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Fantasy Basketball: Trends and notes through an eighth of the NBA season

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Trade for D’Angelo Russell if you can and maybe Enes Kanter is really really good...

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Almost every team has played 10 games in this NBA season. Guess who hasn’t? The Chicago Bulls. I feel like the answer to every weird question we ask during this season will be “The Chicago Bulls.”

Regardless, let’s roll through this eighth. Are there any trends worthy of note?

  • 31 players are scoring 20+ points per game. (We’re not counting Bobby Portis because he’s only played one game; I want to joke about him punching Nikola Mirotic in the face, but honestly, I just think the situation is kinda sad: it seems like regular smack-talking during a hard practice led to tempers flaring and things got out of hand. Obviously, it’s awful that someone got hurt, and Mirotic should be pissed; hell, I’d be livid and would demand a him-or-me trade, too! But, I don’t think either of these guys is a bad person just because they got into a fight. If anything, I blame the coaches: they should have put a stop to it before someone got hurt. I mean, what the hell are the coaches for, anyway? They intentionally piss you off during practice, they tell you to intentionally piss off one of your teammates “as a learning experience,” and then dudes get into a fight and they’re the bad guys? Fights in practice happen in sports all the time, and sometimes during actual games; just look at what happened to A.J. Green and Jalen Ramsey this past week, and they’re professionals, too. It’s the duty of the coaching staff to either calm people down or break up the fight before someone gets hurt. The Portis-Mirotic fight is on Hoiberg and his assistants: someone should have noticed and someone should have stopped it. This is just a further indictment of a team that has suffered from incompetence for a long, long time. Chicago continues to draft well, and they continue to get free agents; but, when’s the last time you thought the Bulls were actually a contender? When Rose won MVP, right? You know when that was? The 2010-11 season. It’s been awhile, man. Even Bulls fans know: you ask them how they feel about ownership and they just roll their eyes, shrug, chug the rest of their craft beer, and then ask you if you’ve seen Lauri Markkanen play yet.) All of those players play at least 30 minutes per game, except for Joel Embiid and D’Angelo Russell. It’s tough to say that either of these guys are sleepers, or that you should go trade for them since they’d cost you a ton, but they’re top-30 in scoring and they don’t even play 30 minutes a game. Do you think they’re stats will go up when they’re allowed more minutes later in the season? Me, too. Right now Embiid is ranked 44th on the ESPN player rater, and DAR is ranked 70th. It’s a risk to do 2-for-1 trades in fantasy because sometimes volume just wins, and it’s a double risk to trade for Embiid because of his injury history (though, I’m not sure if past injury is actually predictive…), but the upside might be worth those risks, especially with DAR, since his value is lower right now, and Embiid is probably owned by a Philly fan who would rather die than trade Night Rocky. Brooklyn is still playing with the highest pace in the league (109.2; second-place Phoenix is 105.5) and the goal for this season is to continue improving DAR in the hopes that he’ll become their star guard for the foreseeable future. Now, one caveat: last season, 2016-17, no player on the Nets averaged 30+ minutes; Brook Lopez, their best player, averaged 29.6. The Lakers were the only other team without a player who averaged at least 30 minutes a game (even the 76ers had one!). Both the Nets and the Lakers were bad teams last year (and, remember, DAR was a Laker last year), but when you have a good player, especially a star, that guy almost always gets at least 32 minutes a night. DAR will get more minutes as the season goes on; ditto Embiid. With more playing time comes more shot attempts; both of these players could be top-15 scorers before the season is over.
