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Hoops Lab: The Professor Talks Hoop

Andre' Snellings

Andre' Snellings is a Neural Engineer by day, and RotoWire's senior basketball columnist by night. He's a two-time winner of the Fantasy Basketball Writer of the Year award from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

Howard vs Amare: Real vs Rotisserie

As those of you that are familiar with my articles know, I am an adherent of basketball advanced stats. I don't believe they're perfect, and they must be interpreted intelligently by the user, but they give us a lot of information to help measure quality in individual players. There are a wide range of advanced stats out there, but only a handful that are publicly available that attempt to measure the entirety of a player's contributions with a single value. Such a one-number valuation that worked perfectly in every circumstance is likely an impossible dream for a game as complex as basketball, but if you understand how a particular advanced stat is calculated and what its strengths/weaknesses are, you can use a combination of these individually imperfect stats to create a rich and multi-layered valuation of a player.

Back in 2008 there was an article posted by a group that did just that: they looked at every player in the NBA (who had played at least 500 minutes in the 07-08 season) using seven different advanced stats, and ranked those players in order from # 1 (Kevin Garnett) to # 329 (Mardy Collins) based upon who did best across all of the measures. They were doing it as much to evaluate the different advanced stats as to evaluate the players, but I always liked that methodology - enough that I decided to do some similar rankings for this year myself. Back in late January I ranked point guards(Chris Paul and Steve Nash came out on top), in late February I looked at wings (LeBron James was alone at the top), and this week I did the same for the big men.

Bringing this to fantasy basketball, if you look at the Yahoo! fantasy rankings by average you'll find the top-5 big men this year have been Kevin Love, Dirk Nowitzki, Amar'e Stoudemire, Pau Gasol and Al Horford. If you followed the above big-man ranking link, you would find four of those five names listed among the "top tier" of big men in the NBA this year according a cross-sectional average of the five advanced stats that I looked at. However, the big man that my advanced stats study says has been clearly the best in the NBA this season isn't listed anywhere in that top-5 fantasy ranking. You won't find Dwight Howard among the top-10 in fantasy big men on the Yahoo! roto rankings…nor in the top-15, nor even the top-20 among bigs alone. Meanwhile Stoudemire, who graces the extreme upper echelon of the roto rankings, measured out as only 18th best among the big men I looked at using advanced stats.

My question today, is: Does that make sense?

In the big-man ranking blog, the first comment was a question/criticism about Howard measuring out as the best big in the NBA: "Howard was ranked the 15th center in your preseason rankings... what does that tell you?" My first response was to spit the obvious truth: real basketball rankings and roto rankings are often very different because they measure different things. No matter how good a player is in real life, if he kills you in a fantasy category it's extremely difficult to win a rotisserie league with him. That's just as true of Howard and his free throws today as it was of Shaquille O'Neal and his free throws 10 years ago.

The commenter responded to my logic with this gem: "My point was... roto is a silly scoring system... to put is very politely." While antagonistic commenters don't endear themselves to the author, I have to admit this one might have a point. I mean, does it really makes sense that the best big man in the NBA isn't ranked even in the top-50 in the roto rankings? Does that pass the sniff test? If fantasy basketball is supposed to be a fun imitation of the real game, do we really want one flaw to make a super-elite producer barely rosterable?

And it's the opposite side of the same coin that makes Stoudemire so prized in rotisserie. He is a center-eligible player that scores on high volume at high percentages from both the field and the line. In rotiserrie, that base is strong enough that his more modest numbers in other categories still take him to the top. But in real basketball, both the box score stats (outside of PER) and the impact +/- stats agree that Amar'e hasn't been quite as productive on the floor as his off-court buzz (which included some early MVP talk) might suggest. And the very early returns on the Knicks-Nuggets trade support the idea that maybe Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony aren't quite as elite as their scoring and reputations suggest. The Knicks are 6-6 since the trade and scoring almost exactly as many points as they've given up in the 335 minutes that 'Melo and Amar'e on court together. Meanwhile, the Nuggets have flourished and are 8-2 since the trade. It is still early since the trade, and things could obviously turn around, but the advanced stats (especially the +/- ones) would have suggested Melo and Stat weren't huge impact guys even before the trade. This gives the initial results a bit more weight in my mind.

