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The Numbers Game

One Rank to Rule Them All

by Ryan Knaus

As the title implies, this week's column discusses multiple fantasy-value systems (8-cat, 9-cat and the NBA's official points scoring) and combines them to arrive at a unified 'meta-rank'. Anthony Davis is the top performer in both points leagues and 9-cat, and ranks second in 8-cat just a bit behind James Harden, so he takes the overall crown. The top-five fantasy royalty includes AD, Harden, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry and Joel Embiid. LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo are both bumped due to hits they take in 9-cat due to turnovers.


A few stage-setting instructions before we look at the top-175 'meta-rank' players. As you may have guessed by the inclusion of Steph Curry at No. 4 overall, I'm discussing per-game value, not cumulative value. Excluded are any players who have appeared in fewer than five games and/or have averaged fewer than 15 minutes. Values are my own, and they're accurate through Nov. 27 (for more on my methodology just send me a message @Knaus_RW!). As you look through the lists, do you think one of these scoring systems reflects reality more than the others? If so, you may have found your preferred fantasy system.


Here are the top-175 players with commentary:





Giannis Antetokounmpo takes a big hit from high-volume FT shooting (68% on 8.8 attempts) and 4.3 turnovers per game, hence his drop to No. 16 in the 9-cat ranks.  Harden gets a huge boost in 8-cat with his massive 5.81 turnovers per game excluded, though even that category-killing number only bumps him to No. 4 in 9-cat. He's a beast. It's worth pointing out that Kemba Walker and Jimmy Butler both gain with the switch to 9-cat, with Jimmy's mere 1.6 turnovers standing out as particularly efficient.


Nikola Vucevic is simply shattering expectations and playing at a different level, with a Player Efficiency Rating of 26.8 that ranks sixth in the NBA. He's hitting career-highs in points (24.3) and percentages (54.9% FGs, 84.8% FTs), rebounds (13.2), assists (4.3) and steals (1.3). Steve Clifford has unlocked his potential as a go-to guy and Vuc's owners are loving life, regardless of format -- he falls no lower than No. 13 overall in points leagues. Marc Gasol's resurgence is another terrific storyline we haven't discussed too often, and he's helped Memphis cling to the No. 3 seed out West despite a tough loss vs. Toronto on Tuesday. It's not all great news for elite centers, of course, as Nikola Jokic and Karl-Anthony Towns have yet to fully hit their stride this season. It's coming, so just be patient.




John Wall is quietly having a bounce-back season, especially in points leagues where the inefficiency doesn't hurt you. That's true for few players more than Russell Westbrook, an elite every-night guy in points leagues who plummets multiple rounds in category-based formats. Even if you're punting turnovers, for instance, he's still barely cracking top-25. This is one reason I'm leery of guys who can tank your FG% and/or FT% in a given week -- it's a hard category to make up elsewhere, and they can go deep into the negative. If a player is averaging 0.4 steals that's bad and it will hurt you in steals, but it won't be so punishingly awful that another guy needs to average 3.5 steals to compensate. Of course, you can eliminate this concern by just playing in raw-volume-is-all-that-counts points leagues.


Meanwhile, DeMar DeRozan is surging for the Spurs with 24.8 points on 48.6% shooting (highest since his rookie year), 6.0 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 1.0 steals. Those boards and dimes are career-highs and his efficiency has improved with a move away from 3-point shooting -- after launching 3.6 attempts last year he's down to just 1.6 this season. Fantasy owners won't complain.


Victor Oladipo has been a disappointment but maybe that stemmed from right knee soreness that's now cost him five straight games. The only things missing from his game were some extra defensive stats and shooting efficiency, so ideally the rest will have him in top form -- he's just day-to-day and could return as soon as Saturday vs. the Kings.


Robert Covington enters the scene with a unique fantasy profile, highlighting his appeal as a 3s-and-steals specialist. He's inside the top-30 for category leagues (despite a ridiculous 1-of-18 shooting performance on Saturday), yet barely earns top-75 value in points leagues. That's because most points leagues devalue defensive stats and give no extra value to 3-pointers. If RoCo makes four triples to finish with 12 points, it's exactly the same as Mason Plumlee making 4-of-5 FGs and 4-of-9 FTs. This is the same reason we'll soon see Justin Holiday take a plunge in points leagues.


JaVale McGee was slipping after a blistering start to the season, but he's blocked 16 shots in his past four games and is still way above his draft position in all leagues. His rebounds are down lately (4.1 in his past seven games) but he's staying away from the free-throw line and scoring mainly on dunks and lobs. That's all you want from him. My mind rebels at the idea that he's out-producing Rudy Gobert in category leagues, but I just follow the numbers. Gobert's numbers have tailed off precipitously in November and Utah seems stuck in a team-wide funk, with their 9-12 record among the most disappointing in the NBA. It's still very early, though, and I have faith in both Gobert and Donovan Mitchell (we're still getting to him on the list) to bounce back going into the New Year.




T.J. Warren is an interesting case. He's a relatively high-volume scorer, so I expected him to fare better in points formats where scoring is king. I don't own him anywhere, and somehow missed the fact that he's been extremely efficient (51.6% shooting) while destroying his career-high with 1.7 threes on 44.6% shooting from deep. Plus, he's making 86.3% of his freebies after never going above 75.7% previously in his career. Throw in 0.9 steals and 0.8 blocks and you can see why he's been surprisingly good for cat-based leagues this season. All credit to TJW for putting in the offseason work this year -- I had assumed that with Mikal Bridges drafted, Trevor Ariza signed in free agency and Josh Jackson one year more experienced, we'd see a big drop-off from Warren.


