It is often said* that a good statistical trend is like a plate of shepherd’s pie: rich, engrossing and almost always seems like a good idea while you’re consuming it.
And if you read this column regularly, you know that I appreciate a good statistical trend as much as anyone. Five games, 10 games, 25 games, a half season can tell you a lot about a player.
But trends, like shepherd’s pie, must be ingested in reasonable portions. Too much of either one will leave mind and/or body in desperate need of a nap.
So today, we’re focusing on lighter portions, kicking trends (and heaping mounds of meat-filled potato crust) aside as we go much smaller scale. Here are five stat lines – single stat lines – that have caught my eye this week, and what I think we can potentially learn from them…
Stat Line #1 – Goran Dragic – Tuesday vs. LAL
The Numbers: Four points, five rebounds, three assists, 2-of-10 shooting in 30 minutes
(Over)Reaction: I’ll start by saying that Dragic used to be one of my favorite fantasy players. Remember lockout-season Dragic back in 2011-12? Over the final month and a half of that year (26 games), he averaged 18.2 ppg, 8.3 apg, 1.8 spg and 1.8 3s on 48.7 percent from the field. Now that guy was dynamic. And the Dragic who played in Phoenix two seasons ago was reasonably electric as well – 20.3 ppg, 5.9 apg, 1.4 spg and 1.6 3s. But last year, between the crowded backcourt in Phoenix and a move to Miami, Dragic’s dynamic stats became notably more average. In 78 games (52 with Phoenix, 26 with Miami), the lefty posted 16.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 4.5 apg, 1.0 spg and 1.2 3s (on 50.1 percent from the field). Those are still useful numbers, and as for his early-season struggles this year (10.6 ppg, 4.0 apg, 42.4 percent shooting), I expect him to bounce back. But I also think Dragic is a player who was drafted with expectations that he’d approach his past upside, and in his current situation – based on his performance in the last year-plus – I’m just not sure that same upside is really there.
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Stat Line #2 – Zach LaVine – Tuesday vs. CHA
The Numbers: 20 points, five boards, eight assists, two steals, one trey, 9-of-19 FG, 37 minutes
(Over)Reaction: I sat down and watched a good portion of a couple Timberwolves games this week – including this one – and I was reminded yet again just how absurdly explosive LaVine is. There are times he takes off from a distance, and with a speed, that suggest some impatient person at the controls is emphatically pressing the “turbo” and “dunk” buttons at the same time.
Now a little more rambling, before I get to the actual point on LaVine: One night before this, on Monday against the Hawks, the Minnesota TV announcers were saying LaVine’s performance off the bench (13 points, six assists, three steals, 5-of-7 shooting just 16 minutes ) was possibly the best he’d played in his brief career. Obviously they were evaluating how he looked rather than the total numbers, and either way it was probably an overstatement, but my actual point is this: At some point LaVine is going to force his way into consistent playing time, either through Ricky Rubio / Kevin Martin getting hurt, or just by the sheer force of his dunk-button talent. Over the last month or so of last season (15 games), he averaged 19.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 5.7 apg, 0.7 spg and 1.7 3s – and in theory he’s better now than he was then. Make sure he’s on your roster when the breakout happens.
Stat Line #3 – Emmanuel Mudiay – Monday vs. POR
The Numbers: 18 points, six boards, five assists, two blocks, one 3-pointer, 6-of-12 FG, two TO’s
(Over)Reaction: One game before this he shot 6-of-19, and one game later he shot 5-of-16, but need I remind you that analyzing multi-game trends is not the exercise here??!?! Seriously though, Mudiay’s shooting is likely to remain bad (his shot selection and jumper are just flat-out erratic), but his turnover issues really are heading in the right direction, and it’s a lot easier to start him if he’s only mauling you in one category instead of two. As for the game specifically referenced above, Mudiay not only shot well and took care of the ball, but also had two big blocks on Damian Lillard. Those blocks (0.8 so far) are among the many reasons that Mudiay is one of the more intriguing (if wildly unpredictable) rookies to hit the league in a long time.
Stat Line #4 – Al Jefferson – Tuesday @MIN
The Numbers: Nine points, four rebounds, one block, 3-of-9 FG in 26 minutes
(Over)Reaction: The worst thing about this? It wasn’t even Jefferson’s low point of the week so far. That would be Wednesday, when he belched out four points and five rebounds in 23 minutes against the Knicks. Overall, I actually had some optimism about Jefferson heading into the season because he’s in a contract year, but the reality is his coach, Steve Clifford, doesn’t seem to share my interest in Al putting up monster numbers. It also doesn’t help that Clifford is pretty enamored of his bench right now, and I can’t completely blame him when Cody Zeller, by comparison, looks like he’s been launched out of a catapult. Hopefully Clifford’s fascination with the bench fades a bit as the season goes on, but it’s starting to seem like Jefferson is going to have to get hot early to have a real shot at a good game.
Ultimately, it’s not going to be this bad for Jefferson all the time, and there certainly will be nights when his little turnaround push shot is falling (example: 31 points, nine boards, 15-of-18 shooting in just 27 minutes last Thursday), but he looks more like a 15 and 8 player than a 20 and 10 player right now – and a frustratingly inconsistent one at that. I’ll be selling aggressively at the first reasonable opportunity.
Stat Line #5 – Cory Joseph – Tuesday vs. NYK
The Numbers: 12 points, six rebounds, eight assists, a steal and a trey in 27 minutes
(Over)Reaction: Now, a quick look at a player who might actually be available in your league. Joseph (8 percent owned in Yahoo leagues) is clearly benefitting from the absence of DeMarre Carroll (plantar fasciitis) and Terrence Ross (thumb), but he was already seeing a spike in playing time before those two went out, and has started to post some intriguing lines lately. His last five games have included a 9-4-3 game with three steals, a 19-point effort, a 15-point, five-assist outing and the 12-6-8 line referenced above. I’m not breaking down long-term trends in this column, so I can’t tell you what Joseph’s last five games look like on average, but if I could tell you, I would say it’s 11.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.4 apg, 0.8 spg and 0.2 3s (62.2 percent FG / 85.7 FT) in 27 minutes per game. That makes Joseph an interesting target – especially in deeper leagues.
Other Random Thoughts: Last week I referred to Kent Bazemore as “a bit of a reach” in standard leagues. Since that time, he has been mostly off with his outside shot, but has still averaged 13.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 3.0 apg, 2.5 spg and 1.3 3s in four games. Clearly, when I said “a bit of a reach”, I meant “a pretty useful option”. … Justise Winslow isn’t doing a ton with his playing time (7.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 3-of-15 on 3s), but I’m keeping a close eye on the No. 10 overall pick considering that he’s already getting 28 minutes per game. … Remember a couple seasons ago when it looked like DeMar DeRozan was developing into a decent 3-point shooter for fantasy purposes (0.8 per game in 2013-14)? Turns out that was a fluke. DeRozan hit 0.4 3s per game last year, and is at 0.3 this year (on 23.1 percent shooting). On a positive note, he has turned into an absolute beast in FT percentage (81.8 percent on 9.8 attempts per game this year). … I know Jabari Parker has only played four games since returning from a torn ACL, but it concerns me that he hasn’t even attempted a 3-pointer yet. If he’s not going to do anything in that category, and isn’t a big impact player on defense (1.2 spg, 0.2 bpg last year), I’m just not sure how he’s going to be really helpful in fantasy leagues. Sure, I can see him contributing in points, rebounds and FG percentage (49.0 last year), but a SF/PF who does very little in 3s, assists, and blocks – and is also still sitting out some games – is not guaranteed to reward your patience this year.