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Hoops Lab: Hoops Lab-Week 5

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 Plan

I have a team that has just been beset with bad luck. On a 14-man roster where we start 12 players, I had six players injured at the same time. Of that six, five of them were guards, leaving Jonny Flynn as the only healthy guard-eligible player that actually starts on his own team. We start at least four guards, so this obviously isn't good math for me. It shouldn't be surprising to you that my team is currently in 12th place out of 12 teams.

It's still very early in the season, but I already have to start thinking about whether it is time to break the glass on my emergency plan. This isn't a decision to be made lightly, because once you initiate the plan you're all in. It either works and you have a shot at the title, or it doesn't work and you get used to life in the basement of your league. Also, it's important to note that 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 that you want to win every week and then you just overload your team in those five categories. You completely punt the other four, making trades that essentially give your team a punchers chance. I blogged about this strategy before the season began, and if you pull it off right you can take a struggling team and make it the squad that nobody wants to play in the playoffs.

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. On my struggling guard-injured team it's not surprising I've had my most success in the big man stats, so if I do this I focus on overloading the big guy stats at the expense of my guard categories.
Now that I've identified my area of strength, I look at my team to see who has some trade value. My best player is Dirk Nowitzki, who is actually reasonable at the big man cats, but some of his best contributions come in areas like scoring where I'm punting. So, he's on the block. I would love to trade him for a package of Dwight Howard and another good player, as that maximizes my big man numbers and also gives me more depth to make up for the injuries. I also target players like Marcus Camby and Joakim Noah in potential trades.

I next need to scour the free agency wire for players that fit my new philosophy. A Ben Wallace type would be perfect, and I note that Tyrus Thomas is available. He is hurt until December, but I'd rather have a hurt player that fits than a guy like Iverson that won't help me even if he catches on somewhere else.

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. In your trading/free agency pick-ups, if you could get some Rajon Rondo/Jason Kidd types that get good assists and possibly boards but don't kill your turnovers then you could be home free.

Ultimately, the thing to keep in mind with this strategy is that 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. No, 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 the way you want it.

Situations to Watch and Quick Hits

  • Jackson in Carolina: The CliffsNotes analysis of the trade that sent Stephen Jackson from the Warriors to the Bobcats (along with Acie Law) in exchange for Raja Bell and Vlad Radmanovic is that Jackson's value may decrease a bit (similar team role, but much slower pace in Charlotte than in Golden State). Theoretically gunners like Bell and Radmanovic would fit into Nelly-ball if they play, but with the abundance of wings already in Oakland and the youthful bent of the team I'd be surprised if either are relied upon heavily. I personally think Bell will be on a contender like the Suns or Celtics before the season ends, but that's pure speculation on my part. But the more interesting part of the trade to me is what it does for those that were already in Golden State...

  • Warriors update of the week: This team just keeps delivering the drama. With the Jackson trade on top of the Kelenna Azubuike injury, suddenly there should be plenty of swingman minutes available for the youthful talent on the team. Anthony Morrow, rookie Stephen Curry and Corey Maggette (see New Additions) all have the chance to grab starting jobs and have the offensive talent to make up for the numbers vacuum of losing Jackson and Azubuike. Also, between the extra swingman minutes and the big man injuries (Andris Biedrins' back and Ronny Turiaf's knee) Anthony Randolph HAS to start seeing more minutes. It's getting ridiculous now - even Mikki Moore has been starting over Randolph. It's like basketball karma is trying to force Nellie to give the talented youngster minutes, and he just keeps stubbornly refusing, but eventually something has to give. Oh yeah, and lost in all of the other drama, star Monta Ellis also had a shouting match with Coach Nelson last week so that is worth keeping an eye on moving forward.

  • Paul sprains ankle: Chris Paul has a sprained ankle, and the prognoses I've heard have varied from one week to possibly four weeks out. He isn't replaceable for either your team or the Hornets, but as a stop-gap New Orleans is now starting Darren Collison who has averaged 14 points and three assists in his last two games.

  • Milwaukee Renaissance: You have to love what the Bucks are doing right now. They are still tied with the Cavs for first place in the division according to the loss column, and if they had pulled out the overtime thriller with the Mavs last night they could be in first outright. They are doing this with Michael Redd watching in street clothes, as rookie phenom Brandon Jennings has taken over as the engine for the offense (Quick question: Would you even take last year's ROY Derrick Rose over Jennings right now?). Jennings earned the headlines by scoring 55 points in three quarters on Saturday, but even before that explosion he had averaged more than 20 points, five assists and four boards through his first two weeks in the NBA. Also, former number one overall pick Andrew Bogut has been showing that he is finally healthy again as he's been a 20-10 guy with two blocks over the last five games.

  • Josh Howard out indefinitely: Howard will be out indefinitely to allow his left ankle more time to heal from offseason surgery. I am not comfortable at all relying on Howard right now, and though it would be hard to cut him outright I would at least start considering what your team might look like if he proves undependable all season.

