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Fantasy Basketball Strategy: Analyzing and Projecting Usage Rates

Mikal Bridges - NBA DFS Lineup Picks, Daiy Fantasy Basketball

Usage rate is best defined as an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while on the floor. In its simplest form, it measures how many of a team's total possessions a player ends by way of a free throw, field goal, or turnover. In layman's terms, it tells us who has the ball in their hands the most.

As it relates to fantasy basketball, players with the highest usage rates typically provide the most fantasy value. As a matter of fact, Josh Lloyd, the lead fantasy analyst over at Basketball Monster, pulled two years' worth of tracking data and found that there was a pretty decent correlation between a player's usage rate and the number of fantasy points they score.

The correlation was stronger in points leagues versus category leagues but overall it shouldn't come as a surprise (Josh has a fantastic video on this data and other important stat correlations in fantasy basketball. It's a must-watch if you desire to sharpen your fantasy hoop skills. I will link it here.)

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers received five total writing awards and 13 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association, tops in the industry! Congrats to all the award winners and nominees including NBA Writer of the Year, Best NFL Series, MLB Series, PGA Writer and Player Notes writer of the year. Be sure to follow their analysis, rankings and advice all year long, and win big with RotoBaller! Read More!

 

2022-2023: Top-15 Usage Rates

To further understand just how much usage rates can influence fantasy production, let's take a closer look at last year's usage rate leaders. As you can see, the table below is essentially just a conglomerate of elite fantasy guys. Coincidence? I think not.

Rank Player Usage Rage (%)
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo 37.3%
2. Joel Embiid 37.0%
3. Luka Doncic 36.8%
4. Ja Morant 33.8%
5. Damian Lillard 33.1%
6. LeBron James 32.2%
7. Jayson Tatum 31.9%
8. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander 31.8%
9. Trae Young 31.3%
10. Devin Booker 31.1%
11. Donovan Mitchell 31.0%
12. Jaylen Brown 30.7%
13. Brandon Ingram 30.6%
14. Kevin Durant 30.5%
15. Stephen Curry 29.7%

Now that we've established that higher usage rates are often tied to better fantasy production, it's worth noting that the inverse is true as well. A decrease in usage can absolutely lead to a decrease in fantasy value. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand that fewer shots and fewer free throws lead to fewer points and ultimately less production. This is especially true in points leagues.

After taking an early look at the 2023-2024 fantasy basketball landscape, I'm convinced there are a few guys who could see their usage rate impacted next season. Let's start with players on the rise first!

 

Players On The Rise

Jerami Grant, Portland Trail Blazers
2023 Usage Rate - 22.8%

There's a good chance that Damian Lillard isn't a Blazer next season, and if that's the case, it means 21 shots are up for grabs in Portland. Sure, a good chunk of that will be divvied out between Scoot Henderson, Shaedon Sharpe, and Anfernee Simons, but Jerami Grant has a real shot to see the biggest boost here. Especially after Portland comically inked him to a five-year, $160M extension on the first day of free agency. Remember, Grant is only two years removed from filling in as the alpha on a poor Pistons squad that led to 17.3 FGA, 6.4 FTA, and a 28.5% usage rate.

Mikal Bridges, Brooklyn Nets
2023 Usage Rate - 22.6%

It was a tale of two teams for Bridges last season. His modest 19.2% usage rate with the Suns quickly ballooned to 30.3% once he was traded to Brooklyn. And it makes sense. After playing fourth fiddle to Devin Booker, Chris Paul, and Deandre Ayton in Phoenix, he served as the bonafide alpha for the Nets. Looking ahead to next season, there really isn't a reason to expect anything different. Barring a major offseason trade, the Nets seem content building around Bridges as the focal point of this team.

Something to be mindful of, however, is that Bridges' ability to scale the rankings in fantasy has always been tied to his high efficiency and low turnovers. In Phoenix, that was a piece of cake to achieve due to his low usage. That is no longer the case anymore. So, while his increased role and usage should ultimately increase his fantasy value, the trade-off to lower efficiency should keep us from getting ahead of ourselves when evaluating him this offseason.

