Darius Garland: Stud in the Making
Darius Garland kept his hot streak as a starter going on Sunday, scoring 17 points on 6-of-14 shooting (4-of-5 FT), to go with five dimes, two boards, one triple, one steal and four turnovers in 31 minutes. Garland had seriously struggled in a reserve role as he was eased back into things following the shoulder injury, but since re-entering the starting lineup he’s been flirting with top-50 value in 8-cat leagues behind averages of 18.3 points, 3.3 assists, 2.3 triples and 1.7 steals per contest on 50% shooting from the field and 85.7% from the stripe.
Garland never really got going his rookie year, which is understandable considering he only played five games in college due to a knee injury, but he went No. 5 overall in the 2019 NBA Draft for a reason and he’s been putting that on display this season. He’s got one of the smoothest jumpers in the league, and Garland’s sudden emergence as a steals stud is what’s catapulted him up the rankings. I don’t see any reason why he wouldn’t be able to keep up his current pace, in fact, I think he could be even better, as it wouldn’t be shocking to see him average six dimes a night. Congrats if you bought low or plucked him up with a late-round draft pick because Garland looks like he has a top-50 floor and he should be one of the main names in the Most Improved Player race this season.
Chris Boucher & the Nick Nurse Conundrum
Chris Boucher was yet again limited to minutes in the teens during Sunday’s win over the Magic, and he went 3-of-8 from the field and 2-of-2 from the stripe for nine points, four rebounds, one 3-pointer and nothing else over 18 minutes. Sunday marked his third straight game with minutes in the teens and his second straight swat-less performance, so he appears to be in Nick Nurse’s dog house at the moment. On the year as a whole, Boucher has been averaging a plus/minus rating of plus-1.3, but over the past three, that rating has dropped to minus-2.7, and he’s seen guys like Paul Watson and Yuta Watanabe close games over him.
This may seem like a terrible set of circumstances, but I’d view is as an amazing opportunity to try and pry away The Swatterboy from a fantasy manager who may be mashing away at the panic button while Nick Nurse does his galaxy brain routine.
Nurse is known for his wonky rotations and he likes to play matchups more than any coach in the league, but it shouldn’t be too long before Boucher is back in his good graces. I wouldn’t expect Boucher to be “unleashed” at any point this season with a 30-plus minute starting role, but he’s already shown that he’s fully capable of flirting with top-30 value even with inconsistent minutes due to his elite shot-blocking upside. This is probably going to be his low-point of the season, so get in your low-ball offers now while you still can.
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Now for a quick discussion on ranks and exactly what they are. Essentially, in the simplest terms, ranks are a summation of the z-scores a player averages in each statistical category. And what are z-scores you ask? Z-scores tell us how far above (or below) a player is performing from the mean of that specific stat set – and to keep this simple – a z-score rating of 3 means that that player is performing in the 99th percentile.
As an example, Bradley Beal leads the league in scoring at 34.9 points per game, which corresponds with a z-score of 3.16, while Nerlens Noel’s 3.1 points a night equates to a z-score of -1.92. So again, a z-score of plus-3 is amazing, while a negative z-score is quite bad. Get it? Good. Now I will address the flaws in this system.
Because ranks are simply a collection of z-scores, guys who shoot a high percentage from the field, but at a low-volume, can hack the system because they will receive an abnormally high z-score in FG% without actually helping you all that much in that category. Turnovers is another category that can give lower-tier players an artificial boost while unfairly dinging high-usage guys, as a low-turnover player may simply indicate that that guy is sparsely used in the offense. Lastly, if your ranking system doesn’t adjust for scarcity, the elite dime droppers tend to be undervalued.
So, who am I talking about here? What player do I believe has truly hacked the system this season?
Richaun Holmes would be a good example of a fake top-35 guy with averages of 12.7 points, 7.9 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and 1.3 turnovers per game on 66.4% shooting from the field and 81% from the line. Now, don’t get me wrong, those numbers are certainly useful, but the fact that Holmes is ranked higher than LeBron James while being sandwiched between Clint Capela and Tobias Harris shows us quite explicitly how the ranks can be seriously flawed. Despite only attempting 8.1 FGA per game, which isn’t enough volume to truly boost your FG%, he still has a z-score of 2.27 in FG% — which ranks No. 4 in the league. However, if you ignore his FG% and low turnovers, he ranks No. 82 overall, which seems a lot more accurate.
On the flip side, Luka Doncic is a guy who’s having another monster season, but because of his 3.9 turnovers a night, he gets unfairly dinged in 9-category leagues and he’s currently ranked No. 26 overall despite averages of 27.4 points, 9.2 rebounds, 9.4 assists, 2.1 triples, 0.9 steals and 0.6 swats per contest on 46.9% shooting from the field and 75.7% from the line. Despite ranking in the top-10 in scoring, and the top-3 in dimes, Doncic gets severely dinged in the ranks with his z-score of minus-2.22 in turnovers. However, when you ignore the turnover category, Doncic catapults to the top-15.
I suppose the point here is that sometimes the eye test gives you a better overall idea of a player’s talent level, rather than the number next to his name. Counting stats aren’t everything, but I’d argue they’re far more important than fake FG% boosters with a low turnover count.