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The Give and Go: The Give and Go

Charlie Zegers

Charlie has covered the NBA, NFL and MLB for RotoWire for the better part of 15 years. His work has also appeared on,, the New York Times, ESPN, Fox Sports and Yahoo. He embraces his East Coast bias and is Smush Parker's last remaining fan.

From: Charlie Zegers
Sent: Tuesday, April 6, 2010 10:04 AM
To: Carson Cistulli
Subject: Give and Go: Gabba Gabba

To paraphrase a man who has become a major influence in my daughter's life… (DJ Lance from Yo! Gabba Gabba!) "Yo! It's almost time to go. But let's remember what we did this season!"

(I'll skip the dancey-dance portion of the program. You can thank me later.)

Here are some takeaways from NBA 2009-10 that might have some relevance for next year's fantasy drafts:

Rookie lead guards can be great values
Tyreke Evans supposedly needed time to learn how to run an offense. Stephen Curry was going to be a major defensive liability. Brandon Jennings was a near-total unknown, Ty Lawson a depth player and Jrue Holiday as raw as they come. But every one of them has been worth owning at various times this season. I don't know about you, but their success - and that of guys like Jonny Flynn, Darren Collison and even Rodrigue Beaubois and Toney Douglas - will make me a lot less hesitant about drafting next year's crop of rookie guards.

On the other hand, none of this season's rookie big men or wing players really distinguished themselves. Obviously, guys like Blake Griffin and Tyler Hansbrough have been limited by injury, and we all sort of suspected Hasheem Thabeet would be a long-term project. But what about James Harden and Jordan Hill and DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Williams and Gerald Henderson and Earl Clark? Lottery picks all, and none of them seem to be obvious "must own" players for next season.

Is this a trend? Is the transition to the NBA easier for players who handle the ball a lot? Or is it just a fluke brought on by a particularly guard-heavy draft class?

Draft a shooting guard early
Some of the best fantasy players in the league line up at two guard - but the drop-off between the top five or six and the second/third tiers is severe. Obviously, if you draft in the bottom of the first round you're not getting a Kobe, D-Wade or Kevin Durant… but for next year's drafts I'll be making it a priority to get a two early, before options like Monta Ellis and Brandon Roy and Stephen Jackson and maybe Andre Iguodala or Tyreke Evans are all gone.

(We touched on this in a column published on March 26.)

Don't trust the Sixers
The Eddie Jordan hire was one of the reasons I was high on several 76ers at the start of the season. Jordan's version of the Pete Carril "Princeton" offense - the system that made Gilbert Arenas a star in Washington - was a good fit for talented scoring guards like Iguodala and Lou Williams. Or so I thought. But Jordan's tenure in Philly has been a disaster for fantasy owners, marked by tough-to-justify lineup changes and substitution patterns. I have no idea whether or not Jordan will be back for next season - but if he is, I'll be staying away from the Sixers.

In the past, I've tried to avoid the Warriors as well, but my guess is Nellie will be gone as soon as a new owner takes over.

Teammates matter
Richard Jefferson looked like a major free-agent bust for the bulk of this season, but since Gregg Popovic started playing Jefferson alongside Manu Ginobili, his production has improved considerably. To some extent, that reinforces my view of Jefferson going back years - that his production in New Jersey had more to do with Jason Kidd than anything else.

Some players need an elite distributor to play at their best - which is one reason I'll be a little hesitant about Amar'e Stoudemire next season, assuming he leaves Steve Nash's team and doesn't join, say, LeBron's.

What are you taking away from this season? (Aside from, I hope, a fantasy championship or two?)

From: Carson Cistulli
Sent: Wednesday, April 7, 2010 4:21 pM
To: Charlie Zegers
Subject: Re: Give and Go: Gabba Gabba

A couple by notes, by way of reply, before I get to the lessons I've learned this season.

First: Yo! Gabba Gabba! Is that what the Give and Go has come to, Zegers? Good thing the season's ending soon, as my grasp on children's television is like 20 years out of date. (Muppet Babies, anyone?)

Second, I think you might consider looking before you leap off the Eddie Jordan/Philly bandwagon. Now, because you're a smart guy and because, yes, the facts do bear out your point, I won't fight this point to the death. But please remember back to the first month of the season when Lou Williams -- a shoot-first bench player until that point -- suddenly became one of the best fantasy plays in all the land. In fact, per Basketball Monster, he was the best overall player in the week leading up to his broken jaw.

