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We’re past the halfway mark of the season, and it’s about time to start looking at some numbers, both good and bad, that define what has been a frenetic first half of the NBA season.

It’s important to realize that certain stats take a very long time to normalize, and small sample size can still apply even this far into a player’s campaign. Remember that something like 3-point shooting takes a 750 sample size to before the results become statistically significant, making it extremely difficult to judge a player’s “true” expected 3-point percentage, especially when you take extra practice and mechanical improvements into account.

The best we can do is dig a little deeper and try to explain what we are seeing, and make decisions based on more than just taking numbers at face value. Let’s take a look at 3 interesting players this season, and try to figure out what to make of them.

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Hoosier Daddy – The Homecoming Breakout

Victor Oladipo PG/SG – Indiana Pacers (24.6ppg 2.6 3/g, 5.5rpg, 4.1apg, 1.9spg, 0.9bpg 49.1fg%, 78.8ft%, 3.0to/g)

Oladipo has been this season’s biggest breakout star, no questions asked. The Pacers guard will probably play in his first all-star game this February, and has so far been the 10th ranked player in 8-cat leagues, greatly exceeding his mid-50s ADP.

My first inclination was that Oladipo has been more aggressive at attacking the basket this season, getting to the rim more and attempting more shots inside, but that actually has not been the case. Oladipo’s shot profile looks very similar to last season’s, with 32% of his shot attempts coming from the rim vs 31% last year, 36% vs 33% midrange and 33% vs 36% from 3. Diving a bit deeper, the only noticeable change is a decrease in corner 3s, making up 4% of his shot attempts vs 12% last year, which makes sense as Dipo was miscast as a spot-up shooter in last years’ Thunder starting lineups.

The biggest real boon for Oladipo is that he’s combined an increased usage rate (from 20.6 to 30.8) with a rediscovery of his great foul-drawing ability from earlier in his career. In his first and second year, Oladipo ranked in the top quarter of the league in drawing contact, getting fouled on 13.3% and 11.6% of his shot attempts respectively. Curiously, those rates dropped to 9.3% and 7.2% in year 3 and 4, but Oladipo is back to being near elite in that category, drawing contact on 11.6% of shot attempts this season.

The extra trips to the line add to his bottom line in the points category and also helps to prop up his FG% a bit and the increased usage has greatly helped his assists numbers. Dipo also has seen his steal rate move back to career norms and that has been a boon for his value as well. Those things are all real. What is bound to regress a bit is the 3-pt percentage, as Oladipo is shooting 6% better from three this year despite being assisted on only 55% of them versus 89% last season. He’s a career 36% three-point shooter, and it’s highly unlikely for a player to improve their 3-pt accuracy that much when taking that many more shots off the bounce vs catch-and-shoots.

This means any regression we can expect from Oladipo will come from FG% and 3pm. I would expect something closer to 46-47% rather than the 49% he currently has ROS, and something like 2.4 3pm vs the 2.6 he has now. For the most part though, Oladipo’s breakout is real, and even with a little bit of regression, you still have yourself a steal.

 

Grit And Grind No More – Marc’s Odd Makeover

Marc Gasol C – Memphis Grizzlies (18.4ppg 1.4 3/g, 8.5rpg, 4.0apg, 0.7spg, 1.6bpg 41.8fg%, 82.9ft%, 3.0to/g)

If you only looked at where Marc Gasol’s place in the rankings sits, you’d think this was another typical season for one of the most consistent fantasy performers of the last few years, but this season has been anything but normal for the big Spaniard. He’s still performing as the top-30 asset we’re all accustomed to, but he’s done it this season in very different ways than he usually has.

The first number that jumps out is Gasol’s punt-level field goal percentage. Getting 41.8% on 15.1 attempts per game from your center almost forces you into a punt FG% build and most people who drafted Gasol didn’t expect that to be the case. The danger with Gasol’s line this season is that, while he’s still returning the value you expected as a whole, his profile as a fantasy asset is very different from what we’re accustomed to, and many who drafted their teams with a certain strategy in mind thought a typical Gasol season would fit their build, but now have a player who isn’t a great fit with what they’re doing.

