Fantasy basketball is frozen in time while we await the resumption of the 2019-20 season, and right now there are more questions than answers. Will the NBA resume play without fans in arenas? How much time would be required for players to regain peak conditioning? If the season does restart and goes into August or September, when would the 2020-21 season begin? Failing all else, could the current season really end without crowning a champion?
In the face of such uncertainty, it’s a relief to turn to what we do know – the past. The Rotoworld crew has convened to discuss fantasy values over the past 15 years, from the 2005-06 season to this year, evaluating thousands of individual players’ seasons. Today, the focus is on points leagues. With such a large sample size at our disposal, we can identify trends in fantasy values for future use, such as the fact that big men have been more prevalent among elite points-league players. We can marvel at outliers like Devin Harris’ terrific 2008-09 season with the Nets and applaud the fantasy metronomes in our midst – LeBron James and Chris Paul are both on the points-league list for all 15 seasons under review.
We can state with confidence that the Warriors have produced as much top-tier fantasy value as any other team over the past 15 years, but we can also just sit back and enjoy the time-capsule element of this analysis. When looking at the top-500 players for points-league value over the past 15 years (an elite group, with an average of 33.3 players per season), Josh Smith appeared seven times. That’s as many appearances as Stephen Curry (who didn’t make the points-league cut in 2009-10 or 2010-11), Anthony Davis, Paul George or DeMarcus Cousins. Before looking at the results, a quick clarification as to how exactly I’ve arrived at these numbers.
The rankings are based on per-game statistics for the past 15 years. Every player and every season are included, which is why you’ll see LeBron James’ name 15 times. I ditched every player-season that didn't meet two simple requirements – at least 40 games played and at least 20 minutes per game. That got rid of 3,834 individual seasons, but still left 3,296 under consideration. The list of guys who were cut immediately is fun to scroll through in itself. It's easy to forget Dan Gadzuric's two-game stint with the Knicks in 2011-12, Maceo Baston's time with the Pacers and Raptors, or the later years of Bobby Simmons' career – he was actually a great fantasy asset in the 2005-06 range due to solid steals and efficiency. At the time, I viewed him as a sort of Corey Maggette-lite.
The points-league setting at use is the NBA's official fantasy scoring system, which is also the default for Yahoo, FanDuel and other major sites. If you're not already familiar with the setup, here is how stats are scored:
As you can see, percentages don't count and there's no bonus for 3-pointers made. These two scoring lines have identical value:
25 points on 11-of-26 FGs and 3-of-9 FTs
25 points on 6-of-6 FGs and 7-of-7 FTs, with five 3-pointers
Turnovers are detrimental, but the impact is far less than it would be in 9-cat leagues. Because percentages and turnovers are given so little weight (or none at all), highly efficient players tend to suffer. At the same time, high-usage, counting-stat guys benefit.
Defensive stats are also less important, at least for specialist appeal. If James Harden chips in a block and two steals to go along with his 35/10/8 line, that's icing on the cake. However, a guy like Marcus Camby, Myles Turner, Mitchell Robinson or Serge Ibaka can't rely on a huge boost in blocks to carry their value. Averaging 3.0 blocks per game is terrific for 8-cat/9-cat purposes, but that nets you a modest 9.0 fantasy points in this setting – the same as a guy averaging 7.5 rebounds or 9.0 points per game.
Note: I’m including the top-200 below. Click here to view/download the top-500 list with additional stats and “historical” players added to the mix.
|POINTS LEAGUE Rank||Name||Points League Value (per game)||Year|
|POINTS LEAGUE Rank||Name||Points League Value (per game)||Year|
Due to the fantasy-points format (described earlier) it’s no surprise that the top-500 in this analysis excludes most seasons from efficiency-reliant players like Rashard Lewis, Al Horford and Khris Middleton. It also leaves out many category specialists. Not only the aforementioned shot-blockers, but also low-usage guards like Jason Kidd, Steve Nash and Ricky Rubio. The cut-off for top-500 in this analysis was an average of 35.0 fantasy points per game (that was Spencer Dinwiddie this season), and for top-200 it was 41.4 fantasy points (Pau Gasol in 2015-16). Jason Kidd had a great season with the Mavs in 2008-09, for instance, but he averaged only 9.0 points with a 13.5% usage rate (the same thing happened in 2009-10 with 10.3 points and 15.1% usage).
