Exploring position scarcity

Why shooting guards have plenty of value in points leagues

Updated: January 23, 2014, 3:07 PM ET
By John Cregan | Special to ESPN.com

Kawhi LeonardSoobum Im/USA TODAY SportsKawhi Leonard offers a lot of value based on the position he plays.

If you're like me, who owns multiple teams across multiple formats, you're bound to have at least one "problem squad."

If you're like me, you also expect to have a top-3 finish in every single league you play in, every season. No excuses.

So if we're struggling, we need to shake things up in a big way, immediately. But we also like to abide by certain governing principles.

And one principle that holds firm regardless of format (points, categories, head-to-head, roto, etc.) is positional scarcity.

That is, we need to pay attention to which positions in our lineup have the lowest and highest rates of production.

My main point is simple: When you own multiple premium players at a diluted position, you are not only bolstering your production, but also hurting the production of your fellow owners.

Think of it as a game of musical chairs, but with a few less chairs than you're expecting: You want to corner the market at the position with the least amount of available value.

One of the aspects I like about points leagues -- and especially head-to-head points leagues -- is that they apply macro levels of clarity to positional scarcity.

In a points-based world, we only really need to judge a player's worth relative to his Player Rater total. Categories just don't matter.

Andre Drummond can't shoot free throws? Who cares? As long as we properly weight our valuation of Drummond in terms of his total value, his callous disregard for everything Bill Sharman ever stood for is immaterial.

Drummond's 2014 Player Rater number according to averages is 5.54. In a world without categories, at this point in the 2013-14 season, Andre Drummond has only been the 20th-best center. Case closed.

(I could point out that if Drummond was just an NBA-average free throw shooter, he'd be a top-five fantasy center, but again, it's immaterial.)

So for the sake of discussion, let's close our eyes and pretend we're all in a points-based league. We only care about pure production. The one aggregated Player Rater total.

So how much available value is there in a league that rosters roughly 150 players?

At this point in the 2013-14 season, there are about 835 Player Rater points available. That's on the average at any given time.

Andre Drummond produces 5.54 of those 835 points of available value. He's responsible for a little over one half of 1 percent of our total production.

Kevin Durant is responsible for a little over 2 percent. That's a huge impact for one player.

Durant is Apple. He's Google.

C.J. Miles is responsible for about two-tenths of 1 percent. Taken in terms of a vast, 150-player deep player pool, Miles barely causes a ripple. He's a penny stock.

But if we start grouping production by position, we start to see which positions contain higher concentrations of scarcity. In these smaller, delineated sub-economies, a singe player's relative importance gains more weight.

So out of point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward and center, which positions have the lowest and highest concentrations of scarcity? Well, things have shifted a little since we first discussed this back in November.

At the midway point, point guard is the least scarce, and shooting guard has become the scarcest position by a country mile.

To illustrate, take a look at which positions have the highest per-player average on the Player Rater:

Cregan Chart 2 John Cregan

Point guard is a full point higher than shooting guard (6.03 to 5.01).

And as I mentioned in November, power forward is wildly productive thanks to the new crop of Superproducers at the position (LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kevin Love).

And while center and small forward are almost tied (5.49 to 5.48) in average player value, center loses scarcity due to the fact that most leagues only require owners to start one center at any given time.

Even after accounting for season-ending injuries to Al Horford and Brook Lopez, it's still a deep position because of how most rosters are built.

If you want to practice scarcity at the center position, you either need to own Anthony Davis, or own DeMarcus Cousins and LaMarcus Aldridge.

Let's take at scarcity in terms of volume. This bar graph shows the amount of top-40 players by position:

PG ValueJohn Cregan

So after adjusting for average value and volume of top-40 players, shooting guard begins to emerge as a position of high relative scarcity. And point guards begin to look like a dime a dozen.

(Now if we begin to account for categorical scarcity, point guards assume more importance due to their dominance in the assist column, but we've removed that element from this discussion. Pure production, remember?)

We are firmly entrenched in the era of the point guard in fantasy hoops. There is so much available production that an eye-popping 15 point guard-eligible players are in the top 40 on the Player Rater.

Even with injuries to top shelf floor generals such as Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook, you can't help but retain multiple productive point guards on your roster. If you want to go for scarcity at point guard, you have to have Stephen Curry or a healthy Chris Paul. John Wall and Damian Lillard are gaining ground, but they're not at the Superproducer tier yet.

