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“Jaws Of Doom”: Econ 101 and the Value of “Stretch 5’s”

I have a liberal arts degree in political science.  This means I don’t have a job, because I don’t have any actual skills.  If you wanted to call it a soft science, I wouldn’t argue with you.

Lesson 1: Add a bullshit graph, it makes you seem more legitimate

Lesson 1:  Add a bullshit graph. It makes you seem like a more legitimate authority

Fortunately for me, fantasy basketball isn’t real — it’s an idea.  As such, it can (and wants to) be manipulated. This sounds like a job for soft science! I just hope I can play enough fantasy basketball to pay off my student loans.

Maybe you’ve heard me gushing about the concept of comparative advantage. Today I’m going to expand on this topic.  First some definitions.

Opportunity cost:

“In microeconomic theory, the opportunity cost of a choice is the value of the best alternative forgone, in a situation in which a choice needs to be made between several mutually exclusive alternatives given limited resources.”

Comparative advantage:

“In economics, comparative advantage refers to the ability of a party to produce a particular good or service at a lower marginal and opportunity cost over another.”

Comparative advantage plays a large role in my basic roster strategy. My lineup has 3 roles:  I want about 5 PGs, 5 bigs, and 3 swings. The PGs are responsible for producing (primary categories) FT%, 3PTM, assists, and steals; big’s provide FG%, boards, and blocks; and I like swings who can score and play defense.  From this perspective, a comparative advantage exists when a certain player provides value that similarly priced players don’t. There are 2 types:

  • Vertical advantages exist when a player offers significantly more production in a given category than similar players
  • Horizontal advantages exist when a player offers production in significantly more categories than similar players

Roy Hibbert, for example, provides a vertical comparative advantage in blocks.  He leads the league with 3.6 blocks per game, third is Ibaka at 2.8; Roy blocks enough shots to fulfill the responsibilities of 2 top tier centers. Hibbert is a difference maker in the paint for Indiana, and in blocks for fantasy owners everywhere. Vertical advantages help lock up a single category on a regular basis, allowing you to pursue other centers (with horizontal advantages) without sacrifice. Technically, the advantage lies in the fact Roy maximizes block output with minimal opportunity costs — owners doubled up on blocks without giving up too much production elsewhere.

Good stretch 5’s provide a useful horizontal comparative advantage at the center (or power forward) position. This holds true for early round picks and for free agents alike. Stretch guys produce in more categories, it’s not complicated. In fact, 4 of the top 5 overall centers in Yahoo! leagues are sharpshooting bigs (Anderson, Love, Dirk, Hawes).

Gaining from a horizontal advantage, however, requires production in primary categories on par with similarly priced options — otherwise opportunity costs negate gains derived from production in secondary categories. Let’s look at a few examples.

Bargnani – 74% owned

primary: 47%FG, 15.3PTs, 5.4RBDs, 1.4BLKs

seconday: 82%, 1.1 3PTM, 1.4AST, 0.3STLs, 1.3TO

Nene – 73% owned

primary: 51%FG, 15.1PTs, 6.5RBDs, 1.1BLKs

secondary: 67%FT, 0 3PTM, 2.9AST, 1.1STLs, 1.9TO

Primary categories split on the margin and production is pretty similar there, reducing Barg’s opportunity cost. Secondary categories favor Bargs 3-2. Bargnani offers a modest comparative advantage against other late round values at center, not bad for a waiver wire pick up.  Bonus points if you noticed that Nene is an exceptional passer.

Dirk – 100% owned

primary: 49%FG, 20.8PTs, 5.8RBDs, 0.4BLKs

secondary: 94FT%, 1.5 3PTM, 2.4ASTs, 1.1STLs, 1.7TO

Brooke Lopez – 100% owned

primary: 54FG%, 19.3PTs, 5.8RBDs, 2.3 BLKs

secondary: 81FT%, 0 3PTM, 0.5AST, 0.5STL, 1.5TO

Dirk Nowitzki -- Banana Republic of the NBA

Dirk Nowitzki — Banana Republic of the NBA

Drafting Dirk meant sacrificing blocks (opportunity cost) for a +4 marginal gain in secondary categories (+3 large gains). He presents a lucrative comparative advantage because he’s not only productive in 7 categories, but he’s elite in a few of them. Bonus points if you noticed that Lopez is a top 5 shot blocker — Lopez offers a vertical comparative advantage in blocks.

Economic theory holds that trade between countries with differing comparative advantages will yield net gains for both parties and the global economy as a whole. For fantasy basketball purposes, this means you’ll benefit most from having both horizontal and vertical advantages at every position; essentially, shot blockers and 7 foot shooters make each other more valuable. It works in real basketball too — holy shit, I can’t wait for New Orleans’ Anderson/Davis front court to get rolling.

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