Commentary

Look closer at underlying statistics

Updated: November 30, 2009, 3:12 PM ET
By Brian McKitish | Special to ESPN.com

We fantasy owners sometimes get so caught up in statistics that we forget that the best way to analyze a player's performance is to actually watch him play. You can pore over the box scores all you want; rarely do they tell the full story. For fantasy purposes, I've always felt that there is no substitute for watching games, regardless of the sport. Still, we have to be realistic here. Not everyone can dish out the cash to purchase NBA League Pass (which comes highly recommended for any fantasy owner, by the way), and even less actually have the time to watch hoops every night. So, instead, many of us are forced to rely on the stats.

That being the case, we should be sure that we're looking at the right numbers when we're doing our fantasy research. Don't just look for the standard fantasy categories. It's easy to skim the box scores looking at points, rebounds and assists and move on. Instead, examine some of the underlying and obscure statistics. Personally, some of my favorite statistics include shot attempts per game (from the floor, line and behind the arc), minutes per game and per-minute production. When I sit down to prep for this column, I look at these types of stats just as much (if not more) than I look at the standard eight fantasy categories.

Ilysova
Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty ImagesErsan Ilyasova is the highest debut in the rankings, thanks in part to big numbers while getting more playing time.

With that in mind, let's play a little game of fun with numbers, focusing on some of the underlying stats that we should pay more attention to:

10.8: Free throws attempted per game for Carmelo Anthony, making him the best fantasy free throw shooter in the league at the moment. Sure, there are a few guys shooting better than his 86 percent from the stripe, but Melo carries more weight in the category thanks to the high number of attempts. For all the great things Melo is doing this year (30.9 points, 1.6 steals, etc.), this is perhaps his most redeeming fantasy quality.

15.2: Rebounds per 48 minutes for Ersan Ilyasova. If you were wondering what Ilyasova could do with extended minutes, look no further than his past five games: 15.2 points, 9.4 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.4 3-pointers in 29.8 minutes per game. And, given how well he's playing, we can expect that those minutes will continue to rise as the season progresses. He's owned in just 14.5 percent of fantasy leagues, so hurry up and grab him before the secret gets out.

117: 3-pointers attempted by Danny Granger through 13 games. That's 9.0 attempts per game! It's no surprise, therefore, that he is averaging a career-high 3.2 3-pointers made per game, but it's also no surprise that he is shooting a career-low 41.6 percent from the floor. I'd actually rather see him take the ball to the basket more to balance out that field goal percentage, and maybe he will now that Mike Dunleavy is back. Still, Granger is likely to continue his struggles from the floor going forward. His 3-point attempts have risen in each of his first four seasons, and his offensive repertoire consists mostly of long-distance, low-percentage shots these days. This, of course, can be considered both a positive and a negative, depending on your team's categorical needs.

2.1: 3-point attempts per game for Rudy Gay, down a full attempt per game from last season. This may look like bad news, but it's not. Sure, he's hitting fewer 3's as a result, but he's also taking more high-percentage shots and is shooting a career-best 50 percent from the floor. Gay is basically the anti-Danny Granger. He's relying less and less on his jump shot and is taking the ball to the rim with more frequency. Some of this is a direct result of O.J. Mayo's arrival last season as the Memphis Grizzlies' main 3-point threat, but it's also because Gay is a better slasher than jump-shooter. That said, we can expect this trend to continue and expect fewer 3's and a better field-goal percentage going forward. In other news, Gay is having an absolutely brilliant season after a down 2008-09 campaign.

The Top 130

Note: Brian McKitish's Top 130 are ranked for their expected performance in ESPN standard leagues from this point on, not on the statistics that have already been accrued. Last week's ranking is indicated in parentheses.

