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Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Notable home/road splits

By John Cregan
Special to ESPN.com

I miss John Hollinger.

I don't know how else to put it. It's been unfairly cruel and unusual to have his columns just go away. And right in the middle of a fantasy basketball season? I'm just empty inside. Now I know how Taylor Swift must feel those 8-12 times a year she goes through a serious breakup.

Hollinger just up and left in the middle of the night to join the Memphis Grizzlies, now free to unload Rudy Gay in the salary dump of his choosing. (Let it be the Washington Wizards, please. After all, Hollinger has hated every single transaction the Wizards have ever made in the history of everything. Why not even out the karma a little bit?)

But life goes on. The Hollinger void is being collectively filled on ESPN.com. The writing by Bradford Doolittle, Kevin Pelton and Neil Payne over on the NBA page this season has been beyond fantastic.

If you want to improve as a fantasy owner, I would recommend heading over to the NBA page and reading their columns. Constantly. Drive up their hits. Read anything affiliated with Basketball-Reference.com. Because reading them will help give you an edge many owners lack: an attention to statistical detail.

The data is out there, here on ESPN.com and other great sites such as Basketball-Reference.com, Basketball Prospectus, and 82games.com. You just have to possess the willingness to mine it.

When asked about what types of individual NBA trends best apply to owning and running a fantasy basketball team, I always start with splits. Specifically, home/road splits.

Discussion of performance splits is heavily discussed in fantasy baseball. But their uses are just as applicable in fantasy basketball. Players are fickle. Some are fickle bordering on mercurial.

Most players, regardless of sport, perform better at home. As a general rule, you're going to be better off starting a player in the middle of a homestand than at the tail end of a road trip.

The deeper view is to take a look at for players who buck the norm.

The players who fall outside of the normal aberration of home/road performance. The deviations. And there are some players -- very prominent fantasy names -- who are entirely different producers at home.

This is a statistical area you should pay increasing attention to as the season wears on, and especially for those of you bound for the playoffs. Because little differences matter, and matchups matter.

Whether you're in a head-to-head league or a rotisserie league, you still have lineup choices to make, and using home/road splits will give you a decided advantage over your opponents.

By way of example, let's start with Paul George, fantasy's equivalent to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

At home, in terms of raw efficiency, he's 11th in the NBA. 20.9 points, 8.2 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 3.0 3-pointers, 1.4 steals, and 0.9 blocks. Borderline LeBronesque.

On the road? George is 77th.13.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, 4 assists, 1.3 3-pointers, 2.0 steals, 0.5 blocks. Still not bad, but more DeMar DeRozan than LeBron James.

Paul George
Paul George has the potential to be a great fantasy player if he could replicate more of his home game performances away from Indiana.

The reason is easy to dissect. George is more comfortable on offense at home, specifically with regard to his perimeter shooting. At home, George launches 6.3 3-pointers per game and makes 3.0 of them, for a gaudy .477 percentage. Crazy, fantasy-elite-level stuff.

On the road, he still averages a heady 4.8 3-point attempts per game, but only makes 1.3 of them. That's only a .260 clip. This lack of efficiency feeds over into his 2-point attempts and his free throw shooting (83 percent at home, 78 percent on the road.)

Perhaps due to this lack of confidence, George tries to facilitate more on the road. He averages almost a full assist more per game, but his turnovers also go up.

It's easy to chalk this up to youthful inconsistency, but the splits are so dramatic, so pronounced, that you can see why NBA people continue to drool over George's potential. He'll be a top-10 fantasy player when he learns to translate his at-home mindset to games played outside of Indiana.

But widely disparate splits aren't just the byproduct of youthful inconsistency. Max-contract vets can fall victim to the syndrome almost as easily.

I could write a series of columns on Deron Williams' fantasy rise and fall over the past few seasons, but let's just focus on the home/road aspect of his struggles.

Williams is 3 points per game better at home (18.0 versus 15.0 on the road.) His field goal percentage, while still a far cry from his Utah heights, is 42 percent at home while only 40 percent on the road. He's about one assist better at home, and posts a better assist-to-turnover ratio at home.

The big difference is in energy level. At home, he gets to the line. Williams, one of the NBA's better free throw shooters, averages almost 2 more attempts per game in Brooklyn. He averages almost a half a steal more per game at home.

Other players markedly better at home than on the road: J.J. Hickson, PF/C Portland Trail Blazers; Dwyane Wade, SG, Miami Heat; Nicolas Batum, SG/SF, Portland Trail Blazers; Kemba Walker, PG/SG, Charlotte Bobcats Al Jefferson, PF/C, Utah Jazz; Kenneth Faried, PF, Denver Nuggets; Nene, PF/C, Washington Wizards; Omer Asik, PF/C Houston Rockets; O.J. Mayo, SG, Dallas Mavericks; Stephen Curry, PG/SG, Golden State Warriors

Now as I said before, the norm is for players to play better at home. But there are some plus-road players as well, who digress from the norm for very specialized reasons.

Let's start with the Paul George of road play, Andrea Bargnani. He seems to be … unhappy in Toronto. There's no other way to put it.

Actually, there is. Bargnani is averaging 13.3 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.1 3-pointers per game at home. On the road, he's averaging 17.4 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.6 3-pointers per game.

But the most dramatic evidence lies in his field goal percentage. Bargnani is shooting just 29 percent in Toronto. On the road his field goal percentage swells to 45 percent, closer to his career norms. He takes fewer shots on the road, but makes more of them. His 3-point percentage goes up from 27 percent at home to 34 percent on the road.

Oddly enough, he blocks more shots (1.1 to 0.5) and rebounds a little better at home, but Bargnani is a player who needs to score to be productive, both in NBA and fantasy terms. He's been injured, but the evidence shows that his biggest problems are little north of his neckline. He's hurt, but he's also pouting. All in all, it's a classic "change of scenery" scenario; if he gets traded, look out.

Tim Duncan
One reason for Tim Duncan's resurgence this year is his great play away from San Antonio.

Then there are the players who elevate on the road because their teams need the lift. These tend to be veteran players, and there aren't many of them capable of pulling off the trick, but I'll give you one big example: Tim Duncan.

Duncan is having one of the better late-career campaigns in recent memory. At home, Duncan is 16th in raw efficiency. That's amazing for a 36-year-old power forward who was supposed to be shuffling into role-player status. But on the road, Duncan climbs all the way to fifth.

The differences in the averages are subtler, but they're there. Duncan scores two points more per game on the road (18.0 versus 16.0 at home). But his field goal percentage is only marginally higher (51 percent on the road, 49 percent at home).

He averages less than a rebound per more, and the other volume-based numbers are nearly identical. The difference maker is Duncan's aggressiveness on the road.

I know the words "Tim Duncan" and "aggressiveness" have proven to be strange historical bedfellows, but the evidence is there in his free throws. Duncan averages 1.5 more free throws attempts per game on the road, and converts at a higher rate (82 percent versus 80 percent).

He also records more personal fouls on the road, which is probably part increased aggression, and part home cooking (and part him being Tim Duncan.) It's sort of Deron Williams' production in reverse, with Duncan elevating his game for team-based needs.

Other players markedly better on the road: Greivis Vasquez, PG, New Orleans Hornets; Danilo Gallinari, SF/PF, Denver Nuggets; Chris Bosh, PF/C Miami Heat; Joakim Noah, PF/C, Chicago Bulls; Tyson Chandler, C, New York Knicks; Al Horford, PF/C, Atlanta Hawks; Rajon Rondo, PG, Boston Celtics Andrei Kirilenko, SF, Minnesota Timberwolves