We're at the quarter pole of our yearly lap around Fantasyland.
Up until now, we've spent a good deal of time in this space discussing shifts in volume -- how to incorporate pace, usage, rotational shifts.
We hit volume early because it's the top of the funnel for seasonal fantasy under/overvaluation. But now we have more of a sample size to explore. Our numbers are 25% baked.
We can responsibly look beyond volume. We can start considering the other half of fantasy valuation: efficiency.
Let's start with one of my foundational metrics: True Shooting Percentage.
In formulaic terms, TS% is:
Points Scored/2 x (Field Goal Attempts + .44 x Free Throw Attempts)
In English, TS% is: how many points are you generating per shot?
True Shooting Percentage conflates 2-point percentage, 3-point percentage, and free throw percentage into one collective percentage. It's a fantastic way to find hidden fantasy value.
Fantasy basketball forces us to compartmentalize percentages. A player's true shooting performance is distributed and diluted across multiple categories: FG%, FT%, points and 3-pointers. Result: we're not looking at the whole picture.
There's no point in rostering a player with a 60.0 FG% if he kneecaps you with a 65.0 FT%. There is a point in rostering player with a 42.0 FG%... if 90% of his field goal attempts are from downtown.
Put all the shot attempts together. Then you'll learn which player is truly making every single shot count. TS% underscores a key fantasy hack: roster players that deliver shooting efficiency in totality.
True Shooting Percentage is connective. It's elemental in unearthing hidden fantasy value. Because it incorporates every type of shot a player can take into one handy, easily digestible metric. 3s. 2s. Free throws. And-1s. Technicals.
(Let me explain the .44. TS% depicts how many points a player is generating per possession. Free throws usually arrive in pairs. But occasionally there's an and-1 or a tech. We add the coefficient of .44 to account for solitary free throw attempts.)
Here's TS% in action.
Tuesday night, James Harden scored 50 points. (52 if you watch the tape). In terms of raw volume, 50 points is very good. But how did he get there?
Harden went 11-of-38 from the field. 32.4% across 38 attempts is very bad.
Harden went 4-of-20 from deep. 20.0% across 20 attempts is very, very bad.
Harden went 24-of-24 from the line. 100.0% across 24 attempts is positively unconscious.
Harden needed 38 field goal attempts and 24 free throw attempts to produce 50 points. Put that line into the TS% formula and you get this:
50/2 x (38 + .44 x 24)
Resulting in a one-game TS% of 51.5%.
Meaning: Harden was atrocious from the field, but his perfection from the line somewhat balanced it out. Not only the fact that Harden was 100.0% from the line, but it was equally important that he posted a high volume of free throw attempts.
A 51.5% TS% is still well below the current league average of 55.9%. A 58.0 TS% is very good. Anything over 60.0% is elite. Thankfully, Harden's TS% for the year is a supernatural 62.9%.
Harden's 62.9 TS% is 15th in the NBA. Mo Wagner leads the league with a 70.8% TS%. But Wagner's only averaging 9.5 combined field goal and free throw attempts per game. Harden is averaging 39.7 combined attempts.
Result: Harden's going to have a bigger net positive effect on your team's bottom line.
In fantasy, we never want to only consider a player's percentages. No percentage lives in a vacuum. To gauge true fantasy impact, we also need to consider volume.
Who's dominating TS% and volume-powered performance? Who's going to efficiently shoot your team to a fake championship?
I could be a mélange of obvious, lazy and unimaginative and tell you to "go get" Harden, Devin Booker, Luka Doncic, Karl-Anthony Towns and Giannis Antetokounmpo. But let's return to planet Earth. How about some players that might be easier to acquire? Here are five more gettable names to target:
What's great about trading for a player with hidden value? Knowing the other manager is giving up more than he or she knows. You're taking away a hidden positive player from a competitor.
But let's add another wrinkle to our trade strategy. Conversely, I could tell you to deal CJ McCollum, Jayson Tatum, Russell Westbrook, Donovan Mitchell, Nikola Jokic and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Six big names that look like locks to submarine your fake team's percentages all season.
But because they all score in volume? They'll be easy to deal for a big return. All six are posting high points per game averages. But they're having to take a boatload of shots to get there. Which means all of those points they're producing are empty points.
Their admirable, easily identifiable volume is being diminished by nefarious, hidden inefficiency.
Solution: deal them for underrated, yet efficient players.
Find the manager that chases empty points, and trade him or her your poison pill.
A poison pill is a player that seems like he'll help in reality... but sneakily hurts you in fantasy. You give a net negative to a competitor, while stealing away the same competitor's net positive. You help yourself, and hurt the other manager. From your perspective? Win-win.
Here are some less obvious TS% fugitives that could be deployed as poison pills: