In considering the deeper implications of referring to a player as a "one-category wonder," it's important to remember what we are talking about, exactly. After all, basketball players, in general, are not supposed to be specialists. In choosing between two players with, say, equal prowess on the defensive end of the floor, in both fantasy basketball and real basketball, logic says you should take the guy who's better at the rest of the game. Seems simple enough, right?
Unfortunately, things don't often work out this way. Basketball players are not created in labs. They accumulate their numbers in various ways and, as such, those numbers are subject to the cruel whims of coaches, systems, teammates, etc. The players we talk about when we talk about "specialists," or "one-category wonders," are particularly subject to these whims.
We can be reasonably sure that LeBron James, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and other players of the superstar ilk are going to put up numbers somewhere in the range of their historical averages, but that's because those guys are systems unto themselves; their entire careers have dictated the modes in which they are most effective, and their teams play accordingly.
On the other hand, someone like Chris Andersen is not a perfected, complete basketball player. His value on your fantasy team is predicated entirely on his ability -- and, far more importantly, his opportunity -- to block shots. In 2008-09 -- as a 30-year-old -- he had a great season and blocked 2.5 shots per game while averaging just 20.6 minutes, but let's keep in mind that in 2004-05, he blocked just 1.5 shots per game in 21.3 minutes. Was he a preternaturally great shot-blocker in each case? Emphatically, yes, he was. You block 1.5 shots per game in 21.3 minutes, and you are a great shot-blocker. You block 2.5 shots per game in 20.6 minutes, and you are still a great shot-blocker. If I'm being redundant here, it's intentional. The point is that in real basketball, a great shot-blocker is just that. Who knows how many shots The Birdman altered, changed or interrupted in 2004-05. What we know, instead, is that in fantasy basketball that season, he was significantly less valuable than he was last season in Denver.
Bearing that bit of uncertainty in mind, let's take a gander at some non-superstars who stand to perform like a superstar in the counting category in which they specialize, as well as those players who can actually hurt your beloved fantasy team.
Lou Williams, PG, 76ers: With Andre Miller out of town, Williams is being handed the reins at the point guard position in Philly this season. It remains to be seen whether he'll be up to the task of running an offense, considering he basically spent last season shooting whenever he wanted. Last season, his assist rate was lower than noted unselfish players like Jamal Crawford, Allen Iverson, and Ricky Davis, so you'll have to forgive me if I'm not willing to give him the assist crown quite yet. The skill we know he has in spades is an amazing ability to score on a team that has been in desperate need of scoring the past few seasons. I don't know if Lou will be the point guard many think he could become, but he'll definitely get his at the offensive end.
Allen Iverson, SG/PG, Grizzlies: Last season was, by all measures, the worst season of Iverson's great career, but let's keep in mind that he still averaged around 20 points per 40 minutes. On a terrible Memphis team full of some of the most notorious chuckers in the league, Iverson's going to be the one with the ball in his hands most, and if you've been listening to his chatter the past few weeks, you know he's got a lot to prove. He's not going to give you 3-pointers, and at this point he might not give you many steals, either, but AI is going to score. A lot.
Others to consider: Tracy McGrady (SG, Rockets) will always be an injury risk, but if he can be ready to go early in the season, with Yao Ming out, the offense in Houston will belong to him. With Stephen Jackson causing some drama in Oakland, at some point this season the door may open for Anthony Morrow (SG, Warriors), who led the league in 3-point percentage last season as a rookie. If he starts getting minutes, he's going to produce.
Kevin Love, PF, Timberwolves: Love proved beyond a doubt as a rookie that he can rebound effectively in the NBA. So, despite throwing up pedestrian numbers in all the other categories, he holds some fantasy value. At least with Love the percentages are good enough that he won't hurt you, and being a good outside shooter and a great passer, there's always the chance that he starts knocking down 3-pointers, dishing out assists and becoming the sort of well-rounded guy who doesn't belong on a list like this in the first place.
Antonio McDyess, PF/C, Spurs: Despite going to the Spurs, McDyess is a good bet to continue getting the 30 or so minutes a game he needs to be an effective fantasy option. A good midrange shooter, he's too reliant on other guys getting him open to be an elite scorer at this point, but on the glass, he's turned himself into quite a monster. Among qualifying players last season, he finished 10th in rebound rate, ahead of noted rebound machines such as Reggie Evans, David Lee, Al Jefferson and his new teammate Tim Duncan. McDyess may lose some boards to the Big Fundamental, but I'd be shocked if he's not among the top 20 rebounders league-wide at season's end.
