Over the past 15 years, in a pool with thousands of individual players' seasons, James Harden has four of the top six fantasy performances in 8-cat leagues. Karl-Anthony Towns first cracks the list at No. 25, Kawhi Leonard appears at No. 35, and we're reminded how good Marcus Camby was in his prime (three appearances in the top-75). How do we know this? It's all based on existing stats, so you just need to crunch the numbers.
This ongoing 15-year fantasy retrospective began last week with an analysis of points-league value. That list was dominated by guys like Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo -- extreme volume was the key. Harden is still all over the top of the leaderboard for 8-cat, of course, but it's Stephen Curry who emerges in the top spot for his 2015-16 campaign. The stats are absurd with 30.1 points (50.4% FGs, 90.8% FTs), 5.1 threes, 5.4 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 2.1 steals and 0.2 blocks. Steph made 402 triples that year, which remains the highest in NBA history for a single season -- prior to 2005-06 (Ray Allen), nobody had made more than 267 in a season.
Before getting to the rest of the list, with guys like Elton Brand, Amare Stoudemire and Steve Nash in the mix, a few words on my methodology. I'm using per-game statistics for the past 15 years. Every player and every season were included, which is why you’ll see Kevin Durant's name 10 times. I ditched every players' season that didn't meet two requirements -- at least 40 games played and 20 minutes per game. That eliminated of 3,834 individual seasons, but still left 3,296 under consideration. Cutting that down to the top-200 resulted in the following list (if you want to view the top-500, you can find that here):
|8-cat Rank||Name||8-cat Value||Year|
I love the fact that Troy Murphy made the top-200. I also asked my colleague Jonas Nader to react to these 8-cat rankings, and he kindly wrote the following:
"Who is the next Shawn Marion?
It was incredible to scroll through all these household names at the top of the rankings and then do a double take when you're reminded of just how insane Shawn Marion's 2005-06 season was. I wasn't a fantasy analyst back then and played mostly points leagues at the time, and while Marion was still a beast in that format, it pales in comparison to his value in category leagues.
He averaged a staggering 21.8 points, 11.8 rebounds, 1.8 dimes, 2.0 steals, 1.7 blocks and 1.2 triples with excellent percentages, making me wonder when or if a player will ever approach those kinds of numbers again.
Robert Covington crossed my mind as a possibility, especially if he keeps getting reps as a small-ball center in Houston, but you could argue he's already peaked as a player or come close to it and his output is still far away from Marion's. That left me with just one more name: Jonathan Isaac.
Isaac was the 16th best player this season in 9-cat on a per-game basis, averaging 12.0 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.4 dimes, 1.6 blocks, 2.4 blocks and 0.9 triples with percentages that aren't far off from Marion's. It's also important to note that Isaac is only scratching the surface at age 22, and his defensive output already blows Marion's out of the water. For context, Isaac averaged 4.9 combined steals and blocks per 36 minutes, while Marion averaged 3.3. And with how much Isaac has improved on offense in just the last year, it's not hard to imagine him being a first-round fantasy talent in the near future.
Why Curry should be a top-3 pick next season...
A broken hand and an elaborate tank job by Golden State ruined what was supposed to be a historic season for Curry. I'm curious to see where the fantasy community will value him heading into 2020-21, but as for me personally I don't see how you let him slip outside the top-3 in 8- and 9-cat leagues.
The Warriors will reload with a healthy Klay Thompson and a top pick in the 2020 draft, catapulting them back into the title conversation immediately. His track record speaks for itself with the best 8-cat season over the last 15 years and five total appearances in the top-25 in that same stretch. His best ever season was the year before Kevin Durant jumped aboard, and it's hard to ignore his splits last season when Durant was off the court -- Curry averaged 34.4 points, 6.0 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.2 steals and 7.0 (!) triples in those minutes.
Curry only recently turned 32 and has a game that should age gracefully with one of the best jumpers in NBA history, so I wouldn't be surprised if he's still in the first round conversation for several more years."
As a fantasy owner in the early-200s, my love for the Matrix, Shawn Marion, was only rivaled by Andrei Kirilenko. AK's durability flagged after his first three seasons in the league, unfortunately, but when he was rolling it was a thing of beauty in 8-cat/9-cat leagues -- during the 2003-04 season (just outside the purview of this column) he averaged 16.5 points, 8.1 boards, 3.1 assists, 2.8 blocks and 1.9 steals. Marion was even better from an all-around fantasy perspective, and he was an iron-man during his years with Phoenix -- during a seven-year stretch from 2000-2007, he missed 12 games. Not per season...total.
