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Welcome to The Edge.
Every week, I’m going to be digging deep into the stats to find some numbers that slip under the radar that may give you an advantage in your fantasy basketball league.
Whether that’s in making a deal with another manager or grabbing that rising prospect off the waiver wire.
Today, I am looking at the preseason performances we’ve seen, what is just noise and what has real importance as we head into the start of the NBA season on Wednesday.
Fred VanVleet’s assists
If you have a cursory look at Fred VanVleet’s preseason numbers, you can’t help but be impressed. He is averaging 34.13 fantasy points per game in just 25 minutes, which puts him in the top 12 for the preseason.
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I like VanVleet a lot for this season, but he definitely won’t be first round or even fifth round material. So, why has his value risen this much?
You could point to his steals in pre-season compared to last year.
He has five steals across the two games, which when you look at the fact that VanVleet averaged just 0.9 per game last season, this is a big step forward.
But it’s the assists which are really driving his fantasy value.
VanVleet has dished out 15 assists through his two preseason games for an assist percentage of 40.5 per cent. That is elite.
Last season, FVV managed an assist percentage of just 23.9 per cent, a far cry from the gaudy numbers of preseason. So, we have to ask why.
The answer to that is that FVV has been playing point guard because Kyle Lowry hasn’t seen the court in preseason yet. When Lowry is back, likely Saturday, we are going to see FVV play off the ball a lot more, and those assists will tumble, pushing his fantasy value all the way down.
Jimmy Butler’s usage
Prior to Friday’s game against the Orlando Magic, Jimmy Butler had a usage rate of under 16 per cent. He was more involved Friday, but now in three preseason games, he has a usage barely above average at just 21 per cent.
You may look at that and think it’s not too bad, considering his usage was 21 per cent last season. But context is important. Last season, he had to share the ball with not only Joel Embiid, but Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris.
The season before, his usage was at 25 per cent in Minnesota alongside Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns and at 27 per cent with the Bulls the year before. Miami is not stacked with high usage players, so that number should push back to the 25 mark, rather than this pedestrian number we are seeing in preseason.
These muted performances are often deliberate, as veteran players allow younger guys to get their feet wet, which has happened with Tyler Herro. So, Butler’s usage is very low and I expect it go back up and this may enable you to get Butler at a discount on draft night.
Taurean Prince’s shooting
Taurean Prince was a big disappointment last season for Atlanta. He battled injury, he played just 28 minutes a night and he couldn’t handle the additional offensive role he was pushed into.
He was traded to the Brooklyn Nets in the offseason in exchange for pick 17 and now finds himself in an interesting situation.
He has certainly taken full advantage to begin the preseason. In his first three preseason games, he is averaging 18 points and 26 fantasy points in only 23 minutes.
He averaged just 23 fantasy points last season in 28 minutes, so the production has spiked in Brooklyn. But, why?
Well, he is pencilled in as the starting power forward and has started all games for the Nets so far, so why wouldn’t we expect Prince to continue these performances. For a start, Prince had a career-best shooting season last season, with a true shooting of 58 per cent.
In the preseason, he is at 87 per cent. That is an insane percentage and it is fueled by 74 per cent from three. That’s it. That’s the stat.
When that drops off, and I guarantee it will, Prince’s production looks thoroughly mediocre.
Also with Kenny Atkinson’s minutes’ plan and Rodions Kurucs and Džanan Musa expected to eat into his playing time, if he cracks the top 150 it will be a minor surprise.
The Minnesota Timberwolves pace
Last season, the Wolves were smack bang in the middle of the pack in terms of pace, averaging 100 possessions per game. This preseason, they sit at 114 before the end of Friday’s game.
An extra 14 possessions per game is tantalisingly good for fantasy purposes. That means more shots, more assists, more steals, more blocks, and more rebounds, and of course, more fantasy points.
Pace in the preseason is always elevated, but the Wolves are in their first offseason under Ryan Saunders and are transitioning from the molasses-level offence Tom Thibodeau had installed for years prior.
They are clearly trying to go faster and it’s been successful so far.
This means the fantasy numbers for Karl-Anthony Towns, Robert Covington, Jeff Teague, and even Andrew Wiggins can all be elevated. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Wolves in the top five in pace along with the Hawks, Kings and Pelicans.
Bam Adebayo’s free-throw shooting
Over his first two NBA seasons, Bam has been a 73 per cent free-throw shooter.
At Kentucky, he hit only 65 per cent from the line. This preseason, through four preseason games, Adebayo is 15-of-16 from the line for a 94 per cent conversion rate.
Last season, he averaged 24.93 fantasy points per game. This preseason, in only 22 minutes, he is at 30.5 fantasy points per game.
I like Bam as a borderline top 50 option for points leagues this season and if this improved free-throw shooting continues, he could push a lot higher.
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.