As you can probably tell from my last post, I’ve been consumed with managing all 44 of these CBS fantasy basketball teams. It’s like having a second job (a second job that pays less than minimum wage, but a second job nonetheless). With the crazy rash of injuries and suspensions over the last few weeks, one really needs to stay on top of things in order to do well. Most of my holiday evenings over the past week were spent getting caught up on boxscores and trade offers until about 1:00 am. Add to that my actual career, my real family and all of the holiday hoopla, you can begin to see where ‘blogging’ falls on the priority list. Until Google starts paying $3 per site visit, things will probably stay that way.
The good news is there has been no shortage of topics to cover. The truth is I’m really a pretty boring and uninteresting person in real life, but I’m extremely fortunate (or unfortunate as the case may be) to have numerous interesting and ‘blog worthy’ people in my life. My golf buddy Jefe (fortunately) will always be Jefe. CBS Fantasy head commissioner Ron Strugano (unfortunately) will always be Ron Strugano. As long as these truisms continue to hold, I’ll always have something to write about. And both are mentioned below as I cover a wide range of topics and tie up some loose ends. In the words of the great rap artist Jimmy C: ‘buckle up, because it’s going to be a long and bumpin’ ride!’
MORE FUN WITH RON
Things are going very well with my fantasy basketball venture. I’m currently winning 18 of the 44 leagues, and the number keeps going up and up with each passing week of the season. I’m still projecting to win about 25-29 leagues when it’s all said and done. Strangely, the thing that is keeping me from winning even more isn’t the competition in each of the leagues as you’d expect. It’s the ‘powers that be’ at CBS that continue to shoot down perfect fair deals for reasons that are based on something other than facts. You could see it clearly in my debate of ‘Josh Smith vs. Chris Bosh’ with Ron Strugano, the head of CBS Fantasy…and the trend has continued with a couple of other crucial deals below. Check out the dialogue. Each deal provide a glimpse of what is going on inside of Ron’s head…an interesting case study.
Exhibit A: Carlos Boozer and Luke Ridnour for Kobe Bryant
At the time of this trade, Boozer was actually rated higher than Kobe. Ridnour was just gravy on to make up for any future difference between the Kobe and Carlos. But CBS shot it down. Not a huge deal for me…my team here is in first by a mile, but when the deal went down I asked myself if maybe I had given up too much, so I pressed Ron for some feedback. It’s his response that makes this worth noting:
RON: "You want Kobe, you give up a top 5 player."
When pressed further, he said that anytime he sees a deal involving Lebron, Wade, Kobe and ‘possibly’ KG and Arenas, he needs to see one of the other players involved else he will kill the deal.
There’s a couple things wrong with his statement. First, having KG listed in his second tier and making no mention of Shawn Marion proves that Ron knows very little about roto basketball. Having Lebron, Wade, Kobe in the top 3 just shows that he doesn’t understand the difference between real basketball and fantasy basketball. He’s simply taking the 3 best players in the NBA and putting them in his elite fantasy circle. Lebron is currently ranked 14th overall on a per-game basis this season.
Second, having a hard-and-fast rule like this is simply wrong when trying to assess deals. Maybe it’s a good guideline you manage a team, but hard-and-fast rules have no place in the world of assessing deals as a commissioner. In general, you want to be the guy getting the one in a two-for-one, but there are circumstances where you might value quantity (depth) over quality (a superstar). What if your team has been decimated by injuries and Kobe’s your only tradeable asset? You need to start 10 guys a week so flipping him for depth might be your best bet. I have one team where my roster is KG, Kobe and then next best guy Jason Terry! I’d love to flip KG or Kobe for some additional depth…so I’ve been on both sides of the coin (in fact, I just dealt KG/Bogut for Wade/Camby in that one).
The point is, this far into the season, people have different expectations and different category needs, both creating different value levels for a given player. Although each category is worth the same, I value individual categories +/- 40% relative to their raw weight depending on the team and the league. This is the entire basis for making trades. For example in one league where I need FTP and 3PM, I value Ray Allen 12th overall. In another league, where I’m set in those categories, I value Ray Allen 24th overall. So the players that I’d be willing to deal in each league vary greatly. It’s not rocket science, but the powers that be just don’t seem to get this. I’ve never been able to get Ron to move away from his ‘Would I do this deal?’ mentality, which is exactly the wrong way to assess a deal. A hard-and-fast rule only exacerbates the problem.
