Usage Rate is the Most Popular Stat
Usage Rate is the Most Popular Stat
In daily fantasy basketball it is simply an estimation of the possessions ‘used’ by a player while on the court: The possessions in which a player makes a shot, misses a shot rebounded by the opposing team, or commits a turnover. Usage rate has its flaws — and we’ll deal with them throughout this upcoming season — but generally it is a solid metric that we can use to identify players who have the most opportunities to score fantasy points.
The issue with usage is that it doesn’t account for playing time. The example I used last season in this piece was the difference in usage rates between Kevin Durant and Mo Speights: Two years ago, Speights had a usage rate of 29.7 percent, which was only slightly lower than Durant’s mark of 30.6 percent in his last season in Oklahoma City. If we look at just usage rate, we would think that Speights’ departure alone opens up enough usage for Durant to fill in. Of course, that’s silly: Durant plays in the starting lineup and accrues many more minutes.
Another example for this season could be the departures of Enes Kanter (27.3 percent) and Victor Oladipo (21.4) and additions of Paul George (28.9), and Carmelo Anthony (29.1 percent) in Oklahoma City. Kanter’s reduced role as a high-usage player in the second unit is not the same as PG’s or Carmelo’s despite the similarity in their usage rates. Because of this problem, what I’ve termed Weighted Usage (WU) can help illuminate how much production a team is gaining, losing, and retaining. Where it falls within those three is directly tied to the uncertainty we can expect especially early in the season. Take a look at the WUs for the four players listed above from the Thunder:
- Kanter: 10.60 percent WU
- Oladipo: 12.04 percent WU
- George: 19.66 percent WU
- Anthony: 18.72 percent WU
Losing Kanter and Dipo does not come close to opening a wide enough hole for usage monsters like PG and Carmelo. Now we can look at roster turnover in a more illuminating way.
The Big Offseason Moves
While the biggest roster changes in terms of championship odds likely occurred in Oklahoma City with the additions of George and Anthony as well as Patrick Patterson and Raymond Felton, their Excess WUs is much less negative than the marks for the Cavaliers and Timberwolves since the guys they’re replacing in Oladipo and Kanter were actual contributors (WUs of 12.04 and 10.60 percent), even if they weren’t incredibly valuable. George and Anthony are usage giants, posting WUs last season of 19.66 and 18.72 percent, but the other players like Felton and Patterson typically play solid minutes without needing the ball. While everyone is concerned about how one ball will get distributed among the ‘Big 3’ in OKC, the above graphs suggest it may not be a huge problem. They can be heavily featured, especially if Billy Donovan staggers lineups.
The more concerning dynamics will be in Cleveland and Minnesota; they have Excess WUs of -38.55 and -30.70 percent. Even if you consider the swap of Kyrie Irving for Isaiah Thomas a wash (IT actually had a higher WU), the Cavs are still bringing in a whopping five players with 2016-17 WUs of 7.90 percent or greater:
- Thomas: 22.24 percent
- Derrick Rose: 13.56 percent
- Dwyane Wade: 13.48 percent
- Jae Crowder: 10.11 percent
- Jeff Green: 7.90 percent
All of those marks add up quickly, especially considering that Deron Williams (2.22 percent) was the second-biggest contributor to leave behind Kyrie. This might not be an issue early in the season, as there are reports that Thomas will be out for the first couple of months, and it’s also possible older vets like Wade, Rose, and Green will take reduced roles in order to make room for each other and LeBron James. Still, there are many guys used to playing a ton of minutes and taking a lot of shots; there will be a bit of uncertainty throughout much of the Cavs’ 2017-18 season.
