We often split the baseball campaign into segments: before and after the All-Star break. I covered pro baseball for a few summers and remember framing these splits as almost separate seasons when it came to statistical trends. In applying a similar lens to hoops, we find that the NBA trade deadline and All-Star break converge on the calendar, just as they do in baseball. As DeMarcus Cousins learned, change is in the air during the break. The trade deadline naturally leads to changes in roster composition amid schematic shifts around the league.
The Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns, for example, have been influenced both by the trade deadline and philosophical shifts in the form of explicit youth movements. The trade of Lou Williams has increased usage and upside for the team's young backcourt tandem of D'Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson in Luke Walton's pace-fueled system; Los Angeles ranks fifth in the league in pace since the break. With the Lakers deploying their recent draft picks over recently signed veterans, we find Julius Randle sixth in the league in rebounding chances (defined as being within 3.5 feet of an available board) and eighth in rebounding (12.2 per game) since the break. Even as Randle is nearly universally owned in competitive fantasy leagues, we can invest with newfound confidence in daily fantasy, given such bankable rebounding opportunities.
For the Suns, dealing P.J. Tucker has opened up more minutes and touches for an ever-efficient TJ Warren, who has averaged 16.8 points, 0.9 blocks and eight rebounds in 33.2 minutes on 61.4 percent shooting in eight starts since the break. Going young in the frontcourt has afforded the Suns' Alan Williams a surprising and significant surge in value. The former star of the Qingdao DoubleStar Eagles is 11th in the league with 18.1 rebounding chances since the break, mostly at the expense of Tyson Chandler's workload. Williams has five consecutive double-doubles as of Friday and thus is the most-added player in ESPN leagues over the past week. Even with the shift in ownership, we can find Williams in free agency in more than half of ESPN leagues, while Warren is rostered in just 55.2 percent of leagues. Even combo guard Tyler Ulis -- available in more than 80 percent of leagues -- merits attention in deeper fantasy formats, as he has been a stellar source of steals and assists over the past week. The Suns are first in pace since the break with a rewarding rate of 104.7 possessions per 48 minutes, so loading up on widely available assets from this roster could prove profitable.
The Portland Trail Blazers' Jusuf Nurkic tallied a legendary fantasy line of 28 points, 20 boards, eight dimes and six blocks against the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday night. While this is clearly an outlier in that he's not going to outduel Russell Westbrook in DFS most nights, Nurkic is undeniably a season-shifting addition for the stretch run. Somehow, Portland also got a valuable pick along with Nurkic, as the former Denver Nuggets' center has averaged 20.4 rebounding chances since the break, good for sixth most in the league over this sample. It's interesting to consider how productive a passer Nurkic has proven in Portland, as he is sixth among centers in passes per games and fourth in potential assists at the position since the break. We can still find Nurkic in free agency in a third of ESPN leagues. Portland has also afforded Maurice Harkless heavy minutes of late, with the dynamic defensive forward netting 1.3 steals and 1.7 blocks in 34.9 minutes per game over the past seven starts. We can add Harkless for a few clicks in more than 60 percent of ESPN leagues. Taking a look around the league with an eye on appraising telling shifts in production and opportunity since the break can prove rewarding.
Matchup ratings are based upon a scale from 1 (poor matchup) to 10 (excellent matchup). These are calculated using a formula that evaluates the team's year-to-date and past 10 games' statistics, their opponents' numbers in those categories and their performance in home/road games depending on where the game is to be played. The column to the left lists the team's total number of games scheduled as well as home games, and lists the overall rating from 1-10 for that team's weekly schedule.
For those of you entering the playoffs in head-to-head leagues next week, first of all, congratulations. Second, it's vital to take stock of the two-week window ahead, as this first round of the fantasy playoffs canvasses 14 days of NBA action. Every team plays at least six games over the next two weeks, yet the LA Clippers differentiate with a league-best nine games over the coming stretch. Cheap shares of Jamal Crawford and Austin Rivers are of increased interest in leagues with transaction limits, as you can net a sizable positive margin in minutes in a single move.
The Blazers and Wizards are among the rare teams flush with eight games over the next two weeks. Washington's Bojan Bogdanovic leads the league in points per touch (.552) since joining the Wizards. Denver enjoys a perfect rating thanks to a series of friendly fantasy matchups. Shooting guard Gary Harris is widely available in ESPN leagues and yet is just behind Bogdanovic at fourth in points per touch since the break for Denver.
Among the unfavorable schedules ahead, the New York Knicks play just two games in the first week and face a series of down-tempo opponents in the process.
For the continued theme of discussing which players have emerged since the All-Star break, we turn to some helpful advanced analytics. In addition to leveraging the Player Rater as a resource for player research, Hoops Stats produces an effective efficiency rating for players that is essentially a ratio of raw production to shooting efficiency. It's a simple tool for identifying which players are enjoying a volume of counting stats with complementary efficiency over a given sample. The site indexes which players have enjoyed the most sizable leaps in their signature efficiency formula since the All-Star break as compared to pre-break production. For instance, Elfrid Payton of the Orlando Magic leads all point guards in improved efficiency over this stretch -- sustaining surges in nearly every category since the break, most notably with 7.9 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game over the past seven games. We find Ulis, Russell and Toronto's Cory Joseph with among the highest positive margins at the position. Among shooting guards, the index adores the hot hand of Atlanta's Tim Hardaway Jr. and Miami's supremely self-assured Dion Waiters.