Commentary

Beware of those 'empty points'

Updated: March 11, 2010, 1:03 PM ET
By John Cregan | Special to ESPN.com

We're now getting into the dog days of the season. With only about a month to go until the playoffs, we're starting to see that certain players who have played too many minutes or played through injuries are starting to run out of gas.

Take Monta Ellis. Despite his historically low Player Efficiency Rating for the season (16.62, very inefficient for a front-line combo guard), Ellis has ridden heavy minutes (41.2 per game) and Don Nelson's fast-paced system to fantasy megastardom. But the minutes have taken their toll, and during the past month, Ellis has been either on the shelf or a percentage killer (.329 from the field in his past four games played).

When you look at Ellis' recent production on the surface, he's still scoring points, so all appears to be OK. But when you look deeper at the horrific field goal percentage, bad free throw percentage (for a guard) and high turnover rate (if your league counts those), it's time to consider the unconsiderable. When he returns, could you possibly bench Ellis? Even if he's still putting up volume numbers (points, assists, rebounds, the occasional 3-pointer)?

Could I envision a situation down the stretch in which I'd sit a slumping Ellis? Here are two.

1. You are in a straight-up roto league (good for you) and have a secure place in the standings in points. You've got only a couple of weeks to go in the season, but you're in a dogfight in the percentage categories. If Ellis is still gassed when he comes back and is in constant danger of going 6-for-22, and you've got a solid backup or a hot waiver-wire add, why take the risk?

2. You're in a head-to-head league and fighting for a playoff spot. You're up against an owner who's packed it in for the season and doesn't seem (ahem) to be paying attention to his weekly lineups at this point. You need all the wins you can get. You know you're going to overwhelm this ghost team in the volume categories anyway. Why risk losing the percentage categories to an absent-minded owner?

The point is that while players like Ellis have been very beneficial for their owners this season, for various reasons some become dishers-out of what I call "empty points."

Empty points means that while a player might be putting up 18 to 22 points per game, he's simultaneously doing one of four things:

1. Hurting your percentages, either from the floor, the line or both.
2. Not putting up other stats relevant to his position (no blocks for a center, no assists for a point guard, etc.).
3. Putting up a bad assist-to-turnover ratio (if your league counts turnovers).
4. Only scoring and nothing else (I'm looking at you, shooting guards).

That's why it's important to keep an eye on seven-, 15- and 30-day numbers, and throw out season-long stats. Certain players play too many minutes. Other players (Stephen Jackson, Jason Terry) are just historically streaky.

Accentuating the negatives

When assessing an individual player's impact on your percentages, it's just as important to take into account the amount of attempts per game as it is the actual percentage. Some players might have a bad percentage but a small amount of attempts. An Al Jefferson (1.6-for-2.8 on free throws during the past 15 days) isn't going to hurt you as much as Dwight Howard (5.7-for-8.6), even if his percentage is lower.

Too often we over- or undervalue a player's shooting because we look at just the raw percentage without taking other factors into account. Is the player hitting 3s as well? This is why it's important to occasionally look at a player's true shooting percentage (TS%). During the past 30 days, Richard Hamilton has shot .422 from the floor but is adding only 0.9 3s a night. Conversely, J.R. Smith is also shooting .422 but is contributing 2.8 3-pointers. Even though Hamilton is outscoring Smith by five points a night during that span, I'd much rather have Smith right now.

In leagues that count turnovers, it's just as important to factor in a player's assist-to-turnover ratio as it is his raw totals.

