I’m using the term velocity to describe a phenomenon I have observed in every facet of my life. Velocity is the concept that once you have an something, it is easier to acquire more of that thing. Assets tend to roll downhill, like a snowball, gathering momentum as it rolls along.
When I was playing poker competitively, I tried a variety of methods in tournaments. Sometimes I would play tight for the first few levels, until the antes kicked in, and then I became progressively more aggressive. Then I used my tight image to exploit my opponents by bluffing more frequently at later stages of the tournament, when the pots were larger. The existence of antes played a huge role in my strategy. Other times I would play aggressive early to establish dominance. I would play every hand in the first few levels, when playing pots were cheaper. I would be successful with a few bluffs prior to getting an image as a maniac. Then I would bluff very infrequently later in the tournament and “get paid off” by having opponents call my bets when I wasn’t bluffing. I would continue to play a lot of hands pre-flop, giving my opponents the illusion that I was loose, but would play post-flop somewhat conservatively and get paid off a lot. Other times I threw caution to the wind and played like a full-on maniac throughout the tournament only slowly down perhaps as the final table neared. I would take substantial risks to build a chip lead then use the chip lead as a blunt object, like a hammer. Even a miniscule chip lead instilled fear into my opponents because it meant that I could eliminate them but they could not eliminate me. This fear allowed me to build an even bigger chip lead as they had a difficult time playing against my extreme aggression, and they folded too frequently, giving me easy pots. As a whole, the more aggressive I played the better my overall results were. Often playing overly aggressive led to an early exit, in which case I simply rebought, and fired another bullet. I found that the more chips you have, the easier it is to get win chips. The saying, “the rich get richer while the poor get poorer” is a very true statement. When you have a lot of money you can risk a lot of money on high risk/high reward ventures while risking a smaller percentage of your portfolio. The same is true in fantasy.
I’ve thought more about proper auction strategy than I have thought about any other singular topic. I think more about strategy perhaps even than individual player evaluation. There are generally two polar opposites as it pertains to auction strategy: 1) Stars N Scrubs; 2) Completely Balanced. Both have strengths and weaknesses.
Stars N Scrubs
Stars N Scrubs is the basic strategy of using all of your auction dollars on two or three superstars and filling the rest of your roster with “scrubs” bought for $1 auction dollar or on the waiver wire. The approach has some strengths and weakness. It relies on some concepts that many people are intuitively aware of but probably haven’t articulated.
The first concept is that the replacement player in fantasy is not worth $0 auction dollars. In a typical 12 team/13 player format, 156 players will be drafted. However, the 157th ranked player has value. In fact, the 150th and 200th ranked player may not be much different in value. The “replacement player” is the player available on the waiver wire. They have $0 cost (aside from burning a claim or FAAB money) but they have non-zero value. In essence, they are free value. Every year, some players exceed their ADP and some do not. Especially at the lower end, we tend to be poor at player evaluation, meaning there are often undrafted players who return mid-round value. GMs employing the Stars N Scrubs exploit better than others because they have the most scrubs that they are willing to drop for the hot WW pickups.
The second concept that Stars N Scrubs exploits is that as we go down the ranking chart, the difference between a player and the player below him becomes increasing minor. There is a massive difference between the MVP this year, Curry, and the first round talents below him. Then there is a massive difference between say Kawhi/Millsap and third round talents. In fact, the difference between Curry and the 20th ranked player is greater than the difference between the 20th ranked player and the 120th ranked player.
However, this approach also has some flaws that I find to be intolerable. The first being that we don’t know for certain which Stars will pan out. People tend to think that the Stars are a sure thing. While it may be true that most preseason stars have good stats in the season, they often drastically fail to reach their projections. For example, Anthony Davis owners have a right to be disappointed thus far. While he has certainly returned first round value, his percentages have been down, and he has missed some games. While this may seem minor, many GMs paid $80 or more for him. John Cregan at ESPN has done some fascinating research tying auction dollars to value on the player rater and has concluded in essence that no player is worth more than $60 analyzed this way. If that’s so, the delta between Davis’s cost and his true value is about $20. So while he has been good this year, he has cost owners about $20 in value. You should be more disappointed in your ROI on Davis than even a disaster as bad as Danny Green, assuming you bought Green for $19 or less. Even if you dropped Green to the WW, his replacement is likely worth at least a few dollars. Therefore, you’ve only lost about $15 of value; whereas, if you bought Davis you are missing out on $20+ in value. When the stars don’t pan out, even if their regression is relatively minor, it costs you a lot more in absolute value. I think this is counter-intuitive to the way a lot of people think. Secondly, the Stars N Scrubs approach entails a lot more risk. If one of your stars gets injured, your season is just about over. You can’t afford to lose 1/3 of your budget.
