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Points and Roto: Which fantasy basketball stars shine brightest in each format?

Anthony Davis' shooting efficiency has fallen off since the start of last season. Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

First off, if Josh Giddey is available in your fantasy basketball league, please take a moment and make him unavailable. You will thank me later. I'll be right here when you get back.

I can wait...

Okay, so first -- a question. Did being at-home change you?

We hope so.

Speaking for myself, when one spends the better part of two years working until midnight, rising at six, walking 10 feet to the gym, walking 20 feet to work, pausing to be mauled by one's boxers in the backyard, opening the barn door, making matcha, sitting down, putting on a record, then opening one's laptop... just to find your algorithm freshly re-populated by ads for testosterone supplements, hair replacement services, dating sites catfishing men over 40, Wilco concerts, and term life insurance?

A two-minute drill is in order. Go no-huddle. It's time to change one's tempo.

But alter the rhythm in a personalized way. That sparks growth that is specific to you. (Too many of my contemporaries follow the same recipe: TikTok, Yeezys, and using the word "disruption" every 10-20 seconds.)

My at-home no-huddle included an update of my fantasy brain.

After decades of viewing pretend basketball management through a roto-centric prism, I surrendered to progress in 2020 and joined a giant stack of Points leagues.

It was necessary. The market demanded it.

Points better meets the needs of newer managers used to a fantasy football or the DFS dynamic. Points is too popular for me not to serve the format in this space.

But land-o-Goshen, did I miss my Roto.

Reading box scores for longer than 30 seconds. Looking for unidentified connections between categories. Emerging sources and combinations generating categorical value. Digging deep for advanced metrics that power categorical production.

At-home re-evaluation made me realize a lot of things. One thing: I crave fantasy play that reflects how the NBA is constantly changing. That lets me track how trends and innovations shift the NBA's statistical tectonics.

For all its accelerated pleasures, Points wastes no time in turning a player's production into a solitary, aggregate score. It blends the categories into an aggregate result. It's ready-made guacamole. (And the Worldwide Leader's Points system is the premium dip.)

When it comes to my fantasy preference, I offer a famous Bill Parcells quote: "if they want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries." I like mushing my own darn guacamole. Experimenting. Reckoning which ingredients go better together.

And I keep thinking: "there must be a way to bring more categorical subtlety to Points. I'm betting there's a way to strategize for both formats at the same time."

To migrate a rationale from Points to Roto... and vice versa.

I start every fantasy NBA season with a theory. 2021-2022's: "there is an unidentified method of player valuation that will work equally well within both systems."

No. I don't mean just drafting for points per game. There's too much competition. There's no such thing as sleeper value when it comes to points per game. Impact scorers are too scarce -- too darn obvious -- to hoard to winning effect in a competitive league.

So I came up with some ideas. Joined a few leagues. Across a mix of formats: Points, Roto, Salary Cap, Snake, Keeper, Redraft. Did a whole mess of drafts. Expert drafts. Friend drafts. Total stranger drafts.

The gamut is covered. The Roto-Points Unification Theory is underway.

To get us started, Championship Editor™ Joe Kaiser suggested I highlight players doing better in one format versus another to start the season.

Meaning: pinpoint players excelling primarily in Points or Roto out of the gate... and explain why.

So we took an extended gander and came up with some names. To help shorten the vernacular, I'm terming players more weighted towards Points as "Points+ Players" and Roto as "Roto+ Players."


Points+ Players

Anthony Davis, PF, Los Angeles Lakers

Davis' low ADP (18) versus his historical highs (top-3) makes him a pivotal, make-or-break fantasy player for the season. If healthy, he's positioned to outproduce that ADP by a good, solid round easily. And getting first-round production out of a late second-rounder is the kind of difference that can decide a fake league.

In terms of a Points vs. Roto split, Davis is about a round better in Points. I don't particularly appreciate giving exact rankings after just a few games. But Davis is roughly 10th in Points and late teens in Roto. That split should persevere.

His counting stats vibe top-5: 28.0 points, 12.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 3.0 blocks, 0.5 3s, 0.5 streaks. He's not turning the ball over to great effect.

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Bazemore sets up AD for inside slam

Kent Bazemore drives and finds Anthony Davis inside, who elevates to flush a dunk on his defender.

So the issue is shooting efficiency. Davis' True Shooting Percentage is tracking with the alarming dip it took in 2020-21. Last season, Davis posted a career-low 55.6 TS%. So far in 2021-22: just 54.0%.

That 54.0 TS% is a combination of poor 3-point percentage (15.4 3PT%), so-so free throw percentage (71.4 FT%), and some bad 2-point efficiency. According to Basketball Reference, Davis is curiously off from 3-10 feet (33.3%) and 10-16 feet (31.3%)... but aces from 16 feet out to the 3-point line (53.3%).

The season is young. And the Lakers' soap opera-dynamic is going to lead to a lot of peaks and valleys. But like I warned you with Russell Westbrook last week: this will even out. With time, the Lakers' Usage will shake out and redistribute.

In Westbrook's case, this means his fantasy value will rise. But I do worry about Westbrook's need to dominate possession affecting LeBron and/or Davis' fantasy output throughout a season. I'm with the talking heads that say let Westbrook run the second team and switch to first team on the nights LeBron and/or Davis rests.

I think the Usage push-pull will be more of a LeBron-Westbrook issue. But it remains to be seen how this will shake out with LeBron-Davis-Westbrook on the court at the corresponding time, operating at a smooth cadence. But even if Davis reassumes a modicum of decent health (and he may miss tonight), it's going to be a while before his value stabilizes.