Others to consider: Samuel Dalembert (C, 76ers) had an awful season in '08-09, but he's still the only proper center on Philly's roster, and he's big and active enough that he could muster eight boards per game by accident. Joel Przybilla (C, Trail Blazers) might lose a few more minutes to Greg Oden this season (if Oden can ever stay healthy), but even if his minutes drop into the 18 to 20 range, the seven or eight boards he'll pull down per game might make him worth owning in some leagues anyway. If the Mavs do, in fact, go small this season, playing Dirk Nowitzki at the center spot at times, Shawn Marion (SF/PF, Mavericks) is going to gobble up a lot of rebounds as an undersized power forward. Marion's stock has slipped in recent years, but playing alongside Dirk, Jason Kidd and others should give The Matrix a boost this time around. Tyson Chandler's (C, Bobcats) stock has slipped even more than Marion's, but replacing Emeka Okafor in Charlotte, there should be plenty of rebounds to go around. He missed a lot of time last season, but played in at least 73 games per season for four straight years before that, and with the change of scenery to Charlotte, he should be good to go.
Raymond Felton, PG, Bobcats: The Bobcats, it should be pointed out, pretty much tried to get rid of Felton this summer, and they haven't been particularly excited to have him as their point guard for a couple of seasons now. As payback, perhaps, Felton hardly ever misses a game, plays heavy minutes and piles up assists. Sure, he throws in some steals and the occasional 3-pointer, but it's the assists that make him valuable in fantasy. His stock is pretty low at the moment with promising sophomore D.J. Augustin expected to continue pushing him for minutes, but Felton just turned 25 and is entering the prime of his career. If he starts slipping in your draft, don't hesitate to take him.
Rodney Stuckey, PG, Pistons: It's strange to include in this category a guy who very clearly is best suited to be a combo guard, but Stuckey doesn't do anything as well as he racks up assists. Stuckey came into last season with a ton of hype, and he didn't live up to it. In fact, all his numbers were pretty pedestrian. He doesn't make 3s or get steals, which immediately drops him down on any list of great fantasy point guards. However, it's important to remember that, at the moment, he's the only thing approaching a pure point guard the Pistons have on their roster, and it seems like a pretty good bet that he'll come pretty close to matching the 32 minutes per game he averaged last season. If he does, dishing off to Ben Gordon, Richard Hamilton and Charlie Villanueva, should mean there will be plenty of assists to go around.
Others to consider: Sergio Rodriguez (PG, Kings) is hoping that his new team didn't bring him in just to leave him on the pine, and so am I. Rodriguez averaged 3.6 assists per game last season for the Trail Blazers, which is pretty good when you consider he played just a shade more than 15 minutes per game. He's probably not good enough to draft, but it's hard to imagine him remaining behind Beno Udrih on the depth chart for too long. Earl Watson (PG, Pacers) has the charmed job of being T.J. Ford's backup. In years past, that's been a pretty good gig. Watson's not a guy you hope you'll need to rely on, but on a list of guys who specialize in one category, it'd be hard to leave out the 5.8 assists per game Watson dished out last season in just 26 minutes per game. Don't be too proud to use him if you need to.
Rudy Fernandez, SG, Trail Blazers: Unfortunately, Fernandez didn't get a whole lot of minutes last season, so it didn't really matter all that much that he's totally awesome. If that sounds a little overly excited, well, it's because I think he's got the potential to be a fantasy stud. In our projections, we have Rudy making 2.0 3s per game next season, which is good enough for 12th in the league. No one ahead of him on the list plays fewer minutes or scores fewer points per game. What does this mean? Well, as The New Enthusiast helps us understand, Rudy's low field goal percentage isn't something we should pay much attention to, because, after all, he's mostly just shooting 3s and going to the line, where he makes 84 percent of his shots. He probably won't get enough minutes to sneak into the top 100 fantasy players overall, but he'll make enough 3s to matter in most leagues.
Daequan Cook, SG, Heat: Nearly two out of every three shots Cook attempted from the floor last season were 3s, which is exactly what you want out of your 3-point specialist. Now, he'll probably lose some minutes to Quentin Richardson this season, but he's still likely the third guard in the rotation behind Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers, and that's an all right place to be. I think he can match the 24 minutes per game he played last season, which means he'll still be good for 3s -- and not much else.
Others to consider: This category has no shortage of possibilities, but in particular I'm optimistic about Jason Kapono (SF, 76ers) this season. Even though he's the best pure shooter in the league by many accounts, Kapono's been a little reluctant to pull the trigger from long range in past seasons. However, Philly needs his outside shooting so much that it's hard to imagine that shyness continuing. Mike Miller (SG/SF, Wizards) had a tough go of it last season in Minnesota, but he'll be a good source of 3s (and assists, too) if he can stay healthy in Washington. Last year was a bad fantasy season for Shane Battier (SF, Rockets) as he lost a lot of his role to Ron Artest (SF, Lakers). This season, there's no Artest in Houston, and they're going to need scoring with Yao out for at least the majority of the season. Battier's not really a one-category wonder because he'll get you blocks and steals, as well, but he has the potential to make a big leap in 3s this season, and I felt compelled to include him here since he's definitely worth drafting in the late rounds if people start forgetting about him.