And you can forget about roto specialists who contribute a bit everywhere but don't hurt you, such as Shane Battier, P.J. Tucker, Otto Porter and Trevor Ariza. It would require a subtle points-league setup to accurately capture their contributions, whereas this is more of a blunt-force scoring system. That approach to fantasy value isn't inherently good or bad, and it certainly simplifies things for DFS purposes, so it's a 'to each their own' situation. By comparing these past-15-year lists (8-cat and 9-cat to follow), you can judge for yourself which fantasy system most accurately captures player values.
I’ll reflect on some takeaways from this massive group of elite points-league performances, but for another perspective I turned to my colleague Steve Alexander. After perusing the results of this analysis, he wrote the following:
“It’s no secret that guys like Russell Westbrook and James Harden are points-league monsters but seeing it in black and white (and green) is eye opening. Westbrook’s 2016-17 season is clearly one of the best of all time, although it’s tough to look back too far since some stats weren’t officially recorded until the seventies or eighties. But the bottom line is that the 2016-17 season from Westy, when he averaged a career-high 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, 10.4 assists, 1.6 steals and a career-high 2.5 3-pointers, was one for the ages. I’d be curious to see how many teams that won the whole thing that year had Westbrook on them. He also played 81 games, which is a key, and the closest he’d ever come to 2.5 3-pointers a game in his career was in 2018-19 when he averaged 1.6 triples per game. That 2016-17 campaign was a perfect storm for Westbrook, and Harden’s 2018-19 season (when he averaged a career-high 36.1 points, 6.6 rebounds, 7.5 assists, a career-high 2.0 steals, 0.7 blocks and a career-high 4.8 3-pointers in 78 games) was right behind him.
Giannis Antetokounmpo has the third and fifth best points-league seasons in the last 15 years, Harden has two of the Top 4 and Anthony Davis has the sixth best season in recent history. Out of the Top 20 points-league seasons since 2005, LeBron James has five of them, Harden has four, Westbrook and Davis had three of them, Giannis has two, while Dwyane Wade, Joel Embiid and DeMarcus Cousins all did it one time. So, while Westbrook and Harden have set the standard, good ol’ LeBron has been a model of consistency over the long haul and was having an MVP-caliber season when things came to a halt this year.
Luka Doncic kicks off the next 20 with his current season, which isn’t even done yet. And now that he’s had time to get healthy, he should finish in a flurry and could end up in the Top 15 overall, assuming the season reconvenes at some point this summer or fall. I think I’ve spent enough time honoring Luka over the last two years, so I’m just going to leave it at that. I can’t wait to see how many of the Top 20 points seasons he ends up with when it’s all said and done.
Westbrook comes in at No. 22 while LeBron took home the title in the next three slots with his stellar 2019-20, 2012-13 and 2018-19 seasons. LeBron holds five more of the top seasons in the second 20, giving him a total of 10 of the Top 40 points-league seasons since 2005. What a monster.
We also see a couple throwbacks in the second 20 with Kobe Bryant’s 2005-06 season coming in at 26 overall and Allen Iverson making an appearance at No. 37. And unsung hero DeMarcus Cousins has also proven to be a points-league beast over the years with four appearances in the Top 40.
I was a little surprised to see Stephen Curry only show up once in the Top 40 with his 2015-16 season when he compiled the 39th best season since 2005. Looking outside the Top 40 some surprising performances included Elton Brand at No. 53 in 2005-06, Shawn Marion at No. 59 in 2005-06, and Dwight Howard checking in at No. 58 and 62 when he was in his prime. Additionally, Trae Young’s current season has been good enough for No. 67 overall and he should have some time to improve on that number before the end of the season.”