Then things got a little complicated. Jordan started playing Jrue Holiday. Then Philly signed Iverson. Then Williams came back earlier than expected -- maybe prematurely, in fact. Then Iverson retired. Then -- well, you know this stuff. Anyway, as things stand, Holiday has become a great play. Over the last month -- again, per Basketball Monster -- he's the 14th ranked player in a typical 12x13, 8-cat league, largely on the strength of excellent steal and very good assist numbers. If he holds on to something like the minutes he's seeing now, he could be a very able pick in next year's drafts.

Just don't be hasty, is what I'm saying.

Now, as for my own lessons, well, the nice thing about not being too smart is that you're always learning things.

If you're playing in a league with other nerds, always trade potential talent for current talent
This year I had the opportunity to play in a league with some other well-informed NBA fans. There's a great deal of joy to be had with this sort of arrangement, as one is able to make references to obscure players or their GMs and receive some kind of reaction from the other owners in the league.

The thing I found, too, is that more knowledgeable fantasy owners -- whether consciously or not -- like to flex their nerd muscles a little bit. As such, I was frequently able to trade away promising young players for talented, but less exciting, older players. Of course, some of this had to do with playing in a keeper league, but it also allowed me to land Brendan Haywood for the aforementioned Lou Williams, for example. And LaMarcus Aldridge for Roy Hibbert.

Points ain't nothin' but a number
Okay, that doesn't make sense. What I mean to say is: points scored is merely one category. We talked about this briefly last week, but I can't stress how important it is for the fantasy owner to wrap his mind around the way the different cats are calibrated. For example, Troy Murphy averages 14.7 points per game, which is roughly average for a 12x13 league. Rudy Gay averages 19.7 points per game, which is roughly one standard deviation above the mean. So it takes five whole points to climb the ranks

By comparison, let's look at three-pointers. Rudy Gay hits 0.9 per game, which is roughly average for a 12x13 league. Murphy, on the other hand, hits about 1.8 per game. That's only 0.9 more per game, but it actually comes out to 1.25 standard deviations above the mean. So 0.9 threes per game is actually worth more than 5 points.

It's hard to eyeball that kind of information, but it's important to winning.

Danilo Gallinari is awesome
This guy is a fantasy monster! And, according to my sources, he'll be the only player on the Knicks next year. (Which, is that even legal?)

From: Charlie Zegers
Sent: Wednesday, March 7, 2010 6:50 PM
To: Carson Cistulli
Subject: Give and Go: Gabba Gabba

My kids are six and two. I'm an absolute authority on the relative merits of D.J. Lance vs. Sponge Bob vs. Dora vs. any one of the Backyardigans.

Don't judge. You'll be here one day.

I don't discount the possibility that one, or even several, Philadelphia players could become top fantasy options next year. But I really thought Eddie Jordan's system would enhance the value of Williams, Andre Iguodala, Thaddeus Young and others. And at times it has. But at other times, one or more of those players have been consigned to the bench, for no apparent reason. So - assuming Jordan is running the show again - I'll consider that a negative when I rank players like Williams and Young, and everything else being equal, I'll look for similar players on other teams.

I look at Anthony Morrow the same way. Sure, he has the capability of dropping 40 points on any given night. He also lives with the possibility of being benched for no apparent reason, because Don Nelson is funny that way. Now, I'll happily own Monta Ellis or Steph Curry, because they're about the closest thing to givens in Nellie's rotation. But I'm wary of other Golden State players.

Your point about "nerd" leagues is interesting, and probably spot-on. Most of the geekier leagues I've played have been fairly inactive on the trading front; I'll have to give the "trade upside for solid production" theory a whirl next year.

And yes, Gallinari is outstanding. In recent weeks, he's even been getting the toughest assignments on the defensive end - Carmelo Anthony one night, Rajon Rondo another - and hasn't embarrassed himself too much. According to a report in the New York Post, Donnie Walsh petitioned the league to allow a Gallinari/Gallinari/Gallinari/Gallinari/Gallinari starting five, but was turned down, which is a real shame.

Joking aside, Gallinari's play is one of very few reasons I'm actually optimistic about the Knicks' chances to land one or two of the big free agents this summer.

From: Carson Cistulli
Sent: Thursday, April 8, 2010 5:14 PM
To: Charlie Zegers
Subject: Give and Go: Gabba Gabba

Actually, Zegers, your parenting skills -- and the extensive knowledge of children's programming that seems to've come along with it -- might actually serve as an object lesson in fantasy strategy. In particular, it might help you with Don Nelson and Co.

Allow me to explain.

