Grand Theft Roto: Playing percentages
A few weeks ago, I discussed how volume shooting can affect the fantasy value of players and your team's ability to move up the rankings, because the more field goal or free throw attempts a player takes, the more weight his percentages carry, good or bad. This week I'm going to take a look at the field goal percentages posted to date this season by certain players who are shooting above or below their typical mark to determine whether the change is an anomaly or something we can count on the rest of the season.
Like most other things that involve fantasy hoops, we need to play the odds, and with percentages, the odds are that an established player will eventually work his way back to his typical shooting percentage. We can take advantage of this assumption in general, because when we see a veteran who has averaged 50 percent from the field for his career but is shooting 45 percent through 30 games this season, the odds are that he will shoot better than 50 percent the rest of the season to bring his season average back up to 50 percent. We can then trade for a guy like that to improve our percentages. On the other hand, it makes sense to trade a player on your team who is likely to see his percentage sink back to his usual pace during the second half of the season.
Of course, before we can bank on these assumptions, we need to do our homework to make sure that there aren't outside contributing factors that are causing the diminished success in shooting. Injuries, coaching changes, a new role on offense, a bad attitude, an aging body and the addition of new teammates are factors that can bring down a player's field goal percentage.
Let's examine some players whose field goal percentages are higher or lower than normal to determine who is likely to maintain that pace and who might come back to their typical production -- and, in turn, who would be a good trade target or a good player to deal.
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder: 47.4 FG%
It doesn't take an expert to look at Westy's physical attributes to know that he has unlimited potential. But physical skills don't mean much if you can't train yourself to take quality shots and hit from outside the lane. Just ask Allen Iverson, arguably the most physically gifted guard to ever hit the NBA hardwood. He never saw a shot he didn't like and averaged just 42.5 percent for his career as a result.
Westbrook, though, has shown marked improvement each season as a pro, rising from 39.8 percent as a rookie to 41.8 percent, then 44.2 percent last season. Now he's popping off a fantastic 47.4 percent halfway through his fourth campaign. He's lethal at attacking the lane and has grown comfortable dropping jumpers off the dribble. I noted a few weeks back that I figured he'd level off at about 46 percent for his career, so I believe we can count on at least 46 percent the rest of this season, but it's not out of the question that he could maintain his current pace or even push up on 48 percent if he continues to grow; in 12 February games, he's averaging 49.6 percent. Any way you slice it these are excellent numbers for a point guard and not a fluke.
Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks: 39.8 FG%
Over the course of his 8.5 seasons, Melo has averaged 45.7 percent. His career best was 49.2 percent with the Denver Nuggets in 2007-08, the final season of a three-year stretch in which he averaged no less than 47.6 percent. Since then, he's primarily hung around 45-46 percent and has never had a season lower than 43.1 percent (his sophomore campaign in 2004-05). The point is that the embarrassing 39.8 percent this season is off-the-charts bad.
What's the deal? We can point directly to injuries that have plagued him all season. So far during this condensed campaign, he's battled back, hip, knee, wrist, ankle and groin injuries, so it's no surprise that he's had trouble getting his shot on track. While this is good news if he can get healthy -- i.e., a healthy Melo should shoot well -- it's also a concern, because Melo has proved to be frail as a pro. In fact, his only complete 82-game campaign was his rookie season, and he has missed double-digit games twice in the previous three seasons.
Now he's trying to get healthy in this condensed season and will have to find a new rhythm with point guard Jeremy Lin. I'm more concerned about Melo's health than coexisting with Lin; Melo is solid in the pick-and-roll, and while he is used to working off the dribble, he's underrated at playing off the ball. My guess is that he'll shoot 45-46 the rest of the season. If things click and he stays healthy, we could see a month of 48 percent.
