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Players who will make a mark in multiple scarce fantasy categories

When it comes to stuffing box scores with hard-to-get stats, Kristaps Porzingis earns his Unicorn nickname in fantasy. EPA/PETER FOLEY

If one plays enough fake basketball over the course of many very real NBA campaigns, one eventually will stop regarding NBA players as singular individuals.

For Fantasyland purposes, a player is a portfolio.

For our purposes, a player is an amalgam of metrics: points scored, rebounds, assists, 3s, field goal percentage, free throw percentage of different levels of production spread across key categories. Eight categories, perhaps nine, if a league includes turnovers.

A player is like a small business concern unto himself, presenting different pools of value.

A rare few -- the Durants, the LeBrons -- present positive value in each and every category. But the majority of NBA players present a mix of statistical push and pull, boosting in some areas while not contributing or even dragging down in other areas.

These areas of push and pull, positives and negatives, create pools of scarcity.

And as each NBA season unfolds, it's important to pay attention to where scarcity builds. Because if we can corner contributors in areas of scarcity, we are corralling value and production that isn't readily available to competing fake teams within our league.

If we can identify areas of the player pool or categories where production is tough to come by, we can target those areas and/or categories.

Scarcity is traditionally delineated by position. A lot of this thinking originated in fantasy baseball, where rostering a decent catcher gave you a leg up in terms of scarcity.

In fantasy basketball, the idea of scarcity is more fluid. As the NBA changes its style, the value presented shifts.

The move away from traditional big men over the past few seasons has created seismic shifts in overall fantasy value.

Point guards give a boost in assists, 3-pointers and free throw percentage -- but only the rare point guard, such as John Wall, contributes in blocks. Big men contribute blocks, rebounds and field goal percentage -- but there are fewer than 10 bigs capable of averaging more than three assists per game.

Certain positions present more aggregate value than others. Year in and year out, small forward tends to be a deep category, while premium shooting guard production tends to run thin.

When I first began playing fantasy basketball, I drafted point guards as often as possible, because it was an important market to corner. Assists were more top-heavy, significantly concentrated among a few point guard super producers (Jason Kidd, Gary Payton and John Stockton, for example)

Today, the market has shifted; quality point guard production is much easier to roster. And assists have spread to other positions as the league has shifted toward small ball.

The other view of scarcity -- what I want to focus on here -- centers on scarcity by category.

As you head toward your league's trade deadline, looking at the pool of available value by category is critical when considering how to improve your imaginary team.

What we want to do is identify which categories have top-heavy value. Which categories are dominated by a smaller number of players?

The more available value concentrated amongst fewer players, the easier a category is to corner and dominate.

It's a view that obviously helps in traditional roto-based category leagues. Looking for scarcity helps us identify which categories are easier to make moves within. If assists happen to be scarce, targeting elite assist players boosts our team while hurting competing teams.

But it's a view that also helps managers in points leagues and DFS situations. Production is production.

Value is value, regardless of format. And if we can figure out categories to focus on, where scarcity exists and which categories are top-heavy, we're still figuring out how to help our team while kneecapping the competition.

And just as positional scarcity shifts season by season, so does categorical scarcity. By using the Player Rater, we can aggregate value by category and see where shifts have occurred.

This week, I went through the big eight categories and graphed out each category across the top 150 players.

What we're looking for is the opposite of point-per-game production. This graph shows how point production is distributed on the Player Rater across our top 150 players:

This is a steady, predictable, downward line of available production. It's evenly distributed. Points per game tends to be the flattest category, which is why I tend to ignore points as a category.

If I'm identifying and doing my job in other categories that are more difficult to compete in, point production follows as a natural byproduct. I create more separation between my team and others by focusing on categories that are top-heavy.

Compare how points scored is distributed versus field goal percentage:

This category features a steep incline where a pool of top eight players dominates, from Clint Capela down to Karl-Anthony Towns. Then things level out and flatten out -- until we get to the other end of the graph.

Then we see another steep drop-off where our worst shooters have concentrated, from Wesley Matthews down to Marcus Smart. And while some of our worst shooters mitigate this negative by chipping in 3-pointers (Matthews, Carmelo Anthony, Allen Crabbe, Justin Holiday), some players offer no positives.

Lonzo Ball, Smart and Ricky Rubio offer just replacement-level 3-point production, making them players to avoid.

I'm here to report that along with field goal percentage, I've mapped out scarcity in two other key categories.

Take a look at rebounds:

Six super producers (DeAndre Jordan, Andre Drummond, Towns, DeMarcus Cousins, Dwight Howard, Russell Westbrook) dominate the category. This is followed by another bubble of 15 players, from Giannis Antetokounmpo down to Jusuf Nurkic. After Nurkic, distribution proceeds downward at a fairly even clip.

Unsurprisingly, the most chaotic distribution is found in blocks:

Blocks production can be grouped in five tiers.

Tier 1 is the top five super producers: Kristaps Porzingis, Durant, Anthony Davis, Myles Turner and Towns. Tier 2 goes from Cousins down to Howard at 13th. Tier 3 is from Serge Ibaka down to Jordan at 25th. Tier 4 is Steven Adams down to Willie Cauley-Stein. Tier 5 is everyone else, starting with Ball.

The market this season is interesting because the three scarcest, most top-heavy categories tend to be dominated by a certain class of player. It means, along with the shift to field goal percentage, that quality big men should come at a premium this fake trade deadline.

Let's look at some tiers of players who can help us corner these three key categories. I've tried to bunch them into tiers of "gettability," ranging from huge stars to waiver-wire fodder.

Tier 1: Duh

LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Karl-Anthony Towns, Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins

Obvious super producers. Names that will help you just about everywhere, but also in our three scarcest categories. These are all players who are difficult to acquire in-season.

Tier 2: Gettable fantasy stars

Clint Capela, Nikola Jokic, DeAndre Jordan, Andre Drummond, LaMarcus Aldridge, Ben Simmons, Al Horford, Joel Embiid, Nikola Vucevic, Myles Turner

Still some big names, but a lot of players who are more prized within fantasy than reality. We start to get into players who might not help us across the board.

Tier 3: Late risers

Jayson Tatum, Steven Adams, TJ Warren, Enes Kanter, John Henson, Derrick Favors, Taj Gibson, Dwight Howard, Jonas Valanciunas, Marcin Gortat, Hassan Whiteside, Willie Cauley-Stein, Serge Ibaka

Players whose season-long numbers might not be as impressive but are coming on as the season progresses in our key three categories.

Tier 4: Deep cuts

Alex Len, James Johnson, Julius Randle, Kyle O'Quinn, Robin Lopez, Jordan Bell, Kyle Anderson, John Collins

Many of these players could be on your league's waiver wire. These are players on tanking teams, or they are on winning teams that could give more minutes to their young upside players as we approach the playoffs.