Here in “Notable Numbers,” we attempt to unearth a plethora of interesting stats and fantasy-relevant facts each week. Today, among other topics, we highlight the unexpectedly impressive play of Emmanuel Mudiay, James Harden’s historic trips to the FT stripe, and Larry Nance doing it all for the Cavs.
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Emmanuel Mudiay wasn’t on the fantasy radar back on draft day in October. In fact, it was a question as to whether he’d even be a part of the Knicks rotation this season.
After a decent rookie season in Denver, he quickly fell out of favor with the Nuggets coaching staff. They dumped the former seventh overall pick in a trade with New York at the deadline last February. Out of shape and lacking confidence, he struggled mightily after arriving in New York. Mudiay’s Net Rating of -16.1 was, by far, the worst on the Knicks. No other rotation regular was worse than -6.2. He also ranked dead in True Shooting percentage (.428) and eFG percentage (.390).
New head coach David Fizdale was hired back in May and hyped up Mudiay, but the youngster failed to a positive first impression. Over five preseason appearances, including one start, Mudiay averaged just 2.0 points while shooting a putrid 15.0% from the floor. He missed 17 of his 20 field goal attempts and failed to make a single 3-pointer.
Furthermore, Trey Burke, coming off an impressive 2017-18 campaign, was installed as the starter and was backed up by defensive ace and former first-round pick, Frank Ntilikina. Then, to top it all off, two days before the start of the regular season, Mudiay sprained his right ankle in practice; an injury which would sideline him for over two weeks. Mud’s ownership rate in fantasy leagues hovered around zero percent.
However, Fizdale never lost faith and not only has Mudiay earned his way back into the Knicks rotation, but he’s also becoming a solid contributor. The Knicks have played nine games in December and Mudiay has scored at least 13 points in eight of those nine contests. For the month, he is averaging a whopping 20.0 points, 5.8 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 1.6 treys, while shooting a respectable 47.8 percent from the floor, 38.8 percent from downtown and 82.9 percent from the charity stripe. Remarkable considering he didn’t have a single 20-point, 6-assist game over the entirety of the 2017-18 season.
Just how impressive is that production? Consider this: Here's the complete list of all NBA players that have scored at least 180 points, dished out at least 50 assists, grabbed at least 30 rebounds and knocked down more than ten three-pointers this month:
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The Beard At The Line
It started last Thursday, in a win over the Lakers, when James Harden exploded for a 50-point triple-double (50/11/10). Two nights later, in a win over the Grizzlies, he had to settle for a standard 30-point trip-dub, tallying only 32 points 12 rebounds, ten assists, two steals and three 3-pointers. In Monday’s victory over the Jazz, The Beard erupted for 47 points, six rebounds, five assists, five steals and four 3-pointers.
Sum it all up, and over the Rockets last three games, Harden is averaging 43.0 points, 9.3 boards, 8.7 assists, 3.7 triples and 3.0 steals.
However, the most remarkable stat during this recent stretch may be the number of free throws he’s taking (16.0 per game) and making (14.7). Even, for Harden, who has led the NBA in total free-throw attempts in five of the last six season, those are high figures.
Still, maybe this is the natural progression of a player who has simply mastered the art of getting to the charity stripe. When comparing Harden’s time spent at the free-throw line to the rest of the players in the NBA, the margin between The Beard and the rest of the league is mindboggling.
Dating back to the start of the 2012-13 season, Harden’s first year in Houston, he has made 4,278 free throws on 4,990 attempts. Incredibly, that’s 1,373 more attempts than any other player in the NBA during that period.
Per Basketball-Reference, here is the leaderboard over this current six-plus season stretch:
James Harden: 4,278 makes on 4,990 attempts
Russell Westbrook: 2,912 makes on 3,617 attempts
DeMar DeRozan: 2,965 makes on 3,548 attempts
LeBron James: 2,479 makes on 3,431 attempts
It’s also notable that Harden has knocked down 1,433 3-pointers during this stretch. Only Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have made more treys. Thus, even if you don't count a single layup or dunk or any two-point field goal Harden has converted, he’s still scored 9,289 points solely from the behind the arc or at the FT line. Harden’s combined points from just treys and free throws would rank 14th among all NBA players in total points scored since 2012; more than the total points scored from stars such as Paul George, Blake Griffin or John Wall.
Khris Not Cash Of Late
Over the first five weeks of the 2018-19 campaign, it looked like Khris Middleton had advanced from very good player to fantasy superstar. With new head coach Mike Budenholzer encouraging the Bucks to push the pace and seemingly getting the most out of Middleton, the young Milwaukee forward was putting up incredibly impressive numbers.
