RotoWire Partners

Hoops Lab: Small Ball, Bigs' Value

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.

Small ball rules make Love more valuable

Earlier this year on the RotoWire Fantasy Sports Today radio show (XM 87, Sirius 210) I told host Chris Liss that Kevin Love was one of the very few players that had a legitimate shot at being ranked No. 1 in the RotoWire Fantasy Basketball Cheat Sheet. Liss asked me why Love was so valuable. After all, he's a center that doesn't contribute at all to the defensive categories, and he doesn't shoot that high of a percentage from the field. Love is a strong scorer and rebounder that hits three-pointers, but other than that, he's not all that exciting. How could that be enough to merit being ranked No. 1 overall?

I told Liss that Love's value was tied to providing a lot of production in those three categories (points, rebounds, three-pointers) without really taking anything off the table in other areas. While he might not contribute much positive production in blocked shots or field goal percentage, he also won't really hurt you in those categories in the way that, say, Dwight Howard hurts your free throw percentage or Jeremy Lin hurts your turnovers. So the net result was that Love's three categories of pure strength, without any downside in other categories, makes him extremely valuable in fantasy. Ultimately, Liss was willing to buy my argument as plausible, but I sensed that he wasn't really bowled over by it.

I was reminded of this conversation by a couple of different things in the last day, and while the original explanation still makes sense, I think I will take the argument even further. Upon reflection, it is even more abundantly clear to me that Love's unique abilities make him a roto monster. Let's discuss.

The first reminder was an interview with Doc Rivers that I read Wednesday night, where Doc spoke on how difficult it is to stop the pick-and-roll these days since the NBA rule change preventing any hand checking was put into effect. Doc points out that it is essentially impossible to stop quick perimeter players from penetrating and that this in turn made the NBA into a small ball league. I've spoken on this myself in several Hoops Labs in recent years, so I know that Doc has a point here.

The second reminder came Thursday morning while I was listening to the Colin Cowherd show on the radio. Cowherd was decrying the lack of mid-range jump shooters in the NBA these days. In his words, most young players can now either jump over a Kia for highlight dunks or shoot the three-ball, but there is a dearth of guys who can knock down the 17-footer.

There is, of course, a connection between these two stories. Because of the rule changes, the highest percentage offensive moves a player can make these days are, by far, to either take it hard to the rim or to spot up from behind the arc. Perimeter players driving to the bucket are getting layups, getting fouled (at an alarming rate), or kicking it out to open spot-up shooters to knock down the 3-pointer. And the 3-pointer itself is a much better percentage shot than the long 2-pointer, considering there isn't much difference in the probability that someone will make a jumper from 21 feet than 23 feet, and you get 50 percent more points for stepping back those extra couple of feet.

When you put it together, what you end up with is a league evolving towards players that have skill sets that fit this new reality. Penetrating perimeter players have replaced post-up big men as the best way to get shots at the rim; being able to shoot 3-pointers is a must; and the league as a whole is playing more small ball. Plus, the big man roles are becoming more specialized. Many teams are running out four face-up scorers with one defensive-minded role player in the middle to be in charge of the defense. Your Tyson Chandler on the Knicks, Serge Ibaka on the Thunder, DeAndre Jordan on the Clippers, Omer Asik on the Rockets, and Anderson Varejao on the Cavs type players are getting more and more concentrated rebounding and defensive opportunities as the only legitimate big man on the court most of the time. This makes these players extremely valuable in roto leagues due to scarcity. As fewer and fewer players are available to make an impact in the big man categories, big men inherently become more valuable.

But there's another side to it. The other side of big-man scarcity is that there is an abundance of perimeter scorers flooding the market. A decade ago, if your roto team had one power 3-point shooter like a Ray Allen or a Michael Redd that would be enough for your team to compete in the 3-point category. No more. These days, everyone has several players on their team that can knock down the 3-ball. The upshot of this is that roto owners have to have a lot of 3-point shooters on their teams, but the marginal value of a perimeter player that can make 3-pointers is diminished because the market is flooded. So in fantasy, just as in real life, to gain a competitive advantage, teams need to have big men who can knock down the long-range shot. The ability to knock down the trey is a huge reason why one-dimensional bigs like Ryan Anderson and Byron Mullens are ranked in the top-60 of the Yahoo! Player Rater.

