Commentary

How lack of rest affects performance

Updated: December 19, 2011, 4:14 PM ET
By John Cregan | Special to ESPN.com

Since it's just you and me talking, I want to share something.

It's a little embarrassing, so lean in close.

Between us … I have always been of the opinion that there is, somewhere, a higher statistical order to fantasy basketball. The rough outlines of a dork matrix, if you will. That by paying less attention to the stats we tabulate for scoring purposes and more to the stats that drive those stats, we could come to some greater depth of understanding of fantasy hoops. (Yeesh, I look at sentences like that and reflect in wonder that I have ever been on a single date.)

One of the best things about working for ESPN is being on the email list for the twice-daily bulletins from ESPN's marvelous Stats & Information department. You can pour through a single email for an hour. It is sheer numerical heaven (that being my concept of the afterlife, as opposed to Tim Tebow's).

I have long, long dreamed of being permitted to talk to them.

And now I have, for the first time, been given the green light to occasionally pester ESPN's stats team with some of my most burning questions.

This has proven an enormous boon to my fantasy musings, because my greatest fantasy enemy -- now that Antoine Walker has retired to the D-League -- is time.

I have a soul-crushing day job as a mediocre filmmaker to attend to and often find that the 2 to 3 hours a day I allot to following the NBA in-season are never enough (although when editing in a two-screen setup, NBA League Pass gets at least one-third of a screen).

But with the aid of these very patient, very thorough professionals, I'm going to be able to take a look at certain questions with a greater amount of statistical depth.

Are playing back-to-back games really as much a performance inhibitor as we believe?

With the Hellzapoppin', dog-and-cats-living-together anarchy of this preseason, it's been tough enough to keep up with the cataclysmic amount of player movement (secretly, I love it).

But lately, I've wondered how the compressed schedule might affect certain players' statistical prospects. Neil Tardy wrote an insightful article about this just last week. The short answer is that, yes, players across the board are going to see their numbers drop, especially on the offensive side. But I wanted to take a look at how players historically respond on the second night of a back-to-back situation.

If you've been reading anyone's preseason coverage, you'll note there has been a lot of focus placed on the 42 back-to-back-to-backs the NBA has scheduled this season. That's grueling enough, but beyond that lies the fact that back-to-back games will be the everyday norm this season … so much that I think it becomes an issue when putting together your fantasy draft plans.

The conventional wisdom has long held four basic tenants regarding back-to-backs:

1. Offensive numbers drop
2. Older players break down
3. Big men get tired
4. Players with chronic injuries get extremely creaky

I've always doubted this is to be the uniform case. There have to be players that buck these assumptions, so I asked the folks in Stats & Information to look into three areas with regard to the differences between zero days' rest and one or more days' rest.

NOTE: Statistics referenced are from the past two seasons, except for rookies, which involve only the 2010-11 season.

Impact on scoring and field goal percentage

When examining 56 of the top players in fantasy (from Kevin Durant to Michael Beasley), S&I discovered that less than 50 percent of players registered a drop-off in points per game and field goal percentage. Here are the 23 players who did post a dip in those categories, broken down by position:

Point guards
Tony Parker
Russell Westbrook
Tyreke Evans
Rodney Stuckey

Shooting guards
Ray Allen
Manu Ginobili

Small forwards
Carmelo Anthony
Caron Butler
Luol Deng
Danny Granger
Corey Maggette
Dorell Wright

Power forwards
LaMarcus Aldridge
Carlos Boozer
Kevin Garnett
Blake Griffin
David Lee
Kevin Love
Amare Stoudemire

Centers
Andrea Bargnani
Andrew Bogut
Dwight Howard
Nene

Not a lot of uniformity there. It looks as though, aside from the presence of several chronic injury sufferers (Evans, Ginobili, Garnett, Stoudemire, Bogut), there isn't a real trend to detect. More than half these players are guards or wing players, and seven of them are in the first phase of their NBA careers.