With Minnesota, it seems simple: Subtract Ricky Rubio and Zach LaVine and add a superstar in Jimmy Butler and surround him with complementary pieces in Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson, and even Jamal Crawford. However, those guys — especially Teague — were fairly high-usage players last year. Rubio posted a low 17.4 percent usage rate last season, and LaVine even took a hit so Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns could get up to 29.0 and 27.5 percent. Butler is going to compete with those two for touches, and Teague is a higher-usage point guard than Rubio. Further, Crawford and Gibson — although they’ll likely have bench roles — aren’t low-usage players historically. Everyone will be watching how usage rates will shake out in Cleveland and OKC, but the most underrated situation in terms of uncertainty of roles lies in Minnesota.
Inversely, it’s likely the public is underrating the magnitude of changes in Boston during the offseason. Sure, they added max-level players in Kyrie and Gordon Hayward, but it was at the expense of a ton of depth: Both Crowder and Avery Bradley posted double-digit WUs. In fact, here are the players Boston is bringing back for their 2017-18 campaign (and their WUs):
- Marcus Smart: 11.48 percent
- Al Horford: 11.00 percent
- Jaylen Brown: 6.18 percent
- Terry Rozier: 5.50 percent
That’s it. Even if Kyrie and Hayward have similar high-usage marks, they’ll still have massive production holes to fill. That responsibility will likely fall to youngsters like Brown and even 2017 lottery pick Jayson Tatum, which is quite a bit to ask of teenage NBA players. Further, it’s unclear that a Kyrie-led offense is elite: Per nbawowy.com, the Cavs offense scored 106.7 points per 100 possessions with Kyrie on the floor and LeBron off. That would’ve ranked right at league-average last season and far below their season-long mark of 110.9 points/100. There’s a lot of under-appreciated uncertainty in Boston, and thus it might be wise to bet under on their Vegas win total mark of 53.5.
Alright, before I get out of here, I’ll run through quick WU and rotation takeaways for each team.
They lost three of their top four players in terms of WU in Paul Millsap (14.46 percent), Tim Hardaway (12.26 percent), and Dwight Howard (10.68 percent) and did little to replace them. Dennis Schroder will likely have to run this offense single-handedly, and young players like rookie John Collins may have to assume bigger roles earlier than they should. Translation: They will be bad offensively.
Due to the reasons detailed above, I’m skeptical this offense can be a top-10 unit early in the year. The pieces are there, but it’s questionable how the young players will fit in with the studs. Ideally a younger team would make Tatum (a top-five pick) the main part of their offense and let him go through growing pains, but trading the Nets pick, Thomas, and Crowder for Kyrie means this team is gunning for an Eastern Conference title. They’ll need Tatum and company to be role players, and it’s unclear how that will play out. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this team stumble early on; even veterans like Kyrie and Hayward will need time to learn to play off each other.
They played at the fastest pace in the league last season, averaging 103.6 possessions per 48 minutes. Still, they weren’t exciting from a fantasy perspective because of their low minute totals: No player, even Brook Lopez, hit 30.0 minutes per game, and no player averaged more than 1.1 points per possession. Playing fast is great but only when it means more possessions; their players weren’t able to reap the benefits of the fantasy-friendly games. That may not change this year, although it’s possible they hand the franchise keys to D’Angelo Russell after trading for him in the offseason. The former No. 2 pick averaged 1.01 DraftKings points per minute and certainly has upside to take another step in his career.
Not much changed for Steve Clifford’s squad over the offseason. Their biggest loss was Marco Belinelli, and they brought in only two players in Dwight Howard and Michael Carter-Williams. Those are not insignificant moves — Howard’s presence lightens the load for Real Plus-Minus stud Cody Zeller, and MCW gives them an actual human backup PG — but it’s unlikely there will be a big shift in offense or usage distribution. Kemba Walker averaged a team-high 38.08 DraftKings PPG, and he was one of just three players to play 30-plus minutes. Zeller was a viable cash-game play because of his low salary for much of last season, but given his injury history it’s likely that Clifford will manage his minutes with Howard in town.
