The man behind the curtain
Welcome to the Fantasy Friend Forever Retrospective 2017, a 12 part series examining the victories and the mistakes of each GM over the course of the 2017 season. In other words, Tim Jiang will spend far too much time on Fantasy Basketball analysis.
We weren’t quite ready for Sean Wang. Every time we thought we had an idea of what his team was, a breakout player or a stunning trade would emerge from the fog. His team, built by robots (stop auto-drafting guys, please), was forged from patience. He stood pat with players who would later reward him. And although he made few moves, he rarely made a poor one. Sean Wang was the dark horse. He finished with a final win percentage of 44.4%, just 6 or 7 categorical wins away from the playoffs. We sat idly as Sean plotted his comeback. If the season had lasted just 2 more weeks who knows how the standings would have shifted.
Sean was the second of two who auto-drafted (I’m sensing a pattern here) but he also was handicapped from the very beginning with no keepers. His team was added in the expansion draft of the 2016–17 season. As we’ve covered already, keepers generally represent insanely high value per pick, dollars on the pennies.
As a result, we instantly see the despair of owning a #1 pick in a league where everyone kept their #1 pick (now amended: first round picks shall not be kept in the future). Paul George is a second round player who was the best player available. We can not fault the robot for choosing from the dregs of our greed. His second round pick, Aldridge, faired no better. He is ranked 63rd on the season with a much smaller role on the Spurs.
Yet, almost all of his other picks ended up producing value in the end. Nikola Jokic has emerged to be almost a surefire first round pick next season. It’s actually absolutely astonishing to me that he was not kept (Jon picked him up off of the waivers last season and for some reason chose not to keep him. He instead kept Evan Fournier, Lebron James, and John Wall.)
Jae Crowder and Nikola Vucevic have performed as expected and as we will soon see, Vucevic will become a valuable trade chip for Sean. Nerlens Noel, after a shaky start, turned his season around after getting traded to Dallas (67th on the year). Bradley Beal, after looking like a shell of himself at the start of the season, now 30th on the year. Wes Matthews, someone who I honestly never believed would be the same player after his achilles injury is producing 8th round value (exactly where he was drafted). Gary Harris was a steal at that round (unfortunately Sean dropped him). Patrick Beverly has been great for KK (Sean dropped him). The last 3 picks were poo, but let’s face it the last 3 picks are almost always poo.
There’s only one thing to say about Sean’s draft. He got lucky. More or less all of these picks are justifiable with the power of hindsight, but he (or should I say they) selected players who would have reduced roles (e.g. Aldridge, Crowder, Lyles, Deng) or were injury prone (e.g. Vucevic, Noel, Beal, Matthews), or were actually injured when drafted (e.g. Beverly, Harris, Noel). It’s easy to look back and say “Hey, the computer did a good job.” But fuck that. The only reason the computer picked these players was because there was a major reason for the rest of us NOT to pick those players. To say that Sean’s draft went well is revisionist history.
I give Sean an F for cheating off of Yahoo’s pre-season rank list.
Nay, the true reason to admire Sean is not the sequence of coin flips that resulted in a good roster, but the patience with which he navigated the trade market. The deals that propelled him from the bottom of the league to a dark horse playoff candidate. He made a league low (I’m ignoring KZ here) 8 moves, but made every one count.
Above are the greatest hits of the wheeling and dealing from Sean Wang, starting with the trade that made him relevant again. Vucevic (rank 56) for LaVine (61) and Otto Porter (15). This is an unbelievable trade, he somehow traded Vucevic for two phenomenal keeper players.
Dirk Nowitzki, ranked 74th on the year was a steal off the waivers. Many of us would not have seen him coming back as strong as he has — the Mavs have little to play for and it’s surprising to see him put up the numbers he has. He’s been a consistent source of 3s, rebounds, and FT%.
I was the one who dropped Marcus Smart and boy have I regretted it. He had an amazing stretch just after Sean picked him up and while he might not be a star studded victory (putting on 10th round value for the season), he’s one of the little wins that contributes to fantasy success.
Jimmy Butler for Otto Porter was just another one of those little wins — Sean trading a red paperclip for a fish-shaped pen. It was a marginal upgrade, but it positioned Sean with 3 studs in Paul George, Nikola Jokic, and Jimmy Butler. Pau Gasol from Dario Saric was a small upgrade as well. Saric has played well in the past 2 weeks or so, but Pau Gasol is the clear “win-now” player.
Again, it’s easy for us to look at that list of trades and say “Hey, Sebastian got fleeced!”, but it’s not that simple. At the time, it was perfectly reasonable to suspect that both Otto Porter and Zach LaVine would have drop off. Otto Porter has never produced at this level before and neither had Zach LaVine. This trade turned out amazingly for Sean, but it was a risk.
And his appropriate propensity for risk is exactly what allowed Sean to insert himself back into the conversation. When you’re the 12th seed, swing for the fences. Take on the old guys who have been injured one too many times for comfort, the young guys and their shaky production (Damn you D’Angelo Russell). Sean recognized that when you’re already in last place, there’s nowhere from there but up. As Sun Tzu said in the Art of War, “Act strong when you are weak, act weak when you are strong.”
I give Sean an A in transactions. He did the best he could with what he had. No one could ask for any more.
I’ve written enough about how well Sean did, so I’ll keep the wrap-up brief. Sean taught us two things with his spectacular season:
- Patience pays off. He could have traded Jokic, he could have traded Noel (I know, I offered). He benefited from the impatience of other owners’ drops and kept a tight grasp on his best assets.
- Don’t auto-draft. That is all.
“Reach goal next year: Make it to the draft”
- Sean Wang