Exhibit B: Brad Miller/Caron Butler for Marcus Camby/Andre Miller
Simply put, this is the fairest trade that I’ve ever seen shot down. There is NO WAY this deal should’ve been vetoed. To prove that I wasn’t crazy, I posed the question on the vetoability of this deal over at fantasybasketballcafe.com. Here is the complete unedited reponse to my post, ‘Would you veto this deal?’:
“Not a chance.”
“It is clearly not a fair trade though. Thats up to the commish as well as the attitude of the league. That wouldn't fly in my private league I don't think. ”
“Would it be "fair" if BMiller hadn't been injured and had been playing well? Would it be "fair" if Camby misses time with a knee-contusion? Is it only unfair b/c Camby has been playing well and has stayed healthy (knock wood) and BMiller has been down? When I can't decipher which side a guy thinks a trade is lopsided, it probably doesn't rise to the level of collusion or gross error, which should be the standard for vetoing a trade. ”
“no, it's not such a lopsided trade that requires vetoing. Would one team have an advantage from the trade? Sure...but isn't that what trading is about? Trying to get the better players? ”
“I cant even clearly see which side wins in this trade, how in the hell can you even think about vetoing it”
“Half of us can't tell which side is the supposed winner! Of course its not veto worthy. ”
“Exactly. When you literally have to sit and think which side is getting a better deal then its definitely not vetoable. ”
“Definitely fair. The people screaming that it is not fair are probably uninformed as to how great Butler is. Brad is not as good as Camby (assuming both non-injured) but Butler is better than Andre by about the same amount. ”
“Can you imagine? A Trade Overlord for all leagues who doesn't have a grasp of player value? ”
“Wow, this is incredible. What a dumbass. ”
“Aside from team needs/structure, I'd rather have Brad Miller and Butler. ” Well, pretty much universal agreement that this is a fair deal. So why is the one guy who just doesn’t get it (although he’s get paid for it) the very same guy who controls my fate on these deals? I simply had to crack this Da Vinci code and tap into Ron’s fascinating brain again…here’s his response:
"Camby is the better center and (Andre) Miller is the better other player. So I dont see how the other team is getting better when they are giving up the more talented players. that was the reason."
Wow! Andre Miller is better than Caron Butler. What a revelation! Check out the numbers:
Andre Miller beats Caron in 1 of 8 categories, assists and assists only. Butler ranks 13th on the season and Miller ranks 44th. You wouldn’t say the Luol Deng is better than Dirk Nowitzki, would you? The difference in Caron vs Miller is roughly the same as Dirk vs Deng. How can I operate under these conditions? Is it too much to ask that the guy actually get his facts straight? Did I mention that CBS is keeping over half of the total pot? What a joke. You know I had to respond:
“JIM: Do you ever look at the numbers? CARON BUTLER > ANDRE MILLER. You gotta be kidding me.
Butler Rk 37
Miller Rk 61
2006-07 YTD (at the time of the deal)
Butler Rk 26
Miller Rk 43
Please, please tell me how Andre Miller is better than Butler when Butler has outperformed him by a significant margin over the last 100+ games? Man, you just don't get it, do you? No disrespect, but did you fail math in high school? I have less faith in your abilities to fulfill your commish role than ever. No wonder so many owners are up in arms over their CBS fantasy experience this season. I've tried to help...I really have. Why are you so afraid to try to write a well thought-out, insightful response to my questions? Is it because you don't have any? I've tried to pick that brain of our almighty commissioner, and all I've gotten so far is hard-and-fast rules, numbers that aren't remotely relevant and personal opinion overriding facts. Is asking for some flexibility and objectivity really too much to ask? Shouldn't I expect that as a customer of Sportsline? Why shouldn't I expect that the commissioner 'experts' be able to evaluate the deals objectively and have at least a surface-level knowledge of roto leagues and real player values?"
One other fact not mentioned here is the only reason that Camby is significantly better than Brad Miller this season is because Miller has been slowed by injury and Camby miraculously hadn’t missed a game as of the time of the trade (he has since broken yet another finger). Camby is a beast when he plays, but everyone knows he’s a nightmare to own, especially in weekly leagues. Stating Camby is better when it’s driven primarily due to his health is a slippery slope. If you were drafting today, Camby and Miller would still be picked very close to one another. At the beginning of the season, Miller was picked 36th on average; Camby 41st.
One thing you also need to know about this deal is that the guy desperately needed a forward. He only had 5 on his roster and 2 were injured (you need to start at least 4). When this deal fell through, he turned around and traded Andre Miller for Luol Deng! Just shows you how much he valued Andre Miller. In their attempt to try to protect this guy from making such a lopsided deal with me, they arguably made his team worse off by sticking him with Camby and Deng instead of Brad Miller and Caron Butler. If Ron had taken a little time to dig a little deeper (and look at FACTS...what a novel concept), he would’ve seen this was a fair deal.
