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LeBron James
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
The Numbers Game

Fantasy Value Retrospective: Points Leagues

by Ryan Knaus
Updated On: March 31, 2020, 12:59 am ET

Fantasy basketball is frozen in time while we await the resumption of the 2019-20 season, and right now there are more questions than answers. Will the NBA resume play without fans in arenas? How much time would be required for players to regain peak conditioning? If the season does restart and goes into August or September, when would the 2020-21 season begin? Failing all else, could the current season really end without crowning a champion?

In the face of such uncertainty, it’s a relief to turn to what we do know – the past. The Rotoworld crew has convened to discuss fantasy values over the past 15 years, from the 2005-06 season to this year, evaluating thousands of individual players’ seasons. Today, the focus is on points leagues. With such a large sample size at our disposal, we can identify trends in fantasy values for future use, such as the fact that big men have been more prevalent among elite points-league players. We can marvel at outliers like Devin Harris’ terrific 2008-09 season with the Nets and applaud the fantasy metronomes in our midst – LeBron James and Chris Paul are both on the points-league list for all 15 seasons under review.

We can state with confidence that the Warriors have produced as much top-tier fantasy value as any other team over the past 15 years, but we can also just sit back and enjoy the time-capsule element of this analysis. When looking at the top-500 players for points-league value over the past 15 years (an elite group, with an average of 33.3 players per season), Josh Smith appeared seven times. That’s as many appearances as Stephen Curry (who didn’t make the points-league cut in 2009-10 or 2010-11), Anthony Davis, Paul George or DeMarcus Cousins. Before looking at the results, a quick clarification as to how exactly I’ve arrived at these numbers.

The rankings are based on per-game statistics for the past 15 years. Every player and every season are included, which is why you’ll see LeBron James’ name 15 times. I ditched every player-season that didn't meet two simple requirements – at least 40 games played and at least 20 minutes per game. That got rid of 3,834 individual seasons, but still left 3,296 under consideration. The list of guys who were cut immediately is fun to scroll through in itself. It's easy to forget Dan Gadzuric's two-game stint with the Knicks in 2011-12, Maceo Baston's time with the Pacers and Raptors, or the later years of Bobby Simmons' career – he was actually a great fantasy asset in the 2005-06 range due to solid steals and efficiency. At the time, I viewed him as a sort of Corey Maggette-lite.

 

The points-league setting at use is the NBA's official fantasy scoring system, which is also the default for Yahoo, FanDuel and other major sites. If you're not already familiar with the setup, here is how stats are scored:

Points: 1

Rebounds: 1.2

Assists: 1.5

Steals: 3.0

Blocks: 3.0

Turnovers: -1

 

As you can see, percentages don't count and there's no bonus for 3-pointers made. These two scoring lines have identical value:

25 points on 11-of-26 FGs and 3-of-9 FTs

25 points on 6-of-6 FGs and 7-of-7 FTs, with five 3-pointers

 

Turnovers are detrimental, but the impact is far less than it would be in 9-cat leagues. Because percentages and turnovers are given so little weight (or none at all), highly efficient players tend to suffer. At the same time, high-usage, counting-stat guys benefit.

Defensive stats are also less important, at least for specialist appeal. If James Harden chips in a block and two steals to go along with his 35/10/8 line, that's icing on the cake. However, a guy like Marcus Camby, Myles Turner, Mitchell Robinson or Serge Ibaka can't rely on a huge boost in blocks to carry their value. Averaging 3.0 blocks per game is terrific for 8-cat/9-cat purposes, but that nets you a modest 9.0 fantasy points in this setting – the same as a guy averaging 7.5 rebounds or 9.0 points per game.

Note: I’m including the top-200 below. Click here to view/download the top-500 list with additional stats and “historical” players added to the mix.