This column will be too long if I continue deep-diving into players, so from here on out it will be quick-hit notes!


Luka Doncic's poor FT shooting to begin the year has been corrected, up to 78% now, and he just needs to cut down his turnovers (3.72 per game) to settle into top-40 value...as a rookie.


Steven Adams and Hassan Whiteside are in the same boat as centers having strong seasons, but whose FT% anchor drags them down in category leagues. We knew that before the season began, of course, and the bigger surprises are certain centers actually making their freebies -- that includes Jusuf Nurkic (75.5%) and DeAndre Jordan (78.1%).


How good has Pascal Siakam been this season? I do own him in multiple leagues thanks to quick waiver-wire adds, but I missed the boat on him in preseason ranks -- I just didn't think he could make this leap into being a genuine ball-handler and shot-maker, in addition to his tremendous defensive efforts. Very impressive. Danilo Gallinari has avoided injury, and this portion of the list is mostly positive for owners.




Pleasant surprises in this block of players include Domantas Sabonis, who is really hurting Myles Turner while outperforming him in each of the three fantasy systems we're looking at here. Barring some newfound willingness to play them together extensively, it's hard to see that dynamic changing. Derrick Rose is a resurgent value (though I remain perpetually skeptical), Buddy Hield is cruising and the return of Bogdan Bogdanovic hasn't dented his value much, De'Aaron Fox has taken a leap forward in reality and fantasy, and Caris LeVert...I'm just grateful we might see him again this season.


A final note here about Jaren Jackson Jr. I've done a 'volatility' analysis in the past and may run it again this season. When I do, I fully expect to see JJJ near the top of the list. It's primarily foul trouble that's causing his playing time to yo-yo, rather than the stellar play of someone like JaMychal Green, so it's a correctable issue. He's had some huge games mixed in and perhaps the quiet nights will help keep him rested as the 82-game campaign grinds along. Even with the inconsistency he's right around top-50 value, which says plenty about his upside.




Nemanja Bjelica's current value isn't this high, but he's buoyed by a fantastic stretch in late October. It's been downhill since then with decreasing minutes and shot attempts -- he hasn't put up double-digit shots since Nov. 9. The Kings are 4-7 in their previous 11 games and the all-out player development could start soon, meaning the 30-year-old Bjelica's downward trend will likely continue.


Brook Lopez - Not a guy you want in your points-league lineups or DFS, and won't give you rebounds from the center spot, but otherwise he's hitting value.


Jabari Parker - A recent near triple-double and a bit of a hot streak have resuscitated his fantasy appeal, but this comes just prior to Lauri Markkanen's return from a sprained elbow. That should shift Parker back to more SF minutes and/or a bench role, neither of which is helpful.


Andrew Wiggins - So much for a post-Jimmy Butler eruption, eh? Wiggins is averaging 9.4 points on 28.6% shooting in the Wolves' previous five games. He's adding 2.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 0.6 steals and 0.4 blocks, and is doing nothing to shed his image as a max-salary player without max-salary talent.












In the final groups we saw under-the-radar values you probably got off the waiver wire, like E'Twaun Moore, Rodney McGruder, Danny Green, Noah Vonleh and Dewayne Dedmon. Some inconsistency is expected from a group like this, but overall they each have reliable roles and enough fantasy punch to be worth holding in competitive 8-cat and 9-cat.


We also find a bunch of underperforming players, a list that includes Gordon Hayward (as his owners know all too well), Larry Nance (it's inexplicable to me why coach Larry Drew won't consistently play him more), Nicolas Batum, Eric Gordon and Dennis Smith Jr. I was quite leery of DSJ this summer, and even as Rotoworld hyped him a bit I tried to pump the breaks, citing his truly abysmal efficiency numbers last season. Sure, a summer of work and playing alongside Luke Doncic might help, I reasoned, but can it help that much? DSJ shot 39.5% from the field and 69.4% from the line with 2.8 turnovers last season, missed 13 games, and finished outside the top-200. He's improved, of course, but it looks like 2019-20 will be the true breakout.


That disappointing-player list could also include a quartet of Lakers in Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and Kyle Kuzma. Hart is averaging 1.8 triples and 1.2 steals but that's about the only good news, with his minutes trending down and a usage rate of just 14.9% off the bench. Kuzma and Ingram are faring better with at least 13 shot attempts each, and usage rates north of 22%, but they're not helping their own cause with limited boards, assists and defensive stats. Part of this is LeBron being a statistical vacuum, part is adjusting to a wave of new veteran teammates, and part is just young guys still developing their games. I'm trying to stay patient and at least they're still offering some value, however modest it might be.


Falling just outside the top-175 were guys like J.J. Barea, Thaddeus Young, Fred VanVleet, Malik Monk, Mo Bamba, Dwight Howard, Jonathan Isaac, Stanley Johnson and Malik Bridges. I also got rid of Carmelo Anthony -- he technically finished at exactly No. 175 for 8-cat, but it's not even clear if/when he'll be waived or traded. That's it for today, send me a message on Twitter @Knaus_RW with any questions or comments, and 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.