Roy Hibbert's fall from grace began in the second half last season and continued into a disastrous postseason that saw him become the subject of mocking memes all over social media. It was ugly -- the basketball and the derisive memes -- and it all likely fueled a lowly average draft position (87th overall) entering the 2014-15 fantasy campaign. Even in the wake of Paul George's awful offseason injury and with a litany of injuries still sweeping the roster, Hibbert is proving dominant early, as he's currently ninth overall on the Player Rater after finishing 61st last season.
ESPN NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh asks the essential question fantasy investors are also wondering: Can Hibbert sustain his early-season dominance this time around? Hibbert's stockholders are reaping the benefits of 3.3 blocks per game and a robust 15 rebounding opportunities per game for the Georgetown alum (up from 13.4 last season). Haberstroh details the defensive excellence we're seeing from Hibbert so far:
"This season, the typical 2-point shot beyond 20 feet falls through the net just 38.7 percent of the time. Contrast that with the conversion rate in the sacred basket area within 5 feet, where players convert 56.9 percent of their shots. But with Hibbert nearby, you know what the percentage is?
"Just 35.5 percent, according to SportVU player tracking. Hibbert turns layups into garbage shots. No one in the NBA forces a lower percentage at the rim. In fact, among the 45 big men this season who have defended at least 40 shots at the rim, no one is holding opponents to lower than 38 percent. Besides Hibbert."
Utilizing the NBA's rich Player Tracking database can really help to identify the best interior defenders in the league. With a specific eye on opponent field goal attempts at the rim per game, we can target defensive values such as Hibbert and New Orleans' Omer Asik as valuable rim protectors.
Hibbert's lofty spot on the Player Rater is somewhat due to the rare balance his touch from the free throw line offers, as the vast majority of elite swat specialists cost managers dearly from the stripe. Hibbert's healthy touch (84 percent from the line this season) is the inverse of many of his peers' atop the blocks leaderboard -- such as Dwight Howard, DeAndre Jordan, Larry Sanders and Andre Drummond -- all of whom hover around .500 from the charity stripe.
The real boon for fantasy is coming from upticks across the board in scoring, boards and blocks for Hibbert. Such rich margins in offensive production over last season might not appear sustainable given Hibbert's track record of hot starts, but what we can determine so far is that with George absent and the offense still seeking an identity, Hibbert is shooting more (1.5 more field goal attempts per game) and is seeing more than four more touches per game this season (29.6) than last (25.1), offering some legitimacy to the spike in scoring production.
For those who landed Hibbert around his ADP this season, the profits are already pouring in. For those seeking a weekly difference-maker in the blocks department, Hibbert's acquisition cost on the trade market during this light two-game window is likely still well below the hauls his aforementioned peers would demand on the block. Whether you identify Hibbert as either a "buy-high" option or a player ripe to sell given last season's similarly hot start, ESPN Insider Joe Kaiser offers us some potential buy-low candidates on the early-season market.
Seventeen teams play four-game slates this week, 10 play three games, while just three teams are in the dreaded two-game zone. Hibbert's Pacers will be missed this week if not for his own awesome start, but standout beneficiaries of George's absence, Chris Copeland and Solomon Hill, might be the real targets of interest on Indiana's roster. We discuss Copeland's impressive usage rate below. Having just two games for the Golden State Warriors should be outlawed, but next week they net a four-game stretch with three soft defenses on the docket.
"R" matchup ratings are based upon a scale from 1 (poor matchup) to 10 (excellent matchup), and 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 right lists the team's total number of games scheduled ("G") as well as home games ("H"), and lists the overall rating from 1-10 for that team's weekly schedule ("R").
Team trends: Notes and news from around the league
Usage hogs: Usage percentage is an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while he was on the floor. Fantasy prospectors understandably chase minutes first and foremost, but pursuing healthy usage rates ranks second on my priority list when seeking free-agent additions. Devyn Marble of the Magic might just have a magical name, but his high-usage percentage is the reflection of four shot attempts in five minutes this season, proving we are still very much in the outlier zone during this small-sample segment of the season. By leaning heavily on those who heavily use the ball, we can identify several high-usage assets (toggle by "USG%") flying a bit under the radar on the fantasy scene.
