NBA Market Share Report: Don't Forget DeMar DeRozan
What better way to tip off the NBA season than with stat lines appearing to be manufactured by machine, long-awaited and positive developments from the main layer of #TheProcess headquarters, and a certain dinosaur playing like a man possessed? We’re only a little more than week in, and as the kids would say, it’s lit.
This Market Watch article will be a weekly staple here at numberFire this hoops season, and while we may not be able to break down every interesting or intriguing stat or storyline from the week that was, we can pick out a few nuggets and predict how things shake out within the fantasy marketplace.
Given the sample size, the most important question at this point in the young season is whether or not the basketball we’ve seen is sustainable. Are the performances we’re seeing closer to the norm -- or likely to regress? Can certain efficiency keep pace? Will particular deficiencies smooth their way out?
Here is a handful of pieces to kick things off.
DeMar DeRozan May Be Possessed
When it comes to hot starts to the season, you’re likely to hear names such as Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden -- and for good reason. But leaving DeMar DeRozan off that list would be unfair.
As if his 36 points per game on 55 percent shooting isn’t impressive enough, diving a tad deeper into DeRozan’s offensive numbers through four games can become even more remarkable. His 0.556 points per touch ranks first in the league amongst those averaging at least 20 minutes per game, and that number becomes even more compelling when you take into account his 65 touches per game, which is 11th-most amongst non-point guards.
Take Andrew Wiggins for example -- another young star off to a great start this season -- who ranks a close second behind DeRozan at 0.555 points per touch. Still impressive numbers and still noteworthy given his nearly 24 points per game in 34 minutes of action, but now consider Wiggins' achievement on almost 23 fewer touches per game. Wiggins is clearly still an awesome scoring threat, but DeRozan is seeing a ton of touches per game, and it doesn’t water down his scoring efficiency in the slightest. DeRozan’s usage rate of 38.1 percent is third-highest of any player having played at least 10 minutes this season, and he seems physically unable to avoid scoring the ball like a man possessed.
So is DeRozan’s current Terminator scoring sustainable? The best answer may be: why not? He’s hitting everything he throws at the rim, which seems to be roughly the size of Wrigley Field through DeRozan’s eyes, and he’s doing so by a variety of different avenues, whether through and above tight defense, attacking the rim, or getting to the free throw line. Sure, shooters can run cold, but DeRozan’s volume (his 25 attempts per game trails only Westbrook) isn’t going anywhere, and we should all feel comfortable sticking on board until it does.
As a Tony Fades, a Patty Blooms
Before consuming the next sentence, please let it be known that no one’s downing Tony Parker. He’s great, the San Antonio Spurs are beautiful, and I would never intentionally talk down to such a lovely basketball device. But, that said, it’s time we move Parker to the back burner and gush over Patty Mills.
When Parker plays, Parker starts, but roles and titles don’t necessarily mean a whole lot in San Antonio unless your name is Kawhi Leonard or LaMarcus Aldridge. Parker’s starting role is earning him about 27 minutes per game to Mills’ 21, but it’s Mills who’s been the more productive offensive spark. Not only is Mills averaging almost three more shots per game than Parker is, but 60 percent of those shots are coming from beyond the arc, as Mills leads the team with 5.2 three-point attempts per game. And because he’s connecting on half of his downtown heaves, Mills’ 12.2 points per game more than doubles Parker’s 5.5.
Perhaps even more important here is how much more effective the Spurs are as a team with Mills in the game as opposed to Parker. With Mills on the floor, San Antonio’s offense is scoring 27 more points per 100 possessions, they’re seeing their effective field goal percentage increase by more than 8 percent, their turnover ratio drops, and their pace surges 8 extra possessions per 48 minutes.
Again, this isn’t to say Parker is chopped liver, but this trend would seem to have some sticking power. Not only is Mills providing more offense, but the Spurs as a team are also more explosive and more efficient when he’s on the floor.
When Is It Okay to Trust the Process?
The wait is over. Maybe. Hopefully.
