Many teams have reached the halfway point of the 2012-13 season, and while that might normally be a good time to make a fantasy all-star team, I'd like to focus a little more on the numbers. Last month, we took a look in this space at some of the most surprising numbers from the early part of the season. We looked at Al Horford's free throw shooting (it hasn't improved), Greivis Vasquez's assists (they've actually gone up), Andrei Kirilenko's steals and blocks (declining, but still pretty good), and Damian Lillard's crazy rookie numbers across the board (holding steady).
This time around, we'll dig up some surprising new numbers, and as always, we'll focus on whether you can count on them to continue down the stretch.
Rajon Rondo's field goal percentage
Rondo has had seasons in which he's shot better than 50 percent from the floor, so the fact that he's sitting at 48.4 percent at the moment may not strike you as the most surprising thing in the world. On the other hand, his field goal percentage had been declining for two years in a row, and he was at 45 percent last season, so 48.4 percent actually represents a big improvement. Even more surprising is how he's doing it. Per hoopdata.com, Rondo's shooting 48 percent on shots between 16 and 23 feet from the hoop. Get this: Only three players in the league attempt as many shots from that range while shooting as well from the floor. They are Kyrie Irving, Kevin Garnett and Chris Bosh.
What this means is not just that Rondo has managed to improve his jump shot -- we could be looking at a real offensive weapon. Teams around the league have already begun to take notice; you can't just sag off Rondo in the half court anymore. His 3-point shot still isn't a weapon, but he's shown a willingness to shoot more from out there, and given how much he's improved on long 2-pointers, the 3 might not be far behind. At the very least, Rondo's improved jump shot means that he's gone back to being a valuable player for his field goal percentage (third behind Tony Parker and Steve Nash on a per-game basis) in addition to all the other things he does well.
Carmelo Anthony's 3-point shooting
Yes, he's cooling down a little from his scorching start. His month-by-month splits from behind the arc have gone from 44.0 percent in November to 42.6 percent in December to 39.1 percent in January. Amazingly though, his attempts are still climbing, and he's now making 2.7 per game on the season. On a per-game basis, only Stephen Curry and Ryan Anderson are making more 3s than Melo, and even though he's on a Knicks team that was always going to jack up a ton of 3s this season, that qualifies as a major surprise.
Can he keep it up? Other than the 27 games he played after getting moved to New York at the trade deadline in 2011, Melo has never shot better than 37.1 percent on 3s for a season, and the year he did that, he was attempting just 2.6 per game. He's scoring more points than he ever has, but the 3s are the reason he's been a top-10 fantasy option based on his per-game averages. I would expect his shooting percentage to level off a bit, but 3s have become an enormous part of the Knicks' offense, and Melo is getting better looks than ever before in his career. I think he absolutely can keep making more than 2.5 per game the rest of the way.
Tim Duncan's blocks
Duncan is, in my opinion, one of the 10 greatest basketball players of all time. In large part, this is due to his defense, so it is pretty remarkable that at age 36 (he'll be 37 on April 25), he's blocking more shots per minute than he ever has in his career. In fact, he's actually blocking more shots as the season moves along: after averaging 2.5 per game in November and December, he's at 3.5 per game in January. He's averaging more blocks per game than guys like Dwight Howard, Josh Smith and Joakim Noah, and he's racking up those blocks in fewer minutes per game.
As always with Duncan in recent years, there's some risk that coach Gregg Popovich is going to start reducing his minutes, but since he's only at 30.2 per game on the season, the losses probably won't be too heavy. He'll sit from time to time, but that's worth swallowing if it means he can maintain the efficiency he's shown so far. Still, when I look across the board at Duncan's numbers, it's not the increased scoring or rebounding that impresses me most, and it's not even the fact that he's working on a career high in free throw percentage as well. It's the fact that his blocks have nearly doubled from 1.5 per game to 2.7. Time will tell whether he can keep doing this, but given that he's kept it up through the first half of the season, I'm not going to start doubting him now.
Kevin Durant's free throw shooting
After Wednesday night's win over the Clippers, Durant's free throw percentage is up to 91.0 percent. Even in the confines of this one season, that's impressive, good enough for second in the league to his teammate Kevin Martin's 91.1 percent. However, Durant's 91 percent .910 looks even more impressive when you consider it would rank in the top 20 single-season free throw percentages of all time among players who attempted at least five free throws per game. And he's not attempting five per game, he's attempting 9.2.
To give you an idea of how rare that is, I checked basketball-reference.com's Play Index. Durant, it turns out, would be the only player ever to shoot at least 91 percent from the line on at least eight attempts per game. There's some precedent here: Durant is already the only player ever to shoot at least 90 percent on at least 10 attempts per game (the great Dolph Schayes shot 90 percent on nine attempts per game twice, but never 91 percent). The reason I'm telling you all of this is not just to point out that Durant is making some serious history as a shooter this season (but man, look at those numbers!). Rather, it is to point out that the gap between Durant and the next guy in terms of value derived from free throw shooting in fantasy is greater than the gap between the best and the second-best guys in any other category. Basically, Durant alone should be enough to win you free throw percentage unless you have somebody like Dwight Howard weighing you down.