Shooting variance in fantasy hoops

Examining which fantasy players offer the highest, lowest degrees of FG% volatility

Updated: March 20, 2014, 2:55 PM ET
By John Cregan | Special to ESPN.com

Melo Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty ImagesCarmelo Anthony is one of the NBA's most consistent shooters in terms of game-by-game fluctuation.

We're at a juncture in the fantasy basketball calendar where a week has the statistical weight of an entire month.

Our sample size is shrinking. In the fantasy basketball playoffs, a single aberrant shooting performance can spell the difference between winning and losing a championship.

It's a time where streakiness -- or statistical volatility -- looms large over every decision we make.

That's why over the past few weeks I've tried to highlight where these tendencies occur. I've been trying to convert your mindset into a sort of macro view of a box score. Numbers can't flatten anymore. There simply isn't enough time.

I wrote a column a couple of weeks back discussing which fantasy categories displayed the highest and lowest degrees of volatility. In it, I created a chart that laid out the degrees of variance to highlight the differences that can occur in production on a week-to-week basis. Per the chart, field goal percentage was the flattest with regard to variance while 3-point production exhibited the rockiest degree of fluctuation. Which shows you that production can wildly vary on a game-by-game basis, especially when a player makes his living on the perimeter.

For the past three seasons, I've asked ESPN's Stats & Info department to compile charts showing which players log the least and greatest amount of variance in terms of field goal percentage on a game-to-game basis, which for this season are outlined at the bottom of this article.

The reasoning behind this list is simple: I want you to know which players have the least or greatest chance of helping or hurting your team's shooting performance in a one-game scenario.

Why is this important? Take a look at this eight-game stretch Paul Pierce posted at the end of last month.

Pierce shot 41-for-96 from the field over this span, for an average of 42.7 percent. This is almost in line with his season average of 43.9 percent. But when you chart his shooting performance from game to game, Pierce begins to exhibit bipolar tendencies.

Pierce ChartESPN Stats & Info

For the season, Pierce has posted an NBA-leading 17.6 percent swing in his game-to-game shooting. That means he's the player most likely to go from a 3-for-11 night to a 9-for-17 night.

Now, trust cuts both ways. What if you're nursing a lead in field goal percentage and can afford to sit Pierce on a Saturday night? You'd be better off benching him and picking up Vince Carter (one the NBA's least-volatile shooters this season).

But if you're looking to swing for the fences? If you only have one game and need to play catch-up? Pierce is the player you want.

Pierce is also a savvy veteran who may be figuring out how to iron out his inconsistency at the right time. He has been comparatively hot over his past five games (56.8 percent), while his shot volume has slackened (7.4 FGA).

The shots he's leaving alone are the shots he's had more difficulty converting this season: 2-pointers. Over his past five games, he's nearly matching his season average of 3.9 3-point attempts a night (and making 63 percent of them) while taking 2.3 fewer shots overall.

So if Pierce sticks behind the 3-point line and leaves his midrange game alone, he becomes more efficient. The question is: When will he revert to his volatile pattern and sink a fantasy team with a 3-for-11 night? Because a look at his performance this season tells you a game like that is creeping on the horizon.

I've discovered one important fact after three years of looking at these numbers: It's important to examine shooting variance every season. The most volatile aspect of game-to-game streakiness is that players tend to show up and disappear from the list on a yearly basis. There doesn't seem to be a huge correlation on game-to-game shooting percentage from one season to the next.

Streakiness is a bit more forgivable with players such as Pierce who generate a high volume of 3-point attempts. But the one player who made the top-10 most volatile players in both 2012-13 and 2013-14 doubles down on his inconsistency by taking 93 percent of his shots from 2-point range. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Andray Blatche.

Here's Blatche's numbers over the same eight-game stretch.

Here are his percentages in chart form over this span:

Blatche Chart ESPN Stats & Info

(I have a theory. Blatche knew someone would be charting his shooting percentages and wanted to send a message: It's all about winning.)

Blatche was the seventh-most volatile player in 2012-13, and he has clawed his way up to No. 6 in 2013-14. The fact that Blatche has stayed so consistently inconsistent while taking so few 3-pointers is a special achievement.

Conversely, there's only one player who landed in the top 10 least volatile game-to-game players two seasons in a row. And it's a player who has an unjust reputation for being an inefficient gunner: Carmelo Anthony. Here are Anthony's shooting stats over his past eight games (prior to Wednesday night's game):

Aside from a March 10 trap game against Philadelphia (the 76ers beg you to join them in their inefficient, high-pace track meet), Anthony is a model of relative consistency.

Look at this flat, boring chart.

Carmelo Anthony chartESPN Stats and Information

The irony is that despite his (unjust) reputation, if there were one player I wanted to trust to maintain my fantasy team's field goal percentage in a one-game scenario, it would be Anthony. (Go Orange.)

Here are the top 30 most volatile players from the field on a game-to-game basis:

And here are the top 30 least volatile on a game-by-game basis:

Just remember, volatility cuts both ways. An untrustworthy player like Blatche may be just the kind of waiver-wire pickup you want if you're behind in a head-to-head matchup.

John Cregan

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

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.