RK. Name, POS (RK)
1. LeBron James, SF, CLE (1)
2. Danny Granger, SF, IND (2)
3. Kevin Durant, SG/SF, OKC (3)
4. Dwyane Wade, SG, MIA (4)
5. Kobe Bryant, SG, LAL (5)
6. Dirk Nowitzki, PF, DAL (6)
7. Carmelo Anthony, SF, DEN (8)
8. Dwight Howard, C, ORL (9)
9. Chris Bosh, PF/C, TOR (7)
10. Steve Nash, PG, PHO (10)
11. Chris Paul, PG, NO (11)
12. Deron Williams, PG, UTA (12)
13. Josh Smith, PF/SF, ATL (13)
14. Pau Gasol, PF/C, LAL (15)
15. Andre Iguodala, SG/SF, PHI (16)
16. Amare Stoudemire, C/PF, PHO (14)
17. Joe Johnson, SG/SF, ATL (17)
18. Monta Ellis, PG/SG, GS (24)
19. Paul Pierce, SF/SG, BOS (20)
20. Brandon Roy, SG, POR (18)
21. Al Jefferson, C, MIN (19)
22. Brook Lopez, C, NJ (21)
23. Chauncey Billups, PG, DEN (22)
24. Rajon Rondo, PG, BOS (23)
25. Baron Davis, PG, LAC (27)
26. Andrea Bargnani, PF/C, TOR (26)
27. Jason Kidd, PG, DAL (28)
28. Devin Harris, PG, NJ (30)
29. Jason Richardson, SG/SF, PHO (31)
30. Vince Carter, SG/SF, ORL (32)
31. Gilbert Arenas, PG, WAS (25)
32. Tim Duncan, C/PF, SA (33)
33. Trevor Ariza, SF, HOU (34)
34. Carlos Boozer, PF, UTA (36)
35. Nene Hilario, C/PF, DEN (37)
36. Mo Williams, PG, CLE (35)
37. Gerald Wallace, SF/PF, CHA (42)
38. Rashard Lewis, SF/PF, ORL (29)
39. Russell Westbrook, PG, OKC (38)
40. David Lee, PF/C, NY (39)
41. Antawn Jamison, PF, WAS (41)
42. Ben Gordon, SG, DET (46)
43. Rudy Gay, SF, MEM (63)
44. Jose Calderon, PG, TOR (43)
45. Troy Murphy, PF/C, IND (44)
46. Brandon Jennings, PG, MIL (47)
47. Al Horford, C/PF, ATL (48)
48. Marc Gasol, C, MEM (52)
49. Derrick Rose, PG, CHI (54)
50. David West, PF, NO (40)
51. Tyreke Evans, PG, SAC (62)
52. Caron Butler, SF, WAS (49)
53. Hedo Turkoglu, SF, TOR (45)
54. Kevin Garnett, PF, BOS (50)
55. Stephen Jackson, SG/SF, GS (51)
56. Andrew Bynum, C, LAL (53)
57. Joakim Noah, C/PF, CHI (55)
58. Chris Kaman, C, LAC (56)
59. Mehmet Okur, C, UTA (57)
60. Al Harrington, PF, NY (59)
61. Jeff Green, SF/PF, OKC (60)
62. Eric Gordon, SG, LAC (61)
63. Luol Deng, SF, CHI (73)
64. Jason Thompson, PF, SAC (68)
65. Marcus Camby, C/PF, LAC (70)
66. Jason Terry, SG/PG, DAL (71)
67. Tony Parker, PG, SA (65)
68. Channing Frye, PF/C, PHO (74)
69. O.J. Mayo, SG, MEM (66)
70. Luis Scola, PF/C, HOU (75)
71. Greg Oden, C, POR (89)
72. J.R. Smith, SG, DEN (67)
73. Boris Diaw, PF/SF, CHA (69)
74. Shawn Marion, SF/PF, DAL (64)
75. Zach Randolph, PF, MEM (72)
76. Jamal Crawford, SG/PG, ATL (76)
77. Thaddeus Young, SF, PHI (90)
78. John Salmons, SG/SF, CHI (79)
79. Ray Allen, SG, BOS (80)
80. Rodney Stuckey, PG, DET (81)
81. Danilo Gallinari, SF, NY (82)
82. Mario Chalmers, PG, MIA (83)
83. Emeka Okafor, C, NO (77)
84. Charlie Villanueva, PF/SF, DET (84)
85. Andrei Kirilenko, SF/PF, UTA (85)
86. Brendan Haywood, C, WAS (95)
87. Andris Biedrins, C, GS (78)
88. Stephen Curry, PG/SG, GS (119)
89. Aaron Brooks, PG, HOU (87)
90. Michael Redd, SG, MIL (88)
91. LaMarcus Aldridge, PF, POR (91)
92. Kevin Love, PF, MIN (97)
93. Michael Beasley, PF/SF, MIA (96)
94. Kevin Martin, SG, SAC (92)
95. Andrew Bogut, C, MIL (93)
96. Tyrus Thomas, PF, CHI (94)
97. Elton Brand, PF, PHI (106)
98. Roy Hibbert, C, IND (86)
99. Chris Douglas-Roberts, SG, NJ (98)
100. Ron Artest, SF, LAL (100)
101. Jermaine O'Neal, C, MIA (102)
102. Corey Maggette, SF, GS (107)
103. Larry Hughes, SG, NY (108)
104. Corey Brewer, SF/SG, MIN (110)
105. Manu Ginobili, SG, SA (101)
106. Ersan Ilyasova, SF, MIL (NR)
107. Raymond Felton, PG, CHA (111)
108. Lamar Odom, PF/SF, LAL (104)
109. Anthony Morrow, SG, GS (112)
110. Carl Landry, PF, HOU (124)
111. Spencer Hawes, C, SAC (115)
112. Jameer Nelson, PG, ORL (109)
113. Shane Battier, SF, HOU (116)
114. Beno Udrih, PG, SAC (114)
115. Wilson Chandler, SF, NY (117)
116. Mike Bibby, PG, ATL (113)
117. Anthony Randolph, PF/SF, GS (105)
118. Peja Stojakovic, SF, NO (118)
119. Jonny Flynn, PG, MIN (120)
120. Andre Miller, PG, POR (103)
121. Udonis Haslem, PF, MIA (121)
122. Grant Hill, SF, PHO (122)
123. Andres Nocioni, SF/PF, SAC (123)
124. Nate Robinson, PG, NY (NR)
125. Ben Wallace, C/PF, DET (125)
126. Kendrick Perkins, C, BOS (NR)
127. Blake Griffin, PF, LAC (127)
128. Rudy Fernandez, SG, POR (130)
129. Jason Williams, PG, ORL (NR)
130. Jrue Holiday, PG, PHI (NR)

