Blocks, Free Throws and the Player Rater

My name is Mike Trudell, and I’m a fantasy basketball addict (I don’t need to attend meetings, do I?).

As a point of fact, I love fantasy hoops about as much as …
A) Teenage girls love the Jonas Brothers
B) Teenage boys love Megan Fox
C) Bill Belichick loves cheating
D) Tom Cruise loves Scientology
E) Nike stock loves Michael Jordan

So, my love affair with sports numbers is why I get frustrated (to quite frustrated) when I see that Dwight Howard is No. 35 on ESPN’s “Player Rater.”

No. 35? Really!!!??

Check me out: Howard is leading the league in rebounding (13.6) and blocked shots (3.68) by a long shot. He’s ninth in field goal percentage (55.1) and 24th in scoring (19.9). He’s missed exactly two games in his four-plus year career (both this season due to a left knee tweak) and is a mortal lock to put up big numbers every night because he’s twice as athletic as anyone his size … and very few boast his size in the first place.

So wait … What are we missing? Oh yeah. He’s a big-time clanker.

One of the NBA’s worst ever free throw shooters, Howards hits only 56.5 percent of his league-high 11.3 attempts, which can admittedly cause you to lose the free throw category each week (unless you know how to properly compensate). Because of the way ESPN’s rankings system works, Howard’s charity bricks drop him all the way down to 35th in the rater.

Basically, ESPN’s player rater assigns an exact +/- number in each of eight categories (points, assists, steals, blocks, rebounds, FT%, FG%, 3PM) based on how one compares to the rest of the players in the league. So Howard earns a ridiculous +6.52 for blocks*, by far the highest of any category (CP3 gets a 5.11 for assists, the next highest), but his free throw number (-6.8) is also the lowest number in any category, and completely eviscerates his blocks, while de-emphasizing his FG%, points and boards.
*Only three other players (Marcus Camby, Chris Anderson and Ronny Turiaf, the latter two who don’t play much) average over two blocks, making Howard’s swats even more valuable than, say, Dwyane Wade’s 28.9 points (since 13 other players average over 22 points).

Is that fair? No way. Let’s continue…

If you drafted Howard at No. 35 overall in your fantasy league this year, and you’re not a moron with the rest of your squad, you are probably winning your league. That suggests that the rater is off a bit, right? After all, Howard is a rare player who significantly helps you in four categories, just like ‘Bron, Wade and Paul and really no one else. With Dwight on your team, even if you’re punting free throws – which you don’t necessarily have to do – you’re most likely going to win blocks, you have an excellent chance in rebounding and field goal percentage and you even get 20 extra points per game. He won’t help you much in assists, steals or threes (duh), but his massive production in those other categories cannot be matched by any other player, even LeBron. Furthermore, if you’re smart, you can put more point guards and point forwards on your roster to help you with the categories Howard doesn’t excel in, while letting Dwight do the work of two centers. No, seriously. Look at this:

Taking out the shooting categories (we know Dwight has the edge in FG and a deficit in FT), here are Howard’s numbers compared to Rasheed Wallace and Al Horford’s numbers … combined.

Dwight Howard: 19.9 points, 13.6 boards, 3.7 blocks, 0.9 steals, 1.4 assists
Wallace and Horford: 23.3 points, 16.2 boards, 3.2 blocks, 1.6 steals, 4.3 assists

While ‘Sheed’s 1.9 threes are a factor as well, it’s pretty telling that it takes two very good players to just surpass the Player Rater’s 35th best guy.

If someone can please explain to me how missing free throws (again, one out of nine categories) can push a player down about 32 spots in the fantasy rankings (Nene and Jason Terry are 17th and 18th, OK!), I’d LOVE to hear it. I mean, a solid all-around player like Joe Johnson (11th on the PR) doesn’t have one number below or above 3.0, and has a minus only in the turnover category, so his 10.84 more than handles Howard’s 7.95

OK, time to bounce … I need to go frantically put together trade propositions for Howard in all three of my leagues.