Monday , Dec , 22 , 2008 C.Y. Ellis

On Dwight Howard, Free Throws, and the Awesome Pants

Yes, my girlfriend is in a fantasy head-to-head league with me. She has come a long way since the time I was watching a Heat game two years ago and we became enmeshed in the is-Shaq-good-at-basketball argument (“Um, he’s one of the top five greatest centers of all time.” “It looks like he’s just shoving people.” “Jesus Christ, look at his footwork. Now consider that he is almost four hundred pounds.” “Yeah, but he shouldn’t be allowed to just jump up and drop the ball in the basket like that”). We co-drafted her team this year, and they went on to defeat my personal team in Week 3, 6-3. Her first pick? At number eight in round one, she chose Dwight Howard. And the complications of that pick make it possible to distract her from her frequent campaigns to replace the Awesome Pants.

On Dwight Howard, Free Throws, and the Awesome Pants



My girlfriend and I have a lot of conversations like this: 

Girlfriend:  Oh my God, you’re still wearing those pants.

Me:  Yeah, these are my Awesome Pants.

Girlfriend:  You’ve been wearing those pants for three weeks in a row.

Me:  Yeah!

Me:  What’s great about the Awesome Pants is they retain the exact shape of my legs even when I’m not wearing them.

Girlfriend:

Girlfriend:  Well, we are going to throw those pants out, and go shopping for new pants, and while we’re at it I need to get a dress so you can also help me pick out a dress—ooh this is going to be fun—and then we—

Me, hastily:  DWIGHT HOWARD IS RUINING YOUR FREE THROW PERCENTAGE

Girlfriend, immediately distracted:  OH NO WHAT DO I DO 

Yes, my girlfriend is in a fantasy head-to-head league with me.  She has come a long way since the time I was watching a Heat game two years ago and we became enmeshed in the is-Shaq-good-at-basketball argument (“Um, he’s one of the top five greatest centers of all time.” “It looks like he’s just shoving people.” “Jesus Christ, look at his footwork.  Now consider that he is almost four hundred pounds.” “Yeah, but he shouldn’t be allowed to just jump up and drop the ball in the basket like that”).  We co-drafted her team this year, and they went on to defeat my personal team in Week 3, 6-3.  Her first pick?  At number eight in round one, she chose Dwight Howard.  And the complications of that pick make it possible to distract her from her frequent campaigns to replace the Awesome Pants. 

Did she over-draft him?  Probably.  But my philosophy is that your first-round pick is someone you should be able to build a team around—someone whose set of strengths are impossible to replicate with any other player—and Dwight Howard was really the only remaining guy who fit that description.  Ranking him on a draft board, moreover, is an exercise in futility—Yahoo! has him ranked 69th of all fantasy players as I write this, yet he leads the entire league in two categories, one of them blocks, arguably the highest-value category there is.*  The reason, of course, is that his free-throw percentage is so abysmal: 25 games into the season, he’s registering 57.5% on almost 12 free throws per game.  His 2.72 turnovers per contest don’t help matters, either. 

Attempting to assign a single fantasy value to him, therefore, is futile.  No one so completely shapes the complexion of his team.  You can, for example, draft Dwight Howard and punt on free throws, a dangerous and frankly lame strategy, especially in roto formats.  Alternatively, you can try and do something about it. 

An obvious strategy is to find superstar free-throw shooters like Steve Nash, Chauncey Billups, and especially Kobe Bryant (whose volume of free throws, 6.9, is a good match for Superman).  However, big men with good free-throw percentages are often overlooked.  Look at the aggregate free-throw percentage when pairing Dwight with the above guards: 

 

FTM

FTA

FTM/FTA

dwight

6.76

11.76

0.575

kobe

6.08

6.92

0.878

nash

3.04

3.25

0.936

billups

4.92

5.48

0.898

dwight+kobe

12.84

18.68

0.687

dwight+nash

9.80

15.01

0.653

dwight+billups

11.68

17.24

0.677

 

Now have a look at Dwight paired with some select big men: 

 

FTM

FTA

FTM/FTA

dwight

6.76

11.76

0.575

Yao

5.65

6.54

0.865

amare

6.52

7.89

0.826

Bosh

6.93

8.48

0.817

dwight+yao

12.41

18.30

0.678

dwight+amare

13.28

19.65

0.676

dwight+bosh

13.69

20.24

0.676

 

Some things jump out here; first, Nash’s free-throw shooting is overrated.  It’s tempting to look at the percentage in a vacuum (93.6%) and be wowed, but on just 3.25 attempts per game, it’s not going to do much damage.  Second, big men with good percentages are just as good as guards with awesome percentages, because often they get to the line more often. 

And when they don’t, or the percentages aren’t as good, well, you can just stock up on more of them.  Here are two of my favorite (perennially undervalued) fantasy players, plus Drew Gooden, whom I hate, mostly because of his hair: 

 

FTM

FTA

FTM/FTA

dwight

6.76

11.76

0.575

zach randolph

4.17

5.33

0.781

zydrunas ilgauskas

2.5

2.96

0.845

drew gooden

2.5

2.96

0.845

dwight+zach+zyd

13.43

20.05

0.670

dwight+drew+zyd

11.76

17.68

0.665

 

Consider that if your bigs have an overall percentage of .665 on 18 attempts, it’s not going to ruin your FT% changes.  In H2H, let’s suppose that the average team shoots about 200 free throws per week, and that .800 is a competitive percentage.  This means that the rest of the team, assuming the Cerberusian center of Dwight, Zydrunas, and Drew gets an average of 3.5 games/week, will need about an .860 percentage on 138 attempts to give you a winning FT%—a high target but not an unattainable one.  By the same math, Dwight plus Yao would give you a target of .857 over 136 attempts, although right now Yao is overvalued because he hasn’t had his obligatory month-long hiatus for foot problems yet. 

Got it?  Good.  Hopefully you are not my girlfriend.  We usually don’t get this far.  That is how I have retained the pants. 

In conclusion, you should go pick up Marco Belinelli, like right now.  This is unrelated to free throws.  But I’m just saying. 

*I say this because generally, shot-blocking specialists (especially those on the waiver wire) give you embarrassingly little in every other category.**  Right now, for example, the immortal Ronnie Turiaf is third in the league on blocks, with 61 in 26 games.  Third!  He also provides roughly four points and three rebounds per game, plus at least once excited performance of some obscure French celebration dance that makes him look like a pigeon. 

**Although to some degree three-point specialists have equally little to add, at least they give you some scoring.  Also, they tend to be better-looking.  Like Roger Mason!  That dude is fine.  Um, I have to go.