 

POINTS LEAGUE RankNamePoints League Value (per game)Year
1Russell Westbrook60.642016-17
2James Harden58.672018-19
3Giannis Antetokounmpo57.142019-20
4James Harden56.482019-20
5Giannis Antetokounmpo56.252018-19
6Anthony Davis56.152018-19
7James Harden55.922016-17
8LeBron James55.582007-08
9LeBron James55.512009-10
10Russell Westbrook55.072018-19
11Anthony Davis54.972017-18
12Russell Westbrook54.472017-18
13Dwyane Wade54.452008-09
14LeBron James54.172017-18
15LeBron James53.722008-09
16Joel Embiid53.672018-19
17LeBron James53.62005-06
18Anthony Davis53.412016-17
19DeMarcus Cousins53.382017-18
20James Harden53.182017-18
21Luka Doncic52.612019-20
22Russell Westbrook52.262014-15
23LeBron James52.182019-20
24LeBron James52.152012-13
25LeBron James52.032018-19
26Kobe Bryant52.012005-06
27Anthony Davis51.932019-20
28Giannis Antetokounmpo51.82017-18
29Anthony Davis51.742014-15
30Kevin Durant51.632013-14
31Chris Paul51.62008-09
32DeMarcus Cousins51.52016-17
33LeBron James51.072016-17
34Russell Westbrook51.062015-16
35DeMarcus Cousins50.852015-16
36LeBron James50.582011-12
37Allen Iverson50.542005-06
38DeMarcus Cousins50.342014-15
39Stephen Curry50.232015-16
40Dwyane Wade49.992006-7
41Kevin Garnett49.912006-07
42James Harden49.872015-16
43Dwight Howard49.722010-11
44LeBron James49.22010-11
45Kevin Garnett49.192005-6
46Giannis Antetokounmpo49.162016-17
47Chris Paul49.12007-8
48Kevin Love49.12013-14
49Russell Westbrook49.12019-20
50Kevin Durant49.082012-13
51Paul George48.972018-19
52Kobe Bryant48.942006-07
53Elton Brand48.92005-06
54Karl-Anthony Towns48.782018-19
55Kevin Durant48.642015-16
56Dwyane Wade48.592005-06
57James Harden48.542014-15
58Dwight Howard48.452011-12
59Shawn Marion48.262005-6
60Kevin Durant48.162016-17
61LeBron James48.042006-07
62Dwight Howard47.962008-09
63John Wall47.892016-17
64Kobe Bryant47.762007-08
65Kawhi Leonard47.662019-20
66Dwyane Wade47.512009-10
67Trae Young47.512019-20
68Anthony Davis47.412015-16
69Kevin Durant47.322009-10
70Karl-Anthony Towns47.312016-17
71Nikola Jokic47.212018-19
72Kevin Durant47.162017-18
73LeBron James47.082015-16
74Damian Lillard47.062019-20
75LeBron James47.032013-14
76Kevin Love46.982011-12
77Andre Drummond46.892019-20
78LeBron James46.722014-15
79Kevin Durant46.552011-12
80Bradley Beal46.492019-20
81Andre Drummond46.422018-19
82Gilbert Arenas46.022006-07
83DeMarcus Cousins45.992013-14
84Anthony Davis45.92013-14
85Gilbert Arenas45.852005-06
86Chris Paul45.812013-14
87Joel Embiid45.712019-20
88Dwight Howard45.492007-08
89Andre Drummond45.42017-18
90Nikola Jokic45.392019-20
91Kevin Durant45.212018-19
92Nikola Vucevic45.22018-19
93John Wall45.082015-16
94Kawhi Leonard44.912018-19
95Carmelo Anthony44.872013-14
96Amar'e Stoudemire44.872007-08
97Dirk Nowitzki44.82005-06
98Dwyane Wade44.782010-11
99Dwight Howard44.642009-10
100Tim Duncan44.622006-07
