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The Numbers Game

Matchups by the Numbers: Redux

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

On Tuesday evening I was honored to be named Basketball Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA). It's an incredibly competitive category and I could have nominated all of my co-workers at Rotoworld, as well as dozens of terrific writers for other fantasy sports sites, which makes the award all the more humbling. It wouldn't be possible without all those who read my columns and engage via email, Twitter and during live chats. My sincere thanks to you all.


Today I will reprise a column that many people have asked me to update -- 'Matchups by the Numbers: Part 2'. I would love to update these tables every week and include various splits (past month, past 10 games, etc.), and will do so if I figure out a way to automate the spreadsheets, but at the moment it's a rather laborious process. Nevertheless, it's been more than two months since the initial column so I'm curious how the numbers have changed. (Note: I am no longer including weighted FT% as a category due to the mostly arbitrary nature of the stat.)


The essence of this column is an examination of team-by-team matchups vs. every position (PG, SG, SF, PF and C) for every category. We find, for example, that the Kings give up the most 3-pointers to opposing shooting guards, while the Spurs give up the fewest. Similarly, the Clippers almost never get blocked by opposing power forwards (0.5 per game) but the Magic give up 1.6 swats per game to PFs. I'm using stats from Hoopsstats.com, which I highly recommend, as it's the only resource I'm aware of with the granular stats necessary for this analysis. Let's dive in.


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The Celtics remain the stiffest test for opposing PGs, on a 9-cat basis, with credit due to the efforts of All-Star Isaiah Thomas. The Spurs and Heat are among the toughest matchups for PGs, to nobody's surprise, but the stingiest teams also include the Clippers, Bucks and Knicks (Jose Calderon's individual defense notwithstanding, apparently).


The Rockets were the third-most lenient team during the first analysis on Dec. 2, but a healthy Patrick Beverley has pushed their season-long numbers toward the middle of the pack. That's even more impressive since Houston plays at the league's seventh-fastest pace. The caveat is that Houston does allow the most assists to opposing PGs, by far, which has out-sized fantasy value -- giving up the most assists to a guard is obviously more important than (for instance) giving up the most blocks to a guard. In that vein, it's worth noting that the Celtics and Jazz are allowing the fewest assists per game to PGs, at 7.4 and 7.6 respectively, followed by the Thunder, Grizzlies, Pacers and Mavericks. Keep an eye on 'key categories' for each position as you progress, and be mindful of individual matchups -- if you're weighing a matchup for Wes Matthews, a team's 3-point defense vs. shooting guards should be almost your entire focus. Speaking of shooting guards:


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The Spurs are brutal. As we'll see, they are the single toughest matchup for SGs, SFs and PFs, and they're among the top-four stingiest vs. PGs and Cs. You do not want to face them. The Suns are the polar opposite vs. SGs, giving up the most points and steals while allowing 47.7% shooting -- the next-closest team is the Wizards, who allow SGs to shoot 45.3% from the field. Ronnie Price's return after the All-Star break should help a bit, but Phoenix is going to be a plus-matchup all season.


If you have a shooting guard who relies heavily on 3-pointers for value, like the aforementioned Wes Matthews, you'll have luck targeting the Kings, Suns, Bucks and Hawks. The opposite is true of the Clippers, Warriors, Pistons...and yes, the Spurs.


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The Mavericks deserve some credit for giving up the third-fewest points to opposing SFs this season, as well as the fewest steals and the fourth-fewest blocks. The Warriors, Pistons, Thunder and Trail Blazers have also been rough matchups, the latter bolstered by Al-Farouq Aminu's steady defensive presence. If you're looking to limit your turnovers don't deploy a SF vs. the Celtics, because Jae Crowder definitely will steal the ball -- as a consequence, the Celtics are force a whopping 3.2 turnovers per game from SFs.


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All season long the Rockets have been a delectable matchup for PFs, and the addition of Josh Smith isn't changing the script. Houston gives up the most points on the highest FG%, the most rebounds, they're tied for first in 3-pointers allowed, and they give up the second-most assists and blocks. Target them with your PFs at every opportunity. Thaddeus Young and the Nets have also been exceedingly generous vs. PFs, as have the Bucks, Magic and Kings.


The Lakers have a quirky ability to limit steals vs. opposing PFs, unlike the Kings, Suns and Hawks who give up plentiful steals. Serge Ibaka won't let stretch-PFs get much going beyond the 3-point line, limiting opponents to just 1.1 threes on a league-low 31.1% shooting beyond the arc. It will be interesting to see how Billy Donovan works his rotations vs. Ryan Anderson and the Pelicans on Thursday.


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The Cavaliers have by far been the toughest team for opposing centers, and they haven't been much easier with Tristan Thompson starting and Tyronn Lue at the reins. Over the past 10 games, the Cavs have been easier for centers to score against, but they've ceded the fourth-fewest rebounds (11.4) and the sixth-fewest blocked shots (1.6). That doesn't bode well for Roy Hibbert as he faces the Cavs in Cleveland on Wednesday.


If you are hunting blocks the best teams to target, by a wide margin, are the Nuggets and 76ers. At the other end of the spectrum, we have teams like the Clippers, Warriors and Spurs who simply don't get blocked by centers very often. I've cherry-picked some observations throughout this column but the numbers have a ton more to say -- I encourage you to study these tables for a while and determine how best to apply them to your specific team/league/format. If you have any questions or insights, you can send me 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.