I’m truly amazed that Steve didn’t devote his entire response to Luka’s 2019-20 season. It’s worth remembering that the kid just turned 21 years old on Feb. 28. There’s not much more you can say about the dominance of guys like LeBron James, James Harden and Russell Westbrook on this list. If anything, it simply hammers home how important it is to land a top fantasy draft pick – the same guys just keep showing up at the top, and 10 years from now we’ll see tons of Doncic and Giannis Antetokounmpo in the top-20, too. Given that this is a points league, the results are even more uniform than you’d see in 8-cat/9-cat formats (coming soon) – the top spots skew heavily toward high-usage players with massive counting stats, which is why Luka’s 14 triple-doubles this season are so enticing.
Just because they’re not at the top of the list doesn’t mean we should ignore other ultra-reliable players throughout the past 15 years, including Chris Paul (15 appearances in the top 500) and Carmelo Anthony (12). CP3’s brilliance translates to all fantasy formats, and he’s the only guy to appear 15 times on all three lists I compiled – 8-cat, 9-cat and points. He’s somehow guided the Thunder to a would-be playoff berth this season, too, a feat of leadership and talent that deserves more attention. On the other hand, a guy like Carmelo benefited enormously from this scoring-heavy fantasy format – amazingly, he’s on this list 12 times but makes only one appearance in the top-500 for 9-cat value over the past 15 years. Other points-league metronomes included Pau Gasol (10), Tim Duncan (eight) and Al Jefferson (eight), the last of whom was a fantasy monster even if his real-world success never really clicked – he was never an All-Star and never made it out of the first round of the playoffs.
Guys I did not expect to see inside the top-250 include Chris Kaman (2007-08), Domantas Sabonis (this season) and David Lee (2009-10). That season for Kaman was a true outlier, with averages of 15.7 points, 12.7 rebounds and 2.8 blocks – nowhere else in his 13-year career did he average more than 9.6 boards or 1.5 blocks. David Lee was an automatic 20-point, 10-rebound guy for a while, and he dished a career-high 3.6 assists per game in 2009-10 with the Knicks. The only real knock against him was a lack of shot-blocking (peaked at 0.6 per game), and toward the end of his career his games played fell off a cliff – from 2007-2011, though, he averaged a mere 3.0 DNPs per season.
In upcoming columns about 8-cat and 9-cat, there will be more time to examine individual players and tease out distinctions between fantasy scoring systems. To conclude this points-league retrospective, I’ll provide some tables regarding the top-500 players. First, we have a lengthy list of players and how many times they’ve appeared in the top-500 over the past 15 years. There are 132 players included, which means an average of 3.8 appearances per player.
|POINTS LEAGUES # of Appearances in Top-500 (past 15 years)|
|Metta World Peace||3|
The second table shows which teams contributed the most players to this list – New Orleans (as both the Hornets and Pelicans) is tied with Golden State at the top. Seattle’s last-place finish doesn’t count, so the teams represented least in the top-500 are the Bulls and Pacers. For Chicago, that means Jimmy Butler (three times), Pau Gasol (twice), Joakim Noah (twice), Zach LaVine (twice) and Derrick Rose (once). For the Pacers, it’s been Paul George (four times), Danny Granger (twice), Jermaine O’Neal (twice), Victor Oladipo (once) and Domantas Sabonis (once).
|POINTS LEAGUES # of Players in Top-500 (past 15 years)|
The final table shows the dispersion of position eligibility across this top-500 group. I’m using ESPN’s multi-position eligibility, which yields an average of 1.65 positions per player. It’s not surprising to see that power forwards are readily available, especially since anyone who can average 20/10 is basically a lock for the list – that’s a baseline of 32 fantasy points, with any defensive stats and assists as a bonus. I was surprised to see SGs and SFs so relatively scarce. There are only 62.7% as many SGs in the top-500 as there are PFs, for instance. Your early-round picks in a points-league draft are probably straightforward, but when in doubt this analysis implies you should skew toward big men.
POINTS LEAGUES # of Positions in Top-500 (multi-eligibility, past 15 years)
Again, click here to access the full top-500 ranks for points leagues, and stay tuned for 8-cat and 9-cat analyses in the coming days. And if you have any questions or insights, you can always find me on Twitter @Knaus_RW.