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Fantasy players poised to decline

We all have our personal set of formative experiences. These subsequently create own our personal set of biases.

When I was in the seventh grade, I asked a girl to "go with me" for the first time via pay phone during halftime of a Washington Bullets game at the Capital Centre.

The ensuing telephonic carnage was so swift and so complete -- she made clear that we would solely be friends, and nothing more -- that I avoided any and all romance-based phone conversations for the rest of my adolescence. (By the way, the Bullets lost.)

For years, I simply refused to talk to girlfriends -- both prospective and operational -- on the phone. When a girl called, I would tell said person handling the phone call to take a message or let it go to the answering machine. A female on the line could only portend trouble.

And here's the thing: It worked. It was not a fallacious belief. If you crunch the numbers, on average, from the ages of 13 to 17, I'm confident my phone aversion added one to two weeks per relationship.

In fantasy basketball, I have a strategic blind spot that was created by Zydrunas Ilgauskas' feet.

In my early days of fantasy ownership, Ilgauskas came cheap due to a set of seemingly irreparable wheels. His court time required strict management. It got so bad that at one stage, Big Z actually served as Chris Mihm's backup.

Before the 2002-03 season, I took an endgame flier on Ilgauskas in an auction league. And it worked. His foot problems magically became a thing of the past. For the next five seasons, Ilgauskas never played fewer than 78 games and was one of the top fantasy centers of the mid-aughts. And I reaped a huge benefit.

For a few seasons, I tried to recapture the Big Z magic, mining for players with checkered, terrifying injury histories who could be procured on the cheap. It took me years to get over that blind spot in my strategy.

I eventually learned my lesson. Now I carry it to the other extreme by trying to aggressively revalue and downgrade players with a habit of missing time. In many cases, these players have already reached their peak NBA value. But all it takes are a couple of vintage throwback games to give an owner roto goggles. The Dwyane Wade effect

Take Dwyane Wade, for example. He's only managed to play more than 75 games in a single season five out of 10 times in his career. He's not going to make it to 75 this season. He'll be lucky if he logs 65. In his past two seasons, he played 49 games and 69 games, respectively.

He's 32; an NBA player hits his peak value when he's approximately 27 years old. For the past four seasons, Wade hasn't even been the No. 1 option on his own team (though in the sake of fairness, not many players would be with LeBron James on their team).

Yet entering this season, Wade's ADP improved eight places respective to where he finished on the 2012-13 Player Rater. He hopped from 22nd to 14th. Coming off of a season in which his owners only reaped 90 percent of his volume production, due to Wade playing just 69 games.

I like to use Jimmy Johnson's NFL Draft Value Chart when contemplating these moves in value. Wade going from 22 to 14 is a plus-360-point move. In Auction Value terms, Wade went from a $29 value to $38; a bump of more than 30 percent -- despite every metric and piece of historical data pointing toward a decline in value.

Wade is currently 57th on the Player Rater. In NFL draft terms, that's a drop of 770 points. In auction terms, it's a drop from $38 to around $11.

But worst of all? It was an easy drop to predict.

Why do owners get fooled by players like Wade?

Hype has a lot to do with it. Being in LeBron's orbit, playing for the Heat and logging tons of nationally televised games. The extra exposure Wade receives during his long playoff runs. Plus, the former top-10 fantasy status adds to the hype.

But most of all, Wade is still capable of turning back the clock. He's pacing himself, but on some nights a hazy simulation of 2008 is still within his reach.

This is a time of the fantasy season when owners are beginning to take stock of a player's keeper value. To help these owners out -- and to give non-keeper owners some perspective heading into next season -- I'm going to give you some of my current revaluations of some oft-injured players.

To help do this, I reached out to ESPN Insider Kevin Pelton. A couple of years ago, when Kevin was writing for Basketball Prospectus, he provided some excellent numbers regarding NBA Peak Value. Most NBA stat mavens place peak value around 27 years old. But Kevin broke down Peak Value even further, providing Peak Value by statistical category. He was kind enough to furnish me (and you) with his findings.

Start-of-career declines (these go down from the first season onward):

• Offensive Rebound%
• Block%
• 2-point attempt%

Age-based declines

• Free throw attempt% (age 20.2)
• Steal% (20.8)
• 2-point% (25.5)
• Usage% (25.9)
• Assist% (26.7)
• Foul% (27.2)
• Turnover% (27.4)
• Defensive rebound% (27.7)
• 3-point% (29.0)
• Free throw% (29.2)

End-of-career decline:

• 3-point attempt%

As I mentioned in this week's podcast, these numbers show why you have to be extra-wary of overvaluing defensive fantasy stats even as a player ages past his early 20s. By the time's he's old enough to rent a car, he's peaked in blocks and steals.

The mid-20s bring Peak Value in the stats we commonly associate with guards, such as Usage Rate, Assist Rate and Turnover Rate. So by the time a player has hit 27, he's already peaked in nearly every fantasy category.

Players do manage to get more efficient from the field as they age. As you can see, 3-pointers improve in both volume and accuracy. Free throw percentage peaks at 29.2 years. It shows how players like Kyle Korver can produce career-best fantasy seasons (34th on the Player Rater) even when on the wrong side of 30.

Keeping these Peak Values in mind, let's take a look at some values heading into next season.

