Fantasy Basketball Empathy

Listening to Differing Views

“Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.” – Bruce Lee.

I’m writing this because I haven’t always been open-minded about the viewpoints of my fellow fantasy GMs and many of them certainly haven’t been empathetic to me or my views. The truth is that many different strategies can have success in fantasy. Much of time, we are more concerned about proving ourselves right than we are about learning.

I’ve found to follow your instinct regarding the players that you are passionate about, while listening to others about the players that they are passionate about. Being passionate about a player generally leads you to doing research regarding that player. Following your gut can also be tempting because of emotional rewards. If you follow your own path and succeed, you will bask in the satisfaction of having been correct. Yet if you fail, at least you fail gloriously, following your own path. The worst feeling is to fail while doing what someone else told you to do.

If I had to pick a starting lineup with the players that I was most passionate about during the preseason it would have been: IT2, Curry, Danny Green, Mirotic, Gobert.

IT2 is easy to like: an offensive sparkplug and one of the few NBA players who is shorter than I am. What’s not to like?

I love shooters and Curry is one of the best shooters ever to play the game. While others may have been even more passionate that I was, I was pretty adamant that Curry would be the best player in the league due to his shooting guard eligibility.

I was wrong about Danny Green, no need to beat a dead horse.

I was partially right about Mirotic and Gobert. I love Mirotic for his ability to shoot from anywhere on the court and his desire to gun with complete disregard for whether the ball goes in the hoop or not. What can I say? I love shooters. Gobert was a fan favorite of mine because as I went to both college and law school at the University of Utah, most of my friends are huge Jazz fans. However, it’s important to recognize the difference between players that I like in real life and those that I like in fantasy. It is equally important to recognize that even though I may like a player, I may not be willing to overpay for him. In many leagues, the hype regarding Gobert was completely out of proportion to his ability, and he was being drafted in the second round or for $50 in auctions. I drafted him when I was able to get him for under $40 and at that price I was content with his performance prior to his injury.

The players I was most critical of were probably Anthony Davis, Jimmy Butler, and Carmelo Anthony. Bear in mind that I was never derogatory toward these players, I simply didn’t think they would meet their ADP.

Regarding Davis, I know he is a good player, but I didn’t think he was worth the $80+ that he cost in auctions. He is often injured. Although none of his injuries are severe, you would probably breathe a sigh of relief if he plays 65 games. Missing that many games reduces his value by close to 25%. If you cut his value by 25% he’s now in Marc Gasol territory, who is an excellent player, but worth about half of $80. Even if he played 82 games, I wouldn’t pay $80 for him. Late in the preseason, we knew that the Pelicans would be without Holiday and Evans. Big men lose a lot of value when they don’t have guards passing to them.

My criticism of Butler was simple-I predicted he would lose about 10% of his value. Butler led the league in MPG last season and I thought he would receive at least a 10% reduction in playing time. With Mirotic emerging, a glut of big men in the front court, and Rose getting touches I simply didn’t think Butler would maintain his usage. So far, I was accurate, as he is about 10% worse than he was last season. I never said that he wasn’t a good player, nor did I say that you shouldn’t draft him. In fact, I drafted him. But I became infamous for predicting he would have a 10% reduction in value.

My predictions regarding Melo were fairly universal for those of us who reside outside of New York. He is a past-his-prime wing who relies heavily on isolation to score. It wasn’t difficult to see his scoring dropping a little. Additionally, he has nagging injuries that aren’t going away now that he is older. He will probably retain third round value solely because of his high usage but his upside is capped. I was spot on about these players, despite stirring a bit of controversy at the time.

Generally, you would be quite happy if you drafted IT2, Curry, Danny Green, Mirotic, and Gobert. While Green was a complete miss, perhaps you’ve moved on from him, and dropped him to the waiver wire. For the others, if you have them on your team, you probably were first in any roto league before Gobert was injured. Similarly, if you avoided drafting Davis, Butler, and Melo, you saved yourself quite a bit of auction dollars.

