The Amazing Reggie Jackson
For anyone who pays close attention to Fantasy NBA, it’s easy to notice just how incredible of a run Reggie Jackson has been on. When Jackson was traded from the Thunder to the Pistons, he struggled with fantasy production despite high expectations from becoming a full time starter. But since Greg Monroe has been injured on March 17th onward, Jackson has had a torrid seven game stretch. In those 7 games, he has had 2 (nearly 3) triple doubles, a 20 point/20 assist game, as well as having at least 9 rebounds or 9 assists in every game. He has averaged 50.8 DraftKings fantasy points per game in that stretch, an amazing mark for someone who has had a salary in the 7000 range throughout this period.
It is not surprising that the absence of Monroe has had a positive impact on Jackson’s production. We know that when a high USG% player is replaced by a low USG% player, the offensive role of other starters increase, which means more points and assists to go around (Monroe’s 23.9% USG on the year was replaced by Anthony Tolliver’s small 14.8%). What is surprising is how huge of an impact Monroe’s absence has had. Is Jackson simply getting lucky? Or has he broken out into fantasy greatness? Why is Anthony Tolliver so much better of a “fantasy teammate” than Monroe? Trying to answer these questions can help us understand how lineup structures impact fantasy performance.
Comparing Jackson’s Averages
First, let’s look at Jackson’s performance on the Pistons with Monroe compared to after Monroe’s injury.
At first glance, we can see some easily explainable reasons for Jackson’s surge. First off, Jackson is averaging 2.4 more minutes a game, which is going to increase his fantasy numbers a bit across the board. Jackson also has had a 2.4% increase in USG, which should also account for a small increase in points and assists. Monroe is one of the best rebounders in the league, and being replaced by a worse rebounder like Tolliver means other people will grab the rebounds that Monroe would have, hence a 2.4 rebound increase (On a side note, I assure you we are not in the sequel to the movie the Number 23, the increase of 2.4 across many statistics is pure coincidence).
But these factors alone don’t even come close to explaining the gigantic increases we see in points and assists. Jackson is averaging 8.3 more points per game and a remarkable 4.8 more assists. The increase in rebounds of 2.4 is also quite surprising, because while it seems like a small number, it’s a 55.8% increase from his previous average. Can Tolliver really be causing such a huge impact on Jackson’s production, or are other factors at work here?
Looking Deeper Into Points
When we look at points alone, there are some stats that stick out. First off, Jackson’s FG% has drastically increased from 37.1% to 50%, much better than his 43% career average. The fact that Jackson’s three point % has went from 27% to 43.5% strongly suggests that part of the reason for Jackson’s large increase in points is luck. He is on fire for three point range, shooting far better than his terrible career average of 29.3%.
But it can only be part of the reason. Jackson only averages 3.3 three point attempts per game, so the drastic increase in three point % only accounts for 1.63 points per game above his previous averages. So is Jackson getting lucky from inside the arc as well, or is he getting better shots, or both?
When we look at Jackson’s shot range breakdown, we can see that Jackson has averaged 6.8 FGAs per game from 5 feet and in without Monroe. With Monroe, he is shooting a little less, only 5.3 FGAs. The big difference is in the FG%. Jackson only shot 46.6% from 5 feet and in with Monroe, but he’s shot a remarkable 68.2% without him. Among guards, that rate is by far the best in the league in this period, ahead of 2nd place James Harden by 5%. If we were to stretch out Jackson’s pre-Monroe numbers for the season, his 46.6% mark would be the worst in the league.
There’s not a lot of luck involved for shots within 5 feet of the rim. Those are mostly layups and dunks, and how well a player shoots from that range is mostly dependent on how contested or uncontested those shots are. An NBA player will almost never miss an uncontested layup, but will miss a contested one quite often. So if we assume Jackson is getting more uncontested layups, we must ask why is that happening?
There is some evidence this has to do with the impact of playing with a stretch four. A traditional NBA team plays with 3 wing players and 2 big men, who tend to be big post up players who play close to the basket. In recent years, teams have begun to change the power forward, the four position, to more of a wing/post hybrid, someone who has the ability to defend in the post but who can also shoot three’s and therefore “stretch” the floor by causing his opponent to defend him at the three point line. Because stretch four’s cause less defenders close to the basket, using a stretch four conceivably should create more easy buckets on drives to the hoop.
