Sleepers. Breakouts. Busts. Bargains. Overrated. Underrated. That’s about all we think about in the weeks (months, for many of us) leading up to the fantasy NBA season. Even if your methods are sound, you’re not going to be right about all of them. Of course, that’s mainly due to injuries that directly affected the number of games played or indirectly affected a player’s role. But despite that, I thought it would be fun to review the season’s biggest overachievers and underachievers. Pat yourself on the back for good ones. Know that we feel your pain caused by the bad ones.

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You’re excited to draft Zion Williamson next fall, aren’t you? Well, here are his per-36 stats that I posted last week:

If you loved The Matrix: Reloaded and P.O.D. as unabashedly as I did 15 years ago–and you definitely didn’t–then this song immediately jumps into your head when gazing upon those numbers, as the chorus goes: “Dreaming of Zion…”

Okay, we know those numbers aren’t happening… at least not for a few seasons (winky face). But even the slight possibility of two-thirds of that production and all the hype around him is enough to get people reaching for him in… I’m guessing the second round? Is that smart? How about Luka Doncic? Seems like he’s bound for a second-round ADP, too. Will that be wise?

Today we’re looking at rookie production once again, as well as that of this season’s sophomores in hopes of remembering how risky it is to gamble on young and/or unproven players regardless of how exciting they may be. My general advice is to stay away. I know, I know. They’re so shiny and full of upside. And if you’re in a keeper/dynasty league, you can sit back and enjoy watching the young players as they improve. But in a redraft league, here’s why you’re better off letting someone else overpay/overdraft rookies.

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In honor of the NCAA tourney, I thought we should take a glimpse into the future and start overrating–I mean properly rating–next season’s incoming draft class. Now, I’ve watched my share of Zion, but it’s honestly been tough for me to get as excited about this draft class as I was for the last two. I look forward to the hype increasing on some of these guys over the next few weeks because it feels like they (and we) really need it. But even underwhelming drafts produce all-stars and fantasy goodness, so let’s see what these guys have to offer.

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I thought I’d send out a reminder for those of you in keeper leagues. This probably applies more to roto players than head-to-headers, since those in roto leagues aren’t scraping and clawing for every last game they can get with their limited moves. I’m talking about stashing some of next year’s potential breakouts. Yeah, just about everyone worth taking next year is on a roster already… just about. In my keeper league, I once grabbed this Draymond Green character in the last few weeks of the season, since he’d been on a hot streak. He ended up finishing as a top-30 player the following season. Nearly the exact same story for C.J. McCollum the next year. And if I’d have been on my game at the end of last season, I’d have grabbed Cedi Osman, preventing me from having to waste an early draft pick on him this season (we keep a lot of players). There’s a ton of unknown between now and next October’s fantasy drafts (gloriously entertaining unknown, by the way), but we can make some educated guesses at this point. Do you have some players you know you’re not keeping next season that also aren’t making a difference on your team? Replace ’em with lottery tickets, and maybe one or two will pay off. They could at least give you some extra trade value.Some keeper and dynasty leagues don’t have a trade deadline, so I’ll be including some players here that might be near-universally owned in addition to those who have a good shot at being free agents in your league. Speaking of free agents, that’s how we’re going to unearth some of our targets. The other aspect I’ll look at are rookies and second-year players that could be in line for a bump in playing time and usage. And there will be some nice overlap in who we find from each strategy, I’m sure.

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As the season winds down and we jockey for position in roto leagues or load up on categories in the head-to-head playoffs, it’s imperative that we track down some category specialists to get us over the top. And with so many new fantasy contributors due to injury or tanking, the specialists aren’t necessarily the same old names. Fortunately, that makes some of them available in most leagues.

Let’s get right to it. Looking at per-game numbers for the last month, which takes us back to the trade deadline, here are the best likely-available guys to grab. Note that I skipped turnovers. Since those are so sporadic, I’d just go with the season-long numbers there. For head-to-head matchups, you might even be able to just sit a few players at the end of the week that can’t help you in any other categories to win turnovers.

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I’m a roto guy at heart, as it was my first love, but as I play in more and more head-to-head leagues, I’m growing mighty fond of this almost entirely different fantasy game. Sure, at it’s core, it’s about rounding up the best players, but I’ve enjoyed learning the spots where we can get an advantage over those that… just try to round up the best players. Many of you probably have more experience with it than I do, but I thought I’d go through some thoughts on head-to-head playoff preparation in case they happen to tip the scales in your direction.

