The NBA regular season is midway through its fourth quarter. Star players are dropping like flies, precautionary DNPs lurk around every back-to-back set, and fantasy owners need every advantage they can get. Determining the most and least favorable matchups is one way to maximize your players' value, especially on a busy night like Wednesday -- with 26 teams playing there's a good chance at least one active player will be riding your bench.
Should you bench Arron Afflalo vs. the Jazz or P.J. Tucker vs. the Kings? Which teams do you want your players to face if you're targeting steals or FG percentage? Read on for the answers to those questions and many more.
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The following chart lists z-scores rather than raw stats, which allows comparisons between equally-weighted categories. We can determine, for instance, that the Rockets' leniency to opposing rebounders is equivalent to the Kings' leniency to opposing scorers. We can also tally up each team's z-scores to arrive at a total number reflecting how friendly or unfriendly they are to fantasy owners -- the Kings have been a fount of fantasy value for opponents since the All-Star break (+8.7) while the Jazz have been singularly brutal (-13.7). If you prefer to look at the full stats for each team, with the z-scores alongside them, click here to peruse my spreadsheet on Google Drive.
|Oklahoma City Thunder||1.4||1.2||-1.2||0.2||0.7||0.1||-0.3||0.3||0.6||3.0|
|New York Knicks||1.0||0.4||0.9||-0.2||-0.6||-0.6||0.6||1.1||0.5||3.0|
|Los Angeles Lakers||0.1||-0.5||-0.5||0.6||0.2||0.8||-0.1||-0.4||0.9||1.1|
|Portland Trail Blazers||0.4||-0.9||-0.6||0.5||-0.1||-1.2||1.2||-0.5||2.2||1.0|
|San Antonio Spurs||0.4||-0.4||-0.6||-0.6||0.7||-1.1||0.8||-0.6||-0.2||-1.7|
|Los Angeles Clippers||0.0||0.0||0.3||0.3||-1.3||-1.6||-1.1||0.5||0.2||-2.7|
|New Orleans Pelicans||-0.8||-1.8||-1.0||-1.4||-0.2||0.8||-0.3||-0.3||1.6||-3.3|
|Golden State Warriors||-0.5||-0.4||-0.1||-1.0||-0.5||-1.9||-0.9||1.1||-0.9||-5.1|
In its most basic form it looks like this:
In what will quickly emerge as a trend, the Jazz prove to be the stingiest defensive team since the All-Star break. We'll get to the percentages momentarily, but Utah's opponents are scoring a mere 85.2 points per game, nearly 15% lower than the league average of 99.9 points.
Interestingly, opponents are shooting a league-high 44.7% from the 10-14 foot range vs. Utah this season, but that's dropped to 42.1% since the break. The pairing of Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors has had an imposing effect close to the basket, as well, with opponents making 54.2% of their shots within five feet (fifth-lowest in the league) and just 33.7% from 5-9 feet (third-lowest). Shooters aren't safe anywhere on the court vs. Utah these days, as they also rank No. 1 in defense from 25-29 feet, where opponents are making a mere 20.9% of their shots -- for perspective, consider that the next-stingiest team is the Pelicans at 29.3%.
After Utah at 85.2 points per game we find the Grizzlies (93.6), Pacers (96.3), Pelicans (96.6), Cavaliers (96.8) and Bulls (97.2). Although a primary scorer like Rudy Gay should be fine against any of these teams, they'd make me think twice before rolling the dice on secondary options like Ben McLemore or Ray McCallum.
On the flipside, points are readily available vs. the Kings' lousy defense which is allowing 107.6 points per game. The Thunder are next at 105.8 points, relying on their offense to bail them out, after which we find the Nets (104.9), Wolves (104.8), Knicks (104.2) and Magic (103.4).
