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Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Grand Theft Roto: Category Helpers

By Josh Whitling
Special to ESPN.com

This week I'll take another look at players to target if you need help in specific categories. These players can often be obtained for reasonable value because they aren't providing the all-around performance many owners are looking for, especially if the owner is comfortable in the categories in which the player specializes. Specialists have to fit well with the team to serve their purpose, and if you aren't looking for an all-around player, but rather a cheaper solution to address a specific problem, look for surpluses on other teams and skim the specialists off the top. Likewise, feel free to unload your one-dimensional players if you feel comfortable in their money category.

Steals

Trevor Ariza
Ariza is still finding value despite being overshadowed in L.A.

Trevor Ariza: He recently moved to the second unit in favor of Lamar Odom but will see big minutes off the bench and be a primary scorer when on the floor. Ariza has the 3-pointer, block and steal potential we all love in fantasy players, and even though it's taken seven seasons and three teams, he looks to have Danny Granger-esque statistical potential (OK, so maybe not that promising). He's always been a thief, averaging 1.1 steals per game in just 18 minutes of play last year, and now he's getting extended minutes. He's got the talent and tools in the steals department to hover around two per game, and even though the rest of his production can still be inconsistent, steals is the category upon which you can depend Ariza to contribute.

Mario Chalmers: The rookie turned heads with a nine-steal effort in November, and even though he doesn't provide the ample assists of the typical starting point guard, his 1.9 steals and 1.4 3s per game are impressive. When targeting players such as Chalmers, it's important to point out his deficiencies, especially his low scoring totals. Trades are all about spin and fitting needs, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a Chalmers owner who needs points who wouldn't be glad to ship him off for a more capable scorer.

Three-pointers are typically the easiest category to address specifically, as there are plenty of sharpshooting specialists out there. So, I'm going skip them and take a look at an optional category that is often the Achilles' heel of fantasy owners: turnovers. High turnovers often accompany players with high scoring and/or assist totals, so finding players who know how to score or dish without turning the ball over is the best way to offset the high turnover totals of your superstars.

Rasheed Wallace: With the Pistons' roster looking different than it has over the past few seasons, Sheed is averaging his most minutes since 2005 and is leaned upon heavily as the key big man in the rotation. He's always incredibly helpful in turnovers, and this year is no different, as he's averaging the same amount or more 3s (1.7), blocks (1.4) and steals (1.0) as turnovers (1.0) per game. He's the only in the player in the league who does this (Andrea Bargnani gives it a valiant effort) and is a true impact player in the turnover category. You can start him and get contributions from multiple categories with practically no turnovers. If your turnover totals are high, starting Sheed can shave them down significantly.

LaMarcus Aldridge: With 17.6 points per game and just 1.4 turnovers, Aldridge undoubtedly provides a scoring punch with very low turnovers. With decent percentages (48.3 field goal, 74.4 free throw), Aldridge is the rare player who doesn't hurt you anywhere, and his 1.0 steals and 0.9 blocks per game are just enough to qualify him as more than just a scorer.

Derek Fisher: Finding a steady source of assists with low turnovers is extremely difficult, although Fisher is the type of sure-handed vet who can manage to average 3.8 assists per game with just 1.1 turnovers per game. He also provides enough 3s and steals to help offset his low point totals, so starting Fisher at your utility spot will provide you with several stats without adding turnovers the way most point guards do.

Mike Bibby
Bibby has a one of his best assist to turnover ratios ever.

Mike Bibby: The league I've been in for years counts turnovers, and Bibby has always been one of my favorite players to target because of his ability to provide points, assists, steals and 3s with low turnover totals for a point guard. This year he's taken this to the extreme, averaging just 1.7 turnovers per game with 5.4 assists, 2.4 3s and 1.5 steals per game. If you're looking to make a trade for an impact point guard but can't stomach the high turnover total that typically comes with one, Bibby may be the best option out there, and there's no reason his high level of play should fizzle down the stretch.

