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What is an anchor?
An anchor is a player who an entire unit is built around, to the point that the unit does not function correctly without that player. For a practical example of an offensive anchor let's look at the hottest team in the league.
The Clippers have won 15 games in a row. The absolute epicenter of that streak, of all of the team's success, is point guard Chris Paul. Paul is the maestro of that team … his pick-and-roll sets open up easy shots for his Lob City frontcourt (Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan shooting a combined 56% FG); the threat of that pick-and-roll packs in opposing defenses, which leaves the perimeter wide open (Jamal Crawford, Caron Butler and Chauncey Billups a combined 4.5 3-ptrs/game on higher than 37% from downtown); and when in doubt Paul can create for himself to the tune of 16 points on higher than 59% true shooting percentage. The entire Clippers offense, the fourth rated offense in the NBA, depends on Paul to the extent that his offensive xRAPM value of +6.45 (the newest adjusted +/- stat on the market, that also incorporates some box score information) is by-far the highest mark on his team (Griffin 2nd at +2.76) and is the second highest mark in the NBA, trailing only LeBron James (+6.71).
So, what would happen if Paul had to sit? The team would still score, and his teammates would try to pick up his slack where they could. However, without Paul there would be no other true offensive creator on the squad until Chauncey Billups gets healthy. Jamal Crawford can create his own shot, but not so much for his teammates. As such, we would expect the team's efficiency to decrease. Griffin might score more, but at 47 percent instead of 53 percent. Crawford might drop to the 38 percent he shot last year instead of the 43 percent he's shooting this year. Jordan may go from a double-double threat to a 7.0 ppg player.
So, what is an anchor? For fantasy basketball purposes, the anchor of a team is the player whose health and presence can change the value of his teammates. On offense, this player is usually a point guard (or at least a primary ball handler). A lot of the silver-lining hopes for the Lakers during their slow start was due to the absence of Steve Nash, the assumption that a healthy Nash would anchor the offense and improve the fortunes of Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol. Meanwhile, in Houston, James Harden (offensive xRAPM +4.48) is establishing himself as the offensive key well beyond point guard Jeremy Lin (off. xRAPM +1.23).
On the flip side, some players generate a lot of offensive box score numbers but the team functions just fine without them. Rajon Rondo (off. xRAPM +1.74), Jrue Holiday (off. XRAPM +0.16) and Greivis Vasquez (off. xRAPM +1.39) are first, third and fourth, respectively, in the NBA in assists per game but their offfensive xRAPM values suggest that they aren't having that huge an impact on their team offenses. In other words, if they get injured we wouldn't expect it to have a huge impact on the fantasy fortunes of their teammates.
Then, there are the co-anchors. This usually happens on a team that has both a strong point guard and a strong wing capable of creating offense both for himself and for teammates. Part of the reason that Rondo's offensive xRAPM isn't so impressive, for example, is because Paul Pierce (off. xRAPM +1.38) is carrying almost as much of the offensive load as he is. This happens on a bigger scale in Miami where Dwyane Wade (off. xRAPM +3.7) is there to step in if LeBron goes down. Same thing in Oklahoma City with Kevin Durant (off. xRAPM +4.79) and Russell Westbrook (off. xRAPM +4.41), in Brooklyn with Deron Williams (+3.69) and Joe Johnson (+2.89) and in New York with Raymond Felton (+3.53), Carmelo Anthony (+4.05) and Jason Kidd (+2.1).
The point is, when you're ready to go next level with your fantasy hoops addiction there are other things to consider besides just the basic box score numbers. Every player's output is going to be affected by his environment and his teammates, but some players will be more immune than others while some are almost entirely dependent. Ideally you'd build your team with the former and dangle the latter in trades to pick up more of the former. It's bad enough that a fantasy owner has to worry about an ill-timed injury to his own players derailing his championship hopes … you don't want to have to expand that worry to teammates as well.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
Avery Johnson fired: The Nets fired head coach Avery Johnson on Thursday after starting the year 14-14. Anytime a coach is fired it can affect the team's fantasy output, especially if the new coach comes with an entirely different system. P.J. Carlesimo is the interim coach, but with this being the first year after their big move you have to feel like the Nets want to make a big splash with their next hire. For fantasy purposes, pace is our friend, so it would be nice to see a new coach who would bring in an up-tempo style of play. Nevertheless, pay attention to how Deron Williams responds to this. Williams has been having an underwhelming year, but many are looking at him as a potential reason for the firing, so the pressure will be on him to produce moving forward.
