I have a longtime friend who is a fellow fantasy basketball fiend. Growing up together in big Irish Catholic families in suburban Philly, we have many shared experiences and interests. We diverge sharply, however, when it comes to management style in fantasy basketball.
In a home league we've been in since 2001 -- the Year of Iverson -- he's rarely ever tinkered with his roster over the first month of the season. A few waiver or free-agency transactions could occur, but you'll never see my friend trade in the first month. It's as if he's following some set of NBA bylaws from the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
His take when asked annually about his dormant roster in a league that has a relatively busy trade market: "I drafted the players I targeted throughout the offseason and I'm sticking by them for at least the first month."
Which brings me to a compelling series of articles about the spectrum of risk and uncertainty found in the draft that was published this past summer on Ben Falk's basketball analytics site, Cleaning the Glass. For some context, Falk was the Basketball Analytics Manager with the Portland Trail Blazers and VP of Basketball Strategy with the Philadelphia Sixers for the sum of eight years.
The third instalment of a trilogy about approaching the NBA draft focuses on understanding uncertainty and risk and the natural variance of player outcomes. A specific section of this article resonates as an appraisal that translates perfectly to fantasy basketball management: "The draft is all about uncertainty, and to make a decision, it helps to try to transform that uncertainty (whether consciously or subconsciously) into risk -- a much more manageable form."
Falk details risk as having "knowable odds," akin to playing blackjack or simply the flip of a coin, while uncertainty is when we simply don't have enough information, and thus, we don't have the odds for determining the balance of reward and risk.
I think my pal views the first month of the season as a segment of uncertainty; an embryonic phase that doesn't reveal the true enduring narratives for the season. He's not going to change his roster, because he doesn't trust what is happening in the early portion of the season. I'm not mocking my friend's approach, but rather think it's a worthy and potentially rewarding exercise to try and convert this early-season uncertainty into manageable risk.
Prospecting for fantasy production in evaluating the player pool in fantasy drafts shares the risk/reward quotient found in the real NBA draft. As Falk writes, "The history of the draft is clear: We shouldn't be very confident about our draft projections."
If we assume that it's quite likely we were wrong about some of our fantasy targets in drafts this season, it's empowering to at least acknowledge the fallibility of how we valued the fantasy market in September versus November.
With this in mind, I think now is an ideal window to seriously appraise your fantasy team and consider which trends in value you can consider "knowable risk."
We are heading into the fifth week of the season; when we account for the fantasy playoffs in head-to-head formats, we'll be more than 20 percent into the regular season in fantasy basketball by the end of this coming week.
I've already executed a few significant trades, namely one in my home league that my friend is in. A week ago, I dealt Rudy Gobert for Kyrie Irving and Gary Harris. I was willing to assume the uncertainty of Andre Drummond's newfound shooting prowess at the stripe in my draft for this league. So, along with Anthony Davis and Gobert, I was already stacked with rebounding and blocks. I've been losing badly so far in steals, 3-point production and, to a lesser degree, assists. It was time for me to pursue more statistical balance with my roster, even just three weeks into the season.
Knowing that NBA execs such as Falk are willing to readdress and consider analysis is emboldening evidence for being a proactive manager in fantasy hoops.
I believe we already have enough information in most cases to assess a level of risk, rather than simply consider all of these early returns as mere uncertainty. The Player Rater, for example, is starting to reveal which rising players appear real this season.
The Indiana Pacers' Victor Oladipo isn't just surviving on elite shooting efficiency, but rather, is driving and getting to the line more than ever, suggesting his new perch as a special scorer is sustainable.
Robert Covington won't continue to hit half of his attempts from beyond the arc, but he's also taking 23 percent more shots from 3-point range per game than last season, suggesting heavy opportunity rates could help offset eventual regression.
I suggest you spend some time as we head into Week 5 of the season evaluating how your roster stacks up on the Player Rater, since it's a pretty shrewd and objective view of statistical balance. Soon enough, my friend will become willing to address any inefficiencies in his roster's construction. It's not that it's too late for him to improve his team, but rather, it's also never too early.
Matchup ratings are based upon a scale from 1 (poor matchup) to 10 (excellent matchup). These are calculated using a formula that evaluates the team's year-to-date and past 10 games' statistics, their opponents' numbers in those categories and their performance in home/road games depending on where the game is to be played. The column to the left lists the team's total number of games scheduled as well as home games, and lists the overall rating from 1-10 for that team's weekly schedule.
The week ahead
It's a fairly balanced league-wide schedule in the coming week, as only the Oklahoma City Thunder are hindered with a two-game week. Managers with heavy shares of the Thunder, namely with Russell Westbrook and the team's other proven veterans, will need to account for missing such important production. Hitting the waiver wire could be a prudent approach to offset the light schedule. Look for my waiver-wire column on Sunday for some names to consider in the week ahead.
An intriguing off-the-radar matchup that strikes me this coming week is when the Utah Jazz head to Brooklyn on Friday night. The Nets lead the league in pace this season and in fact have the fastest offense since the 1990-91 Denver Nuggets. The Jazz are 26th in pace and were last in the league last season in possessions per 48 minutes. This unique clash of styles will be an interesting outcome. I'll be interesting in the Jazz for DFS that night, given the added possessions could spur some stronger numbers.
The "Trust the Process" crowd will finally get to test the process, as the Philadelphia 76ers face the Golden State Warriors twice in the coming week. We'll also see Ben Simmons face Lonzo Ball and the Los Angeles Lakers for the first time, which should prove revealing for both parties.
It's not just the Player Rater that I place increasing value in as the season matures, but the matchup rating in the schedule table above are also beginning the stabilize now that we are dealing with a maturing sample of data from the current season. We can now involve 10-game data sets that incorporate pace, offensive and defensive ratings and allowances across all the relevant categories we consider for fantasy purposes.