Just in case any of you forgot, I'm a nerd. Carson Cistulli has been doing great work with his Nerd Alert column, in which he goes in depth into various advanced stats to look for sleepers and fantasy trends. I applaud that work, and have dabbled in that process myself a few times. It's always bugged me that I haven't been able to find direct fantasy relevance for my favorite advanced stats, the +/- stats. As a basketball fan I love the family of +/- stats because they give a lot of information on impact, defense and intangibles that aren't represented at all in the traditional box scores. But since all we really care about in fantasy basketball ARE the box scores I haven't seen much use in +/- numbers for fantasy... until now.
There's a rough-and-fast trend that most analysts use when it comes to injuries: if a star gets injured, that means more shots to go around for his teammates, so maybe you give the other players on the team a little bump when the star goes down. For example, when Brandon Roy went down we would have expected his teammates to pick up the slack - and they did (LaMarcus Aldridge is a fantasy beast, Andre Miller and Wes Matthews are solid). I mentioned last week that if Carmelo Anthony ever gets traded from Denver I expect his teammates to pick up the offensive slack, and in the eight games so far this year that he's played three or fewer minutes we've seen that happen - Chauncey Billups almost always has big games, and at least one or two others (J.R. Smith, Nene, Ty Lawson) has a strong game as well. That fits our expectation.
So how, then, do we account for what happened to the Mavericks without Dirk Nowitzki?
When Dirk was healthy the Mavs were a fantasy feast. As I pointed out in the Mavs expectations article last month, the Mavs were sporting four top-50 rated fantasy players without even including Caron Butler or Shawn Marion. Yet, when Dirk went down, their entire team went through the floor. Jason Kidd's field goal shooting dropped to 29%, his assists fell off from 8.9 to 7.3, and his turnovers went up from 2.1 to 2.9 per game. Jason Terry's scoring dropped from 16.7 to 13.1, his shooting percentage plummeted from over 45% to 39%, and he went from 1.5 treys to 1.1. These were the two best offensive producers on the Mavs, so even if the team was bad you'd think their individual numbers would have gone up to fill in for some of Dirk's offense. But instead, they each got measurably worse without their star. How could we have seen that coming when it's the exact opposite of what we saw with Carmelo and the Nuggets?
Well, if we'd have looked at the offensive +/- numbers for those teams, we probably could have predicted this. According to 82games.com, Nowitzki is sporting a filthy +16.2 net effect on the Mavs offense. This means the Mavericks score a LOT more points a lot more efficiently when Dirk is around than when he isn't, and thus you might expect performances to suffer when he's gone. On the other hand, Melo's offensive on/off net is -1.9 which means the team offense isn't much different with him than without him, and thus if he's out that means that somebody is likely to snap up his points and improve his own stats.
So, great! We have our pattern, right? Only one problem right around the same time that Dirk went down, Kevin Garnett also got hurt. Garnett's offensive on/off net is +7.4, so you would expect that in his absence the Celtics offense should have struggled a bit, right? Wrong. Instead, on the Celtics guys like Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo helped pick up the slack, and the team remained a fantasy gold mine. So, what gives?
The difference is while Garnett has a strong positive impact on his team's offense, his three teammates also had positive impacts of similar order. Pierce, Allen and Rondo also have offensive on/off nets up around 10, which means there were other captains to steer the ship in his absence. The same thing happened for the Celtics a few weeks before, when Rondo went down but Garnett, Pierce and Allen were able to still put up good fantasy numbers and keep the ship going.
So it seems to me that what we as fantasy prospectors need to look for has two parts: 1) Does the absent player have a big net positive offensive effect, and 2) Is he the only one on his team with that kind of offensive impact. Let's look at a few examples of what we might expect with the answers to these two questions:
If LeBron James (offensive net +4.2) goes down, Dwyane Wade (+12.2) and Chris Bosh (+6.7) will probably be ok and keep the Heat moving. On the other hand, in Cleveland last year LeBron had an offensive net of +15 with Mo Williams at a -3.0, so maybe the horror that has been this year's Cavs shouldn't surprise anyone.
If Steve Nash (offensive net +16.8) goes down, the rest of the Suns are likely to struggle since no one else is within 10 points of his +/- score (and this has borne out whenever he has been injured, as even good ex-teammates like Amar'e Stoudemire and Jason Richardson have struggled when Nash has been out). On the other hand, even without Kobe Bryant (offensive net +6.6) the Lakers should be fine with Pau Gasol (+10.5) and Lamar Odom (+4.2) leading the way (and last year they were, keeping themselves and the Lakers offense fantasy relevant when Bryant was out).
If Derrick Rose (offensive net +11) goes down, Carlos Boozer (+4.5) doesn't have as big of an impact, and the other perimeter options (Luol Deng, Ronnie Brewer) have zero or negative impact. On the other hand, Chris Paul (offensive net +15.3) would seemingly be the key to New Orleans, but David West is also at +14.6 and last year was able to team with then-rookie back-up Darren Collison to keep the offense afloat and fantasy relevant when Paul was out -so you never know. It would be an interesting test case.
The point is, to win your fantasy league you need every edge you can get. And now, finally, there appears to be some useful fantasy-relevant information found in the +/- stats that might be able to keep you ahead of the curve when trying to decide what to do in the face of a big injury or trade.