One thing is very clear: Greg Monroe is not a stretch four. If anything, Monroe could have the moniker “clog four.” Monroe averages, rounding down to the nearest tenth, 0.0 3PAs per game, and has only shot 7 in total in his entire career. Monroe is also 3rd in the league in FGAs within 5 feet of the basket, shooting 9 a game. Furthermore, these shots account for over 70% of Monroe’s total FGAs a game. Monroe only shoots 0.8 shots a game beyond 9 feet. Basically, when Monroe is on the floor, his defender is never away from the basket.
Let’s compare this to the player who is starting for Monroe, Anthony Tolliver. Tolliver is the polar opposite of Monroe. Tolliver only attempts 1 shot a game within 9 feet of the basket. The majority of Tolliver’s shot attempts are from three point range. Of his 9.8 field goal attempts per 36 minutes, 7 of them are 3 pointers. Tolliver is the definition of stretch four, that’s all he does.
It’s difficult to measure the impact of stretch fours on FG% within 5 feet for guards. If we looked at the leaders in FG% within 5 feet for guards for anyone with 4 FGAs or greater, we don’t see a lot of players on teams with stretch fours. The top 5, Goran Dragic, Andrew Wiggins, Dwayne Wade, John Wall, and Eric Bledsoe all do not play on teams with power forwards that shoot a lot of threes. But how well any given player does from 5 feet has a lot to do with his skill getting open and finishing under the basket. It’s difficult to isolate skill within 5 feet of the basket from how well someone is defended within 5 feet from the basket. Still, it seems reasonable from such a drastic increase in Jackson’s production to think that a stretch four, especially one replacing a clog four like Monroe, improves the ability for his teammates to get open shots near the rim. And when we look at the tape we can see just that.
This is a play from a few weeks ago when Monroe was still healthy. We see a pretty common play: Drummond and Monroe both go up to Jackson for a pick and roll, and Jackson gets to choose which screen to take.
The problem with this play is obvious from the start. Asik and Davis are not respecting Drummond and Monroe’s shooting ability, so they just ignore the screen and sag deep into the paint.
As the play continues there is no where to go. Jackson has to settle for a running jump shot, which he happens to hit. But it’s a shot he’s going to miss much more often than he makes.
When we look at another Jackson drive, this time without Monroe, the scene is strikingly different.
This time Drummond is the only player setting the pick. But look at the spacing on the floor. There is no one in the paint, because every other player on the floor can hit a three pointer, and their defender has to respect that. This time when Drummond sets the screen, Jackson only has to get by one defender, as the help has been taken out of the play by the three point shooters on the floor.
Jackson doesn’t have too hard of a time getting around Haslem, and with no one else protecting the basket he gets a relatively easy layup.
What About Assists?
Even more impressive than Jackson’s point increase is his increase in assists, especially with such a minor increase in USG. How is it possible that a player who has only taken a small increase in his offensive role has had such a huge increase in baskets he assists?
In the scoring stats section of the stats.nba database, they have an interesting stat they label FGM %AST, which is the percentage of field goals a player makes which are assisted. If we look at all players who average over 15 minutes a game, we find Anthony Tolliver at number 5 with 90.8%. Almost all the shots Tolliver takes are off of a pass, he barely creates any of his own shots. If we look at big men alone, we see 4 players with the lowest FGM %AST: Amare Stoudemire, Lamarcus Aldridge, Zach Randolph…. and Greg Monroe. Monroe has only a 50.1% FGM %AST.
What’s happening is quite clear, and likely why there is such a huge increase in Jackson’s assist numbers: People he passes the ball to are simply catching and shooting more. While only half of Jackson’s passes to Monroe that resulted in a shot attempt were assisted, almost all Jackson’s passes to Tolliver where he ends up making a shot result in an assist. Jackson may not be passing the ball much more, but his passes are resulting in fantasy points a lot more often.
Overall, there are two main reasons that Reggie Jackson has seen such a large increase in fantasy points per minute without Greg Monroe on the floor. First, he is making shots much more often within 5 feet from the rim, which has to do with having a stretch four on the floor rather than a lane clogger in Monroe. Secondly, Jackson’s passes are resulting in assists more often, because he is playing with Tolliver, who practically only catches and shoots, instead of Monroe, who mostly tries to create his own shot. While the impact is shockingly large, the research above also shows that this increase is sensible, and not entirely luck based. It seems that we can use both FGM %AST and a players shooting range to help measure impact as a fantasy teammate.View all posts by Daniel Steinberg