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Strategizing and Monopolizing Fantasy Basketball Style

by Dave Fuller of Third League

After playing Monopoly at work today, I got to thinking about in-depth strategy. Well, I didn't actually play the game. I was the banker. But I still thought about it. I mean, watching four elementary school children buy everything they land on really makes you think about being selective in your methods of strategizing in fantasy sports. Oh, am I the only one who sees it that way? Man, somebody needs to refer me to the top fantasy sports addiction clinic. Or at least to teach those children how to play Monopoly.

Assuming you pass on that option (yeah, I just got up and left half-way through), we'll get to another strategy game. Now, if you're an unenthusiastic player or one who doesn't have the time to do more than set your lineup on Mondays, you have two options: ignore this article, it probably isn't for you; or you can...well, I guess you only have that one option. Only gung-ho fantasy basketball players should continue reading past this point. Monday-players are suited better for fantasy football anyway. That's right, I said it.

There are almost limitless strategies you can choose to employ in the game of fantasy basketball. I've never been able to develop my own, and it usually takes a couple years to become competitive while using the most generic one: attempt to win all 8 (or 9, counting TOs) categories. This is basically just planning ahead by analyzing your opponent's players and amount of games played for the week. This way, you can give yourself the best chance to win the max amount of games your team is capable of for the week. For example, if your team is weak in assists because you lack pass-first point guards or your PGs only play two games that week, giving up assists in order to compete for multiple other categories may be your best option.

This is my best learned strategy to date, and the one I'm still working to improve. In just my second season of fantasy basketball (last year), it brought me enough wins to make me the 3rd seed heading into the playoffs in my main league. Unfortunately, my team's scheduled games were exceedingly thin and  I just couldn't make up for it, so I took 5th place. But, that's another story for another day.

In my other two private leagues, I took 3rd place overall (2nd seed heading into playoffs) and 2nd place overall (1st seed heading into playoffs). Not terrible. I can't promise it will work incredibly well for everyone, but it's a solid start to any successful season. And hey, I did win 7-3 last week. Here's the "gist" of my preparation.

Monday afternoon strategizing:

It's the first full week and most players are getting into the swing of things, so I need to plan ahead to maintain my (tied for) first-place position.

A quick glance at my opponent's team tells quite a bit from what I should expect:

PG    Rajon Rondo :: PG/SG, Boston Celtics
SG    Joe Johnson :: PG/SG, Atlanta Hawks
G    John Salmons :: SG/SF, Sacramento Kings
SF     LeBron James :: SF, Cleveland Cavaliers
PF    Rasheed Wallace :: PF/C, Detroit Pistons
F    David Lee :: SF/PF, New York Knicks
C    Marcus Camby :: C, Denver Nuggets
Util    Tyson Chandler :: C, New Orleans Hornets

Reserves: Jason Kapono, Jamaal Tinsley, Luther Head , Matt Barnes, Jason Maxiell, Amir Johnson

First observations tell you he's a huge Detroit Pistons fan. I'm friends with almost everyone in the league, so I know he is. But other than that, I notice immediately that rebounds and blocks (James, Wallace, Lee, Camby, Chandler) will be tough to win while 3's and assists shouldn't be a huge challenge. His FG% should be solid, but his FT% may suffer. His steals also look nice, as do points and minutes. TO may hurt him though. What may hurt me more, however, is not taking John Salmons when I had the chance. Hopefully this doesn't come back to haunt me, but it's likely to.

