RotoWire Partners

The Give and Go: The Give and Go

Charlie Zegers

Charlie has covered the NBA, NFL and MLB for RotoWire for the better part of 15 years. His work has also appeared on,, the New York Times, ESPN, Fox Sports and Yahoo. He embraces his East Coast bias and is Smush Parker's last remaining fan.

The Give and Go
By Charlie Zegers and Carson Cistulli
RotoWire Staff Writers

From: Charlie Zegers
Sent: Tuesday, March 9, 2010 6:35 AM
To: Carson Cistulli
Subject: Give and Go: Shallow Water

The 2009 NBA draft pool - according to the pundits -- was supposed to be about as deep as an average episode of The Real Housewives of Orange County. Factor in Blake Griffin's injury, Hasheem Thabeet's general uselessness and Ricky Rubio's decision to stay in Europe - removing three of the top five picks from consideration - and one might assume the rookie class to be a complete fantasy wasteland.

Nothing, of course, could be farther from the truth. Stephen Curry currently rates 15th on the season in the Yahoo! player rater, and is scoring like he's still playing against Wofford. (I shouldn't pick on the Terriers, who just won that conference and their first-ever NCAA Tournament berth.) Tyreke Evans will be a star. Brandon Jennings' production has fallen off significantly since his monstrous debut, but he's got the Bucks in contention for a playoff berth, and who saw that coming? James Harden is a very good rotation player who would be a better fantasy option on another team. Same goes for Jonny Flynn.

Later in the first round, teams found guys like Darren Collison - who has people wondering if the Hornets will try to trade Chris Paul. Ty Lawson is producing tremendous numbers for a bench player. Omri Casspi, Taj Gibson and Rodrigue Beaubois are all worth owning in most league formats right now. Even second-rounders like DeJuan Blair, Jon Brockman, Jonas Jerebko - the NBA's Eastern Conference rookie of the month for February - and especially Marcus Thornton have been great buys. So has undrafted free agent Wes Matthews of Utah.

There have been busts, sure… Thabeet is playing in the D-League. Jordan Hill hasn't shown a ton yet (though he did go for 12 and eight against the Pistons on Sunday). Tyler Hansbrough has been limited by a variety of injuries. And the jury is still out on guys like DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Williams and Austin Daye and Wayne Ellington

But doesn't it seem like we're getting tremendous fantasy depth from this year's rookie class?

This raises a few questions…

Are rookies succeeding at a higher rate than in the past? Should we expect one or more of these guys to hit the dreaded "rookie wall?" And as the season winds down and we start making keeper league decisions, which of this year's rookies have the highest fantasy upside for 2010 and beyond?

From: Carson Cistulli
Sent: Wednesday, March 10, 2010 2:51 AM
To: Charlie Zegers
Subject: Give and Go: Shallow Water

It's funny, that thing you say about the pundits and their opinions on the 2009 NBA Draft. It reminds me of this passage from an essay Bill James wrote and which appears in How Bill James Changed Our View of Baseball. Of course, the essay -- and the book -- is nominally about baseball, but most of the content is applicable to sporting analysis generally.

Here's the passage I'm thinking of:

"I can give you the secret of my success if five words: I don't understand the world. I don't understand anything about it, never have, probably never will... Very often I am mystified by things that seem obvious to everybody else. You watch the sports reporters on Sunday morning, listen to the call-in shows, read the columnists... everybody knows things. These guys know who should be the MVP and who should win the Heisman trophy and who should be in the BCS title game and what's wrong with the BCS system and who is really the number one team in college football and whayt the Lakers won the NBA or why they didn't and what the commissioner should do about steroids and whether baseball was betters in the 1970's than it is now. Man, I don't know any of that stuff."

The irony here (and, yes, I believe this is actual irony) is that Bill James knows a whole bunch of stuff. I mean, dude basically invented statistical analysis in baseball. But the lesson from James isn't that he knows things, it's how he came about knowing things. James -- as he admits elsewhere -- always makes sure to start with a question instead of an answer. He doesn't say, "Albert Pujols should be MVP," but asks, "Who should be MVP?" He wouldn't say, "This year's rookies will blow big time," but rather, "Will this year's rookies blow big time?"