This begs the bigger question: exactly what are they trying to protect against? The league will have one winner. The draft, the roster moves, the trades are all designed to identify the best fantasy player. That’s the guy that should get the prize at the end. So what’s wrong with shrewd managers trying to make shrewd deals? I identified the need, made a fair offer, got maximum value in return for the players I was offering, yet my deal gets shot down. Some other guy swoops in with a different deal and reaps the benefits. If it ends up costing me the league, they’re just taking $600 and giving it to Player B instead of Player A.
I imagine you’d be pretty ticked if somebody took $600 out of your wallet. But that’s not even what’s causing me the most angst. It’s the fact that Ron’s veto mentality is KILLING these leagues. People like to trade. It’s the most enjoyable part of any fantasy league in any sport. Plus, it takes a lot of work to get a trade done. I probably send out 40 offers for every one that is accepted. Fantasy basketball is supposed to be fun. Seeing fair deals get shot down for no apparent logical reason is not fun. And it hurts the leagues in general. Many of these leagues have turned into cesspools of bitterness and frustration, mostly caused by good deals gone bad. People just start voting against every deal, which only creates more problems.
I’ve tried to point this out to Ron and offered suggestions, but again, he just doesn’t get it. In the end, my interests are perfectly aligned with his (or what I hope his should be) – to make CBS the best fantasy source out there. I’d sign up for 100 leagues if I could. But with all of the collective frustration in these leagues (recall that there were huge problems with the live draft applet as well), I’m sure a large percentage of people won’t be back next year.
Exhibit C: Mike Miller for Josh Smith
This one is particularly interesting in the context of my original discussion with Ron on Bosh vs. Smith. Check out the per game rank of the three players this season:
Josh Smith: 34
Mike Miller: 36
Chris Bosh: 55
So, Ron says that Josh Smith isn’t good enough for Bosh, but is too good for Mike Miller, even though Miller and Smith are right on top of each other and BOTH are better than Bosh this season. Fuzzy logic, isn’t it? For any given player, there should be at 4-5 guys of the same position that you could deal straight up safely. Apparently the only guy in the NBA you could deal Josh Smith for is Josh Smith himself.
If you were drafting in a vacuum, you would probably go in the order of Bosh/Smith/Miller, but remember we’re not in a vacuum here. These are three very unique players with different strengths and weaknesses, which causes different valuation by different owners (remember my +/- 40% statement). It turns out the guy giving up Smith was set in blocks and needed FTP and 3PM...Mike Miller would look pretty appealing to someone in this situation, don't you think? Of course, CBS again failed to dig a little deeper.
Predictably, when pressed for specifics, Ron’s response again lacked any trace of logic:
“Miller is simply a scorer. Smith tends to do well in many categories, although not good enough compared to bosh who puts up double doubles when he plays. Smith has looked good recently with Johnson out, but needs to show consistency before he gets trade value of a Chris Bosh.”
First, there are no bonus points for consistency and/or double doubles, so I just don’t see how it’s relevant. Points and rebounds are worth the same as steals and blocks…beside Smith’s strengths in these two categories are bound to cause inconsistency because they are just lumpier categories to begin with. In the long run, it doesn’t matter. Plus 2.5 blks and 1.5 steals per game will help your fantasy squad approximately the same as 21 pts and 8.5 rebounds.
More importantly, his notion that Miller is a one-cat guy and Smith is a multi-cat monster is simply not true. Check out the numbers:
Miller beats Smith in 5 of 8 categories, so there’s no way his statement could be true. It’s simply wrong. So he shot down my deal due to a statement that was completely false. Again, how can I be expected to operate in this environment? Again, is it too much to ask that they use facts (heck...I’d settle for not using fiction) when deciding on the fairness of deals?
Maybe someday, Ron will get the message. Check out this post on nba.com, where their head fantasy guy Jon Loomer talks about his veto strategy in the context of their Premiere Fantasy Challenge. Just read his criteria and ask yourself this: would you rather be held by Ron’s criteria above or Jon’s criteria below.
“In the end, the question with both deals was "Veto or No Veto?" When any deal is up for dispute, I follow a simple litmus test, and I encourage you to do the same:
1) Was collusion involved? Clearly not in this case. Would be extremely coincidental if the new guy also knew one of the competitors in the PFC. There was a process of weeding through 9,000 applicants. Then Allen Redmon also had to beat the rush to sign up for a D-League team. Once he signed up, he also had to be leading the best team in the Knicks D-League. Only possible way there was collusion is if these two became friends in about three hours. Highly unlikely.