Deron Williams, New Jersey Nets: 41.2 FG%
Any point guard who is able to average nearly 46 percent for his career is going to make for a solid fantasy option. That's what has made D-Will such a mess in fantasy terms this season. We drafted him expecting solid percentages, but he's shooting 41.2 percent from the field thus far. Out of Jerry Sloan's tight system with the Utah Jazz and having lost the only other scorer on his new team (Brook Lopez), it's no surprise that his field goal percentage is down. He's chucking nearly three more shots per game than his previous career high and a whopping 6.5 3-pointers per game. If Lopez quickly rounds back into shape and Williams cuts down on his beyond-the-arc attempts, he should see his field goal percentage rise to a respectable level -- say, 44 percent -- but I think that's the cap this season.
Joe Johnson, Atlanta Hawks: 42.5 FG%
Despite averaging 4.1 3s per game and playing a bevy of positions (PG, SG, SF), J.J. has averaged a decent 44.2 percent for his career. Unfortunately, he's 30 years old now and has more than 800 games of wear and tear, so reports that he is battling tendinitis in his left knee are no surprise. In the past, we've seen Johnson crank out a big month or two of solid percentages (50.4 percent last January), but I don't think we can count on a rebound like that at this stage of his career.
Danny Granger, Indiana Pacers: 38.9 FG%
Typically we see a player's field goal percentage drop if he takes more shots, because the more shots you take, the more you can miss. However, in Granger's case, he's taken fewer shots each of his past three seasons and his field goal percentage has dropped each of those seasons. For some players, taking fewer shots can make things more difficult because it messes with their rhythm. That's certainly part of Granger's problem, but he's also been hurt. Even if he gets healthy, I doubt we'll see him shoot better than 42-43 percent the rest of the way.
Amare Stoudemire, New York Knicks: 44.7 FG%
It's almost incomprehensible that STAT could be shooting 44.7 percent from the field in 27 games after averaging 53.3 percent over his career. That would be his career worst by a mile (47.2 as a rook). In fact, he hasn't shot below 50 percent since 2003-04. He's had his own physical maladies, which have played a role in his diminished shooting success, but he should be healthy now. Time will tell just how he, Melo and Lin will work together, but I will be shocked if he doesn't top 50 percent the rest of the season, which makes him a solid buy-low candidate. Just don't expect massive scoring production, because there are only so many touches to go around in the Big Apple.
Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks: 45.7 FG%
Diggler hasn't shot below 47.9 percent from the field since 2004-05, so his 45.7 percent this season sticks out like a sore thumb, or maybe more to the point, a sore knee. That joint has shown marked improvement in recent weeks and with it has come marked improvement in his production. After averaging 15.1 ppg and 44.2 percent in January, he's averaging 23.8 ppg and 46.7 percent this month. I think we can plan on these numbers the rest of the way. Target him in a trade, especially if his current owner doesn't take the time to examine Nowitzki's splits, which clearly reveal that his sore knee was the cause of his poor production.
Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics: 42.0 FG%
Field goal percentages can be a bit deceiving, because although we are halfway through the season, it's a shortened campaign, which means every shot carries more weight. For instance, Pierce was shooting 41.6 percent on the season entering Monday night's game. After hitting just seven of his 13 shots Monday, his percentage rose to 42.0. While that shows how quickly percentages can change, it doesn't explain why he's shooting the third lowest percentage of his 14-year career, especially since he shot a career-best 49.7 percent last season. It's hard to not look directly at his age (34), the nearly 1,000 games he's played and the condensed season as being the obvious cause of his poor shooting. We'll probably see a solid month of 47-48 percent at some point, but I can't recommend buying the aging veteran this season.
Raymond Felton, Portland Trail Blazers: 37.1 FG%
Nobody can shoot this poorly in the NBA and not be embarrassed, even a guy who has averaged just 41.0 percent over his seven-year career. Felton teased us in 2009-10 by shooting 45.9 percent over 80 games, but that was under the thumb of coach Larry Brown, who forced Felton to take only the highest-quality shots. The rest of his career he has been mired in the low 40s, and now he looks thoroughly lost with Blazers. What you see is what you get with Felton, so don't expect any big turnaround in his shooting success.
Tom Carpenter is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.