Defense Wins Fantasy Championships - A Mini-Study

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A new year means you get an excuse to try new things. But rather than promising to get fit or eat well, I’ve resolved to release my inner nerd. Today I want to focus on how the fantasy value of an NBA center can be correlated with his defensive prowess. Centers are important for fantasy because they are almost a sure way to dominate certain categories. Also in many season-long head to head categories, you are required to have certain roster slots for players with Center designation (so my plan to draft a bunch of guards early this year didn’t work out well ☹) By looking at advanced defensive statistics, I’m convinced that it can develop a player’s trajectory long term.

Points and shooting will come and go on hot nights, and can develop over time. But defense is fundamental, and it shows itself every night if a player has it. If my hypothesis holds true, defensive potential could help in future drafts or if a player changes teams (the trade deadline is impending). For example, Donovan Mitchell was known for his defensive skills (averaging 2.1 steals in his sophomore season at Louisville!!) and now as a rookie, he is a fantasy stud. Hold onto your seats as we dive into some numbers, amateur looking charts, and a few discoveries.

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The Correlation Between a Center’s Defensive Capabilities and His Fantasy Value

We are going to be looking at starting centers for each team in the league. If there are multiple centers on a roster, then the requirement is that they average 20+ minutes per game or they have gradually been seeing minutes close to that amount. The following are the statistics that we will use to draw conclusions: fantasy rank (determined by BasketballMonster), defensive rating (DR), defensive win shares (DWS), and fantasy rank punted for all except defensive stats (PuntRank).

The PuntRank value is only focusing on value from rebounds, steals, blocks, and turnovers. The value here is all about ensuring that the center can maintain the offensive possessions for his team. Initially, I wanted to look only at defensive rating, which is an estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions. However, DR depends a lot on the value of the team around the player, which is ok in fantasy, but could change as quickly as a roster changes or a player changes teams. Defensive win shares is a statistic that focuses on a individual’s contribution to the defense. It’s a bit complicated, but quite clever and worth looking up if you’re into that stuff!

This is a pretty standard expected trajectory; those providing the highest DWS have good fantasy value. Andre Drummond, Al Horford, DeMarcus Cousins, and Draymond Green have shown good footing early about 45% through the season.

There is less correlation with rank when testing on DR. You see players who rank lower on DR but still hold high fantasy value. This might mean that their team is hurting their DR (ex. Cousins slips quite a bit)

When looking at the effect of DWS and DR on Punt Rank. Players like Horford and Pau Gasol lose value while DeAndre Jordan sneak up higher. This is probably because offensive stats like free throw percentage are taken away from contention.

The results show that Drummond has a lot of surprising value as a late 3rd rounder, and could even improve as the Detroit Pistons get better. DR doesn’t seem to be that helpful of a statistic when looking at fantasy value. It would be interesting to revisit these ideas at the end of the season or expand the list of players to strong defensive players such as Avery Bradley, Andre Roberson, and Paul George. For future fantasy evaluation, don’t get too caught up in big scoring nights because focusing on how well a player does defensively could be an excellent gauge of fantasy input.

 

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