Fantasy basketball: Why short-term production matters more than ever

Kevon Looney is quietly getting it done as Golden State's primary big man. John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Fellow steamrolled Washington Wizards fans... we need to talk.

After last night's total existential implosion against the LA Clippers? After surrendering a 35-point halftime lead? After those cataclysmic late-game events?

Turn off your notifications. Set your phones to silent. Because the Bradley Beal trade chatter is about to hit decibel levels somewhere between a 767 jet engine and a 1976 Who concert.

I'm skipping denial, moving straight into acceptance, and trying to model how to handle imminent heartbreak for my kids. My kids are apprehensive. They see the Beal swag in my garage.

But I'm creating a teachable moment on handling looming breakups with dignity. This present Woj Bomb Vigil? Just like that dark eighth-grade evening I got dumped for the first time.

Reliable sources had warned me: don't pick up the phone, Cregan. She's gonna do it via phone call.

And I could have squeezed a couple more days of being an official boyfriend out of it. I could have screened incoming calls with this exotic device called an "answering machine." I could have cooked up a fake fever and hidden out at home through the weekend.

But sometimes... you gotta take your medicine.

Because Ardath White and Bradley Beal gave me extended opportunities to make it work. They were patient. I didn't deliver. Both deserve new situations with championship upside... far removed from the Friend Zone.

And hey. At least in fantasy... I've learned to relish playing the field.

Because my empath factor renders it impossible to sit around complaining about fantasy production lost to a historic pandemic. I prefer to focus on finding new ways to win. And that means hitting the wire with unabashed gusto... and a revised methodology.

The most significant fundamental shift is in my perspective. I've retrained it to focus on the short-term. Instead of investing bandwith into projecting out ROS valuation for wire players -- a near-impossibility at present -- I invest my energy into anticipating who will make the next unexpected opportunity.

These days? I keep it fast. Ruthless. Belichickian. I've tricked my decades-old fantasy brain into treating everything like it's the fantasy playoffs. There is no tomorrow. Take the production that's right in front of you. Then drop it and move on.

A single stat personifies this mindset. And this metric is just a couple of clicks away: PR7.

Player Rater 7. Our one-week snapshot of aggregated production. Historically, I've avoided PR7. It's a tiny sample size. Two to four games at most.

But right now? Fantasy hoops isn't chess. It isn't even checkers. It's Whack-a-Mole. Production pops up, and we pounce. The strategy is in anticipating where new production might suddenly rear its head.

Let's use last night's slate of games as a working example. PR7 puts the spotlight on who's coming on. Here's the list of players I was tracking last night. (I'm using today's PR7, to keep you current.)

Saddiq Bey, SF, Pistons 7.51
Kevon Looney, PF/C, Warriors 6.71
Jarred Vanderbilt, PF, Timberwolves 6.17
Carmelo Anthony, SF/PF, Lakers 6.16
Amir Coffey, SG, Clippers 3.67
P.J. Washington, PF/C, Hornets 5.47
Nemanja Bjelica, PF, Warriors 5.18
Cory Joseph, PG, Pistons 4.51
Keldon Johnson, SF/PF, Spurs 4.39
Luke Kennard, SG, Clippers 4.03
Otto Porter Jr., SF, Warriors 3.49
Bismack Biyombo, C, Suns 3.29
Deni Avdija, SF, Wizards 3.19
Malik Monk, SG, Lakers 3.18
Nassir Little, SF/PF, Trail Blazers 2.76
Kessler Edwards, SF, Nets 2.49
Day'Ron Sharpe, C, Nets 2.44
Robert Covington, PF/SF, Trail Blazers 2.02
Dorian Finney-Smith, Mavericks 1.89
Kenyon Martin Jr., SF, Rockets 1.49
Nickeil Alexander-Walker, SG, Pelicans 1.45
Garrison Mathews, SG/SF, Rockets 1.44
Jose Alvarado, PG, Pelicans 0.93
Isaiah Hartenstein, PF/C, Clippers 0.65
Jonathan Kuminga, SF/PF, Warriors 0.30

To make said list, I rely on several stats. But PR7 is the best place to start. Because it's a snapshot of who's heating up. But I don't rank prospects in order of PR7 rating. I'm folding in other dynamics. True shooting percentage is just one of a few I keep in constant play.

