With a tentative agreement in place between the NBA owners and players, GMTR can finally turn its attention back to what really matters: fantasy basketball.
One of the big questions going into this season is what effect will the shortened 66-game season have on statistical performance? Specifically, what impact will the schedule have on the fantasy basketball stat cats that we all know and love?
We know that the 1998-99 Season was Fugly
John Schuhmann at NBA.com has compared the likely 2011-12 schedule with that of a normal 82-game season and the 1998-99 lockout shortened season and found that this season will be played at almost exactly the same pace as 1998-99 in terms of number of games each team will play per week (3.9 per week compared to 3.5 in a normal year).
He also compared the 1998-99 season with every other NBA season and found:
1. Teams played at a slower pace (in terms of possessions per team per 48 minutes) than in the season before or after the lockout.
2. There was a big drop off in offensive efficiency in 1998-99, primarily due to a drop in two and three point field goal percentage.
It all added up to 1998-99 being the least efficient season of the last twenty years and the lowest scoring season since the shot clock was introduced in 1954.
1998-99, Rock Bottom
Here is a chart of both the league’s offensive efficiency in terms of points scored per 100 possessions and pace, or the estimate of the number of possessions per 48 minutes per team (c/o Basketball Reference).
There are a few interesting things here. As mentioned before, the 1998-99 season was the low point of both player and team efficiency and the pace at which teams played. As a result, teams averaged only 91.6 points per game compared to 95.6 the year before that and 97.5 the year after. As a side effect, the chart also shows that the NBA is in a much better place in 2011 than it was in the late 90′s if you like efficient, high scoring basketball. But we knew that already.
Let’s Talk Fantasy Basketball
Let’s take this information about pace and efficiency a step further. What can we expect in fantasy basketball leagues this season?
I’ve pulled player stats cats for the three season period from 1997 to 2000. This will allow us to compare the 1998-99 season to the one before and after. Note that the averages below include all players who averaged 10 minutes a game or more for the year. The % change column compares the change between the 1998-99 season and the other two years.
With the exception of steals, there was an across the board drop in player stats in 1998-99 by at least 2%. This was likely due to the slower pace at which teams played. I’m sure there are people out there who can craft a convincing theory as to why assists saw the largest drop off – maybe tired teams are more likely to work the isolation – but I could not tell you with any certainty.
If this trend holds true in 2011-12, expect to see a drop in nearly all fantasy basketball categories and especially the offensive ones like points and assists. And if assists are going to fall off a cliff again, it makes those high assist PGs even more valuable than they already are. I could see a lot of PGs coming off the board in the first round this season.
First, this analysis tells us what happened league wide in 1998-99, but it doesn’t tell us if all players were affected equally, or if some players were affected more than others. For example, there was a decline in scoring by 6% across the entire league. But did everyone experience a 6% decline, or say, did it come predominantly from a certain type of player? More to come on this in Part 2 of the analysis.
Second, there were two major reasons for the ugliness of the 1998-99 season. One was simply having more games in a shorter period of time, meaning less rest for teams and more back-to-backs and back-to-back-to-backs. That is going to be no different in 2011-12.
The other reason was that players showed up to camp out of shape and only had a total of two preseason games before the regular season began. While it’s certainly the case that a number of players are going to show up just as out of shape this year, the rise of the European/Asian leagues and all those local/charity leagues means that NBA players have likely been playing much more basketball as a group than they were in 1998-99.
This means that we may not see nearly the drop off in pace and efficiency in 2011-12 as we did in 1998-99. And even if we do, given that the NBA is a faster and more efficient league that it was in the late 90′s, the results on the court are sure to look better than they did after the last lockout.