John Collins’ stats through 41 games in 2019-20 put him in elite company. Over the past 15 years, the only players with better per-game fantasy results (9-cat) have been luminaries like Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kevin Garnett, Paul George and LeBron James. Throw in fantasy maestros Shawn Marion, Marcus Camby and this year’s campaign by Hassan Whiteside, and you have the full list. Collins only played half of a full regular season, of course, but his ascendant play is worth remembering. He’s only 22 years old and was routinely getting 20/10 lines with stellar percentages, strong supporting stats and low turnovers.
This column examines a 15-year pool of players that includes thousands of individual seasons, so Collins’ feat (notching the 37th-best season in that span) can’t be dismissed. The top-200 list is dominated by the same players for multiple seasons, too, lending anecdotal support to the idea that Collins will be elite for years to come. Anthony Davis is the epitome of this for 9-cat with four of the top eight seasons on the list (per-game). Incredible. This is the third column in an ongoing series about fantasy values since 2005, and we’ve already covered points leagues and 8-cat leagues. Check those out, if you haven’t already. The series concludes later this week with a fun topic – adding ‘legacy’ players like Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and John Stockton, to see how they hold up statistically vs. modern-day players.
A few quick reminders before looking at the top-200 players in 9-cat formats over the past 15 years. I’m using per-game statistics. To qualify, players needed at least 40 games played and 20 minutes per game (the aforementioned 2019-20 campaign from John Collins barely qualified). That left 3,296 individual seasons under consideration – there are no small-sample-size biases here. If you want a list of the top-500 players, head here to view/download. Here are the top-200:
|9-cat Rank||Name||9-cat Value||Year|
|181||Larry Nance Jr.||0.06||2018-19|
I’ll first hand the microphone to my colleague Mike Gallagher at this point, with his reactions to this 9-cat list:
“The Epic Seasons
Stephen Curry’s 2015-16 regular season should go down as one of the best seasons ever in reality, and certainly in fantasy based on the numbers. Obviously, the 3-point shooting is a huge factor for why Steph is up top here with his NBA-record 402 treys. On top of that, he shot 50.4% from the field and led the NBA in scoring that year at 30.1 per game with a tidy 90.8 FT%. The efficiency was the key with Curry with his 66.9 TS% and a 32.6 usage rate to make it the only 65+/32+ season ever. Curry also led the NBA in total steals and even coming in at eighth for total dimes in 2015-16. Curry was so dominate that year, that he still would’ve been the No. 1 player in nine-cat leagues even without his 402 treys if you punted that cat (per Basketball Monster).
Shawn Marion’s 2005-06 was basically the reverse of Curry’s with across-the-board output, low turnovers and elite defensive production. The Matrix was third in total steals, 12th in blocks, third in rebounding and 13th in total scoring. Marion’s 52.5 FG% that year was the second highest among the top-15 scorers that year (Elton Brand) and he came in at 80.5 FT%. Marion was a fantasy stud for years, but a big reason why he really busted out in this season was because of Amare Stoudemire lasting just three games because he needed microfracture surgery leading up to the season.
Anthony Davis has routinely proven he’s the prototypical big man because of his output in blocks, but what makes him somewhat unique is that he puts up great percentages with top-notch scoring. However, AD’s best season per game here only had 56 games, which still kept him at No. 11 in total nine-cat value that year. In 2017-18, AD had easily his most valuable fantasy season with 75 games with his huge lead in total blocks at 193 (Clint Capela second at 137). Despite countless locker room trips, AD has been somewhat durable the last few seasons excluding the trade stuff at the end of 2018-19.
Much like The Matrix’s season, Chris Paul’s fantasy value came down to doing everything and not really hurting his fantasy owners anywhere with his 50.3 FG% and 86.8 FT%. Of course, in 2008-09, it didn’t hurt that CP3 had a massive 135 total dime lead in assists (Deron Williams) that year. He was able to keep his turnover low at just seventh in the NBA with even guys like Dwight Howard and Yao Ming having more turnovers than him that year. If he's healthy, CP3 will always be a fantasy stud.
