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Real or Not? Legitimate Stats from Guards - 2021-22 NBA Season Review: Darius Garland, Anthony Edwards, Will Barton

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We're still weeks away from the regular-season tip-off, and while there is a ton of hype about the incoming rookies, we still need to reflect on the 2021-2022 campaign and what happened just a few weeks and months ago. Things have finally settled when it comes to the NBA offseason timeline, so it's time to do some evaluation of the first (nearly) COVID-free year as we prepare for the 2023 season.

When it comes down to facing a fantasy draft, two numbers are often the most sought after by fantasy GMs: current ADP and overall rank from the prior season. No matter how experienced fantasy players are, those two numbers are thought of as the ultimate all-encompassing representations of every fantasy player's value. Knowing what he did in the league the last year and where he is getting drafted this season should be more than enough to make a reasonably good projection going forward, isn't it?

Turns out, those two numbers can be way misleading. Today, I'm here to focus on last season's stats from players labeled as Guards (PG/SG) in order to assess whether those numbers should be seen as real and solid going forward, or just as outliers with slim chances to be there when all is said and done by the end of the 2022-23 season. I'll be focusing on the former group, which is comprised of players whose statistics from last season should be trusted when it comes to drafting them ahead of next year. Let's get to it!

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Guards with Legitimate Fantasy Stats Worth Chasing in 2022-23

Darius Garland, PG - Cleveland Cavaliers

As ridiculous and under-the-radar as it might sound and most probably went, Garland improved in all statistical categories as a third-year player on top of an already-good sophomore year a couple of seasons ago. Other than a minus-.012 (I mean...) decrease in his 3P% from his second season to his third one, Garland was sublime on all other fronts and truly, finally, broke out and became a legit star in the NBA.

Garland--and his fantasy GMs by extension--hit paydirt no matter how you slice it. More than 40 FP per game? Check (41.0). Efficient per-minute game? Check (1.15 FP/min). Top-25 overall season? Check (24th-best fantasy player). Top-15 among G-eligible players? Check (top-11, that is). I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

The doubters are going to jump at you with the classic "but he didn't have competition as Caris LeVert didn't play for Cleveland the whole season and Collin Sexton got injured!" takes, which alright... Garland hasn't stopped improving in three consecutive years while always playing the same leading role (he's started 177 of 181 games playing 30.9+ MPG every season). His usage keeps increasing because the Cavs know he is their franchise guy, so they let him finish 24.9% of the plays in 2021 but 27.8% last year. It is what it is, and it is here to stay.

You can rely on Garland's numbers as much as you can bet on any other super start keeping up his production. Garland has posted back-to-back seasons of a 30+ AST% (in fact he finished at 39.9% last year) while also keeping his steal rate below 2% and raising his RBD% to above 5%. All of that manning the point, mind you. Hard to see him putting up a season-long dub-dub, but it's not unreasonable to think about a 21-8 repeat next year.

Anthony Edwards, SG - Minnesota Timberwolves

If you think Garland (read above) is getting better yearly, then don't even look at Ant Edwards' Basketball-Reference page. Oooofff, this young man. I have to admit that I was the first one to have doubts about Tony's future in the NBA and building a solid pro career (we'll see how that ends going, though, as he's not even 21 yet) after seeing him play at the HS level. He always seemed a bit disinterested, though that obviously had to do with how much better he was than his opposition at that level.

Edwards took all of six months to shut my mouth closed with a splendid rookie year in which he already turned a 30-OVR season and top-16 G in fantasy only to double down on those figures, finishing last year as a top-25 player among all men and a top-12 guard on top of that. A 20-year-old, second-year kid. Jesus Christ, the future ahead of Ant. The numbers didn't improve that much, but it's not that you can go much higher than posting a per-game 19-4-3-1 line... though he still raised the bar to a 21-5-4-1 nightly outcome.

While raising his numbers all across the board (most notably the assists, which is something very saucy going forward now that Rudy Gobert will be in the paint waiting for dimes to baby-dunk the rock), Ant's most encouraging numbers came from under the hood. He shot better from the field, the free-throw line, and beyond the arc. His TS% went up from 52.3% to 56%, an all-league mark. He also improved his per-minute production even though he played two more rounds of the clock a pop (from 32 MPG to 34).

