Monday , Dec , 29 , 2008 C.Y. Ellis

Getting Weird

I worked at a youth hostel in Berlin a few years ago, and there was a Ukrainian on the staff named Yevgeny, and I loved working with him, because invariably at some point in the shift he would turn to me and say, in a heavy accent, “Let’s get weird.”

“Hell yes,” I would respond. I loved getting weird. Getting weird meant doing the crabwalk, or moving all the furniture to the elevator, or talking to hostel guests with your mouth frozen in the all-the-way-open position. Weirdly enough, Yevgeny always seemed baffled when I did this, which at first I thought was his admittedly clever weird-behavior contribution-to suggest getting weird, and then to be vaguely horrified when things actually got weird. It was only several months into our working relationship that I realized he had been trying to say, “Let’s get beer.”

Getting Weird



Getting Weird

 

I worked at a youth hostel in Berlin a few years ago, and there was a Ukrainian on the staff named Yevgeny, and I loved working with him, because invariably at some point in the shift he would turn to me and say, in a heavy accent, “Let’s get weird.”

 

Hell yes,” I would respond.  I loved getting weird.  Getting weird meant doing the crabwalk, or moving all the furniture to the elevator, or talking to hostel guests with your mouth frozen in the all-the-way-open position.  Weirdly enough, Yevgeny always seemed baffled when I did this, which at first I thought was his admittedly clever weird-behavior contribution—to suggest getting weird, and then to be vaguely horrified when things actually got weird.  It was only several months into our working relationship that I realized he had been trying to say, “Let’s get beer.” 

 

Anyway.  To misquote Yevgeny, let’s get fantasy-basketball weird.  Specifically, today I want to run a thought experiment:  is it better to have an all small-forward team, or a team of half-point guards, half-centers?  The underlying question here is whether a team of specialists can beat a team of generalists.  When you draft a point guard, you are generally drafting for assists, FT%, steals, and sometimes three-pointers; when you draft a center, you’re looking at rebounds, blocks, and FG%.  When you draft a small forward, however, all stats are fair game.  In some ways, this is the question of the #1 pick—do you pick Chris Paul, who dominates the point-guard categories, or do you pick LeBron, who gives you a lot of everything?*

 

Let’s start simple: two LeBrons versus CP3 plus the league’s top fantasy center.  Cases can be made for Marcus Camby, Yao Ming, and Dwight Howard (see last week’s column); let’s try each one in a nine-category league.  All of the below numbers are the per-game averages for the season.

 

 

pts

reb

ast

st

bl

3pt

to

ft%

fg%

2 lebrons

55

13.466

12.8

4

2.266

2.266

5.2

0.776

0.509

cp3+dwight

39.967

18.792

12.763

3.857

3.864

0.741

5.568

0.683

0.523

2 lebrons

55

13.466

12.8

4

2.266

2.266

5.2

0.776

0.509

cp3+camby

31.474

17.465

13.41

4.08

3.105

0.741

4.009

0.848

0.506

2 lebrons

55

13.466

12.8

4

2.266

2.266

5.2

0.776

0.509

cp3+yao

40.374

14.918

12.97

3.4

1.985

0.741

5.856

0.882

0.515

 

The LeBrons beat Team Dwight 6-3 and Team Yao 5-4, but lose to Team Camby 3-6.  However, we don’t learn a lot here; mostly, we see that Chris Paul doesn’t shoot as many three-pointers as LeBron, and also that LeBron is a complete animal.

 

To make the outcome less dependent on players’ individual quirks, let’s make two ten-player teams—one with two each of the league’s top five small forwards, and one with the league’s top five point guards and centers.  A problem is identifying “top five.”  My (simplistic) system was to give each small forward a point for being in the league’s top five small forwards for scoring, rebounds, assists, three-pointers, steals, and blocks, and take the five players with the most points (scoring being the tie-breaker); I ended up with LeBron, Danny Granger, Gerald Wallace, Kevin Durant, and Caron Butler, a thoroughly respectable fantasy list.

 

For point guards, I did the same but omitting blocks and rebounds; for centers, I omitted three-pointers and assists.  Team Specialist looks like this:

 

PG: Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups, Baron Davis, Devin Harris, Tony Parker

C: Dwight Howard, Marcus Camby, Andris Biedrins, Al Jefferson, Yao Ming

 

 

pts

reb

ast

st

bl

3pt

to

ft%

fg%

generalists

227.304

63.644

37.156

15.298

9.102

13.09

27.948

0.819

0.475

specialists

189.374

75.157

48.409

12.886

12.801

5.811

23.031

0.767

0.484

 

Specialists win, 5-4, and in the process they do frankly perverse things with the pick-and-roll.

 

One more.  Let’s keep the generalists the same, but this time the specialists will be really specialized: the league’s top five players in assists and rebounds (min. 20 games played).

 

Assists: Chris Paul, Jose Calderon, Steve Nash, Chris Duhon, Jason Kidd

Rebounds: Dwight Howard, Marcus Camby, Andris Biedrins, Troy Murphy, Zach Randolph

 

And the results are:

 

 

pts

reb

ast

st

bl

3pt

to

ft%

fg%

generalists

227.304

63.644

37.156

15.298

9.102

13.09

27.948

0.819

0.475

specialists

147.92

81.945

55.497

13.202

9.556

9.327

24.424

0.741

0.485

 

Specialists win again, and in the same categories.

 

So what do we learn from this whole weird thought experiment?  First of all, the fact that Troy Murphy is in the league’s top five rebounders should give us all pause, because he has been battling a severe sinus infection since 2003.**  Second, the data suggest that in fantasy, as in real life, the best teams may not be an assembly of do-it-all players who fill up the stat sheet, but rather a group of role players:  guys who do a few things, and do them well.  We may revisit this subject in the column a few weeks down the road where I dust off my Ultimate Stat Equivalator, perhaps the nerdiest thing I have ever created, and bear in mind that one of my hobbies is modular origami.

 

Unrelated:  Mike James is going to keep it up.  Go get him.

 

In conclusion, sometimes getting a beer is, in fact, a better idea than getting weird.

 

*Or do you go the ironic route and draft Sebastian Telfair?  I have a hyper-ironic hipster friend who did this.  He also only owns t-shirts with pictures of wolves/bears/eagles on them, and last time we talked he was “going through a Cher phase.”  Take that, society!  On the negative side, literally everyone hates him.

 

**Seriously, he has a huge weird nose.