Fantasy basketball: Jonas Valanciunas, Darius Garland among fantasy's top hidden gems

Jonas Valanciunas somehow slipped to the middle rounds in fantasy drafts. AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

It may surprise you to learn that I was a mediocre math student when I was in high school.

It wasn't that I couldn't do it. I didn't want to do it. And when my brain doesn't want to do something, my brain throws that something overboard.

At the same time, I had figured out a winning hack for well-received science projects: inventing my own baseball metrics. I realized I could sit down and happily spend an evening auditioning different statistical formulas and equations... as long as they related to sports.

But if math only related to a textbook, I was debilitatingly disinterested. And so, to keep my GPA at an agreeable threshold, I abdicated my AP status in math.

The irony is that today, in most rooms I'm viewed as being the best at math. (But to be accurate, it's more that I'm the fastest at doing math.)

Because from age 15 on, my math brain primarily focused on areas I enjoyed: sports statistics (and music/sound, but that's another, even more willfully esoteric story.) As soon as I made that switch, my math brain flourished.

Which leads us to today. And the area my math brain makes the fastest, unconscious calculations?

Finding Hidden Value in fantasy basketball.

Hidden Value n.: the difference between a player's perceived market value versus their actual value.

We're at the stage of the season where quantifying Hidden Value is an achievable task. Because at about 30 games in, we have enough sample size to reliably compare the difference between a player's ADP and their current standing on the Player Rater.

The overachieving Darius Garland provides a good example.

Garland's ADP is about 85. He's 27th on the Player Rater. So when trying to quantify Garland's Hidden Value, you can create a baseline with the 58-slot gap between his perceived value (85 ADP) and actual value (27 PR).

As shorthand in my head, I will boil this down further by converting those 58 draft slots into rounds (for a 10-team league.) And thankfully, my overpopulated prefrontal cortex knows where my bread is buttered. So, although I have trouble instantly recalling The Current Mrs. Cregan's middle name... I will remember Darius Garland carries around six rounds of baseline hidden value.

(It's "Anne," btw. I'm like 85% sure it's "Anne.")

But then I will adjust this baseline further because Garland's overall production is borderline elite. Because he's now a top-30 player on the Rater. So Garland's high-round value carries more weight. It means more to jump from 85 ADP to 27 PR than going from 125 ADP to 67 PR.

(I used to generate a Jimmy Johnson-style draft board, where I'd sit down and compute the relative value of each slot. Then I had children.)

So in my head, I add a round of Hidden Value for each round within the top 40 on the Rater. So at present, I file Garland away with seven rounds of Hidden Value.

Another quick method of getting a snapshot of Hidden Value? Look at how rostered a player is. Garland is only rostered in about 91 percent of leagues. A top-30 player sitting on the wire in one of 10 leagues? This depicts Garland's Hidden Value. It says that in less competitive leagues, Garland is essentially a streamer.

In my head, Garland and Miles Bridges are currently tied for the most Hidden Value in Fantasyland.

And even after I factor in several other key Cregan differentiators, they remain in a dead heat.

Let's talk about those differentiators because they're inexact sciences. I'm going off of historical sources of bias.

Time generates one bias.

Start by comparing a player's ADP versus their Player Rater ranking. If a player drafted at 40 is 20 on the Player Rater? They were carrying about two rounds of hidden value.

What do I mean "were carrying?" That 20-slot difference is the same today as was on draft night... right?


Because as a player continues to overperform or underperform versus their ADP, the marketplace's perception of that player shifts over time. And hidden value begins to shrink.

If I'd offered you Bradley Beal for Bridges on Veteran's Day? No-brainer. A first-rounder for a ninth-rounder? You'd have done that deal in a heartbeat.

If I offered it today? You'd take a few extra beats. Bridges is delivering third-round value. Beal is playing like a fifth-rounder.

But because Beal is an All-Star with 30 PPG upside? Admit it: you'd be a little more tempted to roll the dice. Because nothing -- nothing -- manipulates perceived fantasy value more than a historically high points per game average.

I'm about to point out some players carrying a high amount of hidden value. But first, I'll detail the other differentiating biases that drive hidden value.

And no. I'm not going to turn around and tell you to trade for Rudy Gobert. Gobert is delivering late-first roundish value against a late third-round ADP. He was drafted relatively high to begin with, so his hidden value is far less at this juncture in the season.

But what about Jonas Valanciunas?

He's actually ahead of Gobert on the Player Rater. He averages more points per game... but still sits below 20 PPG, the cosmic threshold for being labeled as a "scorer" or "first option." (So does Gobert.)