Players who could decline in 2014-15

Chris Paul, PG, Los Angeles Clippers

2013-14 ADP: 4
2013-14 Auction Value: $64.70
Current Player Rater: 18
Age in 2014-15: 29
Projected Games 2014-15: 67
Projected 2014-15 Auction Value: $45

Using the NFL draft valuation, Paul's performance in 2013-14 would represent a 700-point drop. Paul hasn't played more than 70 games since the 2010-11 campaign. He'll probably finish this season just north of 60 games played.

The tantalizing aspect to Paul isn't just that he's just leaving his NBA Peak years. He's on pace to lead the NBA with 11.0 assists per game, and is near the top in steals per game at 2.4 a night. Those two fantasy-scarce stats alone wage an argument for Paul to retain top-10 value.

The danger is that Paul could be nearing a Deron Williams-esque stage, one in which his playing time is managed to sustain his health over the rigors of a full NBA season. The All-NBA skills and elite numbers are both still there for Paul, but the volume of minutes, games and stats will only decrease as he nears 30 years old. The signs of decline are already apparent; Paul is shooting just 46 percent from the field this season (his lowest rate since 2006-07), and his 3-point production is starting to slip (1.0 per game).

Just remember that Paul will be lucky to play 65 to 70 games in 2014-15. That's about 20 percent less value in your volume-based stats right there. He's still the best point guard in fantasy when he's on the court. But there's a new wave of point guards just starting to hit their stride (John Wall, Damian Lillard), and it's going to be hard to justify a top-five pick for CP3 come Halloween.

Anthony Davis, PF/C, New Orleans Pelicans

2013-14 ADP: 21
2013-14 Auction Value: $30.60
Current Player Rater: 6
Age in 2014-15: 21
Projected Games 2014-15: 70
Projected 2014-15 Auction Value: $61

Davis has managed to stay on the court at a higher rate this season than during his rookie campaign. But he still has a propensity to carry the scarlet "DTD" beside his name on the Player Rater. Davis' value will obviously and justifiably skyrocket over his 2013-14 ADP and Auction Values, but you need to temper expectations ever so slightly.

A good way to look at it is Davis' position on the Player Rater in terms of his average value and overall value. He drops from fourth to sixth overall when you factor games missed into the situation (that's the difference between average value and overall value). That's a drop of 200 NFL draft points, or about $9 in Auction Value.

A healthy 21-year-old Anthony Davis would be a top-three pick heading into next season and command close to $70 in most auction drafts. But a slight devaluation is in order once you factor in his propensity for injury. Thankfully, he's got plenty of time to rehabilitate that one ding in his resume.

Tony Parker, PG, San Antonio Spurs

2013-14 ADP: 27
2013-14 Auction Value: $22.30
Current Player Rater: 86
Age in 2014-15: 32
Projected Games 2014-15: 66
Projected 2014-15 Auction Value: $12

Parker nearly cracked the top 30 in 2012-13, finishing at 32 overall. But just like with Wade, a cratering in value was easily foreseeable heading into 2013-14. I'm actually factoring in a generous bounce-back for Parker relative to his current valuation and games played.

But even when relatively ambulatory, anyone over the age of 30 who plays in San Antonio runs the risk of getting "Popoviched," or rested at random for small stretches throughout the season by a coach who doesn't care who he rankles in the process.

Young players who worry me

DeMarcus Cousins, PF/C, Sacramento Kings (factor in one to two games missed due to suspension): minus-$7
Eric Bledsoe, PG/SG, Phoenix Suns: minus-$7
• Michael Carter-Williams, PG, Philadelphia 76ers: minus-$6
Bradley Beal, SG, Washington Wizards: minus-$5
Tobias Harris, SF/PF, Orlando Magic: minus-$4
Larry Sanders, PF/C, Milwaukee Bucks: minus-$4
Nikola Vucevic, C, Orlando Magic: minus-$4

Veterans with significant injury histories

Jrue Holiday, PG, New Orleans Pelicans minus-$8
Al Horford, C, Atlanta Hawks: minus-$7
Marc Gasol, C, Memphis Grizzlies: minus-$7
Ryan Anderson, PF, New Orleans Pelicans: minus-$7
Tyreke Evans, PG/SG, New Orleans Pelicans (scary trend, Pelicans): minus-$6
Rajon Rondo, PG, Boston Celtics: minus-$5
Russell Westbrook, PG, Oklahoma City Thunder (factoring old invincibility): minus-$5
Paul Millsap, PF, Atlanta Hawks: minus-$4
James Harden, SG, Houston Rockets: minus-$3 (very slight devaluation)
Anderson Varejao, C, Cleveland Cavaliers: minus-$3

Graybeards entering minute-management stage

• Dwayne Wade, SG, Miami Heat: minus-$9
• Deron Williams, PG, Brooklyn Nets: minus-$8
Pau Gasol, PF/C, Los Angeles Lakers: minus-$8
Tyson Chandler, C, New York Knicks: minus-$4
Andrew Bogut, C, Golden State Warriors minus-$4
Kevin Garnett, PF/C Brooklyn Nets: minus-$4

Shots in the dark

Derrick Rose, PG, Chicago Bulls: minus-$12
Kobe Bryant, SG, Los Angeles Lakers: minus-$10
Andrew Bynum, C, Indiana Pacers: minus-$7
Danilo Gallinari, SF, Denver Nuggets: minus-$7