Avoiding Fantasy Hype

I wasn’t the only one buying into the hype, I was merely the loudest. Perhaps I was the most eloquent. We based our perceptions not on the eye test, but on advanced standard deviation analysis which convinced us of the merit of our claims. We were wrong. Boy-were we ever wrong. I was wrong. As the season began, we gasped in horror at the poor shooting display. Sure he may turn it around, but for the GMs who drafted him for $25+ in roto, the damage has already been dealt. In case you haven’t guessed yet, I’m referring to Danny Green.

Why did we hype him so much? I think it has to do in part with our desire to be smarter than everyone else. Some people play fantasy basketball for the sheer thrill of it. Others grind in money leagues in the pursuit of profit. Then there is an entire sector of fantasy basketball who play in an effort to prove how smart they are.

Danny Green is a perfect example of experienced GMs trying to outsmart one another. Last season Danny Green had a wonderful line. Nearly two and a half threes per game with more than one block and one steal. The holy grail of fantasy sports are 1/1/1 players and Green smashed that last season. Never mind that he has never averaged more than 12 points per game. Points are for suckers. Green was a multi-cat All-Star. Until he wasn’t.
A combination of low usage and limited skill decimated Green’s value this year. Kawhi Leonard’s transcendence and the general depth of the Spurs certainly had something to do with it. But let’s face it-Green might not be as good as we thought he was. My main saving grace is that I didn’t fully believe my own hype. When his price tag crept above $20 in auctions I became gun shy. I didn’t have the guts to pull the trigger. Now I’m glad I didn’t.

The reason why I’m writing about this is not because I want to wallow in my own misery regarding drafting Danny Green in so many leagues, nor to brag about the leagues that I am winning. Rather my intent is to highlight the different thought process involved in winning leagues and losing leagues. Thereby we can determine which choices lead to success and which decisions lead to failure

In an effort to provide real world guidance in what has otherwise been mostly theoretical analysis I will present you with two different leagues, one is a roto-league that I am first in, and the other is a league I am doing poorly in. Both are money leagues.

My best roto team started out with this as my top ten:

This is a balanced team, two deep at every position, and most of these players have exceeded their ADP in value. This was an auction and the draft started by me getting Millsap for $35, a relatively low price. I knew I wanted Lowry because he has returned 2nd round value at times with the Raptors. Although he has been inconsistent in the past, his offseason weight loss was enough to push him over the top for me, and I drafted him for $36. I also wanted Noel for his stocks and I drafted him for $31. Then I reasoned with his relatively poor FT%, I wanted a few cheap FT% anchors. I drafted the following players: IT2 for $16; Gallinari for $15; Dirk for $7. These proved to be absolute bargain buys. This was a deep, balanced team.

Then out of the blue, before the season began someone offered me his Curry/Joe Johnson/Steven Adams for my Brook Lopez/Noel/Wade. He had gone with the “Stars n’ Scrubs” approach in an auction and had drafted both Curry and Westbrook. I was giving up a lot but all three of my players had red flags. Wade misses a lot of games due to minor injuries, and is a turnover machine, which is relevant in 9 cat. Brook Lopez has sterling efficiency but is a relatively poor rebounder. While I think his injury risk is overstated because his foot was surgically repaired, doubt still lingers as to whether he can perform for a full season. Noel has poor percentages. While his FT% isn’t so bad that it requires a punt, it’s still worse than what I would like. Even worse, his FG% is poor for a big man. I’m willing to take on poor FT% if it comes with a corresponding bump to FG%, but Noel is inefficient in both categories. I had no problem shipping away all three for Curry, who ended up being the best player in the league this season. Adams and Joe Johnson both provided low end value as well. Joe Johnson has produced multi-cat lines: 12 PPG/5 RPG/5 APG/1 3PG/1 SPG despite being terrible from the field this season. As he has shot nearly 90% from the line, his FG% is the only real thing preventing him from posting mid-round value. While I thought Adams was merely a throw-in at first, sometimes it’s the “throw-ins” that end up making a deal worthwhile. He’s has been an efficient source of blocks. Then with my centers gone I reasoned I needed to make some other trades to make up for it.

I traded Korver for Hibbert. With Curry now on my team, I didn’t need Korver’s threes. Korver also showed early signs of injury concern as he was sitting out one game in back-to-backs. When he was playing, he really only played well every other game. So between the games he was sitting out, and inconsistency, he was playing well only every third game. After all, he is 34 and coming off an injury. Hibbert has traditionally been in the dog house for many fantasy GMs as he has a tendency to fall apart after the all-star break during the fantasy playoffs. However, in roto that doesn’t really matter. I was ok benching him when/if he ever declined, provided he gave me 50+ games of solid value. So far his efficiency has been pristine and he’s blocked shots. That’s all I ask. Then I traded Hill for Tyson Chandler. With Curry, Lowry, and IT2 in my backcourt, I reasoned that I didn’t need Hill. Chandler is traditionally one of the most efficient big men in the leagues and he gets rebounds. He has been a mild disappointment this year, but has still been better than the big men you can find on the wire. It’s worth noting that I got the worst of it in two of those trades, but I was fine with it, given my team needs. The trade involving Curry was the steal of the year and more than made up for any value I sacrificed. Between Hibbert (who gets blocks) and Chandler (who gets rebounds) I reasoned that I combined I had a very effective duo. Finally, I picked up Ginobili early in the season and have been rostering him ever since.

My team then looked like this:

This was a less balanced team but it performed better, so what happened? I gave up depth in the wings and strength in the front court in exchange for Curry. The quality of my front court had declined but I had gained more depth. This team was top three in my twelve team league in the following categories: assists, steals, threes, both percentages, steals, and points. With 75+ points in tow among those seven categories, I needed only be average in rebounds and blocks to be tops of the league, and so far I’ve accomplished that. At first, the team seems opposed to my general goal of being balanced. That may seem paradoxical to you but I’ll show you how it’s balance that makes this team strong.

