Giddy with excitement, I entered the convenience store. The forbidden mile-high stack of cleverly named alcohol over my left shoulder, while an aisle of every unhealthy, chocolatey snack imaginable over my right. As I was a freshly-minted eighteen year old in the United States, tequila and Reese’s intrigued me, yet were not my focus on this occasion. It was the day after my eighteenth birthday, I had just become a man, and I was going to buy something, by myself, that a meekly seventeen year old boy could not. I stood in front of it, analyzing my options. Should I go with the expensive one with a potential higher return of value? Should I choose the more modestly-priced option with a higher probability of winning? It’s okay, I was eighteen, and I was now ready for these types of decisions. I took out my wallet, threw it into the machine, and out it slid.
A lottery ticket.
This was my chance. This was my first chance at a life-changing experience. As I stared at the unblemished ticket, my mind began racing. I needed a new car; my old Corolla didn’t suit the man I had suddenly become. I needed an apartment; I didn’t want to be the only eighteen year old without one during their first year of college. When, and not if, I won I was going to spend wildly yet wisely. I had a plan. And I was sure to win.
Two seconds later, I had won nothing. I read and re-read the directions to make sure there was no bonus round scratch I needed to scratch in order to unlock a secret winning prize. There was nothing. Just a mash up of insignificant numbers arranged in a sad and depressing fashion. Gambling was stupid, and I vowed to never do it again.
I am a starkly different person now than that optimistic, happy-go-lucky kid I was at that lottery ticket dispenser seven years ago. I’m now a grisly, crochety, old man with a seemingly ever growing disdain for high schoolers and loud music. I take calculated chances now. I play the probability game. I look at potential floor and ceiling outcomes of my decisions, and act accordingly. Which is why drafting Rudy Gobert in the last round of my fantasy basketball draft was so out-of-character. He didn’t have a clear path to the ever valuable thirty minutes per game. He was about to embark on his sophomore season after disappointing 2.3 point and 3.4 rebound per game averages during his rookie campaign. With offensive forces Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors in front of him, my Gobert pick might as well have been a wasted pick. However, as we all now know, scooping up Gobert in the very last round was my fantasy basketball equivalent to a winning lottery ticket. And now I want more.
Rudy Gobert took me to the fantasy championships this year, and now, I’m left pondering a very important question—who is the next Rudy Gobert?
To answer this question we first admire how truly dominant Rudy Gobert was and realize that finding his successor is no easy task. In his final 25 games, Gobert scored 10.8 points, grabbed 13.1 rebounds, blocked 2.6 shots, had 1.0 steals, and shot 57% from the field. He finished twenty-fifth on the ESPN player rater in eight category leagues, despite playing only 16 minutes per game for the first twenty games of the season. He was an absolute monster.
That kind of production doesn’t grow on trees, so finding the next Rudy Gobert is no easy task. Finding someone to replace his contributions in points, rebounds, blocks, and field goal percentage is a daunting dilemma, especially when trying to narrow that focus to someone that can be drafted in the last round of a twelve team draft. But…here…we…go.
Last year, before Gobert’s breakout, he showed the potential for elite rim protection, rebounding prowess, and an incredible knack for blocking shots. This was only potential coming into the year, because no one knew if he could sustain his other-worldly defensive aptitude. That potential was reached and exceeded this year when he was handed a larger responsibility.
As you can see, Gobert nearly matched all of his per-36 totals from the previous year. He maintained the same elite rebounding percentage, while improving his contested rebounding percentage. The pressing matter that led to Gobert’s minutes increase was his menacing defensive presence, shown by him holding opponents to a 40.4% field goal percentage at the rim. The Jazz were forced to give him an increased role, because they were a significantly better team with him on the court. Finding the next Rudy Gobert would have to possess a similar defensive impact.
Utilizing the player tracking statistics shown on NBA.com, another name kept popping up next to Gobert’s at the top of all these metrics. This player received less than fifteen minutes per game because he was tucked behind two established big men, similar to Gobert’s early season situation. One of the big men in front of this player is an elite offensive force with little defensive skills, similar to Enes Kanter. These two players share an eye-opening amount of statistical similarities and have to utilize similar paths to receive playing time. I think I might have found my new Rudy Gobert.