  • Opposing Centers HATE the Trailblazers: Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla are currently first and second in the NBA in defensive rating, a sign that opponents are having trouble scoring when either of them are in the game. Keep that in mind when you have a tough choice to make regarding which center you should start, especially if your other option is playing against...

  • Opposing Centers LOVE the Timberwolves: Between a still healing Al Jefferson and a laundry list of other relatively untalented big men, the Timberwolves have been getting absolutely torched by opponents, especially big men. Last week Marc Gasol shot a perfect 8-for-8 from the field and grabbed a career-high 16 rebounds in one game, Greg Oden shot 8-for-10 from the field and combined with Przybilla for 22 rebounds in another game, and the entire Warriors' team just erupted for 146 points. Rule of thumb for any tight roster decision, but especially one involving big men: start everyone against the Wolves.

  • Iverson has left the building: Allen Iverson has officially been cut by the Grizzlies, and though his personal manager says he still wants to play and is even willing to come off the bench for a contender (I'll have to see that to believe it), if by some chance this is it... What is his legacy?

  • Murphy's injured back: Troy Murphy has missed four straight games with a back injury, and the Pacers continue to list him as day-to-day with no official timetable for his return. Keep him on your bench until you hear otherwise.

  • Duncan/Parker return: Tim Duncan and Tony Parker both missed two games last week with ankle injuries, but both returned for their last games. Duncan's numbers looked fine, but after the game he said his ankle still had some healing to do. While they were out both Manu Ginobili and Richard Jefferson came to life, but as soon as they returned, both Ginobili and Jefferson had bad games. The Spurs as a team obviously still have some jelling to do with their added talent this year.

  • Miller and Jamison back in DC: Mike Miller returned to the Wizards on Saturday after a shoulder injury, but the bigger news is that Antawn Jamison has recovered from his shoulder injury and illness and is expected to play on Wednesday. Not only should you get Jamison back in your lineups, but you should also consider benching Andray Blatche who has played well in Jamison's absence but now likely moves back to the bench.

  • Boykins returns: Little Earl Boykins is back in the NBA now, having signed with the Wizards last week. He came back with a bang, scoring 20 points as instant offense off the bench. His numbers will likely take a hit when Randy Foye returns next week, though.

  • Pierce's knee and KG's lungs: Paul Pierce played through a bruised knee on Saturday but was held out of practice on Tuesday, and his status for Wednesday's game is uncertain. Celtics' coach Doc Rivers said that he shouldn't have played him against the Pacers on Saturday, so keep an eye out for late news in case you need to bench Pierce. Kevin Garnett has started finding his shooting range of late (20-for-31 FG last three games), but he is still not where he needs to be stamina-wise as he recovers from offseason knee surgery. In his last two games he was 13-for-20 from the field for 29 points in the first three quarters but 0-for-1 with no points in the fourth quarters. Still a work in progress.

  • Grizzlies sign Tinsley: With Iverson on his way out, the Grizzlies signed veteran point guard Jamaal Tinsley. Tinsley has been out of the NBA for more than a year so there is no telling what he still has in the tank, and presumably he is only there to be a back-up point guard.

  • Is Nowitzki this generation's Barkley?: As a spin-off from last week's excellent conversation about Michael Jordan, this week we're discussing whether Dirk Nowitzki is the Charles Barkley of this generation. Come weigh in with your opinions on the matter.

    New Additions

    Corey Maggette (64% owned): Maggette is already owned in the majority of leagues, but he is on such a ridiculous run lately that he deserves mention here. He is averaging 19.8 points in only 20.8 minutes per game over his last five outings and has scored 99 points on only 47 field goal attempts in that stretch, an unreal 2.1 points per shot pace that would make him the most efficient player that ever lived. Though that efficiency will obviously come back to earth sometime soon, Maggette should be in line for more minutes with the injury to Kelenna Azubuike and the trade of Stephen Jackson.

    Beno Udrih (37% owned): With Kevin Martin still expected to miss the next couple of months, Udrih is the starting point guard on the Kings. He has averaged more than 17 points and four assists over the last four games since regaining his starting role.

    Will Bynum (21% owned): Will "The Thrill" (Georgia Tech represent) has been channeling his inner Vinny Johnson lately, averaging 21 points, 4.3 assists and 3.7 boards over the last week as the third guard in the Pistons lineup. His role may change down the road when Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince return, but for now he makes a decent flex play.

    George Hill (6% owned): Hill played great while Tony Parker was injured, and even scored 18 points with two treys in Parker's first game back. His value decreases, obviously, now that Parker is back, but he is still worth stashing in deeper leagues because he has shown that he can produce and has solid upside if injury again opens up minutes.

    Ersan Ilyasova (4% owned): In his last four games Ilyasova has two games with 17 or more points, two games with 12 or more rebounds, and two games with three or more treys. On a Bucks team that needs offense and has opponents concentrating on Brandon Jennings, the chance that Ilyasova might put it all together should have him owned in more than 4% of leagues.

    Article first appeared 11/17/09