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Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Value of True Shooting Percentage

By John Cregan
Special to ESPN.com

If you've read this column in the past, you've probably seen me refer to a specific player's strong field goal or free throw percentage as "hidden value." The reasoning is simple. Even though field goal percentage and free throw percentage account for 25 percent of the scoring in standard eight-category leagues, they're less prioritized by owners.

It's ingrained in all of us to prize the volume-based categories: points scored, 3-pointers made, rebounds, blocked shots and steals. You don't hear a lot of ballyhoo when an NBA player wins the field goal or free throw percentage title. Not in, say, the way a baseball player is lauded for winning the batting title or leading his league in ERA. (It's more like leading the league in WHIP.)

Don't get defensive. It's not just us. Real-life NBA owners do it too. League leaders in 3-point percentage make less than league leaders in blocked shots and steals; there was a really good Wall Street Journal article on this a couple of years ago.

If you want to take a Moneyball approach to fantasy basketball and build around undervalued statistics, start with the percentages.

The percentage categories provide fantasy basketball with balance. Balance because they hold players accountable for their efficiency, or lack of it.

But there's another aspect to consider when considering percentage: 3-point production.

If a player is shooting 42 percent from the floor but has a high number of 3-point attempts, it's far more acceptable. We need to make allowances for players whose field goal percentage might be falsely depressed just because they take more shots from downtown, provided they're making at least 37 percent of those shots.

If only there were a statistic that would account for a players' total array of attempts from the field, a metric that folded free throw attempts with field goal attempts while making allowances for 3-pointers. This would prove enormously important to fantasy owners looking for a quick way to gauge a player's overall impact on their teams' percentages.

It would probably look something like this: Points Scored / [2 x (Field Goal Attempts + 0.44 x Free Throw Attempts)]

Actually, it would look exactly like that. Because that's how one divines True Shooting Percentage.

I think of True Shooting Percentage as a sort of CliffsNotes of how a player is going to affect my fantasy team in the percentage categories. When I'm drafting a team, I prioritize players who excel in this stat. A .500 TS% is about average, .550 is very good, and anything over .600 is exceptional.

Last year's final leaderboard in True Shooting Percentage:

Tyson Chandler .708
Manu Ginobili .668
James Harden .660
Brandon Rush .628
DeAndre Jordan .626
Steve Nash .625
Kenneth Faried .618
Kevin Durant .610
Nikola Pekovic .607
Ray Allen .605
LeBron James .605
Mike Dunleavy .597
Andrew Bynum .594
Ryan Anderson .589

Aside from a lot of big men, the list is seasoned with three fantasy elites: Harden, Durant and LeBron. When I wrote in a preseason column that Durant was actually worth closer to $90 in auction leagues, his TS% was the main reason.

True Shooting Percentage was why Harden was already a top-15 player coming into this season before the trade to Houston. And it's why now, despite averaging 10 points per game over his 2011-12 average, Harden is actually a slot lower on the Player Rater (14th instead of 13th).

James Harden
James Harden's scoring may be up, but his field goal percentage is down thanks to the increased number of shots he's taking.

Thanks to being the Rockets' No. 1 option, Harden's shot attempts have gone up, so he is scoring more (up from 16.8 to 26.5). But because he is the focus of opposing defenses, he isn't getting the same number of open looks as he had with Durant helping space the floor and his field goal percentage has taken a hit (from .491 to .443, and .390 to .270 from downtown). His free throw percentage has dipped slightly from .846 to .825, but he is getting to line at an incredibly high rate (9.5 attempts per game).

This means his high-flying True Shooting Percentage has taken a slight dip, dropping from .660 to .568. Now, .568 is still very good for a guard, but all of this probably means Harden is due for a correction. One could assume his points per game will level off just as his percentages will rise.

We're not even 10 percent into the season, so percentages are hardly written in stone. But it's important -- especially in Rotisserie scoring leagues -- to pay special attention to TS% in the early going. The first couple of weeks are when we see a lot of post-draft maneuvers due to owners overreacting to perceived deficiencies in their teams versus pre-draft projections. (I stress the importance in Rotisserie leagues, because it's harder to make up ground in the percentages as the year rolls on and aggregate volume increases.)

Another byproduct of the small sample size is the high degree of variance in TS%. Some players have come out of the gate on fire, some like the second coming of Antoine Walker (a career TS% of .484).

Thankfully, we have history on our side. We can take a look at some players who are bound to rise and fall in TS% as the season progresses.

(Stats in parentheses are through Sunday's games.)

On the way up

1. Rodney Stuckey, PG/SG, Detroit Pistons (2012-13 TS% .342, Career TS% .510)
I've never been a huge Stuckey fan, but no one is this bad. Keep in mind this doesn't include Monday night's bounce back against the Thunder, where Stuckey went for 19 points on 7-for-13 from the floor and 4-for-6 from the line. Stuckey has never been efficient from the field (.420 career FG%, .278 3PT%), but historically he has made up for it with a gaudy .834 FT%. If he's still available in your league, make sure you won't regret scooping him up when he's back to averaging 16 points a night.