I assume -- and I have to assume, because I don't actually know -- but I assume that part of parenting is, at a certain level, learning to think like a child. Because children (and many adults, I fear) lack the faculty of reason, we can't expect them to act reasonably. So if you, Zegers, tell me not to jump on the bed on account of I might concuss myself -- well, that's all the explanation I need. With a child, though, that sort of cause/effect-type argument doesn't work so well. You have to take another route. Maybe you distract the child. "Hey," you say, "how about some ice cream." Or maybe you frighten the child, like my mom used to do. "Hey," she might've said, "I heard that if you bounce on the bed too much your feet will fall off." That's convincing!

Well, that reminds me: I was talking with fantasy writer Eno Sarris, who writes for -- well, quite frankly, for like a million places -- and Eno was saying that sometimes, on our route to becoming the best fantasy owners we can be, we have to "think stupid." In this particular case, he was discussing the manner in which closers are deployed in baseball. Put succinctly, there's the ideal way to use relief pitchers, and then there's the way a most baseball managers do it. (And, finally, there's the way that Ron Gardenhire does it, but that's neither here nor there.)

Of course, I would never insinuate that your, or anyone's, children are stupid. That's not the point. The point is that it's necessary sometimes to put oneself in the manager or coach's frame of mind. As a fantasy owner, it's not really my concern what an optimal deployment strategy might be for relief pitchers. My only real concern is how such-and-such a coach feels about such-and-such a player.

Like take the Blazers over the last couple months, for instance. Anyone who's watched the team -- and looked at the numbers, too -- would absolutely be forced to conclude that Dante Cunningham is a better player than Juwan Howard. Yeah, there's the added benefit of Cunningham's potential upside, but really, Cunningham is, this minute, better at basketball.

Be that as it may, I know that Coach Nate McMillan, for whatever reason, just likes Juwan Howard. Maybe it's the veteran presence, maybe it's because Howard is roughly the same age as him: I don't know. What I do know is that Cunningam isn't gonna be getting minutes. What good would it do me to rail against McMillan and go out and roster Cunningham? None, is the answer.

Now, McMillan is one case; Nelson, quite another. You might pull a hammy trying to think like Don Nelson. Or end up at an area sanitarium. Still, it never hurts to give it a shot.

From: Charlie Zegers
Sent: Thursday, April 8, 2010 9:29 AM
To: Carson Cistulli
Subject: Re: Give and Go: Gabba Gabba

To extend your metaphor… I know that, if I let my son eat a dozen Cadbury eggs before bed, I'll need a horse tranquilizer to get him to sleep. The solution to that problem isn't loading up on veterinary sedatives.

Sometimes, the best way to deal with a problem is to avoid it entirely.

Nelson's offense can be fantasy gold, but Nellie's tendency is to play his top guys - Ellis, Curry, Stephen Jackson and Baron Davis when they were there - big minutes, and to mix-and-match with his second-tier guys. I know that. I understand it. And that's the reason I don't want to own those second-tier guys.

I'd rather have the player who scores 15 a night than the guy who scores 30 once every two weeks but averages out to 7.5 points per game.

The issue with Eddie Jordan this season has been even more frustrating, because it's been far more random. I know what he's doing. He's experimenting with different combinations of players, trying to figure out what works and what doesn't. That's a perfectly reasonable thing to do with a bad team.

Here's where Jordan loses me. If I was running that team, my priorities would be developing young guys like Speights and Williams and Young and Holiday and getting Elton Brand - who is signed for roughly 32 more years at a cost of eighty billion dollars (I'm estimating) back on track. Granted, some of his funky lineups were driven by factors out of his control - the Iverson signing, the injuries to Williams and Speights, the Iverson retirement. That doesn't change the fact that his lineup decisions became very hard to predict.

I know Larry Brown doesn't play rookies much. I know Mike D'Antoni plays a very short rotation, and that Scott Skiles can have a quick hook when his big men get into foul trouble, and that Gregg Popovic will be very conservative when resting his stars, and that George Karl and J.R. Smith aren't best friends. I can work with that information. It tells me not to draft rookies on the Bobcats or the eighth man in the Knicks rotation, and to expect Tim Duncan to play fewer games and minutes than other superstars.

I don't think Jordan's rotations were nearly this chaotic with the Wizards, so maybe next season will be different. But based on this year, I'll approach all his players with great suspicion at next year's draft.

Enjoy the playoffs. I hope you don't mind if I jump on the Portland bandwagon, as it's been quite a while since I've had a rooting interest in the postseason.

Article first appeared on 4/9/10

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