Fantasy has changed me.
During my high school years, I wanted nothing to do with numbers. Math wasn’t exactly my strongest subject during school. Okay, let’s not sugarcoat it. I’d actually be relieved to receive a C on a test, almost being refrigerator worthy, honestly. Looking at an equation in my textbook was the equivalent of trying to read hieroglyphics. My mom doesn’t like me using this word, but I hated math.
I hated it, I hated it, I hated it.
And I still do, but not when it pertains to fantasy sports, of course. I dive into stats and numbers more than anyone I know, as they are the key to my analysis and write-ups. Some of my favorite numbers come from the fantasy basketball universe, where you can look at a plethora of stats to determine why players are performing–or aren’t. So with the All-Star break in full effect in the NBA, I thought it would be an ideal time to look at some intriguing numbers from the first half of the 2014-15 campaign and why they are so crucial and often contingent on fantasy success. And while you continue to see me unleash and pour myself into numbers, statistics, and other variables, please, don’t ever forget one very important thing.
I still hate you, Math.
Note: Numbers found in this column are found at NBA.com’s Player Tracking page.
100.5; Michael Carter-Williams‘ offensive touches per game
We’ve seen it over the last few seasons, but despite how poor of an NBA team the Philadelphia 76ers are, they are often heavenly for fantasy purposes. Playing on a poor defensive team that plays at a super-high pace, Carter-Williams is always a fun fantasy player to own. And when healthy this year, it’s been no exception. His 100.5 offensive possessions per game ranks first in the entire NBA, ahead of guys like Chris Paul and John Wall. With limited talent around him (and zero ball-handlers), the 76ers offense always runs through MCW.
He is holding onto the ball a total of 7.7 minutes per game on the year, which means that 16 percent of the time in a regular game, the ball is in his hands. Despite missing 13 games this year, he still ranks 12th in the league in total offensive touches (4,119), and once he returns from injury, the ball will again be exclusively in his hands. This system is great for fantasy, as even 10-day contract signee Tim Frazier has been fantasy relevant. During his three starts at point guard, the Penn State product is averaging 94.7 offensive touches per game, which would rank third in the NBA. It also doesn’t hurt that Philadelphia plays at the league’s sixth-highest pace (98.1).
70.6; John Wall’s passes per game
Gone are the days where Chris Paul is the consensus best point guard in the league. John Wall has arguably been the best point guard in all of basketball this season, averaging 17.4 points, 10.1 assists, and 4.5 rebounds per game, leading the Wizards thus far. When he first came into the league, Wall was more of a scoring, thrashing guard, but over the last two seasons, he’s emerged into more of a pass-first player. His assists per game have increased in each of the last two seasons, and through one half of action, is leading all of basketball in assists per game.
Why? Well, he’s passing the ball just under 71 times per game, which is good for fourth-most in basketball to this point. And the Wizards are producing on those passes, as Wall is averaging a strong 23.5 points created off assists per game, which leads the entire NBA. And his 19.2 assist opportunities per game ranks second-most in the league at the halfway point, which means whenever Wall has the ball in his hands, he’s almost a lock for either two points or an assist, which is why he is currently the number six player on ESPN’s Player Rater.
19.2; DeAndre Jordan‘s rebound chances per game
Over his last two outings, DeAndre Jordan is averaging 23.5 rebounds per game.
With Blake Griffin banged up, Jordan has taken advantage, posting consecutive 20/20 games, scoring 46 points and blocking five shots during that span. It’s not a huge surprise to see Jordan grab so many boards, as he currently leads all of basketball in that regard, hauling in 13.8 per game. And when you are seeing nearly 20 rebounding chances per game as a 6-foot-11, 265-pound center, the rebounds are going to come. His 19.2 rebounding opportunities per game lead the entire NBA, and Jordan is converting on 71.7 percent of those chances, which also leads the league. And while Griffin wasn’t elite in terms of rebounding or chances, he still saw a healthy 12 opportunities per game, which means Jordan will get even more looks on the glass. He’s also doing a great job converting on difficult rebounds, not just the easy ones, as his 6.2 contested rebounds per game are second to Andre Drummond. The Clippers have no other glass-eaters to speak of with Blake out, so look for Jordan to continue to lead the NBA in rebounding the rest of the way, especially on a fast-paced offense that should both take and allow plenty of shots.