The collective lack of a numerical dip is further reinforced by the next grouping, the players from the top 56 whose offensive numbers were essentially a wash:

Point guards
Stephen Curry
Monta Ellis
Steve Nash
Chris Paul

Shooting guards
Eric Gordon
Stephen Jackson
Kevin Martin
Marcus Thornton
Dwayne Wade

Small forwards
Rudy Gay
Andre Iguodala
LeBron James
Paul Pierce

Power forwards
Chris Bosh
Tim Duncan
Pau Gasol
Zach Randolph
Luis Scola
Josh Smith
David West

Center
Brook Lopez

As you can see, this list contains a number of players conventional wisdom would assume would register a big drop-off on the second night of back-to-back games. Older big men such as Duncan and Randolph weren't affected in the slightest. Same goes for chronically dinged players such as Gordon, Nash, Paul and Wade. And we have about the same split between guards/wings and big men.

However, most interesting were the players whose offensive stats actually went up on the tail end of back-to-back games:

Point guards
Rajon Rondo
Derrick Rose
John Wall
Deron Williams

Shooting guards
Kobe Bryant
Jamal Crawford
Joe Johnson

Small forwards
Michael Beasley
Kevin Durant

Power forward
Dirk Nowitzki

Center
Al Jefferson

One thing that leaps out here is the amount of fantasy elites, especially at the point guard position.

What makes this trend truly special? That a few of these players experienced a dramatic rise in field goal percentage to go along with the boost in points scored. Bryant -- who is a) old and b) playing on 0.5 to 1.0 knees -- saw his points per game rise from 25.5 to 28.5, and his field goal percentage (FG%) jump from .446 to .483. Jefferson, who was elite in the second half of last season, nudged from 17.6 to 18.9 ppg but leapt from .484 to .537 in field goal percentage.

The number of young PGs on this list led me to look into a second area:

Rest factor for rookies

I'd always assumed rookies suffered on zero days' rest. They're not used to the night-in, night-out NBA grind. Inconsistency slips in with fatigue. Basically, there's probably a miniature version of the "rookie wall."

Well, if you ever wanted an excuse to load up on rookies in the late rounds of your fantasy draft, read on, because last season's first-year players utterly shined. Here's a list of the rookies whose numbers shot up on zero days' rest. (As a bonus, we took into account a third measurable stat -- usage rate -- to go along with ppg and FG%.)

Point guards
Eric Bledsoe
Gary Neal
John Wall

Shooting guards
Jordan Crawford
Landry Fields

Small forwards
Paul George
Wesley Johnson

Power forwards
DeMarcus Cousins
Ed Davis
Derrick Favors
Greg Monroe

Not only did most of these players post an increase in points scored and field goal percentage, but they also bumped up their usage rate. This rise in usage is telling because it shows that younger, fresher players saw a need to take on more responsibility/more possessions when they detected their team was tired. More importantly, it looks as if their coaches specifically went to their younger players more often when their teams played on zero days' rest.

But what about how these players -- rookies and veterans alike -- responded in other areas?

Impact on rebounds, steals and blocks

I asked Stats & Information to look at elite producers in these three categories. Here, things got decidedly less interesting.

With blocks and steals, there was no significant movement, save for a small dip in blocks on zero days' rest for Andrew Bynum and Dwight Howard, and a tiny dip in steals for Mike Conley.

However, there was large disparity in the rebounds column. Amongst the top 13 rebounders during the past two seasons, six players (Tim Duncan, Blake Griffin, Dwight Howard, Al Jefferson, David Lee and Kevin Love) posted a significant drop with no rest, five (Tyson Chandler, Kevin Garnett, Pau Gasol, Kris Humphries and Zach Randolph) showed a significant rise and two (Al Horford and Emeka Okafor) stayed about the same.

One interesting fact to note here is that Jefferson and Duncan's rebounds dropped precipitously on zero days' rest, while their offensive numbers dramatically rose.

I realize this might seem like numerical nitpicking, but this is a unique season. And when you're looking for the smallest slivers of advantage in your preseason prep, I think there's enough evidence here to support some subtle movement in your draft boards.

John Cregan is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. Friend him on Facebook here.

John Cregan

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

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