Fantasy basketball: Why roto players will enjoy ESPN's new points-league scoring system

Trae Young is a big riser in ESPN Fantasy's new scoring system for points leagues. Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

2020 changed me. I'm just not sure if it's for the better.

I've been repeatedly informed I now present as "unexpectedly mature." "Wizened." "Not old... just older." Or, as one friend puts it, I've "become Gandalf the White."

I'm terrified. Terrified of the primary pitfall of becoming pre-distressed: the belief you have nothing left to learn.

Once you think you've got it all figured out? You're worse than older. You're done. Fated to forever need to prove how smart you are.

You're that guy with the backpack who can't stop talking about cryptocurrency. That guy in your fantasy league who announces he's "just won this league" after his second-round pick.

Here's my "wizened" experience. To authentically embrace the new? Be humble. Take some fresh lumps. Remain open to discovering what aspects of the new scare and inspire you.

Yes. It's easier to think you know everything. But that's also why men over 40 and college freshmen at winter break tend to be hyper-annoying. (And single.)

So which guy resembles "The Two Towers" me? My favorite geek hobby delivered a clue.

ESPN Fantasy High Command sent the news I'd long dreaded.

In fantasy hoops... the points-format system was getting "new emphasis."

Would I consider abandoning the last bastion of fantasy efficiency -- my precious Rotisserie format -- and writing on the transient joys of points?

Forsaking the statistical purity of classic rotisserie for the easy, glib charms of points? Balanced progression for instant gratification? Potatoes au Gratin for reheated, truffle-oil oversaturated French fries?

I'd spent decades constructing, testing and proving out empirical approaches that were proven roto hoops winners. Now, the ghost of 2002 Antoine Walker had returned... and was hoisting a deep, contested 3-pointer and laughing at me.

ESPN's new Points League scoring system

Yes indeed, ESPN's points rubric had been artfully revised, and the analytic boom superpowering today's NBA was reflected in the updated system. The revision delivers the lightning-fast satisfaction of the points format... but with a fresh focus on offensive efficiency and defensive production.

Could I possibly be excited about this? Or at least less crotchety?

One look at the new valuation by category, and I was on board.

Point scored = 1 point
3-Pointer = 1 point
Field Goal Attempt = -1 point
Field Goal Made = 2 points
Free Throw Attempted = -1 point
Free Throw Made = 1 point
Rebound = 1 point
Assist = 2 points
Steal = 4 points
Block = 4 points
Turnover = -2 points

This: a fantasy triumph. An incisive, balanced framework that provides a connective statistical simulation of the dynamics of the NBA as it nears 2021.

-It de-emphasizes the importance of volume scoring and shifts the emphasis to offensive efficiency.

-It rewards players that produce without a high rate of possession.

-It properly represents the in-game impact of a made 3-pointer.

-It successfully boosts the value of assists, steals and blocks.

-It gives the negative impact of turnovers added importance.

-It provides proper weight and balance across each category.

-And by doing so, it properly weighs the value of each position.

-It provides an opportunity to develop a deeper relationship with the NBA experience. And it does so without requiring that relationship. You can compete just fine, without feeling like you need to take a Masterclass.

Want some proof? Take a look at last year's top 10 players in the old system:

  1. Giannis Antetokounmpo

  2. James Harden

  3. Luka Doncic

  4. Karl-Anthony Towns

  5. Anthony Davis

  6. LeBron James

  7. Damian Lillard

  8. Nikola Jokic

  9. Kawhi Leonard

  10. Andre Drummond

And here are the top 10 in the new system, with changes in valuation:

  1. James Harden (+1)

  2. Giannis Antetokounmpo (-1)

  3. LeBron James (+3)

  4. Anthony Davis (+1)

  5. Damian Lillard (+2)

  6. Luka Doncic (-3)

  7. Karl-Anthony Towns (-3)

  8. Kawhi Leonard (+1)

  9. Trae Young (+7, new to top 10)

  10. Nikola Jokic (-2)

Both top 10s contain nearly the same players. But the decks are subtly reshuffled. Valuation has now been properly distributed.