Hibbert/Chandler/Adams may not be a front court that leaps out to you as being elite. However, they all get blocks, and are efficient. Additionally, Ginobili and Joe Johnson may not be the duo I had intended to fill my wings at the start of the draft, but they both produce fantasy relevant stats. Meanwhile, it’s difficult to envision a backcourt better than Curry/Lowry/IT2. Curry has been the #1 fantasy player to date. Lowry has produced first round value so far. IT2 has also produced first round value in PPG/3PG/FT%/APG. The difference between Curry and George Hill, for example, is far greater than the difference between Noel and Hibbert.

This brings up the point of categorical scarcity and abundance. Generally, you should be willing to pay for categories that are difficult to find on the waiver wire, and be unwilling to pay for categories that are relatively easy to find on the wire. You can always find a big man who gets a block per game and a shooting guard who hits about two threes per game. Therefore, you should be unwilling to pay a lot for those two categories. This shows why Danny Green was so overrated this year as a shooting guard who hits threes and blocks shots. While such a combination is rare, the two categories individually are anything but. Meanwhile, it’s almost impossible to find assists and points on the wire. The two best passers I’ve found on the wire this year were Tony Parker and Jameer Nelson. While those two players are certainly worthy of roster spots, they both have big weaknesses. It may seem like comparing apples to oranges, but Steven Adams is a much better big man than Nelson is a point guard. The difference between Adams and mid-round big men is insignificant in rebounds, blocks, and the percentages. The biggest difference between Adams and a mid-round big man is just points and that’s only one category.

In contrast, drafting first in a snake draft, I drafted this punt assists team:
1) Anthony Davis;
2) Marc Gasol;
3) Pau Gasol;
4) Danny Green;
5) IT2;
6) Ariza;
7) Middleton;
8) RoLo;
9) Tyson Chandler;
10) Lord Covington;
11) Marcus Smart.

Later I picked up Tony Parker off the wire, which has been a steal. The Gasol brothers will probably meet late 2nd/early 3rd round value, but have struggled thus far, and in no case will they be a steal. Green has been an epic disappointment. Anthony Davis is still an excellent player, but is unlikely to be the #1 fantasy player this year, due to his poor start compared to Curry’s torrid start. On paper this team looked like a lock to win every category aside from assists almost every week. Yet so far it has been below .500. Granted, part of that is due to injuries, particularly to Anthony Davis. However, for reasons that I will get into later, this team is built from a flawed foundation.

I still have high hopes for this team. It has the second best player for fantasy as well as both Gasol brothers in the front court. My wings are all solid “3 and D” players. I’m hoping than Danny Green comes on fire when it matters, during the fantasy playoffs. Part of my early struggles were due to Covington being injured and I hope he gives mid-round value when healthy. Picking up Tony Parker means I may not have to punt assists. I will still lose to teams with a lot invested in their backcourt. However, with IT2/Parker/Smart in my backcourt plus out-of-position assists in the Gasol brothers I can beat teams who also have a weak backcourt. Sometimes fantasy isn’t about being good in a cat, but merely less bad than your opponent. This is a team that could catch fire in the playoffs and come from behind.

That being said, I don’t think it’s nearly as good as the other team I posted. My wings are about equal in both leagues, despite having spent fewer resources for the wings on my roto team. The frontcourt for this team is not much better than the front court in my roto league. Anthony Davis clearly is the best of the bunch. However, can you really state that Anthony Davis/Gasol/Gasol/RoLo/Chandler is better than Millsap/Dirk/Adams/Hibbert/Chandler? Millsap/Dirk as a duo has thus far performed better than the Gasol brothers pretty much across the board in all 9 categories. RoLo and Hibbert profile similarly as efficient shot blocking big men, though Hibbert gets the edge for more blocks. Chandler is on both teams. This is incredible considering I spent my first three picks on the front court for one team and the other front court is comprised of a trade throw-in and two trades involving mid-late round wings.

The problem with the snake draft team is that I didn’t account for statistical scarcity and abundance. The reason why Curry is the best player in fantasy and Anthony Davis isn’t is because Curry produces scarce stats at such an incredible volume. The two scarcest categories are points and assists. Curry produces those in abundance. Let’s suppose Curry finishes the season averaging 30 PPG and 8 APG. There aren’t any late round players capable of doing even half that, averaging 15 PPG and 4 APG. Conversely, Anthony Davis could average 10 rebounds and 3 blocks per game. There are myriad late round big men who can produce at least 5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game. This is an over-simplification because Anthony Davis provides points and efficiency as well, but it highlights the fact that there is much greater difference between early round point guards and late round point guards, than there is between early round big men and late round big men.

Additionally, Curry is shooting guard eligible which provides huge value in a subtle way. The most statistically shallow position in fantasy sports is shooting guard. Point guards are primary producers in assists and steals, while being secondary producers in threes. Big men are primary producers in blocks and rebounds. Meanwhile, shooting guards are primary producers in threes only. To some extent, points and the three efficiency categories (FG%, FT%, and TO) are not position specific. Shooting guards such as Korver have to make a lot of threes and be very efficient to be fantasy relevant. The ability to play Curry as a SG means that you don’t have to draft a borderline useless player later on, instead paring him with a more valuable point guard.

In conclusion, avoid fantasy hype where the player in question has primary contributions in categories that are in abundance. While punting a category can be effective, the most effective approach is the traditional focus on point guards. Secondarily focus on efficiency. Finally, let the big men and shooting guards fall to you in the later rounds. Don’t try to outthink yourself. Sometimes the most basic approach is the correct one.

Posted in Strategy