The usage rate went down (barely) last year for Ant, but that shouldn't be the case next season and if it is, that'd only be because he'd be diming and assisting Gobert and KAT so it's not that that'd hurt him (lose some points, gain some assists). Edwards is legitimately looking like the complete package after spending just two years in the league. The sky is the limit for him, so you better be getting some shares before it's too late.

Will Barton, SG/SF - Washington Wizards

I have been following the Nuggets since Carmelo Anthony arrived in town all the way back in the summer of 2003. Such is life for Me7o stans, I guess. Anyway, I wasn't excitedly happy when the Nuggets grabbed Will Barton in 2015 from Portland and then proceeded to keep him in tow for seven seasons, but you bet by the end of this run, I am absolutely devastated after hearing the news of his departure (via trade, no less!) to Washington. Ugh.

Barton never was a bona fide superstar, nor even a star by the true meaning of it, but he was a hella solid player that could do it all both coming off the pine and starting games. Barton got to play the one, two, and three without the slightest problem manning all of those positions and performing the duties demanded from each of those roles. No complaints. He's been a 12+ PPG guy since he first arrived in Denver and for seven consecutive seasons. He's a fantastic rebounder with an average of 4+ RPG in all of those years too, and he's also posted 3+ APG in all but one of those years.

Now, when it comes to keeping up his numbers from 2022 next year, I don't have a doubt that not even the change of scenery and context will definitely not hamper his production. While only a hair above average in terms of per-minute production (0.91 FP/min last year), Barton has found his way to finish inside the top-40 G-eligible players three years in a row, and he averages nearly 30 FP per game these days.

Barton hoisted 12.6 shots from the field last year (virtually a career-high mark), yet he also hit them at a 43.8% clip while launching 6.1 of those from beyond the arc splashing 36.5% of them. All things considered, he finished with a sound and solid 54.8 TS%. The 32 MPG might be hard to get in Washington but he should slide straight into the starting SF slot so there is a chance for him to reach that playing time if he produces from the get-go.

Barton has been doing his thing for years while never commanding more than a reasonable 20% usage rate, so that's no concern. Not a shaky player when it comes to his rebound/assist/steal/block rates career-wise and with very stabilized marks on all of those cats, so even though he might not be a top-tier player, he's one of the most reliable, steady, and guaranteed performers out there for fantasy GMs.

Kevin Porter Jr., PG/SG - Houston Rockets

Can we all agree KPJ's soup stunt was a blessing in disguise for the Rockets and brought misery (not really, but you know what I'm saying) to Cleveland, forcing the Cavs to get rid of him? Houston took full advantage of the opportunity, snatched KPJ for peanuts, and is now looking at a more than capable combo-guard who can do it all and is barely past 20 years of age. Talk about ruthless business going on in Texas.

Not entirely an afterthought in Cleveland, KPJ's breakout year was definitely 2022. Now, can he keep it up? I bet he will. Porter played 32 MPG in 2021 and 31 MPG last year. The usage rate was pretty much the same at 25.4 and then 24.1 percent. The assist rate stayed the same at around 31% but both the rebound and steal rates went up from the year before last season. Encouraging and promising, at the very least.

With Porter shooting almost the double amount of field goals from his rookie season with the Cavs to his first one in Houston (14.1 FGA), it was reasonable to expect a downtick in efficiency: alas, the 52.8 TS%. That figure went a bit up last season (53.1%) while the shots stayed the same and the three-point volume was actually increased to 6.8 attempts per game, hitting a more than respectable 37.5% of them. I would expect a bounce back on the free-throw department on top of everything after KPJ shot 72 and 73% in his first two seasons but only 64% last year. That should positively regress.

Houston is slowly but surely building a stronger roster when it comes to the skill sets and actual abilities/level of their players, so even if the likes of Jalen Green and Jabari Smith will command more opportunities and touches, the fact is that being part of a stronger unit/context should also help KPJ's game and improvement. Bet on another jump up the fantasy scale from Porter, who already ranked into the top-80 OVR and top-40 G last year even though he missed 21 games over the year.

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