  • Cincinnatus Gallinari, Il Gallo, is NOT in the top 7 in plus-minus through the first 1/8th of the season. Shocking, I know. He’s not in the top 25, either. But! He’s in the top 50. And, also shocking, he’s injured right now. When he’s healthy, he’s had a 13-4-3 line. He’s currently ranked 140th on the ol’ ESPN player rater, right ahead of Alex Len.
  • FOUR Boston Celtics are in the top 10 in plus-minus so far. That’s how you win ten games in a row. Jaylen Brown is tenth at +7.6.
  • Thaddeus Young, Pacer, is currently ranked 35th on the player rater. This Indiana team is Indiana-teresting. Yes? No? Lo siento?
  • Enes Kanter is a top 50 player. He’s averaging 13 points and 10 rebounds. We’ll return to this later.
  • Only two players are averaging double digit assists: Sergeant Westbrook (he’s clearly an NCO, officers don’t rush into combat the way he does; plus, he keeps the troops in line: NO ONE effs with Sarge) and Dr. Wall. They’re also both averaging 20 points with subpar 3PT%.
  • Sergeant Westbrook is also averaging the most rebounds for a non-big. GASP, I know. He gets more rebounds than Steven Adams, though. I don’t know if that’s a good thing. Maybe it doesn’t matter, but...Aussie Adams doesn’t get anything nice? He gets 8 shots a game and has to do all the dirty stuff. He’s clearly the tank on the Thunder RPG squad, while the Sarge is a dual-wielding rogue (aren’t they all); Paul George is the mercenary, one-sword-boring, medium 5s across the board in stats; Hoodie Melo is the mage (duh), who can shoot fireballs from long distance but has absolutely no defense whatsoever; and, Andre Roberson is the friend you don’t invite to play.
  • Embiid and DAR are both turning the ball over at least 4 times in under 30 minutes. They’re the only players to do that. It’s not a dealbreaker, obviously, but be aware.
  • Kevin Durant and Rudy Gobert are both averaging 2.5 blocks per game. The Brow is averaging 2+ blocks and 1+ steals per game. These defensive stats matter!
  • Tony Snell STILL has the best true shooting percentage, 75.5, which is FIVE POINTS better than the next closest, Aussie Tank Adams (who’s probably waltzing Matilda as we speak), who’s at 70.7 TS%. Enes Kanter is 10th at 66.8.
  • To return to Tony Snell: he’s currently ranked 99th on the player rater, averaging 10 points on 6 shots per game, with 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 made threes a game. He’s shooting 58% from the field. Aside from the ratios, that’s not mindblowing stuff, but it is TOTALLY HELPFUL. Snell is owned in 3.8% of leagues. I’m going to keep pushing him (although, caveat: the addition of Eric Bledsoe to the Bucks may, MAY, push Snell to the bench; unclear if that would help him increase his stats as the 6th man or not) until that ownership is up over 10%.
  • John Henson has a top 5 offensive rating out of players who average at least 20 minutes a game.
  • Kristaps Porzingis has the highest usage percentage. He’s now dealing with a coupla injuries, none of them too serious. But...maybe try to help him out a little bit?
  • LeBron is still second-highest in minutes, behind only Boogie. COME. ON. You know how the Spurs don’t have Kawhi Leonard but are still doing just fine? That’s the opposite of the Cavs. If LeBron went down, they’d disband the team. Goddamn, I hate the Cavs. What an awful organization. I seriously hope I.T. gets the hell out of there as soon as he can. Having said that, I am kinda intrigued by an I.T./KLove duo if LeBron leaves. I.T., Shumpert, JR Smith, KLove, and Tristan Thompson is not a bad team!
  • Kyle Kuzma is currently ranked 72nd on the player rater. If you drafted him, I hate you.
  • Justin Holiday is the least-owned player who’s taking at least 15 shots a game. He’s shooting 35% from the field. Bulls.
  • 12 players are attempting at least 7 threes per game. Ryan Anderson, Boogie Cousins (who is a top 5 player in the NBA), and Baron Markkanen are three of those 12, and the only bigs.
  • The player who’s shooting the most 3s in the least amount of time is Malik Monk (my rookie!). He’s shooting 6 threes in 22 minutes. The twenty players who shoot more threes than that are all averaging at least 30 minutes. Watch out for the Mad Monk; he’s coming for ya.

