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Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Grand Theft Roto: Category Un-helpers

By Josh Whitling
Special to ESPN.com

The motives behind most well-calculated trades typically fall into one of two categories: An owner is either capitalizing upon perceived value or addressing team needs. It's not always a simple game of buy low/sell high. At times certain players just aren't right for your squad, and it doesn't mean they're not quality performers or don't have value. Addressing team needs by selling players who negatively affect roster equilibrium is a key way to gain ground in the standings. Oftentimes, it's a necessary evil because improving your roster can mean eschewing a favorite player. And a player's negative presence on your roster doesn't necessarily mean he misses free throws or turns the ball over; he may just not be contributing in an area that you need and expect from his starting slot. We all have needs, and if mine is blocks, starting Troy Murphy at center isn't the best strategy, even though he's having a terrific season and I don't think his stats will drop off. Same goes with all guards who don't shoot 3-pointers or get steals, point guards who don't get assists, forwards who don't rebound and forwards/centers who don't block shots. If you're compensating elsewhere, that's fine, but it's late enough in the season to have clear needs that must be addressed, especially in roto formats in which you're often digging a deeper and deeper hole by not doing so.

Here are some players who are not providing what you'd expect from someone at their positions. If you have a deficiency in one of these categories, shopping players like this for an above-average player in that category should drastically help your team's standings.

3-pointers

Rajon Rondo: He's a career 25.3 percent shooter from behind the arc, and attempts just 0.5 3s per game, so even though the 3 is a weapon he'll likely add to his arsenal at some point in his career, Rondo is giving you virtually nothing from 3-point land this season. He's also a killer from behind the stripe (65.5 percent this season, 63.5 career), so even though Rondo's steals, assists and field goal percentage are fantastic, starting him at point guard doesn't provide two key categories you typically desire from that slot. His value is very high right now (13.2 points, 8.4 assists, 5.9 rebounds, 2.4 steals per game in December), so you should have no problem getting quality in return.

Derrick Rose: Rose attempts 1.3 3s per game, and makes 34.2 percent of them, a decent clip. But 0.5 made per game compared to the average of 1.5 3s per game among the top-10 point guards on the player rater highlights the primary area where he's lacking in a fantasy sense. A 3-pointer made per game is almost a prerequisite for any starting fantasy guard, and it's not in Rose's toolbox yet.

Andre Miller: Miller's numbers are down across the board this season, other than the fact he's attempting 0.7 3s per game, the most since 2003-2004. This is a promising indication for next year and his future, as the 3-point shot is an aspect of hoops a player can add to his game through practice later in his career. Miller's points, assists, rebounds and minutes all improved from November to December, so I'm not too discouraged by his statistical decline, although his solid play recently doesn't offset his lack of production from long range.

Raymond Felton: I'm not worried about Felton's decreased assists this season; he averaged 6.9 per game in December and is a focal point of the team now that Jason Richardson is gone. But his 3-point attempts have dropped in each of the past two seasons, and Felton is attempting fewer shots from long range than in any season in his career. Statistically, Felton is still inferior to most starting point guards, and one of the primary reasons is his low 3-point output.

Assists
Jason Terry
Terry's monster season has just one deficiency in it.

Jason Terry: My hometown boy is having a spectacular season, averaging 20.9 points, 1.4 steals and 2.1 3s per game, mostly in the role of sixth man. He actually plays better in the role, averaging 22 points off the bench versus 17.7 as a starter, and he has scored more than 15 points off the bench in 22 straight contests. But he's not a true point guard, especially with Jason Kidd in the picture, so you cannot depend upon him for anything more than about three assists per game. That's fine if you're starting him at utility or guard, but not fine if you're starting him at point guard, your primary spot for acquiring dimes. His 3s are insane (2.7 per game in December), and he'll fetch high value in the market if his skill set doesn't match your roster.

Ray Allen: Once upon a time, when Ray Ray was the future of the Sonics, he stormed into Seattle and averaged 24.5 points with 5.9 assists and 5.6 rebounds in 29 games in 2002-2003. He had the tools of an all-around lead guard who could handle the ball if needed, and be the No. 1 offensive option every time his team had possession. Nowadays, he has eased comfortably into his role of third wheel, and he's good for points, percentages and 3s. His assists are in the twos for the first time this decade, and it's important to frame him in the context of a 3-point/scoring specialist, and not a player from whom you can expect contribution across the board.

Steals

Jose Calderon: His points, assists, 3s and rebounds are all up this year, and he has cemented his standing in the upper echelon of fantasy point guards. One steal per game, however, is unimpressive. With steals, it's less of an encumbrance than having a point guard with no assists, since there are plenty more forwards out there who swipe the ball than ones who pass it; however, relying upon Calderon as one of your team's cornerstones will make it hard to win the category.

Ben Gordon: His 0.7 steals in nearly 37 minutes per game is abysmal for a starting guard, and Gordon is much more interested in scoring than accruing steals and playing defense. He has never averaged more than one steal per game, and there are plenty of bench players who contribute more here than Gordon does. With Gordon, it's not a case of upside or circumstance: You know what to expect, he'll provide it, and in certain cases his limited abilities are a hindrance. If you're in need of steals, this is the case.

Tony Parker: He's a double culprit, averaging just 0.8 steals and 0.3 3s per game from the point guard position. His scoring, percentages and assists are all up this season, and he started every game in December so his health seems fine. Parker, much like Rondo, produces in a fashion atypical of most point guards but is far too excellent not to start on a regular basis. Analyze your needs, because Parker's ridiculous field goal percentage from the point guard position is extremely helpful in that category, and if you're behind there, making up for it from the point guard position is another deft strategy. But Parker's low steals and 3-point totals mean that he works for some teams, while for others a point guard who provides more traditional stats is a better fit.

Blocks

David Lee: His 12.3 rebounds per game as a starter are awesome and his one steal per game is above-average for a big man. Yet his 0.3 blocks per game makes starting Lee at center a lineup liability and forces you to address blocks almost solely from the forward slot. He has been starting at power forward recently with the Jared Jeffries experiment at center, and Lee's improved season shouldn't become derailed. But nothing can provide him with the springs to fly through the air and swat shots at will, and since blocks are a difficult category to address and come from a limited pool of players, using your center spot on someone who doesn't give you much forces your hand at creative roster management.

Zach Randolph: With the Clippers, his points are up and boards are down, but one thing remains: Z-Bo doesn't block shots, averaging just 0.3 per game. His center eligibility undoubtedly augments Randolph's overall value, although starting him there makes it necessary to have two dominant blocking forwards if you want to be competitive there in most leagues.

Rebounds

Kevin Durant: KD is putting up All-Star caliber numbers in his sophomore campaign, although his 5.6 rebounds per game look like they come from a player about six inches shorter. Starting Durant at guard is likely the best strategy given his strengths, and if you're hurting in boards, starting him there over a point guard is a smart strategy. But if you're looking for big-man stats from Durant and are starting him at forward, he won't provide the rebounds you need.

Caron Butler/Rudy Gay/Richard Jefferson: These three forwards have varying levels of fantasy value, but they do have one thing in common: They average fewer than seven rebounds per game, which is tough to stomach from a frontcourt player. There are similarities between Butler's and Durant's numbers, but the difference between them as fantasy players is that Butler doesn't have the guard eligibility, making his 6.5 rebounds per game a burden from the forward position. One forward like this is fine, but multiple players with sub-seven rebounds in your fantasy frontcourt will make boards a constant issue.

Got a trade question? Page Josh at whitlingsfantasy@gmail.com.