Grand Theft Roto: Using Player Rater early on

In my normal non-GTR fantasy basketball existence, I never make a trade in the first two weeks of the season.

Why? Because this isn't fantasy football. Two weeks in fantasy football? Your season is almost 25 percent over.

With its compressed statistical sample size, fantasy football conditions owners to blow up their teams after one bad week. They lock themselves in the bathroom with their laptops, put on "Nebraska" and stare at the Add/Drop Meter like it was the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

But fantasy basketball affords us the possibility to breathe. You can wait a couple of extra weeks. We are not Bob Whitsitt. Trust me, this is way too early to give up on your team.

If everyone were like me, I wouldn't be able to make a single deal until Thanksgiving.

All I can say is, thank god for the Player Rater.

The Player Rater is a disruptive force that stirs the early-season trade market like no other.

Don't get me wrong. I am addicted to the Player Rater. Right now, with about 75 games to go in the season, it's great shorthand for detecting early trends.

And nothing more.

In a couple of months, it's going to evince real hard fact. But it's way too early to use it as your primary source of information when contemplating a trade.

I'm starting to see owners who use only the Player Rater when talking trade. These are irrational people. These are the same people who still follow professional wrestling in their mid-30s. You know, Bob Whitsitt types.
That adds up to Grand Theft Roto opportunities.

If you are in the mood to trade, I recommend this two-step strategy:

A. Target the teams that got hammered in their first week

These are probably going to be the people who are posting on your trade block. Maybe they made some honest mistakes that need to be rectified. Or maybe they're just freaking after one bad week. So, you look for an owner who lost 7-1, then …

B. Target their lowest, most out of whack players on the Player Rater

This is a strategy that really works only early in the season. As I said, you get a couple of months in, the Player Rater ossifies and becomes hard evidence. At that point, rational owners like you and me will use it to make sane, level-headed and fair-minded deals where everyone walks away happy. Or not.

But right now, those owners who started 1-7 are looking at that Player Rater with a bit more wide-eyed immediacy than those who started 7-1.

And they're going to be more willing to deal some players who have stumbled out of the gate. Players who may have had a bad 7-game stretch, but will have 75 more chances to right the ship.

Let's take a quick walk through some players I've made offers for.

Mild letdowns at this point

1. Dirk Nowitzki (No. 35 on the Player Rater):
I do think Dirk's going to drop out of the top 10 this season. For a couple of years, I've been alarmed at the drop in 3-pointers and blocks. With the Mavericks' rising young core, this could be the season his scoring drops into the 22 ppg range.

But he's still an elite fantasy player, and at least 15 spots better than where he is right now. I also like the uptick in assists. I've offered Chris Kaman (value at an all, all-time high) and change for Dirk in one league.

2. Joe Johnson (No. 41):
Johnson's rating isn't that out of whack -- like Dirk, he's going to drop 10 spots or so due to a deeper Hawks team -- but he's riding a little low right now. The reason? He's shooting 7 percent lower than last season, thus far. As he corrects his shot, his value will rise.

3. Caron Butler (No. 48):
We could spend at least 1,500 words on how and why my hometown squad has been so mind-numbingly bad. Let's just assume that one of the top five offensive teams in the NBA gets back on track, or at least to the middle of the pack.

After Sunday's solid game, Butler and Jamison (No. 37) have already jumped up the meter. But Butler's still about 10 spots under where's he's going to end up.

4. Andrea Bargnani (No. 70):
If Rasho Nesterovic continues to start over Bargnani, Bargnani will drop lower than this. He may even hit the wire in some leagues.

Either way, he's a reasonable gamble in a low-risk high-reward type of deal. In one league, I've offered Peja Stojakovic for him in the hopes that Peja's one 36-point night and his name value puts it over the top.

5. Richard Hamilton (No. 76):
All I'll say is my teams with Hamilton tend to do well.
Hamilton's only this low because he missed some time to attend to a personal matter. He's an underrated fantasy guard who contributes with solid, yet unspectacular across-the-board production. Rip is a dynamite percentages guy who is well built for Flip Saunders' system.

