Grand Theft Roto: Playing percentages
Great field goal, free throw percentage numbers can be helped by large volume of shots
Most NBA teams have played 20-21 games, which means we are basically one-third of the way through the compacted and abbreviated 66-game 2011-12 season. For perspective, during a traditional 82-game NBA campaign, teams would wrap up their 20th game in early December and they would be about a third of the way through the season by mid-late December. So while it may feel like we're just getting the ball rolling this season, the reality is that time is really flying and we don't have time to dilly or dally. This is particularly true if you are struggling with percentages in rotisserie leagues.
It's relatively easy to overcome deficiencies in non-percentage categories, because the stats you have compiled to date are like a hole, not a dead weight that will drag you down. Let's say you are seventh in your league in blocks, and you are 130 blocks behind the team in first place. You could trade for JaVale McGee (3.1 bpg), and if he maintains that pace you will catch the first place team by the end of the season (3.1 blocks x 45 games = 139.5 blocks). It's a hole.
Percentages work differently, though. That's because they can be a dead weight. Let's say you need to get to 47 percent in your league to be in the top three in field-goal percentage so you can win, but you are currently in ninth place with 43 percent shooting. You can't treat it like blocks, where you can just add the requisite number to catch up. In order to get to 47 percent, you will have to overcome the 43 percent you posted to date; and the longer you wait, the heavier the dead weight of 43 percent becomes, because of the volume of shots taken (and missed). In other words, overcoming 21 games of 43 percent shooting is exponentially easier than overcoming 42 games of 43 percent shooting.
The volume of shots taken plays out the same way with individual players, too. While it looks great when you see that Rajon Rondo (51.7 percent) shoots nearly the same percentage as Kevin Durant (51.3 percent), it would essentially take two Rondos to match the volume of Durant's field-goal percentage, because Durant (18.6 shots per game) fires off practically twice as many shots per game as Rondo (11.2). Of course, the same goes for poor shooters. Carmelo Anthony is shooting an embarrassing 39.4 percent this season. Also embarrassing is the 36.2 percent that Raymond Felton is chucking for the Denver Nuggets. Both are awful, but because Melo (20.0 shots per game) is chucking almost twice as many shots per game as Felton (10.4), Melo's going to be twice the drag on your team.
Let's take a look at some specific players who are doing well or poorly in field-goal or free-throw percentages and see how the volume of shots they take affects their overall value. Keep in mind that volume of shots will affect the weight of your percentages in any format, including head-to-head roto and head-to-head points.
Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns: For a decade, Nash has been my quintessential example of why quality percentages can be fool's gold if the player doesn't take enough shots. This season, Nash has a 52.9 FG% and 85.0 FT%. That looks fantastic, especially for a point guard. But he takes only 10.7 shots from the field and 2.2 free-throw shots per game. Nash has value in percentages and can help your team, but if you get wide eyes at the raw percentages and think he will singlehandedly fix your percentage woes across the board, you will be sorely mistaken.
Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder: There's a reason why Durant was taken first or second in your fantasy drafts. To the amateur fantasy baller out there, the reason is big scoring and quality production in every category. But to the fantasy pros, it's the epic volume of his percentages. To date this season, he's averaging 18.6 shots and 7.4 free throws per game (both among the league leaders) and is averaging 51.3 FG% and 82.3 FT%. With that sort of volume and success in percentages, Durant is essentially two or three quality players wrapped up into one roster spot.
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder: It took Durant's tag-team partner a few seasons to get a handle on his shooting at the next level, but after stumbling around in the low-40s, Westy is hitting 45.9 percent of his 17.9 field-goal attempts per game. I think this is about where he will stick for his career. From my experience, if your fantasy squad is averaging 46 percent, typically that will put you in the top third of your roto leagues. That means a guy like Westbrook will not be a game-changer on his own -- as far as moving you up your standings -- but he will not hurt you, either. On the other hand, if you swapped Melo out for Westbrook, you'd get a big bump. Note also that Westbrook is solid at the charity stripe, too: 5.6 attempts per game at 78.4 percent.
Deron Williams, New Jersey Nets: Flash back to the 2007-08 campaign when D-Will was working within the structure of Jerry Sloan's offense with the Utah Jazz: Williams averaged 50.7 percent on 13.6 field-goal tries per game. Now he's chucking 16.7 shots per game and hitting just 39.6 percent of them. Did he forget how to shoot? No. As I discussed last week, the lack of structure and less talent around him has affected his overall performance. However, there's something else at play when it comes to his dip in shooting percentage: 3-point attempts. That season, he attempted just 2.6 per game and, because they were quality shots, he hit a career-high 39.5 percent from beyond the arc. This season he is chucking up 6.0 shots per game from that range and hitting 34.5 percent. As a fact, it's harder to hit shots from three-point range, so the lesson to be learned here is that players who are prone to taking a lot of three-point shots are going to have a tougher time maintaining a quality field-goal percentage, and in turn will be more likely to drag your field-goal percentage down.
Ray Allen, Boston Celtics, and Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors: With that in mind, we need to give our propers to 3-point studs Allen and Curry. Allen is averaging 2.7 3s and Curry 2.3 3s per game this season, placing them in the top five in the NBA. Despite being big-time 3-point shooters, though, both are shooting well from the field: Allen at 51.7 percent, Curry at 47.6 percent. In fact, among the top 20 players in per-game production from beyond the arc, only Allen and Curry have a field-goal percentage higher than 45.5 percent. Obviously, that gives both some incredible overall fantasy value, because they will not only help you in 3s, but they won't drag your field-goal percentage down.
Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers: We'll skip by Dwight Howard when discussing free-throw percentage woes, because we all know his epic struggles. Some people may not realize it, but Griffin is doing his best imitation of D-Ho at the charity stripe. Only five players have attempted more free throws per game than Griffin (7.4). That's actually down one from last season, so it's entirely possible that he will head to the line even more often as this campaign progresses. Also down from last season is his success rate: 50.8 percent versus 64.2 percent. Even though he's not a big shot-blocker, I love Griffin's fantasy game, because he crushes it in FG% (51.8 percent on 16.6 shots per game) and hits the glass hard (11.1 rpg), but there's no getting around the fact that those free throws are going to be an anchor that will pull that category downward all season in roto leagues. For Griffin, it's too bad that he can't get bonus fantasy points for mega-posterizing an opponent.
Tom Carpenter is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
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