The first season a true NBA lover plays fantasy basketball is special.
For basketball lovers, fantasy opens a door. Fantasy offers fresh, novel perspectives into the game, and how numbers come to personify shades of the game that run way deeper than simple scoring.
As you dig deeper, you begin to develop your own unique views as to how to interpret the myriad metrics used to quantify production.
My first season was the 2001-02 campaign. That year, I was fascinated with three players: Raef LaFrentz, Eddie Griffin and Rasheed Wallace.
All three players were big men who were ahead of their time. All three could hit 3s and block shots with equal aplomb. They averaged more than a 3 and a block per game.
Back then, the idea of a stretch-4 or stretch-5 didn't even exist. The idea of getting 3s and blocks out the same player fascinated me.
But out of all of the players that season, Rasheed captivated me the most. Because Wallace could average 1.4 3s, 1.3 blocks ... and also snag 1.3 steals per game?
Looking back, it was Wallace who made the most formative statistical impression. Before I ever started writing about fantasy basketball, the idea of what I started calling "1+1+1 players" became a personal numerical obsession.
I realized then that the 1+1+1 club comprised one of the NBA's most exclusive pieces of real estate. A club that prized statistical diversity over more obvious, junk food stats like points per game.
From the first month of my first season, I tracked 1+1+1 players. I scooped up Shane Battier. I yearned for near 1+1+1ers like Griffin and LaFrentz to tap out a higher steal rate so they could make the cut.
Because I theorized 1+1+1ers composed a special class of player who could form the backbone of a winning fantasy basketball team. Because averaging 1+1+1 is extremely difficult. It forms a rarefied, unique statistical portfolio that reflects a unique combination of volume and efficiency.
Rostering multiple 1+1+1 players gives your production an underrated dynamism. It means you don't have to rely on specialists. It means that you're not relying on just one or two players to compete in a category. It also gives you insurance against injury.
In 2001-02, the 1+1+1 club's membership totaled six: Wallace, Paul Pierce, Tracy McGrady, Clifford Robinson, Battier, and Eddie Jones. I ended up rostering four of those six players ... and won my first imaginary championship.
Cut to today. Multiple stretch-4s and -5s litter every NBA roster. Which must mean that there are many more 1+1+1 players ... right?
As of this writing? 1+1+1 membership is seven.
And this is a bumper year. In 2015-16, there were four. In 2016-17, there were five. Last season? Five again.
And it is surprising that the modern emphasis on developing big men with range hasn't dramatically upped 1+1+1 membership. But the fact is ... year in, year out, 1+1+1 membership hovers in the four-to-eight player range. It's a very hard stat threshold to hit.
A lot of the year-in, year-out names stay the same. Kevin Durant has done it seven times to date. But for true 1+1+1 aficionados, it's important to track which players are close to attaining 1+1+1 status ... especially young players.
Because as older 1+1+1 players downgrade their blocks (players tend to peak in blocks early in their careers), younger players may just be a few 3-point percentage points from taking their place. A rookie swatting 1.5 shots and gathering 1.0 steals may just be a few weeks away from joining the 1+1+1 ranks.
Let's take a look at the current members of the 1+1+1 club ... and some younger players who may soon gain membership.
In the club
Season one in the club; 1.3 3s, 1.7 steals, 1.0 blocks
I remember watching Bazemore teaming up with Draymond Green in their first summer league with the Warriors and thinking Bazemore projected as a 1+1+1. Now, after flirting with the benchmark for several seasons, he's managed to up his blocks just enough to become a 1+1+1er despite averaging his fewest minutes (26.4 MPG) since 2014 ... and shooting only 28.4% from deep. With Taurean Prince shelved for a few weeks, Bazemore will get more minutes and more volume to solidify his shaky hold on 1+1+1 status.
Season one in the club; 2.3 3s, 1.1 steals, 1.0 blocks
Turns out my Wizards aren't as plug-your-nostrils putrid as the national media would have you believe; they're cresting into mind-numbingly mediocre. Beal has been the biggest reason the Wizards have bailed out of their early-season nosedive. Beal has put his early-career brittleness behind him and can now be counted on for elite production across 35-plus minutes a night.
Without the services of the shelved Dwight Howard, the Wizards have been forced to manufacture big-man production up and down their lineup. The fact that Beal has doubled his career blocks average so far speaks to that fact.
Season two in the club; 2.4 3s, 2.2 steals, 1.4 blocks
Perennially available in Round 7 of fantasy drafts everywhere, Covington ranks as the most underrated member of the 1+1+1 Society.
