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The Numbers Game

Team Matchups vs. Positions 2.0

by Ryan Knaus
Updated On: January 9, 2020, 1:10 am ET

Matchups are a theme in my columns, for an obvious reason -- the importance of matchups can hardly be overstated. Certain superstars like James Harden, LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo can be described as 'matchup-proof' -- they'll rack up huge stats even against the toughest defenses in the league. For most players, though, a lenient opponent can be the difference between mediocrity and excellence. The Rockets have made most point guards look like stars the past few weeks, for example, giving up the third most points (29.8 per game), third most assists (10.1), and the highest field goal percentage (51.1%).

This week's discussion builds on my previous column about 'adjusted fantasy values'. At the end of that column, I provided a table showing how much value each position (using top-150 for 9-cat) derives from each category (for more on that topic, click here). This was the result:




Those numbers reflect a percentage of the top-150 averages. However, I wanted to use this information to weight team matchups vs. positions, something I provide every two weeks in the Rotoworld Season Pass. In the past, I've used charts that didn't account for varying production across positions -- the chart for centers might show the Knicks as a tough opponent, even though they gave up substantially more blocks than other teams. To refine the process, I'll begin with a new table that breaks down each position by its component value. It's similar to the table above, inevitably, but gets closer to a pure representation of how much value comes from each category.



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With this information in hand, we can weight team matchups more accurately. Shooting guards are deriving 26.4% of their value from 3-pointers alone, so the raw values for that category are correspondingly adjusted -- teams that give up plenty of 3-pointers to SGs (the Cavs are in a league of their own here) will be viewed even more favorably. Teams who are tough against SGs at the arc (the Magic, Jazz and Blazers) get even lower marks for matchup purposes. Rinse, repeat.

To reiterate, these newly adjusted charts will be updated every 1-2 weeks in the Season Pass, to reflect the latest matchup data. (The raw numbers are derived from NBA.com and/or HoopsStats.com, after which I obtain z-scores and weight each category, etc.). We begin with point guards.




Assists are the primary concern for most point guards, with 34.4% of overall value stemming from that single category. As such, more weight is given to the Blazers, who have allowed a league-high 11.2 dimes to PGs in their past 10 games. They play the Wolves on Thursday, so that bodes well for Shabazz Napier and even Jeff Teague, who looked more comfortable and confident in 29 minutes vs. Memphis on Tuesday (18 points, six dimes, two steals). Ironically, the Wolves have been tied with the Magic for fewest assists allowed, so Damian Lillard may have trouble matching the 10.5 dimes he's averaged his past two games. In the 11 games since Karl-Anthony Towns got hurt, the Wolves' defense has risen to No. 1 in Defensive Rating, allowing a mere 101.2 points per 100 possessions.




As mentioned earlier, 3-pointers contribute the highest proportion of value for shooting guards. Points, steals and assists aren't far behind. I should note that FG% and FT% are hard to quantify on a holistic basis. I weight percentages by attempts, and it's not as though guards don't get plenty of value from FT% -- it's just that on a relative basis, that value is outweighed by other categories. Plus, there are always negative drags on value that detract from the overall impression of value. Ben Simmons is making 59.0% of his 4.6 free throws every night. If you're looking at PGs as a whole, that entirely negates the combined categorical impact of Kemba Walker and Trae Young.




I've yet to mention this, but when considering free throws through the lens of matchups, I'm only concerned with how many attempts a team allows opponents. There might be random factors that influence opponent FT% (rowdy home fans, arena lighting, elevation, barometric pressure, a skilled trash-talker, who knows), but for the most part that's random. However, if you have a player like James Harden, Luka Doncic, Spencer Dinwiddie or De'Aaron Fox, guys who live at the FT line, it's the attempts that matter. They vary widely, from a high (over the past two weeks) of Washington at 29.1 attempts allowed, to a low of Charlotte at 16.5 attempts.

Unsurprisingly, small forwards are somewhat equal-opportunity when it comes to fantasy value. They get between 14-20% of their value from each counting stat, so the position-specific weighting matters less for SFs than any other position. That doesn't mean there aren't glaring takeaways, such as "target the Knicks." Your typical small forward will come away from an encounter with the Knickerbockers with healthy points, 3-pointers, steals and blocks. They may not rebound much, and New York is allowing the fewest assists to SFs, but that's probably because those players are too busy scoring.

These analyses are always interesting to me because there are surprises, and the Cavaliers on this chart are a big one. Fewest points allowed to SFs on the second-lowest FG%? I never would have guessed that. As we'll see later, the Cavs have been the third-most lenient team to face, overall, for fantasy purposes these past 2-3 weeks. This column isn't about why certain matchups have been easy or hard, which is convenient because I can't even posit a theory for this one. Sometimes you just have to let the numbers talk and shrug your shoulders.




The category-specific value for power forwards is a testament to today's court-spreading, stretch-four-heavy NBA. After rebounds (19.3%) there is no category that contributes more value to PFs than 3-pointers (18.2%). Wild. It's attributable to guys like Davis Bertans, who was making a ridiculous 3.8 triples per game prior to his injury. I counted Paul George as a PF rather than Kawhi, so he drove up the average, and you also have perimeter threats like Danilo Gallinari, Kevin Love, Lauri Markkanen, Kristaps Porzingis, Robert Covington...the list goes on. I didn't even mention Jaren Jackson Jr., who is up to 2.6 triples on 40.8% from deep. If you're considering any of those guys in DFS, queue them up against the Hornets but beware the Pacers and Sixers.




We conclude with centers, who predictably lean on blocks, boards and FG% for the bulk of their value (a combined 68% from those three categories). Despite the best efforts of Brook Lopez, Karl-Anthony Towns, Nikola Vucevic and others, centers still get just 5.3% of their value on 3-point shooting. With the trifecta of BLK/REB/FG% in mind, the Wolves, Cavs and Pistons look particularly enticing. Hassan Whiteside should thrive vs. Minnesota, despite their aforementioned defensive resurgence, and we'll get a matchup between the Cavs and Pistons in a race-to-the-bottom affair. Andre Drummond should smash the Cavs, and I suppose Tristan Thompson makes sense as a streaming or DFS play. If you own him in a category league, one of those categories better be double-doubles. If not, turn TT into a streaming/rivering spot on your roster.

Here's a bonus chart showing overall matchups:



That's all for today's column. There's plenty to discover by sifting through the charts above -- after all, there are 1,800 data points reflecting position-specific matchup data vs. each team! As mentioned previously, you can find updates to these charts in the RW Season Pass. Let me know if you have any questions or insights on Twitter @Knaus_RW.

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.