What are the definitive qualities of a "pundit"? The ability to ask important questions? No. The ability to carefully consider all available information? No, again. Really, the pundit's main qualification -- and, yes, I realize that I'm in Sweeping Generalization Country right now -- is his capacity for making assertions confidently. That's almost the exact opposite of the skill that's actually needed to come to a reasonable conclusion in a matter.

So if the question is, "Are rookies succeeding at a higher rate than in the past?" my answer is, "I don't know." I don't have the data to answer that. One thing I can tell you, though -- because, thanks to Basketball Monster, the data does exist -- is that this year's rookie crop is compares very favorably to the two that precede it.

Consider: in 2007-08, only five rookies finished in the top-156 fantasy players. (I use 156 because it's the size of the player pool for a typical 12x13 league.) Last year, in 2008-09, ten players finished in the top 156. Right now, for this season, rookies occupy six of the top-156 spots. No, that's not as big as ten, but consider: rookies are most apt to make their names late in the season.

The players in question (with rank in parentheses) are: Stephen Curry (18), Tyreke Evans (45), Brandon Jennings (81), Jonny Flynn (122), Darren Collison (125), and James Harden (151). Marcus Thornton (159), Omri Casspi (163), Taj Gibson (169), Ty Lawson (175), Jonas Jerebko (179), and Jrue Holiday (195) are all legitimate threats to sneak into the top 156. And I don't know how we should describe "best," exactly, as Stephen Curry is ranked way ahead of the best player in either of the last two rookie classes (O.J. Mayo and Kevin Durant, respectively, both ranked at 60). Evans is also ranked ahead of either those guys.

As I consider your last couple questions, let me throw a couple back to you: Are there any players this year you think the pundits just got totally wrong? A guy you thought would perform, despite what was being said about him. Or vice versa: Was there anyone you were excited about who just totally bombed this year?

From: Charlie Zegers
Sent: Wednesday, March 10, 2010 4:06 AM
To: Carson Cistulli
Subject: Give and Go: Shallow Water

I watch a pretty fair amount of college games; I had seen a lot of these guys play before this year. Sometimes that's a mixed blessing. For example… I saw DeJuan Blair just destroy Hasheem Thabeet when Pitt played UConn. That told me that Thabeet was going to have a hard time adjusting to a league where there are a lot more guys with Blair's size, and where most players wouldn't be totally intimidated by his presence alone. I expected Thabeet to be a bust - as a rookie, at least, and I thought Blair would be a viable player, especially after the Spurs traded Kurt Thomas.

I was also aware of the game when Loyola coach Jimmy Patsos played a "triangle and two" on Davidson… two guys double-teaming Stephen Curry everywhere on the court, and the other three defenders playing a zone. Curry was held scoreless, but Davidson won by 30. That told me Curry had the right mind-set to play the point; that he'd be willing to give up his offense when the game dictated it.

But I don't pretend to have a real scout's eye when watching college games… so I can say I was impressed by guys like Tyreke Evans or Ty Lawson and lukewarm on Taj Gibson, without having the ability to really project how well their skills will translate to the NBA game.

The other problem looking at this year's draft class is that it's so guard-heavy… and we've been told, time and time again, that the college-to-pro transition is toughest for point guards. Based on that, I really thought it would take Evans and Jennings and Curry a little more time to adjust. But this year, just about every one of the lead guards in the first round has been worth a roster spot - so it may be time to throw out that old fantasy truism.

One reason lead guards seem to be succeeding at a higher rate could be officiating. Rafer Alston - talking about Brandon Jennings earlier in the season - suggested that the NBA made the transition to the NBA a lot easier for young guards when the league outlawed contact on the perimeter. I don't know if that's a proveable assertion, but it stuck with me; I can't help thinking that the Brandon Jennings and Tyreke Evans of the world wouldn't be putting up such gaudy numbers if they still had to deal with Derek Harper-style hand-checks at the three-point line.