At the end of the day, it's ok if there's some divergence between real and fantasy basketball. As long as you know where those differences lie, you can still venture intelligently into each world. And there are also ways to fiddle with the scoring system to make things more realistic - in the points-based league I play in Howard is more valuable than Amar'e, and even in the Yahoo! roto head-to-head leagues Howard is a beast since you can afford to punt any one category. Or, instead of "FG%" and "FT%" being two separate categories you could just use "True Shooting %", which factors in both types of shooting, and Howard's TS% is actually higher than Amar'e's this year. But rotisserie is a very popular way to play fantasy basketball, and most roto leagues prefer to use the basic eight (or nine) categories. And I can understand that, since it's such a fun game, if it ain't broke, why fix it?

On the other hand, I'm a basketball nerd as much as I am a FANTSASY basketball nerd. And in the end, it'd be nice if one really were a more accurate reflection of the other.

Around the League

• Technical concerns: Another area Amar'e Stoudemire and Dwight Howard have in common is technical fouls. Howard has already missed one game due to a technical foul suspension, and will miss one for every second tech he gets moving forward. Stoudemire is on the same street, having received the tech that would have caused a suspension before it was revoked by the league. Stephen Jackson, Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant are other players right near the suspension threshold and should be monitored.

• Nash limping: Steve Nash will play on Wednesday after having missed the previous two games with a pelvic injury. He's a risky play moving forward because at his age (37 years old) injuries tend to linger, and his team could easily fall out of the playoff hunt any day now. Nevertheless, it's good news that he'll be back on the court for the next Suns game.

• Iggy's knee: Andre Iguodala is nursing a knee condition called chondromalacia and is day-to-day, but is considered probable for Wednesday's game against the Clippers. Iguodala has played excellent basketball of late, and the 76ers are battling for playoff positioning in the East, so expect him to play until his leg falls off. The question, to me, is more whether his quality of play will fall off due to the pain, but I can't imagine he'll sit if there's any way he can go.

• Noah and the Booz: That little heading sounded like an old TV show title to me. Anyway, Joakim Noah is expected to play on Thursday after missing Tuesday's game with an illness. Carlos Boozer has missed the last three games with an ankle injury, and though he's traveling with the team on its two-game road trip, there's no set time for his return as yet.

• Rondo's slump: As Bill Simmons (@sportsguy33) pointed out in a recent Tweet, Rajon Rondo has slumped to 7.0 ppg on 33% FG with only 6.8 apg over his last five games. This has corresponded to a period where Boston lost three of four games. Although there is speculation that he may be worn down or slightly injured, there's no confirmation of this, so for now just treat it as a slump. But keep an ear out.

• Millsap's knee: Paul Millsap has missed his last four games with a knee issue, and also will not play on Wednesday against the Timberwolves. Millsap was a game-time decision for the game, though, which would seem to indicate that he's not far away from a possible return.

• Evans back soon?: There are rumors out of Sacramento that Tyreke Evans "has been cleared to return to the court", but that's still not very specific about when a return to actual game action might be forthcoming. I have had doubts, in the face of Evans' importance to a poor ballclub, that Evans returns at all this season. But if he does it could really cut into the production of Marcus Thornton, who has been a 25 ppg scorer in recent games filling in for Evans.

• Scola's knee: Luis Scola continues to miss game and practice action due to a knee injury, but he is considered day-to-day so he could return soon. He's not expected to play on Wednesday, but keep an eye out to see whether he's able to go this weekend.

New Additions

• Aaron Brooks (62% owned): Brooks has been up-and-down this season in Phoenix, but with Steve Nash battling injury on a team that is currently 10th in the Western Conference it would not be surprising to see Brooks playing heavy minutes before the season ends.

• Tyler Hansbrough (55% owned): I had Hansbrough in this spot last week when he was only 19% owned, but the way he's playing he'll be in this slot until he gets up closer to 100% owned. He has scored 20 or more points in five straight games, including 29 and 30 points in his last two, and is a front-runner for this year's "Ramon Sessions late season fantasy savior" award.

• Jodie Meeks (23% owned): Meeks has reclaimed a larger role on the 76ers of late, and is averaging almost 15 points and five boards with three made 3-ptrs per game over the last week.

• Gerald Henderson (22% owned): Henderson has been the wing player that has stepped up most in Charlotte after the Gerald Wallace trade. Much of his improvement can be traced to his jumper, which is no longer broken. He's averaging 16.7 points, 3.7 assists, 3.0 boards and 2.3 steals over his last three games and has scored in double figures in five straight.

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 every Friday afternoon at 12:30 PM EST on Rotowire Fantasy Sports Today with Chris Liss and Jeff Erickson on XM 147, Sirius 211.