Kyle Korver is excellent at darts and not quite proficient in installing home theater equipment. A childhood friend of mine was at one time in the scouting department for the 76ers and became close with Korver shortly after landing in Philly. Our friends would hang out with the rookie from Pella, Iowa, as he transitioned to the NBA and city life, part of which included mounting his plasma TV and getting him proper AV cords. As one might guess, accuracy was already a well-honed skill for Korver, who was quite difficult (impossible) to defeat in darts. Cricket, 301, it didn't matter -- you were buying an NBA player pints in the end.
Amazing accuracy continues to be a calling card of the Creighton product, only now instead of a basement in Philly, Korver is showing the basketball world something massively impressive -- the very real possibility of the first-ever 50/50/90 (FG%/3PT%/FT%) season since the implementation of the 3-point line in 1979-80. ESPN Stats & Info found that the only player to have started half of his team's games to come close to a 50/50/90 season was Steve Nash in 2007-08, who shot 50/47/91. Stats & Info also informs us Korver has an effective field goal percentage (a metric that weights 3-pointers) of 71 and a true shooting percentage (measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account field goals, 3-point field goals and free throws) of 74.1. The only other players this season with 70-plus TS% include Brandan Wright and Tyson Chandler, while the only other players this season with 70-plus eFG% include DeAndre Jordan and Wright (minimum 20 games played). A 3-point specialist ranking among some of the league's most dunk-heavy bigs in shooting efficiency is simply amazing.
The Hawks are first in the league in assist percentage (rate of teammate's field goals made via an assist) with a stellar 68.7 rate. In fact, this is the third straight season the Hawks lead the league in the advanced metric. Such savvy ball movement offers Korver nearly perfect spacing to get his quick-trigger shot off, suggesting this historic efficiency is somehow sustainable.
Speaking of efficiency, on the defensive side of things we've witnessed some telling shifts from several NBA teams this season. ESPN Stats & Info finds 11 teams have a defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions) improvement of two points or more from last season, with the Bucks having gone from second worst to second best. The Spurs, Wizards, Thunder and Hornets join the Warriors as the teams to rank in the top 10 in both seasons. The Jazz, Lakers, Knicks, Nuggets, Kings and Pelicans all rank in the bottom 10 in both seasons. The actionable fantasy result might just be to pursue these consistently generous defenses in both redraft and daily formats.
Taking a look at the week ahead, only seven teams claim matchup ratings of eight or more, with the Clippers and Timberwolves both facing uniquely soft slates for those eyeing daily fantasy targets.
"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").
Timely trends: Notes and news from around the league
Trade talk: ESPN NBA Insider and fantasy basketball analyst Joe Kaiser offers two insightful trade-focused pieces detailing the players who would most benefit from being dealt and those who would see usage surges if key peers were to be traded. While Andrew Wiggins is rightfully earning headlines for his strong play in the New Year, the Timberwolves' Shabazz Muhammad deserves more attention for his impressive sophomore season -- one that could become special if Kevin Martin were to be dealt. Speaking of Martin being showcased, he's available in 40 percent of ESPN leagues and will return any night now.
Magical backcourt: Stats & Info finds that since Dec. 21, Elfrid Payton (whom we discuss in more detail below) and Victor Oladipo have been in the starting backcourt for the Orlando Magic. Oladipo has surged since having lead distribution duties handed to Payton. Since the start of January, Oladipo is averaging 21.7 points on 48 percent shooting and ranks eighth in the NBA in drives per game (9.6) and 14th in points per game on drives (5.9).
Oladipo w/Payton on/off court, since Dec. 21
Where's the Love? The coming week offers some compelling matchups, namely the Trail Blazers heading to Atlanta to take on the pass-tastic Hawks, the Thunder heading to Memphis in what should be a playoff-like atmosphere and the Mavericks playing the Grizzlies and Rockets on consecutive nights. But as is NBA custom, the focus will be on Kevin Love's return to Minnesota on Saturday night (or Mo Williams facing one of his former teams, your call). The "League Pass Alert" for this game will undoubtedly dominate the Twitterverse that night, especially with the Timberwolves ranking last in defensive efficiency versus opposing power forwards (allowing 21.4 points, 12.2 boards and 1.2 3-pointers per game to the position) -- offering Love a shot at matching the box-score glory he enjoyed for the Timberwolves. As a counter, Andrew Wiggins' impressive play of late has him in the top 50 on the Player Rater over the past month (Cavs are 27th in defensive efficiency versus opposing shooting guards). For those intrigued (or induced) by narratives in daily fantasy basketball decisions, this one is rich with inspiration.
New year, new numbers: Since the start of 2015, Stats & Info identifies the players below for having improved or struggled with their true shooting percentage. Despite playing in a three-man rotation of ball-dominant combo guards, Isaiah Thomas' hot hand has proved valuable for daily fantasy purposes (owned in 68 percent of ESPN leagues). Meanwhile, Mason Plumlee's (56.3 ownership rate) stock would seriously surge if Brook Lopez were eventually traded.
Since the start of the new year, these players have not shot as well as the first couple months of the season.
Player Pickups: Identifying players available in half of ESPN leagues
Stats & Info helps to identify some of the greater values widely available on the market:
Elfrid Payton (owned in 41.3 percent of ESPN leagues), Orlando Magic: Payton is in elite company since the beginning of January as one of just six players averaging at least 10 points, four rebounds, six assists and two steals per game. The other players are: Eric Bledsoe, James Harden, Jrue Holiday, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook. Clearly Payton should be owned in any and all respectable leagues at this stage. The rookie is averaging 33.4 minutes in January (compared to 25.3 per game in 2014) and a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio in the New Year.
Eric Gordon (42.2), New Orleans Pelicans: Another player enjoying 2015 far more than 2014, Gordon has been particularly valuable since Holiday suffered a leg injury, averaging 15.8 points and 5.6 assists while lofting 4.8 3-pointers per game in the past five contests. Even if Gordon is rostered in your league, daily gamers are still finding profit points given the lag in Gordon's pricing to this point.
Khris Middleton (19.4), Milwaukee Bucks: Middleton has been the biggest beneficiary of injuries to Jabari Parker and Ersan Ilyasova. Middleton only had nine starts in the first 30 games he played this season, but since the New Year he has started every game for the Bucks.
Opponent Performance, Past 10 games
All statistics are for teams' past 10 games played, and are defensive numbers. PPGA: Points per game allowed. FG%A: Field goal percentage allowed. 3PT%A: Three-point percentage allowed. RPG diff.: Rebounds per game differential. SPGA: Steals per game allowed. BPGA: Blocks per game allowed.