November 20, 2019, 1:20 pm
You’d think that watching NBA games and identifying some players with the most impressive skills would be the way to fantasy success. Feels like players that make the highlight reel should be all we need. And in some cases, this scouting strategy would lead us to superstars like Steph Curry, LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo. No problem there. And if we were trying to dig up some sneakier players, we might stumble upon impressive-looking role players like Montrezl Harrell and Fred VanVleet. Though if I were new to fantasy and I just picked players that looked like amazing leapers, passers, defenders or shooters, I’d probably end up with a roster that largely consisted of guys like Derrick Jones Jr., Rajon Rondo, Patrick Beverley and Kyle Korver.
So then the answer must be that we should stick to big-name all-star type players so we get lots of minutes and usage and therefore big stats, right? Well, that often helps. But just like how great wing or post defense doesn’t always correlate to high steal or block numbers, accolades and high scoring don’t always translate to elite fantasy value. In fact, the bigger the name, the more likely the player is to be overrated. And if someone’s being overrated, that’s a spot where we can take advantage.
For the next two weeks, I thought I’d try to hammer home the basic theme I’ll be following here in Name Brand vs. Off-Brand. We’ll look at some of the biggest names in basketball and identify some lesser-known players that roughly duplicate their fantasy production but for an off-brand price. Remember: Elite NBA skills and awards aren’t fantasy categories. All that matters are stats. And sometimes those stats are meaningless on a basketball court.
For our first stat comparison, I’ve picked a 5-time All-NBA selection and 6-time All-Star. I’ve left out his stats for this season since he’s hardly played yet. Below the name brand player’s line are the stats of two players with roughly similar numbers to this superstar so far this season. I’ve included their lines from last year as well. They’re actually two hot names, so they’re not really buy-low candidates right now. See if you can guess who these numbers belong to. The Basketball Monster per-game rankings are listed as well.
A quick note about the rankings: These are based on player-rater data that provides an overall value for a player. Many players are separated by such slim margins that it would be more accurate to think of a player, for example, as a 5th round guy as opposed to #44. Just one game can shift a player half a round higher or lower late in the season. Also, each player has a different value to each team based on their respective rosters, not to mention their head-to-head opponents’ rosters.
This Name Brand player’s points and threes have increased recently, though partially at the expense of his field goal percentage. Also, his rebounds, steals and blocks have dropped off from his glory days, but he has increased his assists to help offset some of the resulting drop in value. As the image above may have given away, this is name brand player is Blake Griffin. If you play in leagues with more casual fans, Griffin likely gets overrated based on his popularity.
So who are these two players that have exploded this season, doing their best impression of Griffin? Off-Brand Blake A is Brandon Ingram, and B is Andrew Wiggins. Aside from being top-two picks in the NBA draft, these two don’t have a ton in common with Griffin and his style of play. As you can see from last season’s numbers, each has been an example of a hyped-up young player with an empty fantasy stat line. Neither has really been worth starting on your fantasy team outside of a big game here or there. So there’s plenty of reason to be skeptical of Ingram’s and Wiggins’ ability to keep up this early production. But whether it’s because a casual fan isn’t familiar with what these two are doing right, or if it’s because a savvy fantasy manager can’t believe that Ingram or Wiggins is capable of anything more than a small jump in value, you might be able to make the swap from Griffin to Ingram or Wiggins with a little sweetener coming back, too. Those that roster them might be all over that because they’d feel like they’re selling high on these aberrations just as Blake gets going.
But even if you can’t, just keep in mind the general idea. NBA superstars aren’t automatically fantasy superstars. Griffin is an example of one common reason for that: His defensive numbers are poor. Many prolific scorers can be bested in fantasy by role players if they’re lacking in steals or blocks.
That, however, is not the case with our next name brand player. His numbers are down this season, but he’s been known for many years as a box score stuffer. What some likely don’t realize is just how far his stats have dropped after a couple seasons of incremental decreases. I’ve paired him with someone that plays a different position but has a surprisingly similar stat set.
There aren’t many relevant fantasy players that average single-digit points per game, so you might’ve guessed that this name brand player is Draymond Green. And our off-brand Dray is yet another top-2 pick who used to be wildly popular in reality but not so much lately in fantasy: Lonzo Ball. They’ve got a few things in common: low points, lackluster percentages and a propensity/expectation to miss games this season. Lonzo is almost surely on the upswing at this stage while those who roster Draymond have got to be wondering if he’s only going downhill from here. Personally, I think he’s got a lot left in him, but the Warriors may not let him play enough minutes or games to let it show this season.
Anyway, there may be a window here where someone loves the value of a name like Draymond Green or still believes he’ll be a top-50 player this season as he gets a greater share of the action on his depleted team. And if that person owns Lonzo Ball and is sick of him missing games (now six in a row), I could see them happily making the swap with a little extra to secure your Green.
Once again, the specific players in these examples aren’t as important as the theory behind them. Locate players on your roster whose perceived value exceeds their actual value to you and shop for the opposite. I’ll be back next week to look at a few more overrated stars.