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Nerd Alert: Projecting Value in Steals

Carson Cistulli

Carson Cistulli writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

Whenever a politician suggests that the "American People" want this or that, it's best to ignore said politician; however, when Carson Cistulli says it (i.e. "the American People"), you can be sure that he knows exactly what he's talking about.

So when I begin this edition of Nerd Alert by stating that the American People are hungry to know more about some NBA players who, if given playing time, would excel in the steals category, the reader would do well to believe me.

Two weeks ago, I looked at some players with upside (currently averaging fewer than 20 minutes per game, younger than 30 years old) who are producing particularly well in blocks on a per-minute basis. Two weeks before that, I did the same thing for rebounds. Today, it's steals.

As already noted in these pages, a player's steal numbers are less predictive of future steals than rebounds or blocks are of future rebounds or blocks. Still, with an r-squared of 0.68, they (i.e. steals) are predictive enough to make the present exercise worthwhile.

In what follows, I examine 10 players who meet the aforementioned criteria. Furthermore, in response to a suggestion from careful reader foxymophandlpapa, I've also included two lists: the first, a ranking of the players examined here in order of present fantasy value (assuming a standard format); second, a ranking of the same players in order of future value.

Now, here are the players in question:

Player: Tony Allen, MEM
STL36 (Season / Career): 3.7 / 2.2
Comments: It's notable -- and telling of his expertise in the area of ball-thievery -- that Allen's career per-36 average would place him third on this list. It's definitely his main fantasy skill, although he's demonstrated average numbers in field-goal percentage, rebounds, and blocks. The problem, ultimately, has been playing time: he's recorded five starts in January but missed time with a knee injury. Now Sam Young (also on this list) appears to have some hold on the starting role.

Player: Paul George, IND
STL36 (Season / Career): 2.3 / 2.3
Comments: A brief tour of George's Draft Express page reveals, like, nine things to be excited about. In short, what we appear to have here is an athletic marvel who came to the organized game late, went to a smallish college program (Fresno State), but who also now refers to himself as a "student of the game." On a per-minute basis, George currently profiles as a top-30 player, posting notably below-average numbers in assists only. He may not receive significant minutes even by the end of the season, but, in the event that an injury opens up playing time, he's definitely a target.

Player: DeJuan Blair, SAS
STL36 (Season / Career): 2.0 / 1.5
Comments: When we looked, a couple weeks ago, at the fringe players who were averaging the most rebounds per 36 minutes, DeJuan Blair was one of the players on the top of that list. That he appears here, too, bodes well for his fantasy value, obviously. Overall, Blair has a slightly unusual profile for a big man: only an average shooting percentage, below-average shot-blocking, and excellent steal numbers. He's posted double-doubles in three of his past five games with Matt Bonner (knee) out, and has an upside of being, say, the 50th-best fantasy player given starter's minutes.

Player: Sam Young, MEM
STL36 (Season / Career): 2.0 / 1.2
Comments: Young represents a case where we need to be pretty careful with a guy's steal numbers. He has those two steals per 36 right now this season, but he only averaged 0.9 per 36 last year. Making it easy for us, Young has distinguished himself in any other category. Avoid him.

Player: Julian Wright, TOR
STL36 (Season / Career): 1.8 / 1.5
Comments: Here are four numbers four your consideration: 12.5, 11.1, 10.7, 9.0. Any guesses as to their relevance? Those are Wright's points-per-36 averages since his rookie season in 2007-08. That's a bad trend. Also bad is the fact that, with the exception of Wright's steals -- and maybe his field-goal percentage (although he takes so few shots, that it's negligible anyway) -- Wright is below average even on a per-minute basis. Avoid.

Player: C.J. Watson, CHI
STL36 (Season / Career): 1.8 / 1.9
Comments: Given the crazy-fast pace and generally bizarre antics that defined the Don Nelson-led Golden State Warriors -- and given that Watson's first three seasons in the NBA were spent with said Warrior teams -- it was tough to know exactly what we might have in Watson before this season. Forty or so games in Chicago is hardly a large enough sample to make definite claims, but Watson has continued to put up roughly the same numbers on a per-minute basis as in Golden State, which is enough to make him rosterable by standard formats in the event that Derrick Rose is injured.

Player: Mario Chalmers, MIA
STL36 (Season / Career): 1.8 / 2.0
Comments: Though still in just his third year, we can get a pretty good idea, via his per-36 numbers, of the direction in which Chalmers is headed. Consider, first, Chalmers' per-36 assist averages over the last three seasons (2008-09 first): 5.5, 4.9, 3.8. So, downward, yeah? Now here are Chalmers' three-point attempts per-36 over that same span: 4.3, 4.7, 6.1. It looks as though Chalmers is becoming more of a spot-up shooter than a true point guard. Certainly, so long as Chalmers is in Miami he has no prayer of being the team's primary ballhandler. That makes him fringy from a fantasy perspective.

Player: Rudy Fernandez, POR
STL36 (Season / Career): 1.8 / 1.5
Comments: Fernandez made 159 three-pointers in 2008-09 -- an average of about two per game and a record for a player in his rookie season. Injury and decreased playing time prevented him from matching that mark last season. This year, his playing time is lower than in either of the previous two seasons (21.4 mpg), but he's averaged about 30 minutes per game over Portland's last five contests, even stepping in at point guard when Andre Miller was forced to leave Saturday's game. Finally, though steal averages aren't as stable as rebounds or blocks, Fernandez' per-36 steal numbers over the last three seasons -- 1.2, 1.5, 1.8 -- possibly suggests an actual improvement in this skill.

Player: Al-Farouq Aminu, LAC
STL36 (Season / Career): 1.7 / 1.7
Comments: Given what we know of the two from this season, Aminu appears to be a poor man's Paul George. Really, the skill sets are almost identical, in that the two contribute in most cats but assists. George is the more talented shooter, however, has more steals per 36, and is even blocking more shots per 36 (something Aminu did well in college). That both are only 20 years old means that either could improve greatly, but count George as the better prospect right now.

Player: Chris Wilcox, DET
STL36 (Season / Career): 1.7 / 0.9
Comments: Warning Sign #1: Before this season, Wilcox has never averaged more than 1.1 steals per 36 minutes. Warning Sign #2: The Pistons have, like, seven capable big men, including Austin Daye, who actually profiles pretty similarly -- in terms of product, at least -- to George and Aminu.

Players Rated Accoring to Present Value

1. DeJuan Blair, SAS
2. Rudy Fernandez, POR
3. Tony Allen, MEM
4. Al-Farouq Aminu, LAC
5. Mario Chalmers, MIA
6. Paul George, IND
7. Chris Wilcox, DET
8. C.J. Watson, CHI
9. Sam Young, MEM
10. Julian Wright, TOR

Players Rated According to Future Value

1. Paul George, IND
2. Al-Farouq Aminu, LAC
3. DeJuan Blair, SAS
4. Rudy Fernandez, POR
5. C.J. Watson, CHI
6. Mario Chalmers, MIA
7. Tony Allen, MEM
8. Sam Young, MEM
9. Julian Wright, TOR
10. Chris Wilcox, DET