They lost their three top options in Butler, Wade, and Rajon Rondo in the offseason and already traded away Gibson and Doug McDermott during the middle of last season. They will depend on Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, Nikola Mirotic, and rookie Lauri Markkanen to facilitate the offense and use a ton of possessions. Given the efficiency of those players — Dunn averaged just 0.7 points per possession and posted a 43.4 percent true shooting mark alongside KAT last year in Minnesota — there’s a solid reason their Vegas win total sits at 22.5 games.
As mentioned above, the one-ball problem will likely be a bigger issue in 2018 given Thomas’ injury. Still, there are a ton of mouths to feed — and those mouths belong to historically heavy eaters — and they’ll need to go on a usage diet. How that works in the locker room is TBD.
In a surprise move, the Pistons let young max wing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope walk and brought in two-way veteran Avery Bradley. While the long-term merits of that move are perhaps questionable, in terms of usage and team construction much may not change in the 2017-18 season. They aren’t dissimilar players in terms of usage; the big difference is that Bradley didn’t play as many minutes in Boston given their depth. That could change in Detroit with Stan Van Gundy.
- KCP: 2,529 minutes, 19.2 percent usage rate, 12.31 percent WU
- Bradley: 1,835 minutes, 21.9 percent usage rate, 10.23 percent WU
They lost George (19.66 WU) and Teague (14.86 WU), along with role players Monta Ellis (8.49 WU) and C.J. Miles (8.27 WU). They did bring in three guys with double-digit WUs from last season in Victor Oladipo (12.04 WU), Bojan Bogdanovic (11.87 WU), and Darren Collison (10.33 WU), but none of those guys is particularly efficient on either side of the ball. Dipo and stud young big man Myles Turner will likely be featured, and the former has yet to prove he’s a valuable NBA player: The Thunder scored an atrocious 100.1 points per 100 possessions last season when Dipo was on the floor and Westbrook was off. The Hawks and Pacers should battle all season for the worst offense in the NBA.
They are one of the steadiest teams in the league, bringing back 88.85 percent of their WU from last season. Their biggest loss was backup big man Reed (4.02 WU), but the addition of Kelly Olynyk (7.44 WU with the Celtics) should easily make up for that and more. The big question this season in terms of usage pertains to the development of young guys like Justise Winslow and first-round pick Bam Adebayo. Don’t be surprised to see this team hit the ground running early in the year, as they may bring back last season’s starting five.
Another steady team, the Bucks will bring back a whopping 91.76 percent of their WU from last year. Their additions include Gerald Green, who is a high-usage player off the bench, and Brandon Rush, who is one of the lowest-usage players in the league, finishing possessions just 9.6 percent of the time last year. This team will look similar to last year’s team sans Jabari Parker. In 30 games without Parker last year, Giannis Antetokounmpo led the team with a 28.5 percent usage rate and 44.48 DraftKings PPG. It’s not a ridiculous statement to say he will be the best non-LeBron player in the Eastern Conference this year and a daily stud, especially on FanDuel, where they increased blocks and steals to three points each.
New York Knicks
They lost high-usage players in Carmelo (18.72 WU) and Rose (13.56 WU), but they brought in players in Tim Hardaway (12.26 WU), Enes Kanter (10.60 WU), and Doug McDermott (6.29 WU) who can at least soften the blow. This offense unequivocally belongs to stud big man Kristaps Porzingis now, and it’s possible guys like Willy Hernangomez will see increased roles as well. Can their guard rotation of rookie Frank Ntilikina, Ramon Sessions, and Jarrett Jack get him the ball? That’s a fair question. It’s also fair to wonder, how efficient they can be without the gravity of Carmelo’s reputation: In six games span Anthony last year, Porzingis averaged just a 24.5 percent usage rate and 0.79 DraftKings points per minute.
The young Magic squad will bring back 74.57 percent of their WU from a season ago, and their biggest addition in lottery pick Jonathan Isaac was a fairly low-usage player at Florida State as a freshman. No player had a usage rate of 25 percent or higher last season, although they would assuredly love for young big man Aaron Gordon to take a bigger role offensively. Still, this team doesn’t look to be much better than the Magic who ranked 29th in offense last season.
