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Thursday, November 7, 2013
Impact of True Shooting Percentage

By John Cregan
Special to ESPN.com

It's fun to flip out. There are certain people -- and fantasy owners -- who crave drama, for whom every percolation in a shooting day is a cause for panic in the streets. (In Hollywood, we often call those people "Cinematographers.")

But as I've gotten older, I've found myself gravitating toward two sayings that readily apply to my fantasy life.

1. "Slow and Steady Wins the Race."

You must resist the urge to overcorrect. This time of the season, I get tons of questions about trade offers. And let me tell you, 75 percent of those offers are so lopsided that they outrage my sense of social justice. What kind of person offers Derrick Favors and George Hill for Kevin Love? (I'm sorry, I just get mad on your behalf.)

Don't flip out. Don't take an offer you'll regret come Thanksgiving because a player is a little slow out of the gate. Take a breath, and continue building a team that contains statistical strengths that will bear fruit in the long run. Slow and steady, people.

And I can't stress this enough: Don't place too much importance in points scored. There are a lot of variables that can affect a player's scoring output over a small sample size of games.

There are certain statistics that I find will help provide a truer short-term snapshot. Those statistics tend to be the ones that measure efficiency instead of volume, which brings me to saying No. 2.

2. "Keep your Eye Clear, and Hit 'em where they ain't"

Poor grammar notwithstanding, I'm a big, big Wee Willie Keeler fan. Keeler crafted a .385 career batting average on his simple philosophy. It's essentially Moneyball strained through several cases of Bushnell's: Look where your opponents are placing too much stock, the areas of the playing field they overvalue, and hit the ball somewhere else.

In fantasy basketball, you want to take a beat and look at the statistical areas NBA fans tend to overvalue, and then go after the stats that get less hype.

You want your squads to have hidden statistical strengths. And in my experience, the hidden strengths tend to be weighted toward efficiency-based statistics.

Basketball fans tend to focus on volume, because we're conditioned to prize volume in our sports statistics. People like their points, 3s, blocks. Percentages aren't sexy.

Kevin Durant
One of Kevin Durant's many strengths is his amazingly efficient percentages.

Tyson Chandler isn't really turning heads, even with a career .584 field goal percentage. Besides, he's a big man who doesn't attempt a shot that's more than six to eight feet from the basket.

But you know what is sexy? A True Shooting Percentage of .647. That's what Kevin Durant posted last year. And from an efficiency standpoint, Durant is smoking hot.

True Shooting Percentage (or TS%) is a simple measurement of a player's actual shooting performance from the floor. It's a better representation because it accounts for free-throw accuracy and 3-pointers. (In baseball terms, it's more like OPS than batting average.)

True Shooting Percentage is why, back in the day, I always scooped up Chauncey Billups in the fourth round. He didn't score as much as other point guards, he didn't rack up as much assists as other point guards, but from 2004 through 2008, he posted some great TS%; .609, .602, .591, and .619.

Billups' increased efficiency was the main statistical reason behind his mid-career rise to fantasy stardom. And peak Billups was a godsend for any fantasy squad, because peak Billups was overflowing with hidden value.

Can you try this at home? Sure. TS% is an elegant formula anyone with a calculator and 10 spare seconds can compile:

Points Scored / 2 x (Field Goal Attempts + .44 x Free Throw Attempts)

For instance, if I wanted to find out what the NBA league average TS% was for the entire 2012-13 season, I'd plug in the league-wide team average into the formula:

8,041 Points Scored / 2 x (6,720 Field Goal Attempts + .44 x 1,818 Free Throw Attempts)
(8,041 / 2 x 6,720 + 799.92)
(8,041 / 15,039.84)

2012-13 LEAGUE AVERAGE TRUE SHOOTING PERCENTAGE = .535

Across a handful of games -- say, five or six -- TS% gives you a much clearer picture if a player is overperforming or underperforming versus his career norms; I always give more weight to his True Shooting Percentage.

In terms of what's a good TS%, I think along these lines:
Above .600: You Build Your Team Around This Guy
Between .550-.599: You Want This Guy On Your Team
Between .500-.549: Won't Help You, Won't Hurt You
Between .451-.499: Let Someone Else Have This Guy
Below .450: Lock Your Doors and Bar Your Windows

With this in mind, let's take a look at some names who are under or overperforming out of the gate.

Slow Starters

Derrick Rose
Give Derrick Rose a little time to get his legs under him and he'll be one of the top fantasy players by season's end.

