Tuesday, January 17, 2006

More on Free Throw Percentages

After all of the discussion about DM’s article last week on percentages, I thought I’d start off the week with a little bit of a closer look at how to successfully handle your free throw percentage.

First off, I want to throw in my two cents on why I think percentages are so often overlooked. Quite simply, to me, it’s just too tough to figure out a player’s true value in percentages. The easiest category to assess value is points. A point from a guard has the same value as a point from a forward or a center. Other categories are a little different in that you generally have to take into account a player’s position – a guard who averages one block per game is far more valuable than a center who averages one block. Similarly, a forward who hits 2 3’s a game has more value than a PG who does the same thing.

Percentages, though, require an even closer look to assess a player’s true value. Let’s say you’ve got a guy who shoots 78% from the line. That, really, means nothing to you as a fantasy player. First, you have to figure out what position he plays – if he’s a point guard, for example, that’s not too great – in fact, it’s below average (a “typical” point guard should shoot about 80% from the stripe). If the player is a center, that’s a really strong free throw shooter for his position (a “typical” center will shoot close to 70%).

Finally, after seeing what a player’s actual percentage is, and taking into account his position, you have to actually move in even closer and look at how many attempts the player gets per game. This is the step that many – if not most – fantasy players don’t take, and with good reason. I mean, even taking away the variable of the position, this is a nearly impossible situation to handle in your head. I mean, which PG helps more in free throws – one that hits 87% but only takes 2 per game, or one that hits 82% and takes 6 per game? Which center hurts more, one that shoots 58% but takes 3 per game, or one that hits 65% and takes 7 per?

Now, for sure, some of the various player raters out there will help take all of these factors into consideration, but right now I’d like to highlight a couple of categories of guys whose value may be misinterpreted by a lot of fantasy players.

Avoid Contact, Avoid Helping

The job of the guard in your FT% category is to make up for all the poor shooters in your front court. These guys shoot from the outside all game long, so a free throw is a gimme for most of them. However, if they’re not getting to the line, they’re not going to help you all that much. Here are some guys whose percentages are great but overvalued because of low attempts numbers

Steve Nash (93.7%, 4.1 FTA)
Luke Ridnour (90.7%, 2.9 FTA)
Jason Williams (89.5%, 1.4 FTA)
Michael Finley (86.7%, 1.5 FTA)

You’ll notice that I don’t put any bigs in this category, and that’s by design. If there’s a center out there who hits 80% of his free throws but only takes two per game, he’s helping you out extra by REPLACING a guy who could really hurt you. Just getting a guy who shoots really poorly out of your lineup has a bunch of value in itself.

Pump Up the Volume

Just because you’ve got a poor free throw shooter on your squad doesn’t mean you need to have a 90% free throw shooter to counteract them. A decent free throw shooter who gets to the line a lot will do the trick just as well. For example, let’s say you’ve got a guy who goes 2-3 from the line one night. You can get your FT% up to 80% two ways – with a guy who goes 2-2, or a guy who goes 6-7. Here’s three guys who are getting to the line often enough to turn their only-okay FT% into a major fantasy asset:

Kobe Bryant (81.5%, 11 FTA)
Paul Pierce (80.2%, 9.4 FTA)
Gilbert Arenas (80.9%, 9.2 FTA)

Worse Than You’d Feared

We know that big guys struggle from the line. It’s a fact of the basketball world. Guys who spend most of their time hanging around the basket and shooting from inside 5 feet just aren’t too good when they have to take a couple steps back and shoot a free throw. Even worse, they get to the line more because there’s more contact on the inside. Here are some guys whose FT% doesn’t look THAT terrible until you realize how often they get to the line:

Pau Gasol (68.2%, 7.8 FTA)
Andrei Kirilenko (66.1%, 7.3 FTA)*
Eddy Curry (64.6%, 7 FTA)
Tim Duncan (66.7%, 6.8 FTA)
* - this is unusually low for AK-47, and he should turn it around.

