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What's Wrong with This NBA Star?


As we near the All-Star break, enough of the season has been played to take a critical eye on certain players who have not lived up to expectations. Today we're going to take a look at 3 guys who have greatly under-performed expectations, and try to decipher whether we have a buy-low opportunity or they're just a sunk cost for their current owners.

We can call these guys busts so far, but there is still enough calendar left for them to possibly turn it around. Will they? Or should you give up on them living up to their draft ranking this season?

ADP and current ranking numbers are taken from Yahoo! Fantasy Basketball.

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What's Wrong with This NBA Star?

Ricky Rubio – Preseason ADP: 43, Season (avg) Rank: 145, Season (total) Rank: 102

Ricky Rubio’s first season in Utah has been a bust by any stretch. Rubio has consistently been a top-50 type player over the last few years, on the back of a profile rich in assists and steals, two of the most valuable categories in the 9-cat game. Rubio also added a sprinkling of out of position rebounds, and was very good and highly underrated as a fantasy asset in years past.

Most people expected more of the same from Rubio – the Jazz might have taken a point guard early in the draft but rookie point guards usually take some time to adjust to the pro game, and the offense was Rubio’s to run. The Jazz also had a lot more shooting in their starting lineup than Rubio’s old Timberwolves teams, which made it seem like Rubio’s assist numbers would be safe. Things ended up playing out very differently.

The first hit to Rubio’s value was that rookie point guard, Donovan Mitchell, looking like a future star very early into his NBA career. Mitchell has been a revelation for the Jazz, and looks to be on a trajectory to becoming one of the elite point guards in the league. The Louisville product has displayed excellent scoring ability to go along with surprising efficiency for a rookie guard. Over the last month, Mitchell has scored 21.5 points on 45.3% shooting, a great level of play that has seen his minutes jump up to a well-deserved 36 a game.

Second, the change in offensive system has turned out to be a huge detriment to Rubio’s ability to rack up assists. In Minnesota, the starting lineup was bereft of any other passing talent, and the offense was run through Rubio bringing the ball up and setting up teammates. The assist numbers from the non-Rubio members of the Wolves’ starting lineup last year paint the story: KAT: 2.7, Wiggins: 2.3, Dieng: 1.9, Lavine: 3.0.

Utah coach Quin Snyder’s motion offense lends itself to a more even distribution of assist numbers, as it uses ball movement on the perimeter to generate open looks, and neutralizes the role of a traditional point guard. Joe Ingles has developed into a solid passer and is sitting at 4.6 assists per game, and Mitchell is handling the ball a lot too and sits at 3.7 apg himself. This has taken a huge bite out of Rubio’s assist numbers, as he’s down to 4.4, less than half of last season’s 9.1.

Can he turn it around?

It’s a no for me. The biggest issue here is that Rubio is now rating poorly on advanced metrics, despite being an analytics darling in past years. His previously underrated defense has slipped to average, and his skillset as a pass-first playmaker has effectively been neutralized to the point where, combining both sides of the ball, the Jazz have been 8.1 points better with Rubio on the bench than in the game.

Rubio is a previously good player, stuck in a poor situation for his skillset, and that combined with his game being a bit antiquated due to the lack of reliable range has neutered his value for this season. Rubio is not a drop candidate, even in this limited state, he is still a top-100 guy, but the days of top-40 value until he finds himself in a better situation.

 

John Wall – Preseason ADP: 11, Season (avg) Rank: 63, Season (t0tal) Rank: 92

This season has quietly been a down one for one of the most consistent fantasy producers of the last few years. Wall finished the last 4 seasons ranked 13, 12, 11, 11 and his 11.1 ADP on Yahoo made absolute perfect sense, as there was no reason to expect the Wiz triggerman to drop off.

Over halfway through the season, Wall has greatly under-performed preseason expectations, seeing key drops in scoring and assist numbers as well as posting the worst free throw percentage of his career as well as his worst field goal percentage since his rookie season.

The culprit for the low shooting percentage is a staggeringly inefficient mid-range game, with Wall hitting on only 29% of his mid-range jumpers, worse than his 35% mark from three. Wall has never been a fantastic mid-range shooter, but he still shoots a fairly high frequency of shots from that area. He's averaged between 35 and 40% on those shots over the last 5 years, but this year, the 29% mark would be the worst of his career, even worse than the 31% he posted his first two years in the league.

The free throw percentage has also been a problem, with Wall suffering a similar unexpected drop in free throws as Russell Westbrook. Wall has not been the greatest of free throw shooters for a guard, posting 4 sub-80% seasons in his career, but the 71.7% he has this season would easily be a career worst.

Wall's drop in assists and steals can partly be explained by just playing fewer minutes than he has in past years, as he has average 33.9 minutes a game vs around 36 the past 4 seasons.

Can he turn it around?

The 29% mid-range accuracy can not be the norm, and while it has been quite the extended cold streak, I would expect that number to be something closer to 35% for the rest of the season. With the mid-range falling at a more expected rate, Wall's FG% and points would trend back up to levels we're used to. The free throw shooting just seems like variance again, as a guy who hovers around the high-70s to low-80s can have a stretch where he shoots 72%. I think you can expect at least 75 for the rest of the season, and again, it will help his points as well. The minutes may stay down as coach Scott Brooks is finally learning to manage his stars' minutes better, but the efficiency looks pretty fluky so far, and Wall should have a second half more in line with what we expect.

 

George Hill - Preseason ADP: 77.6, Season (avg) Rank: 139, Season (total) Rank: 152

After flashing top-60 value in 49 games playing for the Utah Jazz last season, many expected George Hill to be the best player on a putrid Sacramento Kings team, taking over the reigns as the leader of the offense from... Buddy Hield?

Well, it's clear that hasn't happened at all, and it's really not making too much sense why it hasn't. While part of Rubio's struggles can be attributed to Donovan Mitchell putting up a fantastic rookie season, the King's own rookie point guard De'Aaron Fox hasn't been nearly as good out the gate as Mitchell has. Fox has dealt with injuries and has only averaged 26.6 minutes a game on the season so far, so he shouldn't have eaten into Hill's production as much as Mitchell has eaten into Rubio's.

Hill's shot profile and efficiency hasn't changed too much versus career norms as he's posting very close splits to last season with almost the same eFG% (55.3 vs 55.6). What's really gone wrong is the usage, as despite being an above average efficiency guard, he's only had a 16.7 usage rate on the season as opposed to 23.2 last year, which makes even less sense considering the talent, or lack thereof, surrounding him on the Kings' roster.

The other issue has been the erratic playing time, with Hill getting seemingly random maintenance days with random sub-20 minute outings sprinkled in. The Kings seem to be an organization that flip flops constantly on what they want they want their direction to be, and Hill has been a victim of this tire fire. This makes Hill even harder to start in weekly leagues, as you don't know when you're gonna run into a string of 19 minute outings for no rhyme or reason.

Can he turn it around?

Right now, the rumor is George Hill to Cleveland for Channing Frye and Iman Shumpert, and weirdly, being dealt to Cleveland would probably make Hill a more valuable asset. Normally, a player moving from a bad team to a much better team would mean a decrease in usage and production, but in Cleveland, Hill would at least have a defined role with consistent playing time. If he goes to Cleveland and Isaiah Thomas ends up being dealt, Hill could take over as the starting PG over the decrepit Derrick Rose and could hold solid top-100 value. This is a situation to monitor, and Hill could be a solid waiver pickup in a couple weeks if he has been dropped.

 

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