Trevor Ariza, SF, Rockets: Ariza figures to get a big boost in minutes as the Rockets' major free-agent acquisition this offseason, and last season, on a per-minute basis, only Chris Paul was better at collecting steals. I have major concerns about Ariza as an overall fantasy player, and it's likely his draft position will end up being a little too high for the numbers he ends up posting, but if your priority is steals, reaching a little for Ariza will pay off, as he'll probably be one of the few players in the league to post better than two steals per game.
Ronnie Brewer, SG, Jazz: Brewer is pretty firmly planted in the shooting guard spot for the Utah Jazz, so he'll probably see more than 30 minutes per game again this season. Brewer's value isn't only in steals; he also posts a great field goal percentage for a guard because of his ability to finish around the rim. Heading into his fourth season -- he'll turn 25 this season -- Brewer should only continue improving his game, but as usual, it's the steals that make him especially worth owning.
Others to consider: Brandon Jennings (PG, Bucks) may be a rookie, but he's going to get some playing time this season with Ramon Sessions now in Minnesota and only Luke Ridnour pushing him for minutes. During summer league, Jennings showed an ability to rack up steals and assists, and it seems to go without saying that he'll be bold enough to play tough defense during the season, even if his offensive game lags as he gets used to the NBA. Thaddeus Young (SF, 76ers) does contribute in more than one category -- he could be an even greater contributor in points this season -- but he's such a strong option in steals, it's important to point him out. If he reaches his potential in scoring, he could be quite a value pick. Mario Chalmers (PG, Heat) had a great rookie season for a second-round pick, and doesn't need to improve at all to be a really important fantasy player. Overall, he had a better fantasy rookie season than Derrick Rose. If he slips past the sixth round in your draft, grab him immediately, as he could be one of the five best players in the league in steals.
Ronny Turiaf, PF/C, Warriors: Right away, let's just get it straight that Turiaf isn't going to see a ton of minutes. He's not nearly as good as Andris Biedrins, and he'll have to contend for minutes with promising youngsters like Brandan Wright and Anthony Randolph, too. That said, he could contribute more blocks than most guys in the league just playing around the 20 to 22 minutes per game he played last season when he averaged more than two blocks per game. After The Birdman, Turiaf was second in the league in blocks per minute -- ahead of Dwight Howard -- and frankly, it wasn't that close. In deeper leagues, he's definitely worth drafting in the late rounds, when you're looking for players who can make a major difference for you in a single category.
Darko Milicic, C, Knicks: It's hard to say where Darko will go in drafts, as there are some wildly differing opinions on how he'll fare in Mike D'Antoni's system with the Knicks. If you're expecting him to immediately become the player he was supposed to be when he was drafted ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, well, you are sorely mistaken. However, it seems reasonable that as the presumptive starting center for a team that's going to play fast, Darko will at the very least be able to accumulate a whole boatload of blocks.
Others to consider: Pacers sophomore center Roy Hibbert was among the league leaders in blocks per minute, and should see a lot more action this time around, considering how productive he was in limited action last season. In most leagues, you probably don't need to draft him, but if he plays well to start the season, pick him up right away. It's hard to say exactly how far Jermaine O'Neal (C, Heat) has fallen in the minds of fantasy owners. The only thing he does really well at this point is block shots, but if he's available toward the back end of your draft (which he definitely should be unless someone takes a major leap of faith), he deserves to be picked up as a specialist.
The percentages: Where players can hurt you
Maybe it's an overly obvious point, but you can't average fewer than zero blocks per game. That's something that is true for most categories, so, for instance, when LeBron James doesn't have any blocks or steals one night, it doesn't appear to hurt your fantasy team. Most stats are accumulated, not averaged, and so it only matters when players get them.
It works differently in the percentages. If LeBron goes 4-for-10 from the line one night, that may significantly hurt your team for a week, making it much harder for you to win that category in head-to-head play. In rotisserie formats, that 4-for-10 will count against you all season, and though it might not seem like much, if you predicted a guy like LeBron, who gets to the line all the time, to shoot 79 percent for the season and he goes out and hits 73 percent of his free throws, that's a problem for you.