Kevin Durant’s first season with the Warriors was his best one per game, but he did play just 62 games that season to put him at No. 8 on the year. KD that year had a career-high 53.7 FG%, a career-high 8.3 boards per game, and a career-low 2.2 turnover per game. KD’s change of course to dominate across the board makes him one of the most intriguing players to take in the top 20 for drafts next year (for what it’s worth, I have him at No. 10 for next year).
The Consistent Studs
Here are the guys who were in the top 150 the most times on this list (15 years, 150 makes sense as a cut off):
Chris Paul (14!), Kevin Durant (8), Stephen Curry (7), Anthony Davis (7), Kawhi Leonard (7), James Harden (6), Jimmy Butler (5), Kevin Garnett (5), LeBron James (5), Marcus Camby (5), Dirk Nowitzki (4), Draymond Green (4), Jason Kidd (4), Karl-Anthony Towns (4), Nikola Jokic (4)
Just about all of these guys were routinely selected in the first round for close to a decade, or at least they could as their careers continue. Perhaps one outlier here is Marcus Camby. Most youngsters might know Camby best for his MarcusCambyGetOuttaHere.GIF, but his name on this list shows how valuable blocks are in fantasy for nine-cat leagues.
It might also be a mild surprise to see LeBron only on here five times, and it really comes down to his lack of FT%. CP3’s across-the-board value has made him easily the most consistent fantasy player this century per game.
A Few Personal Random Favorites
Troy Murphy in 2008-09 will always be one of the random monster seasons that comes to mind with his 73 games. He was going in round 7-10 that year and turned in top-10 value overall.
If you listen to the pods, I’ve probably brought up Gerald Wallace way too often to compare to Jonathan Isaac, and it was all about how he was so unique in putting up early-round value. His nickname is Crash and it’s because he would always fly around and get some injuries, which is partially why he only played 55 games in his best per-game season in 2005-06. That year, Wallace was one of just three players in NBA history with two-plus blocks and two-plus steals in a season (David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon).
LARRY SANDERS! Blocks were the key here for Larry to be a top-150 guy over the 15 years with his 2012-13. The Larry Sanders Show references were always a blast on Twitter and in columns.”
HEY NOW! Thanks Mike, for the great reactions to these rankings, there’s a lot of fun stuff to dig up as you look through 15 years of elite fantasy performances. It’s interesting how some players catapult to value with monster stats in one category – often blocks or steals – which are otherwise scarce. The unequal stat distributions from category to category can be hard to assess on a micro-level, but zoom out and it’s obvious.
For example, the top-200 players for the current 2019-20 season were averaging 5.64 rebounds per game. Andre Drummond was at 15.2 per game (despite his steep drop-off with the Cavs), which was 269% above the mean. Per-game blocks for the top-200 players were 0.634, which puts league-leader Hassan Whiteside (at 3.1 swats per game) a massive 489% above the mean. I may return to the concept of ‘statistical scarcity’ in a future column, using this 15-year analysis as a massive data pool to draw from. After all, Larry Sanders as a top-150 season in the past 15 years needs a full excavation. He had a 7.6% block rate that year, and impressive number that was nonetheless bettered by three players in 2019-20 – Mitchell Robinson (8.0), Brook Lopez (8.0) and Whiteside (8.3).
My own ‘random favorites’ list includes Jose Calderon’s 2007-08 season, in which he played all 82 games while quietly averaging 11.2 points, 2.9 rebounds, 8.3 assists, 1.1 steals and 0.1 blocks. Those numbers wouldn’t come anywhere near the top-200 in points-league value, but the key here is efficiency – Calderon joined the 50/40/90 club that year by making 51.9% FGs, 42.9% triples and 90.8% FTs. He also committed a mere 1.5 turnovers per game, for an assist-to-turnover ratio of 5.5. The highest qualifying players this year (20 minutes per game) was Monte Morris at 5.1. The second-highest qualifying player? I’d never have guessed this, but it was Tony Snell (4.1) with 2.2 assists and 0.5 turnovers per game. The Pistons were using him as a makeshift point guard at times, too, but none of that sways me at all when gauging Snell’s bleak fantasy outlook.