So in a nutshell, this will be an extremely early test that will be exceedingly difficult to pass. Can I beat his bigs while keeping my advantage in the smalls department? Here's my team for future reference:

PG    T.J. Ford :: PG, Toronto Raptors
SG    Kevin Martin :: SG, Sacramento Kings
G    Leandro Barbosa :: PG, Phoenix Suns
SF    Josh Smith :: SG/SF, Atlanta Hawks
PF    Al Jefferson :: PF/C, Minnesota Timberwolves
F    Al Harrington :: PF/C, Golden State Warriors
C    Amare Stoudemire :: C, Phoenix Suns
Util    Jamal Crawford :: SG, New York Knicks

Reserves: Mo Williams, Ronnie Brewer, Brendan Haywood, Kelenna Azubuike, Paul Millsap, Elton Brand (IR)

At first glance, my team looks solid in assists, rebounds, blocks, and 3's. My steals look great, but my percentages could be better. My TO can also hurt me with Smith, Crawford, and Williams. Not overly awful, just potentially high. Other than that, I like the all-around contributions. I would just be much better off if Stoudemire's knee wasn't bothering him.

Of course, it isn't fantasy basketball if my opponent can't make pickups to alter the course of the game.

*    Nov 5, 4:07 AM    Add: Martell Webster :: SG/SF, Portland Trail Blazers
    From: Waivers    Team: Game... blouses   
*    Nov 5, 4:07 AM    Drop: Luther Head :: PG/SG, Houston Rockets
    To: Waivers    Team: Game... blouses
*    Nov 5, 6:06 PM    Add: Daniel Gibson :: PG/SG, Cleveland Cavaliers   
    From: Free Agents    Team: Game... blouses
*    Nov 5, 6:06 PM    Drop: Matt Barnes :: SF, Golden State Warriors
    To: Waivers    Team: Game... blouses

Well, there's a slight uptick in just about every category, although turnovers will get slightly worse. Since he was near the top of the pack (one of the best) last week in TOs, that helps me a little. The acquisitions will probably hurt me elsewhere.

Now, let's take an in-depth look at the whole of the categories. I can't do a whole lot of early preparation for FG/FT%, so instead I'll take a look at the categories I can hope to control: minutes, 3s, points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, TO. This is where the strategy really comes into play. Bare with me here, this is going to be a doozy. Skip the following paragraph if you're not one for details.

Now, he has more games scheduled than I do (trust me, this can be a real killer). That alone gives him a good advantage in the minutes category, but on closer examination, his team sports a few players such as Amir Johnson and Jason Maxiell (yeah, safe to assume he's a Pistons fan) who aren't in line for big minutes quite yet. I expect that I can compete in minutes if I stream good options, but I may fall behind quick and only have one open spot for streaming. His team isn't much of a 3-point team (the addition of Gibson may help a little), and mine has studs like Barbosa and Kev-Mart. I almost expect to win these. His team was underwhelming in points last week as well. I have about 32 games scheduled for this week, while my opponent has about 41 games scheduled. Some quick and extremely rough math tells me my opponent scored about 8.8 points per game last week combined, so I can assume i'm up against 360-400 points this week. I averaged about 12.3 points per contest in the opening week. I don't necessarily see myself repeating that total, but I'd be looking at about 394 points this week if I did. I'll need to make a move or two to ensure this category. Because Mo Williams struggled last week and my opponent made a move that  bolsters his assists, I may need to acquire help in that category as well. If my three big producers (Ford, Crawford, Williams) don't come through after Tuesday night's games, I'll consider throwing assists to better compete for rebounds and blocks. It's better to go for two of three categories than to set yourself up to lose all three. My biggest problem last week in the rebounds and blocks categories was that Al Jefferson and Josh Smith only played two games while Amare Stoudemire played only one. This week will be a much closer matchup because Jefferson plays three, Smith plays four, Harrington plays two, and Haywood plays two. Stoudemire has four scheduled, but I'll be conservative and say he plays in two. My opponent has a nice 14 games divied up between Wallace, Camby, Chandler, and Lee, so I'll be behind all week if I don't acquire any help. I can only hope that I can take TOs since I'll have to fight for the rest of the categories. Considering he plays a solid nine more games than me (at this point), I look to be ahead here.