While most people would think that Gasol’s struggles from the field can be attributed to him shooting more 3s and expanding his range, that only tells a part of the story. Gasol’s 3-point attempts aren’t up that much from last season, he’s shooting 25% of his shots from 3 vs 21% last year. He was hitting his 3s at a 39% clip last season and has saw that number drop to 34%, a drop for sure, but those two things combined don’t make up for a drop in FG% so big, that it can turn a center into a worse FG% drag than most guards.

The bigger contributor to the drop is Gasol not having Mike Conley for most of the season. The Conley/Gasol pick-and-roll has been a large part of Memphis’ offense for as long as this team has been together, and missing Conley for such a long stretch of time has really shone a light on Gasol’s shortcomings as a primary option.  The Grizzlies have been almost 10 points per 100 possessions worse with Gasol on the court than off, a startling number that is largely due to massive drops in efficiency inside.

Gasol is shooting 4% worse at the rim and 11% worse from short mid-range, a large byproduct of losing the efficient looks he got before with Conley running the attack, as he started the season around his normal shooting numbers before Conley got hurt. What’s keeping his value afloat is a career high 8.5 rebounds per game, as well as trying a career high with 1.6 blocks a game. This has been a byproduct of Gasol playing more stay at home defense in the paint, supported by a career high 21.1% of opponents’ missed field goals rebounded.

Gasol is a huge example of how a players’ fantasy profile can change. It’s just not every day that a player can get a complete makeover, and maintain a ranking that looks so similar. While Gasol can’t be called a draft bust this season based on what he’s returned overall, he could be stealthily sinking teams for owners who weren’t ready for this change, and have been trying to fit a square peg into a circular hole all season.

 

Nurked Efficiency – The Breakout That Wasn’t

Jusuf Nurkic C – Portland Trail Blazers (14.6ppg 0.0 3/g, 8.0rpg, 1.9apg, 0.7spg, 1.2bpg 45.8fg%, 64.2ft%, 2.6to/g)

The conventional wisdom during draft season was that Jusuf Nurkic was poised for a breakout if he could A) avoid injury, and B) stay out of foul trouble. Nurkic has remained healthy for the majority of this season and has cut his foul rate from 4.5 fouls per 36 minutes post trade to 4.1, but his production so far is still leaving a lot to be desired, as Nurkic hasn’t even been a top-100 player so far this season despite being drafted as a top-60 guy with upside.

The first sore spot in his profile is the efficiency numbers. The low 60s free throw percentage was expected and fits the norm, but it’s the low field goal % and high turnovers for a center that’s working as an anchor for his overall value. Lack of a 3-point shot and a troubling trend in shot distribution has Nurk ranking in the bottom 7% in effective field goal %, a putrid 45.8% mark that looks even worse when it’s attached to a center.

Nurkic is shooting 47% of his shots from midrange on below average efficiency, way up from 30% last season. While Nurkic has never been a good finisher at the rim, with a well below average 57% conversion rate, he is only hitting 38% of his midrange shots, and the large increase in his attempts from there is keeping his overall FG% much lower than it should be. This shot profile leads to Nurkic ranking in the bottom 10% in points per shot attempt, at an anemic 99.6, and the danger is how much longer a team with playoff aspirations like Portland can continue handing him a 28.1 usage rate.

Nurkic is a restricted free agent at the end of this season and there may come a point where Portland realizes he’s not part of their future plans if he doesn’t improve certain facets of his game, and without the high usage and good minutes propping up his counting stats, his value could weaken as the season progresses and Portland looks to feed more efficient options.

In addition to those problems, Nurkic’s tantalizing per-36 defensive numbers have not translated well with the additional playing time he’s received. In his Denver days, he looked like a per-minute beast, averaging 1.6 steals/36 and 2.9 blocks/36 during the 2015-2016 season. Those numbers are now 1.0 and 1.6, which would be fine if he was averaging 32 minutes a game, but his offensive shortcomings and high foul tendencies limit him closer to 27-28, and thus, his defensive numbers are not living up to the promise many felt he had.

Nurkic is still only 23 years old, and he could definitely improve on his weaknesses and add new dimensions to his game and become a better player, but most of us in redraft leagues don’t have the time to wait for him to reach his potential.

 

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