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What Makes a Trade ‘Fair’ in Fantasy Basketball?

Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY Sports

You’ve probably all experienced a deep sense of irritation when it happens. You consider it injustice. A garbage trade gets accepted in your league, and you know the deal heavily favors one team over the other. You’re disgusted that owners aren’t able to detect that a trade is uneven.

Believe it or not, it’s not always easy to discern what makes a fantasy basketball trade fair. This is especially the case in two-for-one or three-for-one proposals. It’s therefore worth examining what a trade looks like that should ultimately be considered a “win” for both parties.

Before we analyze this, let’s first highlight a couple poor approaches to trade discussions. The first is falling in love with a two-for-one or three-for-one deal. Let’s say an owner has a top 10 player such as Kevin Durant. They receive an offer of Eric Bledsoe, Steven Adams and Doug McDermott. They’re intrigued at the thought of landing three players for Durant, so they bite.

Don’t be deceived by such offers. Bledsoe is a nice piece, but Adams and McDermott are likely unowned in some leagues. Through wise monitoring of the waiver wire, you could easily find players of equal value to Adams and McDermott. So this deal is then basically Durant for Bledsoe, which should be rejected immediately.

This approach magnifies owners who undervalue their players, particularly a stud like Durant who should never be undervalued. On the other hand, there are owners who overvalue their players. They look at a guy like Roy Hibbert and view him similarly to Serge Ibaka. Their trade proposals reflect this.

A word of encouragement: Make every effort to view your players accurately. Don’t get played by an owner, but also don’t become that annoying guy who thinks Tyreke Evans is basically another LeBron. Be sensible.

So what does a sensible trade between two prudent owners look like? The best metric to utilize as you consider trades is ESPN’s Player Rater. This factors in the entirety of each player’s fantasy skills.

You’re committing a grave disservice to not only your team, but also your league if you fail to access this. There are many fantasy basketball assets that have sneaky value (Al Horford), while others that fall into the category of fool’s gold (DeMar DeRozan). Player Rater reveals these potential blind spots.

I will, though, express a quick caution. Be careful relying entirely on Player Rater for this season when there have been less than 10 games. This is a small sample size. To illustrate this, consider that Kent Bazemore is currently ranked No. 12. Now, I’m all about Bazemore’s versatility, but I need to see more before I’m buying him as a top 25 asset.

You should study this year’s values (and all the more as the season progresses and consistency becomes apparent), but you should give more weight to last year’s values at the moment.

Let’s consider Stephen Curry from last year, who had a value of 21.34. So what’s a logical trade for him? For a trade to be regarded as fair, the total of the players received for Curry should amount to around 21.34. For this to work, it’s going to have to include either two top 25 players or three top 75 players.

Here’s an example of two top 25 players from last year’s stats with their Player Rater values in parentheses:

Team A receives: Steph Curry (21.34)

Team B receives: Eric Bledsoe (11.57), Paul Millsap (10.44)

Here’s an example of three top 75 players:

Team A receives: Steph Curry (21.34)

Team B receives: Kyle Lowry (8.55), Serge Ibaka (8.13), Chandler Parsons (4.97)

These examples show what an owner should expect in return for the services of whatever stud they have. They also reveal the insanely unique value that a player such as Curry can have. There’s a reason he and others (think Anthony Davis, Chris Paul, James Harden, etc.) go for a hefty amount in auction drafts, and why it’s such an advantage to receive a high pick in snake drafts. They’re monsters, and they should be valued on the trade market accordingly.

Player Rater should also be reviewed in trades involving players of lesser value, although this is where one might deviate from it. For instance, C.J. McCollum had little value last year, but he’s currently breaking out and it appears sustainable. His value from last year is now meaningless. It would be foolish for an owner to suggest that his limited production from last year is concerning.

Rookies are also interesting since we have little history to investigate. You also have to be careful with reading too much into a veteran overachieving to start the season. Will it continue? Is he playing largely because somebody is hurt and will return soon? There are also occasions when a player’s value is distorted because they’ve missed games due to injury.

There’s no denying that Player Rater can be misleading, but overall, it should be consulted. It should help you determine what you desire in return for a certain player, especially if that player is an elite one.

The bottom line is that you need to do your homework on trades. Player Rater helps you lay the facts on the table, and from there you can highlight the ones that are the most telling.

This process should enable you to reach a conclusion on what constitutes a fair trade. The key element is finding that the approximate player values equal between two parties. When this happens, both owners, as well as the league in general, should applaud the trade as well done.

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