Buy low or priced right: Gay vs. Howard
How can you tell whether a player is a good bounce-back candidate, or whether a player's value just isn't what you expected it to be? This can be a difficult thing to do, obviously, but there are often clues that help us make our case. Take, for example, Rudy Gay.
Last year Gay ranked 29th overall in Yahoo! after ranking 9th in 2011, while this year he's down at 57th in the rankings for the year and 86th over the last 30 days. When I started this article I thought it would be about how the Grizzlies as a team are focusing more on their inside-out game, and that this was the reason for Gay's relative struggles. After all, with Zach Randolph healthy again and paired with Marc Gasol, the Grizzlies have been just beating folks up on the inside this season. And big guys often synergize well with point guards, so it wasn't surprising to me that Gasol (Yahoo! rank 11th), point guard Mike Conley (25th) and Randolph (47th) were all ranked higher than Gay. I thought that, as I looked further into the team dynamics this year, I'd see that Gay's numbers were down because he wasn't getting as many shots, and/or wasn't getting set up for shots at the same rate as last season.
But when I looked into Gay's averages, I saw that he's actually taking slightly more shots (16.6 field goal attempts per game) this season than he did last year (16.4 FGA) or the year before (16.1 FGA). In fact, his across-the-board boxscore stats are eerily similar this year compared to last. From free-throw percentage, rebounds, assists, turnovers, steals, and blocks, he's essentially been the same player. Just about the only difference, in fact, is that last year Gay shot 45.5 percent from the field (after shooting 47.1 percent in 2011), while this year he is shooting only 41 percent for the year and 39.5 percent for the last month. The entirety of Gay's drop off in scoring and the rankings is tied to his drop in FG%.
The lower shooting percentage could fit with the story that the Grizzlies aren't featuring Gay this year like they did last year, so I decided to dig a bit further. I went over to 82games.com and checked out Gay's shot selection and assisted rate for this season as opposed to last season. But once again, the data didn't support my hypothesis. Gay's shot chart breakdown is again very similar from year to year. This year he's actually shooting slightly fewer jump shots (75 percent of his shots) than he did last season (77 percent of his shots), and he's been setup off of assists in a slightly higher percentage of his shots this year (48 percent of shots assisted) as opposed to last season (44 percent of shots assisted). He's even hitting his jump shots at a similar rate this year (41.9 percent effective field goals) compared to last year (42.9 percent EFG). The main difference in his shooting over the two seasons, when you look in depth, is that last year he made 64.9 percent of his inside shots (defined as "close," "dunk," or "tips"), while this year he's only making 54.9 percent of his inside shots.
So, what does all of this tell us about Gay? He's playing the game overall at the same level as he did last year. He's taking the same shots that he took last year; he's just had more trouble finishing around the rim this year. And when you look at Gay's entire career, including last season, you see that Gay is currently shooting far below his norm from the field. His 41 percent FG would represent a career low mark, more than four percent below his career average. Add it all up, and to me it's starting to look like Gay just had some bad luck shooting the ball early on. If I had to bet, I'd say that he will revert to his career mean as the season progresses, meaning that he'll likely shoot at least 45-48 percent from the field over the next few months to get back to his expected value. I didn't expect this when I started this article, but the data suggests to me that Gay actually makes a good buy-low candidate for the rest of the season.
An example in the other direction is Dwight Howard. My expectation was that Howard just wasn't getting the shot and rebound volume in Los Angeles that he used to get in Orlando due to his teammates and team situation, and the data bears that out. Howard is making his jump shot at a 49 percent EFG clip and his inside shots at a 61.4 percent EFG clip this season in LA, even better than his values from last season in Orlando (41 percent EFG jump shots, 61.5 percent EFG inside). The first difference is that 31 percent of Howard's shots are jumpers this year, while last season only 21 percent were jumpers. This indicates to me that Pau Gasol's presence is pushing Howard out of the paint more often than was the case in Orlando. This is also reflected on the glass, where Howard's 11.9 rebounds per game average represents his lowest rate since his rookie season in Orlando, where he was paired with two small forwards instead of another legit 7-0 big man. Finally, the biggest difference in Howard's scoring this year isn't his percentages but his shot volume, as this season he is only getting 10.7 FGA as opposed to the 13.4 FGA he averaged in 2011 and 2012 in Orlando. And this is an obvious result considering that he plays with three other volume scorers, including the leading scorer in the NBA in Kobe Bryant.
