In 2016, Daryl Morey hired Mike D’Antoni as head coach. It was a match made in heaven, as Morey believed that three-pointers, layups, and free throws were the most efficient shots to take. D’Antoni? Did someone say three-pointers? Three-coooooola. The Rockets improved from 41-41 in 2015 to 55-27 with D’Antonio at the helm. They blitzed the league with 115.3 points per game, just 0.6 fewer than the vaunted Golden State Warriors. They hoisted up an absurd 40.3 three-pointers a game and made a league-high 14.4. Then the playoffs happened. After disposing of the Oklahoma City Thunder, D’Antoni and Morey were bested by Greg Popovich. Pop did not figure out the magic formula to shut down the Rockets O. What he did do was disrupt the rhythm and force the Rockets to do what they were most uncomfortable doing: shoot the midrange. Pop would use Kawhi Leonard to chase James Harden all over the court and plant Pau Gasol in the middle of the lane. The other three players would be paparrazi and follow their subjects wherever they went. As a result, three-pointers, layups, and free throws were defended. Everything in the midrange was conceded. Result? Spurs 4. Rockets 2. There was only one option to pursue. Better Call Paul, as in

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Good morrow to thee, neighbours! It was a fun night for hoops, especially if you’re a fan of mediocre basketball teams! The Atlanta Hawks scraped by the previously decent Orlando Magic and what a matchup it was! A special shoutout goes to Ersan Ilyasova who went for 26/3/4 on a perfect 9-for-9 FG with five threes, 3-for-5 FT. and no turnovers. It was a pretty spectacular game for Ersan. With Dewayne Dedmon and John Collins (and Mike Muscala) all missing from the Hawks’ frontcourt, there’s minutes to go around and Ilyasova is definitely the man in line to take them. Here’s what else I saw last night in fantasy basketball:

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I’ve got a punt free throw percentage dynasty team that I love so much that I practically cheer for missed free throws. Logically, I know this is silly, but bricked freebies are my brand, I guess you’d say. For those of you punters that can relate, today I’ll give you some adjusted player rankings for the season. And if you haven’t tried a punt strategy, or haven’t been successful with one, maybe this’ll pique your interest for next season.

Last week, I listed the top 20 players in each category as well as the relevant bottom 20. This week, we’ll kinda do the opposite. I’ll remove some categories that you might benefit from ignoring, whether it was part of your plan or you just found yourself uncompetitive in a category that’s not worth trying to catch up in by patching it together at the expense of other categories.

First, free throw punters. I’ll give you the top 20 in per-game value (and others that make big leaps) for 8-category and 9-category with free throw percentage removed (through 12/5). All of today’s lists come from Basketball Monster stat ratings. Keep in mind that you’re not just looking for the worst free throw shooters. Those are the guys that benefit the most from removing this category, but it doesn’t mean they’re the most valuable to your team. They ARE, however, significantly more valuable to a free throw punter than anyone else. So, if you’re at the bottom of your roto league in FT% (or if you never compete in head-2-head), don’t try to just add a couple good FT shooters to fix it. Maybe that gets you a roto point or two at most. Go all in, and trade off some good FT shooters for the guys below, especially those that are cheaper since they benefit the most from punting (in bold) and watch your team gain in FG%, rebounds, and blocks.

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Off the court, Russell Westbrook is a goofy, fun-loving guy. He jokes around and dons himself with whimsical articles of clothing. Get him to the arena, though, and he transforms into a raging, psychopathic maniac. He dunks like Thor whomping his hammer downwards. The millions of people affected by Colonialism and Imperialism have a voice when he Euro-steps. Barreling down the court on a fast break, there is no game of chicken. Only mincemeat. So, it’s no surprise that he messed around last night.

PTS REB AST STL BLK TOV 3PT FG FT
 34 13 14 1 1 7 2/9 12/25 8/9

I agree that the triple-dub is an overrated stat, but it is what it is. After last night’s performance, Russ now has 86 for his career. 1 more gets him to 87. 187. Damn, the Universe is too good. Anyways, Russ got off to a slow start this season, as he kind of did the Kobe. You know? Where he chills out the first couple of quarters and tries to let his teammates do their thing. With the Thunder 11-12 on the season, Russ has hit the switch to make the ass drop and will be freakin brothers everyway like MJ. Every day will be a good day the rest of the way. At least for fantasy owners.

Here’s what else I saw last night:

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For the first few weeks of the season, I try not to focus on the standings. I look, of course, but I do so knowing that there have been outlier games, whose impacts are more pronounced due to the small sample size. Also, most teams have a player or two that’s missed the majority of the games and they might also have been starting a replacement player that’s not going to keep it up much longer. However, we’re now about a quarter of the way through the NBA season. The data is relatively predictable. You should know which categories you need to focus on in order to gain points and which ones to ignore, either because you’re stuck at the bottom or entrenched at the top of a category (or if you always win or lose the category by a ton in head-to-head).

