Are You For Real?: Making a keeper-league deal

Mac: If you're like us, the All-Star break wasn't really a break at all. In fact, it's probably the best time of the year to take stock of your fantasy team, think strategy and brainstorm for potential deals or waiver-wire additions. And that's exactly what I did with my "time off" this weekend, in between watching some of the All-Star festivities and the Pavlik/Taylor fight, of course. I'm not exactly sure what Guy did with his extra downtime, though I'm sure it involves something similar despite his claims of a highly active and entertaining nightlife.

We thought the All-Star break would give us a good chance to talk strategy, and what better way to do that than to give you a glimpse at one of my main leagues, a head-to-head keeper. In this particular league, I've been working on a few trades that may bolster my lineup come playoff time. Before we look at the potential deals, let me give some quick background on the league specs:

League Format

Teams: 12
Format: head-to-head, daily transactions
Scoring Categories: field goal percentage, free-throw percentage, points scored, 3-pointers, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, turnovers.
Keeper Rules: Each player is assigned a dollar value based on his draft-day position. For example, a player selected in the first round is worth $12. A player selected in the second round is worth $11 and so on. Those plucked off the wire start with a value of $1. If a player is kept, his value increases by $1 every year until he is thrown back into the general population. We have a budget of $25 to spend on three keepers at the start of every season. Coming into this season, I kept Chris Paul for $10, Dwight Howard for $6 and Al Jefferson for $2. The rest of my squad is as follows, with keeper values for next season in parentheses:

G: Chris Paul, G ($11)
G: Deron Williams, G ($11)

G: Mo Williams, G ($10)
F: Rudy Gay, G/F ($8)
F: Ronnie Brewer, G/F ($3)
F: Al Jefferson, F/C ($3)
C: Dwight Howard, C ($7)
C: Tyson Chandler, C ($9)
UT: Mike Conley, G ($1)
UT: Beno Udrih, G ($1)
BN: Jamario Moon, F ($1)
BN: Thaddeus Young, F ($1)

BN: Kurt Thomas, F/C ($1)
BN: Josh Boone, F/C ($1)


Mac: As you can see, I have a pretty sick stash of keepers. If I keep this lineup intact, I can potentially keep my core -- Paul, Howard and Jefferson -- for two more seasons! Unfortunately, by keeping Howard, I'm locked into punting free-throw percentage and turnovers. I rarely win these categories on a week-to-week basis, and I don't try to. Instead, I focus on dominating field goal percentage, points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. And I do that almost every week. Here's a breakdown of my team's record in each category:

Field goal percentage: 14-2
Free-throw percentage: 2-14
3-pointers: 3-13-1
Points: 12-4
Rebounds: 13-3
Assists: 11-5
Steals: 12-4
Blocks: 12-4
Turnovers: 5-11
Total record: 84-59-1, 2nd place

It's a personal opinion, but I've found that in head-to-head leagues, it's much easier to take home the championship with a team that focuses on winning five or six categories every week. I've tried to win H2H leagues with a balanced "Roto" roster but had little success. Punting certain categories seems to work for me, but one thing to keep in mind before following this strategy: You have to make sure you're winning the categories you set out to win. Otherwise, it won't work. With that in mind, any trade that I even think about making will have to strengthen my team in one or more of the following categories: field goal percentage, points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks.

Guy: I understand Mac's punting strategy. Over the years I have used it successfully in many head-to-head leagues. However, I use a modified version of the strategy that I call squibbing. Punting means conceding categories. Essentially, you have almost no chance of winning a category you are punting. With a combined record of 5-27-1, Mac has been punting free throws and 3-pointers.

Squibbing is when you give yourself a shot at winning a weak category, just as when the kickoff team squib kicks to give itself a shot at recovering the ball. You don't count on winning a squibbed category. You remain focused on winning your strengths but you move from, say, a .230 winning percentage in 3-pointers (as Mac has) to .400 or.500 by adding a few players to address areas of extreme weakness. This way you can net yourself a few 7-2 or even 8-1 weeks instead of settling for 5-4 and 6-3 every time. So long as your core categories remain undiminished this should be the goal of everyone who is "punting" categories. Even though I was lambasted for the trade, this was one the main reasons I traded Dwight Howard for Chris Kaman a few weeks ago. I am now squibbing free-throw percentage instead of punting it. The result since Kaman joined my active lineup is one 8-1 week followed by a 7-2 week.