Around the League
Durant and Westbrook going nuts: After a somewhat slow start to the season (by his standards), Durant has picked it up lately to where we all thought he'd be. He's averaging over 30 points on 53% shooting over the last month to go with his solid contributions across the board. Meanwhile, teammate Russell Westbrook has threatened at times to overshadow him with averages of 25 points, 12 assists, seven boards, and three combined steals/blocks in his last two weeks. The two of them are forming a wicked one-two punch that is leaving former running mate Jeff Green behind (only 11.5 points on 38% FG and 0.8 treys in last month).
Heat hurts: LeBron James (ankle), Dwyane Wade (knee) and Chris Bosh (ankle) all missed practice on Monday but James and Wade were both able to play well on Tuesday. Bosh is still unable to run, which means he is likely out at least a few more games. Meanwhile, Bosh added more fuel to the fire of those that question his toughness and will to win with his statements after his injury Saturday night. Bosh criticized Bulls center Omer Asik for diving after a loose ball at Bosh's feet, which apparently led to the injury. Said Bosh: We all want to play and provide for our families. When it's by somebody's legs, don't dive for the ball. I don't expect the 'don't dive for loose balls' train of thought to catch much traction with coaches around the league.
Roy surgery on both knees: Brandon Roy recently underwent arthroscopic surgery on both knees in the attempt to get some relief from his lack of meniscus. Recovery from the surgeries generally takes from three to six weeks, but there's a chance that this could be the end of Roy's injury-plagued season. I dropped him outright in one league, and if you don't have a roster spot to waste it could be time to cut ties.
Howard's FTs: Dwight Howard has made 36 of his last 47 free throw attempts over the last week, a tidy 77% average. One week is much too short of a period to get excited over, but if Howard could average even 70% from the line on a consistent basis he would shoot up the fantasy player raters.
Baron back (Griffin effect?): Last month I offered Baron Davis as a throw-in in a trade offer and was rejected outright, as his play and outlook had him barely rosterable in most fantasy formats. He was injured, the team was awful, and he was being booed repeatedly by his owner from courtside. Now, Baron is back. He has averaged 16 points, nine assists, and almost three combined steals and treys over his last five games, and the Clippers have won four of five (including wins over the Heat and Lakers). With Blake Griffin putting on a show every night, it seems that he may have motivated the mercurial Davis to play up to his potential.
Camby knee surgery: Marcus Camby is expected to be out four to five weeks after undergoing knee surgery. Camby is another in the long-line of injured Blazers, but despite his fragile-reputation he seems a good bet to return to health in time to help fantasy squads down the stretch.
Murphy "excused": Troy Murphy has officially been excused from the Nets, with GM Billy King expected to address his status on Thursday. Basically, Murphy is just waiting until he gets traded to a team that might use him. Murphy was a fantasy stalwart in his last few seasons, so he is worth keeping an eye on to see where he lands, but in the meantime there is no reason to have him in your lineup.
Boozer's ankle: Boozer has missed the last two games with a sprained left ankle, and is expected to miss at least a couple more before he can get back on the court. He was seen riding in a golf cart after Monday's game ended, an indication that he still isn't putting much weight on the ankle. Don't expect to have his services before next week's games, to be safe.
Jefferson's Gump injury: Al Jefferson had to leave Monday's game after a hard fall on his rear-end, an injury to his buttocks that he described as "a lot of shooting pain going through your body". When I see "shooting" and "buttocks" in the same sentence I can't help but read it in a Forest Gump twang, but Jefferson was able to practice on Tuesday and should be fine to play on Wednesday.
Carter to shine?: Vince Carter has been told that he needs to shoot 15-20 times per game by Suns coach Alvin Gentry. Carter hasn't taken that many shots per game in a season since his Jersey days, back when he was a legit 20/5/5 threat. Carter is coming off of a 29-point/12-rebound effort in his last game, and if he really does get that many shots playing next to Steve Nash he could be in for a big second half of the season.
Louis Williams (46% owned): Williams has averaged 24 points in the last week, and has four 20-plus point scoring efforts in his last six games. There was a time when Williams was supposed to be the future in Philadelphia, and with the Sixers treading water this season, he seems to be making his bid to return to a larger role.
Daniel Gibson (44% owned): Gibson has missed seven of his last eight games with an ankle injury, but he is expected to return for the Cavs' next game. He has 17 made 3-pointers in his last six games, so he could be a worthy long-distance role player.
Greg Monroe (40% owned): I pointed out last week that Monroe is a rookie on a bad team that has made the most of his minutes lately. In the last week he has continued his strong play, and this could be your last chance to snatch him up as his 'add's are coming quickly.
Ryan Anderson (33% owned): The secret to Anderson's value is he's both forward and center eligible in Yahoo! leagues, giving you a cheap source of threes from your frontcourt.
Ramon Sessions (32% owned): Sessions keeps playing well with Mo Williams and Boobie Gibson in and out of the lineup. Sessions is young, hungry, on a team full of veterans that seem shell-shocked by the LeBron situation, and has shown in the past he can light it up in the season's garbage time.
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 every Friday afternoon at 12:30 PM EST on Rotowire Fantasy Sports Today with Chris Liss and Jeff Erickson on XM 147, Sirius 211.