Aside from winning, making trades is probably my favorite aspect of playing fantasy basketball. Not only is it fun, but if you’re a savvy owner you can get away with some steals by successfully orchestrating an early-season, buy-low deal. The key to coming out on top in trades is not only understanding that specific player, but also truly examining the situation the guy your trading for/away is in. Is he a veteran playing on a team that’s bound for the gutter? Is this player known to be a slow starter? Is he a young stud who’s just an injury or a trade away from being a monster? Has this person’s name been popping up in the rumor mill? These are some of the factors that you must consider before pulling the trigger on those seemingly tantalizing offers.
Rookies tend to start slow
The transition from playing overseas or at the collegiate level to going up against NBA superstars comes with a substantial learning curve, and it is for this reason that most rookies tend to start out slow. For example, Marcus Smart, Nerlens Noel, Elfrid Payton and Andrew Wiggins couldn’t crack the top-100 for the first month and a half of the 2014-15 season. However, after the All-Star break, all these guys emerged as valuable contributors in standard leagues, with Noel taking the largest leap into second-round value. So what happened? Smart was catapulted into the starting lineup when the Celtics ended their seven-year relationship with Rajon Rondo. Noel saw his field goal attempts and defensive stats go up, as he got more comfortable playing at the NBA-level. Payton saw his minutes rise to the high 30s after winning the battle for the starting point guard position in Orlando, and Wiggins was forced into heavy minutes and a featured role on offense as seemingly each and every other player on the Timberwolves roster found his way to the sidelines via injury.
Rookies, particularly ones taken outside the top-3, aren’t often just handed over the keys to a franchise. And you can’t discount how much of a challenge it is for these young men to go through the trials and tribulations of an 82-game season. So when you add Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, Emmanuel Mudiay, Jahlil Okafor, Stanley Johnson, Myles Turner or Kristaps Porzingis to your team on draft day, do it with the understanding that you’ll need to be patient as these young men get acclimated to playing in the NBA.
If you don’t end up with one of these rookies on your squad after the draft, feel free to fire away some low-ball offers during the early goings of the regular-season to see if their current owner is growing tired of the inefficient shooting and turnovers.
Other slow starters
Rookies, however, aren’t the only guys in the NBA that start slow. Some players around the league, for whatever reason, tend to always get off to a slow start. J.R. Smith would be a prime example of a slow starter. For the past eight years Smith has begun the basketball season largely irrelevant in fantasy leagues, firing away highly contested shots from beyond the arc, and missing a large majority of those attempts. However, he seems to always find a way to make it work, and catapults himself into fantasy relevancy during the second-half of the year. Last year Smith was truly horrific on the Knicks, but after landing in Cleveland, he finished the second-half of the 2014-15 season with a third-round valuation. He does this every year, so if you do draft Smith, be prepared to deal with some frustrating stat lines. Smith is a guy that can be so frustrating to own, it might be best to let someone else draft him and deal with his horrendousness during the early goings of the season, and then swoop him up with a buy-low offer sometime in January.
Injuries can also be a factor in slow starts. Victor Oladipo spent the early portions of the 2014-15 season on the sidelines recovering from a facial fracture, missing most of training camp and the entirety of the preseason. As much as we say to not overreact to the stat lines produced during the preseason, the preseason does serve a purpose. It eases players into the flow of things, lets them gel with their teammates, and gets their conditioning in check. Oladipo was a frustrating guy to own for the first month and a half of the 2014-15 season, but he eventually emerged as the fantasy stud we all knew he could be by posting third-round value after the All-Star break. So don’t be surprised if Ricky Rubio, Derrick Rose (orbital fracture), Jusuf Nurkic (knee), Arron Afflalo (hamstring), etc. get off to a slow start this year.
The point here is that if we have a guy projected to be a fantasy stud, and you spend an early-to-mid round pick on him on draft day, don’t look to sell-low when this guy isn’t producing early on. Trust the process, and look to buy-low on rooks and underperformers early on.