POINTS LEAGUE RankNamePoints League Value (per game)Year
101Al Jefferson44.52008-09
102Baron Davis44.442007-08
103Kobe Bryant44.422012-13
104Joel Embiid44.42017-18
105Jimmy Butler44.392016-17
106Karl-Anthony Towns44.362017-18
107LaMarcus Aldridge44.322013-14
108Amar'e Stoudemire44.242010-11
109Chris Paul44.192009-10
110Stephen Curry44.072017-18
111Stephen Curry44.012014-15
112Blake Griffin43.952013-14
113Allen Iverson43.952007-8
114Chris Paul43.922014-15
115Blake Griffin43.922010-11
116Damian Lillard43.92017-18
117Kyrie Irving43.852018-19
118Chris Paul43.842015-16
119Paul Pierce43.792005-06
120Kobe Bryant43.792008-09
121Stephen Curry43.762018-19
122Bradley Beal43.752018-19
123Hassan Whiteside43.742019-20
124Nikola Jokic43.692017-18
125Stephen Curry43.62016-17
126James Harden43.582012-13
127Russell Westbrook43.542012-13
128Stephen Curry43.512013-14
129Kobe Bryant43.482009-10
130Damian Lillard43.472018-19
131Chris Paul43.472011-12
132Kevin Durant43.412010-11
133Tracy McGrady43.42005-06
134Josh Smith43.172011-12
135Elton Brand43.112006-07
136Kawhi Leonard43.112016-17
137Kevin Love43.092010-11
138Carmelo Anthony43.022009-10
139Tracy McGrady42.962006-07
140Chris Bosh42.962009-10
141Allen Iverson42.92006-07
142Ben Simmons42.862019-20
143Yao Ming42.832006-07
144Tim Duncan42.82005-06
145Dwyane Wade42.792007-08
146Dirk Nowitzki42.782006-07
147Pau Gasol42.762006-7
148Derrick Rose42.752010-11
149Jrue Holiday42.752018-19
150Damian Lillard42.732016-17
151Marcus Camby42.732005-06
152Russell Westbrook42.722010-11
153Carmelo Anthony42.72006-07
154Yao Ming42.612007-08
155James Harden42.592013-14
156Pau Gasol42.582005-06
157Tim Duncan42.562007-08
158Monta Ellis42.552009-10
159Andrei Kirilenko42.552005-06
160Victor Oladipo42.492017-18
161Marcus Camby42.472007-08
162Dirk Nowitzki42.382008-09
163Chris Bosh42.292006-7
164Kobe Bryant42.282011-12
165Nikola Vucevic42.252019-20
166Baron Davis42.232006-07
167Ben Simmons42.222017-18
168Al Jefferson42.212013-14
169Dirk Nowitzki42.192009-10
170Carmelo Anthony42.182012-13
171David Lee42.142009-10
172Ben Simmons42.112018-19
173Josh Smith42.042007-08
174Draymond Green422015-16
175Andre Drummond41.962015-16
176Rudy Gobert41.962018-19
177Kemba Walker41.932018-19
178Marcus Camby41.842006-07
179John Wall41.842017-18
180Chris Paul41.82016-17
181Tim Duncan41.792008-09
182Carmelo Anthony41.782007-08
183Dirk Nowitzki41.752007-08
184Domantas Sabonis41.682019-20
185Jimmy Butler41.672019-20
186Al Jefferson41.622007-08
187LaMarcus Aldridge41.592014-15
188Dwight Howard41.582012-13
189Chris Bosh41.552008-9
190Pau Gasol41.542009-10
191Tim Duncan41.532012-13
192Jermaine O'neal41.522006-7
193Blake Griffin41.52018-19
194Isaiah Thomas41.492016-17
195Russell Westbrook41.492013-14
196Chris Webber41.382005-06
197Hassan Whiteside41.372016-17
198John Collins41.372019-20
199Josh Smith41.372006-07
200Pau Gasol41.352015-16

