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Nerd Alert: Advanced Stats and Fantasy Hoops

Carson Cistulli

Carson Cistulli writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

Last week, in this space, I both (a) looked at players who were taking considerably more or fewer shots at the rim than last season and (b) exceeded what I'd consider a "decent" word limit by approximately 1700 words.

In this dispatch, I'll attempt to continue what I started with point (a) and redeem myself so far as point (b) is concerned.

Specifically, what I'll look at here are players who are shooting either considerably better or worse than would be expected at the rim. Though the NBA is in its infancy so far as widely available advanced metrics go, a basic understanding of regression analysis -- plus a proper amount of humility -- make it possible to make at least some tentative claims about player shooting and shot location.

For each player you see below, I include both that player's current shooting profile At Rim (field-goal percentage and field-goal attempts) and also the typical shooting profile for that same player. To calculate the typical numbers, I've weighted the player's last three years by a factor of five (for 2009-10), three (for 2008-09), and one (for 2007-08). This gives us a broad sketch of a player's "true talent" from a given range.

Candidates for Improvement:

Player: Corey Maggette, MIL
Current (FG% / FGA): 45.0% / 2.3
Typical (FG% / FGA): 65.8% / 4.6
Notes: It's a curious thing when a team actively pursues a player -- as Milwaukee did Maggette this offseason -- but then fails to utilize him fully. In any case, that's how things have unfolded for Maggette and the Bucks through the season's first quarter of the season, as the swingman is averaging just 21.0 minutes per game after playing 29.5 or better each of the last eight seasons. Between his lack of shots and what is likely bad luck at the rim, Maggette is missing out on four points per game at the moment -- and at least six or so points of field-goal percentage. It should be noted that an ankle injury might have played some part in Skiles' usage of Maggette. The second it appears as though Maggette is destined for 25-plus minutes per game, he becomes a target.

Player: Chris Kaman, LAC
Current (FG% / FGA): 45.5% / 4.1
Typical (FG% / FGA): 59.8% / 5.2
Notes: You might very well file Kaman under Mercurial -- and you might very well have reason. After averaging 16 and 13 in 2007-08, he posted only 12 and 8 in an injury-plagued 2008-09. Last year saw a resurgence, as the big man posted about 19 and 9. As for this year? Well, between injuries, Kaman's only averaged 11 and 8. Some might rush to attribute the decline to the emergence of Blake Griffin -- and, yes, it's possible that chemistry is a factor. However, he's seen some odd-looking changes in his shot -- not just At Rim, but also <10 Feet, where Hoop Data has him shooting 24.3% on 4.6 FGA. He's typically shot closer to 49% from that range on 2.9 FGA. So whether we have scorer's bias here (i.e. classifying At Rim shots as <10 Feet) or not, it's still the the case: Kaman's likely to see considerable improvement on his field-goal percentage (anywhere up to 15 points) and his points per game (by, say, three or four). Editor's Note: Kaman reportedly re-injured his left ankle on Sunday, but the severity of the injury has not been reported as of yet.

Player: LaMarcus Aldridge, POR
Current (FG% / FGA): 55.3% / 5.0
Typical (FG% / FGA): 69.3% / 3.9
Notes: Aldridge has seen a pretty substantial boost in his shot attempts near the basket. After four solid years of averaging somewhere in the 3.0 - 4.0 range, he's increased the number to 5.0 exactly this season. Nor is the improvement likely the error of scorer's bias: his shots from the <10 Feet range have also increased, from a typical number of 2.7 or so to 4.0 this season. That Aldridge is currently averaging a career-high 18.2 points per game is a function of an increase in shots. Of course, increased usage typically means a decreased efficiency -- just not at the level that Aldridge has displayed so far.

Candidates for Decline:

Player: Landry Fields, NY
Current (FG% / FGA): 75.8% / 3.3
Typical (FG% / FGA): 60.5% / xxx*
Notes: Fields, like the other two players on this list, hasn't played three seasons in the league -- hence, his "typical" At Rim field-goal percentage is highly regressed (and his attempts not really worth figuring). Unlike the other players here, Fields is a rookie. As such, it's necessary to exercise caution when attempting to make statements about his "true talent" at the rim. That said, there are exactly zero guards averaging more than 2.0 shots at the rim who have as high a field-goal percentage from that range as Fields. The average for guards At Rim -- the designation closest to describing Fields' role with the Knicks -- was 60.5% last season. Fields is converting at 15 percentage points above that. Substitute the average FG% for his current rate, and Fields' would be scoring about a point less, with his overall field-goal percentage dropping to around 48% from his current rate of 53.9%.

Player: D.J. Augustin, CHA
Current (FG% / FGA): 64.4% / 3.5
Typical (FG% / FGA): 44.9% / xxx*
Notes: You're in the majority if you were trepidatious about Augustin entering the season. Despite Raymond Felton's departure -- and the vacuum left behind at Charlotte's point-guard spot -- it never appeared during the preseason as though coach Larry Brown was satisfied with simply promoting Augustin to the starting lineup. The presence of Shaun Livingston, who made some impressive appearances towards the end of last season, added to the questions surrounding Augustin's role. Twenty games into the season, those who went after Augustin have been rewarded, as the Bobcat is averaging over 35 minutes and 6.7 assists per game -- along with 13.3 points. The 43.1 FG% is acceptable, but -- despite being on the low side -- might still be inflated. Through his first two years in the league, Augustin posted At Rim percentages of 48.0% and 40.7%, respectively. Now, he's at 64.4%. It's possible that he's found a new level, but it's also unlikely. It wouldn't be surprising to see Augustin lose a point per game of scoring and decline to somewhere around 38% from the field.

Player: Jrue Holiday, PHI
Current (FG% / FGA): 65.8% / 4.1
Typical (FG% / FGA): 55.7% / xxx*
Notes: As an owner of Holiday, I'm optimistic that he'll continue to produce at a high level in fantasy terms. Of course, the reason I went after Holiday in the first place is because of his broad base of skills. That said, those of us who do own Holiday shouldn't be surprised if his shot efficiency declines slightly in coming days. On average, point guards post the lowest shooting percentage At Rim, about 56.5%. Playing just above 24 minutes per game as a rookie last year, Holiday posted a mark similar to that, 54.9%. That's a totally repeatable mark. His current rate of 65.8%? Of point guards who averaged at least three attempts per game At Rim last year, only Rajon Rondo (5.4 FGA) approached that, posting 64.2 FG%. Because he's actually a little lower than average from other ranges, he might see less of a decline than Fields and Augustine, but a drop from his current 43% to something around 40% is a distinct possibility.

Shot-location Date courtesy of Hoop Data.

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