When No Offense is Good Offense

One of the greatest misconceptions with a lot of these big men – particularly those who specialize in boards and blocks – is that they can murder you in FT%. And to be sure, when they step to the line, all bets are off. But if they’re not on the line, they’re not going to hurt your FT% nearly as much as you think. For example:

Adonal Foyle (56.8%, 1.2 FTA)
Lorenzen Wright (53.1%, 1.5 FTA)
Michael Olowokandi (51.4%, 1.2 FTA)
Theo Ratliff (68.2%, 1.5 FTA)

See? It took me almost 1,000 words to better gauge the fantasy values of just a few guys. And even then, it’s not an exact science. I can’t tell you if Eddy Curry or Tim Duncan is worse – or if Jason Williams or Paul Pierce are more valuable from the stripe. The player raters are a good guide but they are by no means the final word. If you’ve got your own way of valuing FT%, we’d love to hear it. Hope this helps.


Blogger Jeremy said...

Excellent article. I would comment that one guy who really can help your FT (if he is ever healthy) is Corey Maggette, who is always among the league leaders in FT attempts and shoots in the high-80% range. Of course, this also means that he's constantly slashing and results in him being injured more often than just about anyone else in the league.

If he can ever put together a full season of health, he will be the best guy for that category.

And true, when I look at centers, I look at their attempts per game to gauge how much they'll hurt me...not just hte percentages straight up.

Does anyone have suggestions of players who are mid-level or low-level caliber players that can help you in FT% based on their percentage and numbers of attempts. Stars get the calls and to the line, but is there anyone who is an outlier to this trend?

just my 2cents

1:29 PM  
Blogger JM said...

According to espn.com's player rater - (which is the tool I use to access value to FT%), here are some mid-level players who give you great FT% value (listed in order of value - starting with most value):

Caron Butler (87.6%, 5.4 Att)
Sam Cassell (88.6%, 4.6 Att)
Jerry Stackhouse (89.8%, 4.1 Att)
Richard Hamilton (87.3%, 4.7 Att)
Wally Szczerbiak (87.7%, 4.4 Att)
Luke Ridnour (90.5%, 2.9 Att)
Austin Croshere (94.2%, 2.2 Att)

Those are the guys listed in the top 20 for FT% value, who aren't "stars"

The stars in the top 20: Billups, Maggette, Nowitzki, Nash, Kobe, Redd, Allen, Carter, Peja, Ilgauskas, Ming, Arenas, Miller, Bibby, Pierce.

2:09 PM  
Anonymous Andy said...

If you're looking for someone that might be available on the waiver wire, try Earl Boykins. He's always been a good FT shooter, and since he came back from his injury last month he is getting to the line 3.7 times per game (not a ton, but more than some players) while shooting a sparkling 93.2%. That's about what he averaged last year, so it's not a fluke, and he'll usually chip in with some 3s, steals, and assists as well.

2:52 PM  
Anonymous JW said...

You write: "a guard who averages one block per game is far more valuable than a center who averages one block. Similarly, a forward who hits 2 3’s a game has more value than a PG who does the same thing."

I've read statements like these before, but I'm never entirely sure they're accurate. Why isn't a block from a guard the equivalent of a block from a center, just as a point is of the same value no matter the position? To suggest the guard's block has more value assumes that your team scores a certain number of blocks from the center position. Three blocks from your shooting guard is of increased value only when you are also getting three from your starting center.

I understand there are fewer guards who have shot-blocking talent, putting a premium on those that do. However, a manager might organize a team around a shot-blocking guard--say, Gerald Wallace--thereby requiring fewer blocks from the center position. In this situation, the guard's blocked shots are not more valuable, but equivalent to the center's.

3:16 PM  
Blogger T-Plan said...

In reference to JW's post . . .

The reason blocks are more valuable from a Guard-eligible player is that you can do 1 of 2 things:
1. Stock up on Centers and Forwards who block a lot to dominate the category
2. Pick up Centers who really don't block as many shots, but they'll still have a lot of value to you since you are covered.

My team includes AK47 and Gerald Wallace. Add in Rasheed Wallace, Kenyon Martin, and Channing Frye, each of whom block 1+/game, and I have a lot of blocks. So I could afford to have Zaza Pachulia and P.J. Brown as my 2 backups even though they really don't block many shots.

Make more sense now?

5:22 PM  
Blogger Domo_kuun said...

What is your guys' opinion on Amare? I have him on my bench, but now he's not coming back until March, if at all...Should I try to get rid of him? And if so, what caliber of player could I fleece from another team for Amare? Even though he's not back until March, he IS Amare, so that has to be worth something...or should I just wait and hope he comes back and comes back strong?

6:21 PM  
Blogger bv said...

