Numbers Game: Understanding Opponent Strength
Numbers Game: Understanding Opponent Strength

This article is part of our Numbers Game series.

One important consideration in fantasy is the strength – or lack thereof – of a player's opponent. Late last season, if I was struggling with which of two players to start, seeing that one's opponent was the Lakers or 76ers (or, failing that, the Kings) made for an easy tiebreaker. Playing one of those teams was like injecting your lineup with steroids.

At the beginning of the season, however, I'm typically hesitant about targeting one opponent or another. Will the addition of Player X or Coach Y make a difference? So-and-so gained 20 pounds of muscle – will that help them defend the lane? The modern NBA sees more offseason shifts than ever.

Even after the first several games, I question whether the early data is reflective of the team, or their schedule. Five of the Knicks' first seven games are against teams that ranked in the bottom half of the league for pace last season. If the Knicks' early pace numbers are low, is that a result of the Knicks, or who they played?

With all this in mind, I went looking for answers. My task – discover whether last season's team defensive metrics are meaningful for predicting this year's results.

I am focusing this column on my three favorite defensive metrics: defensive rating, or opponent points per 100 possessions; rebound percentage, which is the percent of available rebounds one team grabbed; and pace, the number of possessions a team averages during 48 minutes.

Methodology

I looked back through

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alex Rikleen
Rikleen writes the NBA column "Numbers Game," which decodes the math that underpins fantasy basketball and was a nominee for the 2016 FSWA Newcomer of the Year Award. A certified math teacher, Rikleen decided the field of education pays too well, so he left it for writing. He is a Boston College graduate living outside Boston.
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