Mac: Over the past few weeks, I've had some major trade offers cross my way. Everyone wants their hands on my cheap stash of young keepers. Here are some of the offers I've received with the keeper prices in parentheses:

Paul Pierce ($13) for Rudy Gay ($8)

Mac: Not Real. On name recognition alone, this deal looks like a steal for yours truly, doesn't it? Well, not really. Just take a quick glance at the stats: Gay actually trumps Pierce in six of nine fantasy categories. The only real difference maker is Pierce's assists. While that might be a category I'm looking to bolster, I'm not sure if it's worth giving up a keeper like Gay just to add three assists per game. Remember, even though I'm pretty much set on keeping Paul, Jefferson and Howard, anything can change between now and the start of next season. Just ask those who sold their souls to acquire Elton Brand at the end of last season.

Aside from the assists, Gay and Pierce are very similar statistically, but are at completely different stages of the careers. Gay, at 21, is the young up-and-comer, while Pierce is turning into a wily veteran in his 10th season as a pro. My biggest concern with Pierce is that Doc Rivers might be tempted to rest him once the Celtics wrap up home-court advantage. If the Celtics do rest Pierce, it would come at the worst of times, smack in the middle of the fantasy playoffs. That's not something I'm willing to risk, especially considering that barring an injury, there is literally no chance that the rebuilding Grizzlies even consider resting Gay toward the end of the season.

Guy: Not Real. I love my Celtics, and Pierce has been fantastic this season, but in this scenario, there is no way I make this trade. I know Pierce is rated 19th and Gay 26th in the Player Rater, and Pierce's name value is oh so seductive. But that is exactly what the opposing owner is counting on. In the end, these favorite athletes of ours are mere statistical aggregates. Names mean nothing. I would draft Kim Jong Il if he averaged a triple-double. Seriously, I would. It all boils down to categories and needs. Looking at these players side by side, it is hard to see how Pierce helps push Mac into the invincible range. He only really makes a difference in assists. That isn't reason enough to do this deal. Mac's point about Pierce getting minutes off is key. In looking at prospective trades, be wary of guys who may rest in the final few weeks. This year is an oddity in that almost no one in the Western Conference will be rested because the top 10 teams are so bunched together. But the Celtics and Pierce are susceptible. Furthermore, Mac can't keep Pierce. I know Mac said he's not planning on keeping Gay, but things can still happen this season -- injuries, other trades, etc. -- and you want to remain flexible. Because of the cost of each, Mac has to pass on this deal.

Allen Iverson ($13), Gerald Wallace ($12) and Antawn Jamison ($11) for Al Jefferson ($3) and Rudy Gay ($8)

Guy: Not Real. This is a classic damn-the-torpedoes trade in a keeper league. The other owner is trying to overwhelm Mac with statistical goodness (especially in points scored) so that he will give up two players the other owner will keep for next season. Mac, on the other hand, can't afford to keep anyone on the other side of the deal. "Be Here Now" was a popular book among hippies in the '70s. The title came from a surfer-guru named Bhagavan Das who repeated that mantra to the author, Ram Dass, when they were in India together. While that may have seemed groovy at the time, Bags found the going a little tougher when he came back home to the States, becoming a used-car salesman after his pithy one-liners ran out of steam. The point is if you trade away your future to make a run for the present, you better be sure you win it all this season and then be ready for some lean times ahead. With this move, Mac doesn't really improve enough to ensure total supremacy. His field goal percentage would fall. His free throws would stay about the same, as would rebounds. His blocks would decrease and his turnovers would rise substantially. He would improve in scoring, 3-pointers, steals and assists, but he was already winning scoring, steals and assists. Gaining in one category at the expense of three is never a good idea. The moral of this tale: Don't mortgage your future if all it buys you is a used-car lot.

