November 6, 2019, 10:42 am
I just finished watching an extremely fun NBA game. Friday night’s LeBron vs. Luka OT triple-double-fest. There’s simply nothing like watching the greatest athletes in the world perform highlight-worthy plays on repeat, night after night. Even beyond the deep shots, dunks, rejections and passes, it’s the crossovers, step-backs and the kind of wing defense that gets a Morris twin to thwomp a guy on the forehead with the ball that leave us in awe. And while I’d never suggest passing on an opportunity to catch every second of NBA action that you can, watching the games can certainly be a detriment to fantasy success if we don’t recognize our biases.
Flashy talent, accolades and hype jack up the perceived value of many players well beyond their actual fantasy value. I’m here to repeatedly remind you that these players are little more than a set of numbers when it comes to fantasy.
Welcome to Name Brand vs. Off-Brand. Here, we’ll have fun comparing and contrasting numbers. We’ll take a weekly look at popular, or name brand players, and we’ll compare them to some underrated fantasy stat-stuffers (the off-brand players) that you should be able to get at a discount. The objective would then be to swap this guy for that guy and get a little something extra. In some cases, you might only be able to get the alternative straight up, but it would be (perhaps surprisingly) worth it.
Okay, if all that matters is numbers, can’t we just beat our casual and/or biased competition by looking at player raters or projected stats, then? Well, some of it, yes! But while I’m preaching that we should focus more on numbers than talent (since NBA numbers are more predictable than in other sports), there’s obviously context that we must study, too.
So, we’ll take a look at the scenarios that these stats–excuse me–players find themselves in. And though the guys in our exercises won’t often be the exact players on your team or those available to you in trade, I think the overall concepts will help you think about fantasy in a way that leads to more success.
To put it another way, we’ll take a look at a lot of players that are overrated for any number of reasons, but moreso players that are underrated and get overlooked. Sometimes this means we need to be in early on a player. Sometimes it means we need to realize that other people are too excited too early about a player.
Let’s jump into an example from last season to illustrate. Take a look at these three sets of statistics:
Yep. We’ve got some highly ranked big men. Who do you like from that group? They’re incredibly close, with each player having some slight advantages and disadvantages.
These averages are from October and November of 2018. Each player had played between 22 and 24 games. The stats belonged to our favorite pair of head-locking centers, Karl-Anthony Towns (A) and Joel Embiid (B), as well as… Nikola Vucevic (C).
While it’s not much of a surprise to see Vucevic in that company now that we watched him keep it up all season, it was certainly a shock around December 1st of last year. I’d been keenly aware of this jump in production, as I’d taken Vucevic 40th in an experts league (though I’d also passed on him at 43 in my other snake draft).
For a quick look at each player’s production and expectations, I just averaged the ADP of those two leagues and mixed in each player’s 2017-18 and 2018-19 final 9-cat per-game rankings according to Basketball Monster’s Historical Rankings (something we’ll play with here from time to time).
It’s very rare that a player will break into the top-12 from beyond the third round, especially one that’s been around for many years. So while I probably won’t be able to identify too many situations like this, getting in early on a sustainable increase in value is one type of assistance I’m hoping to provide. Vucevic was the off-brand version of Towns or Embiid. So, say you had drafted Embiid. If you’d believed in Vucevic’s hot start, you could’ve traded Embiid for him plus at least one other helpful starter. Or more likely, you could’ve done a 2-for-2 swap with a big upgrade regarding the secondary players involved.
That’s our goal: To sneak in actual value while shipping off perceived value.
Here are just a few types of comparison I’ll be highlighting throughout the season:
Young vs. Old (shout out to Dan Besbris): This one can go either way, as a former star might still have too much name brand recognition and be valued too highly. But more often, old players are undervalued in fantasy due to the constant yearning for young players with upside.
Hyped vs. Boring: The cousin of the previous comparison. Think overrated second-year and third-year players that are likely to fall short of lofty expectations and simply equal the value of the guy that went two rounds later and has been doing it for five years.
Empty Stat All-Stars vs. Defensive Stat-Grabbers: Ask a casual fan whether Harrison Barnes or Robert Covington is better. Rather, don’t ask. Just go get Covington, this decade’s most pristine example of an NBA role player that’s a fantasy superstar.
Hot Starts vs. Cold Starts: Your classic buy low, sell high. Similar to Vucevic and Towns in the example above. And speaking of Covington, who’s off to a slow start, do you think he continues to put up stats that are worse than Kendrick Nunn? I’ll try to identify if situations like this are a “changing of the guard” kind of thing with one player on the way up and one on the way down or just Nunnsanity vs. a streaky player that will once again end up in the top-40.
Punt-Category Fun: Many of us are category punters whether we planned to be or not. I’ll find some comps where players are nearly the same in all but one or two categories. Think big men that don’t block shots in a punt-block scenario. A guy like Lauri Markkanen could be the off-brand version of John Collins if you’re punting blocks and field goal percentage. You could make that swap, which would be very even for your team and at the same time, upgrade your team elsewhere.
And there are many more ways to identify players whose true values don’t match the prices in the marketplace. But that’s enough for now. And I leave you once again with a reminder: When you hear a player’s name, try not to let your mind drift to highlight packages and average draft position. Resist dreams of upside.
Instead, force yourself to see the cold, hard numbers. Because flawlessly converted alley-oops aren’t a fantasy category.