FIWK the NBA - Outperformers vs. Underperformers

It's NBA mid season recap time!  Who has destroyed expectations?  Who has destroyed fantasy seasons?  Let's investigate.  (Spoiler: I am going to say LARRY SANDERS! a lot.)


Although it's impossible to tell based on the paucity of NBA posts so far, we FIWKsters are actually massive NBA fans.  Just massive.  If you ask the immortal MP, the national sport of France might as well be basketball as far as he's concerned.  Or something.

France's favorite sport, right after petanque?

Today I'm going to view the NBA through the prism of fantasy basketball, which I think is the best way to get to know the league and players in detail.  To recap the fantasy NBA season thus far, I've followed a simple methodology:

1.  Use our league's draft as a starting point
2.  Rank every player in fantasy on an overall (roto) basis, using total season stats in Yahoo*
3.  Compare draft position to fantasy rank to determine out/under-performance

*Yahoo was easier to get rankings from than ESPN, but our league is in fact on ESPN.  Total season stats were used because part of this discussion will focus on the impact of injuries in determining fantasy opportunity.

A caveat - because this is a comparison against just our draft for a head-to-head league, some of these players will not be under/overrated relative to the fantasy roto average draft position.  But it's a nice slice of how players can end up with values very different from a preseason consensus.

Here are the studs and the duds based on the season so far:

Click for enlarged view


The undrafted gems are one of the great joys in all of fantasy.  Some of the players above had low expectations because they are known commodities, and are outperforming their previous seasons (Korver, World Peace, Jack) and some of those guys burst onto the scene in a big way with sufficient playing time (SANDERS!, Parsons, Robin Lopez).  In terms of category contributions, SANDERS! is the second leading blocks guy in fantasy, just behind Serge Ibaka, and WAY ahead of the rest of the league in terms of blocks per minute.  Likewise, Korver is 4th overall in 3-pointers, and Parsons is 22nd.

Getting a category leader for free off waivers can completely save a team or dominate a single category.  Likewise, the late-round steals who outperform give you huge category advantages.  They fall generally into two categories:

A)  Overlooked veterans taking advantage of favorable circumstances (Kirilenko, Young, Mayo, West, Calderon, Kidd)
B)  Young guys breaking out due to extra opportunity (Walker, Hill, Green, Vucevic, Vasquez)

In category A, you'll notice that most of those guys stepped up into injury voids.  Love went down on Minnesota; Kirilenko got big minutes at PF and thrived.  Nowitzki was out in Dallas; Mayo became their go-to scorer .... likewise for West in Indiana after Granger went down.  Having a guy who can take advantage of injury gaps is huge.

Category B is all guys who are in that sweet spot of relatively young players with unique skill sets putting it together... Walker, Hill, and Vasquez run their teams and get lots of assists, while Hill and Walker score well too.  Green is 5th in the NBA in 3pt made because the Spurs is the world's best situation for him.  Vucevic stepped into Orlando's big man void with no Howard (and later no Glen Davis) and is dominating the glass - he is 2nd in the NBA in rebounding!

James Harden celebrating his meteoric rise to 3rd best player in fantasy hoops

The only thing better than getting a category dominator late in the draft is getting an absolute stud several rounds later than he deserved to go.  This season's best example, by far, is James Harden, who is currently 3rd overall in fantasy behind LeBron and Durant.  Most fantasy drafts would have happened before he was traded to Houston; that trade singlehandedly changed the balance of most leagues.  Paul George is what Harden was last year - a young, super talented player who was given more opportunity (due to the Granger injury) and realized his potential.  I wouldn't be shocked if he was a top 10 pick next season.

Several guys on that list represented risk-return choices on draft day - you would expect Stephen Curry to be fantasy 5th best player when he is healthy, but nobody knows if he's going to play a full season, so he ended up going 34th in our draft.  Likewise for Brook Lopez and his injury propensity (although 91st was pretty low).

