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The Numbers Game

Down to the Wire

by Ryan Knaus
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

Today's column explores the waiver wire from a different angle -- which positions and statistics are likely to be available on a 12-team waiver wire? Each fantasy league is unique and this analysis can't apply equally to everyone, but it is universally applicable as a way to gauge your free agents and waiver wire options.


This is a column about trends, which I hope will inform your strategies. If you're more interested in simple free-agent recommendations, check out this week's Waiver Wired column, the Wednesday Daily Dose, and (for Season Pass subscribers) recent Pickups of the Day.


This week, in short, I take statistical means for the top-150 fantasy players this season (9-cat, per-game) and compare them with statistical means for players ranked 151-201, as well as a larger sample from 151-251. I'm also interested in the distribution of position eligibility (PG, SG, SF, PF, C) in these various groups. The result is a rough sketch of which positions and stats are most readily available, or scarcest, on an 'average' 12-team, 9-cat waiver wire.


You can follow me on Twitter @Knaus_RW!


The first group I looked at is the top-50 waiver wire options in one of my 9-cat leagues. To objectively determine the "top" options (as of Tuesday, Nov. 17) I used Yahoo's year-to-date, per-game ranks. This is a competitive league where hot free agents don't last long, so the top-50 lists included Marcus Thornton, Joffrey Lauvergne, Kris Humphries, Cory Joseph, Kosta Koufos, Omri Casspi, Tyler Johnson, Jeremy Lin, C.J. Miles, Ish Smith, Luol Deng, Clint Capela and other guys of that general caliber.


Once I had this group, I counted up how many players had eligibility at PG, SG, SF, PF and C. Since this is a Yahoo! league, the position eligibility is lenient and most players qualified at two spots. I then determined the top-50 means for each of the nine categories under consideration, and compared those means to the league's overall top-150 population (as determined by RW's Season Pass).


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Here are the means for the top-150 players as well as my 'top-50 free agents' (roughly speaking, players 151-201):


Top-150 Overall (9-cat)
Points 14.07
3-pointers 1.09
Rebounds 5.76
Assists 2.88
Steals 1.04
Blocks 0.75
FG% 47.40%
FG attempts 11.22
FT% 75.70%
FT attempts 3.31
Turnovers 1.83


Top-50 Free Agents (waiver wire)
Points 8.57
3-pointers 0.88
Rebounds 3.89
Assists 1.7
Steals 0.8
Blocks 0.52
FG% 47.70%
FG attempts 6.98
FT% 76.10%
FT attempts 1.65
Turnovers 1.04


I then expressed the free-agent/Waiver Wire means as a percentage of the top-150.


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As expected for lower-usage, less-valuable fantasy options, their statistical means are way down across the board. FG and FT percentages are the exception here, but once weighted by attempts they too are far less impactful -- FT attempts were dramatically lower. Points and Assists emerge as some of the scarcest categories in this waiver-wire sample group, followed by Rebounds and Blocks, while Steals and 3-pointers are relatively more abundant. Here's the breakdown of position-eligibility in my waiver-wire pool:


Position Eligibility (Yahoo!) on waiver wire
PG 11
SG 21
SF 20
PF 16
C 18


Swingmen are plentiful and big men aren't lacking, but point guards are noticeably thin. I'd expect to see this result in an 8-cat league, where turnovers don't hurt, but it was a mild surprise in a 9-cat league.


Thus far this is anecdotal, based on one competitive league's waiver wire. To expand the scope and make the analysis more universal, I looked at players ranked 151-200 on ESPN's Player Rater. (Note that ESPN's Player Rater is based on year-to-date production, not projections. It has DeMarre Carroll at 154, D-Rose at 161, Kobe Bryant at 177, Wesley Matthews at 205, and so forth. The Player Rater doesn't count turnovers, but I did include them here.) Using the same approach as outlined above, here are the results:


Top 151-200 (ESPN)
Points 8.82
3-pointers 0.79
Rebounds 3.53
Assists 1.93
Steals 0.76
Blocks 0.37
FG% 41.90%
FG attempts 7.77
FT% 76.30%
FT attempts 2.08
Turnovers 1.27


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The field goal percentage here was much worse than my previous free-agent group, and blocks are considerably harder to find. But there are also some striking similarities: points, rebounds and (to a lesser extent) assists are once again relatively scarce, with steals and 3-pointers emerging as the most-robust stats among the 151-200 population.


Position Eligibility Top 151-200 (ESPN) 
PG 13
SG 15
SF 16
PF 13
C 10


The distribution of position-eligibility is tighter than it was using the Yahoo! eligibilities above. This time centers get short shrift, but once again SGs and SFs are the most abundant groups. It makes sense that PGs and Cs would emerge as the least-common positions. Many owners stock up on those positions in drafts, particularly in leagues that require two centers. Also, multi-position eligibility for them is almost entirely restricted to one other position (SG or PF, respectively), whereas the other three positions can gain eligibility in two directions -- for instance, a PF could be a SF/PF or a PF/C. The relative scarcity of PGs and Cs is worth keeping in mind throughout the season.


For owners in deeper leagues...I did the same analysis for players ranked 151-250 in the Player Rater -- not too much changed, overall, though the means for 3-pointers and assists both plummeted. The scarcity of PGs and Cs becomes even more pronounced in this larger and deeper group, though most 12-team owners shouldn't have to dip below the top-200 players.


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Position Eligibility (ESPN) Player Rater 151-250
PG 24
SG 32
SF 27
PF 31
C 17


As I stated in the opening, every waiver wire is unique. Today's analysis suggests that 3-pointers and steals are relatively abundant amongst probable free agents. Points, weighted FT%, blocks, rebounds and assists are harder to find. You'll also have an easier time finding a swingman, or a power forward, than you will finding a point guard or center. If you have specific questions or insights, you can always send me a tweet or Direct Message on Twitter @Knaus_RW. Good luck this week.

Ryan Knaus
Despite residing in Portland, Maine, Ryan Knaus remains a heartbroken Sonics fan who longs for the days of Shawn Kemp and Xavier McDaniel. He has written for Rotoworld.com since 2007. You can follow him on Twitter.