How does a well-drafted, solidly maintained fantasy basketball team best survive the statistical peaks and valleys of a long NBA season? By preparing for tomorrow and insulating your team's production from the eventual calamities that will assuredly arrive. Injuries, tendinitis, suspensions and Scott Skiles are just a few of the forces that could negatively impact your team's fortunes.
It's your job to prepare for these calamities in advance.
The best way to do this is by looking for players who can give you what I call "atypical production." These are players who produce stats in categories that fall beyond the projected norms for their position. In financial terms, think of it as diversifying your portfolio.
I'm talking centers and power forwards who can hit 3-pointers, notch assists and hit a high percentage of their free throws. Or guards who can rebound, block shots and maintain a high field goal percentage while repeatedly connecting from downtown. Spreading your team's overall numerical portfolio in small, subtle ways up and down your lineup will help protect your team against missed games.
Another huge plus is that atypical production helps maintain another precious fantasy resource: flexibility.
You don't want your numbers to be overly concentrated or top-heavy. By stocking your lineup with out-of-position stats, you'll be more confident when assessing trades and waiver-wire pickups because you know that your team's production in certain categories runs deeper than the obvious statistical leaders.
We're closing in on 20 percent of the season being in the books, making now a good time to start looking at which players are providing these kinds of numbers. Fifteen or 16 games is usually a large enough sample size to begin referring to a player's atypical production as a trend. You need a good chunk of games, because we're not talking about large-scale averages.
So let's have a look. Note that I'm going to filter out players who are more known as small forwards for the sake of this discussion, since they tend to be a diversified group unto themselves. I'm also going to stay away from some of the bigger names, such as Russell Westbrook, to discuss players who might be acquired with relative ease.
Rebound averages for top 100 guards: 3.18 per game
Block averages for top 100 guards: 0.29 per game
Kyle Lowry, PG, Toronto Raptors (6.0 rebounds per game, 0.5 blocks per game): How many other guards are currently averaging more than 5.5 assists and 5.5 rebounds per game? Zero. Lowry has simply been in a class by himself, and needs only to remain healthy to cement his status as one of the biggest fantasy steals of the season (his average draft position was 56.4).
But Lowry's sneakiest fantasy asset has been his shot-blocking. A half a block a game might not make an NBA player look like the second coming of Manute Bol. But he's currently ranked No. 3 among all fantasy point guards in blocks per game (Deron Williams edges him out at 0.6 BPG, and Eric Bledsoe leads all point guards at 0.7 in just 19.3 minutes per game).
Kemba Walker, PG/SG, Charlotte Bobcats (3.8 RPG, 0.5 BPG): I've been touting Walker lately, and I see no reason to start backing off now. He's evolving into one of fantasy's most underrated guards, especially when measured against where he went in drafts (ADP: 92.3).
(Speaking of Walker, my favorite head-to-head fantasy point guard matchup of the season to date has been the Bobcats/Raptors tilt on 11/21, in which Walker went for 19 points, 1 3-pointer, 7 assists, 3 rebounds, 1 steal and 3 blocks, and Lowry went for 21 points, 4 3-pointers, 8 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 steals, and 3 blocks.)
Jeremy Lin, PG, Houston Rockets (4.4 RPG, 0.4 BPG): Though Lin has disappointed his owners this season in terms of scoring, he still has chipped in with some solid "atypical" numbers. He's rebounding at a better rate than even his "Linsane" peaks of last season -- he finished with 3.0 rebounds per game in 2011-12 -- and finding ways to help his owners despite his struggles from the floor. And don't look now, but Lin is starting to step it up from the field (51 percent over his past five games).
Bradley Beal, SG, Washington Wizards (3.3 RPG, 0.5 BPG): I'm including Beal here because he's showing signs of being a special atypical player at a future date. As a classic-era Dwyane Wade enthusiast (say, 2006-07), I'm always searching for the next wave of shooting guards who can rebound and block shots. Paul George is one of those guards, and so is Beal, even at this early stage of his career.
He had five blocks over a three-game span in mid-November and posted a double-double in one of those games as well (Nov. 24 versus the Bobcats). Beal isn't dazzling anyone with his scoring, but there are indicators that he could become a special fantasy player down the road.
