Today's column is about an under-discussed topic in fantasy hoops - players' consistency, or lack thereof. The trade deadline has arrived, and fantasy owners are gearing their teams for the playoffs, which puts a premium on analyzing player performance. If you're safely headed to your league's postseason, you'll begin asking, "Who do I want on my team in March and April?"
In the 82-game journey of a season, everyone has bad games, and we tend to dismiss them as long as the overall numbers are acceptable. When you read blurbs, you'll often see sentiments such as, "He's in a slump but should soon revert to his career averages," or "Hopefully he'll fare better in an easier matchup vs. Washington on Friday."
When it comes to consistency, though, we don't have to guess. We can quantify which players are more reliable on a night-to-night basis, and which guys tend to oscillate between poor games and great performances. This week's column is focused exclusively on guards (we'll get to forwards and centers next week). If you're looking for a lower-end guard who will produce consistently, whom might you target in a trade?
Based on today's analysis, for example, Dennis Schroder and Collin Sexton are both admirably consistent (albeit better in points leagues than 8-cat/9-cat). They're in the top-25 for consistency, so you know what you're getting almost every time they take the court. Schroder has 75.4% consistency. Compare that with Eric Gordon (48.6%), Tyler Herro (51.2%) or even Marcus Smart (53.5%), and the gap is glaring. Those three guys might pop off in the absence of a key teammate (witness Gordon’s 50-point game on Jan. 27), or against a certain type of opponent, whereas Schroder is getting it done nightly in his sixth-man role for OKC.
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Consistency may not matter as much on a night-to-night basis in roto leagues, where the highs and lows are ironed out across an entire season of play. In head-to-head matchups, though, you might be better served by the guy consistently providing top-50 value, rather than the guy who fluctuates between top-30 and top-100 in any given week.
This is a perfect time to reiterate something I wrote while exploring this topic last season. "The most consistent players aren't necessarily better, and the most volatile players aren't worse. If you're swinging for the fences in a DFS league, you might even prefer a player whose volatility will scare away other owners, in the hopes that he 'hits' that night. On the other hand, you might desire more consistent players if you're looking ahead to the fantasy playoffs in H2H and don't want to risk an off-week from your one mercurial superstar. You can't make those decisions, though, until you know which player is which."
Another key concept is that consistency is relative to each player's performance. James Harden's terrific 74.7% consistency puts him right next to Wendell Carter Jr., even though he's averaging double WCJ's fantasy points (57.0 to 28.7). Harden's totals simply swing wider (standard deviation = 14.4) than Carter Jr.'s (7.3). This makes it a useful tool when scouring the waiver wire for a potential pickup. Donte DiVincenzo rarely jumps off the boxscore, right? And yet he's been a reliable fantasy player all season, due partly to his terrific consistency with low-key numbers. I find consistency particularly useful in this realm -- identifying reliable waiver-wire options.
Before diving into the results for guards, I need to explain my methodology. I'm using stats from Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 26) through Feb. 3. That's a big enough sample-size to be meaningful, while also skewing toward recent performance by eliminating the first month of the season. The population is the top-200 players for the NBA's official points-league system, which is the same one used by FanDuel, Yahoo and other prominent sites. It's not a perfect metric if you're looking for 8-cat or 9-cat value but works very well when gauging consistency.
For each player, I converted boxscores into 'fantasy point' totals, then determined fantasy-point averages and standard deviations. The next step was to divide the results (standard deviations into season-long averages) and invert the results. For instance, if a player averaged 30.0 fantasy points but had a standard deviation of 8.5, they'd have 28.3% volatility, which I express as 71.7% consistency. This is the "Consistency Index."
I am not including DNPs stemming from rest, injury, suspension, etc. For instance, Kawhi Leonard would look far less consistent if you factored in the zeroes he racked up while missing a dozen games for 'injury maintenance' purposes. Readers should evaluate DNP-risk/shutdowns as a separate topic. I'm only interested in how players perform when they're active. A few players with very small sample sizes have been excluded. I'll include Zion Williamson in next week's discussion of forwards and centers, simply because I was curious. You won't find Steph Curry today, however, because it's not really useful to know how 'consistent' he was during four games in late October.
One quick example to help interpret this table. Chris Paul has averaged 37.49 fantasy points per game this season. His standard deviation has been 9.22 fantasy points per game. Therefore, you can generally expect him to stay within 28.3 to 46.7 fantasy points per night -- according to the normal distribution curve, there's a 68.2% chance he'll stay within that range. If you instead look at the more extreme 'Floor (2 SD)' and 'Ceiling (2 SD)', there's a 95.4% chance he'll stay in the range of 19.1 to 55.9 fantasy points. These are the Floors and Ceilings in the table below.
LeBron James and Russell Westbrook top the list, and (as we'll see next week) they're the only guards in the top-14 for consistency. LeBron is No. 1 in the entire league with his ridiculous 85.3% rate, while Westbrook is No. 6 at 78.6%. These guys are as matchup-proof as it gets. They are the 'fantasy metronomes', the players you can plug into your lineups and know that as long as they're healthy, they will produce -- not all elite players are created equal. Guards are prevalent everywhere else in the list, but those top 14 spots are dominated by forwards and centers.
The results do beg the question, why? Why is Ricky Rubio somewhat inconsistent (61.5%), whereas Kyle Lowry (76.2%) is very reliable? The most glaring factors are minutes and usage. If those fluctuate, so will consistency. Westbrook is averaging 35.9 minutes per game (fifth-highest in the NBA) with a 33.3% usage rate (sixth-highest). Rubio is posting 20.1% usage in 31.7 minutes per game. There's also the question of whether a player's role has been steady from Thanksgiving through Feb. 3. Did they struggle in a reserve role for a while, only to break out in the past month (Lonzo Ball - 62.8%)? Have they been temporarily featured due to teammate injuries (Shabazz Napier - 49.1%) or shuttled in and out of a starting role (Gary Payton II - at a ridiculous 27.4% consistency)?
Other factors may include but are not limited to 1) injuries and related minute-limits, 2) good old-fashioned slumps, 3) varying performance given home/away or day's rest splits, and 4) adjustments to a new team/coach/system. A player may be impacted by a variety of these, as well. Thomas Bryant had been limited since returning from the stress reaction in his right foot, playing almost exclusively off the bench, which led to a string of quiet results compared to his early-season play. Inconsistency here is the least of owners' concerns, though, since it was reported on Wednesday afternoon that Bryant is out again for "at least the next couple games" with a setback in the same foot. Fantasy owners should probably be looking for the 'eject' button, especially if you're not guaranteed to make the playoffs. But more on that in next week's look at forward and centers.
I'd encourage owners to think about how the consistency index impacts fantasy players' floors and ceilings, too. Kyrie Irving's results are skewed by a few games that were shortened due to injury, but he emerges as the most volatile guard in the entire analysis, with a standard deviation of 16.1. Most of the time he'll stay in a safe-zone of 27.4 to 59.6 fantasy points, but even that represents a very wide spread of potential value -- 32.2 points, the largest of any guard.
What you take away from the data presented above depends on your individual league types, strategies, and rosters. There's a lot to explore, so I'd encourage you to dig around at your convenience. If you have any questions or insights, you can always find me on Twitter @Knaus_RW. And remember to check back next week for the conclusion of my consistency deep-dive, concerning forwards, centers and the top-200 players as a whole.