Roy Hibbert
Roy Hibbert is shooting below 40 percent, which is particularly bad for a center.

2. Roy Hibbert, C, Indiana Pacers
(2012-13 TS% .392, Career TS% .521)

Hibbert's minutes are up from last season (30.6 per game versus 29.8). His fouls are down (a career low 3.4 per 36 minutes). The blocks are there (2.2 per game). The Pacers need his scoring in Danny Granger's absence. So what gives? It's not just his shot that's off. Hibbert is averaging a full rebound less per game (7.7 versus 8.8). If he is right and merely suffering from a rhythm issue, you won't regret purloining him from a skittish owner.

3. Ersan Ilyasova, SF/PF, Milwaukee Bucks
(2012-13 TS% .363, Career TS% .530)

On the surface, this has post-contract year letdown written all over it. He is down from 13.0 ppg and 8.8 rpg to 7.6 and 5.2 plus a 20-point crater in his field goal percentage. But it's early. While he was absolutely locked in last season from Valentine's Day onward, before that he had a reputation for being streaky. Yes, he is probably due for a letdown campaign, but he simply has nowhere to go but up. Let's hope Monday night (2 points in 18 minutes) was his nadir. (If he hasn't been dropped in your league already, you must be in a league that's very pro-Ottoman Empire.) Just be prepared to grab him the first night he goes off.

4. Austin Rivers, PG/SG, New Orleans Hornets (2012-13 TS% .302, .538 last season at Duke)
Yes, I just referenced someone's college statistics. But Rivers has been hurt and simply can't continue to shoot 22 percent from the field. Those are John Cregan-esque shooting numbers, folks (but I do bring intangibles). With Eric Gordon out from 4 to 52 weeks, Rivers will get plenty of opportunities to play himself into fantasy consideration.

5. Danilo Gallinari, SF, Denver Nuggets (2012-13 TS% .407, Career TS% .575)
While I did predict Gallinari would not have the breakout campaign many predicted, I'll also tell you he is currently a great buy-low target in all leagues. He is averaging a career-high 36.2 minutes per game. His per-36 minute numbers last season: 16.7 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.6 3-pointers and 0.9 steals. Those are reasonable expectations. He is nursing issues in his hip and his ankle. He has played six games. Go get him while the price is right.

Other slow starters: Steve Nash (.375), Tony Parker (.447), Ty Lawson (.431), Josh Smith (.381), Pau Gasol (.464), Greg Monroe (.474)

Cruising for a correction

Kevin Martin
Kevin Martin is shooting lights out for the Thunder after coming over in the James Harden trade.

1. Kevin Martin, SG, Oklahoma City Thunder
(2012-13 TS% .716, Career TS% .596)

Playing with Durant and Westbrook is going to get you the kinds of low-pressure looks more normally associated with games of H-O-R-S-E. But no one under 6-foot-10 is ever -- ever -- going to have a TS% of .716 over a full season. Tyson Chandler set a single-season record last season with a TS% of .708, and he's a very tall man.

2. Kyle Lowry, PG, Toronto Raptors (2012-13 TS% .703, Career TS% .547)
I love a heartwarming fantasy success story as much as the next guy. I couldn't be happier Lowry was utterly unconscious for his first four games as a Raptor. He's been underrated for years. But he's still one of the streakiest guards in the league.

3. Danny Green, SG, San Antonio Spurs (.671 TS%, Career TS% .581)
He is elite from downtown, the kind of guy who will give you a little something, somewhere for your box score every night. I adore players capable of giving you a block, a steal and a 3-pointer a game. But he is mired in a timeshare. Until he starts to post an increase in his shot attempts, he is a marginal fantasy player in shallow leagues. He's not even averaging 12 points per game with a TS% that's nine points above his career average. When he regresses, the points per game will drop back under 10.

4. O.J. Mayo, SG, Dallas Mavericks (2012-13 TS% .667, Career TS% .534)
During the preseason, I wrote how the Mavericks were in line to offer all kinds of undervalued fantasy production. It's what happens when there's a lot of roster turnover and diminished league-wide expectations. But Dirk Nowitzki's absence has meant that the new guys are getting more shot attempts than they've had in years. Mayo was a bad fit in Memphis. He is going to be very good this season and provide great value -- just not quite this much.

5. Kobe Bryant, SG, Los Angeles Lakers (2012-13 TS% .662, Career TS% .555)
Historically, one of Kobe's greatest traits has been how he elevates his efficiency when his team needs him the most. (Dirk does this too.) Kobe has had to do a lot of heavy lifting in the early going, but the cavalry has arrived, especially with Mike D'Antoni now leading the way. However, Kobe is going to take his foot off the accelerator and pick his spots as the season progresses.

Other too-fast starters: Andrei Kirilenko (.629), Jamal Crawford (.649), Chris Bosh (.625), Mike Conley (.625), Jeff Teague (.646)