I warned you about Myles Turner.
In my Bold Prediction for this season, I told you that Turner was custom-built for ESPN.com’s new points-based system. That Turner would be a top-30 player. And that he would outperform Rudy Gobert and Bam Adebayo.
Seven games in, I think we can go ahead and call it: I am always absolutely right.
After crunching all the numbers this preseason, and filtering them through the new valuation system, I realized three groupings of players in particular gained disproportionate value: 1) small forwards, 2) bigs that combined blocks, steals and three 3) high-usage, low turnover non-point guards.
Turner is the personification of Group 2.
Why specifically had Turner stood out as a Bold Prediction? Because not only was his game ready-made for the system, but it seemed like Fantasyland had decided to spend all their draft capital on the other atypical producer in Indiana’s frontcourt: Domantas Sabonis.
Sabonis is a fine points-system player. But he was going right about where he should in most drafts. And Turner wasn’t. So, I wanted to call it out to anyone still prepping to draft.
This year, I expect to see more leagues than usual drafting late. The odd start time of this season, slammed into the heart of the holidays, the general state of the world… all means some fantasy fans are waiting until now to draft.
Still thinking of drafting, or looking to make some early in-season trades? High-usage, low-turnover non-PGs are worthy of deeper consideration.
Today I’d like to examine Group 3. Players that control a comparatively high amount of possession that aren’t point guards.
How do we identify those players? By using one of our most valuable secondary stats. One of the stats that drives the stats that generate fantasy value: Usage Rate.
I tend to harp quite a bit on the Great Fault Line that divides and governs fantasy value: volume vs. efficiency. I’ve long prized players that dominate possession, do it efficiently and generate positive results. Players that generate assists, points scored and 3s. Meaning… point guards.
But there is a glut in value at point guard this season. Too much available value. And ESPN’s new points system amplifies the glut. There’s so much value available at point guard, that differentiation at the position becomes difficult to achieve. Scarcity at point guard has gone out the window.
But if we look at non-point guards that control possession? We start to find some value.
Usage rate tells us how many possessions an individual player is involved in where they are on the floor. When you have the ball in your hands more often, you’re bound to produce more statistical results. Now, that can be a negative result if you’re counting turnovers. But in every other way, players are producing fantasy-friendly results: points, assists and 3s.
Usage rate can confirm the obvious. Of course, many top-20 players are going to have high usage. But small leaps in usage can make subtle differences in the top 20. And even subtle differences that high are big differences. Look at which top-20 ADP players are vividly outproducing their high ADPs — Jayson Tatum and Bradley Beal. They also have sky-high Usage Rates (30.6 and 34.7).
What we want to do is look at some players with early season bumps in usage that may still be undervalued in your league.
Because high usage may not equate to the other important factor governing volume: minutes. When young players take a leap in usage, it’s usually for one of two reasons: 1) they’re sixth men called upon to provide instant offense 2) they’re taking a leap in their overall NBA development.
What we want to do is identify rising young players or bench players that are getting more opportunities with possession. Let’s take a look.
For someone tracking as a future fantasy elite, Brown’s usage rate is spiking right on schedule.
After posting small, steady upticks in his usage over his first four seasons, Brown has jumped up to 29.3 in 2020-21. He’s now butting right up against the magic isage threshold: 30.0. That tends to be the tipping point where very good wing players morph into fantasy All-Stars.
For evolving, elite young fantasy wings, the key developmental trait remains: will their efficiency grow as their minutes and touches grow? Do they get better from the field with a bigger role? The big-picture trends all indicate Brown could finish the season as a top-15 points player. The good news: his volume stats (26.2 PTS, 5.4 REB, 3.3 APG, 2.3 3PG, 1.7 SPG) are already top-15. The better news: his efficiency (24.8 PER, 62.7 TS%) is also currently top-15.
