Importance of rebounds versus points


We're winding down these "State of the Stats" columns this week with two categories that are nearer and dearer to everyone's collective heart.

Points and rebounds are the two elemental basketball statistics. They're elemental because, frankly, we've all been programmed since we were in utero to prize these stats above all else.

When I was a young future fantasy sports enthusiast, I would pore over the final page of The Washington Post's sports section (hopefully, there still will be a Washington Post by the time Daniel Snyder's lawyers are done with D.C.'s remaining print media), that being the page where they would occasionally throw in league leaders in certain categories. And back then (the late '80s) it was always just points and rebounds. Maybe assists if it was a slow news day.

I realize now that the back page of that sports section was formulating a numerical bias that I'm pretty sure we all still possess. Little did I know then that I was being statistically brainwashed.

Thanks to fantasy hoops, my palette has broadened. One of the great aspects of fantasy basketball is the modern available wealth of large sample-size, quantifiable stats that actually reflect a player's impact on a game.

Obviously, if you're reading this column, you've grown to be more numerically sophisticated through the years. But make no mistake, points and rebounds -- and especially points – are still what drive the psyche of fantasy basketball.

So when I draft a team, I never think about points.

I know that if I draft well, and build my team's categorical strengths up in other areas, that generally the points category will take care of itself. I go into a draft looking to corner the market in the scarcer categories (assists, blocks, steals) and to build strong percentages.

If I take care of my percentages properly, I find that the points will be there. And due to my thirst for drafting as many center-eligible players as possible, I will always have a strong rebounding team.

I don't mean to sound un-expert like about points and rebounds. I don't have this lack of respect for scoring and rebounding due to a rough childhood. I just know that they're the flattest statistics we have.

By "flat," I mean how they are distributed across the 150 or so players that enter heavy fantasy consideration every season. As opposed to stats like blocks or assists, points and rebounds are incrementally distributed, from Ronny Turiaf on up to Kevin Durant.

Couple this relative lack of weight in the distribution of these categories with the built-in bias toward these stats, and you'll soon see why I try to block out scoring numbers when building a team.

Let's start with the baseline averages. The 12-team league per-game averages for points and rebounds are 15.47 and 5.71. Again, I bring this up because I like to give a baseline impression for the prototype in each category.

(Note: I'm using stats for the past 30 days, as opposed to the full 2010-11 season stats, to give you a more up-to-the-minute impression of who's truly contributing as of this writing.)

Rebounds distribution

12-team league average PPG: 5.71
Average player: Timofey Mozgov
Amount of players at or above league average: 77

3.5 to 4.0 times the league average: None
3.0 to 3.49 times: None
2.5 to 2.99 times: 3 players (Kevin Love, Dwight Howard, Zach Randolph)
2.0 to 2.49 times: 3 players (Blake Griffin, Andrew Bogut, J.J. Hickson)
1.5 to 1.99 times: 17 players (Marcus Camby, Carlos Boozer, Emeka Okafor, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Tyson Chandler, Al Horford, Lamar Odom, Al Jefferson, DeAndre Jordan, Kris Humphries, Josh Smith, Tim Duncan, Luis Scola, David Lee, Greg Monroe, Kwame Brown)

First off, you've got a whopping 77 players at or above the league average in rebounding. That's second only to 3-pointers per game (125 players). But unlike 3s, where you had a "superproducer" (Dorell Wright), and several other elite producers, rebounds don't have as rarified a group in its leaders. With rebounds, you don't have a pool of 1-5 players you have to own to win this category.

In previous columns, I didn't have to go below the 1.5 - 1.99 times benchmark to show you where the "sweet spot" was in a category's range. But the distribution of boards is so uniform, so vanilla, that you have a whopping 54 players in the 1.0 - 1.49 times range.

The other thing to look for is where there's a dramatic jump in a category; where the biggest break points are within the leaders in a stat. With rebounds, you've got three fairly substantive break points: Kevin Love to Dwight Howard (1.8 RPG), Zach Randolph to Blake Griffin (1.2 RPG) and Griffin to Andrew Bogut (1.2 RPG). From there on down, the rebounds per game trickle out at an evened-out rate, with no break points above 0.3 rebounds per game.

Again, the test should be "if I don't own a top-5 player in this category, do I have a chance at winning it?" With rebounds, it's clear you don't have to have a Kevin Love or a Dwight Howard to win the rebounding battle. Just the fact that Kwame Brown snuck in to garner a mention should be enough to tell you that rebounds are essentially a dime a dozen.

And if you thought rebounds was a vanilla stat, wait until you get a load of the next category.

Points distribution

12-team league average PPG: 15.47
Average player: Tayshaun Prince
Amount of players at or above league average: 61

3.5 to 4.0 times the league average: None
3.0 to 3.49 times: None
2.5 to 2.99: None
2.0 to 2.49: 2 players (Kevin Durant, LeBron James)
1.5 to 1.99 times: 14 players (Dwyane Wade, Eric Gordon, Kobe Bryant, LaMarcus Aldridge, Joe Johnson, Amare Stoudemire, Blake Griffin, Derrick Rose, Dwight Howard, Russell Westbrook, Monta Ellis, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Love, Kevin Martin)

While there are fewer players at or above the league average, the distribution of points per game is actually flatter than rebounds per game.

The fact that only 16 players are listed above means there are 45 players in the 1.0 to 1.49 times range. You've got a higher amount of break points, but you have to take into account the impact of volume. A league leader in points will almost double the average of a league leader in rebounds. So with points, you're looking for breaks of 2.0 points or more, of which there are only two: LeBron James to Dwyane Wade (2.0 PPG), and Wade to Eric Gordon (2.3 PPG).

From Kobe Bryant on down, the scoring averages -- even more than the rebounding averages -- trickle away at a remarkably steady pace.

In my ESPN Writers' Auction League, I am currently blowing away the field in points scored. But I own only three of the above players: LaMarcus Aldridge, Joe Johnson and Blake Griffin. Griffin is my team leader for the season with 23.0 PPG.

Part of the reason I'm leading this league in points is the reason why auction leagues are so rewarding: you can customize your budget to fit your own personal strategy.

My strategy is to go big whenever possible and try to amass as many assists as possible up and down my lineup. It's also to not spend too much on a single superstar outside of an elite point guard, and instead to look to build categorical depth -- meaning the aim is to have a roster that isn't dependent on one or two players for success.

Since points per game is so evenly distributed, it's comparatively simple to lead a league in points with only one or two top-10 scorers. Could you lead your league in assists or blocks with only one top-10 producer? Not likely. Actually closer to impossible.

It's far more advantageous for owners to use our built-in pro-points bias by cutting against the grain. Scorers such as Carmelo Anthony, Zach Randolph and Kevin Martin tend to be overvalued due to the attendant hype that accompanies a high scoring average. And the importance of the emptiest position slot in fantasy basketball, shooting guard, is built almost entirely on the points category.

Think of it this way: when Nick Young scores 30 points, it's a fairly big fantasy story, even though he does little else than score. When Reggie Evans snares 16 rebounds? It's a mere afterthought, maybe getting a mention of how one-dimensional Evans is.

In the end, points are the junk food of fantasy.

Advantage: Rebounds

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