46.2: Channing Frye's shooting percentage from downtown through 16 games. This is a number that has to go down, right? Entering the season, Frye had attempted just 70 3-pointers, connecting on only 20 of them in his career. It's a fairly small sample size, but that's a career 28.6 shooting percentage, folks. I realize that Steve Nash plays a big role in his success, but even with Nash, I still think Frye is playing a bit over his head here. Even so, Frye will still be a valuable fantasy commodity because he's attempting so many 3's per game (5.8) that he'll continue to hit at least two per game even if his shooting percentage drops.

5.64: Assist-to-turnover ratio for Orlando Magic point guard Jason Williams. J-Will is averaging a more-than-serviceable 10.7 points, 5.8 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.8 3-pointers in six starts this season, and thanks to his incredible ATO ratio, he should continue to get the lion's share of the point-guard minutes in Jameer Nelson's absence. Williams is owned in just 6.3 percent of fantasy leagues, which is not nearly enough given his fantastic production since Nelson's injury.

3.22: Steals per 48 minutes for Rudy Fernandez, which ranks third in the league. Thanks to Martell Webster, Fernandez hasn't seen the minutes I expected since Travis Outlaw's injury, but he's been highly productive in steals (1.6 per game) and 3-pointers (1.7 per game) nonetheless. It makes you wonder just how dominant he could be in those two categories if he ever earned 30 minutes per game.

50.1: Opponents' field goal percentage against the Golden State Warriors this season. There's literally zero defense being played here, and wide-open shots are pretty much the norm. Fantasy owners should use this information two ways. First, always start your players who are going up against the Warriors. That's a no-brainer. Second, do not make the mistake of overrating someone if they go off for a huge scoring night. The Warriors have had multiple players score 30 points or more on them already this season, so we should start taking those numbers with a grain of salt.