This means if his efficiency continues to inch downward, you may need to consider selling high in roto situations. His Usage will remain high enough to outperform his ADP in Points. But Davis could end up overrated in Roto.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, PF, Milwaukee Bucks

If the season ended today? Regardless of format, against that 2 ADP, Giannis would be a bust. He's barely top-10 in Points. And if you squint just right, maybe you could report he's cracking the top-25 in Roto.

But it's soooo early. And early season overreactions are exactly what to avoid at present. Regarding Points league production, he should be in the discussion for #1 overall before long. His vital signs are solid...for Points.

Antetokounmpo is sporting an all-time high Usage Rate. His defensive counting stats are OK. His much-examined Achilles' Heel - - free throw production - - is improved (72.5 FT%, across a gaudy 10.0 attempts per game).

This isn't hard to dissect: Giannis opened the season with three so-so shooting nights. His FG% is just 47.8%, and he's hitting just 27.3% of his 3s. But that 30-point, 10-rebound, 9-assist line he threw down Monday and 40-point, 16-rebound, 7-assist night on Wednesday will boost a number of rankings.

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Giannis goes off the glass to himself for a dunk

Giannis Antetokounmpo throws a pass to himself off the glass for a powerful dunk after Eurostepping through a crowd of defenders.

Still, it's hard for a player with a 2 ADP to see Antetokounmpo returning that investment in Roto. To get there will require a mix of two improvements: enhanced 3-point production (say 2.0 per game at around a 38.0 3PT%) and increased free throw attempts/percentage (at least 78 FT%, across 11-13 FTA/g).

And even then, in Roto leagues that count turnovers, it may not be enough. The 6.5 assists are fantastic. But against 3.3 turnovers, that 2-to-1 ratio is a little too steep a price to pay.

Zion Williamson, PF, New Orleans Pelicans

Williamson has yet to begin his 2021-22 campaign, but we would be remiss not to give you a sneak preview on where his production swings. Because the difference between Zion Williamson, Roto team member, and Zion Williamson, Points team member is two rounds of value. Minimum.

A decent comp for Zion's 2021-22 season is his 2020-21 season: 61 games played. 27.0 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 3.7 APG, 0.9 BPG, 0.6 SPG, 0.2 3PG, 2.7 TPG (the silent killer), 69.8 FT% and 61.1 FG%.

Last season (going off per-game value) he was a fifth rounder in Roto... and a second rounder in Points.

That sounds about right for 2021-22. But due to Zion's singular set of skills, his upside factor has a much higher ceiling than other players. He could ramp up in any of these areas: 3-point shooting, assists, blocks, free throws or rebounds.

What makes Zion so compelling in fantasy is that he operates in the grey. On one hand, huge injury red flags. On the other, generational talent. Does Zion dial in his game to play more as a big man? Does he streamline and offer a little of everything?

It's all a grey area. The fantasy middle distance. My advice: play it safe, go off last year's stats. Be mindful that he's underrated in Points, way overrated in Roto, and plan accordingly.

Other Points+ Players (more than one round better in Points than Roto)

Luka Doncic
Trae Young
Donovan Mitchell
Ja Morant
Dejounte Murray
Domantas Sabonis
CJ McCollum
Russell Westbrook


Roto+ Players

Stephen Curry, PG, Golden State Warriors

If you read my column last week, I went in deep on the Warriors' prospects of recapturing their Golden Age efficiency. So far, it's tracking like a throwback campaign... save for Curry.

Again, sooooo early. Curry had a high-profile defective shooting night on opening night. Right now, he's top-5 in Roto, top-10 in Points.

I'm not concerned in the slightest about Curry's shooting efficiency getting back to previous heights. In a sense, Curry's early problems mirror Davis': it's the 2-point percentage that's dragging him down (47.4 2PT% vs. last season's 56.9 2PT%). Free throw percentage is up. 3-point percentage is close to career norms.

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Curry drains tough 3 in defender's face

Curry drains tough 3 in defender's face

But the dip in 2-point percentage and boost in turnovers (4.3 per game) speaks to Curry still finding his spots with all the new pieces in Golden State's rotation. But as I said last week, there's a tremendous amount of hidden value with these Warriors, as they round into full health.

Jaren Jackson Jr., PF, Memphis Grizzlies

That 90 ADP is a huge opportunity. A buy-low opportunity. I know we've (I've) been pumping up JJJr for what feels like eons. But this is feeling like it.

I think Jackson returns top-40 in points. Top-30 value in Roto.

That's right. As high as I am on Jackson, I believe Jackson will end up being more valuable in Roto, which may seem incongruous for a player with Jackson's high-motor skill set.

But IMO, Jackson's comps line up more with the borderline-elites of years past where points per game was just an afterthought. I once coined the 1+1+1 moniker. Jackson stocks what I've begun calling "3+3+3" potential: 3 3s, 3 assists, and 3 steals+blocks.

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Jaren Jackson Jr. nails the trey vs. LA Clippers

Jaren Jackson Jr. nails the trey vs. LA Clippers

Historically, Jackson's only lacked health. All reports point towards this being a fully ambulatory campaign. If Jackson plays 68+ games, in Roto his floor is top-40. His ceiling is top-20.

Other Roto+ Players (one round better in Roto over Points)

Miles Bridges
Jonas Valanciunas
Jarrett Allen
LaMelo Ball
Zach LaVine
Lonzo Ball
Derrick White
Harrison Barnes
Richaun Holmes