6. Josh Howard (No. 78):
Howard's better than this, but a perennial injury risk. If he stays healthy, I think he breaks into the top 30 by season's end. Again, he's the kind of guy I'd offer Turkoglu and change up for just to see what happens.

7. Al Jefferson (No. 84):
Somehow, to me, a center averaging 20 and 12 shouldn't be this low on the Player Rater, which seemingly doesn't factor in positional scarcity. Maybe he'll climb when he starts blocking shots again.

8. Luol Deng (No. 97):
Deng (average draft position of 38.6) went too high in most drafts for my taste. He doesn't shoot 3-pointers anymore, and doesn't steal or block shots at a particularly impressive rate. Also, always remember that he plays for Scott Skiles, the "Fantasy Vortex of Doom." All in all, Deng's a prime example of someone whose higher value in reality drives up his fantasy value just a bit out of whack.

Despite all of this, Deng's been suffering from a Bulls-wide malaise, and will rebound at some point in the near future. You could also say the same for Ben Gordon, Kirk Hinrich and Kobe Bry … whoops, not yet.

Shocker Territory

1. Gilbert Arenas (No. 103):
His knee injury could continue to linger throughout the season. He may even have to shut it down for a week or two. But Kobe Bryant took awhile coming back from a similar injury last season, and it ultimately didn't limit his effectiveness to a great degree.

I think come Feitl or high water, Arenas will play on for one simple reason: He opted out, and is in a contract year. He took a reasonable risk. If he's going to maximize his value, he's going to have to have a season that is somewhat reminiscent of 2006-07.

In one of my leagues, I dealt Carmelo Anthony for Arenas and Andris Biedrins. It's a bad trade in the short term. If Arenas goes down, it's a bust. But I think I got an eventual top-15 player and a top-10 center for a top-25 player. I say "top 15" because I think, during the course of the season, the knee may keep him out of the top five.

2. Pau Gasol (No. 109):
I have a bad back as well, and can empathize, but I wasn't drafted No. 11 in anyone's fantasy basketball draft. All I'm saying is maybe someone should have said something about the back! All we read about before the season was his ankle.

I have trouble hitting the inside of my hamper with a sweat sock when my back locks up. After watching Gasol against Utah the other night, I hope he's got some help around the house.

3. Mo Williams (No. 110):
After he signed that big contract, I was kind of counting on a slight letdown from Williams. This is more than a slight letdown, but he'll eventually rise back into the mid-70s.

4. Gerald Wallace (No. 113):
The Bobcats are one of my favorite fantasy teams because their perpetual mediocrity tends to give minutes to otherwise moribund players.

Gerald Wallace is not moribund. Go get him.

5. Kirk Hinrich (No. 127):
See: Deng, Luol.

6. Jason Richardson (No. 128):
I don't know about reality, but I liked Richardson's move to Charlotte. He's going to be the unquestioned No. 1 option for a bad team. He's another fantasy performer I've always had this hunch about, and once he settles in, could become a top-40 player.

7. Jermaine O'Neal (No. 130):
O'Neal's too much of an injury risk for my taste, but come on.

8. Andre Miller (No. 148):
The dude's had the flu.

I don't draft Andre Miller, because I like my point guards to average at least 1.5 3-pointers a game. Miller averages 1.5 a month. His value is in assists and steals, and they haven't been as prevalent so far. They will come. Like Pai Gow, Miller's a low-risk, medium-reward kind of gamble.

9. Amare Stoudemire (No. 172):
Here's a situation that is a little more disquieting than Arenas'. What's all of this "long career" talk? I took you in four leagues, Amare. I believed you.

I still believe him because Stoudemire has proved that he can overcome an injury. I don't like to trade for injured stars, but there's too much potential to ignore when it comes to Stoudemire.

John Cregan is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.