 

Due to the fantasy-points format (described earlier) it’s no surprise that the top-500 in this analysis excludes most seasons from efficiency-reliant players like Rashard Lewis, Al Horford and Khris Middleton. It also leaves out many category specialists. Not only the aforementioned shot-blockers, but also low-usage guards like Jason Kidd, Steve Nash and Ricky Rubio. The cut-off for top-500 in this analysis was an average of 35.0 fantasy points per game (that was Spencer Dinwiddie this season), and for top-200 it was 41.4 fantasy points (Pau Gasol in 2015-16). Jason Kidd had a great season with the Mavs in 2008-09, for instance, but he averaged only 9.0 points with a 13.5% usage rate (the same thing happened in 2009-10 with 10.3 points and 15.1% usage).

And you can forget about roto specialists who contribute a bit everywhere but don't hurt you, such as Shane Battier, P.J. Tucker, Otto Porter and Trevor Ariza. It would require a subtle points-league setup to accurately capture their contributions, whereas this is more of a blunt-force scoring system. That approach to fantasy value isn't inherently good or bad, and it certainly simplifies things for DFS purposes, so it's a 'to each their own' situation. By comparing these past-15-year lists (8-cat and 9-cat to follow), you can judge for yourself which fantasy system most accurately captures player values.

I’ll reflect on some takeaways from this massive group of elite points-league performances, but for another perspective I turned to my colleague Steve Alexander. After perusing the results of this analysis, he wrote the following:

 

“It’s no secret that guys like Russell Westbrook and James Harden are points-league monsters but seeing it in black and white (and green) is eye opening. Westbrook’s 2016-17 season is clearly one of the best of all time, although it’s tough to look back too far since some stats weren’t officially recorded until the seventies or eighties. But the bottom line is that the 2016-17 season from Westy, when he averaged a career-high 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, 10.4 assists, 1.6 steals and a career-high 2.5 3-pointers, was one for the ages. I’d be curious to see how many teams that won the whole thing that year had Westbrook on them. He also played 81 games, which is a key, and the closest he’d ever come to 2.5 3-pointers a game in his career was in 2018-19 when he averaged 1.6 triples per game. That 2016-17 campaign was a perfect storm for Westbrook, and Harden’s 2018-19 season (when he averaged a career-high 36.1 points, 6.6 rebounds, 7.5 assists, a career-high 2.0 steals, 0.7 blocks and a career-high 4.8 3-pointers in 78 games) was right behind him.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has the third and fifth best points-league seasons in the last 15 years, Harden has two of the Top 4 and Anthony Davis has the sixth best season in recent history. Out of the Top 20 points-league seasons since 2005, LeBron James has five of them, Harden has four, Westbrook and Davis had three of them, Giannis has two, while Dwyane Wade, Joel Embiid and DeMarcus Cousins all did it one time. So, while Westbrook and Harden have set the standard, good ol’ LeBron has been a model of consistency over the long haul and was having an MVP-caliber season when things came to a halt this year.

Luka Doncic kicks off the next 20 with his current season, which isn’t even done yet. And now that he’s had time to get healthy, he should finish in a flurry and could end up in the Top 15 overall, assuming the season reconvenes at some point this summer or fall. I think I’ve spent enough time honoring Luka over the last two years, so I’m just going to leave it at that. I can’t wait to see how many of the Top 20 points seasons he ends up with when it’s all said and done.

Westbrook comes in at No. 22 while LeBron took home the title in the next three slots with his stellar 2019-20, 2012-13 and 2018-19 seasons. LeBron holds five more of the top seasons in the second 20, giving him a total of 10 of the Top 40 points-league seasons since 2005. What a monster.

We also see a couple throwbacks in the second 20 with Kobe Bryant’s 2005-06 season coming in at 26 overall and Allen Iverson making an appearance at No. 37. And unsung hero DeMarcus Cousins has also proven to be a points-league beast over the years with four appearances in the Top 40.

I was a little surprised to see Stephen Curry only show up once in the Top 40 with his 2015-16 season when he compiled the 39th best season since 2005. Looking outside the Top 40 some surprising performances included Elton Brand at No. 53 in 2005-06, Shawn Marion at No. 59 in 2005-06, and Dwight Howard checking in at No. 58 and 62 when he was in his prime. Additionally, Trae Young’s current season has been good enough for No. 67 overall and he should have some time to improve on that number before the end of the season.”

