The image above these words is the current (as of Sunday afternoon) scoreboard for the RotoWire staff league. As you might suspect, Cistulli is me, and DelDon is my colleague, the very able Dalton Del Don. Even as recently as three weeks ago, I was eight full points ahead of 3D -- 80.00 to 72.00 -- but a combination of deft deadline trading by him and poor health from my own team (seriously: Andrea Bargnani, Tim Duncan, Devin Harris, Antawn Jamison, Kevin Love, Tracy McGrady, and David West have all missed considerable time since then) have created the dogfight that you see here.
Thing is, for us even to be tied is a bit of a gift for me, I think, considering recent developments. And if I do end up winning, my victory will likely be owed in no small part to an unlikely contributor -- namely, Washington Wizard Jordan Crawford.
Attentive fantasy owners will be aware of Crawford's rise from relative obscurity to fantasy excellence. A little-used reserve for much of the season with Atlanta, he was sent to Washington -- along with Maurice Evans, Mike Bibby and Atlanta's No. 1 pick in 2011 -- for Kirk Hinrich and Hilton Armstrong.
Crawford began getting minutes with his new team almost immediately, and, starting with a 22-point effort on March 8th, has reached double digits in points every night up to the present -- culminating in a triple-double (21 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists) on April Fool's Day.
Here are Crawford's numbers using that first double-digit night as a (totally arbitrary!) cutoff:
10/28 - 03/07: 22 GP, 11.6 MPG, 04.5 PTS, 0.5 3Pt, 1.5 REB, 1.0 AST, 0.5 STL, 0.0 BLK, 34.4 FG%, 62.5 FT%
03/08 - 04/02: 13 GP, 39.0 MPG, 21.2 PTS, 1.3 3Pt, 4.2 REB, 4.8 AST, 1.5 STL, 0.2 BLK, 40.3 FG%, 86.2 FT%
Using z-scores alone, we find that Crawford was the 366th-best fantasy player (on a per-game basis, in a standard eight-category format) from the beginning of the season through March 7th. Starting with that March 8th game, however, Crawford's been the 40th-ranked player (by the same aforementioned criteria) in the fantasy player pool. Nor is it merely the case that minutes alone have led to his increase in fantasy-relevant production: Crawford's rank on a per-minute basis (again, by a standard eight-cat format) has risen from 370 to 124.
The thing I'm wondering, of course, as an owner of Crawford in a keeper league, is this: Will Jordan Crawford be a star next year?
To begin to answer that question, I set about compiling a list of the biggest late-season improvers over the last three seasons (i.e. 2007-08 through 2009-10). I found the z-score ranking for each player before March 1st and then from March 1st though the end of season. I then subtracted the former number from the latter.
The top-10 improvers are below. Each played at least 20 games after March 1st in the relevant season. The higher the "Diff" (or, difference), the better. "Next" is their overall z-score ranking for the season following their improved run. "Hold?" asks whether the player held on to at least half the gains from his improved run. A "Y" means he more resembled the improved player in the next season; an "N" means he regressed to his previous self.
Here are those results:
What does this tell us? Well -- anecdotally, at least -- it tells us that Jordan Crawford is probably more likely to resemble his pre-March 1st self during the 2011-12 season.
Of the 10 players who most improved their production over the last month-plus of a season, only four of them held on to most of the gains in the subsequent season -- Jrue Holiday, Will Bynum, Shaun Livingston, and Anthony Randolph (from two season ago, that is) -- while the other six mostly resembled the pre-March versions of themselves. One of the latter group (Kirk Snyder) didn't even play in the NBA the following year.
It should be noted that, even of these four players, only two finished with an overall z-score above -0.45 -- i.e. what is generally the cutoff for replacement level in a standard 12-team, 13-player league.
Obviously, there are nuances to be nuanced. Rasho Nesterovic, for example, wasn't exactly an up-and-comer in 2007-08. Anthony Randolph had extenuating circumstances (i.e. both he and his coach at the time, Don Nelson, are crazy people). Joakim Noah was, for a couple years, better than he was given credit for.
Another thing to note is that, by the method I've used here, Crawford would finish second overall on the above list, with a z-score difference of +1.05. That's quite an increase. Still, as I noted a couple weeks ago in these pages, it's still pretty rare for a player to go from mere role player to legit starter in just one season.
Will I be keeping Crawford? Yes, because he's cheap. But as some elementary findings suggest, I probably shouldn't have my hopes too high.