Mac: Not Real. Talk about a tempting deal. If accepted, I would gain major advantages in points, assists, steals and probably even a minor bump in rebounds or 3-pointers depending on whom I would drop to complete the transaction. Statistically, I'd lose ground in only three categories: field goal percentage, blocks and turnovers. The turnovers don't bother me, I don't win that category anyway, nor do I care to. My team would survive the hit in field goal percentage because I'm completely dominant there, but the blocks would suffer mightily. Jefferson swats 1.4 per game while Gay turns away a solid 0.8. In return, I get a guy who used to block shots in bulk in Wallace, but rejects only one per game now. The lack of blocks is a major concern here, especially given my team strengths. Still, it's hard to deny that this deal would give my team a great shot at winning the title this season, especially because it would give me some extra depth. But at what cost? At his price, Jefferson is probably this league's best keeper. Think about it: I can keep him for another nine years before he becomes a first-round value at $12! That's sickness, and I'd venture to say that Big Al will be a first- or second-round selection in fantasy drafts for most of that time. Let's not forget that Gay is quite the keeper as well and is probably a legitimate second-round selection in fantasy drafts next season. In fact, if I decide not to trade him, I may even consider keeping him over Dwight Howard next season.

Steve Nash ($12) and Jamal Crawford ($6) for Deron Williams ($11) and Josh Boone ($1)

Mac: For Real. At first, I was offered Nash for Williams straight up and I rejected the deal without hesitation. Nash may be ahead of Williams in most fantasy rankings, but not for my team. Looking at the stats below, Nash is clearly the better all-around fantasy player, but the two are fairly close, and I don't think my team would be able to survive the hit in steals if I made the move. Remember, winning steals is an absolute must in order for this strategy to work. Adding Crawford to the deal not only bolsters my points, but also ensures that I'll never lose assists while easing my fears about Nash's steal totals. An added bonus is that I'm suddenly competitive in the 3-point category as Nash and Crawford would join forces with Rudy Gay, Chris Paul, Mo Williams and Beno Udrih as my main 3-point threats. Losing Boone shouldn't hurt much as his numbers are starting to slide with Nenad Krstic back, plus he was already on my chopping block. The last piece of the puzzle here is the keeper values. Williams is tough to let go at $11, but barring an injury to Chris Paul in the offseason, I can't envision any scenario where I'd keep Williams over Paul in the fantasy game. They are both incredible talents, but Paul is clearly the better fantasy point guard.

Guy: For Real. This is my favorite offer of the bunch and the one I told Mac to go for. Here's why. For one thing, no keepers are affected. Mac can have his cake and eat it, too -- though why one would have cake and not eat it has always puzzled me -- he can play for this season without having to sacrifice his core. Indeed, Nash actually improves on Williams' assists and percentages. Getting Crawford seals the deal. His productivity from both the free-throw and 3-point lines plays perfectly into my squibbing strategy. Mac is still likely to lose most weeks at the free-throw line, but adding Nash (89.8 percent on 3.0 attempts per game) and Crawford (86.6 percent on 4.7 attempts) could tip the balance in those weeks Mac faces a similarly Nick Anderson-disposed opponent. In 3-pointers, Mac does even better. These two players collectively bring 4.2 3-pointers made per game to the table. Williams hit just 0.9 per game, yielding a difference of 3.3 3-pointers per game. This is huge, and now I expect Mac to win close to half the time in this category. Significantly, none of his core categories was sacrificed to make this happen. Crawford's biggest weakness is his field goal percentage, but on this team he can't possibly sink the ship as he might on another team with fewer extreme high-percentage shooters. So, what did you do, Mac?

Mac: It pains me to say it but Deron Williams is no longer a member of my fantasy squad. I'm going to miss him for sure, but in his place I get Steve Nash and Jamal Crawford to strengthen my team for a playoff run while not sacrificing my keeper situation for future seasons. The other deals were quite tempting, but they didn't seem to fit perfectly with my strategy. I may revisit those trades at a later time, but I'd have to make some minor modifications before clicking the "accept" button.

Guy Lake and Brian McKitish are fantasy analysts for ESPN.com. Guy can be reached at GuyLake@TalentedMrRoto.com while Mac can be found at Littlemac@TalentedMrRoto.com.