Deron's wrist: One potential reason for Williams' poor start is a series of ouchy injuries, the latest of which is the wrist injury that has him sidelined. He is expected back in action as soon as Friday, and, as mentioned, all eyes will be on him in his return.
Gasol's foot: Continuing a forgettable 2012 for Pau Gasol, he now finds himself battling plantar fasciitis. This can be a painful, lingering issue and should be cause for concern for any Gasol owner. His value is already low, which makes it difficult to trade him for any kind of value, but I never feel comfortable when I hear that a big man is having foot problems.
Felton's pinkie: The Knicks have been one of the darling teams of the league thus far, but they will have to keep it going the next month without their starting point guard. Raymond Felton has a fractured pinky that will shelve him for awhile. This is moderately good news for Jason Kidd owners, though at almost 40 years old he shouldn't see much of a spike in minutes. Then again, Kidd is already ranked 15th in Yahoo! leagues so his value was already about as good as it could get.
Cousins suspend … aww, never mind: Stop me if you've heard this before: DeMarcus Cousins was suspended this week for conduct detrimental to the team. I've said my peace on Cousins' volatility several times this year … you know, the other times when he was suspended. As such, let's move on.
Wade suspended a game: Dwyane Wade was suspended a game after kicking Ramon Sessions in a sensitive area Wednesday. Ray Allen is also battling injury for the Heat, which means Mike Miller or James Jones could be in for good nights Friday.
Dragic black and blue: Goran Dragic took a hard foul Wednesday that resulted in bruises to his back, hip and wrist. Dragic missed practice Thursday and is day-to-day.
Nash vs. Sanders: Thursday on the RotoWire Fantasy Sports Today show, collegue Chris Liss raised the question of whether I would rather have Steve Nash or Larry Sanders right now. That was a HARD question for a lot of reasons. If I knew that Nash would play like he did in Phoenix and remain healthy for the remainder of the year, I would take Nash easily. But. On an L.A. team featuring Kobe Bryant, I can't see Nash averaging double-digit assists this year. And more important, Nash's health scares the mess out of me. It scares me enough that I said, on the air, that I would take Sanders. I don't know that I can stand by that statement - I'm not comfortable depending on an injury to say one player is better than another - but the fact that it is even a debate is a big testament to just how strong Sanders has been this year. And he seems to be getting better as the season progresses, with strong double-double potential in addition to challenging for the league lead in blocks. Moral to the story: Sanders should be owned in a lot more than 67 percent of Yahoo! leagues.
Robin Lopez (56% owned in Yahoo! Leagues): Robin was supposed to be the hustle/defense twin while his brother Brook was supposed to be the scorer. Instead, Robin took advantage of the injury absences of Anthony Davis to lay claim to a bigger role in the Hornets offense. Davis is back, but Lopez is maintaining his role as an offensive focal point with three 22-plus scoring efforts in his last four games.
Ramon Sessions (53% owned): The Bobcats have lost 16 games in a row. This is especially relevant for Sessions, who has made a career out of putting up big numbers on bad teams. Sessions has scored in double-digits in nine of his last 10 outings, including 17 or more in four of his last five.
Dorell Wright (43% owned): Wright revived his career in Golden State the last couple of years by mastering the long-range jumper. He is using that same formula in Philly, having knocked down 18 treys in his last five games.
Andre Drummond (24% owned): Last week I mentioned that Pistons coach Lawrence Frank plans to give Drummond more minutes as the season progresses. In the week since, Drummond has averaged a double-double with 2.3 blocks and a steal in 27 minutes, highlighted by a 16 and 12 outing in 36 minutes of a double-overtime thriller Wednesday. Drummond still isn't getting starters minutes, but he's getting enough to be effective now ...and he's still averaging 13 and 13 with 2.8 blocks and 1.5 steals per 36 minutes on the season, so the potential is clearly there.
Jeff Green (14% owned): Green is an enigma. He proved in Oklahoma City that he could be a consistent upper-teens scorer in starters minutes … but in Boston he is in a sixth-man role that makes him less consistent. In his last 12 games, Green has six games of 15 or more points and has 10 treys in those six games. The flip side is that in the other six games he fell well short of those numbers, but he makes a decent bench producer with upside in deep leagues.
Keeping up with the Professor
If you're interested in my takes throughout the week, you can follow me on Twitter @ProfessorDrz. Also, don't forget that you can catch me on the radio on RotoWire Fantasy Sports Today with Chris Liss and Jeff Erickson on XM 87, Sirius 210.