December 20, 2019, 12:29 pm
If you’ve been playing this wonderous game of fantasy basketball long enough, your mouth is about to start watering as I mention a few names: Ben Wallace. Andrei Kirilenko. Gerald Wallace.
I think of them as the holy triumvirate of dominant, yet underrated fantasy assets of my first decade playing the game. If you’re not familiar with their fantasy games, the reason they still stand out to me is their insane production in both steals and blocks. Take a look at their most impressive season averages.
None of them made over 1.0 threes per game in those seasons, but threes were significantly less prevalent then. These days, AK47 and Crash would probably be launching six 3-pointers per game, making them even dreamier. However, Big Ben wouldn’t advance further than the level of “guy that says in training camp that he might be taking some corner threes this season but never does.” These players, rather than many high-scoring all-star players, were constantly on winning fantasy teams.
But what about their points? Their rebounds? Their assists?
I think that when people start playing fantasy basketball, their main strategy is: Get good players!
After some experience, that seems to evolve to the level of: Don’t just focus on points like some of the competition! Pay attention to those sneaky rebounds and assists. Maybe I can get some double-doubles or even some triple-doubles!
I’ve already ranted some this season about how double-doubles and triple-doubles get overrated, and it’ll certainly happen again. Maybe even right now. I have nothing against them. It’s just that points, rebounds, and assists are treated as the most important stats by so many people when the don’t matter any more than the other categories do. Also, 10 points isn’t even an average amount, let alone anything special.
It’s understandable that these three categories get so much of the focus. As basketball fans, we’re used to caring mostly about points, then about boards and dimes, and then… hey, how many points did the next guy have? I get it. Sometimes players don’t have any threes, steals or blocks. And it’s hard to get excited when a player has one steal, for example. I think we mainly block that out. Ooh, one! Psssshh. Who cares?
Who cares? Winning fantasy players care!
This is the next level. If you aren’t already there, it’s time to treat all the counting categories as though they have equal importance. Sure, there’s scarcity and specialists and other aspects that require us to use different strategies in order to load up on each category. And if you’re reading this, you’re probably well-aware that you need some guys to get you these supplemental stats. Well, today, I’m considering threes, steals and blocks to be the underrated, the off-brand if you will, stats. And this makes points, rebounds and assists the name brand stats that others overrate. I’m going to leave turnovers and the percentages out of the discussion today, because turnovers are a different animal, and percentages are a different animal with another dimension (volume) that makes for complicated comparisons.
To better understand what’s good and great in these supplemental categories, I’ve jumped back to last week’s brief mention of standard deviations in the bell curve of player stats. I’ve been curious to see what this season’s average amount of each statistic is and to get an idea of roughly how many rebounds or points that one steal is worth, for example. I mentioned recently that two threes, two steals and two blocks are more valuable than 10 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. I’m guessing that a lot of our competition doesn’t realize that, so let’s use that stuff to our advantage.
So what I did, using Basketball Monster’s values, was put together a table with hypothetical “players”, first figuring out what number in each category achieves a standard deviation score of zero. I put all those numbers in a stat line. So player “0” has exactly the NBA average number in each category. I also did the same for standard deviation scores of +2, +1, and -1 so we could get a better idea of how the numbers compare across categories.
It’s not foolproof, because each category has it’s own imperfect distribution (a funky-looking bell curve) with varying ranges of data, so we can’t just say something like “two steals always equals 12 rebounds”. Differing league sizes also change how valuable a stat or player is since the replacement-level players and scarcity will vary. But this is how it shakes out in a standard 12-team league:
For reference, a player with an overall value of +2 would rank first by a mile in 9-cat, but James Harden is right at 1.99 in 8-cat right now (holy cow). And if that sounds surprising, remember that +2 in the percentages would make that stat line incredibly impressive. In 9-cat, this hypothetical player would also average zero turnovers. “+1” would rank between third and fifth this season, while “0” would be about 60th in 9-cat and 95th in 8-cat. Lastly, this “-1” player would find himself ranked in the 400-range.
This table gives a decent guide as to how each category roughly equates with the others. If we really wanted to get crazy, we could break it down by position to measure our players against these benchmarks, but I think this shows us what we need to know. We see that 1.8 steals or blocks, a number we may not consider elite, is about as valuable as 27.5 points. I hope you have some fun with the rest of the numbers.
In addition to espousing the virtue of these overlooked stats compared to their name brand counterparts, I will actually give you some quick name brand and off-brand players that relate to our exercise so you’ve got a new angle on some trade targets and players to possible ship off.
Outside of the top-20 players on the season, I present to you the top-10 players with the most value when only considering today’s three off-brand categories. And it starts with the guy I figured we’d see at the top because he’s got a Kirilenko kind of thing going on.
After Isaac, the players here because of their blocks probably can’t be had at much of a discount, since they’re well-known for that one thing. Also, keep a close watch on Matisse Thybulle in case his minutes increase and stay there for any reason. He’ll find himself here in short order if so.
And now I give you 10 players in the top-100 range that lose the most value when they’re judged solely on those three stats. I happened to guess the first player here, too. If you’ve got him, hopefully most people in your league don’t think of him as a void in threes, steals and blocks so that you can pawn him off for better value.
Since Sabonis has taken such a leap in the rankings this season, I really think he’s a great player to trade due to his perceived value. Talk up his points, rebounds, assists… even his percentages. Brandon Clarke being here surprises me, since he went 0.1/1.2/3.2 last year at Gonzaga. I wouldn’t give him up yet in case those numbers start to show up soon.
So, I urge you to practice seeing box scores and stat lines differently. Don’t be the guy that makes a trade that looks good from a points, rebounds and assists standpoint when it’s actually lopsided in the other person’s favor because of a high steal or block rate. …Be the guy that takes advantage of that guy’s ignorance.
Happy Holidays, folks. I’ll catch you in the new year.