What's more, it's hard to figure just how much it matters precisely because of the way averages work. LeBron's 4-for-10 from the line one night is far more damaging than Ben Wallace's 0-for-2, because Wallace took just two free throws. As such, what we're looking for are guys who put up good percentages and large quantities of shot attempts. Failing that, we're looking for guys who put up their bad percentages with small quantities of shots.
For example, when Rudy Fernandez shoots 2-for-7 from the floor one night, sure, that looks pretty bad. But since Rudy takes a ton of 3s, maybe his two makes are both from long range. And there's a pretty good chance that he got to the line a few times and made all his free throws. All of the sudden, he's got 9 or 10 points on that 2-for-7 from the floor, and he's helped you out in free throw percentage and 3s. So, you can't just take percentages at face value, because if you do you'll miss opportunities to create value out of misunderstandings.
Taking all of this into consideration, here are some guys you might want to avoid in the two percentage categories:
Field goal percentage
Lou Williams, PG, 76ers: As stated earlier in this piece, Williams is a good bet to score a ton of points. However, he's a bad bet to do it efficiently. He's a bad 3-point shooter, so he doesn't help you much in that category. He gets to the line a lot, which helps his scoring average, but he makes fewer than 80 percent of his free throws, so he doesn't really boost you much there, either. This season, there's the potential for him to take a ton of shots, and while it's true that he'll probably score his share of points, it's also true that he'll kill your field goal percentage without taking a lot of the kinds of shots that make it worthwhile.
Russell Westbrook, PG, Thunder: Westbrook, unlike Lou Williams, contributes in many categories, so perhaps his terrible field goal shooting is easier to swallow. He's also a little better at the foul line, so at least some of his points are helping your percentage there. However, last season he took a lot of bad shots, and was below 40 percent shooting from the floor for the season on more than 1,000 shot attempts. That's a major negative that can be hard to make up. Westbrook is certainly worth owning, as he seems poised to make major leaps in his game, but the field goal shooting concerns should be enough to temper your enthusiasm for him a little until he shows that he can rein in his decision-making a bit.
Others to avoid: Tyrus Thomas (PF, Bulls) certainly has some attractive qualities in fantasy, but shooting is not one of them. He's bad from the floor and bad from the line, and he's especially bad when you consider the fact most guys who put up negative field goal shooting stats are tiny guards. When you're trotting out a power forward who can't shoot, you're eschewing lots of players who probably shoot better than 50 percent from the floor. Thomas might have a great fantasy season, but the odds are good that he'll wear your team down from the floor. Jermaine O'Neal is similar to Thomas in that he's not good from the floor or the line, and isn't going to help you out with the occasional 3-pointer, either. As I said above, Jermaine might be worth a look late in the draft as a source of blocks, but bear in mind that when you play him, he's going to hurt your percentages because when he shoots 47 percent from the floor, he's taking the place of a normal center who'd be above 50 percent.
Free throw percentage
Dwight Howard, C, Magic: You can't write this column and not talk about Dwight. He's worth an article on his own, because if you draft him you basically need to write this category off entirely or base every one of your subsequent picks on making up for him. The fact he's one of the best players in the league softens the blow some, but the truth is, he's not getting any better from the line anytime soon. After shooting 67 percent his rookie season, he's been under 60 percent every year since, and no one takes more free throws.
Shaquille O'Neal, C, Cavaliers: Now that Shaq is back on the scene, it seems time to reiterate that he pretty much invented the problem we just talked about with Howard. Basically, these guys are so hard to stop that teams have to resort to fouling just to hang in there, and as a result O'Neal and Howard both take free throws in bulk. Because Shaq plays fewer minutes, the impact isn't quite as negative, but he also doesn't contribute the positives Howard does. If you're going to punt the category, owning Shaq along with Dwight probably makes some sense, as you'd gain some ground in points, rebounds, blocks and field goal percentage, but make sure you don't go half way. If you're going to ignore a category, make sure you ignore it all the way.
Others to avoid: Rajon Rondo (PG, Celtics) improved a little at the line last season, but that got him up to only 64 percent, which, for a point guard, is terrible. Since his game is entirely predicated on taking it to the hoop, one would assume he'll get fouled more and more, and since he's seen around the league as an emerging star, guys might be a little more likely to make him earn it from the line this season. Like Westbrook, he contributes in so many other categories that it's worth owning him anyway, but Rondo will be a major drain from the foul line again this season, unless something drastic happens. Last season was a new low for Josh Smith (SF/PF, Hawks) from the foul line, as he shot worse than 60 percent for the first time in his career, and the fact he blocked fewer shots last season made the bad shooting from the line even tougher to swallow. After being a consensus first-round fantasy pick last season, he's dropped off quite a bit, and the free throw shooting is among the main culprits. I'd bet on him bouncing back a little this season, but it's definitely something to be wary of.
Seth Landman is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.