 

I’m truly amazed that Steve didn’t devote his entire response to Luka’s 2019-20 season. It’s worth remembering that the kid just turned 21 years old on Feb. 28. There’s not much more you can say about the dominance of guys like LeBron James, James Harden and Russell Westbrook on this list. If anything, it simply hammers home how important it is to land a top fantasy draft pick – the same guys just keep showing up at the top, and 10 years from now we’ll see tons of Doncic and Giannis Antetokounmpo in the top-20, too. Given that this is a points league, the results are even more uniform than you’d see in 8-cat/9-cat formats (coming soon) – the top spots skew heavily toward high-usage players with massive counting stats, which is why Luka’s 14 triple-doubles this season are so enticing.

Just because they’re not at the top of the list doesn’t mean we should ignore other ultra-reliable players throughout the past 15 years, including Chris Paul (15 appearances in the top 500) and Carmelo Anthony (12). CP3’s brilliance translates to all fantasy formats, and he’s the only guy to appear 15 times on all three lists I compiled – 8-cat, 9-cat and points. He’s somehow guided the Thunder to a would-be playoff berth this season, too, a feat of leadership and talent that deserves more attention. On the other hand, a guy like Carmelo benefited enormously from this scoring-heavy fantasy format – amazingly, he’s on this list 12 times but makes only one appearance in the top-500 for 9-cat value over the past 15 years. Other points-league metronomes included Pau Gasol (10), Tim Duncan (eight) and Al Jefferson (eight), the last of whom was a fantasy monster even if his real-world success never really clicked – he was never an All-Star and never made it out of the first round of the playoffs.

Guys I did not expect to see inside the top-250 include Chris Kaman (2007-08), Domantas Sabonis (this season) and David Lee (2009-10). That season for Kaman was a true outlier, with averages of 15.7 points, 12.7 rebounds and 2.8 blocks – nowhere else in his 13-year career did he average more than 9.6 boards or 1.5 blocks. David Lee was an automatic 20-point, 10-rebound guy for a while, and he dished a career-high 3.6 assists per game in 2009-10 with the Knicks. The only real knock against him was a lack of shot-blocking (peaked at 0.6 per game), and toward the end of his career his games played fell off a cliff – from 2007-2011, though, he averaged a mere 3.0 DNPs per season.

In upcoming columns about 8-cat and 9-cat, there will be more time to examine individual players and tease out distinctions between fantasy scoring systems. To conclude this points-league retrospective, I’ll provide some tables regarding the top-500 players. First, we have a lengthy list of players and how many times they’ve appeared in the top-500 over the past 15 years. There are 132 players included, which means an average of 3.8 appearances per player.

 