Completely Balanced. Both have strengths and weaknesses
The polar opposite is spreading your budget perfectly evenly across 10 different players, who cost $20 each. While I once advocated for this approach, this is no longer my strategy. This is the fantasy equivalent of diversifying your portfolio in financial terms. The approach reduces risk by distributing the value of your assets more evenly. When one player gets injured, or fails to pan out, he is costing you proportionately less. Mid-tier players such as these often have the greatest ROI as well. Many players bought for $20 will return round 2 or 3 value.
The reason why I’ve moved on from this approach is because often times it entails spending $20 on a player who is only marginally above WW material. Think Danny Green, Middleton, Ariza, Al Jefferson, etc. this year. It’s difficult to drop Middleton for a hot free agent such as Avery Bradley. After all, Bradley is bound to cool down, and Middleton is a solid asset. Or so you say…The truth is Bradley may not slow down and by season end Bradley and Middleton will likely have roughly equal value. The only difference being that you perhaps paid $20 for Middleton and Bradley may have been free for his owner. A player’s value is not determined by his stats in absolute terms, but rather in relation to his value above the replacement player. Many $20 players have value barely above the replacement player, meaning their value is nill. By spending $20 on them, you have wasted $19.
If I advocate neither Stars N Scrubs, nor the Perfectly Balanced approach, then what do I recommend? This is where the concept of velocity comes in. It is easier to acquire value when you already have value. Suppose I spent $75 on Curry in a roto league. I now have such a large lead in points, assists, steals, and threes that I do not have to focus as much on these categories. I also have elite efficiency on a high volume player. I can take my draft several different directions from there. I can afford to take on an inefficient player at a discount as Curry’s efficiency will mitigate against it. I could even punt FT%. When punting FT%, the most difficult categories to acquire are assists, steals, points, and threes. These are categories Curry has in spades. Buying Curry early could enable me to draft Whiteside type players, knowing I already have threes in my back pocket. Conversely, I could draft a point guard such as Lowry. One of Curry’s strengths is the ability to fill the SG slot. Now by combining him with Lowry, I have such a large advantage in assists, steals, and threes that I can draft half a dozen big men and still be tops in assists, steals, and threes. Having one star on your team increases your velocity as it enables you more freedom to take your draft in many different directions.
However, drafting multiple stars kills your velocity. Now you are restricting your options because you have decimated your budget. All that pre-draft research isn’t worth anything if you don’t have any money left over to bid on your sleepers.
I advocate drafting one star per team then after that using the remainder of your dollars to buy sleepers. If you buy one star for $70, for example, then you have $130 for the remainder of your team. This is better than the balanced approach because the players you can purchase for $13 don’t differ drastically than the $20 players.
You definitely want one star on your team as those players are irreplaceable but you definitely don’t want to blow your entire budget on a couple of them. This, by the way, is the way many franchises operate: draft one franchise player and warp your team around him. Once you have a player such as Curry, WW big men such as Clint Capela become so much more valuable. If you were concerned about points or FT%, maybe Capela wouldn’t be so valuable. However, with Curry as a magnificent points and FT% anchor, you are no longer concerned about those categories. Capela returns mid-round value for the big man cats: FG%/REBS/BLKS. However, he is completely polarized in that direction, meaning he returns little value in other cats. He is essentially a three-cat wonder who become invaluable once you have a player such as Curry to augment him. The same could be said of Andrew Bogut and Curry in real life. Curry makes Bogut better, but vice-versa is also true.
FYI, this is another reason why it is fruitless to rank the greatest players of all time. Some people see the Warriors or Spurs and say that their system made Duncan and Curry great. Others say Duncan made the system. However, both are true. The Spurs and Duncan are forever linked. You can’t have one without the other. They made each other great.
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.
The same is true of fantasy teams. Curry is only one player. I can guarantee you that his fantasy owners are thrilled this year, but a team can still lose with Curry on it. What Curry gives you is velocity. He is the catalyst that breaks inertia. He enables you to acquire assets that make your team better, while he makes those assets appear better than they would otherwise be. There are many different approaches to auctions and I hope this article has provided some food for