I've built my life -- and approach to fantasy basketball -- around the predictable.
My nights during the NBA season are spent doing the following: writing, watching basketball, record shopping and sleeping.
I always do my writing and basketball watching in the same four restaurants. I always go to the same four record stores.
A quintessential regular, easy to spot, and relatively sedentary, I spend a reasonable portion of my evenings answering questions about fantasy basketball.
My advice, like my life, is constructed around the mean.
Whenever out, I do a lot of in-person statistical triage. Fantasy managers will recite their rosters, and wait for my hot take on how to improve.
Aside from the obvious categorical analysis? My go-tos in quick fantasy checkups revolve around two second-level stats: usage rate and true shooting percentage.
If you build a team on reliable possession and offensive efficiency, you'll establish a clear floor for your team to build upon.
As fantasy managers, we always have to be cognizant of our players' field goal percentage. But simply paying attention to brute field goal percentage doesn't do a shooter justice. We also need to account for 3-point performance. Accounting for the extra point generated by a converted 3-pointer gives us effective field goal percentage (eFG%).
The formula for eFG% = (FG+(0.5*3P))/FGA
If a player is 5-of-10 from the field, that's a 50.0 FG%. But if one of the field goals was a 3-pointer? His eFG% over the same span is 55.0.
But true shooting percentage is cooking with gas. True shooting percentage (TS%) goes a step further by folding in free throw efficiency. It accounts for 2-pointers, 3-pointers, and free throws. Overall, it's a stat that is meant to give an impression of how often a player scores, relative to how often they possessed the ball.
The formula for TS% = PTS/(2*(FGA+(.44*FTA)))
To put TS% in perspective: In 2017-18, the league average TS% was 55.6%. A good (top-50 TS%) was 60.0% and above. Last season, Stephen Curry led the league with a 67.5 TS%. Lonzo Ball was just about the worst with an anemic 44.4 TS%.
Aside from being an excellent metric with which to judge fantasy shooting efficiency, TS% is a good early season statistic because it employs a larger sample size than mere field goal percentage or free throw percentage (thanks to its conflating all types of shot attempts). It's a deeper early benchmark from which to gauge which players are due for a progression or regression to the mean.
As I write this, I'm watching the Pacers take on the Sixers. It's the third quarter. Domantas Sabonis is continuing his hot overall start. Sabonis was, at his best, a top-100 fantasy producer in 2017-18. This season, to date, I'd argue he's been top 40.
The question: Can he sustain this sudden growth?
At this point in this one game, Sabonis has 12 points on nine field goal attempts and two free throw attempts. Which means his TS% at this point for the game is 60.7%. His TS% for the season is a sky-high 72.9%.
Last season, Sabonis posted a replacement-level 56.7 TS%. Even while allowing for some natural early-career progression in his shooting, a 72.9 TS% is simply unsustainable. Regression is inevitable.
Here's one more shade to add to our discussion. When it comes to a player's impact on his fantasy team's shooting efficiency, even sophisticated metrics like TS% can't be taken in on their own.
There's another factor: shot volume.
Sabonis is shooting the lights out (72.9 TS%), but he's averaging only 12.0 FGA+FTA attempts per game. So Sabonis' fantasy impact is mitigated. By comparison, you'd rather have Kevin Durant and his lower (but still elite) 66.5 TS%, due to his averaging 24.3 FGA+FTA attempts per game.
So, when properly assessing Sabonis' rest-of-season outlook, while it's obvious his TS% will drop, he does have some additional ceiling when it comes to volume. It's possible that his minutes will rise from his paltry 24.2 MPG, along with his shot attempts.
But if you don't believe Sabonis' role will expand? It's probably a good time to sell high.
Taking TS% and overall shot volume into account, here's a look at some players currently over-performing compared to their career shooting impact.
Current TS%/2017-18 TS%: 62.1%/59.4%
Current FGA+FTA/2017-18 FGA+FTA: 25.7/26.8
Lillard has subtly built on his TS% every season, progressing from 54.6 TS% as a rookie to his current career high. But his early season hot streak (which included a two-game stretch of 10-of-21 from deep) has given way to a comparatively pedestrian November.