Assists

Sebastian Telfair: Even though he's recently been slowed by a bruised thigh, Bassy is still averaging 8 assists per game over his past eight contests. His value isn't that of your typical 4.4-assists-per-game player because he provides you with no other statistical strength, but if dimes are what you're specifically seeking, Telfair has been racking them up starting at the point for the T-Wolves.

Earl Watson: He'll never match last season's 6.8 assists per game coming off the bench, but Watson is still averaging 5.7 per game, good for ninth in the league in assists per 48 minutes. Watson may find himself traded before the deadline, and those assists would increase with his playing time. Even if he stays with the Thunder, he's still playing enough to provide healthy assist totals and, much like Telfair, isn't good enough in other categories to warrant a hefty price tag.

Blocks

Tyrus Thomas: Since the day he entered the league, Thomas' per-minute block stats have been impressive, and now that he's averaging 24 minutes per game, his 1.8 blocks make him worth owning in most formats. I love the consistent improvement from the stripe in his three seasons, from 61.6 his rookie year to 74.1 to 79.5 percent this season. His contributions can be erratic, but the blocks are consistent, and now that he's starting, he should average better than 2 blocks per game for the rest of the season.

Here are two deep-league options to target if you're in need of blocks and can't afford to make a trade for Marcus Camby.

Joakim Noah: There are some definite negatives about Noah's sophomore campaign, namely his decrease in minutes and steals per game. His numbers aren't significantly different if he's starting or coming off the bench, and his minutes are often limited by foul trouble. (He's fouled out twice in the past six contests and had five fouls in two others.) But when he is on the court, there's one constant: He blocks shots. Unless blocks are a critical statistic for his owner, Noah should be available for cheap because of his lack of improvement and production elsewhere and his low minute totals.

Chris Andersen: Despite the fact that he has a conspicuous absence on his résumé that may be difficult to explain to his kids when they're looking at the back of his trading card, Andersen is taking full advantage of his second chance and interrupting the paths of balls across America. He's averaging 3.2 blocks per game over his past seven contests and has consistently been earning about 20 minutes per game, enough for him to routinely provide a couple of blocks per game and keep him among the league leaders.

There's no one trade that qualifies as the GTR of the week, although I did receive the following e-mail that exemplifies a shrewd strategy when targeting players and making trades.

Hey Josh,

I enjoy your columns and thought I'd tell you about a little maneuvering I just finished doing.

The scene: a 12-team keeper league (5 keepers, 5 years) with 6x6 roto stats (offensive rebounds and turnovers added to standard ones). The categories I've fallen behind in are FT percentage, 3s and turnovers. I'm ok with punting turnovers as I'm in 1st overall even with only 1pt in the cat and there's a sizable gap.

The trades: I identified two players I wanted on two different teams -- Chauncey Billups and Kevin Martin -- to give me a huge boost in FT percentage and 3s. I tried to get Martin using various parts but was told I'd only get him by including Calderon or Rose. So I turned around and shipped Rondo (addition to FT percentage by subtraction) and Artest (who I don't trust to stay healthy) for Chauncey Billups. I then turned around and shipped Calderon over for Kevin Martin. So net effect ended up being Rondo, Artest and Calderon for Billups and Martin.

Perhaps not an overall-value steal, but as far as creating a strategy and executing it to take major strides in targeted categories, I think I nailed it. Plus, with my keepers I was at a dilemma point with Calderon, Rose and another PG … say Rondo … so odds are I would have had to leave Calderon out next year anyway. Now with LeBron, Durant, Billups, Martin and maybe Yao I've got a core that gives me pretty great production and -- aside from LeBron -- insane percentage category dominance for the next four years.

Cheers,
Stefan

Great work! To all of you out there who identify the need to make a trade but haven't pulled the trigger yet, check your league's trading deadline and plan accordingly. Before long it might be too late for you to pull off your crowning Grand Theft Roto.

Josh Whitling is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. Got a trade question? Page Josh at whitlingsfantasy@gmail.com.