Can Advanced Stats Separate Sustainable Performance from Short-Term Streaks?
We're a quarter of the way through the season now, and things are starting to take a general shape. Most fantasy owners are no longer relying upon the preseason rankings or player reputations when making transactions, but instead are basing their decisions upon how the players are playing now. But that raises the question: are we far enough into the season that the trends constitute permanent skill growth? Or are there some players still in temporary hot or a cold spells who will return to their expected values as the season progresses?
I believe it's usually the latter. A streak could certainly last for a month, which means that there are still some mirages out there. But how do we tell sustainable growth from a mirage? The best way to do that is to look for obvious circumstances that would affect play (like an injury or coaching change), but after that take a closer look at the advanced stats to see if the "fluke" actually has a solid foundation that we had previously missed.
I explored this a bit in a couple of blogs this week. For instance, this year Tim Duncan is shooting free throws better than he has since he won his first MVP award back in 2002. Duncan often slides on draft night because of his poor free throw percentage (average 66% in seven seasons since 2002), but this season he is flirting with shooting 80 percent from the line. I say that this is a sustainable skill because if you go through his player profiles since 2002 on 82games.com you'll see a recent uptick in his jump shooting in general. From 2002-2008 Duncan had an average EFG% of 39.6 on jump shots from the field, in 2009 Duncan had an EFG% of 43.6 on jumpers, and through the first month of this season his EFG% on jumpers was 46.7. It appears Duncan has just become a better jump shooter of late, and that this improvement is now translating to the line and helping his free throw percentage.
On the other hand, I call Rajon Rondo's historically bad free-throw percentage and Paul Pierce's career-high shattering field-goal percentage paces mirages. Rondo has been working on his shooting form with a coach for months, and much like a golfer working on his swing he's mixing shanks in with pure shots on a regular basis. His 82games.com player cards tell us that through the first month of the season he was operating at a career-low in EFG% on jumpers, much lower than the previous two seasons. As Rondo's new shooting form becomes second nature, his free throw percentage should climb off that 40 percent floor and at least up into the mid-60 range that has been his career average. For Pierce, the 82games stats tell us that through the first month of the season he averaged would-be eight-year highs in EFG% from on both inside and outside shots, and that he has been finishing with dunks at a pace that he hasn't approached since he was a 25-year old in his physical prime. Pierce is taking smarter shots these days, shooting less often and has teammates to draw defensive attention off of him - but still, most of those factors were in place for the last two seasons, and he never approached these levels. It would be very unusual for a 32-year old player to suddenly hit new peaks in every shooting category for a full season, so I expect his field goal percentage to regress from his 50 percent pace more towards his career mean.
We have more resources available these days than ever before, so it's worthwhile to spend time on some of the advanced stat sites to evaluate players before making any big moves involving them on your fantasy teams.
Situations to Watch and Quick Hits
Ryan Gomes (44% owned): Gomes has quietly been on a tear of late, averaging 21.3 points with five boards, 2.8 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.3 treys in his last four games. He may eventually lose time as Kevin Love starts getting more minutes, but for now Gomes is playing well enough for a roto flex slot.
Luke Ridnour (40% owned): Ridnour has been in this space before this season, and he continues to follow the same pattern. He'll give you two to three strong outings per week as well as one clunker, but the overall average is generally a solid double-digit scoring performance with five or six assists and two to three combined steals and treys. All told, solid production for a decent flex starter in deep leagues.
Joel Przybilla (35% owned): In the aftermath of Oden's injury, Przybilla has a good chance to be a nightly double-digit rebounder that also blocks a couple of shots per game. That's decent value for a flex center option in most leagues.
James Harden (34% owned): In the comments for last week's Hoops Lab, someone asked whether I would take Ersan Ilyasova (whose been in my last couple of New Additions) or Harden. I thought about it, and decided I'd take Harden for his upside. Which means he deserves a slot in this space. Monday's 26-point/nine-rebound/five-assist/two-steal effort doesn't hurt, either.
Quentin Richardson (18% owned): Richardson hit a hot streak earlier in the season that got him on this list, then he completely fell off and struggled with a back injury. Now, he's back again with four consecutive starts in which he has knocked down a combined 11 treys. When he's hitting the long-range shot he's usually good for double-digit points and around five boards, enough for roto consideration.
Mickael Pietrus (15% owned): Pietrus had a strong week, and much of it was tied to the 3-point shot where he has made nine of his last 16 attempts. With Dwight Howard collapsing the middle, and opposing defenses focused on Rashard Lewis and Vince Carter, Pietrus should continue to get plenty of open looks from downtown.
Article first appeared 12/8/09