Current TS%/2017-18 TS%: 63.2%/59.8%
Current FGA+FTA/2017-18 FGA+FTA: 15.9/15.4
Is this the Kawhi Effect? Could Lowry be improving in efficiency in a relatively late (age 32) season? The historically streaky Lowry's been inconsistent in terms of scoring this season, but it's mainly been in terms of shot volume. This can be attributed to teammate Kawhi Leonard's shuttling in and out of the lineup.
I'm more willing to buy in on Lowry's surge because he's been consistent in other areas, most noticeably in assists. Lowry has been lights out in APG, averaging 11.5 dimes per tilt.
Still, a regression is probably in line, when you consider Lowry's previous high in assists was 7.4 APG in 2013. But I'm starting to believe a 9.0 APG, 62.0 TS% season isn't inconceivable.
Current TS%/2017-18 TS%: 61.5%/57.2%
Current FGA+FTA/2017-18 FGA+FTA: 26.0/22.3
Walker has improved in TS% in each of his past five seasons, progressing from a 48.6 TS% to his current 61.5%. And I think the increase in shot volume is for real. Who else is going to score in Charlotte? Walker could be the rare player whose shot efficiency improves when his volume goes up.
Still, it's hard to look at that 61.5 TS% and not think some regression is in order. Walker's trade value will never be higher than it is right now. Production-wise, he'd be hard to deal away ... but if you're looking to shake up your imaginary squad, I'd do some due diligence and at least see what I could get.
Current TS%/2017-18 TS%: 62.8%/56.5%
Current FGA+FTA/2017-18 FGA+FTA: 19.3/18.0
Like with Walker, Harris could be another late bloomer. After switching teams four times in seven seasons, Harris has landed an alpha dog role with the comparatively starless Clippers. The shot volume is close to 2017-18's. Harris cracked the 40.0 3FG% barrier last season, so his current 42.2 3FG% is sustainable.
The area where Harris has spiked: 2-point production. He's hitting 57.5% of his 2-point attempts this season, up from 48.8% in 2017-18. There's a red flag contained in this area: Harris is currency hitting 50.0% of his deep 2s this season, up from just 34.3% in 2017-18. But Harris' deep 2-pointer percentage tends to fluctuate, so he could just be due for an up year.
Current TS%/2017-18 TS%: 63.3%/64.1%
Current FGA+FTA/2017-18 FGA+FTA: 13.0/4.2
I've long been rooting for McGee to put it all together. I'm (unfortunately) a Wizards fan. I attended McGee's first Summer League game ten years ago. I remember telling Ernie Grunfeld in the parking lot how good McGee looked in that first game. (I also remember Grunfeld nervously backing away from me.)
In many ways, McGee was the quintessential Summer League player: all flash, little substance. As most of us know, McGee's career-long struggles haven't been due to a lack of physical talent. It's been about putting it together above the shoulders.
Could McGee's situation be a case of a late-career, Erick Dampier-esque rebirth?
The narrative is there: athletically gifted, terminally frustrating big goes to the smoothest operation in the NBA (Golden State) ... and suddenly, a light comes on. McGee learns to play the right way, albeit in a limited role. Then, add minutes (in LA) ... and, boom: All-Star.
Could it be that he's translating what he learned under Steve Kerr across an expanded role in Los Angeles? Could LeBron be having this beneficial an effect? Or is McGee just having a hot month?
Yes, McGee is averaging a career high in FGA+FTA. But here's the thing: McGee's per-36-minute numbers aren't too far off from his averages in Golden State. He's just playing 300 percent more minutes.
McGee has had impressive stretches before. But never one as consistent as what he's posted during the first month of 2018-19. But there are all kinds of signs McGee has to regress. It's unprecedented for a player to suddenly post a career high in BPG in his 11th campaign. Players tend to peak in blocks early in their careers.
After watching him suffer from so much derision, it'd be fun to see McGee suddenly become a top-five center.
Stranger things have happened ... just not in fantasy basketball.