The potential effect of PER in fantasy
I don't know if you've read about it, but Antoine Walker has begun a comeback attempt with the Idaho Stampede. That's as in the D-League's Idaho Stampede. I've always had a soft spot for Walker -- in his heyday, one of the most frustrating/thrilling players to own in fantasy -- and hope for his sake that he plays his way back onto an NBA roster.
At his 2000-05 peak, Walker was the fault line in one of the essential fantasy debates: volume versus efficiency. Does fantasy scoring too greatly reward the players who gun for higher stats at the expense of team? Does it reward players with flawed or one-dimensional games?
There really was no other player who could topple one's percentages with the ruthlessness of Walker. For me, the ultimate Walker line occurred during his 2005-06 wilderness season in Dallas, a January evening when he shot 4-for-19 (0-for-6 on 3s) for a .211 percentage, yet still managed to contribute 17 rebounds and 13 assists for the most horrifying traditional triple-double in NBA history.
There are some checks and balances in the traditional fantasy scoring system. Most leagues count percentage categories. A growing number of leagues count turnovers. By counting 3s, free throw percentage and field goal percentage, fantasy is essentially counting true shooting percentage (TS%), a stat that takes into account the total number of points generated by a player's field goal and free throw attempts. It's one of the great Hollingerian efficiency stats. Most elite players possess a TS% of better than .550. Generally, any player with a TS% below .500 must overproduce in other areas (assists, blocks) to be roster-worthy.
I often use PER as an outlier when looking at players who might land on the fantasy radar given 25-plus minutes a night. But I often find myself gazing longingly at its quality-play-rewarding confines. Should leagues offer a scoring component to reward high-efficiency players? One of the great advantages of fantasy basketball over fantasy football is its statistical diversity. A player's performance can be quantified in much greater deal in basketball than in football. Why not take greater advantage of this potential?
Would it have to be something that also allowed for minutes played so that high-PER players averaging less than 20 minutes a night weren't determining championships? For instance, this year's version of Brad Miller has a PER of 20.12, but is averaging only 19.1 minutes per game. It's not really fair to have the eighth guy in a rotation pushing or pulling your league's standings.
Or is it?
Why would having Miller on a team for his PER be any different than having Emeka Okafor for his blocks? Couldn't you simply calculate the amount of PER a player contributes in a game, thinking of it as a volume-based stat a la points? After all, if a player is hurting you in every other category, you're less likely to roster a specialist, be it a 3-point specialist or a PER specialist.
Think of it like this: Chris Paul plays four games in a week in a head-to-head league and averages a 25.0 PER per game to go along with 20 points per game. So in that head-to-head matchup, he's contributing 100 PERs and 80 points to his team's total.
It wouldn't be overtly revolutionary. By and large, PER rankings will resemble Player Rater rankings, but there are always a few anomalies -- an inefficient player who is high on the Player Rater, or a lower-minute player high in PER.
Let's take a look at some players who would rise and fall using PER as a category.
Kobe Bryant, SG, Los Angeles Lakers (15th Player Rater, 2nd PER)
Tyrus Thomas, PF, Charlotte Bobcats (76th Rater, 16th PER)
Blake Griffin, PF, Los Angeles Clippers (79th Rater, 24th PER)
Luis Scola, PF/C, Houston Rockets (64th Rater, 30th PER)
Brad Miller, C, Rockets (97th Rater, 34th PER)
Shaquille O'Neal, C, Boston Celtics (200th Rater, 26th PER)
Amir Johnson, PF, Toronto Raptors (61st Rater, 40th PER)
Thaddeus Young, SF, Philadelphia 76ers (86th Rater, 41st PER)
Brandon Bass, PF, Orlando Magic (128th Rater, 51st PER)
Hakim Warrick, PF, Phoenix Suns (169th Rater, 54th PER)
Nazr Mohammed, C, Bobcats (145th Rater, 60th PER)
Kris Humphries, PF, New Jersey Nets (108th Rater, 65th PER)
Nick Young, SF, Washington Wizards (147th Rater, 77th PER)
Gary Forbes, SF, Denver Nuggets (234th Rater, 72nd PER)
DeJuan Blair, PF/C, San Antonio Spurs (135th Rater, 100th PER)
Amare Stoudemire, C, New York Knicks (2nd Rater, 10th PER)
Raymond Felton, PG, Knicks (4th Rater, 39th PER)
Rudy Gay, SF, Memphis Grizzlies (8th Rater, 55th PER)
Josh Smith, PF/SF, Atlanta Hawks (9th Rater, 18th PER)
Wilson Chandler, SF/SG, Knicks (16th Rater, 58th PER)
Lamar Odom, PF, Lakers (17th Rater, 37th PER)
Monta Ellis, PG/SG, Golden State Warriors (22nd Rater, 52nd PER)
Mike Conley, PG, Grizzlies (28th Rater, 71st PER)
Paul Pierce, SF/SG, Celtics (30th Rater, 56th PER)
Stephen Jackson, SG/SF, Bobcats (32nd Rater, 106th PER)
Jason Kidd, PG, Dallas Mavericks (42nd Rater, 104th PER)
Jrue Holiday, PG, 76ers (43rd Rater, 109th PER)
Dorell Wright, SF, Warriors (44th Rater, 185th PER)
Arron Afflalo, SG, Nuggets (59th Rater, 168th PER)
O.J. Mayo, SG, Grizzlies (137th Rater, 201st PER)
Rashard Lewis, SF/PF, Magic (112th Rater, 218th PER)
1. Power forwards
The fact that power forwards are seemingly reduced to dime-a-dozen status has long been one of the great injustices of fantasy basketball. Fantasy basketball categories are weighted toward swingmen and point guards. Power forwards' greatest statistical strength -- their efficiency -- goes largely unrewarded unless they can add elite shot-blocking to their resume. Adding PER as a stat would go a long way toward giving power forwards more overall importance in Fantasyland.
2. Emerging young players
I'm sure many of you as are addicted to rookies as I. It's exciting to track a quality young player as he begins to claw his way up a depth chart. I, for one, would rather roster an up-and-coming Gary Forbes than a-down-and-out Rashard Lewis. PER, as always, gives you an idea of who to keep tabs on for the future.
3. Quality role players
This is my favorite aspect of counting PER. In football, you have kickers. Why not count the basketball equivalent of special teams players? Players like Nazr Mohammed may not grab any headlines, but they perform a specialized service, and do it very well. DeJuan Blair would be starting on a lot of lesser teams, but is relegated to backup duty on a loaded San Antonio roster. Why should that penalize Blair -- a very efficient player -- from contributing in fantasy?
1. Point guards
By and large, the biggest drops from Player Rater to PER involved point guards. Namely, point guards with high turnover rates. I love point guards, but the current scoring system probably places too much emphasis on their stats as opposed to power forwards.
2. Players who look to score first
Again, I've always believed fantasy places too much of an emphasis on points scored. It's why I disdain shooting guards with such vigor. Swingmen like Rudy Gay and Arron Afflalo could probably use a little diversification in their stats. Why not balance it out with PER?
3. Players on high-pace, less-efficient teams
Three Knicks have the largest drops on this list. Why? They're producing in a supercharged D'Antoni system, but aren't executing it to perfection as of yet. As a result, they're generating a lot of turnovers and aren't operating with the utmost of efficiency. Dorell Wright is having a great season, but he, like Monta Ellis, is getting his volume-based stats boosted by virtue of playing in a pseudo-Nelson scheme.
John Cregan is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
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