Fantasyland understands LeVert is going to be a tough player to roster this season. Given a steady diet of 30.0 MPG, LeVert would have top-30 fantasy potential. But early season indications point to LeVert’s minutes being governed by Kevin Durant’s availability, which makes him a tough player to project for two reasons.
One: will LeVert’s minutes decrease as Durant plays his way back to full strength?
LeVert’s only start of the year came on December 28, a mandatory night off for Durant and Kyrie Irving. It was no coincidence that was the evening LeVert’s produced his biggest game to date (28 points, 11 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 3s, 5 steals, 65 total fantasy points).
But what happens as the season progresses, and Durant’s load management decreases? Because LeVert probably needs more normalcy if he is to overcome question number two.
Two: will LeVert become a more efficient player?
Never known for his shooting consistency, LeVert runs hot and cold in terms of performance from the field. He’s also posted a troubling tendency of many young fantasy players who never quite become elite: as his role increases, his true shooting percentage decreases.
LeVert’s best shooting season? His rookie campaign, the only season to date where he met the league average (55.6 TS%). He’s been devolving from the field ever since.
Let’s say LeVert sticks at his current average of 25.5 MPG. Then his usage rate rises to existential importance in terms of fantasy value. Realistically speaking, he’ll have to stay right around a 30.0 USG% to get the touches he’ll need to generate production.
Fox is a point guard, but I’m including him in this discussion because of one reason: Tyrese Haliburton. Their fantasy values largely rely on ensuring both players get star-level minutes and touches… and not cannibalizing each other’s production.
Fox’s usage rate is actually a tick down from last season. But it was good early season news to see he was sustaining his high rate of possession given the addition of Haliburton… until Fox pulled a hamstring last night.
No word as of this writing as to how serious the injury is. But any extended time on the shelf could open the door for more minutes to shift to Haliburton, who impressed in extended time (17 points, 6 assists, 7 rebounds, 3 3s, 3 steals, 54 total fantasy points).
Fox’s counting stats flash elite potential. But he’s a player that performs better in points leagues than roto. Because the shortcomings in his stats are in areas that roto scoring will punish.
Fantasy-wise, Fox is probably at his ceiling in terms of usage. Regarding his top-30 potential, the question remains: can Fox improve his offensive efficiency? He was right around the league average in true shooting percentage (55.8 TS%) last season. And he hasn’t posted any early indications of improvement. Fox also has yet to show he can be elite in terms of assist rate (5.6 per game).
Haliburton projects as a more efficient player. But Fox just signed a signed a max extension, so you want to assume there’s a big picture plan for Fox and Haliburton to co-exist. But… this is Sacramento we’re talking about.
3-5 weeks. Brooks is going to get only that long to carve out a bigger chunk of possessions for the duration. Because that’s how long Ja Morant is projected to be out. Obviously, they play different positions. But Brooks has jumped up a place in Memphis’ offensive pecking order. And the corresponding increase in usage is supercharging his production.
Brooks is currently knocking on the door to top-50 value in point leagues. Like the other players on this list (outside of Brown), Brooks is far better in points than in roto. In points leagues, Brooks’ bumped-up volume (in Morant’s absence) is giving him plenty of opportunities to overcome his mediocre shooting (47.8 TS%) and tendency to turn the ball over (2.7 TPG).
Brooks is only hitting 38.7% of his shots from the field. That is bad. The good news? He’s hitting 35.4% of his 3-point shots. That is merely mediocre. But Brooks is going to have to up his efficiency to retain a grip on his expanded role after Morant returns.
Here’s a deep league consideration. Clarkson is only averaging 22.4 MPG, but he’s racking up a huge number of touches as the offensive anchor of the Jazz’ second unit. And he’s continuing his career-long trend towards averaging as many 3-point attempts (5.4 3PA) as 2-point attempts (6.5 2PA). Throw in his current (what would be a career high) 41.9 3PT%, his solid steals (1.1 SPG) and rebounds (4.0 RPG), and you have the makings of sustainable deep league production.