Phew. Well, trust me, that could have been a lot worse. Now, I'll take look at those players that could help me out in assists and guarantee those points, since I haven't gotten a quality assessment on how well my team does with assists. And, closing out points would take me one step closer to a win. It's safe to assume I'll be needing a point guard to fill those needs simultaneously, and one could probably help increase my FT% and hit 3s for me as well. Here are the best available overall point guards (format: name -- ppg/rpg/apg):

*    Kyle Lowry -- 13.5/4.0/5.0
*    Jose Calderon -- 9.3/3.3/5.3
*    Sebastian Telfair -- 9.0/3.0/6.0
*    Brevin Knight -- 2.0/2.0/6.5
*    Chris Duhon -- 5.7/1.0/5.0

I'll only have available space for Wednesday and Thursday. Lowry and Calderon play Wednesday, while Duhon plays Thursday. Telfair doesn't play either day, so he's useless to me. Chicago's Tyrus Thomas is also available, however, and puts up nice rebounding totals with blocks as well. Impressive numbers for the young'n, and I can choose to go that route if our matchup warrants it. So I'm looking at either Tyrus Thomas to add rebounds and blocks, or one of the point guards mentioned earlier to add assists and some rebounds. Either way, I'll need to receive nice numbers from some fill-ins this week. Which one(s) I add just depends on the route I select.

End Monday afternoon strategizing

You didn't think "monopolizing" was referring solely to the board game did you? Well, I'll only touch on this subject quickly, but it can be a very effective way of regulating your opponent's options before and/or during the week. This may require you to start your strategizing on Sunday night, but the work may net you an extra point in the end. I call it monopolozing because it requires you to pick up the top one or two players available on the Free Agent/Waiver wire that will undoubtedly help your opponent in the categories he or she struggles in. Say, for instance, I started strategizing on Sunday night for the same opponent. I could have picked up Gibson myself in order to keep my opponent from attaining much-needed help in 3s. Unbeknownst to me, I would go on to lose 3s because I failed to do that.

As you can see, monopolizing (I'm not sure, but I might have just coined that term) can really affect the outcome of the game. I really don't think there were any other options worth picking up for help in 3s, and Gibson turned out to be a huge help in more than just that single category as I'll explain soon. If his next best option was someone like Damon Jones, I'd probably be winning 3s and have a more comfortable cushion in some other categories. Don't underestimate the value of this strategy.

It's important to note that you shouldn't throw away your bench for this, but having a space or two available for streaming is always an extremely helpful asset to have if you can afford it.

Friday morning strategizing:

Well no, I didn't leave my lineup alone between Monday and today (Friday). I don't have the room and you probably don't have the patience to read about every single move I made, however, so I'll just mention that I added Tyrus Thomas, Joel Przybilla, and Joe Smith throughout the week. I got one start out of each of them so far, but I'll likely use Thomas for the remainder of the week. I may add Reggie Evans over Smith for rebounds too.

The Friday morning score (with my numbers in italics): 6-4

Min    FG%    FT%    3s    Pts    Reb    Ast    Stl    Blk    TO
548     .491     .712     16     278     99     65     30     16     30
578     .478     .734     23     277     108     55     18     15     39

Well, LeBron James is playing his mind out this week and Gibson is hurting me more than I expected, but overall I can't complain. I'm actually winning assists, losing 3s, and winning blocks. I didn't expect to do any of that. But, that's why the games are played out. I've got 19-20 or more games left to play, 21-22 if I play it right. My opponent's got 22 as well, so I just might be able to keep things the way they are now and take it 6-4 (or better if I get lucky). Against this team, I would love a 6-4 finish. I'm aiming higher though.

The only things left for me to do are to assess my needs at the end of this night, do the same after tomorrow night, and make the correct acquisitions to finish the week out strong (Chuck Hayes or Reggie Evans for rebounding; or perhaps Yi Jianlian for blocks). I'll let you know how it turns out next week.

I keep thinking of how much easier this would have been had I blocked my opponent from taking Gibson, but there's nothing I can do about it now. All I can do is keep it in mind for next week. For now, I'll let it go like an elite baseball closer and just keep on strategizing.