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The Numbers Game

Matchups by the Numbers

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

Matchups are a critical concern for fantasy owners, whether you're setting a DFS lineup, deciding which player(s) to bench during a 12-game Wednesday night, or maximizing the value of 82-game position limits in roto leagues.

 

With that in mind, today's column focuses on matchups at the team level -- which teams yield the most/least overall fantasy value? And which teams yield the most/least in a given category?

 

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To begin, I compiled opponent averages against each team through Nov. 25, using data from NBA.com. In what will be a familiar approach to regular readers of my columns, I then calculated means and standard deviations to assign a z-score to every category for every team. Here are the results, with high numbers indicating that the team allows more of that statistic (the inverse is true for turnovers):

 

 

(Note: There is a 'view full-size workbook' button in the lower-right corner, which makes it easier to see all the data at once...there's also a 'download' button if you care to play around with these numbers yourself.) On an overall 8-cat basis the Rockets prove to be the most matchup-friendly team through the first four weeks of the season -- they are in the top-five for allowed points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. The 76ers are the second-most lenient 8-cat team, but they take over the top spot in 9-cat since they force a mere 14.1 turnovers per game. The Nets, Nuggets, Pelicans and Kings are also among the six most matchup-friendly teams, and it's no surprise that every team mentioned thus far ranks in the bottom-10 for defensive efficiency.

 

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On the other end of the spectrum, the toughest fantasy matchups thus far have been the Heat, Spurs, Knicks, Jazz, Pacers, Cavaliers and Warriors. The stifling Jazz defense, for instance, is allowing only 93.8 points on 43.7% shooting -- that's bad enough, but even worse for opposing players is that they give up 40.0 rebounds per game (second-fewest in the league) and a mere 17.5 assists per game (fewest in the league).

 

To visualize things a bit easier, here is a chart displaying each team's opponent z-scores, from highest (best matchup) to lowest (worst matchup).

 

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If you're debating between two otherwise similar fantasy options --say, Rodney Hood and Al-Farouq Aminu-- you might be able to use matchups as a tie-breaker. If the Jazz are playing the Wizards, and the Blazers are playing the Bulls, the matchups distinctly favor Hood. You can take this to the next level by looking at how each team matches up vs. a specific position, which is exactly what I'll do in next week's column. For now, we're sticking with a broader lay of the land.

 

Here are the same z-scores listed in the first table, but with conditional formatting included to make specific team strengths and weaknesses jump out. If you're wondering why I'm using z-scores and not simple stats for each category, it's because z-scores essentially allow you to compare apples to oranges. For instance, the Nets' z-score of 0.75 in points is equivalent to the Hawks' z-score of 0.75 for rebounds -- they each allow the same relative value to opponents in those respective categories. Keep that in mind as you peruse the following table.

 

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The Pelicans are a great overall matchup, but they've allowed few steals this season. Ditto for the Wizards, who have yielded substantial fantasy value but don't get blocked very often. The Bulls and Mavericks have both been tough matchups, but they each give up more than their share of rebounds to opponents. If you're trying to win blocks in a weekly league, shy away from free agents who are going up against the Wizards or Clippers, etc. etc.

 

(I'll note quickly that FT% is a tricky category. Teams could have a subtle impact on their opponent's FT%, for instance by tending to foul worse FT shooters, but for the most part it's wholly dependent upon the opponents themselves. It's therefore not the most insightful category. I have weighted both FT% and FG%, however, so that volume of attempts also comes into play.)

 

As I said, I'll return next week with a position-specific look at how teams match up vs. opposing PGs, SGs, SFs, PFs and Cs. I may also take a look at how teams fare vs. starting units and bench units, as some generally-stingy teams are a lot more giving with their reserves on the court.

 

If you have anything else you'd like to see next week, related to these matchup-based concepts, send me a message or (better yet) a 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.