June 28, 2022, 1:22 pm
Like you, I have already begun counting the days until the fantasy season picks up again. There’s still summer league and free agency (for more on this, check out Aaron Bruski’s feature) to hold us over until next season, but we, as fans, always need more. To that end, I looked to the endless fountain of basketball content, Twitter, for inspiration.
Any user must know the intense debates and tier-based ranking of basketball stars that happen online, but what is to be gained by debating subjective things as overall value? Basketball is too complex and dynamic a sport to truly settle such debates, especially when factoring in era, position and play style. However, fantasy managers have the privilege of finding a clearer answer to these questions because the scope is more limited; all that matters is a player’s stats.
Building on that, this article and future entries will take a look at modern positional peers and how they rate against each other as fantasy players in three sections: past, present and future. Readers can expect to find comparisons of players with positional overlap that should be in the same draft range for the 2022-23 season. Managers can use these articles as a reference before draft day and make more informed decisions about how to squeeze every bit of value out of their picks. That’s what we’re all here for, isn’t it?
The season is over, but there’s no reason we can’t look back to glean what we can from the past to prepare for the future. With that in mind, I give you the first entry of Fantasy 1v1…
LaMelo Ball vs. Tyrese Haliburton
PAST: Who was the better fantasy player?
15.8 PPG, 1.8 3PG, 5.9 RPG, 6.1 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.4 BPG, 2.8 TOG, .437 FG%, .758 FT%
51 games, 806 points, 93 3-pointers, 303 rebounds, 313 assists, 82 steals, 18 blocks, 145 turnovers, 293-of-672 field goals, 125-of-165 free throws
13.0 PPG, 2.1 3PG, 3.0 RPG, 5.3 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.5 BPG, 1.6 TOG, .472 FG%, .857 FT%
58 games, 753 points, 121 3-pointers, 173 rebounds, 309 assists, 77 steals, 28 blocks, 92 turnovers, 292-of-619 field goals, 48-of-56 free throws
Without re-litigating the Rookie of the Year race, Haliburton had the better debut season from a fantasy basketball perspective. Despite their comparable averages, Haliburton turned in a vastly superior performance to Ball on totals. The former Kings rookie had the edge in efficiency stats -shooting percentages and turnovers- in both head-to-head and roto leagues. The rookie guards equaled each other in shots made, although Ball was the clear winner in scoring, thanks in large part to his increased free throw volume. However, the Rookie of the Year had to become a negative asset in both shooting percentages in order to secure the additional 2.8 points per-game he generated. Ball’s inefficiencies created increased opportunities for counting stats like assists and rebounds as well, rewarding managers in those specific categories. Despite this advantage, the youngest Ball brother lost this round based on his losses in the less-glamorous stats: shooting percentages, 3-pointers and turnovers. The Hornets’ star was only truly a positive contributor in assists and steals despite his other statistical edges, leaving the advantage largely with the steadier Haliburton.
PRESENT: Who is the better fantasy player?
20.1 PPG, 2.9 3PG, 6.7 RPG, 7.6 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.4 BPG, 3.3 TOG, .429 FG%, .872 FT%
75 games, 1,508 points, 220 3-pointers, 501 rebounds, 571 assists, 117 steals, 29 blocks, 245 turnovers, 538-of-1254 field goals, 212-of-243 free throws
15.3 PPG, 2.1 3PG, 4.0 RPG, 8.2 APG, 1.7 SPG, 0.6 BPG, 2.6 TOG, .473 FG%, .842 FT%
77 games, 1,181 points, 161 3-pointers, 311 rebounds, 628 assists, 134 steals, 49 blocks, 121 turnovers, 430-of-909 field goals, 160-of-190 free throws
This one is very close and ties aren’t allowed, which makes this decision very difficult. Ultimately, the advantage should go to Ball, who showed considerable improvement in almost every category but field goal percentage in his first All-Star appearance this past season. Haliburton matched his pace in fantasy values, outranking Ball by one on total value but losing by one on per-game value to the Hornets’ star. However, Ball’s across-the-board contribution is more universally valuable than Haliburton’s concentrated value in specific categories: assists, steals, treys and shooting percentages. Managers that drafted Ball had more freedom to fill out their roster due to his scoring upside, out-of-position value as a rebounder and better production of free throws and treys. The most closely contested categories -assists and steals- are both won by Haliburton, but managers that drafted Ball still had one of the top-12 producers in those categories either way.
