Culture of Hoops

Fantasy Basketball: Lift Off with the Houston Rockets

Screen capture courtesy of the NBA/YouTube.

Screen capture courtesy of the NBA/YouTube.

One of the teams that will provide multiple sources of solid fantasy value this 2016-17 season is the Houston Rockets. The changes they made coming into this season makes them a melting pot of factors that simply favors their players racking up those stats.

First and most important is their hiring of Mike D’Antoni. It was his fast paced Euroball-styled system that gave fantasy basketball fans the heyday of Steve Nash and Shawn Marion, during D’Antoni’s run with the Phoenix Suns in the early 2000s. Wipe the recent memory of his stints with the New York Knicks (2008-2012) and the Los Angeles Lakers (2012-2014). Chalk those up as false negatives, based on a poor fit with his system and the manpower.

Houston, on the other hand, has the right pieces to execute his system. What’s so special about D’Antoni as a coach and this system that he brings to the table that makes it so great as far as fantasy basketball is concerned? Well, it focuses on pace, meaning the goal is for his team to score quickly every time they have the ball. This generally translates to more possessions and more possessions mean more opportunities for his players to put up massive numbers. The system helps bloat per-game averages of players. It’s fast-pace systems like this that make advanced basketball stats like per-100 possessions a must-study for analysts and hoop geeks.

Mike also favors the three-point shot, so expect ALL of his players to not just be given the go signal to launch treys, but encouraged to take the shots whenever possible. Players under his watch tend to see an increase in three-point shots made. Yes, even big men. D’Antoni has been known to work closely with his bigs to help them develop the three-point shot as an added dimension to their game.

James Harden – As early as June, the Harden-D’Antoni pairing already got many people excited. He is already a lock as Top-3 pick in 9-cat fantasy leagues, so there’s no more need to sell him at this point. While it is hard to visualize “the Beard” to further improve on his 29 points and 2.9 threes per game in 2015-16, expect a potential bump in his 7.5 assists per game as the Rockets offense flows freely through him. The fast pace, however, won’t do any favors his career-high 4.6 turnovers per game. That said, he’s an 8-cat gem and there is a strong case for considering him as a top pick in that format, contending with Russell Westbrook for that spot.

Trevor Ariza – Ariza has long been a very underrated player in fantasy. His low-ish 12.7 points per game tend to make managers look elsewhere on draft day, but Trevor rarely fails surpass his ADP by year’s end. Houston’s go-to “Three and D” guy should flourish in D’Antoni’s three-point friendly system. Few players deliver the combination of two threes and two steals per game, especially in the middle rounds of a fantasy draft. In 9-cat leagues, his 4.3 rebounds and 1.4 turnovers per game are just gravy. Because he is a streaky shooter, Ariza does hurt fantasy teams with his field-goal percentage which is tends to hover in the low 40s as far as his career averages are concerned.

Ryan Anderson – Anderson is a recent addition to the Rockets this season and will likely be the biggest beneficiary of playing under D’Antoni. “Ryno” is a prototypical stretch four, which is an important piece of a system that likes to spread out the floor in half-court offensive sets. Anderson has had a tough couple of seasons, being hampered by an injuries and personal problems. He is a prime bounce-back candidate and can just go bonkers as the Rockets number two scoring option. Picture 18 points, seven boards, and 2.8 threes from your fantasy team’s power forward slot. Sweet, huh?

Clint Capela – With Dwight Howard gone, the burden of being the team’s primary rim protector and main rebounder falls squarely on Capela’s shoulders. He is backed up by Nene Hilario, who is in the twilight years of his career and has never been known for his shot-blocking ability, so Clint should be in line for all the minutes he can handle at center. He is entering his third year in the NBA and is naturally up for a bump in production. To take a sneak peek at what Capela can bring to the table just take a look at his Per-36-minutes numbers in 2015-16 of 13.3 PPG, 12.1 RPG, 2.3 BPG, and 1.4 SPG. He’s a sleeper candidate this season and can easily emerge as a solid second center for any fantasy team.

Patrick Beverley – Unfortunately for Beverley, despite D’Antoni’s system being known for being a point-guard friendly one, we all know that Harden is the team’s true facilitator on offense. Patrick does remain a good low-end guard option in deeper leagues, thanks to his 1.7 treys, 3.4 assists, and 1.3 steals per game.

Eric Gordon – He is another addition to the team from the Pelicans. He is a three-point shooting guard who should be the main source of offense off D’Antoni’s bench, but Gordon’s long history of being an injury prone player has prompted me to exclude him from my rankings. He could be a worthwhile late-round flier pick, just don’t expect him to play more than 65 games (career high).

The Rockets will be a gemstone mine of fantasy value this season. I’m definitely grabbing Harden in the Top 3, and will be actively targeting Ariza, Anderson, and Capela in the middle rounds of drafts.

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