Speaking of turnovers, I’ll conclude with a discussion of 9-cat fantasy rankings themselves. The inclusion of turnovers (which separates it from 8-cat) is a contentious topic. I'll state right away that I'm in favor of them. Some owners can't stand turnovers as a category, arguing that they penalize players simply for having the ball in their hands more often. My response is that not all high-usage players turn it over at the same rate. Kyrie Irving was committing an average of 8.1 turnovers per 100 possessions in 2019-20, whereas Trae Young was committing 12.4 per 100 possessions. If the goal is to build fantasy teams that reflect and reward actual on-court values, then why ignore an overtly negative outcome (giving the basketball to the other team)?
I find the inverse argument against turnovers more compelling. If a player stands in the corner for most of the game offensively, and therefore averages let's say 0.3 turnovers per game, why reward that as a positive accomplishment? When we look at z-scores to assess fantasy values, we see that Otto Porter gained more value from turnovers in 2016-17 than from any other categories. He averaged 0.6 turnovers that year and was +1.44 for turnover value, +1.41 for steals, +1.11 for triples, etc. Guys like Marvin Williams, P.J. Tucker, Jerami Grant and many others fall into the same camp, getting a huge boost in 9-cat simply by virtue of not touching the ball offensively. Is that a reasonable reflection of their on-court contributions? Merely being a threat from the perimeter? And are they not already getting value from typically wide-open shots, created by those very same high-turnover teammates?
All valid questions, and I leave it to each owner to decide what they like best. The aspect of 9-cat leagues that really sells me is that it elevates low-end guys to fantasy relevance. Usage and playing time are already such dominant factors in determining fantasy worth, that I enjoy evening the playing field (so to speak). Even more, I love adding the ninth category to allow for more flexibility and nuance. Now you see more 5-4 victories, and unless a category or two are exactly tied, you always have a winner in head-to-head matchups. And in both H2H and roto leagues, turnovers open more possibilities to punt. If you punt FT% in an 8-cat league, you're conceding 12.5% of your team's potential value. In a 9-cat setting, that same strategy gives up 11.1%. It may not seem like much, but multiplied week after week it adds up quickly.
If you look at last week’s column about 8-cat value, the differences are illuminating. The most turnover-prone players, taking a big hit in this format, are a familiar and repetitive group. Here's the list of players in the top-20 for miscues per game over the past 15 years:
Russell Westbrook (six times)
James Harden (five times, including the highest at 5.7 in 2016-17)
DeMarcus Cousins (twice)
Dwyane Wade (twice)
LeBron James (twice)
Luka Doncic (once)
Trae Young (once)
John Wall (once)
As the list continues through the top-100, there's plenty more from those ultra-high-usage guys, and other commonly-appearing names include Devin Booker, Steve Nash, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, Deron Williams, and even Michael Carter-Williams. I'd forgotten how often MCW coughed it up early in his career, averaging 3.5 turnovers as a rookie and 3.8 in his second season between Philly and Milwaukee. Love them or hate them as a category, it’s illuminating to see how fantasy values rise or fall with their inclusion.
That will do it for this week's 9-cat retrospective! Again, you can find the top-500 list right here, and check back soon for the ‘legacy player’ edition, where we’ll see fun results like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar averaging 69.3 fantasy points in 1975-76 to lead all players. But could Kareem, Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon or anyone else dethrone Stephen Curry in 8-cat/9-cat? We’ll find out. If you have any questions or comments, you can always find me on Twitter @Knaus_RW.