Evan Turner, SG/SF, Philadelphia 76ers (7.1 RPG, 0.3 BPG): I know he's probably too much of a small forward to include here, but I've been so excited about Turner's maturation that I just had to include him. Now in his third season, Turner's production is building in an across-the-board fashion that nobody could have anticipated on draft day (ADP: 94.0).
It's ironic that the player he reminds me of the most this season is Andre Iguodala. He's giving owners that same heady mix of boards, steals and assists with the key lying in his newfound consistency. His numbers from the last five contests: 20.2 points per game, 1.2 3-pointers, 6.4 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 0.2 blocks, .514 field goal percentage, .829 free throw percentage and .429 3-point percentage.
'Atypical' big men
3-pointers for top 100 power forwards/centers: 0.21 per game
Assists for top 100 PF/C: 1.2 per game
Steals for top 100 PF/C: 0.64 per game
Marc Gasol, C, Memphis Grizzlies (4.4 assists per game, 0.7 steals per game): Nothing about Gasol's numbers jump out at you when viewed through a conventional NBA prism. The rebounds are a relatively mediocre 7.1 per game. He has nice percentages, solid blocks and better-than-average steals. But 4.4 dimes a game from a big is almost four times the average for the top 100 players at his position. That would be like Kyle Lowry averaging 12 rebounds a game or Jeremy Lin averaging 1.2 blocks.
Think of it this way: How do you catch up in assists in your league versus an owner that has Rajon Rondo? Rondo is lapping the field at 12.9 assists per game. Even if you were starting, say, Deron Williams at point guard, you'd be giving up four assists per game at that position alone. Having Gasol at center would be giving you back at least 2-3 assists per game thanks to his atypical production.
Bonus fact: Gasol leads all centers in free throw percentage (89.7 percent) among centers who average at least two attempts per game. That's also atypical production.
Joakim Noah, PF/C, Chicago Bulls (4.3 APG, 1.4 SPG): How many centers are averaging more than 2.5 assists per game right now? Ten. Factor in the fact that assists are one of the toughest categories to acquire in-season, and you'll see why getting an extra 3 assists per night out of your starting center is so invaluable.
Don't believe me? Just ask the Bulls. Their starting point guard -- a guy you might have heard of named Derrick Rose -- is likely out until after New Year's Day. So who's picking up the slack in the dimes department? Noah. He's averaging 2.4 assists over his career number of 1.9, and he's now second on the team behind Kirk Hinrich. He has almost had two triple-doubles this season already, most recently Saturday against the Sixers (12 points, 13 rebounds, 7 assists, 1 block, 1 steal).
And don't forget that he's doubling the average steals output for a center while still providing elite blocks (2.2) and boards (9.9).
Greg Monroe, PF/C, Detroit Pistons (3.5 APG, 1.7 STL): Monroe has been building toward top-5 status at center, and he might finally get there this campaign. With increased responsibility on offense, he's posting career highs in all of the volume categories while dipping only slightly in field goal percentage.
He's unfortunately one of the NBA's worst when it comes to consistency from the field; he's capable of going 4-for-17 from the field at any given moment. With Monroe, you just have to learn how to ride out the rough patches and pay attention to the seasonal averages.
Byron Mullens, PF/C, Bobcats (1.5 3-pointers per game, 1.1 SPG): I could single out Andrea Bargnani, Ryan Anderson or Kevin Love as examples of bigs who give you 3s, but I'd be remiss if I didn't push Mullens (again). Basically, what Gasol and Noah are doing in terms of assists, Mullens is doing with 3-pointers. His lines remind me of the recently retired Mehmet Okur, another underrated big man who was one of the best atypical centers of his day.
My one concern is that, at some point, Mullens' green light from behind the arc could be switched at least to yellow due to his hitting only 29 percent of his 3-point attempts. But as long as he's giving the Bobcats a unique presence on the offensive end and stretching their spacing, I'd wager his role remains unchanged.
Markieff Morris, PF, Phoenix Suns (0.6 3-pointers, 1.3 assists in 21.6 MPG): This is another futures pick. Morris' numbers may not dazzle at present, thanks to his averaging only 21.6 MPG, but with Phoenix heading south, Morris' role has been increasing. Actually, both Morris brothers have shown nice atypical upside; it just looks like Markieff is in better position to start pulling in more than 25 minutes per night.