Keeping this in mind, here are some players who might be dragging your team down in a key area:

Field goal percentage (past 15 games)

Kobe Bryant, SG, Los Angeles Lakers (.420 on 8.9-for-21.1 shooting, 0.5 3s)
Tyreke Evans, PG/SG, Sacramento Kings (.437 on 7.8-for-17.8 shooting, 0.4 3s)
Chris Bosh, PF/C, Toronto Raptors (.365 on 6.3-for-17.3 shooting, 0.7 3s)
Monta Ellis, PG/SG, Golden State Warriors (.273 on 6.0-for-22.0 shooting, 1.0 3s)
Brandon Roy, SG/SF Portland Trail Blazers (.393 on 6.0-for-15.3 shooting, 0.7 3s)
Stephen Jackson, SG/SF, Charlotte Bobcats (.394 on 6.3-for-15.9 shooting, 1.5 3s)
Richard Hamilton, SG, Detroit Pistons (.385 on 5.6-for-14.6 shooting, 0.9 3s)
Rodney Stuckey, PG, Pistons (.419 on 6.0-for-14.3 shooting, 0.2 3s)
Russell Westbrook, PG, Oklahoma City Thunder (.439 on 6.3-for-14.3 shooting, 0.1 3s)

Rodney Stuckey
Allen Einstein/NBAE/Getty ImagesRodney Stuckey's poor shooting percentage from the field is tough to dismiss.
OK, I'm not telling you to run out and bench Kobe Bryant and Chris Bosh. But ignore the names of the players and just pay attention to the numbers in the parentheses. Would you want those added to your team's stats? Of course not. A lot of these guys are playing through injuries (Kobe, Bosh). Some might be out of juice (Evans). Some are streaky by nature (Jackson, Westbrook). And some are just plain inefficient.

Rodney Stuckey might be the least efficient (15.77 PER) starting point guard in the NBA. He averages just enough points (17.1) and assists (5.0) to make him viable, but he's getting those stats due to the Pistons' lack of point guard depth.

Stuckey's fantasy viability, like Ellis', is more reliant on quantity than quality. I'm not a big fan of adding too many categories to a league's scoring system, but one stat I wish could be counted in some way is PER. On the whole, PERs correspond roughly to the Player Rater ratings, but you have anomalies like Stuckey (low PER) and Carl Landry (high PER). In fantasy, we too often favor volume over efficiency and reward mediocre players in high-minute roles over better players in the 25-30 minute range.

Free throw percentage (past 15 games)

Dwight Howard, C, Orlando Magic (.617 on 4.6-for-7.5 shooting)
Tyreke Evans, PG/SG, Kings (.600 on 4.5-for-7.5 shooting)
Russell Westbrook, PG, Thunder (.750 on 5.3-for-7.0 shooting)
Josh Smith, SF/PF, Atlanta Hawks (.706 on 4.5-for-6.4 shooting)
Rajon Rondo, PG, Boston Celtics (.698 on 3.8-for-5.4 shooting)
Marc Gasol, C, Memphis Grizzlies (.523 on 2.6-for-4.9 shooting)
Ben Wallace, PF/C, Pistons (.105 on 0.5-for-4.8 shooting)
Antawn Jamison, PF, Cleveland Cavaliers (.419 on 1.9-for-4.4 shooting)

Here we find a couple of two-time offenders (Evans and Westbrook) who have similar profiles: young players with freakish athleticism and massive upside. But they both seem to be running out of steam. Not enough to bench them, but enought to at least consider it in a key situation. Aside from the stars on this list, we also see some percentages here that are just plain ludicrous. Ben Wallace is historically terrible from the line, but before he got injured, he had to be having one of the worst months in NBA history (.316 in February).

Worst assist-to-turnover ratio (season)

Kevin Durant, SF/SG, Thunder (0.80)
Carmelo Anthony, SF, Denver Nuggets (1.09)
Carlos Boozer, PF, Utah Jazz (1.18)
Stephen Jackson, SG/SF, Bobcats (1.18)
Paul Pierce, SG/SF, Celtics (1.25)
David West, PF, New Orleans Hornets (1.25)
Monta Ellis, PG/SG, Warriors (1.27)

This shows you why so many leagues don't count turnovers. It's sort of a bummer of a stat. You don't want to think of Kevin Durant dragging a team down; it's a lot more fun to just watch the stats roll in.

Carmelo Anthony is defying a lot of his outlying stats this season. You'd think that with the high turnovers and the streaky, injury-plagued shooting, he'd be carrying around a low PER, but he's overwhelmed his negatives to the point that his PER is a career-high 23.14.

John Cregan is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.

John Cregan

Fantasy Basketball
John Cregan is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.

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