This past weekend was championship week in fantasy football. Though fantasy basketball is its own beast, there is much to learn from the final week of the season that can be applied to the hardwood warriors. This week's Fantasy Lab will highlight some of the helpful points we gleaned while digesting the end of the 2008 fantasy football season. Because life and the fantasy basketball season aren't just about dribble-drives and kickout three-pointers.
You know how you are always hearing that tired cliché about a player circling a big game on his calendar for some important reason such as revenge for a past loss or to show up an old team? Well fantasy football players do that when they see the Detroit Lions on the calendar and the reason is simple: guaranteed big points. The Lions are the worst team in the NFL this year and could be the worst team in history. They surrender points like the French surrender in wartime -- rather easily. Faced with a challenge of starting Marques Colston, or another similar WR this past week, Colston was the surefire play, because you could bank on the Lions allowing a ton of passing yards and touchdowns. Certain NBA teams are no different.
If you're in a daily league and one of your players is facing Golden State, New York, Sacramento, Indiana or Washington, that dude is a must-start. These are the five easiest teams to score on in the NBA, listed from worst to not quite as terrible. The Warriors are allowing a league-worst 111.9 ppg. Compare that to the top defensive team, the Cleveland Cavs, whose stinginess costs them just 89.2 ppg -- a 22.7 ppg difference. That's some serious fantasy stat production to be had. Sticking with that theme, after the Cavs, the Celtics, Hornets, Bobcats, Spurs and Rockets round out the top six defense by keeping their opponents under 94 ppg. When the difference in pace and points is this significant, only a fool wouldn't react accordingly.
While the emphasis on team's matchups is important, don't forget the individual matchups too. Houston Texans WR Andre Johnson was the top-ranked wideout heading into his Week 16 matchup against the lowly Raiders and was coming off a spectacular 11-catch, 207-yard, 1-TD performance against a miserly Titans D the week before. But in this particular matchup, he was going to be shadowed by perhaps the best cover corner in the League in Pro Bowler Nnamdi Asomugha. When it was all said and done, Johnson managed just two catches for only 19 yards, a disappointment that might have cost his owners the championship.
One-on-one situations are even more commonplace in basketball, where players at the same position are lined up against one another all game long. If your player is scheduled to face a very weak defender, use this to your advantage. If a lockdown defender such as Bruce Bowen, Kevin Garnett, Ron Artest, Chris Paul or Dwight Howard is slated to face one of your men, consider an alternative option. A useful tool to help in determining who is strong and who is weak at each individual position is BasketballMonster.com's Ease Rankings. If you're wanting to go more unofficial on this, you know, kind of eyeballing it up, consider the strength, quickness and age of the defender. If your man wins in all three categories, he's a must-start. If he's strong in two of the three, there's still a strong chance that this is a good play.
If you happened to own Ramon Sessions last April, this one should be glaringly obvious. If a player is feeling it, in a zone or grooving to the music, don't be a buzzkill. Week 16 in the football corner of fantasyland is when you want to be peaking, just as late March into early April is fantasy basketball's prime time to shine. You will be faced with a challenge as to who to start whether you're in a weekly or daily league, and who's hot is the first place you should look. Matchups are certainly important, but rolling with the guy who's, well, rolling, is just plain smart.
In yesterday's games, DeAngelo Williams posted his second 4-TD in the last four weeks, bringing his total to 12 in the last five games. Never mind that he was facing one of the top Ds in the NY Giants; he's just been too good to sit. When the steam runs out and the production falls off a cliff, feel free to jump ship, but exhaust the hot player for all you can. This way you won't miss out on a game like Antonio Bryant's 127 yards and a TD. Steve Blake isn't a world-burner, but he's hotter than Hansel right now and you need to take advantage. T-Mac was on the shelf for the front end of December, but he's posting 20.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 7.0 apg and 1.2 spg in five games since then. Keep riding him till he gives out. Looking at stats like 27.7 ppg, 5.3 apg and 4.0 apg over the last three games, you can't help but make sure Jameer Nelson is in your lineup next week.
First-round fantasy picks come with high expectations. You hope they can be the anchor of your team all year and eventually propel you to the title. Generally, these top picks have had great success in the previous year, and oftentimes, in many years prior as well. Premium production is expected, especially when you need it most, which is why this is an important time to remember that once you're deep into a season, draft position doesn't matter one damn bit.
For example, players like LaDainian Tomlinson, Jamal Lewis, Marshawn Lynch and Marion Barber were all first or second round picks this year. They all contributed along the way to the playoffs -- some more than others -- but posed a challenge to their owner as to whether or not they should be started in the crucial last game of the season because they have been up and down for most of the year. There are many factors that are worth examining in whom to insert into your lineup, but draft position from many months ago shouldn't figure into it. Too many things have changed since the preseason, and draft position is a better indication of last year's success than the current year's production anyway. Downgrading a player because you snagged him off the wire is not only extremely disrespectful to all he's achieved this season, but also pretty shortsighted. Don't feel obliged to start Baron Davis just cause you took him high. Bench him if your team needs to win FG% and FT% and there are other viable options. If Elton Brand isn't producing when he returns, sit him for some who is.
No matter how much the fans might think someone stinks, every player at the professional level is pretty darn talented. This is even more true in the NBA than it is in the NFL, since basketball is more of an individual sport than football. Still, the lesson here is that opportunity is the greatest fantasy asset and this is very obvious when examining some key players in Week 16 matchups. Check out Kansas City's QB Tyler Thigpen. The second-year pro from Coastal Carolina was a third-string nobody when the season began. Forced into action in Week 8, and running the spread offense that has revolutionized the college game in recent years, he reeled off a magical run that saw him be the fourth-ranked QB since taking over, capitalized by a 320-yard passing, 57-yard rushing, 3-TD masterpiece in the championship, carrying some lucky fantasy teams to victory in the process.
The point is that every player is a potential fantasy goldmine when given the right opportunity. This can happen at any time, whether it's an injury, trade or a coach shaking up his rotation. Injuries are the most common ways to see that starting spot open up and if a coach is content to plug in the backup and not fuss with adjusting his offense, your player is bound for instant production, such as Paul Millsap making Carlos Boozer expendable in Utah. Whoever is the flavor of the week in Golden State's starting lineup is another prime example. Currently, Aaron Brooks is showing he's the future at PG in Houston while Rafer Alston is busy getting healthy before he's Wally Pipped out of a job. Jarrett Jack is a sure bet for success in Indiana's up-tempo system if T.J. Ford goes out again. Knowing where there will be an opportunity for great success and who is likely to get injured or traded to create these chances can help land you land the right free agents to make that late-season run.
Be an active manager in daily head-to-head leagues on Sunday night; bench your players when it can secure a category victory. Sometimes it's better to take the sure win in a category like turnovers or free-throw percentage by benching a player who may or may not be able to win you another category late on a Sunday. Other times you have nothing gain by starting a player if you have the week locked up, like some people did with the New York Giants defense last night. Some leagues give out negative points for defense if the yards and/or points allowed cross a high threshold. The Giants did that last night and got negative points in these leagues. But with the 8:30 start time, you should have known if you needed them to play or not for you to win. If you could have benched them in a close matchup you were winning and they were the only ones left to play, then that move could have saved your season. The same goes in basketball. Monitor your progress throughout future Sundays and be ready to pull a starter out of the lineup if benching is more advantageous than running them out there. Cause every little victory counts, no matter how you achieve it.
That wraps up another edition of the Fantasy Lab. Happy holidays and remember, fantasy ball above all.