Oh, and he’s also flirting with Wilt Chamberlain‘s NBA record .727 field goal percentage, currently shooting .725 percent from the field.
Important Usage Rates
Usage rate is a key number to monitor when trying to decide which players to put into your seasonal or daily league lineup. It’s the number of possessions a player uses per 40 minutes, and as we know, we love players who have the ball in their hands a lot. So with plenty of injuries surrounding the league, it’s important to know which players see the biggest uptick in usage when their teammates are sidelined. But first, let’s take a look at the league leaders in the category to this point.
|1) Russell Westbrook||Thunder||36.9|
|2) Kobe Bryant||Lakers||33.4|
|3) Dwyane Wade||Heat||32.2|
|4) LeBron James||Cavaliers||32.1|
|5) DeMarcus Cousins||Kings||31.3|
|6) Derrick Rose||Bulls||30.7|
|7) James Harden||Rockets||30.5|
|8) Carmelo Anthony||Knicks||30.2|
|9) Tony Wroten||76ers||29.7|
|10) Kevin Durant||Thunder||28.7|
Now in daily fantasy, the injury report is key, as players always gravitate towards guys who will see an uptick in volume and usage with a teammate out. It’s important to understand how certain offenses shape out when certain big name players are on the bench.
James Harden (35.8)- Harden is my MVP of the season to this point, as he has emerged into the most dominant offensive player in the league this season. Already touching the ball 76 times per game, Harden sees an added bonus when Dwight Howard is sidelined, as his usage rate climbs from 30.5 to almost 36. Howard, who is nursing a knee injury, is expected to be out for at least the next 6-8 weeks, meaning Harden should continue to play as arguably the best player in the NBA. He’s attempted 607 field goals with Howard off the court this year, taking the offense into his own hands, averaging 10.6 drives per game, the fifth-most in basketball. Through one half of the season, Harden has been the best player in the NBA.
Russell Westbrook (47.5)- No, that is not a typo. When Kevin Durant is off the court, Westbrook usage rate is near 50, folks. You’re basically asking for it if you fade him when Durant is out. He has two 45-point games this season (career-high), both of which saw Durant sidelined with injury. Westbrook already easily leads the NBA in usage rate, so whenever Durant sits, it’s a bonus. Durant is healthy now, but this is a reminder that if Durant ever sits, Westbrook instantly becomes arguably the most appealing player in all of fantasy basketball.
Kyrie Irving (36.6)- LeBron James is normally one of the most reliable, healthy players in the game. However, he has missed 10 games already this season, the second-most he’s missed in his entire career. During those games where he’s been out, the offense has belonged strictly to Irving, who is seeing a 36.6 percent usage rate with LeBron sidelined. It’s either Kyrie taking a three-pointer, driving to the rim (8.7 times per game) or grabbing an assist. His incredible 55-point game occurred with LeBron hurt, and in the eight full games he’s played with James sidelined, Kyrie is averaging an awesome 30 points per game, capitalizing on his ability to score the basketball with the best of them.
Kyle Korver doesn’t put fans in the stands, but he keeps them there.
He doesn’t dunk, he doesn’t cross people over, he doesn’t make diving, athletic plays. But he simply plays basketball as well as many players in the game today, and is a huge reason the Hawks have the best record in the NBA to this point. The 2015 All-Star is in the process of making history, too, trying to become the first player in the history of the game to shoot at least 50 percent from the field, 50 percent from beyond the arc, and 90 percent from the free throw line.
Korver is obviously one of the premiere sharpshooters in the game today, averaging a league-leading 2.8 catch-and-shoot threes made per game, as well as three triples made per game in general. Korver is also shooting 52.1 percent on those catch and shoot threes, which also leads all of basketball. The Hawks play such smart, fundamentally sound basketball that Korver is always getting good looks from beyond the arc, attempting nearly six threes per game this year. And because of his elite three point prowess, he currently ranks as the number 21 player on ESPN’s Player Rater.