John Collins, Utah Jazz
2023 Usage Rate - 17.1%

It was a rough season for Collins. He regressed in nearly every major category and saw the lowest usage rate of his career. A trade to the Jazz, however, could be just what the doctor ordered. He'll now go from playing with the usage hog that is Trae Young (31.3%) to a youthful Utah team with Lauri Markkanen and Jordan Clarkson as their primary usage guys. I wouldn't expect career-high usage from Collins, but odds are he bumps up closer to his career rate of around 20-22%. And that's all he needs to get back to the top 50-ish player he once was a couple of seasons ago.

Derrick White, Boston Celtics
2023 Usage Rate - 17.7%

White saw a 21.5% usage rate over his final season and a half with the Spurs, only to watch that number shrink to 17.9% in Boston. It's understandable, as the Celtics are a contending team, and their franchise has relied heavily on Jayson Tatum (31.9%), Jaylen Brown (30.7), and Marcus Smart (17.8%) over the years. Last year's addition of Malcolm Brogdon certainly didn't help matters either, as he stepped right into a sizable role off the bench and commanded a 22.8% usage rate of his own.

That will not be the case next season, however, as Smart's departure should open up more opportunities in the Celtics' backcourt. I fully expect White to enter the starting lineup and there is a legitimate path for him to see excess of 30 minutes a night. If that's the case, will that be enough to catapult him back to the 21% usage he saw during his final 49 games in San Antonio?

 

Players On The Decline

Kristaps Porzingis, Boston Celtics
2023 Usage Rate - 27.4%

This season was truly a great one for Porzingis. With Bradley Beal in and out of the lineup, he was the de facto top dog in Washington and the extra workload led to a 27.4% usage rate. Now in Boston, that number will almost certainly decline. The aforementioned duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown each cleared 30% usage last season, meaning Porzingis will easily be relegated to the 3rd option on offense.

While he'll still provide fantasy-friendly numbers, we should expect his usage to resemble that of his earlier playing days and hover closer to 24%.

Keldon Johnson, San Antonio Spurs
2023 Usage Rate- 27.9%

It was a career year for Johnson, but that was kind of by default, right? I mean, with the Spurs 'tanking for Wemby' someone had to take shots. He made sure to take full advantage though, chucking up 17.7 shots a night en route to a 27.9% usage rate. Now with Wembanyama front and center, I don't see a world in which Johnson comes close to that much usage. As a matter of fact, I'd say there are greater odds that he comes off the bench over him seeing 27% usage again. Not to mention he was rather inefficient, shooting 45% from the field and 33% from downtown.

Outside of Wemby's emergence, the Spurs also added Reggie Bullock and Cedi Osman to go along with second-year Jeremy Sochan and a healed Devin Vassell. Johnson is looking more and more like someone I won't have many shares of this season.

Bradley Beal, Phoenix Suns
2023 Usage Rate - 29.2%

It feels blasé to include Beal on this list because it's kind of obvious that joining a team with Kevin Durant and Devin Booker will lead to fewer shots. But really, it's as simple as that. Each of Durant (30.5%) and Booker (31.1%) saw hefty usage last season and Deandre Ayton (22.9%) is somehow still in town. It's more likely that all four will sacrifice some usage this season, but I'd be thoroughly surprised to see Beal get back to the 29.2% he saw with the Wizards.

That said, his skill set should still allow him to flirt with top 50 numbers, it just may come packaged with less upside than in previous years.

Terry Rozier, Charlotte Hornets
2023 Usage Rate - 26.9%

On paper, Rozier's 26.9% usage rate looks impressive. But after a closer look, you'll see that this number was buoyed by two things: LaMelo Ball's fickle availability and the absence of Miles Bridges. As a matter of fact, Bridges' availability has had a substantial effect on Rozier's usage dating back a couple of seasons. In 2020-2021, Rozier's usage increased nearly 2.5% in games played without Bridges, and in 2021-2022 that number ballooned to a near-5% surge. Not only is Bridges expected back at the conclusion of his 10-game suspension, but Charlotte will also add Brandon Miller to this offense. If Ball can stay healthy, and Bridges is 90% his former self, Rozier could easily lose 4-5 shots per game and that would certainly lead to a decreased usage rate. For what it's worth, a regression to the 22-23% range seems like a healthy expectation.



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