:

The first step is to go to your league home page, click on the 'Head-to-Head Stats' tab at the upper right of the standings, and take a look at how your team is doing in the different categories. There are two natural groupings of categories: the 'big man' cats of field-goal percentage, rebounds, blocks and turnovers or the 'little guy' cats of free throw percentage, 3-pointers, assists and steals. My "injured" team is perimeter heavy (I was leaning on Noah and hoping for Oden to provide the big man numbers), so it makes sense to me that I load up on perimeter guys.

Now that I've identified my area of strength, I look at my team to see who has some trade value. My best tradeable center is Roy Hibbert, who provides solid traditional big man stats that are wasted on my team now. So, I look to swap him in a deal that lands me a more perimeter-based center like Al Harrington or Channing Frye as part of a package that perhaps yields a better second player.

I next need to scour the free agenct wire for players that fit my new philosophy. I notice centers like Matt Bonner are available, and that he knocks down the 3 on the regular. He'd do more for my team than Marcin Gortat, who I took a flyer on after the trade but even at his projected best would be a defensive/rebounding role player in a mold that I'm no longer interested in. So, bye bye Marcin.

Finally, you have to find the fifth category. If you choose to go the perimeter route, 'points' are usually a natural fifth cat because good shooters and ball-handlers often put up decent points. There aren't many dominant big man scorers out there, though, so with the big guys I suggest either steals or maybe assists as the fifth cat. But for me, I'm going perimeter and already have guys like Dwyane Wade to build around so I'm going to aim for more scoring.

Ultimately, if you win five categories every week you likely finish near .500 and sneak into the playoffs, and if you win five categories every week in the playoffs you win the title. But the thing is, you HAVE to win those five cats because you have no fall-back. And you can't do it halfway. You can't have a bunch of good big men and Gilbert Arenas, because he personally kills your field goal percentage and turnovers without giving you much chance of winning any new category. For me, I have Baron Davis and Rajon Rondo on that team, both of whom are free throw liabilities, so I will likely have them on the trade market as soon as they get their value up a bit. You have to go all in and know that once you trade some value for categories you likely can't recoup that value. So don't do this if you think your well-rounded team has a chance of coming together in time to get you into the playoffs, and don't do this if you have a league that won't trade. It likely takes three or four deals to get your team how you want it, but if you pull it off, you can take a struggling squad and make them contenders again.

Around the League

Evans considering season-ending surgery: Tyreke Evans has been in a sophomore slump this year at least in part due to plantar fasciitis that has dogged him all season. Now, he's considering a season-ending surgical procedure to fix the problem. He hasn't decided for sure to do it, but he will monitor the pain daily, and if it gets too bad the plug could be pulled on his season at any time. This is obviously a potential disaster for his owners. Evans is coming off one of his best games of the year with 32 points against the Clippers, and I would give serious thought to trading him if you can before it's too late.

Dirk's knee: Mark Cuban's heart skipped about 100 beats on Monday when Dirk Nowitzki was forced to leave a game due to a knee injury, but Cuban was able to exhale when the MRI revealed just a minor knee sprain. Nowitzki was forced to miss Tuesday's game and is day-to-day for now, but it doesn't sound serious, so he should be back sooner rather than later.

Lakers struggling: The Lakers have lost three games in a row for one of the few times since Pau Gasol joined the team, and their individual players are all struggling. Kobe Bryant is averaging only 17.6 points on 39% shooting over his last five games, Gasol hasn't scored 20 points in a game in two weeks, Andrew Bynum is still trying to play himself into shape after his injury layoff, and Lamar Odom faces the prospect of marginalization as soon as Bynum is healthy enough to start. But as we saw last month with the "struggling" Heat, and last week with the "struggling" Magic, the really good teams can turn it around in a hurry. Don't give up on your Lakers while they're down, or you might regret it. Instead, this could be a good time to make a run at Kobe or Gasol. Yeah, Bynum may keep them from being their absolute fantasy best, but they will still be among the elite over the year.

Condolences to Melo: Carmelo Anthony has missed five straight games since the unfortunate death of his sister, but he is expected to rejoin the Nuggets before Saturday's game against Sacramento.

Rondo update: Rajon Rondo (ankle) was able to work out on Tuesday without needing his ankle taped and may return to the lineup Friday night. His return will obviously be a boon to owners (like me) that have missed the NBA assist leader, but it also will have ramifications for Paul Pierce's stats. Pierce has picked up his assists in Rondo's absence, but when Rondo returns Pierce likely goes back to a finisher's role. This means fewer assists, but likely a higher field goal percentage for the Truth.

Iguodala's Achilles: Andre Iguodala has been bothered by a sore Achilles tendon all year, and it has worsened to the point that he had to miss the last two games. Consider him day to day.

Camby's foot: Marcus Camby has sprained his right ankle, and did not play on Tuesday. He is considered day-to-day.

Kirilenko's back: Andrei Kirilenko left Monday's game with a back injury, will not play on Wednesday, and is day-to-day going forward. The odds are he also misses Thursday's game, but he could possibly return on Saturday against Memphis.

Carter's desert debut and Dudley: Vince Carter (knee) is expected to make his Suns debut on Wednesday against the 76ers, after missing the first few games since the trade. He seemingly should fit well playing off of Steve Nash, with his owners hoping for a renaissance similar to the boost he got in his first year next to Jason Kidd. In the meantime, keep an eye on Jared Dudley. Dudley scored 60 points in the first two games after the trade before laying a six-point egg on Sunday. He likely moves to the background when Carter arrives, but any player that can average 30 points over two games is worth following as a potential pick-up.

New Additions

James Harden (38% owned in Y! leagues): I wrote about Harden recently, but if you don't pick him up soon the window to get him cheap may close. He's averaged 14.7 points on 50% shooting with 4.0 boards, 2.3 assists, 1.6 treys and 1.4 steals over the last two weeks. Those numbers are worth owning.

Jared Dudley (25% owned): As mentioned above, Dudley stepped forward in the early aftermath of the Suns/Magic trade as a potential new contributor. He just had a bad game, and Vince Carter's return likely cuts into his minutes, but he's still worth holding until the dust settles to see whether he'll be able to grab a meaningful role.

Rudy Fernandez (15% owned): I've been expecting all season that Fernandez would be a good source of scoring and 3-pointers off the bench, but he started the year ice cold. He has recently found the range, though, knocking down two treys per game as part of his 13-point scoring average over the last two weeks. With Brandon Roy's status continually in doubt, Fernandez could be a valuable role player with upside moving forward.

Ed Davis (4% owned): Davis came off the bench to score 17 points with 12 boards, three blocks and three steals against the Mavericks on Tuesday. He also had a 10-point effort against the Pistons last week. Davis is still a very young rookie in a developmental stage, but on a Raptors team that's focused on the future he could be worth taking a long-term flyer on.

Tracy McGrady (9% owned): McGrady is getting a spot start at point guard on Wednesday night with Rodney Stuckey injured. While the position is strange, any start is good news right now as TMac tries to play himself back into relevance. He also averaged 16 points over two games last week, highlighted by a 17-point, seven-assist, seven-rebound, three-steal effort against the Raptors. He followed those two games with a two-point clunker, but still, he's showing some faint signs of life.

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.