POINTS LEAGUES # of Appearances in Top-500 (past 15 years) 
LeBron James15
Chris Paul15
Carmelo Anthony12
Dwight Howard11
Russell Westbrook11
Kevin Durant10
Pau Gasol10
Blake Griffin8
Kobe Bryant8
LaMarcus Aldridge8
Tim Duncan8
Al Jefferson8
John Wall8
Dwyane Wade8
James Harden8
Paul George7
Marc Gasol7
DeMarcus Cousins7
Anthony Davis7
Dirk Nowitzki7
Josh Smith7
Stephen Curry7
Andre Drummond7
Nikola Vucevic6
Kyrie Irving6
Jimmy Butler6
Deron Williams6
Damian Lillard6
DeMar DeRozan6
Kyle Lowry6
Gerald Wallace5
Paul Millsap5
Kemba Walker5
Monta Ellis5
Amar'e Stoudemire5
Chris Bosh5
Giannis Antetokounmpo5
Kawhi Leonard5
Joe Johnson5
Vince Carter4
Nikola Jokic4
DeAndre Jordan4
Antawn Jamison4
Rudy Gobert4
Zach Randolph4
Kevin Love4
Baron Davis4
Yao Ming4
Jrue Holiday4
Rajon Rondo4
Karl-Anthony Towns4
Steve Nash4
David West4
Kevin Garnett4
Andre Iguodala4
Shawn Marion3
Paul Pierce3
Tyreke Evans3
Lamar Odom3
Rudy Gay3
David Lee3
Andrew Bogut3
Caron Butler3
Ben Simmons3
Devin Booker3
Jason Kidd3
Marcus Camby3
Allen Iverson3
Metta World Peace3
Kristaps Porzingis3
Brandon Roy3
Tracy McGrady3
Joel Embiid3
Hassan Whiteside3
Draymond Green3
Carlos Boozer3
Bradley Beal3
John Collins2
De'Aaron Fox2
Michael Redd2
Donovan Mitchell2
Stephen Jackson2
D'Angelo Russell2
Al Horford2
Brook Lopez2
Khris Middleton2
Gilbert Arenas2
Eric Bledsoe2
Julius Randle2
Jason Richardson2
Joakim Noah2
Tony Parker2
Ray Allen2
Trae Young2
Danny Granger2
Mike Conley2
Isaiah Thomas2
Zach LaVine2
Elton Brand2
Luka Doncic2
Jermaine O'neal2
Pascal Siakam1
Michael Carter-Williams1
Fred VanVleet1
C.J. McCollum1
Jusuf Nurkic1
Devin Harris1
Andrei Kirilenko1
Andrew Bynum1
Chris Webber1
Domantas Sabonis1
Derrick Rose1
Bam Adebayo1
Gordon Hayward1
Rashard Lewis1
Emeka Okafor1
Jayson Tatum1
Manu Ginobili1
Brandon Ingram1
Tobias Harris1
Chauncey Billups1
Clint Capela1
Andrew Wiggins1
Ty Lawson1
Serge Ibaka1
Victor Oladipo1
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander1
Goran Dragic1
Shaquille O'neal1
Greg Monroe1
Chris Kaman1
Spencer Dinwiddie1
Grand Total500

 

The second table shows which teams contributed the most players to this list – New Orleans (as both the Hornets and Pelicans) is tied with Golden State at the top. Seattle’s last-place finish doesn’t count, so the teams represented least in the top-500 are the Bulls and Pacers. For Chicago, that means Jimmy Butler (three times), Pau Gasol (twice), Joakim Noah (twice), Zach LaVine (twice) and Derrick Rose (once). For the Pacers, it’s been Paul George (four times), Danny Granger (twice), Jermaine O’Neal (twice), Victor Oladipo (once) and Domantas Sabonis (once).

 

POINTS LEAGUES # of Players in Top-500 (past 15 years) 
NOR24
GSW24
LAC23
LAL22
OKC22
HOU21
ATL21
WAS20
SAS19
POR18
UTA18
TOR18
MIA18
PHO16
PHI16
MEM16
BOS15
CLE15
DEN15
BKN14
MIL14
CHA14
MIN14
SAC13
ORL13
NYK12
DAL11
DET11
IND10
CHI10
SEA3

The final table shows the dispersion of position eligibility across this top-500 group. I’m using ESPN’s multi-position eligibility, which yields an average of 1.65 positions per player. It’s not surprising to see that power forwards are readily available, especially since anyone who can average 20/10 is basically a lock for the list – that’s a baseline of 32 fantasy points, with any defensive stats and assists as a bonus. I was surprised to see SGs and SFs so relatively scarce. There are only 62.7% as many SGs in the top-500 as there are PFs, for instance. Your early-round picks in a points-league draft are probably straightforward, but when in doubt this analysis implies you should skew toward big men.

 

POINTS LEAGUES # of Positions in Top-500 (multi-eligibility, past 15 years)

PG162
SG133
SF143
PF212
C173

Again, click here to access the full top-500 ranks for points leagues, and stay tuned for 8-cat and 9-cat analyses in the coming days. And if you have any questions or insights, you can always find me on Twitter @Knaus_RW.

Ryan Knaus

Despite residing in Brunswick, Maine, Ryan Knaus remains a heartbroken Sonics fan who longs for the days of Shawn Kemp and Xavier McDaniel. He has written for NBC Sports Edge since 2007. You can follow him on Twitter @ryanknaus.