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The Numbers Game

Top-250 Statistical Scarcity

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

Today's column revisits a topic I haven't discussed since Jan. 2015 -- the difference in statistical production between top fantasy players and those further down the pecking order. Specifically, we'll see how the top-50 players compare to players 51-100, 101-150, etc.


To begin, I accumulated season-long stats for all 457 players who have stepped on the court this season. To trim that group, cuts had to be made -- gone is anyone who averages less than 15 minutes per game, or hasn't played in at least 10 games. This eliminated dozens of scrubs, but we also bid farewell to guys like Jeremy Lin, Milos Teodosic, Danilo Gallinari and Nicolas Batum. There were 277 players left standing, whom I sorted by overall 8-cat value. That population size seemed appropriate since we're exploring low-end players.


Here's a link to the full data set on Google Sheets.


Interestingly, had I sorted by overall 9-cat value, Dwight Howard would barely have made the cut. His high turnovers (3.8 per game) and terrible, high-volume free throws have dragged him through the mud in category leagues. He's shooting 48.3% from the line (a career-low) on 7.8 attempts per game, which makes him a far bigger drag on FT% than Andre Drummond and DeAndre Jordan combined. In fact, even if you doubled the impact from DJ and Drummond, Dwight would still be worse. If you've had Dwight on your team in a category league, even Stephen Curry and James Harden aren't getting you to break even in FT%. You really can't exaggerate how bad he's been in that single category (although he's playing well elsewhere, to his credit).


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Here's what I was after...the statistical averages for the top-250 players in increments of 50. The idea is to track which stats become increasingly scarce as we move down the ladder for fantasy values. If we define the waiver wire as players 150-200, would it be easier to find steals or blocks in that group? If we take a wider lens and call it 150-250, is it easier or harder to find scoring?


Here are the averages:



And here are those numbers expressed a bit differently. The numbers for players 1-50 are the same, but every other group is shown as a % of that total -- so for instance, players 51-100 are scoring 69.7% as many points as the top-50 players. Meanwhile, players in the final group are scoring just 36.0% as many points, with 44.1% as many 3-point makes, etc.



What you see is that a few categories emerge as the toughest to find after the top-50 -- points, weighted FT% and blocks. Blocks tumble the most after the early rounds, with players 50-100 blocking just 55.2% the amount of shots as the top-50. Compare that to steals, where the same group is at a healthy 88.3%.


That's partly because, while most players at least get some steals, there are plenty of players (guards, mostly) who don't block shots at all. Blocks are heavily concentrated, in other words, which gives sneaky value to guys like Dwyane Wade (0.9 blocks), Danny Green (1.4) and Tyler Johnson (0.7). I'm also eager to see what Jonathan Isaac can do once he's healthy -- he's swatted an impressive 1.3 shots per game in just 19.9 minutes this season.


Here's a partial list of players who haven't blocked more than one shot this season -- Reggie Jackson, Dennis Schroder, Jordan Clarkson, J.J. Barea, Marco Belinelli, Bojan Bogdanovic, Terry Rozier, and OG Anunoby. The list of qualifying top-275 players without a single steal this season? Nobody. Although, guys like Michael Beasley and Doug McDermott have come precariously close.


The relative difficulty of finding scorers after the top-100 players, particularly high-volume FT shooters, gives Andrew Wiggins an edge in leagues that only count FTs made (the same is true for Dwight Howard). Wiggins is getting to the line 5.2 times per game, which is great, but he's making just 64.6% of those attempts while scoring 18.6 points per game. Beyond Wiggins and Dwight, it's tough to find reliable scorers in the 100-200 range -- you're talking about guys like Dennis Smith Jr., Dion Waiters, Austin Rivers and Jordan Clarkson.


If you want to dig around the full spreadsheet, head here to view or download it on Google Sheets. I'll leave you with one more chart showing other stats/categories. I included 'age' just for fun, but it's so uniform across the top-250 that you can't glean much from it. For leagues that include 3-point percentages as a category, it looks like you could do well on the waiver wire, but if you're hunting double-doubles, good luck. Dwight Howard is one of just two players outside the top-50 to have grabbed at least 10 double-doubles this season. The other player? Taj Gibson.



Good luck this week. As usual, you can send me any questions or insights on Twitter @Knaus_RW…and if you're looking for specific pickup ideas and recommendations, be sure to check out Steve Alexander's Waiver Wired column every Sunday!

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 NBC Sports Edge since 2007. You can follow him on Twitter.