Helpful, hurtful, empty stats

Some players' production can make or break fantasy teams

Updated: October 18, 2012, 12:40 PM ET
By Neil Tardy | Special to ESPN.com

This isn't about Dwight Howard -- not entirely, anyway. But there's no better place to start.

I'm not saying I'll never draft Howard or make an effort to acquire his stats in an auction. But it's highly likely that, wherever I'm drafting or with whatever I have remaining in my budget, I'll find an alternative. I don't expect to have Howard this season.

Yes, this about Howard's free throw shooting, but not entirely. This is about overall strategy and how my approach to fantasy basketball has evolved through years of participating -- and sometimes getting my head handed to me -- in numerous high-level leagues.

Over his first eight NBA seasons, Howard has made 58.8 percent of his free throws. Just as significant for fantasy owners, he has done this while averaging 9.2 attempts per game.

[+] EnlargeDwight Howard
Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty ImagesDwight Howard may have a flashy new team around him, but he still can be a fantasy hindrance in many leagues.

There are other numbers, of course. For his career, Howard averages 18.4 points, 13 rebounds, 2.2 blocks and 57.7 percent shooting from the field. While the positives clearly outnumber the negative, to me, they don't outweigh it. Howard's move to the Los Angeles Lakers and his ongoing recovery from back surgery aren't issues. I just don't want to deal with that foul shooting.

Likewise, I don't want to deal with Blake Griffin's foul shooting. Or even Rajon Rondo's.

I'll let the ESPN.com Player Rater illustrate my point. Sort the ratings by shooting percentages and look for the largest negative numbers. Here's a selection of biggies from the 2011-12 season:

FG%: Kemba Walker (-2.86), Antawn Jamison (-1.98), Ricky Rubio (-1.81), Deron Williams (-1.71), Brandon Jennings (-1.38)

FT%: Howard (-8.28), Griffin (-6.50), Josh Smith (-2.68), Rondo (-2.22), Andre Iguodala (-2.05)

It isn't that I'm swearing off these players. Last season, I won a 16-team league where I selected Smith 20th overall (though I was well down in the standings through January when Smith was barely 50 percent from the line). Certainly I won't pass on Williams because he shot 40.7 percent last season. I expect he'll be much closer to his career 45.5 percent mark while leading what should be a vastly improved Brooklyn Nets team. As much as possible though, I do want to limit these negatives.

Along with limiting the negatives, I want what I'll call sneaky-helpful stats. It's no secret that Ty Lawson was one of the top players in fantasy last season. But while he helps you almost across the board, his single biggest fantasy attribute is his shooting. Lawson connected at a rate of 48.8 percent last season. Among starting point guards, only the amazingly accurate Steve Nash (53.2 percent) was better from the field. And only Tony Parker (48) and Chris Paul (47.8) were within a percentage point of Lawson.

[+] EnlargeTy Lawson
Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty ImagesTy Lawson has become a top pick at point guard because of his great across-the-board production.

Again, I'll use the Player Rater as a visual aid. Narrowing the list to PG-eligible players, here are the most significant plus numbers in FG%: Nash (2.26), Lawson (1.39), Parker (1.25), Paul (1.16), Kyrie Irving (0.71).

Now let's flip it around. We all prioritize blocks and rebounding when selecting our bigs, and I'm not suggesting otherwise, but if I can get some solid foul shooting as well, I'll gladly take it. Back to the Player Rater for some significant plus numbers in FT% among PF- and C-eligible players: Kevin Love (1.99), Andrea Bargnani (1.65), Kevin Garnett (1.54), LaMarcus Aldridge (1.20), Nikola Pekovic (-0.13).

I list Pekovic because his playing time -- a reserve early last season, sidelined later on -- skews his Player Rater standing. As a starter last season, Pek averaged 15.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 74.2 percent from the line on a not insignificant 4.5 attempts. Only a handful of true centers (Marc Gasol, Greg Monroe and Roy Hibbert) approached 75 percent foul shooting last season. Pekovic is big and physical, but he is also quite skilled. The 26-year-old will never block many shots (a 1.0 average might be the most we can expect), but I believe he offers considerable fantasy value.

Finally, there's another type of player I avoid. It's not that these players hurt you in any category or that they don't offer some decent stats. The problem is these players don't really help you in any category. No one really excels in every fantasy category, but even if it's only one, I want something special somewhere.

Some names and numbers from 2011-12:

Carlos Boozer: 53.2 FG%, 69.3 FT%, 0.0 3PM, 8.5 rpg, 1.9 apg, 0.4 bpg, 1.0 spg, 15.0 ppg
MarShon Brooks: 42.8 FG%, 76.4 FT%, 0.8 3PM, 3.6 rpg, 2.3 apg, 0.3 bpg, 0.9 spg, 12.6 ppg
DeMar DeRozan: 42.2 FG%, 81.0 FT%, 0.4 3PM, 3.3 rpg, 2.0 apg, 0.3 bpg, 0.8 spg, 16.7 ppg
Lou Williams: 40.7 FG%, 81.2 FT%, 1.3 3PM, 2.5 rpg, 3.5 apg, 0.3 bpg, 0.8 spg, 14.9 ppg
Mo Williams: 42.6 FG%, 90.0 FT%, 1.8 3PM, 1.9 rpg, 3.1 apg, 0.1 bpg, 1.0 spg, 13.2 ppg

[+] EnlargeCarlos Boozer
Gary Dineen/Getty ImagesCarlos Boozer's overall stats are useful, but they don't necessarily stand out for fantasy owners.

With Joe Johnson on board, Brooks is slated for a reserve role with the Nets this season. Mo Williams is set to start for the Utah Jazz. Same for Lou Williams with the Atlanta Hawks. And some dude who looks like me put DeRozan on his list of sleepers. But just for a moment, play along and consider these numbers in a vacuum:

Boozer averaged 8.5 boards last season, but so what? Twenty players had a higher per-game average. It's a solid number, as is Boozer's 53.2 percent shooting, but there is nothing extraordinary here. I'd much prefer, say, Kris Humphries, who gets even more boards while providing hustle stats.

I include Brooks to make the point that, even if he did get the minutes to produce those numbers again this season, I don't find them in any way useful. Brooks didn't hurt you anywhere last season, but where did he really help?

How about Mo? Sure, 1.8 3-pointers per game is swell, but it's not extraordinary. Nineteen players drained more treys each game last season. Thirty-nine others finished with at least 1.6 3s. And while Williams went 90 percent from the line in 2011-12, he averaged just 1.5 attempts.

But this isn't about Mo Williams any more than it's about Howard. There are helpful stats. Then there are harmful stats and empty stats. Everyone seeks the former and avoids the latter, probably in that order. For me, though, it's the opposite. Wherever possible, I'm going to pass on the harmful and empty stats, first and foremost.

Neil Tardy | email

Fantasy Basketball
Neil Tardy is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com