On the opposite side of the slow starters, are the guys that get off to a hot start. For the past two seasons, Roy Hibbert has begun the year looking like a franchise player. However, in both of those seasons, he fell off a cliff after the break, so if you didn’t sell-high before his standard second-half descent, you were stuck with a guy who was barely producing.
Selling-high can be a lot more stressful than buying-low for obvious reasons. It’s hard to trade away a guy that seems like a stud, but you have to look at the entire situation. Has this player ever produced like this before? Is this player getting minutes because someone usually ahead of him in the rotation is injured? Are they bumping up this guy’s value so they can put him on the trading block? Is the dude old and unlikely to keep up his current pace? These are the factors you must examine when evaluating a sell-high situation.
Another sell-high situation involves dealing with injury prone players. Kevin Martin, for example, is a guy that is capable of flirting with early-round value. However, he always seems to find his way to the sidelines, so if you do nab Martin with a late-round selection on draft day, I would strongly suggest exploring the trade market before his inevitable injury. The same can be said about guys like Dwyane Wade, Ersan Ilyasova, and Eric Gordon. Basically, always try and sell guys that aren’t likely to be there for those crucial final weeks of the fantasy season.
Veteran on a tanking team
Another situation to be extremely leery of would be those veteran players that are on a team that could be looking to tank. This year, I feel like the situation in Dallas could turn very ugly if the team underperforms early. Dirk Nowitzki is entering his 18th season of professional basketball, and while he’s still capable of flirting with early-round value, there might not be much reason for him to play once Dallas is mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Wesley Matthews will likely be brought along very slowly as he recovers from an Achilles tear, and the Mavs haven’t offered a lot of details on just how far along Chandler Parsons is in his recovery from a modified microfracture surgery on his right knee. Deron Williams is already dealing with calf issues, and the entire center-situation is an absolute mess after DeAndre Jordan slighted Dallas during free agency. They just don’t look like a team built to make a playoff run, and with an extremely injury prone point guard, the starting wings recovering from offseason surgeries, and an aging superstar at the power forward spot, it’s very likely this team will embrace a youth-movement once their record starts heading south. So, if you end up with one of these guys on your team after the draft, pay close attention to Dallas’ record, and be prepared to sell-high if the losses start piling up.
Who’s in front of him on the roster?
Rudy Gobert was last year’s prime example of a buy-low situation, and there were probably plenty of leagues in which he was simply swept up off the waiver wire. Gobert started the year off playing limited minutes behind Enes Kanter, although he still served as a serviceable asset as a shot-blocking specialist in deep leagues, despite the bench role. Once Kanter was shipped off to OKC, Gobert established himself as a fantasy monster, and these are the kinds of situations savvy owners will need to pay close attention to as we progress through the 2015-16 season. Sometimes guys are just an injury or a trade away from elite value in fantasy leagues.
Stanley Johnson comes to mind here as he was on another level during Summer League, and he has kept his momentum going through the preseason. However, the veteran Marcus Morris is currently ahead of him on the depth chart, so it could take him some time before he truly realizes his fantasy potential this season. Be patient with the rook, and if someone else uses a late-round flier on him on draft day, throw that owner some low-ball offers before Johnson finds his way into the starting lineup.
Trade for Scheduling
We can say buy-low/sell-high all we want, but the truth is, if you’re in a truly competitive league these lopsided deals are hard to come by. However, scheduling is not something people are always thinking about, and trading for guys with a more favorable schedule can be a low-key way to tilt the odds in your favor for that championship. Our own Dr. A has an excellent column in the draft guide, detailing the schedules of every NBA team, so I highly recommend checking that one out, as it can be a difference maker in taking home the gold.
So to sum everything up, buy-low on the slow starters, sell-high on the guys in unfavorable situations, and once you’ve firmly established your spot in the playoffs, try and trade away the guys that have less-than-ideal playoff schedules if you’re in a head-to-head league. Good luck!