Fantasy Spin: September 20, 2012

When you only write once a week in this space, it seems like a lot happens in the interim. Since I was last here, we’ve done a lot of work: Jeff has written about strategy and Kent has finished off our positional preview, sorted into tiers for draft planning.

The last one was the toughest: the centers.

Remember if you’re drafting soon, especially in a deep league, to stay familiar with our 2012-13 Depth Chart.

Before I say anything else today, I want to introduce a new feature in the Fantasy Spin, the Jump Ball. Since there are three of us in this space now with relatively strong opinions, we’re going to end up disagreeing on a lot of players. And Jeff has now started the ball rolling, as he and Kent are at loggerheads over Lou Williams. In the Jump Ball feature, I take another look at both views and try to mediate between them.

Jump Ball: Louis Williams

Other than rookies, no type of player causes more arguments than a veteran switching teams for the first time. It’s not surprising that Williams is one of the first guys to cause a ruckus amongst the Spinners this year. Here’s what Kent had to say about Williams in his Shooting Guard Tiers column:

Louis Williams ATL: Gets a new address and a chance to start. With a big jump in minutes, expect good counting stats but that FG% is always a caution flag.

Jeff rejoindered:

Players I think you have a tier too low are Louis Williams, Wilson Chandler, Rodney Stuckey, Ben Gordon and Gerald Henderson. They will all get steady minutes and Williams, Chandler and Stuckey contribute in many categories aside from points.

Kent had rated Williams in Tier 5 alongside Ray Allen, Jared Dudley, Wilson Chandler, Dion Waiters, DeMar DeRozan and Danny Green. Now to give the draft context, these are the guys who rank from 21-27 at the shooting guard position, putting them in roughly the 100-150 category overall on your board. If you’re in a 12-team league with a standard 10-man lineup, these guys are your third guard, or rotating in and out of your utility spots based on matchups and need. Obviously, not every player here is going to deliver the same type of production. We project Waiters as a starter for the Cavs: he might leap out of the gate with 30 minutes a game or he might be gathering splinters from November through February.

It’s not to say these players are equivalent in ability. Williams, for example, is a much better player than DeMar DeRozan. We’re in the fantasy universe here.

In Yahoo! drafts to date, Williams’s average draft position is 103.3, meaning that the market seems to be right about in the middle between Jeff’s view that he’s a Tier 4 and Kent’s that he’s a Tier 5. The uncertainty is mostly tied to the move from Philly, where he played off the bench (and therefore more against second units) and got 25 minutes a game, to Atlanta, where he will almost certainly start and in fact he’ll be their best guard, though on a team with a loaded frontcourt where the guards will be asked to defer to (and feed) the big men.

I think Jeff is right about this one, and his point that Williams contributes in many categories besides points is key here.

Williams has been a quiet across-the-board performer whose minutes have hardly changed in five years of rotation play in the City of Brotherly Love (he’s bounced between 23 and 26, with the exception having been when he had a brief opportunity to start three years ago) as the third guard for the Sixers. And he’s been almost the prototypical combo guard, despite his small stature. A decent defender, he chips in with all sort of categories, and in doing so he’s easy to undervalue. The low field goal percentage is a difficult category for him, as is the rebounding which is below-average for a guard (and if your league counts both offensive and defensive rebounds, for example, that bumps Williams lower).

But on the other hand he’s above average for a SG-rated player in assists, and as he’s gotten older he’s been able to drastically cut his turnovers. His A/T for the past two seasons is well over 2.5, which is extremely good for a guy rated as a wing player. Some of this may be related to the quality of the defences he’s played against, but when you look at who he was passing to, you see some encouraging signs for his arrival in Atlanta.

Notably, Williams played brilliantly last year when paired with Thaddeus Young. Now he gets to play with Young’s spiritual father, Josh Smith, the kind of uber-athletic, well-rounded forward that many of us dream that Young could be. I think Williams is going to relish both the extra minutes and the amount he’ll see of the basketball. Because despite the fact that the Hawks are frontcourt-heavy, it’s doubtful that they’ll be running that much of the offense through Smith, Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia. Smith is likely to still play a lot down low; while he’s a brilliantly rounded player skill-wise, the Hawks are probably a bit more shallow than they have been and they will likely be more conventional than Larry Drew was last season. This means the ball in the hands of the guards more, and that will help Williams, because Jeff Teague is still both inconsistent and an unsure ballhandler.

Finally, I think the Hawks will play quicker this year (they were marginally quicker-paced than the Sixers last year). That should also help Williams, who struggles when the game slows down and notably when the competition is better. The difference between Williams’s efficiency in the regular season and in the playoffs over his career is quite a bit higher than most players. The other stylistic change that should benefit him is how opposing teams will need to double inside to handle Smith, Horford and Pachulia. That will open more threes for Williams; I’d expect his three-point attempts to increase and perhaps his percentage too; at 36% he did well enough last season. He should be an even better contributor in the three-pointers category, and won’t hurt you in the three-point percentage category either if that’s a factor.

The the one knock I see on Williams is the increased level of competition. The Hawks are a better team and have what I think is a tougher schedule, and Williams will see more starters and fewer backups. If he struggles with the level of competition (and remember, he seems to do so in playoffs) this analysis might be wrong. But overall, I’m giving this Jump Ball to Jeff. I think Lou’s a Tier 4 guy for his versatility and potential upside as a starter (and top guard).

Future Jump Balls won’t be as long as this one, but with lots of preseason left ahead of us it’s fun to take a longer look at someone. See you next week.

Thanks to Keith Allison for the photo of Lou Williams.

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  2. Kent Williams says

    This was a pleasure to read, even if the verdict went against me. There will be no appeal, and it’s quite possible I’ll be higher on Lou after a few exhibition games. My main concern is the “level of competition” you mention. Not all sixth men are as effective in a starting role.

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