First up, you’ve got to know your team. If you’ve just been on auto-pilot, picking up hot free agents without regard to what your team needs, it’s time to focus. Two weeks ago, I talked about targets for teams based on what they are (or should be) punting. And in the playoffs, almost all of us should be punting. It’s no longer time to worry about giving yourself a decent chance to win eight or nine categories in any given week and settling for probably three to seven. Double down on some categories where it’s a toss up so that you’re confident in six or seven or utterly dominant in five. All you need is that W.

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The All-Star Break means three more weeks, or 2.5 more matchups, until the head-to-head playoffs begin in most leagues. And even for Roto-Leaguers, we’re already 70% of the way through the season. At this point, you know your teams. Or, at least you can if you take a few minutes to examine them. Odds are that there are stat categories that hardly matter to you by now. Once again, that can be because of a punt strategy or simply because of the way your team and league shook out. For example, though I didn’t intend to punt any categories this season, I ended up dead last in FG% in a roto league with no chance of catching up. That category doesn’t mean anything to me now, so I can ignore it. Similarly, in the head-to-head Razzball Experts League, I have little chance to win assists in any given week. I could try to make that up or I could double down and load up on the other categories. I have a feeling your teams may have also lost some categories early. Or maybe more likely, you have a team that just dominates a category or two to the point that you can ignore it and still win. And even if you don’t find yourself far out in front or way behind in any categories, there are likely a few roto stats where you’re too far away from the teams above and below you to worry about them.

So, today it’s time to check up on who might be available and extra-valuable to YOUR team. We’re not just looking at traditional hot waiver wire pickups. Some of them would apply, but glance through this list after you know what stats you can safely ignore, and see if somebody’s right for you. Consider using the opposite train of thought when deciding who to drop, too. You’re lapping the competition in rebounds? You may want to drop an end-of-the-roster big instead of a worse overall player.

You’ll see the top players I recommend that are available in at least one-third of Yahoo leagues here, along with their 8-category and 9-cateogry punt rankings that are based on the per-game performances of the past 60 days (through 2/12) according to Basketball Monster.

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Today is one of my favorite days of the year. I hope that by the time you’re reading this that 40+ fantasy-relevant players have been traded and the NBA and all our leagues are in total anarchy. As of late Wednesday night, I’m happy to see we’re well on our way! Once the dust settles and you’re surveying the landscape, hopefully having snagged some newly valuable players during the dust storm, remember that your leagues’ trade deadlines are probably about three weeks away. So, let’s talk general trade strategy. I’m not going to get into specifics about buy-low players or fitting certain players into certain team builds. Just concepts with a little evidence sprinkled in.

Let’s start with consolidation. That’s normally the name of the game for experienced fantasy veterans. The ol’ 2-for-1 deal (or 3-for-2, etc.). For example, you trade a 7th-round guy and a 5th-round guy for a 3rd-round guy. Then trade that 3rd-round guy and a 6th-round guy for a 2nd-round guy. Keep reloading with savvy adds (guys often worth like 10th-round value) from the waiver wire and repeat until you’ve got mostly players ranked in the top 40 or 50. Hopefully, most of us have leagues too competent to allow for many of those deals. But anyway, the general advice is to get the best player in a deal and to try to trade two good players for a great player.

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A few years back, there was this popular book series that was also one of the first click-baitey lists I remember seeing online. It was called “Eat This, Not That!”. Or, as it might as well have been called: “Feel Guilty Every Time You Have A Deep-Fried Onion Appetizer.” They’d present two relatively similar items at a restaurant, one with roughly half the calories and a fraction of the saturated fat. That one was usually smaller, and shockingly, not deep-fried. I remember grumpily learning that some of the absolute worst things you could eat were also some of my favorites, of course. That would be these beauties:

The Triumvirate: The Awesome Blossom, The Bloomin’ Onion, and The Cactus Blossom. No thanks! I won’t be substituting grilled salmon and fresh vegetables! I LIKE having my entire recommended weekly allowance of calories BEFORE my entrée arrives!

So, this week, I thought I’d take from that and from another idea I’ve always liked: Comparing nameless stat-lines. So, let’s do a Roster This, Not That! How’s this going to give us an advantage? What I’m going for here is, unsurprisingly, picking two players with relatively similar stat sets. One will generally be a player that your typical fantasy manager will value close to his draft price, and the other will be an overachiever, and possibly an under-the-radar one at that. Then, if you think that player might not be properly valued in your league, you should try to acquire him, as he could come cheap. If you have the player he’s being compared to, you could even see if you could make the swap and upgrade somewhere else at the same time. Now, if the other manager is up on their current player rankings, you may not get a deal, but, even so, they could be skeptical that the surprising player can keep it up. I’ve admitted before that I’m reluctant to change my perception of a player quickly. I pretty much value players where they were drafted for a little too long, since I’m resistant to believe the small sample size is more predictive than the career body of work. Which is right? That’s part of the fun, of course. So, here are a handful of comparisons I came up with (see if you can guess a few). It’s less about these specific players than the overall concept. Make sure you’re not just sticking with the big names. When it comes to fantasy, you’ve got to think of these players as a set of numbers.