Today, we’ll look at the ESPN Player Rater. Tony RP’s Player Rater updates will give you a picture of who’s most valuable by position. I thought I’d go by category to see who’s doing what for us. Here are the top 20 players by category plus the bottom 20 for relevant ones, skipping players that have hardly played. So, it’s just the per-game stat leaders you may be familiar with, except that the percentage categories are weighted by volume. Turnovers are from BasketballMonster, since ESPN doesn’t include them.

So, how is this useful? Obviously, you want players that score well overall on the Player Rater. But, if you’re like me, you’ll be surprised to see some of your players pop up on these lists. Also, keeping in mind which categories you need help in, this can help you find some trade targets. Or, if you’re out of it in points or FG%, maybe ship off a guy that’s in the top 20 that’s not doing much else for you. If you’re in the middle of the pack in FT% and you see that you have one of the worst offenders there, maybe you can ditch him and gain points (just keep in mind what you might be losing in other categories from him). A lot can be gained by learning what’s actually happening compared to what we assume is happening based on previous years or projections.

Next week, I’ll get back into multi-category rankings for those that are ignoring categories, whether intentionally or as a matter of the hand you’ve been dealt. Think punt FG% & TOs, or for FT% punters: 3PTM+AST+ST+PTS+TO rankings, which are what you want to complement your FT% anchors with. That’s when you can really find trade value, since all players now have a new value to your specific team.

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The Celtics’ impressive 16-game winning streak is now over. Is it a coincidence that 16 is half of 32, which is the number of games that the ’71 Lakers won in a row? I do not believe in coincidences, until I do. Which makes this iteration of the Celtics half the team of that glorious Lakers squad. All kidding aside, it was an impressive run. The team stepped up when they lost Gordon Hayward, Brad Stevens is now a legitimate Presidential candidate, Kyrie is…..well, Kyrie, and the defense has been the league’s best, by a big margin according to defensive efficiency. I tried everything in the book to jinx the streak. Voodoo dolls, shrines, sacrificing of virgins, and rubbing my scrotum with four-leaf clovers. All to no avail. I had to harken back to the past. All the way back to the ancient days of the early 1990’s. It was during that time, the secret was unlocked by the Leprechaun movies. You see, in the original, the leprechaun is defeated when the well it falls into is blown up. Explosion. Fire. In the third movie, the lepechaun is defeated via flamethrower. Heat was needed and Heat we got Wednesday night, as the Miami Heat took down the Boston Leprechauns 104-98. Who led the way? None other than Goran Dragic, aka the Dragon, who was spewing fire from all over the court: 27 points, five boards, four dimes, and one liberation. He shot 8-of-17 from the field and 2-of-4 from downtown. Waiters Island was booming, as Dion Waiters scored 26 points, grabbed two boards, and dished out six dimes. He shot 11-of-24 from the field and 4-of-10 from downtown. How do you beat the Celtics? Shoot 49.4% from the field, which was 4% higher than their season average. Translation: bring the Heat.

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A capella music is singing without instrumental accompaniment. According to choraldirectormag.com, here’s what’s needed to create an a capella group: soloist, great bass, original music, time together, and momentum. That basically describes the Houston Rockets. Let’s break it down. Mike D’Antoni doesn’t micromanage possessions like some coaches. Things flow naturally. Soloist. James Harden. Great bass, the voice that’s low and powerful. Clint Capela fills that role by battling down low and doing the dirty work on the glass. Original music. Mike D’Antoni’s “Seven Seconds or Less” offense from the Phoenix days combined with the analytics of Daryl Morey equals “Game the Math.” Time together. Self explanatory. Momentum. The Rockets offense in a nutshell. Yesterday’s game against the Indiana Pacers was a microcosm of the synergy they’ve displayed all season enroute to an 11-3 record, with six victories in a row. Harden led the way with 26 points, five boards, 15 dimes, and two steals. Capela provided the base with 20 points, 17 boards, one dime, and one block. Eric Gordon filled his gunner role by hoisting up 11 downtowners. He finished with 21 points, one board, four dimes, two steals, and one block. If this was college, you’d think he was trying to get laid. Trevor Ariza scored 15 points, grabbed five boards, dished out a dime, and pilfered two. He’s Mr. Versatility. Can hit the high, low, and middle notes. Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker provide toughness while still being an offensive threat. It’s going to be interesting when Chris Paul returns to the fray.

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