Now, bringing it back to Love. Love tends to not only led the NBA in rebounds he does so by a big margin. In 2011, Love averaged 15.2 rebounds per game while Kris Humphries (fifth in rebounding in 2011) was a full 4.8 rpg back. In other words, Love averaged about 50 percent more rebounds than fifth best rebounder. Simultaneously, Love also knocked down almost two 3-pointers per game last season. Among Yahoo's center eligible players, Love's 105 made treys trailed only Ryan Anderson. The fifth best center from downtown made a total of 34 three-pointers, giving Love a spread of 71 made 3-pointers over the fifth best center even in a lockout shortened season.

So Love is an outlier even among the shrinking class of rebounding bigs, and simultaneously, he is also an outlier among 3-point shooters at a position where all of those made 3-pointers are pure gravy. This makes him not only uber valuable, but it also makes him utterly unique. There isn't another player in the game who has that huge of an impact on any two categories while simultaneously kicking in 25 points and good free throw shooting, and not really taking anything else off the table.

LeBron James is the best player in the NBA right now, and frankly, it's not close. But when it comes to rotisserie basketball, the not-nearly-as-versatile or impactful Kevin Love might actually be the more valuable commodity.

Around the League

Rondo's streak ends with a bang: Last week I wrote about the Celtics letting Rondo stat-pad in a blowout loss to keep his assists streak alive. On Wednesday night his streak ended in a way that the coaches couldn't account for with an ejection. Rondo was ejected along with Brooklyn's Kris Humphries and Gerald Wallace. A skirmish touched off when Humphries fouled Kevin Garnett. Garnett fell awkwardly; Rondo objected and shoved Humphries; Humphries grabbed Rondo; and Rondo pushed Humphries into the stands. No punches were thrown, but the NBA's tough stance on fighting led to a two game suspension for Rondo for the scuffle extending off the court. Either way, the end of the streak is probably a good thing for Rondo's play and the Celtics' team in the long run and shouldn't affect your roto team too much. Rondo may not be force-fed assists anymore, but he should still lead the league in assists (by a lot).

Lakers bigs struggling and Nash MIA: Another story we've been following is the train-wreck-that-has-been the Lakers. Because they fired their coach five games into the season, played a few games with an interim coach, and have now played a handful with new coach Mike D'Antoni, the Lakers have been in a constant state of transition all season. When the coaching is in flux, a team often relies on their point guard to guide them through the storm, but Steve Nash went down the first week of the year and is still out indefinitely. A commenter in the last Hoops Lab mentioned the miraculous healthcare that the Suns seem to provide for aging players, and the lingering nature of Nash's injury has to make his owners sweat a bit that this could be a long term thing.

But with all of that said, the current story in LA is that Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol just don't seem to be working as a tandem. Over the last four games Howard is averaging only 11.5 points (50 percent shooting from the field) and 7.0 rebounds with Gasol even worse at 9.3 points (35 percent shooting from the field) and 7.8 boards. I projected some issues here due to their overlapping skill sets, but this is ridiculous. One issue is touches, as over the last four games they are averaging only 16 field goal attempts COMBINED while teammate Kobe Bryant is averaging 20.5 attempts by himself. But it's more than just that, as neither Howard nor Gasol are finishing at anywhere near their usual efficiency, and their rebounding is depressed as well.

It's possible that a healthy Nash could solve this, as he could come in and re-distribute the shots to keep the big men happy. As Shaq once said: If you don't feed the big dog he won't guard the yard. But another thing to keep in mind is that Howard reached his maximum effectiveness in Orlando when they stopped playing a true power forward next to him and instead opted to use stretch power forwards and extra small forwards; and D'Antoni is famous for playing small ball with small forwards in the power forward slot. Put those two things together with the slumping Twin Towers, and I could easily see Antawn Jamison starting to get more run at power forward for the Lakers with Gasol either getting fewer minutes or perhaps being traded to another team. That's all speculation at the moment, but the Lakers have already shown they are more than primed to make moves if they perceive something as not working.

Gortat slowing down: After a scorching start that made me openly question whether he was on the verge of making the leap, Marcin Gortat has fallen all the way back to earth in recent weeks. Gortat had 21 blocks and four double-doubles in his first five games, but has totaled only nine blocks and one double-double in the 10 games since. I worried that Gortat's offense would regress in Phoenix without Nash to help him, but over the last few weeks, his whole game has seemed depressed as the Suns have struggled and fiddled with their lineup. On the whole, I have to think that Gortat will stabilize into a middle ground, but if you can still manage to sell high based on his early season value, I would suggest that you explore that.