Tim Duncan was also falling due to injury and minutes limitations, but to be honest he has wildly outperformed even the most optimistic projections.  The dude is playing so well (6th overall in fantasy!) so late in his career that I am legitimately concerned about a PED scandal.  Chris Bosh and Tony Parker also benefited from low expectations I think because they've just been around so long... news flash: they're both still super good at basketball.


The flip side of the risk-return choice on draft day are those injury catastrophes who weren't totally healthy when drafted, and never became so.  And yes, I put Dwight Howard on this list - even though he didn't miss many games due to injury - because I am an unabashed Lakers homer.  I won't belabor each player's story, but I do feel for any Kevin Love owner because they were taking similar risk as the guy who drafted say, Duncan, but Love injured another hand and lost his season just when you thought he was breaking out.  Ouch.  The less said about Bynum, Granger, et al, the better.

The only thing worse than drafting Bynum is having to look at his hair

My approach here is to prefer making my mid-late picks on guys who are healthy and have potential, rather than hoping injured guys make a difference.  I would much rather pick a Vucevic who could end up having Amar'e-like stats than just draft injured Amar'e and cross my fingers.

However, owning guys in the abject disappointments category is flat out depressing.  It makes you question your own self worth as a fantasy draft evaluator.  Pau Gasol was useless in fantasy before getting hurt.  I would expect some of the underachieving vets like Smith, Iguodala, Johnson, Gay, and Nash to regress back up to their mean performance as the season finishes out.

On the other hand I have no clue what happened to Lawson, Cousins (he's insane, but still), Dragic, and Monroe.  Typically these are guys right in the Paul George/ Kemba Walker improvement arc, who also are on crap teams which lend themselves to lots of minutes and fantasy stats.  Instead, all have vastly underperformed expectations.  Hopefully none of them on the Tyreke I-Regress-Every-Year Evans development path.  I would have bet that Monroe was a mortal lock for close to 20-10-4 this year, and he's not even close.  I don't even know what to say... these players vex me.

What are your personal outperformers and underachievers for the season?  Who do you wish you'd have taken?  Which players are flukes, and which have genuinely surprised you?


  1. I think your titles of Outperforming Studs and Late Round Steals are very appropriate. Who is a better value to my winning fantasy team? 3rd round pick Steph Curry who is performing like a first rounder (because he didn't get injured) or my 9th round pick, Greivis Vasquez leading the NBA in assists by 100. (That's right, with Rondo and Paul suffering injuries, Vasquez has 555 assists and Russell Westbrook is second with 450.)

  2. You should have looked at Yahoo's MVPs*, which features both a roto version and head-to-head version. Larry SANDERS! is #3 in rotisserie and #2 in head-to-head. Kevin Durant is #1 in both. Chandler Parsons is also pretty high on both lists. Apparently you didn't emphasize Chandler Parsons enough.

    *The MVPs are guys that appear most often on the top 500 public teams. Which is an intuitive way to figure out who is overperforming their draft position by the most. Apparently Kevin Durant was a big value at #1 overall and a HUGE value at #2 overall.

  3. I LOVE that methodology for over/outperform. That's a great list, except it doesn't go deep enough for me to compare to the entire draft list (or the sucky picks). It would be amazing to add the MVP ranking as a comparison though.

    I'm not totally sure what makes Chandler "Bang" Parsons so amazing in fantasy, other than his efficiency and 3pt shooting. He is the classic 'glue guy'. Which is nice.

    Oh and he also did just have like 30+ points on 12-of-15 a few nights ago, so his ranking is surely higher now than it was at the time of analysis. I'm stoked I have him though!

    Also I could've sworn I commented on this.... Vasquez leading the NBA by 100 assists is an absolutely incredible stat. Before the season you could've got the world's most amazing odds in history from Vegas on him winning the assist title.

  4. PS, thank you for correctly calling him SANDERS!