Why you should ignore scoring in fantasy basketball

It may seem counter-intuitive, but there really is more to great fantasy basketball players than the ability to score points. Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

I just spent two action-packed weeks living in my garage.

I slept in my garage. Had meals delivered to my garage. Wrapped presents in my garage. Assembled LOL Winter Chalets in my garage. Bought a 75-inch TV in my garage and then had it hung in my garage. Started a small sportsbook in my garage. My garage band played a Christmas party ... in my garage.

It was incredible, incarcerated holiday magic.

In totality. In reality. But especially in fantasy.

Because: finally ... as in a bunch of players I pushed in preseason finally woke the heck up.

Jaren Jackson Jr. finally had a great two weeks. Devin Booker finally had a great two weeks. Chris Paul finally had a great two weeks. Robert Covington finally had a great two weeks. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander finally had a great two weeks. Hassan Whiteside finally had a really great two weeks. Even Kevin Huerter finally had a great two weeks.

Their timing: impeccable. Because I care; care about what we talk about in this space. With JJJ taking statistical flight ... I could relax. Take stock.

Not of my life. That would be way too painful. Stock of my fantasy teams. Stock of what I should tell you about your fantasy teams. I had two weeks to think about what I was going to tell you when I got back. And this is what I landed on.

Ignore points. Toss 'em over the side. It's never been a better strategy than right now.

I know it's hard to let go. But when you're searching for fantasy value? Points will keep you affixed only to the obvious.

I'm trying to help you find hidden value. And the best way to calibrate your brain for that search in this grand new fantasy decade? Expunge points from your fantasy consciousness.

Prioritization of points in fantasy hoops presents a classic chicken-and-egg conundrum. Does heavy-scoring volume power fantasy goodness? Or are points scored just an inevitable byproduct of positive fantasy production?

In my experience? Decidedly the latter. Because a huge hunk of fantasy-market valuation lies in perception. And nothing -- nothing -- skews perception of a player's fantasy value more than said player's points per game.

A year into my fantasy career, I made an important tactical decision: Hide the points category on my draft spreadsheet. And it helped. Big time.

It trained my young, Keith Van Horn-addled mind to view the player pool with a unique perspective. To prize efficiency before volume. To ponder which stats powered the remaining categories.

If you do a good job building your team with the other categories in mind, impact scoring arrives organically. And this season? In the aggregate? Points per game has never meant less in terms of producing fantasy goodness.

What's going on? Three things.

1. The new wave of skilled, multifaceted big men

Big men routinely scale the Player Rater without cracking the 20.0 PPG barrier. Take a look at the current top 50 on the Player Rater. Twenty-three of them quality at PF, C or both. And they're doing it in ways that weren't conceivable 15 years ago. Bigs now diversify their statistical portfolios with 3s, assists, steals and plus free throw percentages.

Add in the fact that most elite bigs are already offensively efficient from the floor? And their rebounding and shot blocking? You get a new class of fantasy producer that doesn't require a ton of scoring volume to generate elite results.

2. The decline of dominance of possession by point guards

A decade ago, the leaderboard in usage rate was ruled by traditional floor generals. Then, as emphasis shifted toward the 3, those same point guards also began to score more. Result: a whole fantasy era fueled by elite point guard play.

Traditional roles: breaking down. Production and possession by position: increasingly amorphous.

The current top 20 in usage? Scads of non-point guards. Giannis. Doncic. Kawhi. Beal. Embiid. LaVine. George. Siakam. Wiggins. Ingram. Players who are controlling their offenses while also taking a ton of shots.

Domination of possession has shifted away from traditional point guards. Teams now allow players at other positions to function as the floor general. So overall fantasy value for point guards has declined.

Think of my scrappy, super fun, lottery-bound 12-25 Wizards. They're top-10 in points per game, assists and offensive rating. With John Wall on the shelf. They're spreading the ball in a way that flows assists to a diverse collection of players across every position.

3. The advent of advanced metrics

Tracking data is all the rage. Players now can point to dozens of new stats to underscore how they're impacting a game. General managers have gobs of data with which to determine a player's monetary worth.

Fantasy result: tons of players outperforming their ADP via non-points-centric statistical portfolios.

Think of the recently injured Jonathan Isaac. (One of my most rostered players this season. Sigh.) A top-40 player who generates only 12.0 points per game. Isaac doesn't need to score to goose his fantasy value. Because he's averaging 4.9 combined 3s, steals and blocks per game.

OK, I feel you. Elite fantasy production isn't totally democratized. We will always have our mega-elites who dominate usage and points per game.

But players are increasingly cracking the top 100 absent heavy scoring volume. Ten years from now? Roles may have flattened to the point where a majority of teams don't even employ a traditional point guard.

For now? Perception hasn't caught up to these new realities. Your entry-level fantasy basketball enthusiast is still going to build around scoring volume.

As you head into your league's trade deadlines? As you scour your wire? Try to look past points. You'll thank me for it.

A non-points perspective will give you a leg up in prospective deals. And it will help you pick up players without chasing an outmoded, overvalued category.

Let's take a look at some players who are vastly outperforming their average draft position with a relatively diminutive scoring output.

