Fantasy basketball: The time is now to make the push to the playoffs

Ja Morant is one of the fantasy stars who could be rested near the end of the season. Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

It's been a year. It's been a two years.

But you're here... because you show up.

You showed up in October. You did your draft prep. Slogged through the daily adventure of filling out a contemporary fantasy basketball lineup.

You showed up through the holidays. Valentine's Day. The Trade Deadline. You showed up after the existential collapse of the majesty that once was the Dunk Contest.

And in this 2021-22 NBA fantasy campaign? The simple art of showing up demarcates a manager as a serious fantasy player.

And if you're reading this? That shows me you show up. You are a serious fantasy player. You put in the time. And the past couple of years have reinforced a classic truism: your most precious resource is time.

Let's honor that. Let's close the deal. Let's close out strong.

It doesn't matter if you're in a roto league, a points league, or something in-between. You owe it to yourself -- to Roto Honor itself -- to close out strong.

If you've got playoffs coming up? Or you're in a nip-and-tuck roto race? You are smack in the middle of Winning Time. And Winning Time in fantasy is within a game of inches. It's a game of pixels -- a tenth of a percentage point.

You owe it to yourself to explore every angle. Every storyline. Every opportunity to eke out every last rebound, steal, assist, block. Every opportunity to maximize your efficiency, boost your percentages, and avoid turnovers (if necessary.)

Where do you start?

Look at the calendar, go to the end, and reverse engineer.

The final day of the regular season is April 10. The two weeks leading up to that date -- let's say from March 28 on -- are what I call "The Silly Season." Silly Season is when the near-plurality of NBA teams let their rotations go utterly sideways. Because locked-in NBA playoff teams rest their starters. But teams jockeying for ping-pong balls shed all pretense of playing to win.

So think ahead to which teams will likely be in one of those two categories. Because they're the teams most likely to give minutes to players towards the end of their bench.

Conversely, think ahead to which teams will sidestep The Silly Season. Think, "who's still going to be in it to win it?" As in who's jockeying for playoff seeding, playing their way into the top-6, or playing into the Play-In?

In Winning Time, our most precious resource doesn't change: time. The altered distribution of minutes down the stretch produces new impact players... and devalues previously reliable players.

Which playoff teams are most likely to be locked in? Phoenix, Golden State and Memphis. As of this writing... that's it.

The additional uncertainty of the Play-In Tournament makes it harder for locked-in top-6 teams to pick who they want to play in the first round. Until the last couple of games of the season, most locked-in teams won't even have the luxury of winning or losing an extra game to get a preferred first-round opponent.

Which teams will be jockeying for playoff seeding, a top-6 berth or the Play-In? That's a list that will eat up a lot of my word allotment.

So let's skip to the teams most likely to be in the Ping-Pong Ball Tournament: Orlando, Detroit, Houston, Oklahoma City, Indiana, Sacramento, New York and New Orleans. And we'll probably be able to add one-to-two teams out of Washington, San Antonio and Portland.

Those are teams that could turn their rotations sideways during The Silly Season. Who could produce new impact names and devalue once-reliable names.

From now until March 27

This is the portion of the campaign where tanking teams throw their processes into high gear. And also where guaranteed playoff locks begin to shorten their rotations.

For tanking teams and playoff locks, minutes undergo a shift. Tanking teams give their young upside more meaningful time, hopefully enough to get past the 25 MPG barrier that marks the outskirts of our fantasy radar. The top-8 players on playoff locks gain minutes ... and fantasy value. (But again, they may lose that value if rested during The Silly Season.)

If you are in a points league? As much as I prize efficiency, right about now is when you should push your chips towards volume. You want to maximize games played, but it's even more critical to maximize minutes played and Usage Rate. You want players who stay on the court and who dominate possession.

Beyond that, think categorical scarcity. Which categories are easiest to make a dent in across a smaller sample size? Blocks are a perennial scarcity category. Assists. Steals. But don't underrate the simple power of points scored. But the new sleeper scarcity categories over the past couple of seasons? Rebounds and free throw percentage. If looking for a plug-and-play wire option that can deliver a difference? Start with who's having a hot week on the glass.

Finally, there's positional scarcity, which may not seem like much in the age of flattened positions, but rostering impact small forwards is becoming a rarer and rarer occurrence.

If you are in a roto league? You want to pay attention to those same priorities... in reverse. Because if you sense your fellow managers are chasing volume, do not overlook how the percentage categories can make or break you. I've been in roto situations in the past where it made more sense to protect my percentages at all costs. To play low-volume shooting, high-rebound-and-block bigs in my utility slots during The Silly Season.

So don't think for a second because it's almost March that we're almost done. This isn't over by a long shot. I could spend five columns regaling you with tales of my most glorious fantasy hoops comebacks... and most ignominious choke jobs.

And if you're really, really out of it? Have some Roto Honor and fill out those lineups. Your team still affects the fortunes of teams still in it! But hopefully, you're also in a keeper league or two and can close out the season with a well-run developmental phase. Next to winning, a well-run developmental phase is the best experience fantasy has to offer.

Now buckle up... and let's do this.