Gerald Green, Phoenix Suns: Even with more roster traffic than ever on a talented, if duplicative roster, Green is still finding green lights all over the court, lofting up a substantial 5.6 3-pointers per game. Green's 29.8 usage rate is tied with LeBron James and sits just ahead of DeMar DeRozan, players averaging 18 and 12 minutes more per night, respectively, than the Suns' shot-happy swingman. Despite seeing 24 percent fewer minutes per game, Green's shot output is suffering by just 4 percent so far this season. In just 21.6 minutes per game, Green is still averaging an elite blend of 3-pointers (1.9) and steals (1.1). Green currently ranks 84th on the Player Rater, and was 42nd overall on the 2013-14 leaderboard.
Isaiah Thomas, Phoenix Suns: The heat-check crew really does reside in Phoenix, as Thomas is shooting once every 122.5 seconds on the floor. Teammate Goran Dragic -- a legitimate MVP candidate last season -- is taking just 0.6 more shots per game than Thomas despite playing more than eight more minutes per night (one shot every 156 seconds, to complete the theme). Thomas is already outliving his 103.1 ADP at 60th on the Player Rater. You can take away his minutes, but like his teammate Green, it's difficult to keep Thomas from getting his shots.
Anthony Morrow, Oklahoma City Thunder: We're working with only a two-game, 46-minute sample. In those 46 minutes we find 38 points and 23 field goal attempts thanks to a strong 26.5 usage percentage. Reading into the Thunder's fluid rotation has been difficult so far, but Morrow's natural shooting touch -- a .571 true shooting percentage and .400 3-point attempt rate (percentage of overall FG attempts that are beyond the arc) -- should find him plenty of minutes on a team desperate for efficient scoring. Morrow is available in nearly 80 percent of ESPN leagues.
Chris Copeland, Indiana Pacers: Hibbert is locking down the paint, while Copeland is top 50 in the league in usage rate (25.8 USG%). Poor shooting efficiency hasn't kept Copeland from continuing to chuck, as he's in a similar position to Morrow on a team desperate for scoring in nearly any way possible. Copeland is averaging eight 3-point attempts per game so far in November, buoying interest as a deep-ball specialist if nothing else.
Player pickups: Identifying players available in at least half of ESPN leagues
Devin Harris (33.7 percent owned), Dallas Mavericks: Eligibility at both backcourt spots and a healthy blend of ball-dominant numbers keep Harris in the viable streaming spotlight, especially as Jameer Nelson deals with a recent hamstring ailment. Few players offer such a cheap blend of assists and steals for the upcoming inviting week of opposing backcourts.
K.J. McDaniels (26.6), Philadelphia 76ers: The market is just waking up to McDaniels, who wasn't seeing the court early on, but in his past five games, as you'll see below, he's earning fantasy-relevant minutes and is becoming one of the sneakier block specialists on the market. As we detailed in our rookie preseason preview, at Clemson McDaniels "averaged over a steal (1.1) and blocked 100 shots in 36 games last season. Over the course of his college career, McDaniels blocked one shot for every 12.8 minutes on the court." That, combined with his early-season success, is a good sign that McDaniels' elite block rate isn't merely sample-size induced.
J.J. Hickson (15.4 percent), Denver Nuggets: Rebounding opportunities are defined by the league's stats division as "the number of times player was within the vicinity (3.5 feet) of a rebound." Hickson might be on a soft-minutes cap for these early games as he continues to work back from an ACL injury suffered late last season, but over a small sample he's leading the league in rebound chances per game. Plus, the Nuggets rank second in pace and last in effective field goal percentage. Add all of this advanced nerdery up and you have a reasonably sustainable high-rebound opportunity rate for Hickson in Denver.