Somewhat reminiscent of the Big Foot theory, the only difference as it pertains to Joel Embiid is that instead of hearing and hearing about the mythical creature and never actually seeing it with our own eyes, we actually do get to see Joel Embiid play basketball. And it’s glorious. But what can we expect from here?
There’s no questioning the entertainment factor attached to Embiid on a basketball court. In addition to his overall physical presence and athleticism, something has to be said for how comfortable he looks. His confidence shooting over a defender or his sense of certainty with the ball in his hands late in a game (the season-opener against the Oklahoma City Thunder comes to mind). All that stuff is great. But at some point, the minute restriction would seem to diminish what could otherwise be some insane per-game volume.
Embiid’s current usage rate of 41.8 percent is second only to Russell Westbrook among those averaging at least 20 minutes per game, and his lofty offensive totals like accounting for 37 percent of the Philadelphia 76ers’ field goal attempts and nearly 44 percent of their points scored when he’s on the floor is mouthwatering stuff for fantasy owners.
But unfortunately, it’s a happiness we may have to curb. Embiid could easily do enough damage to take home Rookie of the Year hardware, but just as coaches will monitor his minutes, we as fantasy owners, particularly DFS players, will have to monitor each matchup and stay up on Embiid’s rest, back-to-back situations, and other durability-related details.
As much as we’d like to get weird with Embiid every night, it’ll require more of an analytical approach on a game-by-game basis, unlike other high-usage guys who are near-locks to build your lineup around.
The Russell in the Machine
The fact that Russell Westbrook has started the season playing half minotaur and half robot probably isn’t all that surprising. Before the season started, we discussed the possibility of Oscar Robertson-like stat lines this year and the anticipated role adjustment following the departure of Kevin Durant, all powered by the natural insanity that seizes Westbrook as soon as he steps onto a basketball court. But even if it does have a little "I told ya so" feel to it, it’s only appropriate we take a second to acknowledge just how machine-like it really is.
Through four games this season, Westbrook is in fact averaging a triple-double -- 38 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists per game. And to amplify stats like the highest usage rate among players averaging at least 20 minutes per game and a 33.4 PER, it’s important not to forget that no player averages more touches per game than Westbrook (108, with the next closest player being Damian Lillard at 96), which then leads to no player dominating the ball more than he does at nine minutes of possession per game.
Perhaps the question of sustainability is most popular as it pertains to Russ and his hot start, and for obvious reasons. But again, the answer shouldn’t necessarily surprise. His production is absolutely feasible over the course of an entire season, with the lone question of uninterrupted durability serving as the possible bump in the road. Because when one player shoulders a team the way Westbrook does in Oklahoma City, that player really does need to be a machine. Fortunately for us, Westbrook hasn’t given us any reason to doubt that.
T.J. Warren, Maybe by Default
Prior to the start of the season, if you were asked to pick one guy to lead the Phoenix Suns in scoring, you’d likely name a guard. Not just because Eric Bledsoe is on the team, but also because the backcourt in Phoenix is a crowded unit and you’d be playing your best odds. But here we are, five games in, and a 23-year-old T.J. Warren is leading the Suns with 22 points per game on 50 percent shooting from the floor.
There’s no real deep dive into Warren’s start to the year -- rather the simple fact that he’s filling a role, doing it well, and doesn’t appear to be in any danger of losing it. He’s playing 36 minutes per game with a usage rate of 24 percent, and he is taking almost 18 shots a night, ninth-most in the league. And as a bonus, he isn’t turnover prone, and he’s adding almost two steals and six rebounds per game.
Warren probably doesn’t finish the season as the Suns' leading scorer, but until further notice, he’s a nice play in your FanDuel lineups. According to our Trends tool, Warren’s salary has seen the largest change of any small forward over the past five games with an increase of 31 percent, so we’ll have to keep an eye on that. But for a guy who can get you 40 points in a given night, T.J. Warren is a lesser known name to keep in mind when building your rosters.