In fantasy, I punt points. I mean that I completely ignore PPG, quite literally. When I draft, I delete the entire column from my spreadsheets.
I learned to stop chasing points once I realized that fantasy basketball ownership prizes a different approach. The sooner you expunge points per game from your mind, the sooner you'll win consistently in fantasy hoops.
From the moment we hear the first squeak of a sneaker on the gymnasium floor, our basketball brains are trained to prioritize scoring. We are bred to lionize scoring above all other statistics. Yes, every one of us first encounters the game of basketball as a points-driven enterprise. A basket is the reward for a well-run play. It's the culmination of a smooth fast break.
Prizing points is our natural, reality-based inclination. After all, whoever scores the most points wins the game.
Look at blocks, rebounds, steals, field goal percentage, or any other category and you'll encounter a mere secondary byproduct of the only statistic that truly determines who wins and who loses. In reality, they're supporting stats, dwarfed by the almighty point.
In fantasy, I employ the opposite approach. When an owner stops chasing points and chases other categories instead, the scoring somehow shows up anyway. My best-performing teams tend to be a byproduct of drafting well and prioritizing everything but the almighty point.
When prepping for draft season, I always try to identify a group I call "Empty Points Players" or EPP's. This class of NBA talent scores points at an attention-grabbing rate. However, beyond that, there's little else contributed across the statistical board. If these players do happen to add the odd steal or block to the mix, it's rarely proportional to their scoring output.
Sure, EPP's deliver flash. They command attention. But they leave fantasy owners feeling undercooked in other numerical areas and tend to get over-drafted by at least a round. One sign of an underperforming NBA team? They have a preponderance of EPPs.
Most EPP's are easy to spot. In fact, there's an entire position that overflows with empty points -- shooting guard. Heck, it's right there in the name. These guys are on the court to shoot the basketball. Yes, they may kick in the odd 3-pointer or the occasional steal. However, there's a reason why, season after season, shooting guard tends to be the shallowest position in terms of diversity in the box score.
That's why I try to target multiple players that qualify at secondary positions along with shooting guard. Preferably at PG/SG like James Harden, Jrue Holiday, or Jamal Murray. Of course, SG/SF options like Khris Middleton or Evan Fournier work as well.
Let's take a midseason look at some of this season's EPP's and what to do with them going forward:
The timing of leading with Wiggins couldn't be worse as he's coming off of his best line of the year -- a monster 40-point outing fueled by 3 3-pointers, 6 rebounds, and 1 block. However, Wiggins' longterm view still tells the story of the emptiest EPP in fantasy.
This comes to light in a big way when Wiggins' potential occasionally translates into nights like Tuesday's 40-point outburst. Since his rookie year, fantasy managers have been waiting on Wiggins to support his points per game with other statistics. I really thought coach Tom Thibodeau was going to be the answer, but Minnesota instead decided to add Jimmy Butler. making Wiggins' production drop even further.
Butler's arrival has had a vulture-like effect on Wiggins, whose 18.2 points per game is his lowest rate since his rookie campaign. He's chipping in a little more from 3-point territory, but his steals, blocks and rebounds remain in decidedly underwhelming territory. So far in 2017-18, Wiggins has been a 5th-round pick delivering 17th-round production. Its unlikely to get much better.
Griffin's across-the-board production has ticked upwards since his return from his latest injury. Still, a power forward with a 29.4 usage rate -- 15th-best in the NBA -- should be chipping in more than he has. A healthy Griffin on a Chris Paul-less Clippers team should be a top-20 producer.
The supporting numbers are there. Griffin is averaging career highs in 3-pointers (1.6 per game) and assists (5.5). Griffin ranks in the top 20 in both scoring and usage rate. He should be supplementing those stats with higher totals in other categories -- especially in rebounds, where he's giving you just 7.9 per game.
Griffin is looking for space further out from the basket. Shooting from deep and adding the extra 3's has been a nice development, but he's only shooting 32 percent from beyond the arc. That disappointing make rate has really dinged Griffin's overall field goal percentage. His current 44 percent FG% is a career low, even if his true shooting percentage remains at a respectable 55.4 percent.
The problem is a lack of space. Griffin and DeAndre Jordan have to co-exist and, without a world-class distributor like Chris Paul, spacing between the duo has proved to be very difficult. As a result, Jordan is vulturing boards and blocks that should fall to Griffin. A trade could open things up. so if the Clippers to end up dealing Jordan by the deadline, Griffin could deliver a top-20 finish.
Now that he's with the Thunder, all you can count on from Anthony is points per game and 3's. Any blocks, steals, rebounds, or field goal percentage have gone by the wayside. In his peak campaigns of the past, Anthony's numbers were powered by volume. This season, Anthony is headed for potential career lows in usage rate (23.3), PER (14.88) and true shooting percentage (52.2).
I thought that Anthony's usage would hover around 25.0, which would deliver 7th-to-8th round production. Over the past two weeks, as the Thunder have rounded into form, he's done just that, ranking No. 64 on the Player Rater during that stretch. As Anthony and the Thunder find their rhythm, I think Melo could start to produce a little more in other categories, meaning this could well be an understated buy-low opportunity.
Before this season, Dragic annually checked in as one of fantasy's more underrated point guards. He was what we call a "glue guy" -- someone who didn't score in bunches, but made up for it with heightened efficiency. This year, however, Dragic remained uncharacteristically ice-cold during the latter days of December, battling both elbow (in his shooting arm) and knee issues.
After a few days off this month, however, Dragic has flashed some glimpses of his prior form. Like Anthony, he's trending up and appears to be another buy-low candidate. Miami is building momentum, and Dragic appears primed for a big upswing in the season's second-half.
Never get fooled by Harrison Barnes. Numerically speaking, he's basically a shooting guard in a tweener forward's body. He'll give you points and 3's, and perform at a mediocre level everywhere else.
When he was with Golden State, and on a championship team, he was a No. 4 option. These days, he's a No. 1 (or 1-A) option on a rebuilding team that is playing for ping-pong balls. That's what happens when you go from a great team to a bad team, while at the same time nearly doubling your usage rate.
Here are just a few of the other names who have earned membership in the not-so-coveted EPP club: Dennis Schroder, PG, Atlanta Hawks, TJ Warren, SF, Phoenix Suns, Isaiah Thomas, PG, Cleveland Cavaliers, D'Angelo Russell, PG/SG, Brooklyn Nets