Raw scoring is de-emphasized. Instead, in terms of overall scoring, the changes reflect the proper valuation of 3s, and inflate overall shooting efficiency within the total shooting efficiency picture.

Elite 3-point production is properly rewarded. Free throw volume and efficiency is now given its proper weight.

At the same time, assists are given new, added importance... but that import can be cancelled out by the equal increase in the negative impact of turnovers. Result: high assist-to-turnover rates are rewarded. And non-PGs that turn the ball over without generating assists are penalized.

Steals and blocks are finally given the weight they deserve. In terms of how they actually affect games, and given their scarcity? Players that generate elite defense get the single biggest boost.

Biggest Winners:

Trae Young (up 7 slots)
LeBron James (up 3 slots)
James Harden (up 1 slot)

Biggest Losers:

Andre Drummond (down 4 slots)
Luka Doncic (down 3 slots)
Karl-Anthony Towns (down 2 slots)

I love these top-10 shifts.

Young is properly rewarded for his already-elite mix of assists, 3s and rebounds (for his position). The additional weight in 3s helps to negate the hit in field goal percentage. Just as importantly, the shift gives new value to Young's plus-production at the line (in terms of volume and efficiency)

Overall, Young is pushed from a mid-second grade to the late first round. Moving up seven slots may not seem like much, but remember, this is in the upper atmosphere of the draft, where even a slot or two carries massive shifts in production.

LeBron's career campaign in assists now gives him a nudge into the top 3. Bolstering the upward push: his solid 2.2 3s, and 1.7 blocks + steals.

Harden may have only moved one slot but taking the number one overall position from Antetokounmpo merits a callout. There was also a 180 in terms of the polarity of the shift. Before, Antetokounmpo was firmly ahead of Harden, and now Harden is firmly ahead of Antetokounmpo. Harden's additional assists, steals and blocks powered the switch.

With the additional emphasis on 3-point efficiency, Drummond is properly penalized lack of free throw efficiency. It would be harder to punt free throws overall. Factoring in his high turnover rate, there's one stat that prevents a deeper slide: his sneaky-good-for-a-center assist rate (2.7 per game).

This places Doncic's rookie season in its proper perspective. He's still a top-10 player, but Doncic's lack of supporting defensive stats and mediocre efficiency correctly underscore he has room to grow... and major still-untapped upside.

Beyond the top 10, here are 10 other players boosted by the new system:

Ben Simmons
Jrue Holiday
Kyle Lowry
Fred Van Vleet
Hassan Whiteside
Bam Adebayo
Robert Covington
Ricky Rubio
Rudy Gobert
Chris Paul
Marcus Smart
Brook Lopez

The same positive reinforcements are displayed here: 3-point production, high assists, low turnovers, blocks + steals. High minutes and Usage Rate are not prerequisites for success.

And a la Doncic, other young standouts that still lack efficiency or defensive stats registered appropriate slippage. Trae Young, Devin Booker and Brandon Ingram all dropped, again in ways that underscore their upside, and areas they need to improve.

My favorite case study that proves the greatness of the new system? Measured by per-game production? Save for his grievous injury, Jonathan Issac was on track to be a top-40 fantasy player.

Issac is the personification of the kind of player fantasy scoring needs to trumpet. Low usage. Low turnovers. Low scoring. But an elite combination of rebounds, steals, blocks (10.7) would have propelled him all the way to 19th overall.

I love how players like Issac and Adebayo are emphasized, because they reflect shifts within the NBA at large. Low-volume scorers can still be seen as analytic stars, as long as they remain efficient and bring it on defense.

Playing within fantasy formats that provide these shifts in perspective, that prioritize these kinds of selfless producers? That's the kind of format I can get behind.

Most of all, it's exciting because it's new. Different.

I'm stoked to get into this season. For this pre-distressed geezer to have to learn some new tricks. I might get my butt kicked in ways that haven't happened in 15 years. That's a challenge I can get into.

It's almost (finally) 2021. There's a new game in town.

Get fired up, Fantasyland.