Over the past five seasons, Covington has been one of my most frequently rostered players. I love players who take more than 50 percent of their shots from downtown. It's part of what makes Covington special; he doesn't take a lot of shots, but when he shoots, he maximizes the efficiency of said attempt. But because his scoring average isn't elite, it allows him to fly a little under the radar of your average fantasy philistine.
Covington is elite in two categories: 3s and steals. But over the past three seasons, he's incongruously built momentum in his blocks average just enough to push himself over the 1+1+1 threshold. Not even a trade can attenuate his 1+1+1 goodness -- over his past 12 games, Covington has celebrated not having to live in Philadelphia to the tune of 2.5 3s, 2.6 steals and 1.1 blocks.
Season seven in the club; 1.6 3s, 1.0 steals, 1.0 blocks
Since coming to Golden State, playing more post defense has done wonders for Durant's blocks averages (including a career-high 1.8 BPG last season). But despite averaging 28.8 points per game, Durant's 1+1+1 arc is in decline. 2018-19 threatens to be Durant's worst aggregate 1+1+1 campaign in years. If the season ended today, Durant's 3.6 3s+steals+blocks would rank as his lowest total since 2008.
Season one in the club; 1.7 3s, 1.4 steals, 1.4 blocks
Despite giving off the impression he's in his mid-50s, Gasol is still only 33 ... and still refining his fantasy-friendly game. He's also beating the expectation he established earlier in his career that every plus-fantasy season would be followed with an underwhelming, injury-kneecapped campaign.
In 2018-19, Gasol is averaging career or near-career highs in every fantasy category. He's shifted enough of his offense to the outside to the point where over a third of his field goal attempts come from deep. It's an astounding shift, considering Gasol never averaged more than 0.2 3-point attempts per game before 2016-17.
Gasol is walking, lumbering proof that skilled players always have 1+1+1 upside, no matter their age.
Season two in the club; 1.2 3s, 1.0 steals, 1.0 blocks
It's been fun to track Vucevic's and Gasol's 1+1+1 development. They took different statistical paths to become similar statistical players.
This season, we're hitting what historians will eventually, inevitably refer to as "peak Vucevic." 20.6 points, 11.5 boards, 3.7 assists, plus boffo percentages (54.1 FG%, 84.0 FT%). Like Gasol, Vucevic has avoided his biggest nemesis: the injury bug. If Vucevic stays healthy, he'll be on the shortlist for my ADP MVP (the player who most impressively outperformed his draft position).
John Wall, PG, Washington Wizards
Season two in the club; 1.5 3s, 1.6 steals, 1.0 blocks
Wall has long held a special, singular fantasy distinction: most prolific shot-blocking point guard. There aren't many point guards who sniff 1.0 blocks per game. Wall may be a bipolar-steered rollercoaster when it comes to 3-point production ... but his steals+blocks will always remain elite.
Knocking on the door
You can book it that Davis eventually hits 1+1+1. He'll get there as soon he starts hitting 35 percent from deep (he's currently at a 30.9 3FG%)
Aaron Gordon, PF, Orlando Magic
Gordon is building towards it. His blocks and steals keep nudging upward. He just cracked the 1.0 steals barrier, and is now just a quarter of a block away from 1+1+1.
With a reputation as a steals+blocks defensive maven, Grant refined his game over the summer, adding a reliable 3-point shot (37.8 3FG%) to his fantasy arsenal. Grant has been sort of playing the role of a Serge Ibaka impersonator but is on the verge of outperforming his predecessor in OKC's pivot.
Jonathan Isaac, SF/PF, Orlando Magic
Playing time plays a huge role in actualizing 1+1+1 potential. But so does efficiency, and the impact it has on playing time. If Issac were matching his rookie-year 3-point percentage (34.8 3FG%), he'd probably be getting the minutes he needs to hit 1+1+1.
As a parent, I have a strong affinity for players whose names make them sound like villains out of Inspector Gadget. I also have a special affinity for players who come close to hitting 1+1+1 off the bench.
Karl-Anthony Towns, C, Minnesota Timberwolves
Towns is less that one tenth of a steal away from joining the club. He may be joining the club as I type this.
Here's another player I've long suspected of holding 1+1+1 potential. His dramatic uptick in 3-point percentage (45.1 3FG% in 2018-19) probably means he'll get enough minutes to hit the mark.
Like Vonleh, Warren's 3-point production has taken a huge leap in 2018-19. Like Vonleh, he's probably an additional 2-3 MPG away from entering the club.