Derrick Rose (.407 TS%, .533 Career TS%): DON'T TRADE DERRICK ROSE. I don't know how else I can say it. Just don't. He was always going to get off to a slow start. He missed an entire season. THAT'S WHY YOU DIDN'T DRAFT HIM UNTIL THE EARLY SECOND ROUND, right? Or maybe you didn't listen to me earlier.

Rose is special because he plays at so many speeds. To me, his ability to play at various rhythms is what makes him exciting to watch. Watch one of his games; the top speeds are pretty much there, but it's going to take a month or so for Rose to get that rhythm back. If you don't have Rose, he represents an excellent buy-low opportunity.

Bradley Beal (TS% .418, .516 Career TS%): Beal is sort of the anti-Klay Thompson right now. He can't buy a shot. But Beal is still going to have a big, breakout year. He's 20, and he's going through a little slump. He just needs to adjust from preseason NBA defenses to regular-season NBA defenses. Watch one of Beal's games: His shooting mechanics are still a thing of beauty. He's still going to lead the Wizards in points per game and 3-pointers. Again, buy low.

Kevin Garnett (.362 TS%, Career .548 TS%): It's a metaphysical impossibility Garnett's TS% stays below .400 for the season. But Garnett has me a little worried. His TS% has been trending down since 2010: .575, .550, .535. Following that downward trajectory, it's entirely possible he lands around .515 this season. Throw in a new role on a new, deep team that's built for the postseason -- that will rest him and cap his minutes per game -- and you're looking at a fantasy bench player in most leagues.

Steve Nash (.375 TS%, Career .605 TS%): Nash is one of the most efficient players from the floor in NBA history. Even during last season's injury-marred campaign, Nash still managed to post a tidy .605 TS% that matched his career average. The volume of games just wasn't there to back up the efficiency.

You can stick most of the red flags I just listed for Garnett into Nash's current fantasy outlook. Nash has reached the stage where he amounts to maybe a nice little late-round gamble. If he plays 60-65 games, you got yourself a nice ninth-round point guard.

Tyreke Evans (.392 TS%, Career .518 TS%): Evans is known as an inefficient player, but he quietly posted the best TS% of his career last season (.558). I'm still intrigued by Evans' potential in his new surroundings, and I believe he'll find his role and rhythm over the next three to four weeks.

Joakim Noah (.387 TS%, Career .557 TS%): Like Rose, Noah is rounding back into form after battling an injury. He will bounce back, but Noah has one of those injuries that can linger throughout an entire season.

Raring For A Regression

Klay Thompson
Klay Thompson has the hot hand now, but how long will that last?

Klay Thompson, SG, Golden State Warriors (.726 TS%, Career .545 TS%): DON'T TRADE FOR KLAY THOMPSON. The man is on fire in a way only NBA Jam aficionados can truly appreciate. If you try to trade for Klay Thompson, you will be massively, massively overpaying for him. He's probably more of a .550-.575 TS% kind of player, which means he's due for a market correction.

Chris Bosh (.724 TS%, Career .572 TS%): Over the past three fantasy seasons, Bosh has gone from being overrated to subtly underappreciated. His volume numbers have dipped because of a lack of touches, but Bosh remains one of the more efficient big men in the NBA. His percentages have started off sky-high this season, but have gone unheralded because his scoring is down (16.6 PPG). I expect Bosh's TS% to dip, and his scoring volume to rise. In that way, he's actually a sneaky buy-low candidate.

Kyle Korver (.771, Career .583 TS%): I expect the Atlanta Hawks as a whole to be very fertile fantasy territory this season. They're not extraordinarily deep, but they feature several underrated players who are known for their good percentages (Josh Smith leaving town helps in that department).

The Hawks are especially thin at the wing, which means a defensively challenged player such as Kyle Korver is going to be forgiven for his sins at that end of the court. Korver doesn't need a lot of shots to be effective. When he pulls, he makes it count.

Andrew Bogut (.653 TS%, Career .535 TS%): It looks as though Bogut might be able to stay healthy this season, albeit in a diminished, 22-25 MPG role. But while I believe Bogut's shooting performance will regress, I think he is in line to post a TS% in check with his career highs in the category (around .580). With all of the weapons Golden State can combine on the court, it makes it difficult for defenses to collapse on Bogut.

Jeremy Lin (.663 TS%, Career .542 TS%): Historically, Lin's overreliance on a spotty midrange game has led to some poor percentages. For all his strengths, Lin has just never been a very good shooter. Lin's strong start is probably fueled by his wanting to start over the now-returning Patrick Beverley, but it's also possible that Dwight Howard's presence in the post will open up some additional looks. Lin's still young, and he could be a late bloomer in TS% a la Chauncey Billups.