I believe that fantasy owners are better off ignoring points per game when drafting their teams. The question comes down to this: Does scoring drive a player's fantasy production, or vice versa? I believe it's the latter.
If you pay attention to putting together a team built to win in the other categories -- especially the percentages -- the points will arrive naturally. My teams never have a problem scoring. If they lose, it's because I've made mistakes in other areas.
Remember that points are only one category within a larger picture.
Only one other category -- 3-pointers -- has even a tangential relationship to a particular player's scoring output. (But you should pay attention to the amount of attempts a player takes per game, the amount of 3-pointers, because those numbers influence the impact a player will have on your team's percentages.)
Nothing causes a player to be overvalued more than a high scoring average. Because of the bias toward points scored that is ingrained within our basketball psyches, we're taught to overvalue their importance within the confines of fantasy basketball.
For a while, I'd even delete points per game from my draft spreadsheet, because I found I was deferring my tougher drafting decisions to points per game. Eventually, I retrained my eye to gravitate to other columns in a player's stat sheet.
While a high scoring average is usually connected to high-grade fantasy production, this isn't always the case. Some players can be very valuable despite their low-scoring tendencies, while some players provide points and little else. I covet players who don't have to score to be productive fantasy contributors. And I try to stay away from players who give only what I call "empty points." Players in the first pool are usually undervalued in trades and linger on the waiver wire a little longer. Players in the second pool tend to be overvalued.
To illustrate this dynamic, I've put together two opposing lineups. One is comprised of "empty points" players, and the other is made up of low-scoring producers. Let's break them down by position:
(NOTE: "PR" below stands for value on the Player Rater)
It's a little unfair to include point guards within this discussion. By nature, point guards usually present a diverse statistical portfolio, based on the fact that we know they're bringing assists to the table. But there are always a couple of score-first point guards out there who buck the trend. Players like Sessions and Rodney Stuckey tend to bounce around in multiple roles, which may be to blame for the lack of across-the-board production.
The biggest fantasy problem players like Sessions and Stuckey suffer from is a lack of offensive efficiency. They're both known as score-first point guards, but they require a lot of shots to maintain that reputation. They can't hit 3s, so they rely on a lot of penetration and midrange jumpers, which tends to be a losing combination when trying to build efficiency. Fantasy-wise, it leaves little room for error, because you're stuck with players who don't contribute 3s, have bad percentages and don't rack up a lot of assists (relative to their position).
Contrast Sessions' numbers with Collison's. Collison is quietly putting together one of the more underrated campaigns in fantasy. He does absolutely nothing well, but does a little bit of everything. He picks his spots for his offense, and while he isn't lighting up any scoreboards, he has been efficient. As a matter of fact, his 40 percent clip from behind the arc shows that there's some upside yet to be tapped in his fantasy value.
I could list several shooting guards as "empty points" players, but I went with DeRozan because I wanted to talk for a moment about how players can rise out of the "empty points" category. Until Rudy Gay showed up looking for recommendations for poutine, DeRozan had been putting together a step-forward type of season.
He was the personification of empty points early in his career. Then this season, he started rebounding the ball a little better and increasing his steals. Now that Gay's in Toronto, DeRozan has continued to score, but he's shooting more 3s while grabbing fewer boards. Maybe DeRozan can make that statistical transition.
Green obviously has no problem hitting 3-pointers. He's a great example of how a player doesn't need to score if he provides elite production in a specific category.
Green's generous with his 3s, but what makes him special are his defensive numbers. Green has the potential to average 1.5 steals and a block per game. We could be looking long term at a poor man's Nicolas Batum; Green makes for a potentially great fantasy pairing with Kawhi Leonard on the wing.
Johnson used to be the personification of the player who didn't need to score to be productive. During his peak years in Atlanta, he was a perfect fantasy glue guy, a great player to build a fantasy team around, thanks his contributions in assists, rebounds and percentages.
Since his arrival in Brooklyn, Johnson has struggled in a new scheme and has sort of evolved into a New York version of Arron Afflalo, meaning a 3-point specialist who can chip in a little in rebounds and assists.
Parsons is vastly outperforming Johnson at a fraction of the fantasy price (Johnson's ADP was 35, Parsons' was 149). I resent good-looking people as much as the next fantasy analyst, but there really isn't a dent in Parsons' resume. He's proof of what can happen when a smart GM drafts a specific skill set for a high-pace system.
There have been some vintage Dirk sightings recently (24 points Monday night), and I hope for the sake of the owners who reached to draft him that he reverts to form. But so far this season, he's basically been a less rugged version of Byron Mullens. He's still getting it done from behind the arc, but his lack of effectiveness in the midrange game has held back his value.
Andrei Kirilenko (when healthy) has been having a flashback season of his own, back to around 2005, when he was one of the best all-around players in fantasy. The key, as always, with Kirilenko is that parenthetical. He has to remain ambulatory and on the court to continue his comeback campaign, and with the other injuries in Minnesota he should get all the minutes he can handle.
Amar'e Stoudemire: 3.95 PR, 13.8 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 0.5 APG, 0.4 SPG, 0.8 BPG, 57.9 FG%
Nikola Vucevic, .599 PR, 12.5 PPG, 11.6 RPG, 1.6 APG, 0.6 SPG, 1.1 BPG, 52.3 FG%
I'm happy that Stoudemire has found his niche within the Knicks' winning formula. That niche? Keeping him and Carmelo Anthony off the floor at the same time whenever possible. That leaves Stoudemire free to provide instant offense.
Stoudemire's sixth-man role has meant even less attention to rebounding, and streakier point production. One positive about Stoudemire is that when his offense is rolling, he blocks shots. So I expect him to improve his blocks per game, even in a diminished role.
Here's a question: Would you rather have Vucevic or DeMarcus Cousins for the rest of the season? Or in a keeper league? Cousins has the upside, but Vucevic is the kind of player you can plug into center opening night and not have to worry about again until April.
Vucevic's success story underscores why fantasy enthusiasts need to pay extra attention to floundering NBA teams. They're the rotations that can produce the biggest dynamic shifts in minutes and fantasy numbers as the season progresses.