Fantasy Basketball: Darren Collison's Days as a Standard League Asset Might Be Numbered
Last week, it seemed like Darren Collison had finally broken out of his funk.
The Sacramento Kings guard got hot for three games, averaging 22 points and 3 three-pointers per contest on 60 percent shooting from the field across nearly 40 minutes per game.
Collison’s long-suffering fantasy basketball owners rejoiced. And then he fell off the face of the earth yet again, averaging 6.5 points in just over 25 minutes per game over his next two.
These sorts of peaks and valleys have been the common course for Collison and his fantasy owners this year.
But this stretch has a particular sting of disappointment to it. The recent season-ending injury to Rudy Gay would seem, in theory, to open up a massive usage gap that could very well get Collison’s disappointing season back on track.
Yet his inconsistencies have continued with Gay on the shelf. Even factoring his explosive stretch last week, the eighth-year guard has averaged a modest 13 points, 3.4 assists, and 1.5 threes over the eight games since Gay’s injury. It has taken Collison's trademark shooting efficiency (49 percent from the field and perfect from the line during that span) to elevate such tepid production to fringe fantasy relevancy.
Is Collison simply no longer the player who averaged over 16 points and 5 assists per game during his first season in Sacramento? Does he have any notable fantasy value going forward?
Rudy On, Rudy Off
As a way to understand Collison’s tenuous present fantasy value, let's split his stats with Gay on the floor against those with Gay out of lineup.
A lot of what we see here is unsurprising -- Collison gets a couple more shots per game, and he’s less efficient at that higher volume.
But the degree to which his efficiency plummets is rather alarming, perhaps hinting there are sample size anomalies at work.
And indeed, there was a 10-game stretch that Gay missed earlier this winter, coinciding with a ghastly run of three-point shooting for Collison, who made only 25 percent of his shots from deep over that span, compared to a career mark approaching 38 percent.
In fact, Collison shot 38 percent from the field overall during that stretch, well below his near 47 percent career standard. So, it seems this was indeed a cold spell that makes this split a less-than-ideal starting point.
Truth be told, this split ultimately raises more questions than it answers -- why has Collison’s assist rate flatlined without Gay around to siphon touches?
Splitting The Pie
This trend is especially alarming when we consider the Kings’ 60 percent rate of buckets off assists (AST %) this season has been a top-10 mark across the league, and that already impressive rate has jumped to over 65 percent over their last 8 games with Gay on the sidelines.
If the Kings have been forced to spread the ball around even more in Gay’s absence, why isn’t Collison benefiting?
The answer here lies with the usage of his point guard battery mate, Ty Lawson.
Let’s compare some usage indicators -- usage percentage (USG%), field goal share (%FG) and assist share (%AST) -- for Collison and Lawson during the last 8 games without Gay, alongside those same marks from November of this season, the team’s last extended stretch with Gay in the lineup.
|Collison Last Eight||30.5||19.4||20.7||22.7|
|Lawson Last Eight||22.4||20||18.1||51.6|
Lawson’s minutes have taken a hit, but his usage and offensive shares are notably up across the board. Meanwhile, Collison has seen virtually no change in his minutes or overall usage, and his marginal gains in field goal share are offset by a major decline in assist shares.
The degree to which Lawson is hogging the assist pie is indeed staggering. But it’s not just Lawson whose assists are up -- DeMarcus Cousins has seen his assist share balloon from 22.4 percent in the November sample to 31.2 in the last 8 games.
Now, on the one hand, massive assist production isn’t exactly Collison’s forte -- his career per-game mark is 4.8, and his seasonal marks have been on the decline over the past three seasons in Sacramento.
On the other hand, it does seem quite odd to watch his offensive shares flatline while the other impact players around him thrive.
The Sacramento Iceberg
Another statistical oddity for Collison is the fact that his per-100 possession numbers this season do not reflect the rate of overall decline that his actual production suggests.
|2015-16 Per 100||16.8||1.9||3.7||6.9||1.6||22.4|
|2016-17 Per 100||17.2||2||3.5||7||1.7||21.9|
Sure, there are slight dips in rebounds and points, but everything else seems right in line with Collison’s rates from when he was a solid back-end fantasy asset last season.
What seems to be the problem here is not Collison himself, but the Kings’ newfound tendency to take their sweet time on offense.
Sacramento has gone from being the one of the league’s fastest paced teams (averaging a league-leading 102.24 offensive possessions per game last season) to one of the league’s slowest (averaging 96.64 possessions, fourth-lowest this season). Their iceberg pace has slowed even further with Gay out these last 8 games, down over 2 possessions a game to an average 94.54.
So, in short, Collison is not only getting less of the pie, but the pie itself seems to be getting smaller.
Value Going Forward
The question remains whether this trend of extra-slow play from the Kings and tepid usage for Collison will hold.
This stretch without Gay has also coincided with a rather grueling road trip, featuring 8 away games across 12 nights. It could be the case that the Kings simply haven’t had time to adjust to Gay’s absence and are especially sluggish as a result.
Collison’s fantasy owners better hope so, because if the Kings continue to lurch at half-speed and the point guard's usage continues to wane, his standard league fantasy appeal could wither.
He's ranked just barely inside of the top 120 in to-date fantasy performers according to numberFire, with his only marginally positive contributions being in the assist, field goal percentage, free throw percentage, and turnover categories.
Indeed, Collison’s usefulness in the efficiency categories has been his fantasy calling card throughout his career. His near 49 percent mark from the field last season was a major buoy to his value, and his stellar 86 percent shooting the charity stripe this season is right in line with his career norms.
But these marks will only have an impact for fantasy owners if they come along with a reasonably high volume of attempts.
In this respect, Collison is toeing a very thin line of fantasy relevancy, especially with his waning assist usage patterns and his relatively pedestrian production in steals and threes.
Unless he and the Kings turn a corner in the final stretch of the fantasy season, Collison could prove to be a very shaky, team-build-specific fantasy asset at best.