The Razzball team was putting in our fantasy all-star votes recently (more on that to come) and we noticed something strange: it seemed like an inordinate amount of top 50 fantasy players were from the Eastern Conference.

Upon further inspection, this turned out to be 100% true! According to Basketball Monster, 29 of the top 50 players in per-game value were from the Eastern Conference, including nine of the top 15 players. In total value, 29 of the top 50 were from the Eastern Conference, while a shocking 10 of the top 14 were as well.

Conspiracies immediately began flying, and while I don’t actually think that the league has asked statisticians to pad the stats of east coast teams because none of them are going to win the NBA championship, I thought there must be something behind this. So I started tossing out theories.

COVID

The first, most obvious, theory was that the Eastern Conference teams had simply played more games due to Western Conference teams getting their games postponed. This could at least explain the dominance in “total value” as they simply would have had more games and therefore put out more stats.

But after checking out the NBA’s list of postponed games, it was clear that 30 out of 60 teams who have had their games postponed so far this season were Eastern Conference teams. If you’re good at math, that comes out to exactly 50%, and we didn’t even count the one game that has been rescheduled and played already between the Washington Wizards and the Charlotte Hornets. Both Eastern Conference teams.

It’s clear then that there is no advantage there.

Injuries

Okay, if it’s not missed games due to COVID, I could bet my bottom dollar that those west coast dudes are just missing some games because of injuries right?

Wrong. I took a look at this list for players that had missed 15 games or more this season due to injury and counted them as “missing” if they had reached the top 65 players in the previous two seasons and weren’t currently in the top 50 players this season.

Here’s the list for the Western Conference guys that maybe could be in the top 50 if they were, you know, playing:

Here’s the list of Eastern Conference guys who meet the same qualifications:

Okay, okay. So if it’s NOT COVID or injuries, is it time to consider that the Eastern Conference is just better?!?!?! Obviously not. There are a few more hypotheses I had that could explain why the superior conference wasn’t represented at the top.

Pace

The next theory was that pace may have something to do with the added fantasy value. In short and in simplest terms: if a team has more possessions, they also have more opportunity to produce every single statistic we count in fantasy.

I used Hollinger’s team statistics, and it looks like there may or may not be some correlation here. Eight of the top 15 teams in pace were east coast teams, which is slightly more than half of the top half of the league in pace. I must be onto something! Here are the Eastern Conference teams pushing the pace this season and how many players are in the top 50 on those teams:

Team Per-Game Top 50 Total Value Top 50
Washington Wizards 1 1
Milwaukee Bucks 3 2
Chicago Bulls 1 1
Philadelphia 76ers 2 3
Brooklyn Nets 3 3
Indiana Pacers 3 3
Charlotte Hornets 2 3
Toronto Raptors 5 3

That’s good enough to represent 39 out of 58 of our top 50 players, which is about 67.2% of those players. It looks like we’re onto something, but I had a few more theories I wanted to look at first.

Defensive Statistic Bias

In fantasy hoops, we tend to put a premium on defensive statistics since they’re such scarce statistics and, thus, more valuable than a point or a rebound. So maybe the good folks over at Basketball Monster simply wrote their algorithm with more emphasis on steals and blocks than a regular basketball fan might have.

There is certainly some statistical bias going on here. I sorted the top 50 players per-game in fantasy hoops by how many steals per game they were producing. 15 of the top 25 in steals per game out of this group were Eastern Conference guys. For blocks it was was the same, with 15 out of 25 of the top block-getters being from the Eastern Conference. That’s not quite enough to be relevant though as 58% of the top guys are from the Eastern Conference to begin with, so the 60% representation in that top 25 for both steals and blocks could be within the margin of error.

For total value, it was nearly the same story. For steals 15 out of the top 25 players were Eastern Conference players and for blocks. But for blocks it was a bit more significant as 17 out of 25 of those players were Eastern Conference players. That’s good enough for 68% representation!

Minutes Played

Perhaps the people topping these lists are playing a boatload of minutes, which would explain their increased statistical output in relation to their peers. After looking at the data, this turned out to be totally true. Taking both of these 50-player groups and sorting them by minutes per game yielded the top 17 out of 25 players being Eastern Conference players for both total value and per-game value!

Toronto and Brooklyn were heavily represented here, so obviously those are teams to target in the future, assuming the trio in Brooklyn stays together!

Conclusion

There isn’t really any one factor, but if I had to nail it down it would be a combination of factors that have led to the edge that Eastern Conference players have over their Western Conference counterparts. An increased pace for most of these guys coupled with more minutes on the floor goes a long way towards explaining this particular phenomenon. The bias that fantasy rankers have towards defensive stats plays a minor role too, but it’s not as important.

The next question is how many of you have teams stacked with Eastern Conference players and how are you doing in your leagues? I wanna know. Hit me in the comments!

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Jesse Murray
1 year ago

Thought on adding tj? Too early yet?

Wen
Wen
1 year ago

Hi Keith,
I am in 12-team H2H standard 9-CAT league. I have a tough trade decision and need your advice. Someone offered me Lonzo Ball + Brandon Clarke for my Tyrese Haliburton + Miles Bridges. Would you take it? It is quite even to me. Thanks for your help!

Wen
Wen
1 year ago
Reply to  Keith

Really really good analysis, thank you! 🙂