However, everyone in the world would benefit from listening to others. One of the people I disagreed with the most frequently, was correct in many of his forecasts. For example, several people were very wary of Danny Green’s value before the season began. This particular person takes the approach of generally ignoring efficiency, instead drafting players whose rebounds + assists + points combine for the highest total among available players. He reasoned that there is a lot of variance in stocks, so they aren’t categories he wants to rely on. Additionally, players with high rebounds, assists, and points can also produce stocks and threes. He may have unwittingly discovered a cardinal fantasy principal-usage rate. Players with high rebounds, assists, and points are naturally going to have a high usage rate. High usage rate players will often have decent stocks. Even if such players are not known as defensive experts, the mere fact that they are on the court for longer periods of time means they incidentally get stocks.

This individual was particularly vehement in his opposition to drafting Serge Ibaka and Danny Green. He was probably correct about those two. Of course, he was also against Kawhi and Gobert, due to their relative lack of scoring. He was incorrect about those two. Kawhi has exceeded even optimistic projections while Gobert has been decent, if unspectacular, prior to getting injured.

He was also vehemently opposed to the theory of punting assists. I would have been thrilled to draft this punt assists team: IT2, Danny Green, Kawhi, Ibaka, Gobert. In fact, that was the precise team I tried to draft in most auction mocks. I think that team would have made him hurl his laptop at a wall in disgust. He had openly criticized each and every one of these players. Based on how the season has gone thus far, I was correct about a lot of things. However, I wish I would have listened to him regarding Green in particular.

I bring this up not to criticize, but to apologize. I should have listened to him. And he should have listened to me. If we had been a little more empathetic to each other’s views, we BOTH would have had better fantasy seasons. My focus on efficiency and stocks wasn’t optimal. His approach on rebounds + assists + points wasn’t optimal. However, if we had listened to each other instead of arguing, both of us would have approach a more optimal team. Perhaps he would have drafted IT2 and I would have passed on Green.

In the preseason, I both criticized and supported other players whom I wasn’t passionate about one way or another. I regret that now. I made statements without having done proper research, which made me look foolish. Some of my comments had no bearing whatsoever on how I did in my leagues. Most of the comments that I regret were toward players who I wasn’t drafting because I wasn’t passionate about them. As I wasn’t drafting them, there’s no way they would impact me in my leagues. However, the comments made me look foolish. My advice is simple and direct-don’t comment on players whom you aren’t passionate about. If you are passionate that a player will be a bust, comment and explain why. If you are in love with a player, do the same. But keep your comments to yourself regarding players you are indifferent toward. Making comments without having done the proper research will make you appear foolish and could even lead others astray.

If I would have followed my own advice to the letter, I would have had a terrible season. Fortunately, I wasn’t rigid in my thinking. I listened to others and I was better for it. Certainly listening to others cost me at times. For example, I drafted Nerlens Noel and Al Jefferson in a couple of my leagues based on the comments from other posters. These are inefficient players who do not fit the profile of the players I like to draft. However, some articulate posters led me to gamble on them in a couple of leagues. Obviously, they didn’t pan out.

On the other hand, I drafted a few players because of the comments of others. The players that stick out the most in my mind are: Thaddeus Young, Danillo Gallinari, Otto Porter, Kristaps Porzingis, and Lord Covington. These are all players whom I drafted because of specific comments from people that I respect. Admittedly, I only own them in a few leagues because they weren’t players I was passionate about, but I’m glad I have them in those leagues. In the end, listening to others hurt me at times, but it helped more than it hurt.

There is always an optimal line in fantasy drafts, we just do not know what it is ahead of time, and will not know until the end of the season. I’ve done a lot of thinking about what the optimal strategy would have been this season in nine cat roto. The best teams I’ve come up with involving having an elite point guard, an elite wing, and an elite big man.

The Optimal Fantasy Trio

The Optimal Fantasy Trio
The best fantasy trio that I can envision, taking their preseason auction values into consideration, would have been Stephen Curry, Kawhi Leonard, and Hassan Whiteside.

