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Hoop Pointers
Fantasy Strategy Ideas from the Guru

Back-to-Back Backsliding?
November 18, 1999

When NBA players have back-to-back games, does their SWP production suffer?

Intuitively, it would seem that the top players would be less likely to produce up to their averages in back-to-back games. It could be due to fatigue, or possibly to less playing time. But do the facts support this?

To research this, I used data from the 1998-99 NBA season. The strike-shortened 1999 season was so compact that back-to-back games were quite common, and I feared that the data wouldn't be symptomatic of a normal season. With the exception of a bonus for triple doubles, the SWP formula was the same two years ago, and since I still have the daily data, that's what I used.

I evaluated the top 100 players in total SWP. These are mostly likely to be the players that you would consider owning. The top player in total SWP that season was Karl Malone, who averaged 46 SWP/game. The 100th ranked player averaged just below 20 SWP/game.

I considered all games from November 15 through the end of the season. This allowed players a two week head start to develop a trailing SWP/game average for comparison. This universe of 100 players played in 7589 games during that period. Of these, there were 1523 instances of back-to-back games (i.e., games played on consecutive days). That's a total of 3046 games, or 40% of the total games played by these 100 players.

As a baseline, I checked to see whether there was any directional trend in SWP averages over the season. To do this, I compared a player's SWP for each game against his average SWP/game over the previous 30 days. On average, the next game was 0.2 SWP higher than the previous average. This suggests a slight upward bias as the season wears on. This is important, because if I want to measure the relative production in back-to-back games, and I need the baseline to make a valid comparison. Next, I compared the point averages in each set of back-to-back games with the player's SWP/G average over the previous 30 days. Here are the findings:

  1. 45% of the time, the back-to-back game averages were higher than the previous 30 day averages.
  2. 55% of the time, the back-to-back production was lower than the previous 30 day average.
  3. the average SWP for back-to-back games was 0.6 SWP lower than the previous 30 day average.
The data supports the intuition. But the shortfall isn't very great. It is a bit larger than it looks on the surface, however. Remember that when considering all games, the production was increasing at an average rate of 0.2 SWP/G. So, an average decline of 0.6 SWP/game is really a relative disadvantage of 0.8 SWP/G vs. all games. And, if we back out the back-to-back results, the average SWP production for "single games" is +0.5 SWP/game higher than the prior average. Thus, the relative expectation for back-to-back games was actually 1.1 SWP less than for single games. I compared the results for the top 50 players with the results for the next 50, and the two groups were very similar.

I also wondered whether certain players had a greater propensity to excel or suffer in back-to-back games. The best guy to own in back-to-back games was Mookie Blaylock, who played in 12 pairs, and exceeded his prior average 10 times out of 12. His average margin of outperformance was 6.1 SWP/G. Other players who tended to do better in back-to-back games were Calbert Chaney, Vlade Divac, Kerry Kittles, Hakeem Olajuwon, Sam Cassell, and Jim Jackson. On the flip side was Gary Payton, who underachieved 12 times out of 14, for an average underperformance of -4.8 SWP/G. Other notable underperformers were Kevin Willis, Otis Thorpe, John Wallace, Steve Smith, and Joe Smith. I don't see a theme here. There are rookies and seasoned veterans at both ends. And at the extremes, I suspect there are other factors at work.

Bottom line? It does seem like you should expect a little less from players who play in back-to-back games. But at -1.1 SWP/game, the expected relative shortfall is small, and certainly not enough to outweigh the advantage of the extra game exposures. No hidden booby traps here!

RotoGuru is produced by Dave Hall (a.k.a. the Guru), an avid fantasy sports player. He is not employed by any of the fantasy sports games discussed within this site, and all opinions expressed are solely his own. Questions or comments are welcome, and should be emailed to Guru<>.

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