As foretold in the preceding section, it's the Jazz who are clamping down the most on their opponents, holding them to just 40.8% shooting. The Pacers aren't far behind at 41.1% which is somewhat incredible since they've lost six straight games. They're still only one game behind Boston for the No. 8 seed, and two games behind No. 7 Miami, so there shouldn't be any let-up for Roy Hibbert and company down the stretch. The Clippers are the third-stingiest at 42.8%, after which we find the Bulls (42.9%), Warriors (43.1%) and Suns (43.2%). The teams allowing the highest overall FG% are the Kings, Wolves, Magic, Raptors and Trail Blazers.
I'll now provide some quick tables showing the five most lenient and the five stingiest teams by shot zone -- again, I'm using post-All-Star stats from NBA.com.
|Pacers (52.1%)||Kings (68.1%)|
|Bulls (53.2%)||Mavericks (65.4%)|
|Clippers (54.4%)||Grizzlies (64.1%)|
|Bucks (55.0%)||Timberwolves (63.8%)|
|Jazz (56.4%)||Raptors (62.5%)|
|In the Paint (non-restricted)|
|76ers (31.9%)||Celtics (44.5%)|
|Bucks (32.3%)||Timberwolves (43.9%)|
|Rockets (33.6%)||Bulls (43.2%)|
|Jazz (34.4%)||Magic (42.9%)|
|Pacers (36.7%)||Nuggets (42.6%)|
|Heat (34.2%)||Hawks (45.6%)|
|Thunder (35.2%)||Cavaliers (42.4%)|
|Jazz (35.8%)||Nuggets (41.5%)|
|Timberwolves (35.9%)||Raptors (41.3%)|
|Lakers (36.2%)||Hornets (41.3%)|
|Pelicans (28.7%)||Magic (40.0%)|
|Celtics (30.5%)||Spurs (39.7%)|
|Rockets (31.7%)||Bucks (38.4%)|
|Cavaliers (31.8%)||Kings (38.4%)|
|Jazz (32.4%)||Trail Blazers (38.3%)|
Those teams are particularly worth remembering if you own a player who relies heavily on a particular shot type. Tyreke Evans leads all players in shots in the restricted area at 9.2 per game, for instance, followed by DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond, Russell Westbrook and Greg Monroe. Victor Oladipo also ranks in the top-10 for frequency in the restricted area.
Rudy Gay, Joe Johnson and Dwyane Wade all make the top-10 for attempts in the paint (non-restricted), joining a host of big men like Al Jefferson, Nikola Vucevic and Donatas Motiejunas. The mid-range is LaMarcus Aldridge's bread and butter, and his 11.2 attempts per game are far higher than Carmelo Anthony (9.2). Those two are followed by Kobe, DeMar DeRozan, Anthony Davis, Dirk Nowitzki and Blake Griffin.
I've included FT% in the calculation simply because the volume of FTs allowed is often as important at the percentage at which a team makes them. The Hawks' opponents are making 78.4% of their freebies since the All-Star break, for example, but they're getting to the line just 18.8 times per game (the Blazers are allowing the fewest FTs at 18.4 per game). The teams that allow the most free throws per game are the Clippers, Lakers, Knicks, Nuggets and 76ers. There's only one playoff team in that group, which probably isn't a coincidence.
Utah's defense seems to miraculously extend to the FT line where their opponents are shooting an abysmal 69.7%, the lowest mark of any team's opponents. I have some guesses as to why this might be. We're talking about a medium-sized sample since the A.S. break, so an element of luck plays into it -- that said, when they played the Pistons and Andre Drummond on March 14, Drummond only got to the line twice before suffering a concussion. Jazz opponents are struggling to make shots throughout the game, so there may be a mental component as well -- it's hard to find your rhythm without seeing the ball go through the hoop. Utah is followed in this category by other playoff-contending teams like Miami, Chicago, Washington and Cleveland, and it's possible that they are savvy foulers -- they'll rarely send Stephen Curry to the free throw line, but won't hesitate to grab Andrew Bogut if he's going up for an easy bucket. The last theory is the most plausible, I think, but I'd love to hear other ideas you all might have.
