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Matt Satten’s Fantasy Lab: Trading Techniques

The Fantasy Lab doles out some helpful advice on trading in your fantasy basketball league to help put you over the top!

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With the All-Star break in the rearview mirror and the second half of the fantasy season calling, it’s time for a little self-assessment. With many trade deadlines looming and the end of the fantasy season creeping closer, make sure you know those dates in your leagues and get ready to spring into action. Before doing so, you’ll need to have your teams take a critical look at themselves in the mirror and ask yourself some important questions:

Is your team a top contender, middle-of-the-pack, or cellar dweller? Are you in it to win it? Can you make up enough ground in a points league or head-to-head to make the playoffs? If you’re in a keeper league, should you be buying or selling? Should you be playing for a better draft pick or potentially sacrificing the future for a title run? Depending on your leagues makeup, there are a bunch more questions to consider, but once you have figured out where you stand, you should be looking to make a deal or two to take you further in either direction. The last place you want to be when the season ends is dead in the middle. Here are a few trading techniques to make the most of whatever situation you are in.

Assess your team AND your league’s rules

Even-Steven trades are hard to make as you move close to the deadline in re-draft leagues. It’s mostly just small improvements you can make in a category or two, and highly unlikely you’ll be making a monster move that lights up the message board. Most deals made now involve leagues with keepers and as such, it is of the utmost importance you know your league’s rules for the playoffs, next year’s drafts, and the keepers themselves (can X and Y players be kept? Are there contracts that increase? Do you have a salary cap or draft pick cap? Et cetera). Once you’re a master of the rules, examine your team and determine who you want to deal and who you are willing to deal (there’s a big difference!). Maybe you have a player who can’t be kept next year but has value this year. Maybe you have a rookie or young player that can be dealt for a more productive player who has a greater short-term value. Perhaps you have a surplus in a particular category or position and a weakness or lack of talent in another cat or position. Know thyself before looking at others.

Examine your playoff schedule

Note the beginning and ending of your playoffs. The more games your league has lopped off the end of the schedule, the more likely it will be a truer ending to the season. The NBA traditionally gets silly at the end of the year as teams in good playoff position or are locked into a spot will often opt to rest star players for their playoffs, wreaking havoc in ours. With the shortened season and play-in games, this year may be different, which will work to our advantage with less resting, but then again, teams may care less about positioning without an obvious home-court advantage (if there’s still no fans allowed in certain buildings). Regardless, count the number of games, and in daily lineup leagues, pay attention to those teams that have more games on the lighter scheduled days of the week (often Tuesdays, Thursdays, and both weekend days) so you can get more games played.

Take advantage of the IL

If you’re eyeing next year, depending on the number of available IL slots at your disposal, either add some guys that might be able to help you next year or be ready to add them right after you make your deal. Some players worth checking in on who could help you next year and may not be owned now include: Klay Thompson, Jonathan Isaac, Thomas Bryant, Spencer Dinwiddie, TJ Warren, and Markelle Fultz. There might even be players you can add now who others have forgotten about who can help you, or anther team, this year: Kevin Love, Jusuf Nurkic, Jaren Jackson Jr, Zach Collins, Killian Hayes, Gary Harris, Otto Porter, and more. Perhaps scope out another team’s injury situation and use your extra IL spots to help facilitate a deal.

Know your players age and their contracts. Know their NBA team’s place in the standings.

