Fantasy Basketball Edge: Russell Westbrook's timely resurgence

It’s a new year, but the NBA season keeps rolling on, with twists and turns, and injuries, and breakout performances. I’m going to try to find some interesting numbers to look at in this week’s Edge.

Russell Westbrook’s free throw shooting

Russell Westbrook’s free throw shooting is something that requires discussion. Over his first nine seasons, he never had a year dip below 78% and only one season went under 80%.

Then, the NBA changed the rules, forbidding players from stepping back to receive a high five from a player behind them and Westbrook crumbled. He dropped down to 74% in 17-18 and all the way to 66% last season. That is a staggering drop.

But somehow this season, something has changed. Westbrook is back at 80% on the year now, but over the first 14 games of this season, he shot only 69% and it looked like it was more of the same.

Russell Westbrook's improved free throw shooting has helped give his fantasy value a much-needed boost. (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

Over the next 16 games, Westbrook is at 92% from the line. That is a staggering difference.

And that, along with some other improvements have bumped his fantasy points per game from 43.49 up to 48.04. Let’s hope this new change, back to the old Westbrook, sticks.

Kelly Oubre is dominating

Kelly Oubre is the 28th ranked player for fantasy points leagues in the last week, averaging 40.35 points, well up on his 32.86 over the course of the season. So how is that happening, especially given that Deandre Ayton is back and Oubre’s usage has actually decreased, down to 20.2%?

He is molten hot from three, knocking in 57 percent from deep on 5.3 attempts, which is close to his usual volume, but he usually shoots at 35 percent, but that’s not all. He is at 2.3 steals in those four games, versus 1.5 on the season.

Is that a fluke? A little.

On the season, Oubre averages 3.4 deflections per game, but he is up to 4.5 per game in these last four games, indicating an increased level of defensive activity. You would probably expect a smaller amount of steals, given that increase in deflections, so that makes a couple of things for Oubre that are a little outsized based on what we can expect moving forward.

Derrick Favors is back, and the Pelicans are good

It’s been frustrating having Derrick Favors on a fantasy team this season. Knee injuries limited him to begin the season, then a back injury, and then he missed time to grieve over the death of his mother.

Since Favors has been back and his minutes limit lifted, the Pelicans are 4-1 and are on a four-game winning streak, and last game, Favors saw 35 minutes. So what is interesting here?

There was some concern that Favors would hold back the Pelicans and wouldn’t pay much due to the uptempo nature of their game style. So, let’s look at how New Orleans’ pace has looked. With Favors off the court, either on the bench or injured, the Pelicans average 102.4 possessions per game, but when Favors plays, they slow it down to 101.1 possessions.

That’s not a huge drop and that offset in pace in made up for by the fact the Pelicans defence is 1.1 points per 100 possessions better with Favors on court, and their offence also improves by 1.8 points.

So, for fantasy, what this means is that as long as Favors stays healthy, we can expect him to play and play a decent amount and over those five games, he is averaging 36.12 fantasy points, which puts him firmly in the top 50.

Who is Jordan McRae, and is his game sustainable?

Most of you would’ve seen Washington Wizards guard Jordan McRae’s name pop up on the most added list in fantasy. Some of you won’t have heard of him before, but his recent play has been great.

In his last four games, McRae has averaged 33.53 fantasy points, good for 58th during the last week, but two of those games were without Bradley Beal. Fortunately, it’s not just games without Beal that McRae has been playing well. Since returning from his finger fracture, McRae has posted 22.4, 31.0, 54.8, and 25.9 in his four games, with at least 29 minutes in three straight games, the last of those with Beal playing.

Is there anything unsustainable in what he is doing? I’m glad you asked. Yes, yes there is. In 27 games last season, McRae shot 29% from deep.

This season, he is at 47% and in those four games since returning, he is at 59%. That’s mainly because he has been getting wide-open looks. Of the shots he has taken, 13.5% have been considered wide-open triples by NBA.com, almost two attempts per game, and he has converted those at over 71%.

Over that time, only Brandon Ingram has converted at a higher rate for players taking more than one open three per game and who has played more than one game.

Aaron Holiday, starting point guard

Malcolm Brogdon is the Pacers’ starting guard. Let’s get that cleared up. It’s been tough to rely on the former Rookie of the Year though.

He missed three games due to a hamstring injury, returned and lasted eight minutes before going down with back spasms. With Brogdon out, Holiday has been starting in his place and playing well.

Prior to Friday, where he started again, Holiday has been much more productive as a starter than versus in a bench role. Often, it’s the other way around, as more usage can be found in the second unit playing alongside worse players, but for Holiday, in his second season, he has thrived in the spotlight.

Per 36 minutes, as a starter, Holiday is averaging 33.68 fantasy points, while as a reserve, it is only at 28.93.

Over the last two months, in a mix of starting and coming off the bench, Holiday is the 153rd ranked player, so he is someone to keep on your radar, especially if Brogdon remains hurt.

Every week, I’ll be looking at some weird trends across the NBA and seeing what they mean, so make sure you’re checking out The Edge, here every Friday.