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Last year, I mentioned that I was a big baseball card collector as a kid, having been the perfect age when that really became a big thing. I was fortunate to have a group of friends who loved to trade cards and a dad that would take me to baseball card shows to build my collection. I had chosen Ken Griffey Jr. early on as my favorite player, so fortunately, I was on the lookout mainly for his cards. If I can ever decide to part with them, at least I have hundreds of cards featuring a Hall of Famer. The same cannot be said, however, for my brief foray into the world of basketball card collecting. I decided to complete a small set of the 1993 NBA Draft first-rounders. And from this group, like when I picked Griffey as my favorite player when he was a rookie, I chose an exciting young player to focus on. The decision to collect Isaiah “J.R.” Rider cards for a few months did not return the same joy and imaginary wealth, unfortunately. But it certainly was easy to trade for his cards!

Speaking of trading, as I write this, the trade deadline, one of my favorite days of the year, is only 15 days away. Now, after a trade goes down that day, do you want to be one of the people rushing to your app, hoping you’re the first to see if the guy that’s getting a huge bump in minutes and usage is still available? Or, do you want to be the one that they all curse when they find out you picked him up a week earlier? Obviously, we can’t stash all the players that could be in line for a big increase in fantasy value, but today I’m going to try to identify a handful of players to either stash now or to keep an eye on, depending on your league size, as the trade rumors continue to come out. And with that list, I’ll provide their per-36 minute stats. No, most won’t get that many minutes even if they are the beneficiaries of a deadline deal, but it’ll at least give you an idea of what they could do with an increase in minutes… plus, it’s fun.

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While perusing the standings the other day, I was surprised to see we’re already past the half-way mark of the NBA season. And for those in head-to-head leagues, that means we’re almost 2/3rds of the way through the fantasy regular season! It’s time to take stock of our team(s) and see where injuries, pick-ups, and dropped busts have left us situated. For example, half my starters this week on one team have been free agent pickups. I have some idea of my team’s strengths and weaknesses, but it’s a vastly different group than what I started with. Once we identify our short-comings, it’s as simple as grabbing a couple centers for a pair of guards to make up ground in boards and blocks, right? Maybe. But there are constraints that might make it more complicated than that. You may be losing stats you need by doing that and you may not be able to fit two extra centers into your lineup, anyway.

This week I’d like to bring up a concept many of you are probably familiar with, but often goes forgotten: Out-of-position stats. What if you’re low in rebounds, but you don’t have room to add/start a center? Well, you could trade a traditional point guard (assuming you were set with PG stats) for Dejounte Murray (9.5 rebounds per 36 minutes last season, and yes, by the way, I’m choosing an alternate universe in which he’s healthy for this hypothetical situation). Considering trading for or picking up players that get atypical stats for their position can make a ton of sense for a lot of reasons. Maybe you lost a big assist guy like John Wall or your dominant rebounder in Clint Capela. Maybe you’ve got another out-of-position stats guy that hurts you because of what he lacks (Dejounte’s assists and three-pointers, for example). Also, when you have out-of-position stats, like say Nikola Mirotic’s 3s, you can afford to have additional atypical players that others in your league might devalue, like Elfrid Payton, a guard that doesn’t hit many threes. Get creative and check out some of the players I’ve listed below.

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Amazing, yet totally believable headline from earlier this season: “Pelicans’ Anthony Davis drops rare 5×5 statistical game…”

Jaw-dropping headline from last week that I’m still not over: “Nurkic’s NBA-best 5×5…..” <RECORD SCRATCH>

That’s TWO five-by-fives already this season! A 20/20 5×5 from Jusuf Nurkic!?! The NBA is definitely “Where Amazing Happens”.

Quick nostalgia video for my fellow StarCraft and/or Aliens fans regarding the quote I hear in my head each time a 5×5 is mentioned:

I’ll try to keep it relatively short this week, as the concepts won’t be new. I thought it was high time we look at statistical scarcity again, now that we have a significant sample of this season’s stats. We’ve talked about how statistical performances compare across categories based on player rater values and just how good stats have to be to offset those that negatively affect us among other similar ideas. But this time, I’m back to comparing the scarcity of our counting stats, this time through the lens of the 5×5.

Please, blog, may I have some more?