Teams are bombing away from the perimeter vs. Orlando, averaging a league-high 10.9 triples per game since the break. That gives them a z-score of 2.7 for this category, the second-highest impact of any team in any category since the break. They face the Hawks on Wednesday night, so expect some fireworks from Kyle Korver and DeMarre Carroll. The Magic are followed by the Hawks (getting a taste of their own medicine), Kings, Thunder, Bucks, Mavericks, Wizards and Timberwolves. The Magic are also giving up the highest percentage from downtown, at 40.0%, followed closely by the Spurs, Kings, Bucks and Blazers.
The Pelicans emerge as the toughest team to score against on the perimeter. I didn't see that coming, but they allow both the fewest 3s per game (5.9) and the lowest percentage (a mere 28.7%). The Celtics have the next-stingiest perimeter defense, followed by the Rockets, Cavaliers, Jazz and Lakers. A matchup with any of those teams might dissuade you from deploying a player whose value depends largely on 3-pointers, such as Eric Gordon, Paul Pierce, Quincy Pondexter or Robert Covington.
Opponent rebounds range from a high of 47.8 per game vs. the Rockets, to a low of 38.8 percent vs. the Jazz. It's worth mentioning that Houston is playing at the league's second-fastest pace this season (99.3 possessions per game) while Utah is playing with the league's slowest pace (92.4 possessions). Their pace is reflected in the total rebounds they allow, which is a nearly universal rule which is worth keeping in mind. For league-wide pace numbers, check out NBA.com's team stats.
Other teams giving up copious boards on a nightly basis include the Celtics, Nuggets, 76ers, Mavericks and Nets. Teams which do not allow many boards, relatively speaking, include the Kings, Thunder, Grizzlies, Heat and Cavaliers.
Assists allowed are inextricably linked to a team's overall defense, so it's no surprise to find that the five stingiest teams since the break are the Jazz, Pacers, Bulls, Pelicans and Warriors. Utah is allowing a league-low 18.1 assists per game, while the Raptors are giving up a league-high 24.9 assists. Toronto's defense has been abysmal for most of the season and they make for a delectable matchup most evenings -- their fourth-place standing in the East is mostly a product of inferior competition, as they'd currently be the No. 8 seed in the West.
Other teams yielding high assist totals are the Kings, Nets, Wolves, Hawks and Magic. Star point guards will be in your lineup regardless of the opponent, but these teams may make it more palatable to start guys like Rajon Rondo, Ish Smith, Dennis Schroder or Jarrett Jack.
The Bucks' opponents are averaging 10.1 steals per game since the All-Star break. The league average is 7.9 per game so Milwaukee emerges with a z-score of 2.9 for steals-allowed, the highest number of any team in any category since the break. They play the Warriors on Saturday and it wouldn't be surprising to see Stephen Curry as a full-blown kleptomaniac (he trails only Kawhi Leonard for steals per game).
No team has had their shots blocked more often since the All-Star break than Denver, which has 7.2 shots rejected per game. The Kings aren't far behind at 6.8 blocks against, followed by the Grizzlies, Lakers, 76ers and Pelicans. All of those teams have their shots blocked at least 5.5 times per game. At the other end of the spectrum there are seven teams who allow fewer than four blocks against per game -- the Warriors are the lowest at 3.2 per game, then the Clippers, Suns, Blazers, Jazz, Spurs and Wizards.
Kenneth Faried and Jusuf Nurkic are both in the top-20 for blocks against per game, which explains Denver's league-high status, while the Kings' ranking is due primarily to DeMarcus Cousins, who has averaged 1.9 blocks against since the break. Other players who get swatted frequently include Victor Oladipo, Dennis Schroder, Isaiah Thomas, Reggie Jackson, Greg Monroe and Paul Millsap.
That will conclude this week’s edition of the Numbers Game, which is essentially an elaborate update of a column I wrote in Feb. 2014. Thanks for reading and don’t hesitate to message me on Twitter if you have any questions or insights!