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Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Which categories are most scarce?

By John Cregan
Special to ESPN.com

We are a quarter of the way in, folks.

I like the 25 percent mark because I feel like it's the first time we can begin to talk about a reasonably proportioned sample size regarding trends.

So what's the trend overall this season? We are trending down, people.

It's a fantasy Bear Market.

Across the top 150 players on our Player Rater, fantasy production as a whole is down about 20 percent versus the final 2012-13 numbers (about 18.3 percent, to be exact).

So where is the drop-off occurring? Glad you asked. Here's a chart showing the final top 150 overall Player Rater rankings for 2012-13 versus the averages for this season to date:

Player Rater

It starts with Kevin Durant. Durant finished 2012-13 at a sky-high 22.11. He's begun to rally (he just got back to No. 1 last week), but Durant is still relatively mired at 15.37.

Fifteen players had 10-point value in 2012-13. So far this season, we're stuck at 10. As you can see, once you get out of the top 10, the drop-off remains pronounced and relatively uniform.

Which categories are suffering the largest drop-offs versus 2012-13? I won't show you all the charts, but here's a quick rundown.

FG%: -17.8%
FT%: +3.4%
3PM: -11.7%
REB: -16.8%
AST: -18.6%
STL: -23.4%
BLK: -26.1%
PTS: -9.8%

At least free throw shooting is up.

Now, the good news about all this bad news is twofold: (1) an uptick in production is inevitable and (2) your fellow owners are all dealing with the same bear market.

Think of it this way. We all belong to an apple-picking society. Every year, we have a competition where we drive out to the same orchard and see who can pick the most apples over a six-month period.

This year, the trees aren't producing as many apples. However, the playing field is level because we are competing for the same depleted amount of apples. However, different areas of the orchard -- where different types of apples are grown -- are producing different amounts based on the brand of apple.

Maybe it's easier to corner the market in Granny Smiths, while Red Delicious remain relatively plentiful.

My point is this: You want to focus on categorical scarcity.

Which categories have the most top-heavy production? These are the categories where, by acquiring a couple of top-10 superproducers, you can gain a decided advantage over the competition. Looking at top-heavy categories also helps in-season because those tend to be the categories where a single trade can really help you while hurting an opposing owner.

Here's a chart showing how production is spread across different categories so far this season:

Categories

A bit of a goopy mess, I know. But if you look closely, you can see what you want -- categories with steep drop-offs across tiers of production. You do not want smooth and steady.

For instance, take a look at points scored:

Points

Basically, once you get past Durant (going from him to Carmelo Anthony is that almost straight downward line), you're on the precipice of a slow and steady decline. After the top six, it's a flat bunny slope to the bottom.

While there are always an abundance of points scored, this flatness shows why I always de-emphasize points per game in fantasy basketball. Aside from the fact that owners tend to rely too much on PPG in gauging value, it's also a hard category to corner. That's why I always advise new fantasy basketball owners to pay as little attention to points scored as possible.

You have to retrain your statistical eye. If you draft well and build a team with across-the-board statistical strengths, the points scored will be there.

For a better example of a top-heavy statistic, take a look at assists:

Assists

There's another straight line from Chris Paul down to John Wall, but, as opposed to points, there are couple more deep drop-offs before the bunny slope starts after the top 12 (right around Goran Dragic).

You have a strong second tier with Wall/Stephen Curry/Ricky Rubio, a strong third tier with Brandon Jennings/Ty Lawson/Jrue Holiday/Jeff Teague/Steve Blake, and a fourth with Michael Carter-Williams/Kyle Lowry.

Assists are a top-heavy category because they're dominated by one position. But it's also why I look for added value by prioritizing out-of-position stats. It's why I love big men like the Gasol brothers and Joakim Noah.

A big man averaging over 3 assists per night is doubling the average assist total for that position. Over time, it pays off, especially in a top-heavy category where a single injury can derail your production in that category. Out-of-position stats are like having accident insurance.

Speaking of categories where a single injury can really hurt, let's take a look at blocks.

Blocks

If you've ever taken a film history class, they've probably failed to mention that "Better Off Dead" is the eighth-best movie of all time (right between "The Seventh Seal" and "The Magnificent Ambersons"). This movie deals with a young man, played by John Cusack, who's obsessed with skiing an impossibly steep slope called the K-12.

Blocks are basically the K-12 of fantasy basketball.

Are you like me? Do you own Anthony Davis in multiple leagues? Then you know that gnawing feeling, that existential downtick, that numerical emptiness that tells you that the world won't be right until he returns and continues to average his 3.6 blocks per game.

Blocks don't begin to bunny slope until you get out of the top 30 (in the vicinity of Amir Johnson).

Roy Hibbert is a second tier in and unto himself. Serge Ibaka is a one-man third tier. We could group John Henson/DeAndre Jordan/Brook Lopez/Larry Sanders as a fourth tier.

A similarly generous grouping could build a fifth tier of Miles Plumlee/Dwight Howard/Tim Duncan/Andrew Bogut/Marcin Gortat/Al Horford/Al Jefferson/Spencer Hawes. Then you could build a larger sixth tier from Robin Lopez all the way down to Amir Johnson.

Steals aren't quite as dramatic as blocks, but it's still pretty steep.

Steals

Three-pointers have three well-defined tiers, then level out.

3-pointers

Rebounds have been more pronounced this year, again owing to the new class of superproducers at power forward and center.

rebounds

I'm going to save a percentages discussion for their own upcoming article, but overall you can see that it's easier to corner the market in field goal percentage.

field goals
Free Throws