Let’s end with a quick look at where the teams stand at the 8th way point. I’ve gone through and listed each team’s top 2 players by PER (there are obviously other ways to rank players, but I chose PER; please send all complaints to Kyrie Irving who is at the edge of the flat Earth) from both last year and this year. To qualify, each player must have played at least half of their team’s games, and at least 20 minutes per game (so, no Embiid from last season since he didn’t play enough).

(All the stats can be found here)

Eastern Conference 2016-17, Top 2 PER Players for Each Team

  • Cleveland: LeBron (27.11) + Kyrie (23.09) = 50.20 (bold = playoff team)
  • Milwaukee: Giannis (26.13) + Greg Monroe (21.23) = 47.36
  • Toronto: DeMar DeChozan (24.09) + Kyle Lowry (22.92) = 47.01
  • Boston: Isaiah Thomas (26.59) + Al Horford (17.77) = 44.36
  • Chicago: Jimmy Butler (25.19) + Dwyane Wade (18.55) = 43.74
  • Washington: Dr. John Wall (23.28) + Bradley Kind of a Big Beal (20.21) = 43.49
  • Miami: Hassan Whiteside (22.68) + Goran Dragic (19.84) = 42.52
  • Indiana: Paul George (20.30) + Jeff Teague (19.24) = 39.54
  • Atlanta: Dwight Howard (20.89) + Paul Millsap (17.91) = 38.80
  • Detroit: Drummond (20.91) + Tobias Harris (16.95) = 37.86
  • Charlotte: Kemba Walker (21.41) + Nic Batum (15.86) = 37.27
  • Orlando: Vucevic (19.19) + Elfrid Payton (17.25) = 36.44
  • Brooklyn: Brook Lopez (20.48) + Trevor Booker (15.71) = 36.19
  • New York: Melo (17.96) + Porzingis (17.49) = 35.45
  • Philly: Richaun Holmes (18.61) + Jahlil Okafor (14.88) = 33.49

Western Conference 2016-17, Top 2 PER Players for Each Team

  • OKC: Westbrook (30.70) + Enes Kanter (23.74) = 54.44
  • Golden State: KD (27.68) + Curry 1.0 (24.74) = 52.42
  • Clippers: Chris Paul (26.25) + Blake Griffin (22.71) = 48.96
  • Houston: Harden (27.43) + Clint Capela (21.48) = 48.91
  • San Antonio: Kawhi (27.62) + Pau Gasol (20.23) = 47.85
  • Denver: Nikola Jokic (26.40) + Kenneth Faried (20.36) = 46.76
  • Utah: Rudy Gobert (23.31) + Gordon Hayward (22.23) = 45.54
  • New Orleans: Anthony Davis (27.59) + Jrue Holiday (17.19) = 44.78
  • Portland: Maestro Lillard (24.15) + CJ McCollum (19.99) = 44.14
  • Memphis: Mike Conley (23.26) + Marc Gasol (20.32) = 43.58
  • Minnesota: Big K.A.T. (26.00) + Ricky Rubio (16.87) = 42.87
  • Sacramento: Boogie Cousins (25.84) + Ty Lawson (15.42) = 41.26
  • Lakers: Lou Williams (21.44) + Julius Randle (16.32) = 37.76
  • Phoenix: Eric Bledsoe (20.56) + Tyson Chandler (16.63) = 37.19
  • Dallas: JJ Barea (17.26) + Dirk (17.10) = 34.36

We can safely say that you need to have at least one player with a PER of 20+ in order to make the playoffs. Miami probably should have made the playoffs last year except they had a bad first half before their team settled into a stable rotation. Denver traded Nurkic to clear up space for Jokic, but perhaps too late to save their season; and, New Orleans didn’t get Boogie until after the All Star break last year, again too late to save their season.

Notice Enes Kanter.

Let’s see where the teams stand so far in the 2017-18 season. We’ll use the same splits as before, so every player must have played in at least half of the games (we’ll use 6 since everyone’s played 10+ games) and at least 20 minutes a game.

