For the casual NBA fan, the weekend's All-Star festivities were the highlight of the regular season. For fantasy hoops junkies like us, the four-day break from game action was a welcome respite from our never-ending obsession with NBA stats but far from the highlight of our season. Just like NBA players, we find our highlight at the end of the season. Now that we've taken that proverbial blow, we're ready to lace back up and do our darnedest to bring home a championship.
The last day of the regular season is just eight weeks from today. Two months is plenty of time to make drastic swings in your leagues, regardless of the format. But let there be no doubt: Think things through and plan properly or you'll end up relying only on luck to win. You'll need a bit of that anyway, but proper strategy can give you the edge against your opponents and the best shot at bringing home the title.
The beauty of the roto format is that it's completely transparent. You can simply look at each category and see exactly how far behind or ahead you are compared with each team. It's pretty obvious what your strengths and weaknesses are, so assess them and figure out what stats you should focus on via trades and waivers. If you have 200 more blocks than any other team but are 200 3-pointers behind the second-worst team, stop reading this and go make some trade offers. This is just as true if you and one other team are way in front of the rest of the league in a category. Don't be afraid to give up that one point if trading your best thieves can get you three or four points in other categories.
It's time now to decide if you must "punt" a stat, because you could use that category to better your team. For instance, if you're dead last in free throws and have little chance of catching more than one or two other teams, you could trade for Dwight Howard to make up ground in field goal percentage, boards and blocks. You'd get a big boost in those categories, and his hideous free throw problem wouldn't take you any lower.
Most leagues have a limit on total games played at each position, so be sure to keep a close eye on your pace from here on out. I have a team that's been beset by injuries for a month now, and I chose to just let those slots go by unfilled. I'm at least 20-30 games played behind just about everyone at this point. Because it's a shallow league, the waiver wire is full of guys who can produce well, so my plan is to play the hot hands off the wire and catch up in games that way. Really, though, I have to start doing this immediately or I'll never catch up.
If you think your team has a good shot at the playoffs in a head-to-head league, the primary thing you need to focus on at this point is how many games your players will take part in each week of your postseason. With that information, you can make some heady trades and max out the number of games played by good players each week.
Consider that in Week 21, the Washington Wizards play four games, while the Dallas Mavericks play only two. Who would you rather have that week? Dirk Nowitzki with two games or, maybe, Antawn Jamison with four games? Even worse is the schedule of the New Orleans Hornets, who play only two games during the final full week of the regular season, the fantasy finals week for many leagues. On the flip side, the Wiz, Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs all play four games each of the final four full weeks of the season.
The value of injured players is a little different in H2H than it is in roto-style games. If you have a great player who's expected to miss the next month of action in a roto league, his absence is going to set you way back, because you're trying to accumulate season-long stats. In head-to-head, though, rolling the dice on a player like that could give you a big advantage for the final weeks of the postseason if you can win without him in the meantime.
Out of Contention?
Hopefully you are in contention in all of your fantasy hoops leagues right now and your strategizing will take you to Title Town. What do you do if you have a team that clearly has no hope of winning, though? It's nice to believe that everyone who is out of the mix still is trying hard to win, because the contenders likely are still battling you in a category or a few. It's not fair to them if you aren't trying your best.
The truth is that it's tough for owners to stay fully on top of things if there is no benefit to them besides feeling good about maintaining the league's integrity. That's why I still push leagues to reconsider the tradition of giving the best draft pick the next season to the worst team from this season (and the worst pick to the league's winner). For several years now, all of my home leagues have granted the No. 1 overall pick to the current league champ and the last pick to the team with the worst record.
Now teams who don't have a shot at contending for the title have something very important to play for: next season's draft spot. Give it some serious thought for next season, because it's proved to be very effective in my leagues.
Retro Roto: Detlef Schrempf
Besides being a finger-twister for sportswriters to type back in the day, Schrempf was a solid fantasy contributor for most of his 16 NBA seasons. He never even averaged 20 points per game, didn't pour in tons of 3s and failed to provide hustle stats, but there's always a place on fantasy rosters for a guy who fills out the rest of the categories. And Schrempf did that year in and year out.
The 6-foot-10 German played a year of high school ball in the U.S. before joining the University of Washington, with whom he earned All-America second-team honors his senior year. The Dallas Mavericks took him with the eighth overall pick in 1985, but he failed to make any fantasy noise until the Indiana Pacers acquired him midway through the 1988-89 campaign.
His scoring average that season spiked from 9.5 ppg with the Mavs to 14.8 ppg with the Pacers. Working as a reserve, Schrempf earned back-to-back Sixth Man of the Year awards the next two seasons, while averaging 17.3 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 3.9 apg, along with a .536 field goal percentage (FG%) and .828 free throw percentage (FT%) during the 1991-92 campaign. That performance moved him into the starting lineup the following season, where he earned the first of three trips to the All-Star Game. Those 1992-93 stats looked like this: 19.1 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 6.0 apg, .476 FG% and 80.4 FT% (on 8.0 FTA).
Schrempf was dealt to the Seattle SuperSonics the following season, and he continued to perform well for them and fantasy owners. In fact, he even stretched out his range beyond the arc, averaging one trey per game in a four-year stretch with the Sonics.
While we'd all love to have a team full of stars who can fill out the hustle stats, percentages and everything else, there's always a place for guys like Schrempf, Brad Miller, Richard Hamilton and Derrick Rose. At their best, players like these will get you great percentages, solid dimes, rebounding and scoring for their positions. And while that might leave you lacking in hustle stats and 3-pointers, they'll fill in those other stats and keep you afloat.
Tom Carpenter is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.