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Sneaky stats to exploit

2/5/2013

Last summer, the NBA's connotation of "poison pill" was ruthlessly highlighted during Jeremy Lin's contract negotiations with the Houston Rockets.

In that world, poison pill means the cruel, Machiavellian insertion of an impossibly expensive year at the tail end of a contract, designed to send James Dolan into a paroxysm of cool jazz apoplexy.

In fantasy, it means something a little different, though it is still Machiavellian.

In fantasy, to use a poison pill means to purposely deal a player to another team who will secretly, negatively, affect other contending teams in the standings. And this is a strategy that can help teams in both head-to-head and rotisserie scoring systems.

There are a couple of ways to employ this maneuver; I'll throw out a quick rotisserie-based variation by way of example.

Let's say you're currently trotting out a lineup featuring Larry Sanders, Serge Ibaka and Josh Smith. You're lapping your league in blocked shots, but this same team is stuck in third place overall.

Let's then say the top of your league's standings in blocked shots looks like this:
Your team (third place): 483
First-place team: 392
Second-place team: 389
Third-place team: 378

The first- and second-place teams are behind you in blocked shots, but you enjoy a comfortable lead in this particular category. So much that you can absorb the loss of Josh Smith, whom you want to deal for backcourt help.

The ninth-place team has a glut of point guards and is happy to offer the services of Mike Conley for Smith. You make the deal, and the ninth-place team shoots ahead of the first- and second-place teams in blocks, taking a point away from each of them in the standings.

(You also make a jump in steals and assists thanks to Conley, win your league and use that positive momentum to repair your marriage, which has withered under the heat of the a long, arduous fantasy basketball season.)

That's one brief, roto-centric example. But there are ways to employ this tactic that can help those of you in either style of league.

The key? Attack the other owners' field goal percentages.

This is a highly specialized, highly effective tactic where one deals high-volume but low-efficiency shooters to opposing squads as a way of submarining their shooting percentage.

(You can do this with free throw percentage as well, but you will effect more dramatic shifts in your league's statistical dynamic with field goal percentage.)

The idea, on the surface, is simple: Trade away players with low field goal percentages to teams that are ahead of or near you in the standings.

But you need to account for two other variables in this equation: the amount of shots a player takes per game and the types of shots the player is attempting.

DeAndre Jordan is top five in the league with a field goal percentage of 61 percent. But he's only attempting 6.2 shots per game. So while he's a net positive for a team's field goal percentage, his low volume of attempts dampens his impact.

On the other hand, Ryan Anderson shoots only 43 percent from the floor. And he shoots 14.1 times per game. At first glance, he's a net negative.

But the savvy owner is factoring in that over half of Anderson's attempts are from behind the 3-point line (7.6 out of 14.1 attempts per game).

And then you have to factor in that Anderson cans an impressive 40 percent of his 3s. So in reality, Anderson's not that poisonous a pill, thanks to his long-range efficiency.

No, what we're looking for are players who miss a high volume of shots while factoring in how many of those misses are coming from downtown.

The volume side is easy; just take a look at attempts per game. When considering poison pills in field goal percentage, the stat I like to couple with attempts is Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%).

Effective Field Goal Percentage was invented by the elder Mike Dunleavy in the '80s as a way of better representing a player's efficiency from the field. It simply factors in the extra point a player records from the 3-point shot.

For you math fans out there, here's the formula: (FG + 0.5 * 3P) / FGA

Or, in English; field goals plus 0.5 times 3-point field goals, divided by field goal attempts.

It's an elegant and effective way to delineate how a player is actually performing from the floor.

When coupled with field goal attempts per game, it gives you a great snapshot of a player's actual impact on your fantasy team's field goal efficiency. And it helps underscore which players would make for the most toxic additions to your opponents' rosters.

1. DeMarcus Cousins, PF/C
Shots Per Game: 14.6
Effective Field Goal Percentage: .447

Cousins Cousins

I've been guilty of pushing Cousins on you this season.

I have to admit, watching him get ejected from last night's game against the Utah Jazz provided me with a moment of clarity. I'm starting to believe he's not worth the risk. When he's on, he shows No. 1 center potential ... not a No. 1 center on your team, but in all of fantasy basketball.

Cousins is averaging 17.2 points and 10.0 rebounds this season. Not bad but terribly disappointing when you factor in his upside. Cousins should be a 22-and-12 type of player who can get two steals and a block not to mention a healthy three or so assists per night.

But when he disappears like he has over his past five games (14.4 points, 7.4 rebounds per game), he reminds me about something else: his inefficiency. Cousins shoots an unconscionable (for a big man) 45 percent from the floor. A player with Cousins' low-post skill should be at least 10 points higher than that.

And what really galls me is that he's averaging 0.2 3-point attempts per game. What the heck is he doing behind the 3-point line? Is there something in Byron Mullens' game that Cousins wishes to emulate? Because Mullens also has a terrible eFG% of .428, but at least he's giving you the occasional 3-pointer.

I really am starting to believe it's not going to happen for Cousins in Sacramento, at least not on a consistent basis. He's got a lot of trade value because of the statistical binges he'll go on a couple of weeks a month. I'd wait until he goes on another binge and then deal him for a more stable player.

Note: There are other big men with bad eFG%s, like Tyler Zeller (.410) and Roy Hibbert (.413), but none combines the bad eFG% with a high field goal attempts per game like Cousins.

2. Monta Ellis, PG/SG, Milwaukee Bucks
Shots Per Game: 17.4
Effective Field Goal Percentage: .426

Ellis Ellis

Ellis has a lower eFG% than Cousins but stays at No. 2 due to his solid assists, steals and rebounds. Ellis has never been the NBA's most efficient player, but he's hit new lows this season. He's shooting a career-low 25 percent from deep this year and only 40 percent overall.

I thought Scott Skiles' departure might help Ellis' percentages, but he actually dipped in January (while Brandon Jennings has improved). And for those of you in leagues that count turnovers, Ellis is also logging 3.1 fumbles per game, sky-high for a player averaging only 5.5 assists.

3. Russell Westbrook, PG, Oklahoma City Thunder
Shots Per Game: 18.9
Effective Field Goal Percentage: .455

Westbrook Westbrook

Settle for a moment. Exhale. How could I possibly advocate dealing a top-10 fantasy player, perhaps the top point guard in all of fantasy? It's certifiable on the surface.

Because Westbrook, for all of his prodigious gifts, is a field goal percentage restrictor plate. A player averaging nearly 19 shots per game is going to define your team's performance from the field. And when that player has an eFG% below 46 percent, and an overall field goal percentage of 42 percent, it makes it hard to compete in that category.

When you combine Westbrook's massive trade appeal with his inefficient percentages from the field, you have the makings of a great poison pill. You have to make sure you're getting good -- no, make that great -- trade value for him. But you will, because he's Russell Westbrook.