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The Numbers Game

With or Without You

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

The trade sending Rajon Rondo to Dallas has had a ripple effect for many players' fantasy values on the Celtics and Mavericks, which we'll use as a jumping off point for today's Numbers Game. By examining player's splits with or without Rondo playing alongside them, we can quantify the impact he's having, for better or worse.

 

I'll also examine the impact Kobe Bryant's absence has had on his teammates this season, to better predict what will happen when the Black Mamba is rested as the season progresses.

 

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Jameer Nelson was the only PG who came back to Boston in the Rajon Rondo trade and he's failed to hold any fantasy value in 20 minutes per game with the Celtics. A clear winner has yet to emerge for fantasy purposes in Boston, but enough games have been played since the trade to discern a few trends among players on both the Celts and Mavs.

 

Here, then, are the differences in key players’ stats in the nine games since Rondo was traded to Dallas on Dec. 18

 

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That Jeff Green has been struggling without Rondo is obvious to anyone who owns him, and this makes the picture abundantly clear – his stats have decreased in every single category, particularly FG attempts, FT attempts and scoring. He’s fared the worst but isn’t the only Celtics’ player struggling. Jameer Nelson took an obvious hit, scrapping for backup PG minutes with Evan Turner and Marcus Smart, and Kelly Olynyk’s value has plummeted with coach Brad Stevens unabashedly using a deep frontcourt rotation.

 

The only obvious winners here are Marcus Smart and Evan Turner. Neither guy has yet emerged with reliable fantasy value in 12-team leagues, but both are worth monitoring in case they can lock down the starting PG job long-term. My money is on Smart, though I’m content to watch him from a distance given his poor shooting (37.1 percent from the field this season).

 

It’s worth mentioning that Brandan Wright has also gone from a solid mid-round fantasy big man with the Mavericks to being an afterthought in a limited role with the Celtics. He’s averaging 4.0 points, 2.4 rebounds and 0.9 blocks in a mere 11.7 minutes per game in Boston, and it will likely take a big trade or a few injuries to spring him loose.

 

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Rondo himself has improved offensively in Dallas, which isn’t a great surprise since the Mavs lead the NBA in offensive efficiency, scoring 112.2 points per 100 possessions. His shot attempts in particular are way up, from 9.1 to 13.6 per game, and he’s even knocking down 0.5 more 3-pointers per game. His overall fantasy value hasn’t shifted much in 8-cat and 9-cat leagues, however, as he’s also seen a significant decrease in rebounds and assists – with more talent around him in Texas, Rondo doesn’t have to strive for a triple-double every night.

 

Monta Ellis, Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler have all remained relatively stable since Rondo’s arrival. Minor dips in a few categories are offset by gains elsewhere, and certain ‘trends’ (such as Tyson Chandler’s dip in FG%) may just be a symptom of the small nine-game sample size. The only clear winners in Dallas since the trade have been low-end players like Charlie Villanueva and Richard Jefferson, and that’s only because they’re playing more minutes with Brandan Wright and Jae Crowder no longer crowding the bench.

 

There have been more obvious fantasy losers, unfortunately, in Chandler Parsons and Devin Harris. The decline of Harris was predictable and easy to explain, as he’s playing six fewer minutes per game since Rondo took over for Jameer Nelson. He was a late-round value through the Mavs’ first 20 games this season, but is now waiver-wire fodder in standard leagues.

 

The causes for Chandler Parsons’ offensive slow-down aren’t as self-evident, as his 3-point shooting and open-court abilities are a promising fit with Rondo at the helm. Nevertheless, he’s taking almost three fewer shots per game and attempting 1.4 fewer free throws with Rondo in Dallas, and hasn’t scored more than 14 points in the Mavs’ past four games. His points and 3-point totals have suffered as a result, dragging him down a few rounds in standard fantasy leagues, and slight improvements in efficiency (better FG%, fewer TOs) haven’t been enough to make up the difference. I’m chalking up Parsons’ struggles to a learning curve alongside Rondo, and view this as a slight buy-low window, assuming his owner will part with him for a player who lacks Parsons’ top-40 upside.

 

Let’s move on to Kobe Bryant, who is healthy but still prone to random DNPs due to the Lakers' new plan to limit his workload, which should result in at least more eight DNPs (one during each of L.A.'s remaining back-to-back sets). His absence has the clearest impact on Wayne Ellington, who fills in as a starter, but it also has a surprising impact on Nick Young and others.

 

Keep in mind that Kobe has only missed four games this year, so this sample size is ripe for exaggerated results. It's interesting to consider, nevertheless, and at least gives us a starting point to consider which players stand to gain or lose the most when the Black Mamba sits out.

 

Here are the differences in each player’s stats during L.A.'s four games without Kobe Bryant this season, compared to their season averages*:

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*Wesley Johnson only played in three of those games

 

Wayne Ellington slides into the starting SG spot when Kobe is out, so he obviously emerges as the big winner sans Bryant, scoring 5.3 more points with increases in every category but blocks. He's still averaging a modest 12.3 points, 1.8 triples, 4.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 0.8 steals as a starter, however, which makes him a borderline option even as a plug-and-play.

 

Ronnie Price fares well with more minutes, points, assists and steals, and Wesley Johnson (despite playing the same minutes) has been more active offensively and on the glass without Kobe this year. Ed Davis has also fared well, but fellow big men Jordan Hill and Carlos Boozer aren’t as lucky, with each seeing slight across-the-board dips in production. As a curious footnote, Hill also has a team-worst +/- rating of -32 during Kobe’s four missed games this year.

 

Perhaps the most interesting result has been Nick Young, who is actually scoring fewer points on lower FG percentages without Kobe in the lineup. It’s not entirely surprising, as Young himself acknowledged the difficulty of finding easy shots when he’s the focal point of the offense: “We’re always going to need Kobe out there on the floor, especially for players like me,” Young said in late December. “That releases a lot of pressure.” Head coach Byron Scott agreed, saying, “He has to take good shots and not force things. He has a tendency to do that when Kobe is not there. It goes to show how much Kobe needed him on the floor and how much Nick needs Kobe on the floor. It creates space for both of those guys.”

 

Young’s struggles in a handful of games without Kobe don’t negate his upside on nights when L.A. needs him to step up, but it suggests that fantasy owners shouldn’t automatically deploy him during back-to-back sets, in daily leagues or anywhere else. I intended to also discuss the impact of other prominent absentee players, including Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Al Jefferson, but unfortunately that will have to wait until another column. If any readers have created their own splits for Melo, LeBron, Big Al or anyone else of interest, I’d be thrilled to hear about it via email or Twitter. 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.