Eastern Conference 2017-18, Top 2 PER Players for Each Team

  • Cleveland: LeBron (32.63) + Kevin Love (22.92) = 55.55
  • New York: Porzingis (29.23) + Enes Kanter (24.09) = 53.32
  • Milwaukee: Giannis (32.72) + Malcolm Brogdon (17.10) = 49.82
  • Miami: Whiteside (26.66) + James Johnson (19.82) = 46.48
  • Washington: Beal (22.87) + Otto Porter, Jr. (22.69) = 45.56
  • Detroit: Drum (24.06) + Reggie Jackson (21.05) = 45.11
  • Orlando: Aaron Gordon (23.43) + Vucevic (21.38) = 44.81
  • Toronto: Jonas Valanciunas (22.84) + DeChozan (20.97) = 43.81
  • Atlanta: Dennis Schroder (22.38) + John Collins (20.59) = 42.97
  • Philly: Joel Embiid (23.21) + Ben Simmons (19.76) = 42.97
  • Boston: Kyrie (22.60) + Horford (20.31) = 42.91
  • Charlotte: Kemba (22.77) + Jeremy Lamb (18.40) = 41.17
  • Indiana: Domantas Sabonis (21.19) + Victor Oladipo (19.92) = 41.11
  • Brooklyn: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (19.24) + D’Angelo Russell (18.80) = 38.04
  • Chicago: Robin Lopez (17.58) + Baron Markkanen (16.20) = 33.78

Western Conference 2017-18, Top 2 PER Players for Each Team

  • New Orleans: AD (31.81) + Boogie (26.95) = 58.76
  • Houston: Capela (28.61) + Harden (28.24) = 56.85
  • Golden State: Curry 1.0 (28.12) + KD (25.06) = 53.18
  • San Antonio: LaMarcus Aldridge (24.82) + Rudy Gay (22.06) = 46.88
  • Clippers: Blake (23.83) + Deandre Jordan (20.29) = 44.12
  • Portland: Maestro Lillard (25.04) + CJ McCollum (19.99) = 44.03
  • Denver: Jokic (26.45) + Paul Millsap (16.97) = 43.42
  • OKC: Steven Adams (22.79) + Russell Westbrook (20.60) = 43.39
  • Memphis: Tyreke Evans (23.68) + Marc Gasol (19.37) = 43.05
  • Lakers: Jordan Clarkson (21.72) + Larry Nance, Jr. (19.60) = 41.32
  • Minnesota: Big K.A.T. (25.03) + Jeff Teague (15.82) = 40.85
  • Phoenix: Devin Booker (19.09) + TJ Warren (18.89) = 37.98
  • Utah: Gobert (20.88) + Rubio (15.71) = 36.59
  • Dallas: JJ Barea (17.52) + Harrison Barnes (15.21) = 32.73
  • Sacramento: Willie Cauley-Stein (16.73) + Bogdan Bogdanovic (14.71) = 31.44

What have we learned? Enes Kanter is maybe secretly super good?

Here are Kanter’s career numbers: 11 points per game in 21 minutes on 53% shooting, with 7 rebounds and mediocre assists, steals, and blocks. This season he’s averaging 13 points on 64% shooting, with 10 rebounds. He’s having a rough year defensively (I know that’s shocking, please allow me to pick your jaw up off the ground), but the Knicks are top 10 in scoring in five-man lineups that include him; AND, the Knicks best plus-minus lineup also includes him (along with Ntilikina and Porzingis; NYC is an international town, baby!). I have to admit that I’ve enjoyed watching him play; the Knicks are fun right now! If the Knicks make the playoffs, get ready to see Kristaps Porzingis EVERYWHERE. But, hopefully, there’ll be some publicity for Kanter, too, because it seems like he’s an important part of the (above .500!) team.