Speaking of durability, I can get on board with Jonas' confidence in Steph Curry as a default top-three pick in category leagues. I'm going with Anthony Davis and James Harden ahead of him, but KAT is no longer bullet-proof and I'm still somewhat leery of Kawhi Leonard despite his stellar 2019-20 season (his best-ever 8-cat finish, and the 35th-best in the past 15 years). These retrospectives have really made me appreciate the dominance of individual players, and Steph is one of those guys. Yes, he averaged 22.0 DNPs in his previous two seasons. But the hand injury that cost him 58 games this season was to his non-shooting hand, and it didn't prevent him from dropping 23/7/6 in his return on Mar. 5. I'm down with the guy who comprises 20% of the top-25 for 8-cat value.
I discussed my methodology earlier, but didn't quite get to the end. Even the process of winnowing down thousands of players' seasons had instructive lessons for fantasy purposes. After calculating 8-cat values for the entire qualifying group (3,296 individual seasons), I then deleted anyone below the top-2,000. Not 200, mind you. Due to the impact of atrocious, high-volume free throw shooting, the very worst season in this top-2,000 pool (for 8-cat) was Shaquille O'Neal in 2006-07 with Miami.
Shaq barely made the initial cut-off with exactly 40 games played, but while he was on the court, he averaged a reasonable 17.3 points, 7.4 boards, 2.0 assists and 1.4 blocks. However, he shot 42.2% from the line on 7.4 attempts, scuttling his overall value. A few more seasons from Shaq and at least one from Andre Drummond didn't make the cut, either. And if you're scandalized to see Giannis Antetokounmpo's current 2019-20 season way down at No. 188 on this list, look no further than his 63.5% shooting on a whopping 10.0 attempts at the line. It doesn't help that his defensive stats (1.0 steals, 1.0 blocks) have also been very modest.
After running the 8-cat values again (they change depending on the player pool), I trimmed it to the top-1,000, then top-500, and finally the top-200. Way down at No. 1,992 we bid farewell to Carmelo Anthony's 2017-18 season with the Thunder, an unmitigated disaster his owners (and OKC) remember all too well. One spot below him was Derrick Rose in 2014-15, and the bottom of the list also had Dwayne Wade in 2018-19, Tracy McGrady in 2007-08 and other similarly high-profile guys. The common thread there is brutal, high-volume percentages. A guy like John Wall is another example of percentages' impact. Despite some fantastic statistical seasons, his ranks on this list are 92, 102, 178, 198 and 376. That's not even including his sky-high turnovers -- he's just limited by his career 43.3% field goals and 78.1% free throws.
Still, point guards are very well-represented among the top 500 players (a large pool that still averages a mere 33.3 players per season over 15 years). Here's a table showing how many players qualify at each position, using ESPN's multi-eligibility rules:
8-cat # of Positions in Top-500 (multi-eligibility, past 15 years)
This reflects elite players, and almost every year there are fewer PGs and Cs available in fantasy drafts -- it's simply the nature of being on either end of the position spectrum. We see that PGs are disproportionately represented among the elite guys for 8-cat, though, which is yet another reason to target them early and often in your drafts. Naturally, it won't always make sense to take multiple PGs in the first 3-4 rounds. But if you're looking at players of comparable value, err on the side of landing your PGs early. I can't say that often enough.
To drive home the point, here's a chart showing the decline in assists across the top-500 players for 8-cat. Remember, this is over 15 years, so even guys in the 300-500 range were elite in any given year.
Full disclosure: The two highest points on that chart, at 14.2 and 13.9 assists per game, actually belong to John Stockton and Isiah Thomas. I've mixed in select seasons from players like Stockton, Thomas, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, for comparison's sake, but we'll get to that next week. For now, it's enough to know that even among the most elite players there's a statistically-relevant, persistent drop in assists -- and I've shown in previous analyses that assists are one of the hardest categories to acquire on the waiver wire. Get them early, while you still can.
That will do it for this week's 8-cat retrospective! Again, you can find the top-500 list right here and check back soon for a deep-dive on 9-cat values. If you have any questions or comments, you can always find me on Twitter @Knaus_RW.