If you're in the fantasy football playoffs, it's a good bet you're spending today obsessing over your lineups, thinking about the second-line stats like targets and touches.
Regardless of sport? When it comes to fantasy? Possession is king. It's especially true for fantasy basketball managers. Whether you're in a roto league, points league or playing DFS, it's wholly beneficial to get into the habit of tracking possession.
In fantasy hoops, we have myriad ways to quantify possession. The classic method revolves around usage rate. Usage rate is an incisive metric that estimates the percentage of possessions a player can claim as his whenever said player is on the floor.
But as the marriage between advanced analytics and hoops deepens, we're confronted with an ever-growing list of ways to pinpoint the impact of any given touch. Because it's not just about having the ball in your hands. It's about how long you hang onto the ball, where your possession occurs, and what you do with the ball once you have it.
As I write this, I'm watching the third quarter of the Sixers-Raptors tilt. It's a game featuring several of the NBA's greatest possession players. Joel Embiid. Ben Simmons. Jimmy Butler. Kawhi Leonard. Kyle Lowry. JJ Redick.
That's right ... JJ Redick.
Did you know that Redick is a top-five points-per-touch producer? Redick generates 0.436 points every time the ball hits his hands. It's one of the reasons he remains fantasy relevant despite averaging only 42.2 touches per game.
If you want to see elite possession rates, and how they're reflective of fantasy star status, check out Leonard. He's second in points per touch at 0.498, and top 20 in average seconds per touch at 4.69.
If you ever want to undertake a deep-sea dive into the world of possession, take a virtual trip over to our friends at NBA.com. There's a page over there that depicts several ways to track touches and quality of each individual touch.
Their roster of touch-related stats is impressive. Touches per game. Time of possession. Average seconds per touch. Points per touch. Post touches. Elbow touches. Paint touches. How do we divine all of these marvelous metrics into something that's useful for fantasy?
I like to use these categories to get a bead on fantasy potential. When a young player is amongst the league's elite in touches, it means he's getting elite volume. Which means all he normally has to do to become a fantasy star ... is refine his efficiency.
One would assume point guards dominate touches per game. And while it's true point guards make their presence felt in this stat, you might be surprised to learn the league leaders in touches per game are Blake Griffin (91.3) and Marc Gasol (89.0).
When a post player is dominating possession like Griffin or Gasol, that tells us how important they are within their given team's offensive sets. The Pistons' offense flows through Griffin. The Grizzlies' plodding attack rambles through Gasol. That lets us know both of these big men are in line for a key out-of-position stat: assists.
Both Griffin and Gasol are amongst the NBA's best when it comes to pivot-generated assists. When you roster a big who averages more than four dimes a night, your imaginary team has a huge hidden advantage.
Let's talk about quality of a given touch. I think we could all agree that the longer a player hangs onto the ball, the greater the chance he'll generate a fantasy-worthy stat.
You could also probably guess that elite guards dominate seconds per touch. So, it's not a shocker to discover that James Harden leads the league in average seconds per touch. Or that Chris Paul is third.
They may not average as many touches per game as Harden and Paul. But when they possess the ball, they hang onto it for an elite-level duration. That tells me that these less-heralded players could have some hidden ceiling hanging above their overall production.
Let's talk points per touch. While stars like Kawhi and Paul George are in the top ten, many of the other leaders are under the radar names: Terrence Ross, Redick, Bojan Bogdanovic, Jeremy Lamb and Jordan Clarkson.
These may not be names that dominate NBA headlines, but they're the kind of players who can secretly help power a fantasy team. Because players who average a high amount of points per touch don't need the ball as often to be effective.
It means they're subtly efficient. They have high effective field goal percentages. They may need to generate production in only one other category -- steals, blocks -- to become fake roster-worthy.
Let's take a look at some rising, under-the-radar names making predictive noise in the realm of possession.
Fox is ranked 12th in touches per game with 80.2. For perspective on how impressive that is for a player with Fox's relative lack of experience: Fox is out-touching the likes of Kemba Walker and Damian Lillard.
Fox has made a substantial jump during his sophomore campaign. He's already produced five double-doubles. He's averaging a gaudy 1.8 blocks+steals per game, including an impressive-for-a-PG 0.5 blocks. Despite the jump, and the elite touches, Fox is still below his statistical ceiling for one reason: field goal consistency. Fox is one of the league's streakiest shooters.
Parker is ranked 14th in touches. A prime beneficiary of the Bulls' early-season injury troubles, Parker remains a marginal sell-high candidate. But he's continuing to crack 30 MPG in a bench role, and continues to play at a high rate of possession.
Tied for 13th (with Kevin Durant) in points per touch at 0.400. Kuzma is subtly building fantasy momentum; he's gone for more than 20 points in four of his past six games. Over that stretch, he's also averaged 2.2 3-pointers and 4.0 assists.
Top-15 in touches per game (77.8) and seconds per touch (4.92). When a rookie is playing at that rate of possession? He's in line to become a borderline fantasy star. The volume is there.
What's missing? Efficiency. Young turns the ball over 4.0 times per game. He's shooting 37.7 percent from the field. 23.9 percent from downtown ... including an anemic 1 of 12 over his past three games. Still, with the kind of volume Young is generating, he'll eventually play his way into more offensive efficiency.
Collin Sexton, PG, Cleveland Cavaliers
Fourth in seconds per touch (5.76). Top 40 in touches (60.9). Third in dribbles per touch (5.00, right ahead of John Wall, Kemba and Harden). Like with Young, the elite volume and rate of possession is there. Unlike Young, Sexton has posted borderline anemic-for-a-PG rates in assists (2.5 per game) and 3s (0.8 per game).
Sexton is getting decent minutes, and should gain steam and confidence as the season progresses. He simply needs to start looking to do more with the ball once he gains possession. Sexton is averaging only 1.8 3-point attempts per game.
Top-12 in seconds per touch (5.06) and dribbles per touch (4.17). Thanks to his rate of possession, Dinwiddie has proved remarkably consistent despite coming off the bench. He's failed only once to hit double digits in scoring. He's been elite from downtown with 2.0 3s per game (despite a replacement-level 35.9 3FG%), thanks to the fact that nearly half his attempts come from behind the arc (5.5 3FGA per game).
Top-30 in points per touch (0.360), post-ups per game (3.3) and points per paint touch (1.02). Harrell's rate of possession and efficiency (66.2 TS%) have combined to make him one of fantasy's most notable success stories. He's on major tear, averaging 18.4 points, 7.9 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 1.1 steals over his past ten games.
First in points per touch (0.516). Ross is a good example of how an efficient 3-point shooter needs to add only one more category -- in Ross' case, steals -- to become fantasy-relevant.