Quick question: here’s the list of free agents next summer, which of those superstars and excellent rotation players would fit best beside The Unicorn? Can you IMAGINE if Boogie Cousins, one of the 5 best players in the NBA, were to sign in New York???? Here’s the problem: the Knicks, sssiiiiigh, have some cap issues, DUH. They owe Tim Hardaway, Jr. (Go Blue!) $17 million next season, Courtney Lee $12 million, Kanter $18 million, and Joakim Noah, who is apparently not dead, $18 million, too. This is, how you say, the worstest. James Dolan, owner of the Knicks and Hall of Fame musician, is reportedly worth around $1.5 BILLION dollars. Can someone, somewhere, please, PLEASE!!, ask him to kindly buy out those four dudes so that the Knicks can try to sign LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Paul George, Chris Paul, Boogie Cousins, Avery Bradley, or Nik Stauskas (GO! BLUE!)? Thanks. I would like to see the basketball mecca actually seem holy. Y’know, just once, before we all die.

A few other maybe-lessons: Boston should make the playoffs but losing Hayward is brutal; if Horford misses extended time, Kyrie may not have enough to propel the team to the playoffs on his own; though, if the young guys keep improving at this rate, then they’re probably a lock. It would be shocking if Boston didn’t make it in, really, but attrition takes it toll. If Horford missed a bunch of games and Boston still made it, maybe even excelling, then Kyrie would be the MVP, no?

Utah looks really bad right now. Meanwhile, New Orleans (6-5) could muscle their way into the playoffs if Boogie and the Brow continue to dominate. I don’t know if Rondo coming back will help or hurt them, but I really do enjoy watching the two big men play together. Boogie and the Brow look like the future to me: enormous but athletic, able to shoot, able to pass. I want to live in a world where those two play with Giannis. Let’s add LeBron, too, just because. Would a team that big have trouble against a super small team, akin to big defensive lines having issues with small running backs that can dip underneath?

I feel like Harrison Barnes should be better. He’s averaging 18 points and 6 boards. I guess. Man, this team seems super effed up. Is anyone having fun on that team?

It’s important to remember that a lot can change over 10 games, and much more over 82. Odds are that the cream will rise to the top, as it usually does. If Cleveland doesn’t make the playoffs, then the End Times are surely upon us (or, LBJ traded himself; I will not entertain the notion of a LeBron injury until one actually happens). Trades will occur, injuries will happen. A “surprise” team (read: new) will get to the playoffs in each conference, and already bad teams will probably get worse as they attempt to tank and sell off good players. These are just little nuggets of data of an eighth of the season. We’ll check in regularly to see what changes. For now, here’s everyone’s record extrapolated out to 82 games based on their current winning percentage (as of 11/8):

The East

  1. Boston 10-2 (68.3 wins)
  2. Detroit 8-3 (59.6)
  3. Orlando 7-4 (52.1)
  4. Toronto 6-4 (49.2)
  5. Philadelphia 6-4 (49.2)
  6. Knicks 6-5 (44.7)
  7. Washington 5-5 (41)
  8. Miami 5-6 (37.3)
  9. Cleveland 5-6 (37.3)
  10. Charlotte 5-6 (37.3)
  11. Indiana 5-7 (34.2)
  12. Milwaukee 4-6 (32.8)
  13. Brooklyn 4-7 (29.8)
  14. Chicago 2-7 (18.2)
  15. Atlanta 2-9 (14.9)

The West

  1. Golden State 9-3 (61.5)
  2. Houston 8-3 (59.6)
  3. Minnesota 7-4 (52.1)
  4. Memphis 7-4 (52.1)
  5. San Antonio 7-4 (52.1)
  6. Portland 6-5 (44.7)
  7. New Orleans 6-5 (44.7)
  8. Denver 6-5 (44.7)
  9. Clippers 5-5 (41)
  10. Utah 5-6 (37.3)
  11. Lakers 5-6 (37.3)
  12. OKC 4-6 (32.8)
  13. Phoenix 4-8 (27.3)
  14. Sacramento 2-8 (16.4)
  15. Dallas 2-10 (13.7)