2) Are both teams trying to improve their teams? Yes. They may not have succeeded -- either of them, really -- but the attempt is there. In reality, the Knicks did improve themselves for the short-term since they have warm bodies. Yet to be seen whether they'll be better over the long term.
3) Will this deal threaten competitive balance of the league? Again, I don't think so. Memphis got a good deal on paper, but also took a major risk. If they need to wait multiple weeks to get healthy, they will lose badly.
In the end, I hate vetoing deals, especially in a competition like this one. Unless I have serious suspicions about participants or reservations about someone's knowledge or commitment level, you have to let the deal go. Truth is, West and Peja may not return -- that's the fact of injuries, no matter how insignificant they may now seem. If I stopped that deal, I would have prevented the Knicks from competing.
As a commissioner of your league, you should go through similar though processes, though there are no hard and fast rules.”
GOOD DRAFT, BAD DRAFT
When it comes to fantasy hoops, it’s no secret that the draft is everything (if you don’t believe me, check out my year-end fantasy season review last year where I broke down the key components of fantasy success). Well, when you have a bunch of different teams, you’re bound to win some and lose some. Check out the difference between the two drafts below. It’s hard to believe that the same guy is picking them.
|Rd||Good Draft||Bad Draft|
|1||Garnett,Kevin (4th pick)||Marion,Shawn (6th pick)|
The ‘Good Draft’ would’ve been even better if it weren’t for the aforementioned CBS applet glitches leading to Rafer Alston in the 5th round. And the ‘Bad Draft’ started off great with Marion with the 6th pick, but the draft yielded very little value after the third round. Not surprisingly, the team with the good draft is in first place by 21 points and the team with the bad draft is in (gulp) last.
Some of my best picks:
Kevin Martin in the 13th round once, 12th round 3 times
Mike Miller in the 10th round twice
Caron Butler at the end of the 6th round 5 times
Leandro Barbosa with the 2nd to last pick of the draft
Andre Iguodala with the 70th pick overall
Luke Ridnour in the 11th round
And some of my worst picks:
Bobby Simmons in the 10th round
David West too many times to count, as high as 60th overall
Eddie Jones in the 8th round (unbelievable)
Peja in the 6th round (looked great at the time)
Chris Bosh 20th overall
WEGOBLOGGER VS TALENTED MR ROTO, AN UPDATE
Right before the season started, I posted a challenge to the so-called Talented Mr Roto on stat projections for 50 players. Since the season is a little over one-third in the books, let’s take a look at how my free projections are faring relative to the expert advise that you have to pay for with TMR.
The method for analyzing who’s better is the sum of squared errors, so a lower number is a good thing. As of today, I’m beating TMR 36-14 in the 50 players we looked at, and I’m about 26% closer with my projections on average across each category. TMR must be commended, however, for being almost spot on with Chris Wilcox. Check out the numbers below…they are right on top of each other. If only the rest of his picks were more like this.
ALL THIS NBA STUFF IS GREAT...BUT WHERE IN THE HECK IS THE JCI?
This blog was started last year primarily as a place to post my college basketball rankings, the JCI. I've posted the JCI basically for my circle of friends (mostly Illini fans) the last 3-4 years in order to get a truer sense of a team's 'body of work' come tournament time. I had some dialogue with the past two Selection Committee chairman about the pitfalls of the RPI, not trying to plug the JCI as the be all, end all (although it does exactly what they claim to do when selecting teams...measure one team's resume of wins and losses versus another's to determine who's more deserving of a seed or spot in the big dance), but simply get them to realize the flaws in the numbers that they were using to make these very tough decisions.
Then the 2006 brackets came out.
These were universally heralded as the most backwards brackets in recent memory. To refresh your memory, I urge you to go back to March 2006 and read all my college-basketball related posts. There's 4-5 posts that will give you a clear picture of what happened last year.
To summarize, two years ago the NCAA changed the RPI formula to reward road wins and home losses, albeit in a very crude fashion that made the rating even worse than it was before (and it wasn't that great to begin with). In 2005, the first year of the new rating, the new RPI was causing unintented consequences when they compared it to the old RPI, therefore the committee questioned the validity of the new number. I believe that in 2005 the Committee had the Sagarin Elo ratings (very similar to the JCI) 'in the room' and leveraged that information to help make their selections. The end result were brackets that very few could poke holes in...the consensus was that the Committee did a good job.