8.0: Fouls per 48 minutes for Greg Oden. Aside from injury worries, Oden's foul troubles remain his biggest fantasy concern. Oden consistently finds himself in foul trouble and that makes it tough for him to stay on the court any longer than the 25.6 minutes he's seen over his past five games. Don't get me wrong, Oden is playing great with 16.0 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocks over his past five, but this is probably his ceiling until he figures out how to defend without fouling. It's a skill that typically takes young big men a few years to learn, so do not expect him to improve much in this area this season.

4.0: Offensive rebounds per game for Ben Wallace, who has been looking a little like the Big Ben of old as of late. His offensive boards aren't translating into points, but Wallace is getting after it on the glass and on the defensive end. It's surprising that Wallace is still owned in just 7.5 percent of fantasy leagues even after averaging 11.6 rebounds and 1.4 steals over his past five games. If you need defensive stats and boards, jump on Big Ben because the Detroit Pistons' lack of frontcourt depth should ensure that he continues to earn quality minutes all season long.

0: Double-doubles for Andrew Bynum in four games since Pau Gasol's return. He had registered eight double-doubles in his first nine contests. While Gasol (18.0 points, 12.0 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 31.0 minutes) has had no issue producing with Bynum on the court, Bynum has struggled to perform with Gasol back in action. Bynum is averaging 16.3 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in four games with Gasol. Those are still great numbers, but they are nowhere near his season averages of 19.1 points, 10.6 rebounds and 1.7 blocks. It is possible that he's still slowed by the minor ankle sprain he suffered last week, but expectations should be tempered for Bynum now that he has more competition for stats in the Los Angeles Lakers frontcourt.

24.9: Jarrett Jack's minutes per game, some of which are spent alongside Jose Calderon in the backcourt. Jack isn't doing enough on his own to be fantasy worthy, and he is negatively impacting Calderon's fantasy value. Calderon has spent most of his time on the court with at least one other playmaker (Jack or Hedo Turkoglu) on the court at the same time. With multiple players who can create scoring opportunities off the dribble, Calderon's assist totals have plummeted from 8.9 last season to only 6.4 in 17 games this season. He's still a top-10 option for assists, but he's no longer a top-5 option, and he won't be unless the Toronto Raptors make some changes to their offensive rotations.

32.2: Brandon Jennings' field goal percentage over his past five games. And this, my friends, is exactly why I was reluctant to move him much higher than 47th on my rankings list despite constant pressure to do so early in the season. One of the knocks on Jennings coming in was his somewhat erratic shooting, and we're finally starting to get a taste of it. Jennings is still averaging a productive 16.4 points, 4.8 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.6 3-pointers during his shooting slump, and he'll certainly have more hot streaks along the way, but we should expect some inconsistency going forward.

37.2: Stephen Curry's minutes per game over his past five contests. Somewhat lost in the wake of Monta Ellis' breakout has been the play of Curry, who is averaging 13.4 points, 4.2 rebounds, 6.8 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.2 3-pointers over his past five. With Stephen Jackson gone and injuries piling up, the Warriors have no choice but to give Curry extended playing time, and he's certainly making the most of it. You never know what might happen as far as playing time is concerned (remember, this is still Don Nelson's team), but Curry seems to be safe for now.

On the Bubble

Each week I'll be listing 15-20 players who did not make the cut for the top 130. Those who missed the cut this week include: Paul Millsap, Leandro Barbosa, Mike Miller, T.J. Ford, Randy Foye, Chris Duhon, Chuck Hayes, Mike Conley, Josh Howard, Andray Blatche, Ronnie Brewer, Terrence Williams, Will Bynum, Marvin Williams, Darren Collison, Marreese Speights, Drew Gooden, Courtney Lee, Richard Jefferson, Allen Iverson (not yet), Yi Jianlian, Mike Dunleavy.

Brian McKitish is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at bmckitish@yahoo.com.

Brian McKitish is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com and is a two-time Fantasy Basketball Writer of the Year, as named by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

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