Pedestrian Blake: Last season I expected that the addition of Chris Paul would send Blake Griffin into the stratosphere. Instead, he has regressed in the year-plus since Paul arrived. I tweeted about it (@ProfessorDrz) Wednesday night and immediately got a couple of retweets, so obviously I'm not the only one that has noticed. When you consider that Griffin has a mini-Howard effect on free throw percentage, the fact that he is averaging only 17 points and 9 rebounds isn't nearly enough to make him worth the hype. If you can still get superstar value for him based on his name, now might be a good time to explore a trade.

Injury-prone Unibrow?: Anthony Davis has been as good as advertised when on the court better than expected on offense, with defense that shows flashes of the brilliance we all expected. His per-game average ranking in Yahoo! is No. 13 overall. The problem is, he just can't seem to stay on the court. A parade of injuries have limited him to only six games played, and while he's out of his walking boot now, he still hasn't started practicing due to his most recent injury. I'd still classify Davis as a potential buy low candidate if his owner is getting impatient, because his upside is that high. That said, I am keeping an eye out to make sure that he isn't sliding into injury-prone status already.

Amar'e would accept bench role: Amar'e Stoudemire would be ok coming off the bench. This is great news for the Knicks, if it happens, because we have two straight years of seeing how poorly Stoudemire fits in next to Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler. On the flip side, it is another knock on Stoudemire's rapidly sinking roto potential. A few years ago, he was one of the top-10 fantasy centers in the NBA, but this year he is reaching the point of barely being rosterable.

Bogut microfracture, not arthroscopic: Andrew Bogut had ankle surgery last season. It was reported at the time as an arthroscopic procedure, which in the big scheme of things is relatively minor. Bogut recently went on the record saying that the surgery was not arthroscopic, but instead a microfracture surgery. This is a much, much bigger deal. Enough of a difference, in fact, that had it been accurately reported, Bogut would have been on my "do not draft" list and much further down the rankings. I dropped Bogut in one league today based on this news, as his long absence is suddenly more justifiable, and I no longer can be confident when (or if) he will start to play like himself again.

New Additions

Chauncey Billups (44% owned in Yahoo! leagues): Billups (Achilles) returned from his long absence Wednesday night, scoring seven points with three assists in 19 minutes of play. I preached caution on Billups in the offseason due to a combo of age and the presence of Jamal Crawford, but Billups is still starting and should be a decent source of scoring, assists and 3-pointers with his role.

Aaron Brooks (21% owned): Brooks has been battling Isaiah Thomas for minutes in the Sacramento backcourt, and recently, he's been carving out a larger chunk for himself as he's taken over the starting point guard role. Over the last week he's averaging 30 minutes per game, and in his last four outings, he's averaging 12.5 points and 2.3 three-pointers numbers that pretty accurately reflect his current capability.

Markieff Morris (21% owned): Morris was promoted to the starting lineup over Luis Scola five games ago. The results have been up and down, but on the whole, he is a young stretch four with the ability to average in the low teens scoring with a handful of boards and a bit more than a 3-pointer per game. His upside is limited, but he's young and getting minutes. He could be worth a look.

Kyle Singler (18% owned): Singler is now the starting shooting guard in Detroit, and he's currently on a run of three straight double-digit scoring efforts in which he's averaged 14.7 points, 5.7 boards, 2.3 assists, 2.0 treys, and 1.3 steals.

Andray Blatche (6 % owned): A few years ago, Blatche was a young roto beast that looked like he would be a mainstay near the top of power forward rankings for years to come, but he fell into the doghouse in Washington amidst rumors that his work ethic and attitude fell far shy of his talent. This year he got a fresh start in Brooklyn, and he seems to be making the most of it. Blatche is coming off the bench, but he's playing much harder and more consistent in his limited minutes than I've seen him in a long time. His career-best marks of 19 points and 11.4 rebounds per 36 minutes suggest that if he were to start getting more minutes he would be able to do something with them this year.

Jamaal Tinsley (6% owned): In the "he's still in the league?" slot that Jermaine O'Neal filled last week, Tinsley has proven himself to be mildly fantasy relevant again this season since Mo Williams has been hurt. Tinsley has 41 assists and eight steals in the last five games, showing that he can still distribute and pilfer when called upon. He's strictly a short-term add until Williams returns, or a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency vet to stash on the bench in super-deep leagues. But he at least earned himself a mention in this space.

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.