There are tons of questions with this team, even if they’re exciting ones. The biggest is the health of stud Joel Embiid, and he affects everyone else: He posted an +11.6 plus-minus differential when on and off the court last year, and the 76ers allowed just a 102 Defensive Rating when he played. Another question that will need to be answered is how Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz will play with and off each other. Having two elite ball-handlers is certainly a good thing for the future of this franchise — especially when you surround them with guys like Redick, Embiid, and Robert Covington — but there will be growing pains early on and likely throughout the entire first year together.
They are losing a lot of depth in Joseph, Carroll, Patterson, and Tucker, but that’s the price to pay when you give out multiple max contracts. Thankfully, they have young guys in Norman Powell (7.36 WU) and Jakob Poeltl (1.93 WU) ready to contribute more. Not much should change for the studs: DeMar DeRozan used 34.8 percent of their possessions last year and should rank near the top of the NBA in that category again.
They’re one of the steadiest teams in the league, returning 87.87 percent of their WU from last year. John Wall, Bradley Beal, Markieff Morris and Otto Porter all posted WUs of at least 9.50, and they should be near those levels again. Tim Frazier is the largest addition, but he should have a minimized role in Washington as Wall’s backup.
One of the steadiest teams in the league in terms of offseason moves, they brought in no players with a 2016-17 WU of even two percent. That (and Rick Carlisle’s spread pick-and-roll system) is a perfect situation for Summer League All-Star Dennis Smith Jr., who trails only Lonzo Ball in the NBA Futures market with +300 odds to take home the NBA Rookie of the Year title.
Their only real move was to bring in stud stretch big Paul Millsap and send out the often injured Danilo Gallinari. Millsap had a WU of 14.46 percent, which means they have a slightly negative excess WU as a team, but their depth is certainly a strength. The question for this team will be how much they continue to invest into possible and definite sunk costs in Emmanuel Mudiay and Mason Plumlee. Mudiay and Jamal Murray will be splitting starting PG reps this preseason, and this rotation will be much less fantasy-friendly if they decide to triple-down on the absolutely atrocious $41 million contract they gave to Plumlee this offseason and actually play him in favor of superior options.
Golden State Warriors
Perhaps the best team of all time and defending world champions, the Warriors also have the benefit of bringing back almost the exact same team. Their two biggest losses — Ian Clark (5.62 WU) and James Michael McAdoo (1.69 WU) will be easily offset by players they already have in the wings and additions like Nick Young and Omri Casspi. The rich certainly do get richer.
The big question is how James Harden and Chris Paul — two alpha dogs who need the ball — will coexist. Otherwise, this team is set up perfectly in terms of role players. Along with CP3, they brought in excellent yet low-usage role players in P.J. Tucker (11.2 percent usage rate last year) and Luc Mbah a Moute (11.6 percent). They have all the ball creation they need, and now they have surrounded their superstars with low-usage defenders and shooters. It is not unrealistic for both Harden and Paul to stay at their usage and production levels for this season. The Rockets are one of the better championship values available at their +1,600 odds to win the title.
For the 100th year in a row, the success of this team will depend on their health. They’re one of the most interesting teams this season: They were one of the top teams in terms of losing WU (61.96 percent), but they did great to restock in the CP3 trade, bringing in much needed depth with Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker, and Montrezl Harrell. Add in free agent additions in Gallinari and Willie Reed, and this team is still primed to be competitive every game during the regular season. Betting the over on their 43.5-win total seems like a sharp move (if you believe they’ll have fine injury luck).
