Early-season statistical surprises
Al Horford's free throws, Greivis Vasquez's assists affecting Player Rater value
It's early enough in the NBA season (right around a third of the way through) where there are still a few statistical anomalies that haven't corrected themselves yet. This happens every year, and it's up to us to try to figure out which ones are subject to change and which may be part of the process of delivering new trends to us -- just in time for the holiday season.
With that in mind, we're going to look at a handful of the more surprising statistics in the early going with an eye on how those numbers are affecting the Player Rater rankings so far this season.
Horford's horrific free throw shooting[+] EnlargeRocky Widner/NBAE/Getty ImagesAl Horford has missed 31 of his 68 attempts this season after missing just 38 in his last full season in 2010-11.
This one is definitely no gift, as Al Horford -- still a career 74.6 percent free throw shooter -- is shooting an abominable 54.4 percent from the line so far this season while taking 3.2 attempts per game, nearly a career high. Only once in Horford's career -- college and NBA included -- has he shot worse than 60 percent from the line, and that was during his freshman season with the Florida Gators. In his NBA career, he's never been worse than 72.7 percent, and he has approached 80 percent once or twice. Basically, there's no way any of us saw this coming; if anything, Horford was a guy you drafted in part because he provides traditional big-man stats without killing you at the line a la Dwight Howard or Blake Griffin.
What's worse, there's little relief in the splits. Horford's better in December than he was in November, but 58.3 percent for the month is still nothing to write home about and would still be a career low by a mile. Get this: He's shooting just 49 percent in games the Hawks have won! All told, he's been one of the 10 most detrimental free throw shooters for fantasy squads this season; the only relief is his relatively small number of attempts for a big man with his offensive game (this is not normally something that's a positive). Horford's average draft position (ADP) was 27.2, and if he just found his way back up to his career percentage, he'd be right around there on the Player Rater this season, too. Otherwise, he's going to keep living on the outside of the top 50, and he'll keep being a bit of a disappointment overall in fantasy leagues.
I don't know about you, but heading into this season, I didn't expect Greivis Vasquez to be averaging more assists per game than Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker, Ty Lawson, Jeremy Lin, LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and a host of other players (and I was a Vasquez fan). At 8.8 per game, he's fourth in the league, and he's only 0.4 per game behind Chris Paul, the player in second. That's stellar production for a guy who, frankly, doesn't do all that much else. His contributions in all other categories combined add up to practically zilch in the grand scheme of things, but his assists have been an important factor in lots of leagues already this season.
The question, I suppose, is whether he can keep it up, and the answer, I think, is yes. The Hornets have a promising backup behind Vasquez in Brian Roberts, but Vasquez played 46 minutes to Roberts' four in the Hornets' one-point loss to the Trail Blazers on Sunday, and with three straight double-doubles (after an impressive 20 points and 11 assists in a loss to the Warriors), Vasquez's recent slump seems to be behind him. He's not going to turn into a model of efficiency any time soon, as he doesn't shoot the 3-pointer with much proficiency and seems to have an intolerance for getting to the line, but those assists should keep on coming all season.
Kirilenko's blocks and steals[+] EnlargeNathaniel S. Butler/Getty ImagesAndrei Kirilenko's length and athleticism still impact the game on the defensive end.
Andrei Kirilenko is currently sitting at 1.6 blocks and 1.8 steals per game, numbers that don't really look all that much different than the 2.0 and 1.4 he's averaging for his career. However, considering the fact that he's 31 years of age and hasn't put together that combination of numbers since the 2003-04 season, it's certainly a bit of a surprise. A lot of us thought Kirilenko would be good this season, but these numbers certainly go beyond anything I expected.
There are a couple of factors at work here. For one thing, at 36.1 minutes per game, he's playing more than he has since 2005-06. For another thing, his team is in the top half of the league in pace and has relied on his all-around floor game quite a bit due to other injuries all over the roster. Still, Kirilenko's having a great season -- his best all-around effort probably since 2005-06 -- and his talent doesn't look like it's going anywhere. Additionally, rumors of his lack of durability may be a little exaggerated. Yes, he's always going to miss games here and there, but over his past six seasons prior to this one, he's played in 84 percent of his team's games. No, that doesn't make him a player like Westbrook, but it does come out to 69 games per 82-game season, which isn't too shabby, either.
Lillard's numbers all of them
Well, not exactly all of them, but I want to point out that if Damian Lillard manages to continue averaging 18.8 points, 6.3 assists and 2.3 3s per game, he's going to be the first player to do that as a rookie ever. If you want to get rid of the 3s because they've only been around since Chris Ford knocked down the inaugural long bomb in 1979-80, then there are only three other guys who have ever averaged 18.8 and 6.3 as rookies, and they are Oscar Robertson, Allen Iverson and Damon Stoudemire. So clearly we're in some rarified air, here.
To take it a step further, the only active point guard to play more than 35 minutes per game with a PER above 17 as a rookie is Paul (Tyreke Evans and Brandon Roy did it, too, but I'm going to go ahead and suggest that they weren't true point guards). Basically, Lillard's success as a rookie guard is in many ways unprecedented, and while the fact that he was a four-year college player probably means he has less room to improve, he's still a player who has a ways to go before he maxes out his potential. Yes, there will be some speed bumps -- you'd like to see him get some more steals if he's playing 38 minutes per game -- but Lillard's a keeper if there ever was one.
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