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Real or Not? Misleading Stats from Centers - 2021-22 NBA Season Review: Robert Williams, Mo Bamba, Bobby Portis

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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 Centers 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 latter group, which is comprised of players whose statistics from last season should not be trusted when it comes to drafting them ahead of next year. Let's get to it!

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Centers with misleading fantasy stats worth fading in 2022-23

Robert Williams III, C - Boston Celtics

It'd be very reductive to boil Williams' uptick in production from 2021 to the 2022 season down to his increased playing time, but that's pretty much the main reason. Fantasy sports are based on total/counting statistics (with the exception of niche cats such as shooting percentage) most of the time, and that's why players like RW3 were only off-the-wire viable options for fantasy GMs a couple of years ago, but a bona fide starter last season and going forward.

Williams was good last year, but he's not the über efficient player we came to know him as when he hit the league for the first time. Williams' playing time increased 57% in MPG over his 2021 average (from fewer than 19 to nearly 30 minutes a pop) and he also started all 61 games he played compared to 13 of 51 in 2021.

The only thing that might save William's legitness a bit is the fact that his usage actually went down from an already low 15% (to 11%), but it's not that the offensive side of the game ever was Williams' bread and butter.

RW3 will still be a good option among big men, but his numbers barely got that much up while the increase in playing time was substantial. Yes, he finished the year 97th OVR and as a top-20 center, but his FP/min was from superstar levels (1.27 in 2021) to good-not-great averages (1.04), while his baseline didn't improve a lot going from an 8-7-2-1-2 line to a slightly improved 10-9-2-1-2 last season. The price (ADP) will get incredibly high but it's not that the improvement was sublime.

Precious Achiuwa, C - Toronto Raptors

While Williams (read above) saw an uptick in MPG that was incredibly high, Achiuwa was the poster boy of such a raise in minutes: nearly a 100% increase (in other words, double) from 2021 (12.1 MPG) to his figure from the 2022 campaign (23.6). There is still room for growth on that front, at least until reaching the 30+ MPG, but that doesn't look like it's going to happen in Toronto with such a crowded room as the one in Toronto.

Every minimally relevant sophomore is always going to improve, so it's not that we're discovering anything new here. That said, though, this is the classic case that merits highlighting as a warning for future fantasy GMs betting on suddenly "improving" players.

Achiuwa was good to inflate his numbers because of his added opportunities, but it's hard to see the USG% not dropping further down (from 19.5% to 18.5% last year) if he keeps gaining playing time, which wouldn't help him at all.

That's because Achiwua might have reached his offense-contributing ceiling in 2022 in terms of volume: 8.3 FGA and 2.1 3PA adorned his per-game line, figures hard to see going much higher considering the players he shares the floor with now that he's more of an in-and-out starter. The FG% went down from his rookie season's mark so the larger dose of shots might actually get cut down a bit, and even though he raised all of his averages, his PER went down and so did his TS% because of the nonsensical three-point-taking volume.

Bobby Portis, PF/C - Milwaukee Bucks

Portis fits the "more volume, more goodies" role to a tee. While he didn't really play many more games than in 2021, nor really averaged those many more minutes per game (from 21 to 28), he still found himself on a Brook Lopez-less starting lineup in 59 of his 72 games played and got to hoist 12+ FGA per game along with 4.5+ 3PA. Those two latter marks accounted for 33% and 94% increases compared to the shots he took in 2021. In other words, he went from attempting nine to 12 FGA, and from two to nearly five 3PA a day.

Of course, the points went up, but only a bit as to really merit paying for that volume, with his PPG average hitting 14.6 compared to his 2021 11.4 PPG. Milwaukee will have Lopez back starting at the C even though they have handed Portis a four-year deal, and it'd make sense for the Bucks to tell Bobby to calm down a bit when it comes to his wild shooting of late.

At the end of the day, more volume didn't really mean (that many) more points for him as the percentages cratered from a split line of 52.3/47.1/74.0 in 2021 to a rather mediocre 47.9/39.3/75.2 last season.

The top-11 finish among true C fantasy players was extraordinary, and he's probably going to regress to the mid-20s next year with a downtick in opportunities and more reasonable/regressed-to-the-mean numbers on all fronts. In fact, Portis' rebound% went down a tick from 17.9% to 17.2% while he also lowered his assist rate (7.4% to 6.4%) and didn't help that much on offense even though he got to use 0.4%+ possessions compared to his 2021 figure.

Mo Bamba, C - Orlando Magic

The Magic have drafted Paolo Banchero (considering him a PF, consider him a C – he can do it all) so that's the main obstacle on Bamba's road to a repeat in 2022. Even then, Orlando opted to re-sign Bamba this summer after he entered free agency (a surprising decision as the consensus opinion has it), so the Magic surely has a plan to use him in the works. Anyway, the touches and opportunities (for rebounding, for scoring, for diming even) will definitely go down and so will the MPG.

Bamba played pro basketball for the fourth time last season and finally broke out logging nearly 26 MPG compared to his stupid 16 MPG from the 2021 season. That alone helped him reach 10.6 PPG instead of falling below the double-digit barrier. He added some blocks to his per-game average, some rebounds, some assists, and some steals on top of everything – the only substantial increase happened in the rebounding department, though, going from 5.8 RPG to 8.1.

The increased playing time brought Bamba's efficiency down, though, from 1.24 FP/min two years ago to a good-not-great 1.06 figure last season. The usage cratered to almost 17% as part of the first unit, and although that should bounce back up with a second-unit role it's not that it will be an automatic boost to his numbers – just peep at his fantasy-mediocre 2021 campaign. The rebounding rates went from 19% to 16.5% last season and although he blocked more shots per game, the BLK% also went down notably from 7.3% to just 5.9% in 2022.

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