I've written about fantasy hoops longer than my son Flynn has walked the earth. He has caught me in the middle of many an all-nighter. He has seen me at my absolute bleariest stages. Me at 4:00 a.m. can be a disquieting sight.
A couple of weeks ago, while driving to a flag football game, my 9-year-old asked me why I like fantasy basketball so much. I pounced on a teachable moment.
I like how fantasy basketball, at its heart, rewards unselfish play. Players who rely on scoring to drive their production get overrated. Conversely, if we track players who produce despite relatively low scoring averages, we can acquire said players at bargain prices. Managers who chase unselfish play are rewarded by default.
I readily admit I'm not a very exciting dad.
So last week, we took a look at some of fantasyland's reigning "empty points players": Players who are overrated due to their overall production showing bloat in their points-per-game production.
This week, I want to point out some players at the opposite end of the scale. I want to point out some of fantasyland's unsung heroes -- producers who outpace their ADP at healthy rates due to their more balanced, less points-driven output.
I keep track of players who produce at a high total level despite modest points-per-game averages. It's a small, exclusive group: The majority of NBA players sport a rough correlation between their points-per-game average and their overall fantasy production.
But there are a select few at the opposite end of the scale.
At that end of the scale, you'll find our unsung heroes.
Unsung heroes are fantasyland's salt of the earth. The numerical grinders. The players who secretly power fake championships the world over.
Even better -- fantasy rewards managers who look for unselfish players. Efficient players. Pass-first players. Blocked shots and assists rule our geeky little world because of their relative rarity.
Anyone can chase points ... but chasing field goal percentage requires nuance.
To qualify as an unsung hero, you have to make sure there's a lot of headroom between your points-scored production and your overall player rater rank.
By way of comparison, here's a quick little case study.
Here's how Wiggins charts out:
Andrew Wiggins, SG/SF, Minnesota Timberwolves
Player rater Points Rank: 37
Overall player rater Rank: 158
Ugh. This is one ugly chart. Look at that unsightly free throw production.
Across the board, Wiggins posts replacement-level to subreplacement production in every category other than points and steals.
When charted out, empty points players advertise their numerical impotence with the hard-right skew. When charted, their production slopes sharply upward toward the right. Invariably, empty points players slope downward to the left at a 45-degree angle.
Compare Wiggins with Green.
Draymond Green SF/PF/C, Golden State Warriors
Overall player rater: 20
Points scored rank: 138
Green charts out in classic unsung hero fashion -- as in a healthy bulge in the middle of the chart -- a hard uptick toward the middle four categories.
Ah ... I still remember that halcyon 2013 summer league where -- as members of the Warriors' summer league championship squad -- Green and Kent Bazemore ruled their own little corner of Las Vegas. Green and Bazemore put on a statistical show, while proving they had graduated from summer league competition.
Seeing them in person, the duo made an impression I still can't shake. They were numerically droolworthy. I've been grabbing Green early and often ever since.
At the time, being old, I pegged Green as a latter-day peak Boris Diaw: a multipositional frontcourt player who passed well and produced across the board.
Let's examine how swingmen (a la Bazemore) end up as unsung heroes:
Overall player rater: 142
Points scored rank: 234
In 2014, when Johnson was at his boring yet sneaky-productive peak, he was the ambulatory embodiment of what call a "1+1+1 player." As in: He chips in a 3-pointer, a steal and a block per game.
When charted out, 1+1+1 players resemble dented "M"s.
A preponderance of swingmen (SG/SF types) end up as unsung heroes. Most also end up as 1+1+1 players. Even more specifically, a preponderance of Johnsons end up 1+1+1 players: Miami's James Johnson is another example.
The historical problem for both Wes and James Johnson hasn't been productivity -- it's minutes, a lack of playing time. Give Wes or James Johnson 25 to 30 minutes, and they will deliver. Like my parenting, it won't be exciting to watch, but the production will be there.
Here are some other examples of unsung hero swingmen:
Overall player rater: 43
Points scored rank: 95
Overall player rater: 72
Points scored rank: 122
Year in, year out, both Covington and Ariza are drafted several rounds below their end-of-season production. Covington's ADP: 84.5 (four rounds below his value). Ariza's ADP: 69.3 (right at his current value, but Ariza is a notoriously slow starter).
Overall player rater: 63
Points scored rank: 106
Certain NBA coaches excel at producing unsung heroes. They tend to be the coaches associated with a hard analytics bent: Erik Spoelstra, Brad Stevens and Brett Brown all excel at delivering underrated producers.
Enough about swingmen. Let's chart out how big men end up as unsung heroes.
Overall player rater: 46
Points scored rank: 115
Look for the W. As in, look for how unsung big men map out their field goal percentage, rebounds and blocks. When a PF/C is charted out, we're looking for well-balanced Ws. Here's what an elite W looks like:
Karl-Anthony Towns, C, Minnesota Timberwolves
Overall player rater: 7
Points scored rank: 27
Towns' W is a more pronounced version of DeAndre Jordan:
DeAndre Jordan, C, LA Clippers
Overall player rater: 61
Points scored rank: 128
Fantasyland's most balanced W this season belongs to Atlanta's John Collins:
John Collins, PF/C, Atlanta Hawks
Overall player rater: 85
Points scored rank: 150
Blocks, boards and field goal percentage. Collins' chart is a thing of well-balanced beauty. Hassan Whiteside delivers a perfect W.
Hassan Whiteside, C, Miami Heat
Overall player rater: 27
Points scored rank: 71
Overall player rater: 38
Points scored rank: 96
Horford charts out a little funky, thanks to his well-diversified production. Save for free throw production, there isn't a category Horford fails to deliver.
Let's wrap up with a player who charts out like no one else in fantasyland.
Ben Simmons, PF/PG
Overall player rater: 41
Points scored rank: 48
What is Simmons? The best I can make out, he projects as V for fantasy victory. There simply isn't another player who produces like Simmons.
Hopefully, as Simmons learns to shoot from outside at an NBA level, his V will flatten.
Because he's such an outlier, I actually look forward to charting out Simmons' stats. It makes my heart skip a little.
I mean, come 2020? Simmons' chart could resemble total flatness. How exciting is that?
I really need to get out more.