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Pleasant Statistical Surprises of the 2018-2019 Season

FanDuel DraftKings daily fantasy basketball

In my last piece, I went over the most damaging stats of the season - certain stats that went heavily against what you drafted a certain player for and that could throw a serious wrench in your overall strategy.

This week, I'll take a look at the other side of that coin, surprising stats coming from unlikely sources. These are the players you drafted for something, that have surprisingly given you a little bit more somewhere else.

Let's get into it.

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Paul George and Russell Westbrook's Steals

As a function of the Thunder's switch happy defense and the length and athleticism of their personnel, OKC leads the league in steals and deflections by a decent margin and this has translated to fantasy, especially with the team's biggest stars. Westbrook and George are putting up an insane 2.1 and 2.3 steals respectively, and those numbers are keeping Westbrook afloat while pushing PG13 into a first round valuation - a big deal for those who were able to get him with a second round pick.

Both those steal numbers have carried z-scores over 2.5, which is high enough that these guys can single-handedly carry weeks in that category, and have allowed them to excel as pivots for big heavy strategies where they could make up for minimal investment in steals on the rest of your roster by producing this many themselves.

Is this sustainable?

Yes and no. Part of this is scheme - this is just the way the Thunder play defense and they will continue to do so. Length and athleticism serve as the backbone for this defense and that won't change. It's wrong not to anticipate at least a little regression though, as steal numbers that high are very hard to maintain. Just look at Victor Oladipo. He averaged over 2 steals per game last year, only to regress to a still excellent, but not nearly as eye popping 1.7 prior to his injury this season. With a slight drop down to something like 1.9 steals per game, both these guys' impacts in the category goes from a one-man carry to merely excellent, and that may have an impact on how much you need to invest in steals on a week to week basis.


Jusuf Nurkic's FT%

Usually my rough rule of thumb for when to classify a poor free throw shooter as a punt FT% guy or as someone whose deficiencies can be carried by the rest of your roster if he brings a lot else to the table is a z-score of -1 in that category.  I would almost never draft someone who has a z-score worse than that, unless I am running a punt FT% team.

Nurkic has gone from a -1.88 and -1.82 the last 2 years--clear punt FT% territory--to a very reasonable -0.19 this season. Crossing the -1 ft%V threshold by that much has really improved his overall versatility in terms of where he can fit in on certain teams. This has moved him into the same bucket as guys like John Collins and Jarrett Allen, players who can pivot for guard heavy builds without damaging your FT% too much.

Is this sustainable?

I don't see why not. Even Nurk's free throw attempts per game has gone up from 3.5 to 5.1. He's shooting a career best rate from the line by far even with a career high attempt rate, and it really seems like he's turned a corner with regards to his efficiency from the line. I think this version of Nurkic is the new normal.


DeMar DeRozan's Assists

DeRozan has always had his flaws as a fantasy player. He provides excellent value for 2 very hard to buoy stats in points and volume free throw shooting but suffers across the board everywhere else, notably, a near zero in 3 point shooting which is tough to stomach, especially from a guard.

Prior to the last 2 seasons, that dearth of supporting stats applied to assists as well. However, DeRozan has been given the biggest share of playmaking responsibility in his career due to the Spurs distinct lack of a true point guard, coupled with DeRozan's personal improvement as a ball handler and passer. This has led to a career high 6.4 assists per game, which puts him up there with a bunch of mid to high level point guards. His combination of stats is a truly unique mix, and the ability to contribute huge positives in three very hard to get stats make him a useful piece in a ton of different builds.

Is this sustainable?

For this season, it is definitely reasonable to expect this going forward as the Spurs situation is not going to change on a whim. While Derrick White has shown himself more than capable of starting at the point for the Spurs, he's also a very capable off-ball threat who has let DeRozan thrive as a primary ball handler. We will see next season how the Spurs figure to work Dejounte Murray back into the lineup with White, who has definitely earned himself playing time, but at least for this year, DeRozan's passing is here to stay.


Kyrie Irving's Steals and Blocks

Irving has hovered around the late first, early to mid second round range in most standard drafts, and the thing that has kept him out of being a surefire first round point guard is a lack of defensive stats when he brings so much total value to the table (especially that juicy high out of position FG%).

This season Irving has managed to up his steal rate back to the 1.5 mark he was posting earlier in his career while also posting the highest block rate of his career. This, along with his improved efficiency and an uptick in assists has raised him into clear first round territory, and that's where I expect him to go in drafts next season.

Is this sustainable?

I think the answer to this question depends a lot on where Kyrie ends up next season, as scheme matters a lot when it comes to defensive stats. A new home might disrupt the gains he's made in those categories this season. If he stays in Boston, I do believe that this will be the new normal, and should be accounted for such when valuing him before next season.


De'Aaron Fox's Field Goal Percentage

One of the biggest knocks on De'Aaron Fox's game coming out of college was his poor shooting. His poor free throw percentage (a good indicator of how shooting translates from college to the pros) didn't lend to too much confidence that he could be anything but a huge drain on that category in the NBA.

In his rookie year, Fox shot 41.2% from the field, which didn't help much to alleviate those doubts, but in his breakout sophomore year, Fox has leveraged his uber elite speed to become one of the best finishers at the rim for his position. That has translated to a field goal percentage that is almost a neutral impact - a stunning turn for a player who many though would be unplayable in non-punt FG% strategies.

Is this sustainable?

I don't see why not. Fox's breakout has all the makings of a star turn rather than a one year fluke, and he has shown many signs of developing into the elite player expected of him with his status as a high lottery pick. He's already one of the most exciting players in the league and definitely someone who will be a more flexible draft target than he was at the beginning of this season.

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