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“Jaws Of Doom” — Conceptualizing Upside: A Beginner’s Guide to Player Value

First and foremost, I write about upside.

Pretend basketball general managers like myself hear the term ‘upside’ thrown around a lot.  Honestly, it’s hard to even find a fantasy related article that doesn’t mention it. Interestingly however, definitions and explanations of this seemingly ubiquitous idea are strikingly less common. What is upside exactly? And why do you need so much of it?


Upside is an intangible attribute exclusive to fantasy assets. Victor Oladipo — the person — does not have upside per se, but Victor Oladipo — the 5th round fantasy pick — is oozing with it.  Upside is an idea, a perception; essentially it’s just an expectation.  In many ways your concept of a certain player’s upside says more about yourself than it does that actual player.

Upside is the difference between a player’s expected future value (EV) and his actual current value (CV). Oladipo, for example, averaged about 31 minutes per game last season; and while his numbers were impressive, they weren’t exactly earth shattering either.  But now that the Magic have relieved themselves of both Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo, Oladipo is set to become the focal point of Orlando’s back-court, meaning  his value has certainly changed from last season.  Whatever you think Oladipo’s production will look like after these changes determines his EV, while his known level of statistical production (from last year) determines his CV. The greater the EV, the greater the  upside.

To calculate a player’s EV you must evaluate both a player’s physical abilities and his potential future opportunities.  Ability is far easier to determine, making it a good starting point. What does the player do well and poorly?  Is he lightning fast? Exceptionally strong? Does he see the floor like Rondo? Is he Shawn Bradley flimsy?  Without understanding a player’s skill set, knowledge of his upcoming opportunities will be useless.

Shawn Bradley displaying upside

Shawn Bradley displaying upside

Evaluating a player’s future opportunities, on the other hand, relies primarily on conjecture and speculation.  It’s an inexact science.  Here are a few things to keep in mind when contemplating a guy’s EV:

  1. Will he receive a significant increase in playing time? Does he have injury prone teammates? Is he central to his team’s long term plans? Will someone ahead of him get benched or traded?
  2. How well do his aforementioned skills translate to various possible scenarios? Will he mesh well with his teammates?  Will the coach maximize or limit his potential? Can he slide to another position if required? How will he handle increased pressure and expectations?
  3. Will he hone his skills and become a more talented player?  Will he become significantly improve physically?
  4. How likely are these scenarios to actually occur?

The conjunction of a player’s perceived skill set and possible opportunities renders his upside.

Upside is an invaluable tool for fantasy managers because it enables you to inexpensively increase your team’s productivity. Acquiring upside is achieved by obtaining a certain type of undervalued player.  Under-evaluation arises when your opponents perceive a player to be less valuable (perceived value = PV, it is essentially your competition’s EV for a particular player) than his CV or EV would suggest. The vast majority of my drafts, trade offers, and waiver wire scans are spent searching for undervalued players. Players who are simply undervalued  (PV < CV) tend to produce more reliably, but more modestly too. High upside prospects (PV < CV < EV), however, are potential lottery tickets.

Ultimately the ability to understand and capitalize on the rift between a player’s PV, CV, and EV is the fastest way to amass upside throughout your roster.   Conceptualizing player value in this way improves your chances of hitting the jackpot for relatively cheap.  If you’ve already got a solid, well-balanced roster, hitting pay dirt with a breakout player can take you to the next level, and ultimately to a title.

Rondo sees the floor like Ray Charles sees the piano

Rondo sees the floor like Ray Charles sees the piano


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