So, while Howard could potentially get healthier as the year goes along and see some improvements in his stats, the trends in the data suggest that he isn't a guy that is likely to bounce-back as the year goes along but instead that his value just isn't likely to be as high this year. He's just not getting the same opportunities as he used to. So, while Gay is a solid buy-low candidate, Howard might already be as good as he's going to get.
Around the League
Curry health: During the 2010-2011 season, Stephen Curry battled a chronic sprained ankle that limited him all year long. He had ankle surgery during the previous offseason that was supposed to correct the issue, but the ankle continued to plague him again all during the 2011-2012 season, limiting him to just 26 games and only 28 minutes per game on the year. Curry is one of my favorite roto players to own when healthy, but when he suffered several re-sprains of his ankle again during this preseason I was forced to drop him down the RotoWire Cheat Sheet, as he was too much of an injury risk. As the calendar flips to 2013, though, Curry has moved back into my top 10 by finally staying healthy and living up to his potential. With the possible exception of Chris Paul, there isn't another point guard I would rather have on my team right now than Curry.
Blake rising: Blake Griffin didn't explode offensively last season like I thought he would when paired with Chris Paul. And when you pair his unimpressive defensive stats with his usually terrible free-throw percentage, Griffin has slid down the fantasy rankings far below where his name (and commercial) value would place him (120th in Yahoo! rankings in 2011-12). This season Griffin is quietly moving up the charts, though, with a current Yahoo! ranking of 64th and climbing (37th over the last month). Over the last month, Griffin is actually averaging fewer points and rebounds than last season, but he has increased his free-throw percentage from 52 percent in 2012 to 62 percent and his steals from 0.8 in 2012 to 1.8 over the last month. If he can keep up the improvements in these two areas, while recovering to his usual 20-10 status, he could be a force in the second half of the season.
Blake or Love?: One of my followers, @rhoover81, tweeted me (@ProfessorDrz) the question: "I just got offered Kevin Love for my Blake Griffin. Should I accept it given Love's up and down play this year?" Now, I know that Love has struggled with his shot since coming off of his wrist injury, and I just got done singing Griffin's praises … but even so, I'd still keep Love. Love still has the ridiculous fantasy upside that I laid out last month, and just this weekend he announced that he's just now starting to feel healthy after the injury. There's the (very) legitimate chance that from today until the end of the season Love could lead the NBA in rebounds, lead center-eligible players in 3-pointers, and average 25 points with 80 percent free-throw shooting on heavy volume. You just can't give that up, even for the guy with a Kia that can go back in time. (Note: as I'm writing this, Love just re-hurt his hand. Initial reports are that it's a sprain and not another break, but if this turns out to be a serious injury then just pretend the previous paragraph doesn't exist).
Gordon's return: Last season I was extremely high on Eric Gordon. I drafted him in just about every league I was in as a breakout candidate after his trade to New Orleans. Then, he missed almost the entire season injured. This year I was more careful on Gordon, but I still have him in my keeper league. As such, I was very excited to see him make his season debut with 24 points after missing the first two months of the season with a knee injury. I'm injury-skittish on Gordon, but all of the things that excited me about him last year are still in play. He's still the clear-cut offensive engine with pedestrian offensive teammates, which means he'll be green-lit to use a lot of possessions. If healthy, he should be a consistent mid-20s scorer with good assists and 3-pointers from the shooting guard slot.