Take a look at this line graph. It measures what percentage of total production each player is responsible for. That jump off a cliff is the jump from Chris Paul (5.72 percent of PG production) to John Wall (4.24 percent). Then it begins to flatten out.

Cregan Chart 3 John Cregan

Now, compare that with a graph using the same key, but for shooting guards:

Cregan chart 4John Cregan

Notice something? Shooting guard has a steeper cliff, representing the jump from James Harden to Eric Bledsoe. Then there's another defined drop over the next 10 players. Then the downward slope flattens out in a pattern similar to point guard.

But the major, major differentiation between the two positions is in amount of available value.

Point guard contains 247 Player Rater points across fewer players (41). So there's a better concentration of value.

Shooting guard contains 250 points of available value. But there are actually more shooting guard-eligible players in the top 150 (50 total) than any other position. So the position is diluted across the board. And that's where we can take advantage of scarcity when considering how to retool our rosters.

To repeat: When you own multiple premium players at a diluted position, you are not only bolstering your production, but also hurting the production of your fellow owners.

So. We want shooting guards, but where to start?

First, look at the pool.

There's a clearly defined top Superproducer tier with Stephen Curry, Paul George and James Harden. A team with two of those players is going to be in great shape, especially when you factor in Curry's and George's multipositional eligibility (more on that in a second).

But that's going to be a tall order. We're talking about players with huge name recognition, which always adds a little extra to their asking price.

The more attainable group is contained within the broader second tier with (a shelved) Eric Bledsoe, Dwyane Wade, Nicolas Batum, Goran Dragic, Monta Ellis, Gordon Hayward, Arron Afflalo, Wesley Matthews, Kyle Korver and Klay Thompson.

Then you've got a lot of players who are trending up and who could become top-40 shooting guards in the second half of the season: Victor Oladipo, Jimmy Butler, Jamal Crawford, Jodie Meeks, Bradley Beal, (a healthy) Eric Gordon and even (I kid you not) Joe Johnson, Kawhi Leonard and DeMar DeRozan.

Second, look at multipositional eligibility.

You want to maximize the amount of games you can squeeze out of your premium two guards. You're already hurting your fellow owners by hoarding shooting guards, but they're no good to you if they're chained to your SG and utility slots.

You want to maximize roster flexibility. You want SG-eligible players you can slide around your lineup. You want PG/SGs and SG/SFs.

In years past, the elusive PG/SG was the most desired eligibility a player could have. And in category-based leagues, I believe it still is, because you're adding assists to the shooting guard position. In a category-based league, Curry, Dragic, Bledsoe and Ellis are going to be at the top of my shopping list. If I want upside, I'll go for Oladipo, Foye or Brandon Knight.

But in a points-based scenario, the pendulum firmly swings to SG/SF.

Why? Take a second look at the bar graph of top-40 players by position.

PG ValueJohn Cregan

After the (less important) center slot, there are actually fewer top-40 small forwards than at any other position.

In other years, small forward always counted as the deepest pool of quality players. But here's the impact of all these new stud PF-eligible players at work, not to mention the staggering amount of quality PGs.

In terms of top-40 talent, small forward has actually become the scarcest position. So by going after top-40 SG/SFs, we are actually gaining an advantage at the two scarcest positions in our (imaginary) lineup.

And remember, we don't care about assists. We only care about pure production. So the categorical scarcity you can attain by hoarding dimes is rendered irrelevant.

So while I will never, ever turn my back on a James Harden conversation, deep down, my priority list in a points league would shape up as such.

Superproducers
Paul George, SG/SF, Indiana Pacers

Second Tier
Nicolas Batum, SG/SF, Portland Trail Blazers
Gordon Hayward, SG/SF, Utah Jazz
Arron Afflalo, SG/SF, Orlando Magic
Wesley Matthews, SG/SF, Portland Trail Blazers
Kyle Korver, SG/SF, Atlanta Hawks
Klay Thompson, SG/SF Golden State Warriors

Upside Tier
Jimmy Butler, SG/SF, Chicago Bulls
Joe Johnson, SG/SF, Brooklyn Nets
DeMar DeRozan, SG/SF, Toronto Raptors
Kawhi Leonard, SG/SF, San Antonio Spurs

Deep League Tier
Nick Young, SG/SF, Los Angeles Lakers
Gerald Green, SG/SF, Phoenix Suns
Andre Iguodala, SG/SF, Golden State Warriors
Martell Webster, SG/SF, Washington Wizards
Wesley Johnson, SG/SF, Los Angeles Lakers
Vince Carter, SG/SF, Dallas Mavericks

John Cregan

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

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