Fast forward to 2006. The Old RPI is gone. Despite still having the same flaws, the new RPI is the only number in the room. Having bad information will ultimately lead to bad decision making...and that's what we had in 2006. I will go to the grave believing that is what happened last year. The consensus was that the Committee did a lousy job.
Unfortunately, the prospects do not look any brighter for 2007. The new RPI is still in place and the new RPI still stinks. The Committee doesn't have any clear motivation for trying to improve it, since it gives them the freedom to use it or not use it to justify any decision they choose to make (like helping out a buddy's team or conference). Plus having a poor ranking system justifies the need to have a committee of 'experts' in the first place. I tried to fight the good fight, but the Committee proved to me that it's not interested in improving the information it uses. So I'm fully expecting another disaster in 2007. People will be up in arms about it for awhile, then the tournament will come and go and we'll forget that there were teams there that shouldn't have been there and vice versa. And the cycle will occur over and over again. Maybe you'll see a JCI in February or March, as the debate on seeds and bubble teams begins. In the mean time, use those Sagarin Elo ratings as a good point of reference. Just know that every time you hear the term RPI or SOS used to justify whether a team should be in or out, ask yourself if those numbers reflect what they are supposed to reflect.
GOLF IN 2007
It was actually nice enough over the holidays to go outside and hit some golf balls, which I did with my 4 year old son a couple of days after Christmas while at my in-laws in Dubuque, Iowa (they live on a golf course). I only brought one club with me...but it was a significant club: my Mizuno MP-30 5-iron with a brand new grip and shaft. Back in December, I made the trek to the custom-fit mecca, Hotstix, in Scottsdale, AZ, or as I like to call it, DisneyWorld for Golfers. If you're serious about golf, you have to hop on the next flight to Arizona and get out there. A lot of golfers spend thousands of dollars on new equipment, but don't take the next step and actually ensure that they are the right club for them. It's worse for me because I'm a lefty...there's little or no opportunity to demo new clubs, and at the golf stores, you might be lucky to find the club you're looking for, but good luck finding the loft and/or shaft.
At Hotstix, they robotically test clubs, shafts and golf balls, and based on your swing characteristics they make recommendations. I wasn't looking to change clubs, but I was a little concerned about the lie angles, shafts, etc...something was causing me to toe the ball and hit a low draw on everything. After hitting about 15 balls on the launch monitor and doing some experimentation, it was clear that my clubs were too short and not upright enough, and my fitter recommended extra-stiff shafts. So we cleaned all of that up, also got some jumbo grips and I was good to go. They shipped the clubs back to my house a few days later...an early Christmas present. And all I have to say is...these babies are nice. They just exude confidence. I feel like I'm going to be right on top of the flagstick. Even hitting in 40 degree weather in my gym shoes, I was striping the ball out in Iowa. I can't wait to get a real round in.
I only had time for the iron fitting, but Hotstix also does driver and putter fittings. Next time I'm in Phoenix, I'll definitely be heading back there to get the works. Who knows what kind of impact it will have on my game.
Turns out...I'm going to need all of the help on the golf course this year, because I'm planning on trying to qualify for the USGA Mid-Am in September. Not that I have any hope in the world of actually qualifying much less winning. The real motivation is the site of one of the qualifiers: Rich Harvest Links in Sugar Grove, IL. The course used to be the backyard playground of software gazillionaire Jerry Rich. He has since opened it up a little bit and now it's an ultra-private country club with just a handful of members. In a few years, it's actually going to host the Solheim Cup (the female version of the Ryder Cup). As you can imagine, my buddy Jefe and I (Jefe especially...he's actually driven out to the perimeter of the place just to get a glimpse) have been jonesin' to get out there. The Mid-Am is our chance.
You do need a handicap index of 3.4 or less to get in, so I'll have to ensure that my game stays in decent shape prior to when the applications open up in April. Jefe will have to shave a stroke off his game, but I'm confident that he'll bring it. Two other important tidbits about the Mid-AM: 1) If you qualify, the actual championship this year is at Bandon Dunes and 2) The winner of the Mid-Am gets an invite to the Masters. Sign me up, Jefe!
Just so I don't embarass myself too badly, I'll probably try to play in a few local tournaments this summer. So stay tuned. 2007 is shaping up to be an eventful year (did I mention that we -- that's my wife and I, not Jefe and I -- are also having a baby in June? Bonus points if you actually made it to the end of this post to find this out.)