Revival of AK47 … trade high?: Entering the season I wrote that Andrei Kirilenko and Brandon Roy should be watched as potential sleepers in Minnesota, especially to start the year with Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio out. Roy's inevitable knee issues popped up almost immediately and killed his fantasy prospects, but Kirilenko has quietly been having a very strong season. His excellent defensive numbers (1.6 steals, 1.4 blocks) are his selling point, but he's averaging a very respectable 13 points and seven rebounds on good percentages with three assists and half a trey to boot. This has his Yahoo! ranking up to 23rd overall. In theory, Kirilenko should remain viable as a 3/4 moving forward even with Love's return, but his ranking is so pretty right now that I think I would dangle him as trade bait. He's a bit more comfortable at power forward than at small forward, and minutes there will be harder to come by moving forward. Plus, I think he's reached his current potential…it'd be a great time to move him for value, if you can.
Mayo No. 1 in Dallas?: Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle noted this week that opponents recently began game-planning against O.J. Mayo as the No. 1 option in Big D, even with Dirk Nowitzki back on the court. While I expect that this will change as Nowitzki returns to health, this was still a big statement because it shows that Mayo has earned opponent attention and respect. This should pay dividends for both Mayo and Nowitzki as the season progresses, as defenses will be forced to split their attention, and they can help open up easier shots for both each other and their teammates.
Millsap falling out of Favor: The Jazz have had an overabundance of riches in the frontcourt all season long and have tried several different creative ways to get all of their bigs minutes. For awhile they were skirting the line, managing to keep Al Jefferson and Paul Milllsap strong while feeding Derrick Favors enough minutes to be interesting and even allowing an Enes Kanter flash every now and again. They even tried starting all three of Jefferson, Millsap, and Favors for a time, but it appears that Favors is starting to take his toll, as his minutes have climbed recently at Millsap's expense. Millsap has only played as many as 30 minutes once in his last 10 games, and is therefore sliding down the rankings as his production dwindles.
Williams thumb surgery: Mo Williams will need surgery on his injured thumb and will be in a cast for six weeks. To me, this means that he's on the shelf until at least March. Williams is a nice player to have, but in shallow leagues it is hard to justify using a bench slot on him for that long. In his absence, look for either Jamaal Tinsley or Earl Watson to earn some fantasy value.
Amar'e on court: Amar'e Stoudemire made his season debut this week after missing the first two months injured. He returned to a bench role, which obviously limits his upside. In his first couple of games back he has played an average of 19 minutes while scoring eight points with 1.5 rebounds per night. As the rust wears off I could see him averaging low double-figures scoring with a handful of rebounds, but nowhere near what we have previously expected from STAT.
C.J. Miles (14% owned in Yahoo! Leagues): Miles has moved back into the starting lineup for the Cavs in the wake of Dion Waiters' demotion. He averaged 22.5 points and 4.3 treys in four starts earlier this season, and exploded for 33 points and eight treys in 34 minutes off the bench on the weekend to seize the starting nod. In his first start, his shot was off (12 points, 4-for-13 FG, 1-for-7 3Pt), but if he holds onto the job, he should be a good source of points and treys.
Jamaal Tinsley (8% owned) and Earl Watson (1% owned): With Mo Williams out for the next couple of months, Tinsley and Watson have both moved up the depth chart. Tinsley has started the last handful of games for the Jazz with Watson as his backup. Neither are producing at the levels that they used to in their younger days, and Tinsley is the better bet because he's actually the starter. But last season Tinsley showed some inconsistency when given minutes, and if that happens again this year, the door could be open for Watson to step in.
Charlie Villanueva (5% owned): We have a Villanueva sighting. He scored in double-digits in four straight games before Tuesday, a stretch in which he averaged 15.5 points, 5.8 boards, and 3.5 made treys in about 24 minutes per game. On Tuesday he only played 11 minutes before getting ejected in the 2nd quarter, but he still scored nine points on three made treys. At the very least Villanueva's looking like a decent 3-point role player from the frontcourt position.
Terrence Ross (4% owned): Ross, the 8th overall pick in this year's draft, has been stepping up of late as a scorer/long-range threat for the Raptors. He's scored in double-digits in four of his last five games with 14 made treys over that stretch, capped by a 26-point/6-trey effort in 25 minutes off the bench in his last outing.
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 on RotoWire Fantasy Sports Today with Chris Liss and Jeff Erickson on XM 87, Sirius 210.