I offer that Valanciunas carries more hidden value than Gobert. A lot more.

Valanciunas provides a working example of multiple dynamics of bias that generate extra hidden value.

How can I tell he's carrying Hidden Value? Easy. Valanciunas -- as of this writing, the 10th-best player in fantasy basketball -- is only rostered in 96.7% of leagues! The 10th-best player in fantasy is only rostered five percent more than Zion Williamson...who may not play a single minute this season.

So primary bias: low PPG. Secondary bias: Valanciunas' eighth-round ADP.

Even in more competitive leagues, with more experienced managers, Valanciunas' trade value will remain depressed due to that late-round ADP. Because history tells experience managers that a late-round player outplaying his ADP by over five rounds must be a sell-high candidate.

This is especially true with a known veteran like Valanciunas. It's easier to imagine a player on his first contract suddenly taking a leap. But with a nine-year veteran? That size of a leap becoming their new normal is tougher to envision.

And because experienced managers are programmed to sell high on overperforming ADP players? That drives up Hidden Value. (I find the pressure to sell high is often more about looking smart than playing smart.)

Ok. So non-gaudy scoring. Low ADP. What else drives up Valanciunas' Hidden Value? Playing in New Orleans.

Smaller market teams tend to be lower-profile within the media landscape. So that lower profile drives up hidden value. Conversely, players on teams that end up heavily discussed on a nightly basis lose hidden value.

(Another reason why smaller market West Coast teams generate more hidden value: playing late games means their games aren't as widely reported. This used to mean more 20 years ago, pre-social media, but the disparity still exists.)

Every Milwaukee Buck not named Giannis Antetokounmpo is a prime example of this dynamic. Khris Middleton used to be a perennial lock to outperform his ADP. Then Milwaukee won it all. And extended playoff runs and championships... also dent Hidden Value. Playoff heroics kill Hidden Value.

And today? Middleton is underperforming by about four rounds.

(But shhh... it's kind of a secret.)

Middleton is secretly underperforming because his per-game value is relatively high. In per-game valuations, Middleton doing just fine. He is only underperforming his ADP by a round.

Which leads me to the final reason why Valanciunas is undervalued: total production versus per-game production.

Middleton's only played 21 games this season. Valanciunas has played 29. In terms of total production, Valanciunas is outperforming Middleton by seven-to-eight rounds. But the gap narrows when comparing using per-game valuation.

IMO, the total vs. per-game gap in perceived value is tied for the third-biggest driver of Hidden Value.

It doesn't matter if two players deliver relatively similar per-game fantasy value if there's a disparity in games played. If Player A plays 80 games and Player B only 60 games? That 20-game gap means Player A delivered three to four rounds more value throughout the season.

The total vs. per-game dynamic is tied for third with efficiency-based vs. volume-based production.

We are conditioned to prize players that score. Scoring is fun. It is the stat that determines the outcome of games. (My vote would be Real Plus/Minus btw.) And if they can't score? Shot blockers are fun. 3-point specialists used to be more fun, but now everyone is a 3-point specialist.

Rebounds aren't fun. Neither is a high free throw percentage. And those happen to be Valanciunas' two biggest categories of overproduction. And he finally added a 3-point shot... at the precise moment in NBA history where everyone has added a 3-point shot.

Do you know what stats are scarce this season? Free throw production and rebounds. So Valanciunas' effectiveness in delivering what I call "off-road" value provides the final boost to Valanciunas' hidden value.

When it comes to hidden value, Valanciunas has just about every dynamic working in his favor. So-so PPG. Low ADP. Veteran. Small market team that is likely lottery-bound. Higher total value than per-game value. And "off-road" categorical value.

All of which adds up to why Jonas Valanciunas could be the most underrated top-10 player in the history of fantasy basketball.

And now, here's what you came for: a quick list of some other players I've identified as carrying high Hidden Value.

Jarrett Allen
Anthony Edwards
Myles Turner
Jaren Jackson Jr.
Gordon Hayward
Gary Trent Jr.
Jordan Poole
Mo Bamba
Tyrese Haliburton
Desmond Bane
Scottie Barnes
Derrick White
Jerami Grant
Evan Mobley
Wendell Carter Jr
Tyrese Maxey
Cole Anthony
Jarred Vanderbilt
Pat Connaughton
Franz Wagner
Jalen Brunson
Ivica Zubac
Alex Caruso
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Robert Williams III