Welcome to an all-new season of "If You're Hardcore!"
Since I'm new to this column, my editors over at ESPN requested I take some steps to establish my "hardcore" credentials.
After that was done, I decided to form the most hardcore fantasy basketball league imaginable: an auction keeper league, populated by the stars of ESPN's fantasy basketball galaxy.
Many of my fellow writers had never played in a basketball auction league before, and it was a lot of fun to see them get excited during the auction itself. If you play in an auction league, you'll know that there's nothing in fantasy that quite matches the rush of a bidding war. I blew almost a third of my budget ($59) on Deron Williams, but it was only because Chris Paul went for $77. And I wanted to lock up an elite point guard early so I could begin to enact my personal draft manifesto.
One of the chief attractions of an auction keeper league is your capability to acquire any player your budget will allow. This is important because it enables you to really craft a pre-draft strategy and target specific players.
This season, my personal manifesto -- in all of my leagues -- has revolved around one approach; grab an elite point guard, then go big. Very big.
(Hey, I can hear you saying, "My draft was three weeks ago!" But as you begin to reshape your rosters in the pre-Thanksgiving stage of the season -- the fantasy basketball season goes in very specific stages -- I want you to keep this column in mind. Because I care about you.)
Matthew Berry was the first commissioner of the first fantasy basketball league I ever played in. And for years, I have, by and large, followed his basic mantra of stocking your team with power forwards and point guards. It's a great system that marginalizes my least favorite position -- shooting guard -- to dramatic effect.
But this season, I've refined TMR's 1s and 4s manifesto into simply acquiring as many 5s as ESPN.com will legally allow. I'm talking all centers, all the time.
The All-Center Manifesto
1. Centers are statistically preferable to power forwards.
At both positions, you know what you're looking for: blocks, boards and a strong field-goal percentage. On paper, there's nothing numbers-wise you can get out of a power forward that you can't get out of a center.
But in the blocks department, the top-20 fantasy centers double up their counterparts at power forward. So when you're cornering the market on centers, you're also cornering the market on blocks. As you probably know, elite shot-blockers are one of the most difficult things to acquire for a fantasy team. By loading up on centers, you're building strength within another strength.
2. Power forwards are a dime a dozen.
Every year, I sit down and calculate which positions are inflated or deflated in value due to the level of statistical production available at that given spot. And this season, power forwards have never been more deflated in value. They're the bargain bin. The dollar menu. Think about it. If needed, you can go out onto the waiver wire any time you want to find a serviceable power forward for a game or two. But just try doing that with Ronny Turiaf. It's tougher to do. Why?
3. The talent level at center has slid from recession into depression.
Conversely, we fantasy basketball enthusiasts are looking at near-historic levels of drought at the center position. Centers are currently running at 40 percent inflation in value. What gasoline was to "The Road Warrior," a center is to the 2009-10 fantasy basketball season.
Keep this in mind when hitting the waiver wire or reviewing a trade offer. Say you're offered Dirk Nowitzki for Chris Bosh. Say you also already have Nene on your roster. But even if Nowitzki's stats are a little more tempting, remember that Bosh's value is still greater due to positional scarcity. If you deal Bosh, and lose Nene, you're going to have to give up a lot to find another No. 1 center.
4. PF, C
The most valuable position classification in all of fantasy basketball. And not many top fantasy players have it. Notable players with his classification include: Pau Gasol, Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire, Tim Duncan, Marcus Camby, Troy Murphy, Nene, David Lee, Andrea Bargnani, Al Horford and Luis Scola. (Channing Frye probably could belong among the elites on this list. By the way, how did he suddenly re-learn how to shoot? If I'm a Portland Trail Blazers fan, I'm equal parts miffed and perplexed.)
Having at least one player with PF/C eligibility means you possess greater flexibility when confronting injuries, trade offers or the waiver wire. Also, it means ESPN.com doesn't count him as a center as his primary position, which means you can exceed the limit of four centers that is imposed on many ESPN.com leagues. (It's not cheating if ESPN allows it!)
5. When Dwight Howard learns to hit 70 percent of his free throws, I will let him back into my life.
I have a certain friend who resembles Harry Potter, if Harry Potter had graduated from Hogwarts and then proceeded to lock himself inside a Hometown Buffet for the next two decades. Said friend just broke it off with a crazy-hot girl who was, to the casual observer, utterly perfect. He spent the entire length of the relationship trying to figure out how he could have ended up in such an enviable position. Then one day he pinpointed the girl's one fatal flaw; she was mean. Really mean. Her hotness had cloaked this flaw for a while, but suddenly all of her obvious benefits were outweighed by this single inalienable fact.
Dwight Howard presents a similar dilemma. His boards, blocks and field-goal percentage are things of beauty. But in the end, the free-throw percentage is a deal breaker. Is it possible to win with him? Of course, but it's a very specific strategy.
6. Troy Murphy, Andrea Bargnani, Mehmet Okur.
I can hear you saying, "But what about my 3-pointers? If I roster four centers, I will get killed from behind the arc." Well, I'm happy to tell you that there are some centers out there who can give you 3-point production like a shooting guard ... and without all those messy turnovers!
Finding players with atypical statistical production is of paramount importance when attempting to load up at a certain roster slot. Again, when you add a player who qualifies at center and can give you one or two 3-pointers a night, you're building strength within strength for your lineup.
(And yes, I am considering adding Channing Frye to this list.)
7. Centers inoculate me against poor shooting.
Eventually, we all have to confront the fact that we must start at least one shooting guard. That shooting guard will probably get his fair share of 3s and steals, but will also probably shoot about 42 percent from the floor. But the more big men you have, the more you're protected when Stephen Jackson goes 6-for-19.
8. Trade partners will flock to me.
By rostering so many big men, I am guaranteeing there will at least be one to two teams who will be center-starved by the end of the first month of the season. And when those owners are trolling our league's rosters looking for height, they will immediately notice my surplus up front. A smart owner will contact me first, because he or she will see I have big men to burn.
So going back to the auction league, I ended up with four starting centers at decent prices; Emeka Okafor ($14), David Lee ($23), Al Horford ($12), and Mehmet Okur ($11). As an afterthought, I threw in Al Harrington ($14) to round out my front court, and now I have solid depth across the board. It's not the sexiest lineup, but it's one that will serve me in the long term, especially in keeper situations.
It's not audacious to predict that at least three of these centers will end up being top-12 producers at the position. That leaves matters up to my guard play, which frankly isn't as enlivening to discuss at the moment.
John Cregan is a fantasy writer for ESPN.com.