Efficiency plus volume is key
If you're in a rotisserie league, you're fast approaching the time when it's going to be difficult to make a big move in field goal percentage. Personally, I look to draft as many percentage boosters as possible in rotisserie leagues so I can build leads in those areas, then look to deal percentages for categories of need further down the line.
Over the years, I've encountered the occasional head-to-header who will tell me that field goal percentages are too unpredictable to build around. My response is that in a head-to-head league, it's precisely the percentage categories you should be building around. Stats such as steals, blocks and 3s are invariably flukier than percentages in one-week portions. With sample sizes derived from only three or four games (five if you're lucky, two if you're not), you want to lean on the stats with the largest amount of sheer statistical weight. And that stat -- other than points -- happens to be field goal percentage.
If you look to make percentage-based strength the bedrock of your trade discussions and waiver-wire pickups, you'll be getting a leg up on owners who tend to be dazzled by points per game. Get in touch with your inner Daryl Morey and look for efficient contributors. If you pepper your roster with these types of players, it will allow you to absorb the statistical sins of the Jason Kidds and Joe Johnsons of this world all the better.
It's an NBA truism that every team can handle one knucklehead. More than one, and you're the Sacramento Kings. Ask anyone who's ever coached Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins at the same time (at least at the NBA level). You should think of your fantasy team the same way. You can afford to carry one percentage-killer if you've properly stocked your roster with sharpshooters. More than one, and it's time to start loading up in other categories.
The other factor at work here is 3-point attempts.
Yes, it's easier to forgive a sub-45 percent shooter if he's hitting at least 1.5 3-pointers a night, but ultimately, it's no excuse for losing the field goal battle. There are plenty of 3-point contributors out there shooting at or above 45 percent.
The stat you want to study for your 3-point specialists is adjusted field goal percentage (ADJ FG%), a very important stat that gives you a concrete view of who's really helping or hurting your team from the floor. ADJ FG% can be found in ESPN's stat pages in the percentage leaders section.
These are the contributors you want, players who are hitting at least one 3-pointer a night with an ADJ FG% at or above .500. If you think it's a short list, think again. There are currently 42 players who meet the criteria.
So I told you all of that so I could tell you this: It's not enough to just look for the players with the highest percentages. You've got to pay attention to how many field goals they're actually attempting a night. It's all well and good to have a Serge Ibaka hitting 57 percent of his shots, but Ibaka attempts only 7.1 shots per game.
You're looking for efficiency plus volume.
The idea is to not only acquire players who are obvious percentage-boosters (Amare Stoudemire, Dirk Nowitzki, David West) and deal percentage-killers (Tyreke Evans, Brandon Roy, Chauncey Billups). It's also to look for the players who might be subtly helping or hurting you through sheer volume. Players who might be shooting something seemingly unscary in the 42-44 percent range, but are secretly hurting you via their 12-20 shot attempts a night.
Do you know what the rough average field goal percentage is in a 12-team fantasy league? About .450. I use that as a benchmark when drafting to remind myself not to acquire too many players who fall below that level.
Do you know what the precise average field goal percentage is in a 12-team league this season? .453. I know this because I just sat down and spent 20 minutes adding it all up.
So .453 will buy you a middle-of-the-pack finish. But if you want to build strength in this area, I recommend using .453 as your baseline. Convince yourself that 45 percent shooting is Baron Davis-territory, then start looking at the players with the highest amounts of field goal attempts.
Here's a list of subtle percentage boosters, players who will never challenge for the field goal percentage title, but will secretly help you win the field goal battle thanks to their high volume of shot attempts:
The worst offender here? Carmelo Anthony.
Efficiency aficionados have long derided Anthony, but he usually gets a free pass in fantasy due to his prodigious scoring numbers. Anthony can historically be counted on to at least be mediocre in field goal percentage (.459 career shooter), but the pre-trade "coasting" rumors this season are evidenced in his current .442 clip. This would be forgivable if Anthony was hitting 3s like Durant or Bryant, but Anthony is averaging fewer than one 3 per night. That's the sort of thing that happens when you're shooting only 28 percent from behind the arc.
Now, I'm obviously not telling you to drop Carmelo because he's less than a percentage point beneath 45 percent. But you should consider it when weighing a trade.
Winning a competitive fantasy league combines two key elements: a little luck and a lot of attention to detail. Drafting well and adhering to sound strategies will generally get you into the top three in the standings, but the difference between first place and third place can be wafer-thin. Paying attention to the little things such as shot volume and ADJ FG% is the kind of mindset you'll need if you want to rely more on skill and less on chance.
John Cregan is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
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