*The NBA recently made some changes to their API that prevents me from getting their data the way I used to. Working on a fix.
Figuring out if your players’ performances are likely to be sustained is one of the most challenging aspects of Fantasy Basketball. All year long you will be asking yourself questions like “is this waiver wire pickup worth holding on to?” and “should I give up on my sixth-round pick who is playing like a 12th-round-pick?”. These are not easy questions to answer and the penalty for getting the answer wrong is often severe and sometimes season-ending. We’ve all missed out on top-50 players because we held onto an underperforming mid-round pick too long or because we didn’t trust that an early-season hot streak would continue.
A player’s field goal percentage is arguably the most difficult category to properly judge. The game-to-game swings are often significant and it is not unusual for a player to shoot well above or well below their typical mark for weeks or even months at a time. Properly judging the sustainability of a player’s field goal percentage becomes even more important when you consider the impact of field goal percentage on the other categories. How well a player shoots from the floor will not only impact his points and threes but often his entire line. Unless he is a star, a player shooting poorly is going to be at risk of having his minutes cut, at least temporarily. Gary Harris’ disastrous 2018-2019 campaign is a good example of how poor shooting can torpedo more than just a player’s scoring numbers. Harris couldn’t throw it in the ocean last season and his horrendous shooting was the primary reason his playing time dropped from 34.4 MPG in 2017-2018 to only 28.8 MPG.
To help with answering these difficult questions, I came up with a field goal percentage tracking dashboard. The purpose of this tool is to not only tell you which players have suffered a drop in their field goal percentage but why it is happening. To answer these sustainability questions properly we need as much context as possible. This dashboard seeks to provide just that. This dashboard will tell you where a player’s shots are coming from and how he is performing on each type of shot. It also looks at the openness of the player’s shots. Openness is important to consider because defender distance is going to have an impact on a player’s shooting percentage.
Update: The tool now tracks current season performance against prior-year performance. When we get a little deeper in the season, I’ll add a tab that shows you how your players’ recent performance stacks up against his year-long numbers (i.e. how does my player’s shooting numbers over the last two weeks compare to his 2019-2020 averages). This should be useful for identifying buy-low and sell-high candidates. The tool will be updated daily.
There are two tabs in the dashboard. The “2019 Shooting” tab is straight forward. It is just each player’s stats in each category. The “vs. 2018-2019” tab shows how a player is shooting from different areas of the floor compared to last season.
Here’s a column-by-column walkthrough of the “vs. 2018-2019” tab so you know how this tool works and know what you should be thinking about when you see each number:
FG% – How a player a shot from the field vs. how the player shot from the field during the prior period. For example, during the 2018-2019 season, Tobias Harris shot 48.7 percent from the field. The number that pops up in this column is 2.70 percent. That is because Harris shot 46.0 percent from the floor during the 2017-2018 season (48.7 – 46.0 = 2.70).
2P% – This column tells us if a field goal percentage increase or drop is due to a player’s attempts from two or due to his attempts from three.
3P% – This column tells us if a field goal percentage increase or drop is due to a player’s attempts from two or due to his attempts from three.
3PAr – A player’s three-point rate tells us what percentage of his shots are coming from deep. A player’s field goal percentage is usually going to drop when they take more threes. Brook Lopez’s 2018-2019 season is a good example of how a player’s 3PAr can affect his field goal percentage. Lopez’s field goal percentage dropped because his 3PAr jumped a whopping 23.0 percent.
FG% on Open+ – This column shows how well or poorly a player is shooting on open and wide-open shots (all numbers are pulled from NBA.com). A player struggling in this category is less worrisome than if he was struggling in some of the other categories. Players go through cold streaks all the time and a player who is just missing open shots is more likely to see their field goal percentage bounce back than a player getting to the rim less or taking a larger percentage of their shots from three.
% of FG% OPEN+ – This column looks at the percentage of shots that a player takes that are considered open or wide open. The number in the column works the same way as the numbers in the other columns. This column displays the difference between the percentage of a player’s shots that were open or wide open in 2018-2019 and the percentage of a player’s shots that were open or wide open in 2017-2018. Why is this important? Because it tells us if the difficulty of a player’s shots is changing. If a player’s percentage of open or wide-open shots is staying the same but they are shooting worse from the floor, then perhaps that player is just missing shots they normally make. It would be much more worrisome if a drop in a player’s field goal percentage was due to a player not getting as many open or wide-open shots. That would be less likely to change and could suggest that the player is unable to generate open shots or that his team’s offense is unable to generate open shots for the player.
FG% At Rim – This column tells us if a player is excelling or struggling at the rim. Last season, Ricky Rubio’s jumper fell off of a cliff, but his field goal percentage only took a minor hit because he hit 6.2 percent more of his attempts at the rim than he did in 2017-2018.