Jeremy - agreed on Maggette, but the injury kept me away from listing him. As for mid-level/low-level guys, i'll agree with JM, and add the "no offense/good offense" guys to that group.

Andy - yep, boykins is good, but he's got marginal value unless he's on a hot streak ... and that % will come down eventually to his career average of around 88%

JW - to supplement what t-plan said, this topic might be a whole post in itself (in fact, it might be just that next week), but essentially, you have, say, 10 starting spots. you need to accumulate more blocks in your 10 spots than your competitors. a center who gets one block a game will keep you at pace or behind other teams' centers. A guard will put you ahead of their pace.

Domo - our ability to predict injuries is no better that Peter King's ability to predict fantasy football value. I'm not going to get myself in trobule with a guess as to Amare's injury.

8:18 PM  
Blogger Domo_kuun said...

well, what would you say would be a fair price for him then, assuming nothing? What could I squeeze out of my competitors? Whether he returns or not doesnt matter as much as how much he's worth after this latest news.

8:20 PM  
Blogger bv said...

ok, i'll go as far as saying that i'd give him about 6th round value right now. If you can get a guy that you will put in your starting lineup for the rest of the year without question, then i think you can pull the trigger.

8:23 PM  
Anonymous bublitchki said...

Re: Amare

Agreed; If you can get a 5th/6th round value player for him - go for it.

Keep in mind that no player has ever made a speedy recovery from the same microfracture surgery that Amare just had. Jason Kidd and Zach Randolph, for example, required at least six months before they were able to play at anything near their former level.

Amare is a great player, but he's still a human being. He does not figure to be anything like last year's Amare until sometime next season.

10:40 PM  
Blogger Domo_kuun said...

Someone offered me Rip Hamilton for Amare - your opinions? Hamilton is a pretty one-dimensional player and his percentages seem bound to fall, but he IS pretty good at what he does...hmmm

11:28 PM  
Blogger bv said...

i'd take it ... but don't blame me when amare's posting double-doubles next week.

11:29 PM  
Blogger Jeremy said...

Well the comment could be a smokescreen, but obviously Phoenix won't risk rushing him back. The way I see it, if he plays he'll start by coming off the bench and getting back into game shape and ready for the REAL playoffs. Since fantasy playoffs are before the real playoffs, I don't think he'll be near the force he usually is...just because they'll want to bring him along slowly.

The latest comments certainly are not encouraging. I would definately try and make a trade for him if I could. I'm pissed that I didn't grab him off my wire a while back, but I'm comfortably in 3rd in H2H with Artest not playing, so I think I'll have a shot at season's end assuming the Pacers will make a trade.

The Pacers will make a trade, won't they? What are your opinions on that one? I thought the Golden State one of Murphy/Pietrus sounded promising, but that hasn't happened. Denver definately seems like they want him, but don't have quality stuff to send out.

At this point what do you think of Artest's value...move him now...will he play again this year?

- Jeremy

4:59 AM  
Blogger T-Plan said...

RE: Artest

Ron-Ron will play again this season. The Warriors have been Free-falling lately and they will get desperate enough to make a change before the trade deadline. But they will need to give up someone they don't want to trade to do it. I say you trade Dunleavy and give Pietrus his due. He's a better athlete with more upside anyway.

I can't see Denver or Minnesota making it work. Denver would HAVE to include Nene and they are already worried about frontcourt depth. Minnesota will trade with Boston soon and that will give up the only contract they can spare.

9:46 AM  
Blogger PR said...

I agree with BV and think that you should trade Amare for any player that you know will be an everyday starter in your lineup the rest of the year. Stoudemire won't be back until the last month of the season and probably won't be inserted into the starting lineup until the postseason. I'd definitely take a Rip Hamilton, Cuttino Mobley, Caron Butler, or even Artest in a trade for Amare.

Speaking of Artest, I think he'll be fine as soon as he finds a new home. He will be especially valuable down the stretch in H2H leagues. The Pacers may hold on to him until close to the trade deadline next month, so he'll probably ride the pine for a few more weeks.

As for percentages: I think David West must be the most underrated player this year. He's shooting 51% from the floor and 84% from the line. Averaging 17/8/1 with a block and a steal per game. He's currently ranked #35 overall on ESPN's player rater, just ahead of Parker, Redd, and Joe Johnson. He makes for a nice target in a trade.

10:22 AM  

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