March 19, 2012
NBA fantasy: Trading LeBron? It's not as crazy as it seems
By SPORTS NETWORK
Remember a few years ago when the Boston Celtics traded for Kevin Garnett?
Pop quiz time: How many players did Boston trade to get Garnett?
Two? Guess again.
Three, you say? Higher.
Four? Keep going.
I'll stop you right there. It was seven players. Crazy, right?
But remember KG was one of the absolute best players in basketball at that time. And the Celtics were desperate. Seven for one is a lot, but five years and two NBA finals appearances later (with one championship), I don't think anybody in Boston is complaining.
If it took that much to pry Garnett from Minnesota, think of what it would take to get Miami to part with LeBron James. Would it take 10 players? Twenty? Every player in the Eastern Conference? Half of Europe?
Luckily for fantasy owners, trading for LeBron isn't as difficult. In fact, my brother, Luke, was just sitting at his computer looking at YouTube videos when he got a trade request that would give him LeBron. Because he is familiar with the sport of basketball and the fact that LeBron dominates it, he happily accepted the modest proposal.
In the end, he had given up Gerald Wallace and Marc Gasol for LeBron and Ed Davis (he's a real guy; do an Internet search if you don't believe me).
On first glance, you'd think my brother was ripping this guy off. But, of course, I took more than one glance. Call me crazy, but I think it's a fairly balanced trade.
If Gasol/Wallace for James/Davis happened in real life, it would be the most uneven trade of all-time. But it isn't my job to deal with real life. I'm a fantasy writer.
Bare with me here. LeBron is averaging 61.1 points per game in fantasy this year, which is about what Chuck Norris would average if he decided to focus his attention on basketball. Wallace is putting up 34.9 a night in fantasy.
So by swapping James for Wallace, my brother's friend (we'll call him Art Vandelay. I've been watching a good amount of "Seinfeld" lately) loses 26.5 points a game. Ouch.
Hold on a second, though. Here's where it gets interesting. Gasol is averaging a very respectable 48.9 fantasy points per contest while Davis gives you just 23.4 per game. You do a little second grade subtraction and you have a 25.5-point upgrade by trading Davis for Gasol.
So if you're playing James and Davis every night, you'll only get one more point than if you had Gasol and Wallace. So it's a wash.
So why would you make this trade if you're Art Vandelay? Sure, LeBron is starting to lose his hair (a fact that Charles Barkley has reiterated on a nightly basis this season), but this isn't a Rogaine Fantasy League. LeBron is still scoring almost 28 a game with 8.4 rebounds and 6.6 assists.
In fantasy, it's not just about who's on your team, you have to know who is on everyone else's team, too. As they say, you don't have to be faster than the bear: you just have to be faster than the slowest guy running from the bear.
That's why, sometimes it's more important to look at position rankings than it is to look at actual points.
James is the best small forward in fantasy by a huge margin (he's scoring 8.7 fantasy points per game more than Kevin Durant). Wallace is 11th.
Gasol, though not the highest-scoring fantasy player in his own family (brother Pau has the edge by about a half a point), is statistically the fifth-best center in basketball. He's only a half point behind third-place Al Jefferson, so that ranking can fluctuate from fifth to third on a given night.
Where is Davis? He is 42nd.
Now it almost seems like my brother is getting ripped off. Grabbing potentially the third-best center in the NBA for the 42nd-best, while only losing 10 spots in the small forward rankings, doesn't sound too bad, even if you have to give up Mr. South Beach.
Suddenly, Luke is losing a lot of ground in the center department, which is pretty troubling because most NBA fans can only name about 10 NBA centers, let alone list 42 of them. With all the attention Dwight Howard was getting before the trade deadline, you'd think that he was the only legitimate center in basketball.
But, thankfully for my brother, that simply isn't true. The center scarcity issue is completely overblown. In fantasy hoops, good centers are a dime a dozen.
Compare Davis to the 42nd-ranked small forward, Vince Carter. Carter is collecting 22.5 fantasy points per game. That's actually 0.9 points per game lower than Davis, the 42nd-ranked center (also keep in mind that sites like ESPN are being really liberal with what constitutes "center" eligibility. On ESPN, Pau, Garnett and Amare Stoudemire all qualify as centers. To be fair, Davis falls into this category as well, though he's really a power forward).
This makes sense because while forwards and guards usually score more points than centers (Howard leads centers in points per game but he's still only 11th in the NBA in scoring), centers are often more productive rebounders and shot-blockers.
Most forwards score less and record fewer assists than guards while also not rebounding and blocking as effectively as centers, so good forwards are actually harder to find in fantasy than centers.
Small forwards are especially hard to find. Only five of the NBA's top 40 scorers are small forwards (12 of them are power fowards). So from a scarcity standpoint, LeBron and Durant might be the two most valuable commodities in fantasy.
With this trade, Art Vandelay has actually employed a pretty interesting and effective strategy. He got my brother's mouth watering by dangling LeBron in front of him and came away with two pretty good players in Gasol and Wallace. How do you say no to LeBron? You can't. He made Luke an offer he couldn't refuse.
Gasol provides Vandelay with a massive upgrade at center and even though Wallace scores far fewer fantasy points than LeBron does, there really aren't many small forwards who are more productive than Wallace.
So, in the end, everybody is happy. And really, why would Luke care about losing Gasol when he already has Kevin Love? LeBron, Love, Brandon Jennings, Tyreke Evans ... good luck beating the Hartford Honey Badgers this year.