As we move toward the end of Week 5 of the Fantasy basketball season, let’s examine a handful of early season trends to take into account as you tweak your weekly lineups.
Bad Team, Messy Rotation
We'll start in Sacramento. Against all odds, the Kings are 3-11 and have the league’s second-worst offense and second-worst defense. While Sacramento has some young talent, Dave Joerger has been hesitant, to say the least, to hand the reins to what’s clearly a high-lottery team over to De'Aaron Fox, Skal Labissiere, Justin Jackson and company.
A broken George Hill and 36-year-old Zach Randolph have started every game in which they’ve played, and no one on the roster is averaging more than 26.1 minutes per game (Fox). Of course, it’s encouraging that Fox is the one leading the way, but considering he’s still a sub-40 percent field goal shooter who can’t hit threes (4-21 3PT), he remains a fringe Fantasy option in leagues that value percentages.
Up front, Joerger has stuck with Randolph and Willie Cauley-Stein, owners of the team’s two worst net ratings. Developing Cauley-Stein should be a priority -- if anything, he should probably play more -- but playing Randolph over Skal Labissiere is becoming more and more indefensible. While Labissiere is far from a net-positive as an overall player, he’s averaging 17.5 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocks per-36 minutes and offers the floor spacing Sacramento -- dead last in three-point attempt rate -- desperately needs. Labissiere played a season-low seven minutes Wednesday against Atlanta, a game the Kings lost by 46 points.
The lone bright spot has been Bogdan Bogdanovic, who’s started nine of 11 games and is averaging 23.3 minutes per game, a healthy number for a rookie. He won’t offer the same assists contributions as Fox, but he’s a vastly more efficient scorer.
League-wide, the shift toward increasingly three-point-happy offenses continues. Through five weeks, the league average sits at 28.8 attempts per game, up nearly two per game over last season.
Once again, the Rockets lead the way, bombing away 44.4 times per game, representing more than 53 percent of their total field goal attempts. Houston is also making the most threes per game (15.5), despite hitting at the eighth-worst rate (34.9% 3PT) in the league. That second number is due in large part to slow starts by Trevor Ariza and P.J. Tucker (combined 10.8 3PA/G) and should rise toward league-average as the season continues.
Fantasy-wise, the Rockets have been only slightly above-average when it comes to pace, but if you’re an owner in need of production from beyond the arc -- particularly made threes -- consider targeting players like Ariza, Tucker, Ryan Anderson, and even Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, who’s averaging more than one made three per game (plus 1.4 steals). The latter three are available in the majority of CBS leagues.
The Bulls are still one of the NBA’s slowest-paced teams but have made a point to shoot more threes and currently rank 13th in three-point attempt rate after finishing 28th in that department last season. The addition of Lauri Markkanen and his 6.7 attempts per game is partially to blame, but Fred Hoiberg has also unleashed Denzel Valentine (5.6 3PA/G), Justin Holiday (7.7 3PA/G), and even Bobby Portis (3.8 3PA/G) as deep threats.
Like Houston, Chicago isn’t shooting the three efficiently -- 32.2% 3PT, second-worst in the league -- but the emphasis on floor spacing is clear. The Bulls are one of only five teams with at least three players averaging 2.0 or more made threes per game.
More Long-Range Notes
Milwaukee is in the bottom-third in the league in terms of three-point attempts but is converting at a 39.1 percent clip, good for fifth in the NBA. While Khris Middleton (31.9% 3PT) is starting to bounce back from a horrific shooting start, neither he nor Giannis Antetokounmpo (7-25 3PT) are helping that figure.
For as much credit as Malcolm Brogdon (50.0% 3PT) and Mirza Teletovic (46.7% 3PT) hitting open shots -- and red-hot Tony Snell (49.1% 3PT) picking up where he left off last postseason -- deserve, much of Milwaukee’s success stems from where its three-point attempts are coming.
Twenty two percent of the Bucks’ three-point attempts have come from the corners, and they’re converting at a league-high (by far) 54.4 percent clip. The sample size is still small, but Brogdon and Snell are both hitting better than half of their corner looks, while Teletovic sits at an even 50 percent. Even Thon Maker has gotten in on the action, hitting four of his six corner attempts.
Overall, that number will likely regress, but given the addition of Eric Bledsoe, an excellent drive-and-kick passer, Milwaukee has the pieces to remain one of the league’s deadliest perimeter attacks, particularly in catch-and-shoot situations.
Meanwhile, in the span of about seven months, the 76ers have gone from a bad three-point shooting team that takes a ton of threes to a good three-point shooting team that takes even more threes. Philly has climbed to eighth in three-point percentage (38.8% 3PT) -- up from 25th last season -- and is one of 11 teams taking at least 30 threes per game (31.2, to be exact).
J.J. Redick has done what you’d expect J.J. Redick to do, but it’s Robert Covington -- he of the $62 million extension -- who's been the difference. Coming off of the worst shooting season of his career, Covington is taking a career-high 7.2 threes per game and hitting an even 50 percent. As is the case with almost any player making half of his threes a month into the season, that number will come down.
Even so, there’s reason to believe the Sixers aren’t just riding an early heater. For the most part, the threes they’re taking are quality looks. All but 18 of Philly’s 437 three-point attempts (95.7%) have resulted in an assist, the highest rate in the league by nearly seven percentage points -- or, roughly difference between No. 2 Milwaukee and No. 20 Brooklyn.
Eye on Pace
Simply looking at a team’s points per game is a decent, albeit elementary, place to start when researching potential trades or waiver adds, but digging deeper and understanding what leads to those points can be especially useful, particularly when evaluating a team’s/player’s matchups in a given week.
Teams that play a fast pace tend to score more points, but they also tend to allow more points. Consider that the three fastest-paced teams in the NBA -- Brooklyn, Phoenix, and the Lakers -- will likely be bottom-10, or even bottom-five, teams when all is said and done. So while their pace may not translate to wins, it can translate to increased fantasy production -- both for the players on these teams, as well as their opponents.
Philadelphia, Golden State, Orlando, New Orleans, Indiana, Houston and Charlotte round out the top 10 in pace, while Utah, San Antonio, Memphis, Chicago and Sacramento unsurprisingly make up the bottom five.
Of course, matchups aren’t quite as important in weekly fantasy as they are in daily -- if the Rockets face San Antonio, Memphis and Sacramento in the same week, you’re still not sitting James Harden. That said, pace of play can be a tiebreaker when it comes to more trivial roster decisions. In theory, a matchup with the Nets, for instance, could yield nearly nine more possessions than a matchup with the Bucks. That might not seem like much, but those nine additional possessions represent nine chances to rack up fantasy points.