Russell Westbrook leads the NBA with 31.2 points per game, while adding 10.6 rebounds and 10.4 assists. Much has been said about James Harden's 11 triple-doubles this season, but Westbrook leads the way with a whopping 17 on the season, matching the rest of the league combined (excluding Harden). In total, there have been 14 different players with at least 10 points, 10 boards and 10 assists in a game this season.
There's a more exclusive club, however, that includes just seven players. Kevin Durant makes the cut, as does Kristaps Porzingis, but the other five members aren't as prominent -- Elfrid Payton, Robert Covington, Otto Porter, Dion Waiters and Jae Crowder. Those are the guys who have racked up three steals, three blocks and at least three 3-pointers in a game this season. Porter is the only guy to have done it twice, a feat that helps to explain how he's quietly established second-round roto value this year.
The purpose of today's column is to put fantasy's counting categories in proper perspective. Points are not unimportant -- as I've showed in multiple columns, value-added scorers are hard to find outside of the early rounds, so points as a category are relatively scarce and concentrated. I've shown that blocks and assists are the most concentrated categories in standard leagues, however, and the working thesis of this column is that fantasy owners tend to over-value players who score a lot of points.
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ESPN highlight-reels are predominantly scoring plays. There are some no-look passes and chase-down blocks that make the list, but the Top-10 list never includes in-traffic steals that result in a missed shot, role players who make two 3-pointers in the second quarter of a loss, or even star players who knock down 7-of-7 free throws without a flashy play. In the same vein, fantasy owners are much more likely to notice a free agent who scores double-digit points for three straight games, as opposed to a free agent who averages 1.2 steals over a three-game span.
Every bit counts for fantasy value, however, so let's compare counting stats (i.e. not including percentages) in today's column.
The first charts show the cumulative, per-game totals for each category among the top-150 and top-200 fantasy players (9-cat).
In other words, the top-150 fantasy players this season have collectively averaged 2,247 points per game (14.98 points per player). That same group has averaged 855 rebounds (5.7 each) and 155 steals (1.03 each).
The next step is to compare those category totals to one another. In the tables below, read horizontally across each row...for instance, among the top-200 players, each point scored is equivalent to one point (obviously). Each point scored is only equivalent to 0.09 threes, however, as well as 0.39 rebounds or 0.21 assists. If you're looking at assists, you'll find that each dime is equivalent to 4.69 points and 1.85 boards, but just 0.34 steals and 0.21 blocks.
Please note that these stat comparisons are not meant to be taken literally. My column last week vividly showed that blocks are a relatively scarce category, including some incredible statistical outliers -- the average top-200 player averages 0.59 blocks, but then we have category-kings like Anthony Davis (2.5 blocks), Rudy Gobert (2.5), Myles Turner (2.4) and Joel Embiid (2.4). The table above shows that for every block among the top-200 players this year, there have been 22.46 points scored. That would morph Gobert's 2.53 swats per game into a ludicrous comparable scoring average of 56.8 points per game.
Does that mean that Gobert's blocks are 1.8 times as impactful as Russell Westbrook's 31.2 points per game? Of course not. Most of my columns use z-scores to compare stats objective across categories, and in that light Westbrook's points (z = 3.2) are much closer to Gobert's blocks (z = 3.7) in a holistic sense.
The goal is simply to illustrate, for example, how important a single steal or blocked shot can be. Take Lucas Nogueira, the third-year center who was a hot pickup early in the season when he averaged 8.7 points, 8.0 boards, 2.0 steals and 3.0 blocks over a three-game span. He has drifted back to the wire in most leagues since then, however, due to quiet averages of 4.6 points, 4.7 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.8 blocks. Despite the lack of eye-catching numbers, however, Nogueira has been well worth owning with late-middle round value in most fantasy formats...today's column doesn't discuss efficiency, but his value is also buoyed by 64.8% shooting from the field. Aside from his FG%, Nogueira's steady defensive production is a huge and undervalued contribution.
Another example is Andre Roberson. Unlike Nogueira, at no point this season has Roberson been a hot pickup. He's shooting 43.9% from the field and a ludicrous 39.7% from the FT line (at a combined 23-of-58, Roberson would easily be the worst in the league if he had enough attempts to qualify). He's also averaging 6.9 points, 4.6 rebounds and a mere 1.1 assists. So far, he's a complete wasteland for fantasy production, and yet he's been a top-150 player in 9-cat leagues. His primary virtue is a mere 0.7 turnovers -- almost the only times he touches the ball are on cuts or spot-up shots. On top of that, though, he's also averaging 1.1 steals, 1.0 blocks and 0.8 threes per game, the type of whisper-quiet versatility that is beloved by savvy, deep-league fantasy owners.
The final player I'll use to illustrate the numbers above is Moe Harkless. The Blazers' forward has been better than advertised this season and he's owned in all competitive leagues, despite mediocre points, boards and assists, with a 68.3% mark at the line. The key to his value is in the supporting stats -- 1.2 steals, 0.9 blocks and 1.2 threes. To return to the tables above, let's invert his season averages.
Actual Averages...11.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.9 blocks, 1.2 threes
Inverted Averages, Example #1...20.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.6 blocks, 0.4 threes
With Harkless' averages expressed as equivalencies of other stats (e.g. 0.9 blocks = 20.2 points), he starts to look like a more versatile version of Andrew Wiggins. Again, this isn't to be taken literally. It's just a way of showing how easily value can be obscured...and after all, Harkless is indeed much more appealing than Wiggins outside of certain points leagues.
Feel free to play around with the numbers and see what happens...for instance, Chris Paul's 9.8 assists per game can be expressed as 2.1 blocks per game, 45.9 points, or 18.1 rebounds. It's a just-for-fun exercise, but I hope this column has driven home the importance of the 'supporting' fantasy stats. Even 0.4 blocks per game deserve some love. If you have any questions or insights, you can always find me on Twitter @Knaus_RW! Good luck this week.