They lost three high-usage guards since the beginning of last season in D’Angelo Russell, Young, and Williams but will have guys who can take on that usage and be more efficient in KCP and Brook Lopez. The former Nets big man could certainly be an offensive hub for them: He averaged a 57.7 percent true shooting mark on 29.5 percent usage last season. Their offense will likely get much better thanks to their free agent and trade additions, along with No. 2 pick Lonzo Ball, who was literally one of the most efficient college players of all time. It’s likely they’ll give him the keys from Game 1, and he’s unsurprisingly the favorite to win ROY with +225 odds.
They lost production, but it was all with older players in Zach Randolph (36 years old), Tony Allen (35), and Vince Carter (40). This offense will still run through studs Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, although there will be more room this season for younger players to step up into roles, be it former Kings shooting guard Ben McLemoreor 2017 draft picks Dillon Brooks and Ivan Rabb.
I’ll quickly add this to my thoughts on them above: Although their usage distribution will be uncertain for the first week or so, the picture will become clear quickly. Head coach Tom Thibodeau is notorious for riding his best players: Whereas no one on the Nets averaged 30 minutes per game, all five Wolves starters last season achieved that feat.
New Orleans Pelicans
The big question is what a full offseason can do for Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, and Jrue Holiday. Here were their marks last year when all three were on the court together:
- Davis: 27.9 percent usage rate, 54.6 percent true shooting, 1.13 DraftKings points per minute
- Cousins: 30.6 percent usage rate, 58.4 percent true shooting, 1.45 DraftKings points per minute
- Holiday: 20.8 percent usage rate, 50.0 percent true shooting, 0.85 DraftKings points per minute
Even if you think Westbrook will still get his, it’s unlikely that regardless of teammates he was going to sustain last year’s 41.3 percent usage rate into this season. Perhaps a model is last year’s Golden State team: The trio of Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson all had usage rates between 26.5 and 29.5 percent. Westbrook will see some regression, but it’s possible George and Carmelo stay in the mid-to-high 20s.
This team will continue to build around their young core and brought in only two players in free agency in Troy Daniels and Anthony Bennett. Devin Booker will continue to be a usage monster: He was 14th in the entire league last season with his 19.77 WU — ahead of George, Kyrie, and Kawhi Leonard. First-round pick Josh Jackson will likely fill the starting SF role right away but shouldn’t be a high-usage player in his rookie season. The player most likely to take a hit from that move is T.J. Warren, who posted a 19.2 percent usage rate and 9.96 WU last year.
Portland Trail Blazers
Without Plumlee on the floor last season, Damian Lillard bumped up his DraftKings points per minute from 1.19 to 1.27. The loss of Allen Crabbe will be a big usage hole, but it’s one that potentially Jusuf Nurkic can help with now that he has a full offseason with the Blazers. When he was on the court with Lillard and C.J. McCollum last year, he averaged a nice 1.22 DraftKings points per minute.
This team lost the most production from last year, shipping out a whopping 71.23 percent of their WU. They brought in veterans Randolph, Carter, and George Hill to fill in the gaps, so they will likely be better than they were last year, but those guys are 1) old and/or 2) injury-prone. The big question for the Kings is how the development of their young guys will go this season. Most of them were not particularly efficient last season after the Cousins trade, but their big men showed flashes: Skal Labissiere and Willie Cauley-Stein averaged 0.96 and 0.94 DraftKings points per minute without Boogie.
San Antonio Spurs
Always the steady franchise, they are returning 86.24 percent of their WU from last year. They lost young wing Jonathan Simmons in free agency, but they should be able to replace his production with veteran Rudy Gay and younger players already on their roster. The one wrench that would really mess up this Spurs train is Kawhi’s health: He’s already set to miss the entire preseason with right quadriceps tendinopathy, and he has no timeline for return.
They are losing big producers, especially Hayward, whose 17.70 WU is one of the top marks in the league. None of the players brought in via free agency or trades — Rubio, Thabo Sefolosha, and Jonas Jerebko — posted usage rates even approaching 20 percent, which means Rodney Hood, Dante Exum, and even first-round pick Donovan Mitchell will have to take larger offensive roles — for better or for worse.
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