Minutes. Or to be precise: Consistent Minutes.

Consistent minutes are essential for spotting roto pyrite. Fantasy fool's gold. Is a player bubbling up on PR7 because he got extended garbage time in a blowout?

Last night's Warriors-Mavericks box score provides a prime example of pyrite conditions. Golden State blew the doors off and won by 38. There was ample playing time to be had in this second half.

Be wary of Kuminga's 22 points, 4 3s, and 5 assists. Fantasy-wise? Kuminga has a lot going for him long-term. A lot. But Golden State is gearing up for a deep playoff run. It's hard to envision Kuminga achieving consistent minutes.

But Looney intrigues me. And he scored zero points in 22 minutes. But Looney's fantasy potential is tied to a different key dynamic... Starter Cosplay.

Looney is temporarily recreating Draymond Green. He's filling in for a key injured starter, and trying to simulate Green's production.

I love Starter Cosplay for its relative simplicity. A starter goes down. A bench player steps in. Not a committee. A single player. Suddenly getting all of said starter's minutes... and a lot of his touches. And there's no telling how much time Green might miss down the stretch. Golden State is going to want him fresh for the playoffs. So Looney could get an extended Cosplay opportunity.

And sometimes, like with Looney, the Cosplay player has some young upside. Looney may not ring up Green's atypical assist totals, but he brings other skills to the table.

This takes us to our next dynamic... rebounds.

Looney adds a trait that's becoming increasingly important in today's NBA: elite rebounding. Double-doubles used to be a dime a dozen. Now, they're harder to find.

If you're in a points league, you may be saying "why do I care about how Looney does in rebounding? I just need my raw points, Cregan! No wonder Ardath White dumped you!"

First: that's mean. Second, certain stats secretly point towards consistent fantasy production. An elite rebounder will get his numbers regardless of how he's doing in other areas because rebounding is a high-volume, lower-variance stat.

And here's a little bit of the under-the-radar good stuff: in one significant way, a high rebounding average is better for fantasy predicting than a high scoring average. Because rebounding is a prime hustle stat, players who hustle endear themselves to coaches. Coaches who will reward said hustler with more playing time.

Players that rebound don't need possession to produce. Making them less dependent on another key dynamic... Usage Rate.

If a fantasy player isn't bringing it on the glass or on defense? Kick the tires on his rate of possession... and see if it's climbing.

Let's look at a player who got blowout minutes last night but turned it into a franchise-altering win. Amir Coffey got 37 minutes and delivered: 29 points, 5 rebounds, 3 3s, 2 steals and a block.

Coffey checks a lot of my boxes. Given all the Clippers' injury woes, Coffey is getting consistent minutes. He's filling in for a starter. He's a good rebounder for a wing player.

But Coffey is inconsistent. He lays an egg every three games or so. But the eggs are arriving further and further apart. He's getting more trust from his team. He's getting the ball in hands on a more consistent basis. The more touches a player like Coffey gets, the better he gets.

You see all this playing out in Coffey's rising usage rate. Over the past week, it's clocking in several points higher than his season-wide average. The Clippers have several players that intrigue me: Hartenstein, Kennard, Mann and Coffey all sport solid short-term fantasy potential.

But thanks to rising usage, I just added Coffey in this league. And then for the same reason, Little. But to wrap up today's adds, I picked Bey, due to our final dynamic... The Process.

If a team has swung the wrecking ball on their season and locked into a rebuild, young upside is going to get an extended opportunity. Their coaches will absorb the occasional one-game catastrophe.

Bey is a prime beneficiary of this dynamic. His performance shouldn't be judged game-to-game. It's too occasionally terrifying. Look at young players like Bey week-to-week.

Which is why PR7 is invaluable right now. It adds just enough perspective to this relative roster chaos. It pulls certain players into deeper consideration. And allows us to differentiate a hot game from tangible short-term potential.