The best fantasy trio that I can envision, taking their preseason auction values into consideration, would have been Stephen Curry, Kawhi Leonard, and Hassan Whiteside. This should come as no surprise as Curry has been out of this world, the best fantasy player by far this season. Kawhi has risen to the next level, finally adding elite scoring to his already impressive nine cat value. Whiteside has been an absolute beast, somehow averaging more than four blocks per game.

Between these three musketeers, you would enjoy absolute dominance in threes, steals, and blocks. This trio would also be elite, though not necessarily dominant in the following categories: scoring, rebounds, assists, and FG%. It’s only possible weakness would be FT% and TO. While Whiteside certainly hurts your FT%, he hasn’t been as bad as say Andre Drummond or DeAndre Jordan, and doesn’t necessitate a full FT% punt. Having an elite FT% shooter such as Curry would likely enable you to rise toward the middle of the field in that category. It’s difficult to be tops in that TO with an otherwise good team, because the best players have high usage and high turnovers. In most roto leagues, I aim to be middle of the pack in TO. In a typical 12 man, 9 cat roto league a team with this structure would likely score roughly as follows:

  • FG% – 10 points
  • FT% – 5 points
  • 3PM – 12 points
  • REB – 10 points
  • AST – 9 points
  • STL – 12 points
  • BLK – 12 points
  • PTS – 10 points
  • TO – 5 points

This team would score roughly 85 roto points in a typical 12 team league. Generally 75 points is sufficient to win a 12 team league and 80 is sufficient for a 14 team league. By those standards, this team would be absolutely dominant.

The preseason auction values for this trio wouldn’t have been too expensive. Curry cost $75 in most leagues, which was well worth the investment. Kawhi was a bargain and could be had for $50 in most leagues. Meanwhile, Whiteside was a steal at $25, as his poor free throw shooting and possible character issues allowed GMs to purchase him at a major discount. This trio would have cost roughly $150.

This begs the question: Is this a “stars n scrubs” team or a “balanced team”? The answer is one that attorneys often give-it depends. My view is that to be a true “stars n scrubs” team your entire budget needs to be used on a few stars, with the remainder of your roster filled with $1 players, and waiver wire additions. The fantasy interface forces you to save at least $1 for players at the end of your bench. For example, if you have $200 and 13 player rosters, the interface will only allow you to spend $190 on your top 3 players. It forces you to save $1 for each of the remaining 10 players. Therefore, a true “stars n scrubs” approach is one where you’ve spent $190 on three or four players. In the current case, you’ve only spent $150. You could fill the remaining 10 slots with $4 players. Or you could invest in a few sleepers such as Gallinari, Dirk, and IT2, all of whom had massive ROI this season. These players each cost under $15 in many leagues so you could have afforded them to fill in your empty roster slots. Though you bought the biggest star in the world, this would not have been a true stars n scrubs team.

Conversely, it differs drastically from a complete balanced team. A completely balanced team seeks to have 10 players who all cost roughly $20 each. While you won’t purchase 10 players for precisely $20, you want to be fairly close. This trio looks nothing like a completely balanced team. In fact, a completely balanced team would have sucked this year because the players typically purchased for $20, think Danny Green and Al Jefferson types, were epic disappointments. Sure, players such as Dirk, IT2, and Gallinari also cost under $20. But these players were also in the price range of Curry owners. You would be hard pressed to find 10 players whose average cost was under $20 who greatly exceeded their ADP this year.

As this is neither a stars n scrubs team nor a balance team, we wouldn’t have drafted this team if we were following either approach. There were many passionate advocates for each of these players. In fact, even if you had no prior fantasy experience but simply listened to the most articulate advocates, there was a good chance you could have drafted the three musketeers. In that case, having no prior experience whatsoever would have been better than coming in with preconceived notions. Perhaps that’s why newbies who autodraft often do well. There is incredible value in listening to others. You simply must separate the signal from the noise.

Posted in Strategy