The most important element in winning a fantasy basketball championship is your draft, but you'll need to do plenty of roster tweaking during the season if you're going to wrap your fingers around your league's trophy in April. Player performance and minutes are particularly fluid early in the season, which means this is the perfect time to make heady moves to strengthen your roster and maximize your chances of becoming a champion at season's end.
Is it time to panic already?
It doesn't matter who you are or how long you've been playing, when things go well the first few weeks you want to pat yourself on the back, and when things don't go right early on, you want to hit the "panic" button. I've been playing fantasy hoops since the mid-'90s and covering it online for a decade, but I still feel like panicking when my teams start off slowly.
Do I panic? Sometimes, but only after I've taken a nonemotional look at the state of my team, players and league standings to determine that there's a genuine need to panic early on. The most important thing you can do right now is know when to be patient and when you really do need to panic. To do that properly, you'll need to know how to assess your standings and player values.
Assessing standings and player value
Before you get bent out of shape about the standings in your roto leagues, consider that each week is about 1/25th of the entire NBA season. That's a pretty small sample size for you to draw concrete conclusions about players and your team. Every player has bad weeks during the season, and so do fantasy teams. It's just the randomness of an 82-game, 25-week campaign. And to make matters even more fluid early on, NBA teams often limit veteran minutes and give extra play to youngsters during the first month; management knows what they'll get from the vets, so they rest them a bit for the long haul, while getting a look at what the younger guys can contribute to the team in the coming months.
You can take a similar approach in assessing your players and standings.
If you specifically drafted five players who block a ton of shots and you're team is in last place in blocks right now, take a closer look at the players. Are they all veterans in their primes who have been reliable sources of blocks for several years? If so -- and other circumstances aren't limiting their production -- just write it off to chance. Those blocks are going to come, so be patient.
On the other hand, if your five guys all are young and haven't proven themselves as reliable shot-blockers the past few years, you may need to address this immediately as a genuine problem for your team.
If you're in a head-to-head league that uses categories, and you've been smoked by your opponents in 3s the first two weeks, take a close look at your players to determine if this is a fluke or a legit long-term problem. Do you simply not have enough quality 3-point shooters? Or are your guys just off to a slow start?
One of the best ways to determine whether a slow start is a trend or an anomaly is to compare a player's history with his current performance. Consider Brandon Roy, who currently is shooting just 42.6 percent from the field. He shot 48 percent from the floor last season, during which he hit at least 46 percent of his shots each month. So we can safely assume that Roy's just off to a slow start and will raise his shooting percentage above 46 percent soon enough.
Another interesting example is Russell Westbrook, who was shooting an amazing 48 percent -- just like Roy did last season -- from the field before a rough night Tuesday. It's amazing because as a rookie Westbrook topped 46 percent from the field in just one month and completed the campaign with an embarrassing .398 field goal percentage. Personally, I expected a significant jump in his shooting percentage this season, perhaps to the mid-40s. Considering his history last season, we shouldn't expect his field goal percentage to be any higher than its current 45 percent, although I don't think it will drop all the way to the low-40s.
Games played pace
If all of your players are starting off hot in a rotisserie league, I'd roll them all out there, even if you get ahead in games played. Quality games are quality games, and you should use them whenever you can. Otherwise, I recommend staying at or just below the standard pace of your league, so you can make up ground in certain categories later in the season by rotating players through your starting lineup.
If your team is dinged up (I have a team with Devin Harris, Michael Redd and Tyrus Thomas), there's nothing wrong with letting yourself fall behind in games, even if it means you fall far behind in your roto standings. When your team is healthy again, you can rotate them and other players into your lineup and catch up in games played and the standings.
You can't necessarily be as patient in H2H leagues. If your roster is decimated by injuries or slow-starting players and you can't compete each week, you may fall too far behind in the standings to get to the playoffs.
You can also run into problems if you constructed a team with a number of players whose teams play a small number of weekly games early on. Check our games-per-week schedule to see if that's a problem you'll need to address now. Be proactive in either of these H2H situations and adjust your roster to keep yourself competitive.
Working the waiver wire
NBA playing rotations still are being settled, so it's imperative that you work your waiver wire with diligence every day. You'll want to be sure to consider the value and potential of the player you drop, but every year there are a number of players you can pick up as free agents who will contribute to your team for the remainder of the season. You don't want to miss out on them.
Deciding what to do with injured players on your roster and injured players on waivers can be particularly important to your success in Fantasyland. I have Tyrus Thomas, who is out for the next four to six weeks, in a couple of leagues. One is shallow and I have other players who are hurt (Harris, Richard Hamilton, Eric Gordon), so I dropped Thomas for Roy Hibbert to help keep me afloat in blocks. The other league is deep and head-to-head with weekly lineups, so I picked Thomas up off waivers after another owner dropped him. Since you can't rotate players in each day, I figure I can stash Thomas on my bench and benefit from his production in a couple of months.
This is the best time of the season to prey on the weak. Look at the teams near the bottom of your league's rankings and find quality players you like who are underperforming. Offer up players you feel are overperforming. This is especially successful with rookie owners, those who get excited about name recognition and those who are likely to panic early when their team isn't playing well.
A simple way to do this, if you're still learning the subtleties of fantasy basketball, is to compare your pre-draft rankings with the Player Rater to find players you ranked high who currently are ranked far lower on the Player Rater. Target those players and offer up guys on your team who currently are performing better than you expected.
Retro Roto: Oscar Robertson
For nearly a decade, I've been doing a segment called Retro Roto, where I take a look back in time at hoops greats. Some players will make you wish there was fantasy hoops when they balled or that you were even alive when they trod the hardwood. Others will spark memories of studs who led you to titles or a great trade you made years ago. Often, I'll compare them to current players to give some perspective. But today, I'm going back to the first player who ever appeared in a Retro Roto, a player who is truly incomparable in fantasy terms: The Big O.
It's no secret that Oscar Robertson is the only player in NBA history to average a triple-double, but that's just a single moment in a giant statistical career. In fact, Robertson missed averaging a trip-dub by only 0.3 dimes per game as a rookie, 0.5 dimes his third campaign and 0.1 boards the next season. That means he basically averaged a triple-double his first four seasons in the Association.
He didn't just squeak over the triple-double mark during that magical 1961-62 season, a performance of mythical proportions for fantasy junkies. In just his second campaign, The Big O averaged 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists. As if those ridiculous digits weren't enough, he hit 48 percent of his 22.9 field goal attempts and 80 percent of his 11.0 free throw attempts. We don't know his steals and blocks averages, because they didn't keep those stats back then. I'm willing to bet that he swiped plenty of balls and even blocked a fair number of shots.
Only LeBron James could even enter a conversation today about fantasy production near the level of the 6-foot-5, 200-pound swingman Robertson, but his free throw percentage and assists aren't going to catch up with The Big O, who averaged more than 30 points and 11 assists in his first five seasons.
Chris Paul went for a whopping $94 and LeBron was sold at $82 in a $200-budget industry auction this season. It's hard to even imagine what price The Big O would have fetched at the height of his career.
Tom Carpenter is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.