Maximizing games key for stretch run

Updated: March 26, 2013, 4:49 PM ET
By John Cregan | Special to ESPN.com

At a certain point, you have to let go.

The team you so painstakingly constructed last Halloween is reaching the end of its road. Hopefully, that team is looking good in the playoffs or cruising to a rotisserie win of multicategorical dominance.

But if you're in contention, these are serious times.

And at this stage of the season, fantasy basketball largely boils down to one skill: maximizing your amount of games played.

If you're not butting up against the "max games" counter across several positions, you're going to need to start making some tough decisions. You're going to have to start cutting some names.

It's just natural selection at work. At this stage you have to start asking yourself if it's worth hanging onto a player who plays fewer games down the stretch. Even if, once upon a time, you spent a high draft pick or dollar amount on that player.

We're coming up on the three-weeks-left mark. At this juncture, you have to be brutal and pour it on with regard to sheer volume.

And some players -- even people who are 100 percent owned -- don't play enough games down the stretch to outplay Player X.

"Player X" is my term for a player owners can readily construct out of players currently occupying the waiver wire. And Player X isn't flashy, but he's a busy man.

By next week, if a well-regarded player has only eight games to play, but you can manufacture 10-12 games out of Player X at the same position? It may be time to wish the well-regarded player the best and show him the door.

[+] EnlargeKenneth Faried
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesKenneth Faried is a victim of a schedule with few games down the stretch.

I know it might sound crazy to recommend cutting, say, Kenneth Faried. He's a "100 percenter," that hot sleeper we all told you to draft. He's delivered an acceptable level of production for someone averaging only 28.6 minutes per game. And he's playing well down the stretch (12.8 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.8 blocks per game over the past seven days).

But look at the final three weeks of Denver's schedule. Just three games, three games, and then two games. Which means that in most fantasy leagues, Faried has just about peaked in value. Within the next few days, you need to think about jettisoning him to the wire in favor of Player X.

When do I go out and retain Player X's services? Well, as with most fantasy-related subjects, I do a little math.

I make a spreadsheet of readily available players at every position. I then average out the production of the top nine players (over the past seven days) to come up with a composite player; that composite being Player X.

If 10 games of that Player X (power forward edition) outproduces eight games of Faried, then I drop Faried.

And because I'm here to help, I'm going to do some of the math for you.

(To get these averages, I took at least the top 10 players available at each position in at least 40 percent of leagues … and averaged out their production over the past seven days. I say "at least" because at some positions, there were so many quality players available that I was able to go a little deeper. Small forward ran 14 players deep, plenty of talent at that spot.)

Here are Player X's per-game averages by position:

Point guard
11.0 points, 2.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.2 3-pointers, 0.8 steals, 0.2 blocks, .441 field goal percentage, .828 free throw percentage

Shooting guard
11.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.4 3-pointers, 1.1 steals, 0.4 blocks, .440 field goal percentage, .857 free throw percentage

Small forward
13.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.5 3-pointers, 1.1 steals, 0.6 blocks, .472 field goal percentage, .798 free throw percentage

Power forward
11.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.4 3-pointers, 0.9 steals, 0.7 blocks, .486 field goal percentage, .712 free throw percentage

Center
10.1 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.2 3-pointers, 0.6 steals, 1.3 blocks, .501 field goal percentage, .771 free throw percentage

Nothing mind-blowing here (especially at center), but these are some respectable averages (especially at small forward).

As much as I don't like seeing other owners scooping up the players I so richly connived to acquire, this stage is about the ground game. And there are some middle-of-the-road players who are going to get out-volumed.

I'm not saying you want to cut Chris Paul (he is looking at a 3-3-2 close to his season), but there might be other 100 percent-owned Clippers that merit exclusion from your stretch-run rosters.

One benefit in using Player X is your ability to target specific areas of production.

Need help in 3-pointers? At point guard, take a look at a Jerryd Bayless or Mike James. If you need a stretch four or long-bombing center? There's Patrick Patterson or Byron Mullens.

And don't forget that a lot of bigger names -- especially names on playoff teams -- get rested down the stretch. David West is nursing a back injury. He has only a 3-2-2 closing schedule. I'm betting West gets some time on the bench to recuperate. Even if he plays, his minutes could be limited.

Here are some teams with particularly poor closing schedules:

Denver Nuggets (3-3-2)
Los Angeles Clippers (3-3-2)
Indiana Pacers (3-3-2)
Phoenix Suns (3-3-2)
Sacramento Kings (3-3-2)
Oklahoma City Thunder (3-3-2)
Detroit Pistons (4-2-2)
Orlando Magic (4-2-2)
Utah Jazz (4-2-2)
Atlanta Hawks (4-2-2)

Here are some players who could warrant endgame cuts: Faried, Jamal Crawford, Jameer Nelson, Kevin Martin and Gordon Hayward. Remember that centers are hard to come by on the wire, while solid small forwards and power forwards are readily available.

Let's say you're the devious type. Want a more Machiavellian benefit to going with Player X? How about fooling other owners into cutting their more productive, higher-volume players for a low-volume player with bigger name value.

Say in a week or so, David West is sitting on the wire. A lot of owners will cut a lesser-known player to pick up West, even if West is playing two fewer games. Believe me, it happens.

Just remember; in the final two weeks of the season, a Milwaukee Buck is going to play 50 percent more games than an Indiana Pacer.

Maximize your games, and don't be afraid to cut a bigger name. It's all-hands-on-deck time.

John Cregan

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

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