FUTURE: Who will be the better fantasy player in 2022-23?
Moving into the 2022-2023 NBA season, managers will have to use one of their earliest picks to get a shot at either of these guys. Barring any setbacks, both Ball and Haliburton project as early-round contributors for the next decade, thanks to their elite value in two of the most difficult-to-find categories: assists and steals. They are part of a small group of guards that are heirs-apparent to the titan of these categories, Chris Paul. Even at his advanced age, the veteran Paul is still able to produce top-tier numbers in assists and steals with solid efficiency; the same should be true for Haliburton throughout his career. However, Ball has already demonstrated an aptitude for scoring that is beyond either of the aforementioned athletes and has a length advantage that allows him to create additional value as a rebounder. Progress is possible -if not guaranteed- for both men in the coming years, but it seems more likely that Ball will learn to become more efficient than it does for Haliburton to develop a new proclivity for scoring and rebounding. Ball’s efficiency should be helped by the recent hiring of Steve Clifford as head coach, as two-time Hornets bench boss has eight seasons of top-five finishes for fewest turnovers under his belt.
The Pacers have an unclear future as they look to rebuild around their young guard; a process which may drag into next season if Myles Turner is eventually traded. On the other hand, Ball and the Hornets have already had their first taste of playoff contention and will likely be on a more advanced timeline. When taking a risk with early-round picks, it’s easier to trust in players on teams that are looking to compete: something that managers who were scorned by players like Malcolm Brogdon’s on-off availability can attest to. While he isn’t at risk of the same sort of shutdown, Haliburton advocates should take note of the Pacers’ willingness to take precautionary measures with Brogdon once it became clear that they weren’t going to contend for the playoffs. There is no such concern with Ball, who lives for the highlight reels and plays for a team owned by notorious competitor, Michael Jordan.
On equal footing, we’ve seen that these two can be very similar producers. In fact, if one were to treat this as a 9-cat head-to-head matchup then Haliburton would score a 5-4 win with assists, steals, blocks, field goal percentage and turnovers. The truth remains that these players will be part of a larger picture for managers, so marginal victories in categories that these players aren’t expected to help win don’t carry as much weight. For example, an advantage of 0.2 blocks per contest translates to maybe one extra block per week for Haliburton, whereas the gap of around five points and three rebounds could equate to advantages of as many as 20 points and 12 rebounds per matchup for Ball on a four-game week.
Haliburton retained the same usage rate across two seasons, whereas Ball’s increased by two percentage points this past year. A similar increase next year would see Ball reach the 30-plus usage mark, along with such names as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Nikola Jokic. With this in mind, managers may want to bet on another boost in scoring output for the Hornets’ star. Ball’s last scoring boost was carried by adding around 100 free throws and treys to his totals, while the Pacers guard increased his free throws at a similar rate but added half as many treys as his peer. While a similar jump may be hard to replicate, Ball still proved an ability to produce free throws and 3-pointers at a higher rate than Haliburton, whose points value remained mostly level season over season.
Despite Haliburton’s efficiency, it seems like Ball is on higher ground moving into the next season thanks to his counting stats and the Hornets’ clearer picture for 2022-23. Managers will get an elite producer either way next season -and some may prefer the clearer direction that drafting Haliburton takes their team in- but Ball allows for a level of flexibility that should allow managers to maximize their value picks in later rounds by not locking themselves into certain categories.
Verdict: LaMelo Ball