From Opening Night on October 17th through November 24th (19 games), Middleton averaged 19.2 points, 4.2 assists, 3.1 treys and 1.3 steals, while shooting 46.6% from the field, 42.6% from downtown and 91.3% from the free-throw stripe. He ranked 21st overall in nine-category fantasy leagues, ahead of Victor Oladipo, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul.
However, Middleton surprisingly fell into a nasty shooting slump around Thanksgiving. Over his following seven appearances, he averaged just 12.4 points, 2.7 assists, 2.0 triples and 0.9 steals, whiles shooting a putrid 29.3% from the field, 29.2% from downtown and 71.4% from the line.
The slump arrived seemingly out of nowhere, but we were likely given a clue last week as to what may have been the proximate cause when he popped up on the injury report with a right finger sprain and was ruled out of Friday’s game vs. the Cavs. Middleton reportedly hurt the pinkie on his shooting hand in the first game of the season and had it taped during games. However, he said the finger swelled up on him last week, forcing him out of action.
Fourtantley, Middleton was only sidelined for one contest and returned from his one-game absence in Monday’s victory over the Pistons. He tallied 22 points (7-of-16 FGs), six assists, two rebounds, one steal and three triples in 37 minutes. He still hasn’t shot 50% or better from the floor in a game since Nov. 24th, but Monday’s performance was a step in the right direction. Depending on your appetite for risk, now may be an excellent opportunity to buy-low on Middleton. If his current fantasy owner is overly worried, Middleton could be acquired for a steep discount.
Russ’ Percentage Problems
Imagine having a conversation with a fellow hoop fanatic in the summer of 2016, just over two years ago, and trying to convince them that an NBA player would be averaging a triple-double over the first two months of an NBA season yet basically no one would be talking about it or paying any attention to it. That, somehow, we would have come to EXPECT this player to AVERAGE a triple-double.
Here were are. Russell Westbrook is at it again. After incredibly averaging a trip-dub in consecutive season, Russ is currently sitting at 20.7 points, 10.7 rebounds and 10.0 assists. However, after 31.6 points in 2016-17 and 25.4 points in 2017-18, Westbrook’s scoring average has dipped to 20.7 this season. Part of the scoring decrease is due to the fact that he’s taking far fewer shots in 2018-19 (18.6 field attempts per game), but another factor is Westbrook’s inefficiency on offense. Over the prior two seasons combined, Russ slashed .436/ .327/ .802. This year, he’s shooting just 43.3% from the field, 24.8% from 3-point territory, and a career-worst 62.1% from the charity stripe.
As a result, his poor percentages have impacted his fantasy value. Despite the incomparable counting stats, including a league-leading and career-high 2.5 steals per game, Russ ranks 29th overall in nine-cat leagues.
Pop quiz: Who leads the Cavs in total assists this season.
Answer: Larry Nance.
Nance also lead his team in steals and blocks. He’s second in rebounds, behind Tristan Thompson.
Nance brought it all to the table in the Cavs impressive victory over the Pacers on Tuesday night. Coach Larry Drew finally moved him into the starting lineup, and Nance responded with arguably the best all-around game of his career: 15 points, 16 rebounds, six assists, three steals, one block and one trey in 33 minutes.
Over Cleveland's last four contests, Nance is averaging 9.8 points, 10.3 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 2.5 steals, 1.3 bocks and 1.0 triples. During this stretch, Nance ranks 12th overall in nine-category leagues, just behind Giannis Antetokounmpo.
He also won’t drag fantasy owners down in any particular categories. On the season, he the only non-guard to average more than three assists yet fewer than 1.5 turnovers per game. Go snatch him off your league’s waiver wire if he is still available.
The One Who Knox
After suffering an ankle injury and trudging through an inconsistent start to his rookie season, Kevin Knox appears to be finding his groove in NYC.
Over New York’s last five games, including four straight starts, Knox is averaging 19.4 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.0 turnovers and 3.0 treys.
He has scored at least 15 points and knocked down at least two 3-pointers in each of those five contests. That’s the longest such streak by a Knicks rookie in franchise history. And, per Basketball-Reference, the only other teenagers this decade with at least 15 points and two treys in five consecutive contests are Devin Booker and Luka Doncic.
Knox’s unimpressive shooting percentages remain an issue, and he doesn’t provide much in the way of defensive stats, but he’s averaging nearly 38 minutes per game during this current stretch, and his offensive production provides a solid fantasy floor. And, on Wednesday morning, we found out that Tim Hardaway Jr. is dealing with plantar fasciitis. If THJ misses any time and has his minutes limited, Knox will see his usage rate and shot attempts increase.