<
>

Players to rely on for the fantasy basketball playoffs

Ricky Rubio's poor shooting actually helps him earn more consistent fantasy production, and that's something to bank on during the playoffs. NBAE/Getty Images

If you're reading this, congratulations! It probably means at least one of your fake NBA franchises is in the running for a very real championship.

You made it. Now let's win it.

When preparing for your playoff matchups, you should analyze every angle with a DFS-type focus. We all have horror stories about losing a playoff matchup by a single steal or missed free throw.

Look at home-road splits. Look at pace. Make a note if anyone you roster has any back-to-backs. Keep in mind the players who might ruin you in a single category.

For instance, let's say you roster DeAndre Jordan and you're up big late in the week in blocks. You may want to sit Jordan if you're in a tight battle for free throw percentage.

But one geeky little angle I recommend? Standard deviation. Variance by game. Look at which players have the smallest difference between their fantasy floor and ceiling.

Some NBA players are steady fantasy producers who deliver similar value night in, night out. Some NBA players are a little more up and down. Come playoff time, stop to consider which players are delivering their production on a flat trajectory versus players who have been more erratic.

Consistency versus inconsistency can cut both ways in a fantasy playoff situation.

If your team is favored, you should build lineups around players who deliver consistent production. If your team is the underdog? You might want to swing for the fences a little and start players whose production deviates strongly from their mean.

But if you're feeling good about your chances, always build around steady production.

When you look for consistency, look for usage rate. The more a player has the ball in his hands, the more stable his production becomes. So it's not shocking to find out that the most consistent position is point guard. Players who build value around assist production tend to be some of fantasy's steadiest producers.

Which stars have been putting up consistent value headed into the playoffs? Here's a quick list: LeBron James, James Harden, Kemba Walker, Damian Lillard.

Want a star you may not have expected?

John Wall, PG, Washington Wizards

Wall is a good example of how a relatively weak outside shooter (31 percent from behind the arc) can still build consistent value due to high usage.

Look at Wall's games in March -- look past the erratic shooting -- and you'll see a model of predictability. His overall production doesn't suffer on bad shooting nights because he figures out other ways to help fantasy teams.

On March 3, Wall shot only 9-of-24 against Toronto, Yet he was still 4-of-8 in 3-pointers and also got to the line 10 times (and should have gotten there more, in my opinion). One area of consistency that makes Wall truly special is his blocks production. Relative to his position? Wall is the best and most consistent shot-blocking point guard in fantasy.

But if you roster Wall, he's an automatic start no matter what, right? And good teams like the Wizards have steady, reliable rotations.

Want an example of a player you may not prioritize in a playoff matchup? A player on team who's not a lock for the playoffs?

Ricky Rubio, PG, Minnesota Timberwolves

It may sound odd to label a guard who shoots 29 percent from behind the arc as "steady." But since All-Star Weekend, Rubio has been a model of consistency. Look at his game log.

Tom Thibodeau's teams may not deliver high-pace fantasy numbers. But his teams do deliver steady point guard play. Rubio's assist numbers over his past five games: 11, 10, 9, 10, 12. His steals: 1, 2, 2, 3, 2. Most importantly, since All-Star Weekend, Rubio has played over 32 minutes in every game but one: his productive March 1 line in a blowout over the Jazz.

Ironically, it's Rubio's poor shooting that makes him so predictable. Since Rubio doesn't take a lot of shots, he builds value through volume in assists, rebounds and steals. And because Rubio is a dependably bad shooter, we know he's not going to take many shots. We also know that when Rubio gets to the free throw line, he produces: He's shooting 86 percent for the season.

Want an example of a steady producer who could be available in your league?

Ty Lawson, PG, Sacramento Kings

Bad teams beget fantasy opportunity. Lawson is a prime example of an unheralded player who could make a difference in your playoff matchup. He's only rostered in 13.5 percent of leagues. Lawson's been starting in Sacramento. The Cousins trade created a lot of statistical uncertainty ... and opportunity.

Just check out his game log.

Lawson (one of the more underrated fantasy point guards of the last 10 years) is being looked upon to deliver some reliable floor generalship. He had a 24-minute dud against the Spurs, but that says more about the San Antonio effect than Lawson's play.

You get the point guard thing. How about a wing? A wing not known for his consistency ... who is stringing together a shockingly reliable stretch of box scores?

Danilo Gallinari, SF/PF, Denver Nuggets

I know Gallinari is historically streaky. I know that most of the time, Gallinari is at best, semiambulatory. I know Gallinari just missed a game due to illness.

But throw that game out, and Gallinari is in the middle of one of the steadiest runs of his career.

Gallinari is the kind of player I typically avoid. Because Gallinari's production lives and dies by his 3-point production. He doesn't defend or rebound. He hits free throws and 3s.

But quietly, Gallinari is having a career year in 3-point percentage. His current .385 percentage is a throwback to his first couple of seasons in New York. When he's been healthy, Gallinari has been surprisingly steady.

OK, you say, but we know that given good health, at least Gallinari is going to play reliable minutes. Michael Malone has quietly built a dependable rhythm of production out of some very unpredictable pieces.

What about a player who doesn't get reliable minutes? A player who plays for a coach who changes his lineups with Don Nelsonian flair?

Better yet ... a player who's probably available in your league, as long as you don't play with a bunch of irrational, manic depressive Knicks enthusiasts?

Willy Hernangomez, C, New York Knicks

I love Willy Hernangomez. He's the perfect playoffs waiver-wire center.

Perfect because casual fans don't even know who Hernangomez is. Which means that in fantasy, he tends to be available (again, unless you play with Knicks fans). Over the last month, he's quietly built consistent value that is subtly trending up, for a team currently known more for its off-court drama than on-court quality.

Take a closer look at his box scores over the past month. You'll see -- in spite of Jeff Hornacek's diabolical rotational habits -- a heroically stable fantasy contributor.

Since Feb. 1, this is the per-game Hernangomez I've come to expect: 11 points, 9 rebounds, 1 block and 1 steal. Good percentages.

Best of all? Hernangomez has sneaky, subtle upside in assists. He averaged 2.0 assists per game in February, a high number for a center averaging around 25 minutes a night.

One area that limits Hernangomez's overall upside: fouls. Unfortunately, that's yet another area in which he has proven reliably steady.

By the way? Good luck next week. I really hope you win. Because I always root for my readers.

I just hope you picked up Dario Saric when it was still possible. But I know you did ... because I told you back in October that Saric would finish the season as fantasy rookie of the year.