Hassan Whiteside, C, Portland Trail Blazers

ADP: 48.5

Player Rater: 6

PPG: 15.8

Whiteside isn't doing it with atypical skill. You won't find any 3s in his box scores. He's averaging just 1.3 dimes per tilt. He's making managers (like yours truly) overwhelmingly euphoric with old-school dominance in blocks, rebounds and field goal efficiency.

Whiteside's secret sauce: free throws. A 60.9% free throw shooter for his career, Whiteside has suddenly gone all Bill Sharman at the stripe, shooting 76.8%.

Chris Paul, PG, Oklahoma City Thunder

ADP: 61.8

Player Rater: 13

PPG: 16.6

As leaguewide fantasy point guard value has regressed, Chris Paul has stayed healthy, motivated and fantasy-relevant ... despite the expected drop in assists per game and rate of possession.

Paul is only 18th in assists at 6.5 per game. His usage rate (23.2) hasn't been this low since 2005. But Paul continues to contribute across the board. Continues to chip in via rebounding (5.1 RPG), steals (1.5 SPG) and 3s (1.6 3PG). His true shooting percentage remains solid at 59.9%.

Paul is essentially delivering an attenuated version of his peak career production. But as the rest of the point guard pool loses value ... Paul's campaign stands out.

Richaun Holmes, C, Sacramento Kings

ADP: 118.2

Player Rater: 15

PPG: 13.1

We're only nine days in, but here's the early favorite for ADP MVP of the decade. Holmes' volume numbers (13.1 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 1.4 BPG, 1.1 SPG, 1.0 APG, 0.0 3PG) don't exactly scream "top-15 player." So how is Holmes doing it? True shooting percentage. Holmes is third with a 69.2 TS%, buttressed by his atypical 81.7 FT%

Bam Adebayo, PF/C, Miami Heat

ADP: 57.5

Player Rater: 18

PPG: 15.7

Imagine where Adebayo would be if he hadn't regressed in free throws. Adebayo is outperforming his ADP by four rounds despite his mediocre 67.6 FT%. Like Holmes, Adebayo's defensive numbers (1.2 BPG, 1.3 SPG) won't stop any traffic. Even Adebayo's field goal percentage (58.3%) looks relatively pedestrian.

What makes Adebayo special? Assists. Adebayo ranks behind only Jokic at the center position with 4.5 APG. I wrote a column a couple of weeks back on atypical production. Adebayo generates twice the expected number of assists per game for his position. It's a huge under-the-radar boost to his fantasy value.

Brook Lopez, C, Milwaukee Bucks

ADP: 124.9

Player Rater: 35

PPG: 10.4

Here's the thing: At 35th on the Player Rater, Lopez remains a buy-low opportunity. Reason: He has yet to heat up from downtown.

His 30.5 3FG% is down six points from last year's 36.5 3FG%. Lopez's overall FG% is a subterranean 41.1%. Even clocking in at an 86.4 FT%, Lopez's TS% is an anemic 53.2%. And he's getting outrebounded by Chris Paul (4.8 RPG to Paul's 5.1 RPG).

Lopez's blocks have gone widescreen with a career-high 2.6 per game. Gotta think that's his ceiling. But Lopez could still crack the top 30 on the Player Rater if his 3s stabilize.

Robert Covington, SF/PF, Minnesota Timberwolves

ADP: 124.0

Player Rater: 51

PPG: 12.5

In my Bold Predictions for the 2019-20 campaign, I threw down one pronounced slobberknocker: Covington would finish higher on the Player Rater than Pascal Siakam.

As of this writing? Covington is 51st on the Player Rater. Siakam is 52nd. I'm currently correct only because Siakam has been on the shelf since Dec. 19. But boil it down to per-game production and Siakam would still be only a few Player Rater slots ahead of Covington. And that's despite Siakam nearly doubling Covington's 12.5 PPG.

And, à la Lopez, Covington could still register as a buy-low player due to his slow shooting start. Covington can be streaky from deep. After hitting only 32.6% of his 3s in December, Covington is up to 43.3 3FG% across four games this month. Covington's typically epic blocks + steals (3.6 in 2018-19) also has room to climb (2.5 in 2019-20).

Tomas Satoransky, PG/SG, and Kris Dunn, PG/SF, Chicago Bulls

ADP: 137.4 and N/A

Player Rater: 60 and 92

PPG: 10.0 and 7.2

Here's a point guard platoon that kind of defines everything I described in my intro. Together, Satoransky and Dunn's points and assists add up to one old-school elite fantasy point guard (17.2 PPG, 8.8 APG, 1.8 3PG). But their low usage rates (17.8% and 15.9%) are decidedly au courant for today's non-elite point guards).

Ten years ago, the idea of a low-usage point guard platoon landing in the top 100 on the Player Rater would have attained Roswellian mythos. But the across-the-board diversification of each player's box scores makes Satoransky and Dunn roster-worthy in all leagues.

Satoransky does a little of everything (10.0 PPG, 5.4 APG, 3.8 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 1.2 3PG, 55.7 TS%). Dunn can't shoot (48.8 TS%) but is serviceable in rebounds (3.5 RPG) and downright elite in steals (second in the NBA at 2.1 SPG).

This was one of the low-point, high-value statistical partnerships that really jumped out at me during my recent garage-arrest sojourn. But there are others like Satoransky-Dunn all over the new NBA.

It's going to take time for fantasy perception to catch up to the new statistical reality. Take advantage of it now before it becomes obvious to your competition.