Relegated to the end of the bench behind Nikola Vucevic, Channing Frye, and Tobias Harris sits Dewayne Dedmon. Yes, the same Dewayne Dedmon who bounced around three different teams in 2013-2014 trying to make it in The League. His 3.7 points, 5.0 rebounds, 0.3 steals, and 0.8 blocks in 2014-2015 will likely suppress his draft value, probably to the point of being an afterthought on draft day. This is good news for his future owners, because as we dig further into his statistical profile, encouraging trends are to be found.
Comparing Gobert’s 2013-2014 season with Dedmon’s 2014-2015, we see the latter measures up competitively:
Controlling contested rebounds at an even higher rate (52.4%) than Gobert (41.3%), Dedmon also swallowed almost 65% of every rebound chance while he was on the floor. While the enormous rebounding totals and middling scoring output similarities are obvious, it is the defensive rim presence that is likely the key to Dedmon’s fantasy relevance in 2015-2016. The Orlando Magic employed three of the worst rim protecting big men in the NBA last year. Among the 123 players who defended at least three shots at the rim per game, Vucevic (53.7%), Frye (51.9%), and Harris (54%) each ranked in the bottom 50 overall in opponents field goal percentage. For a team that has drafted defensive forces in Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton in back to back drafts, this lack of defense in the paint seems to go against their organizational philosophy. Insert Dewayne Dedmon.
Dedmon and his 43.7% opponents field goal percentage at the rim ranked sixth in the entire NBA, ahead of defensive studs like Derrick Favors, Nerlens Noel, Draymond Green, and Kosta Koufos. The five defenders who rated better than Dedmon in the metric averaged 25 minutes per game, so Dedmon could be due for a decent raise in playing time for the obviously defensive minded Magic. Furthermore, with Dedmon on the floor, opponents had an offensive rating 8.5 points worse than when he was off the court. Similarly, when Rudy Gobert was on the court opponents had an offensive rating 7.2 points worse. Defense will be Dedmon’s calling card for playing time, just as it was for Gobert. While opponent’s field goal percentage at the rim probably isn’t a category in your fantasy leagues, it could be the most important metric to look at when trying to poach value out of your fantasy draft for big man categories. Dedmon’s excellence in rim protection and playing time increase as a result, is what could make that alluring 2.1 blocks per-36 minutes into a per game stat next year.
While per-36 and rate numbers are useful, they should be taken with a grain of salt. It is one thing to grab two rebounds in six minutes, it’s a slightly harder task to grab twelve rebounds in 36 minutes. Especially when the player is as foul prone as Dewayne Dedmon. A somewhat unsung part of Rudy Gobert’s game was playing elite rim defense without fouling. Dedmon had a Nurkic-like 6.0 fouls per 36 minutes, which, if not contained, could limit his playing time and therefore his upside. However, digging a little deeper, we can understand why. Playing alongside the defensive ineptness of Nikola Vucevic put extra defensive responsibility on Dedmon. While Dedmon and Vucevic played together, Dedmon’s fouls per game rose astronomically. Without Vucevic, Dedmon maintained a much more stable foul rate.
Because Dedmon played only 845 minutes last season, and only 284 next to Vucevic, these numbers are susceptible to the small sample size fallacy. However, noticing a promising trend early is imperative to unearthing hidden value on the waiver wire. Counting on Dedmon to give you 9.2 points, 12.6 rebounds and 2.1 blocks as his per-36 numbers show might be a bit optimistic, but even regressing them down to 7.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, on 56% shooting in 25 minutes a night could still help your fantasy team immensely. Only three players (DeAndre Jordan, Hassan Whiteside, and Rudy Gobert) finished the season with those totals, and there’s still always the potential for more should the propensity to foul subside with experience.
It’s very, very hard to predict a mega leap from waiver wire fodder to fantasy superstardom. Yet, as I learned last year, sometimes fortune favors the gamblers. I’ve regained some of that schoolboy gambling optimism again, yet have hedged my bets with the aid of some statistical analysis. The odds of Dewayne Dedmon being a huge boost to your fantasy team next year are much larger than your odds of winning big on a single lottery ticket. Dedmon could be the rare Gobert-esque lottery ticket that costs you little but wins you big. Will you take those odds?