Grand Theft Roto: Top 10 in fantasy trade value

Each year, Bill Simmons weaves his "which NBA player has the most trade value?" column, in which he provides a list of the top 50 players with regard to actual NBA trade value. He must consider talent, age, character, coaches, owners, the whole package. It's based in reality, at least as much as something written by our favorite Sports Guy can be. It's quickly become an annual feature for which NBA fans, including myself, anxiously await.

But here in the fantasy world, we're not concerned with the whole package, or even reality, really. Trades happen frequently, so analyzing players' trade value, which provides a gauge for overall value, is something we constantly do, not just on a once-a-year basis. And for us, it's all about stats. In fact, that's why I write this little column, and regularly highlight "buy-low" and "sell-high" players, and treat the fantasy landscape like the stock market. NBA teams may make one trade per season, while some fantasy teams make 20, so understanding market value is crucial.

So, when I was asked to submit a similar column with a fantasy twist, I got a bit giddy. And by giddy, I mean I danced like a hard-core gangster in the solitude of the bathroom at work. It provides me with the opportunity to look at the bigger picture and examine the differences between actual NBA trade value and fantasy trade value.

Some factors overlap, such as injury-proneness, age and consistency. But NBA general managers and fantasy owners have a slew of separate secondary factors to weigh altogether. In the real world, GMs must think about salary caps, team chemistry (both on and off court), a player's character and countless other intangibles (and tangibles, I guess). In fantasy, we primarily focus on statistics and which needs the player addresses for our team (with regard to position and categories). We also consider factors such as the impact of trades, injuries and the circumstances and play of the other players on his team. It comes down to which players we think will outperform their perceived values and fit our team needs.

This week's edition highlights players 1-10 and next week's will cover 11-25. Interpret as follows: If you own a listed player, you should be able to get someone ranked below him in a straight-up trade, within a need-free vacuum. These rankings don't reflect what the player will actually provide, although it's relatively close. It's the discrepancies you detect between perceived value and what you think the player will actually do that opens opportunity for trades. If you think a guy ranked No. 30 in trade value is a top-15 player with regard to actual value, then trade him for a player ranked in the 20s. That's how you exploit your understanding of market value, and where this list should come in handy.

First off, let's get this out of the way:

1. LeBron James, SF, Cavaliers
2. Chris Paul, PG, Hornets

These two are in such a different galaxy than the rest of fantasy players that their awesomeness isn't worth debating.

3. Dwyane Wade, SG, Heat: Everybody loves D-Wade. His resurgence and contributions in points, steals, blocks, assists and rebounds give him the value edge over Kobe, and there have certainly been times this season when he's nipped at the heels of the two ranked above him. Wade is intriguing and appealing to owners because he gives us the feeling we haven't seen his best yet.

4. Kobe Bryant, SG, Lakers: The "best player" debate amidst the NBA ends with LeBron versus Kobe. But in the fantasy world, Kobe is closer to a number 5-10 overall player. The Lakers' depth prevents him from putting up his best stats, and he'll likely be rested for the playoffs, although his name will fetch you anybody in the right trade, including the big two. Any league in which I own Kobe or Wade, I'm constantly making trade offers for LBJ and CP3, as they're my best shot at netting that fantasy glory. James and Paul are so far above the rest of the pack that if you can get, for example, Paul and a top-50 player for Kobe and a top-30 player, the few-spot difference in the superstars outweighs the few-round difference between the secondary players.

5. Danny Granger, SF, Pacers: Granny Danger is the new Shawn Marion: the stud that fantasy players adore but the casual fan hardly notices. His stats are insane, and anybody who's been checking the box scores this season knows it, so he's not drastically undervalued in fantasy circles. On my personal list, however, he's No. 3. He has consistently improved, provides multi-categorical mayhem (especially that scarce combo of 3s and blocks, as well as high frequency and accuracy at the stripe. Plus he's ranked No. 1 during the past month on the Player Rater. I could go on...). To me, Granger and the player ranked No. 10 are the guys with the best chance to step into LeBron and CP3's statistical realm in the next few years.

6. Dirk Nowitzki, PF, Mavericks: The Volkswagen of fantasy hoops: consistent, reliable, accurately priced and German. Dirk's a top-of-the-line VW, of course, like um ... a Jetta with a leather interior?

7. Amare Stoudemire, PF/C, Suns: He entered the season basically a consensus top-four pick, and the fact that owners spent their first pick on him keeps his trade value high. I'd rather have Yao, Dirk and Chris Bosh over Stoudemire, even though he was the first big man off the board in most drafts. His points, rebounds and blocks are down this season, although he's still ranked 10th on the Player Rater for the season and carries a hefty price tag due to his high draft position. I don't really love his uncertain future or his allergic reaction to playing tough defense, so Stoudemire doesn't crack my personal top-10.

8. Kevin Garnett, PF, Celtics: Much like Kobe, Garnett has been dominant for so long and has the name recognition that he will make any owner seriously consider acquiring him, and he can fetch a top-5 player in a trade, even though he's more of a top 10-15 player at this point. His unselfish nature and the talent surrounding him have caused his numbers to dip significantly, as his 16.5 points and 9.0 rebounds are his lowest marks this decade. His overall contribution still lands him at No. 11 on the Player Rater, mostly due to his superb percentages (.525 on field goals, .836 on free throws) and steals and blocks (1.2 and 1.3, respectively), so KG retains high value despite his diminished stats.

9. Yao Ming, C, Rockets: Yao is the best big in the game when healthy, but that "when healthy" tag has haunted him throughout his career, consistently hurting his trade value due to the hesitancy of potential owners. His stats are slightly lower than last year due directly to the fact that he's playing nearly five fewer minutes per game, but it's a worthy tradeoff if it keeps him on the court. The fact he's missed just three games this season and provides his type of stats (especially free-throw percentage) from the center position give him high, and accurate, value. He's seventh on the Player Rater, ninth on this list, and No. 1 in the hearts of about a billion-and-a-half people (that's including everybody who drafted him in the third round).

10. Kevin Durant, SG/SF, Thunder: In keener fantasy circles, Durant cracks the top 5, and he could very likely be the third player chosen in fantasy drafts next season. I'm going to watch him play tonight against the Blazers, an experience I'll be sure to document next week. I'll be thrilled to witness in person how he's improved since last season, when I watched about 10 Sonics games (single teardrop). Just wait until he puts on more weight, develops his post-up game and even further refines his 3-point shot. The boards have already increased, and so has his field goal percentage, as he's settled into his natural position of small forward. As Simmons has pointed out, his statistical ceiling is practically unimaginable. He almost makes it higher on this list, but was drafted low (ADP 33.6) and flies under the radar in OKC.

Next week, 11-25 ...

Josh Whitling is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.