% FGA At Rim – This is an important one. Players almost always hit somewhere between 50 percent and 70 percent of their attempts at the rim. Shots at the rim are the most efficient shot in basketball and an increase or decrease in attempts from the most efficient spot on the floor is going to have a material impact on a player’s field goal percentage. If a player is struggling to get to the rim, that is a reason to worry, especially if the player is older. Fewer shots at the rim can indicate a loss of athleticism. It should not be a surprise that aging stars like Kyle Lowry, Russell Westbrook, and Mike Conley took a lower percentage of their shots at the rim in 2018-2019 than they did in 2017-2018.
Current Season vs. 2018-2019
2018-2019 vs. 2017-2018
*Click on the button in the bottom right corner to expand the worksheet.
2018-2019 vs. 2017-2018 & 2016-2017
And now, some interesting takeaways from the 2018-2019 season:
- LeBron James shot significantly worse at the rim last season and got there less often. That is not a great sign given his age. However, I expect the Lakers’ improved supporting cast to bring those numbers back up or at least hold them steady. Some of that drop was likely due to the lack of shooters surrounding the King.
- Russell Westbrook could end up being a field goal percentage killer of historic proportions next year. His 3PAr jumped almost 8.0 percent last season and he is now part of a team that will ask him to take an even greater percentage of his shots from deep. That’s not good news for a player who shot 29.0 percent from three last year.
- Zach LaVine shot 10.8 percent better at the rim last year and took 5.69 percent more of his shots at the rim. You can chalk this up to him being fully recovered from his torn ACL. I would expect his field goal percentage to stay in the mid-40s going forward.
- Danilo Gallinari’s field goal percentage jumped 6.50 percent because he shot almost 11 percent better from deep in 2018-2019 than he did in 2017-2018. Gallinari’s 43.3 percent success rate from three in 2018-2019 feels like a fluke and that makes another top-3o finish in nine-category leagues very unlikely.
- Chris Paul got to the rim in 2018-2019 about as much as he usually does but struggled to finish once he got there. Those struggles can be blamed on Father Time. I think his value will bounce back due to an increased role in Oklahoma City, but his days of providing a neutral or better impact on the field goal percentage category are over.
- Lonzo Ball had two major weaknesses coming out of his rookie year. His shot and his finishing at the rim. His shot is still a mess but he made major strides at the rim. Given where his finishing is now at, I think he’s a safe bet to stay above 40 percent from the field. That makes him viable outside of the punt FT% and punt FG% builds.
- De’Aaron Fox improved from everywhere last season. He could end up having a neutral impact on the field goal percentage category this season. That is not a sentence I thought I’d ever write after his disappointing rookie year. If Fox can improve his free throw shooting, he’ll be a top-40 player this year in nine-category leagues.
- Caris LeVert is a candidate to be overdrafted this year. His percentages are likely to remain messy. Yes, you have to consider the injury, but it’s worrisome that LeVert shot worse in 2018-2019 from three, at the rim, and on open shots than he did in 2017-2018. He should improve, but I’m not sure that we’ll get the major jump that will be needed to justify a mid-round ADP. You have to remember that LeVert’s hot start to the year only lasted 12 games and was accompanied by a usage rate of 26.8 percent. That is not a number that is repeatable now that Kyrie Irving is a Net.
- Gary Harris shot 50.2 percent from the field in 2016-2017 and 48.5 percent from the field in 2017-2018. Somehow he followed up those two great shooting seasons with a stinker of epic proportions. Harris shot 9.16 percent worse on open shots in 2018-2019 than he did the year before, 5.7 percent worse from three, and 12.0 percent worse at the rim. That awful shooting cost him over five minutes of playing time per night and destroyed his chances of being more than a late-round player in standard leagues. The extreme nature of those drops screams fluke to me. Harris is only 25 and should not be falling off of a cliff like that. If his ADP ends up in the later rounds, I’ll be recommending him in just about every build.
- Danny Green shot about 10 percent better on open or wide-open shots in 2018-2019 than he did in his final two seasons in San Antonio. Almost all of those open looks were from deep. That’s a huge jump and there’s a very good chance that he regresses in his first season with the Lakers. Deep-league players beware.
- Luke Kennard is starting to become interesting. His field goal percentage held steady last year despite upping his attempts from deep by 8.4 percent. He’s never going to be a top-50 player due to his weak defensive numbers, but he could average 2.5 3PG while shooting 45 percent from the field this year. That would put him in the standard-league conversation.
- Trevor Ariza looks cooked. His field goal percentage dropped last year despite taking a significantly lower percentage of his shots from three. He’ll be a popular late-round pick for casual players who remember the glory days, but savvy owners should stay away.
- I don’t love Victor Oladipo as a stash. His first-round finish in 2017-2018 was made possible by some flukey numbers in the paint. In 2017-2018, Oladipo hit an absurd 69.0 of his shots from 0-to-3 feet. That success rate dropped back down to a more reasonable 60.2 percent in 2018-2019 which helped knock him out of the early-round conversation. He’s not as good as his 2017-2018 numbers suggest and he certainly won’t be able to come close to replicating those early-round numbers now that he is coming off of such a major injury. If you stash Oladipo, you will likely be using a roster or IL spot on a player whose upside is only in the middle rounds. He’s is unlikely to be worth the headache.
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