This is a multi-part technique because these items are intertwined and oftentimes can’t be looked at separately. In general, younger players on their rookie contracts on non-playoff teams will get more late-season minutes while the veterans will have their minutes squeezed, get benched, or even bought out altogether. Ask Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin. Teams want to get a close look at their talent under contract to determine if they should get another deal from them and how much they are willing to commit. That takes precedent over winning, especially since they know the more they lose, the more ping-pong balls they’ll have in the lottery in the offseason. If an NBA team is fighting for playoff positioning, you’ll see them tighten their rotation and give more minutes to their vets. So trade for youngsters on bad teams and vets on good teams. Trade away older players on bad teams and younger players who aren’t starting on good teams. If they’re starting, that will likely continue. If you are trying to identify which young players to target, first note their draft pedigree — the higher the selection, the more willing the team will be to give them extra run — and then identify which vets are just clogging up space (and might be traded or benched) and who is the young’n nipping at their heels. It never hurts to look at a players per-36 minutes stats to see who could produce big numbers if only given the opportunity. Examples of this include: the Thunder’s Isaiah Roby for Al Horford, the Rockets’ Kevin Porter Jr for John Wall or Victor Oladipo, and the Pelicans’ Jaxson Hayes for Steven Adams and either Nickiel Alexander-Walker or Kira Lewis Jr for Lonzo Ball and Eric Bledsoe.

Category players carry more weight than all-around contributors

A balanced contributor always seems useful on a fantasy team… until they’re not. A player like Nic Batum might rank high due to his across the board contributions, high percentages and low turnovers, but their value in the playoffs is minimized. With fewer games to balance out their contribution, and you not being sure which category you might get help in on a particular night, you’ll find yourself leaning towards the players you know you can count on to help you in a particular category or two. Also, many teams that are looking to trade are often shoring up one category or two that is a weakness. So grab major category contributors off the wire without looking at their overall ranking (especially in blocks, assists, and steals) and try to deal them for anything you can right near the deadline. Or better yet, deal your specialist or a player from a category of strength that will be more valuable to another teams. Many playoff battles come down to a handful of blocks, assists or steals, so don’t let any specialists sit idle on the wire right now. Pump up a player’s value by highlighting to another team how he’ll help put them over the top in a certain category.

Make the first big trade

Hopefully the action hasn’t started in earnest in your league yet and you can be the first one to make a blockbuster, league-altering deal, especially in a keeper/dynasty league. You want to be ahead of the pack here if you can, because once the first domino falls, not only does it set the market price for the season, but it also dwindles the available teams to trade with and player pool of acquirable assets. If you don’t make the first deal, you’ll likely have to adjust your thinking around the values of the players and picks in the market-setting trade, and those values may not be to your liking. Look at trades in years past in your league to gauge proper value of picks and the rough estimate of where players are ranked according to your scoring system. You don’t want to overpay, but in some cases it might make sense.

Make win-win offers

The final piece of advice should be the goal in all of your trades. When I was younger, I wanted to “win” every trade. I wanted to get the better end of the deal or fleece the other owner to make my team better and theirs worse. As I grew older and gained more experience–and had to keep dealing with the same owners in the same leagues–I realized that a good trade is one that helps out both teams. A deal that helps you doesn’t have to hurt another owner. Both owners can feel good about it and as a result, they’ll be more likely to deal with you again in the future. So look for ways to help the other team; just as you did a self-assessment of your team, examine theirs and identify ways for them to improve or areas of strength. Then figure out which of your players that you want to deal that would be a good fit for them and make an offer. Or better yet, engage in a dialogue where you point out how you want to help them and what you have available and then make an offer. They’ll feel better about your intentions and be more eager to work something out with you, possibly even something better than you were originally hoping for too.

The Lab wishes you good luck as you head into the stretch run of the season! Follow Matt Satten on Twitter at @rotobasketball.

Matt Satten is a fantasy sports expert specializing in basketball. He's written professionally about fantasy basketball since 1999 and his work has appeared on Sports Illustrated, ESPN, FoxSports, Dime Magazine, InsideHoops.com, and other various sports blogs. He's an FSWA award-winner and two-time winner of the 30-Deep Expert League. In his other professional career, Satten works in the craft beer industry for Founders Brewing Co. and is a long-time board member and former Treasurer of the non-profit Philly Loves Beer, which produces the internationally-acclaimed Philly Beer Week. Follow him on Twitter at @RotoBasketball or @MattSatten.

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