Another thing we really haven't seen much is the dreaded "rookie wall." Theoretically, rookies are supposed to wear down late in the season because they're not used to a pro schedule. But Jennings aside - and really, Jennings started out SO hot he had nowhere to go but down - I don't think we've seen much of a production drop-off in this year's class. The only player I've noticed hitting a wall is Danilo Gallinari - technically a sophomore, but he basically missed all of last season. Should we be worried about any of these young'uns?

From: Carson Cistulli
Sent: Thursday, March 11, 2010 3:19 AM
To: Charlie Zegers
Subject: Re: Give and Go: Shallow Water

The thing with the Rookie Wall is, on account of so few of the incoming players were highly touted, and so few were being given large roles straight away, very few are dealing with large minutes totals currently.

Regard: last year, seven players (Mayo, Rose, Gordon, Westbrook, Chalmers, Gasol, Lopez) averaged over thirty minutes per game. Currently, only three of this season's rooks (Evans, Curry, Jennings) are averaging 30-plus, and only Jonny Flynn (at 29.1 MPG) -- and maybe Darren Collison (who's only at 24.8 MPG currently, but has played 40-plus minutes in 14 consecutive games) -- is any sort of a threat to break into the 30-plus minute territory.

Here's a question to ask: did the Rookie Wall affect any of those big-minute rookies from last year? Well, there are probably a whole bunch of way to figure this out, but I think one place to start is to look at each player per-minute fantasy rankings for the entire season, and then for the last month, and then find the difference of the two. In theory, a player who's fatigued will perform less well in the last month of the season than prior to that.

Here's what we find when we split up the data this way (Entire Season Per-Minute Rank / Last Month Per-Minute Rank / Difference):

Mayo: 99 / 152 / -53
Rose: 163 / 91 / 72
Gordon: 74 / 165 / -91
Westbrook: 94 / 219 / -125
Chalmers: 79 / 114 / -35
Gasol: 217 / 164 / 53
Lopez: 97 / 108 / -11

If we average the above differences (that right-most column), we find that these seven players were ranked about 27 spots lower (read: worse) on a per-minute basis in the last month of the season as compared to their overall, season-long per-minute rank. If we think of that from a fantasy perspective, that's over two rounds worse on average for each player. And because those season-long ranks actually include the generally worse last-month ranks, we're probably looking at a drop of about three rounds for each of those guys.

Are there other possible reasons for this? I assume so. Only problem is, I can think of them. That's why I'll throw it back to you: are there reasons -- beyond fatigue -- that a player could produce less on a per-minute basis later in the season?

And what about those three guys -- Evans, Curry, and Jennings. You think they're at risk to lose value the same way those seven rookies did last year?

From: Charlie Zegers
Sent: Thursday, March 11, 2010 8:38 AM
To: Carson Cistulli
Subject: Re: Give and Go: Shallow Water

Maybe being highly touted isn't the issue - maybe teams have gotten better about limiting the minutes of young players early in the season, in the hopes of avoiding a late-season breakdown - the NBA equivalent of limiting a young starter's innings.

I don't really think any of the rookies you mentioned is in danger of a drop-off at this point. My only concern with Curry is how well he'll play if and when Monta Ellis is back on the lineup on a regular basis. The Kings just re-configured their team around Evans, so I don't anticipate any major negative change in his production. And Jennings' drop-off already happened and is priced in to his current fantasy value.

As for Flynn, the triangle offense has depressed his stats a lot more than late-season fatigue will.

The guy to worry about is Collison - but not because of the rookie wall. At some point, Chris Paul is coming back, and when that happens Collison's minutes are sure to take a hit. I'm very interested to see if the ever cost-conscious Hornets shop one or the other of those guys this summer.

Article first appeared on 2/25/10