With 2014 drawing to a close, it's time to look back at the first third of the NBA season. Rather than a microscopic view of individual performances, I'll be zooming out to consider all those players who have averaged at least 15 minutes and appeared in at least five games (sorry, George Hill).
By comparing players' actual 8-cat production with the 'meta-rankings' I projected before the season began, we'll get a good sense of which players are exceeding expectations, and which players have left their fantasy owners regretting their selection on draft day. Note that the original 'qualifying' population included 294 players, but after running the means/standard deviations/z-scores I lopped off the bottom 94 to arrive at an even 200.
Players are ranked in descending order beginning with Robert Covington, whose actual 8-cat value most exceeds his pre-season valuation. All players who weren't in the original top-200 column have been assigned '200' as their initial rank. Naturally, it's easier for low-end players to exceed their initial rank than it would be for an early-round pick -- for example, Damian Lillard has been phenomenal all season, returning No. 7 value in 8-cat leagues, but that's only 12 spots higher than his No. 19 pre-season rank. (You can click here to view the spreadsheet with these numbers and more.)
One caveat: I weighted my pre-season 'meta ranks' by each player's projected number of games played, whereas the current rankings rely on a per-game formula. This still gives an accurate picture of boom-or-bust players, and to compensate for the difference would have been more labor-intensive than it was worth. To read about my methodology when compiling the 'meta ranks', click here.
The players who wildly exceed their projections are primarily young guys who have stepped into bigger-than-expected roles, though some surprising veterans (Amare Stoudemire, Courtney Lee, Pau Gasol) also make the list. Anyone who picked up Robert Covington should have expected him to top the list, and a meta-rank of 200 is probably being generous, as he wasn't on anyone's fantasy radar when the season began. The Sixers are uniquely capable of turning an obscure player into a fantasy force, underscored by the presence of Covington and Tony Wroten atop this list.
C.J. Watson has been a solid late-round value but his role may shrink with George Hill (quad) getting back up to speed, so owners should start looking around for alternatives...Cory Joseph, perhaps? Brandon Knight has arguably been the biggest surprise at PG in fantasy leagues, as he's locked into a reliable, big-minute role despite Jason Kidd's daily lineup tweaks. His top-25 value in 8-cat leagues isn't a fluke, though he drops a few rounds when you factor in his 3.5 turnovers in 9-cat leagues.
Gorgui Dieng has been phenomenal all year and I see no reason why he'd fade in the coming months, despite Nikola Pekovic's eventual return from wrist and ankle injuries. Dieng was a reliable option with Pek active early this season and the Wolves will be even more cautious with their veteran's minutes as the clock winds down on a lost season. Keep in mind that Pek is owed $12 million per season through 2017-18.
Jodie Meeks has only played in nine games after a long rehab from his back injury, but he's already averaging 13.9 points, 1.9 triples, 1.4 assists and 1.2 steals in just 24 minutes off the Pistons' bench. His percentages are flawless and his upside is glaring, especially with Stan Van Gundy well-disposed to 3-point shooting. Meeks has mid-round value and the ability to keep it all season, so he shouldn't be floating on any waiver wires. Yes, I'd take him over other hot FAs like Jared Dudley or even Nikola Mirotic
Injuries are a common theme for the most disappointing players. In most cases, injuries are an unforeseeable and fluky element to the season -- Jabari Parker, Robin Lopez, Kawhi Leonard, DeMar DeRozan Ricky Rubio, Alec Burks and Terrence Jones are players who looked fine on draft day, but have since fallen prey to the injury bug. On the other hand, we find plenty of players whose injury histories makes their serious ailments less surprising -- this group includes Anderson Varejao, Andrew Bogut, Danilo Gallinari, Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Martin and everyone's favorite whipping-boy, Andrea Bargnani. Not all injuries have the same level of unpredictability, in other words, which is worth remembering when contemplating the list above.
Keep in mind that the rankings above are per-game, so they don't capture the full impact of these injuries -- Kevin Martin shows up at No. 30 and Terrence Jones would be even higher if he'd qualified by playing in five games. Nevertheless, we find injury-slowed players in abundance with Gallinari, D-Lee, Larry Sanders, Ilyasova, D-Rose, DeRozan, Pekovic and more.
In between them are healthy players who have simply underperformed. Kenneth Faried has picked up the pace in Denver's past five games but is still a late-round value in 8-cat and 9-cat leagues this season. He had a torrid finish last season and I anticipate a similar rally in 2015, so consider floating a few trade offers for him before he re-establishes himself as a reliable double-double machine.
I'm less confident in Ersan Ilyasova's ability to get back on track, even though Jabari's season-ending injury has opened the door to steady playing time. Jason Kidd's rotations are unpredictable and guys like Khris Middleton and Jared Dudley are playing well enough to shy away from Ilyasova as more than a speculative stash.
Avery Bradley hasn't lived up to expectations, though he's at least flirting with top-100 value since Rajon Rondo's departure. In six games without Rondo he's averaging 11.0 points, 1.2 triples, 4.0 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.5 steals, with 40.6% FGs and 87.5% FTs. His 28.7 minutes per game could easily increase as the season progresses, making Bradley a nice low-end target in typical leagues.
Al Jefferson's groin strain will shelve him for a minimum of four weeks and it's a brutal blow for his owners, who were already underwhelmed with his production through the Hornets' first 32 games. His numbers have dipped in virtually every category compared to 2013-14, including points (-3.8), FG percentage (-2.1%), rebounds (-2.6) and blocks (-0.4). That's enough to drop him from early-round value to the 60-70 range, which is why he's so low in this comparative rankings chart.
The presence of Andre Drummond so low on this list will send his owners into a tizzy, especially since he's crushing it over the past few weeks. The reason is simple -- this is a roto-based ranking which weights FT% as heavily as rebounds, and Drummond's weighted FTs (41.7% on 4.3 attempts) are the second-worst of any player in the league, ahead of only Dwight Howard (50.0% on a whopping 8.6 attempts).
Other players who take a beating due to negative Free Throw percentages include the usual suspects and a few less likely players: Josh Smith, DeAndre Jordan, Rajon Rondo, Ed Davis, Thaddeus Young, Nerlens Noel, Tony Wroten, Omer Asik, Larry Sanders, Derrick Favors, Tristan Thompson, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah and Paul Millsap.
Kobe Bryant suffers the most from Field Goal percentages, understandably, as he's making only 37.5% of his 21.6 shots per game. He's followed by Trevor Ariza, Trey Burke, DeMar DeRozan, Kemba Walker, Josh Smith (again), Brandon Jennings, Deron Williams, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Nick Young, Jameer Nelson, Mo Williams, Donald Sloan, Tony Wroten, Alec Burks and Ty Lawson.
Notice that 14 of those 16 players are either PGs or SGs. That makes Josh Smith's presence even more egregious, while highlighting the virtues of guards who actually help your fantasy team in FG%, players like Dwyane Wade, Tony Parker, Cory Joseph, Stephen Curry, Jodie Meeks, Kyle Korver, Courtney Lee and Chris Paul.
To view or download my spreadsheet with cumulative stats, z-scores and rankings for both 8-cat and 9-cat formats, click here. There are plenty of other ways to explore the data. Which positions have the most 'boom' or 'bust' players? Which teams have the most players in the top-150? How do the rankings change if you punt one or more categories? Play around with the numbers, and if you find anything interesting please email me or send me a message on Twitter @Knaus_RW. Thanks in advance, and have a terrific New Year!