Flying Over the Atlantic

Youth is wasted on the young? The Eastern Conference is trash? Not so much because there are a lot of young players absolutely going off and a lot of teams in the Atlantic Division have been turning some heads. As we'd all expect, Joel Embiid is doing serious work with his second-ranked 35.0 usage rate to go with his 60.0 true shooting percentage (TS%). Let's take a look at a couple young studs in the Atlantic.

Just keeping it simple, Embiid is averaging 20.8 points, 10.0 boards, 3.0 assists, 1.0 blocks, 1.0 steals ad 0.8 treys on 52.2 percent from the field and 81.3 percent from the line during his 27.0 minutes per game. That's pretty good for a guy that just played 15 minutes per game in the preseason. 

What may be most surprising is how good Embiid is when he’s not next to Ben Simmons. When Simmons is off the court, he has a 40.6 usage rate, a 67.7 true shooting percentage and a 28.3 net rating in those 131 minutes. By comparison, he drops to a 33.6 usage rate, a 57.5 TS% and a +1.9 net rating in those 32 minutes.

Here’s what his shot chart looks like:

He is like Chris Paul with the midrange right now, but he isn’t knocking down his 3-pointers at all. In fact, Synergy has him as just a 14th percentile player on jump shots. Despite that issue, he’s still at 60.0 TS% overall this year, and that number could climb once he's back to his 37 percent from deep like last year.

Breaking it down even more, here’s how Synergy goes over his play types:

Play typeFrequency (%)PossessionsPPP*Percentile
Post-Up35.1 46 1.04 75
Spot-Up16.8 22 0.59 9
PNR Roll Man11.5 15 1.4 83
Isolation8.4 11 0.73 18
Transition6.9 1.1 N/A
Cut5.3 1.43 N/A
Offensive Rebounds4.6 1.33 N/A

*PPP is points per possession, a player doesn't qualify for percentile with fewer than 10 possessions on a play. 

As mentioned, he’s really cold on spot-ups with only four makes on 14 attempts with a handful of turnovers on that play.  He’ll obviously be better on that play, especially after he made 36.7 percent from deep last year. He’s been tremendous in the big-man plays and a lot of it has to do with how often he’s been fouled. On the post-up plays, he was fouled on 13 percent of the possessions and he was fouled on 20 percent of PNR possessions. His free throw rate is actually way down this year with just 5.3 attempts per game over his 27.1 minutes per outing — he had 7.9 per game over his 25.4 minutes last year. When Embiid has those monster games, it's usually because he's cleaning up at the line. He should trend up there, too. So basically he should be even better than he has been except for his impressive 20.4 rebounding rate. With no more back-to-back sets for another four weeks, maybe the limits will start to go away. If you drafted Embiid in the third round, you should be pretty happy. In DFS, it won't be long before he's hanging 50 night in and night out.

Only one player is ahead of Embiid in usage rate and his team is on a three-game winning streak. Kristaps Porzingis is going off and is on pace to top his career highs in points, rebounds, turnovers, 3-pointers, free throw makes and minutes.

With his 35.8 usage rate, his shot chart is a little different than what you might expect.

He’s been above average basically everywhere except for around the basket. There’s really nothing to worry about there because he made 68.0 percent from there last year, so expect him to be better, and that should even get him to improve on his 57.0 TS% this season. 

What may be even more impressive is that he’s unassisted 36.9 percent of the time, which is up from 25.3 percent last season. He’s been effective as a scorer on almost all play types (per Synergy):

Play typeFrequency (%)PossessionsPPPPercentile
Post-Up21.3 36 1.14 83
PNR Roll Man14.8 25 1.16 62
Off Screen13.0 22 1.00 55
Spot-Up10.1 17 0.88 40
Cut9.5 16 1.5 78
Isolation8.3 14 0.71 16
Transition5.9 10 1.2 65
Offensive Rebounds4.70.75 N/A

Like Embiid, he’s getting hacked a lot on post-up plays 22.2 percent of the time. The Knicks aren’t using KP in pick-and-roll too much, but that could be due to carousel at point guard. He’s also not really getting many possessions as a cutter and he’s been terrible transition. He is a basketball unicorn.

His usage rate has actually gone up in each of his last three games, so it’s no surprise the Knicks won all of those contests. Although, it’s important to note that he went up against some bad defense with the Nets, Cavs and Nuggets.

For fantasy, he’s up to 44.8 DFS points per game and he’s climbed to top-20 value in nine-category leagues. Plus, the Knicks actually winning games should help KP avoid late-season rest. Although, it’s in the Knicks’ best interest to tank, so there’s still a good chance they don’t play him in every game late in the year. Plus, let’s all hope he can avoid injury this year.

While a lot of the younger NBA players are going off, most of the rookies are not faring well in this first leg of the year.

Among the rookies with at least 15 minutes per game, the top four in usage rate are all below average in true shooting percentage. Donovan Mitchell is first in usage rate at 28.9, but he’s been terribly inefficient at just 40.9 TS%. Among those rookies with at least 15 minutes per game, there are only two who are efficient with scoring: Jayson Tatum has a tidy 63.1 TS% and Lauri Markkanen is at 60.0 TS%. The bottom guys? That would be Markelle Fultz at 37.2 TS%, Dwayne Bacon at 38.0 TS%, and Lonzo Ball at 38.5 TS%.

If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a thousand times: Rookies usually start slow, so fantasy owners of Dennis Smith Jr. should just sit tight for now. Yeah, he has been really bad and making 45.0 percent from the line is unacceptable for a guy that made 71.5 percent at NC State last year. Just quickly on him, he’s been awful in transition, which was an area that looked like it was going to be a strength. He also isn’t hitting jumpers, but he’s been about average on PNR and in isolation. He’ll be fine.

One thing I’d just want to end on is a look at the teams at the top and bottom for halfcourt defense. Here are the best defenses so far in halfcourt (via Synergy):

1. Raptors

2. Thunder

3. Jazz

4. Celtics

5. Hornets

Not many surprises there. If the Raptors being up there surprises you, then you may want to watch their second unit. Their second unit of Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, C.J. Miles, OG Anunoby and Jakob Poeltl has actually played more minutes together than any other lineup combo on the Raptors. That unit has a 85.4 defensive rating, which ranks first among the NBA lineups with at least 45 minutes (27 qualify). If you haven’t had a chance to catch OG, do it. Do it.

One other quick note is the Clippers fell all the way to 10th in halfcourt defense. They were way ahead of everyone this time last week. Nobody beats the Wiz, and nobody wrecks defensive stats like the Warriors after their NBA-high 141 points on Monday.

So who are we taking advantage of in DFS? Here are the worst halfcourt defenses in the NBA:

30. Wolves

29. 76ers

28. Cavs

27. Heat

26. Mavs

The Cavs are really, really bad on defense and it’s not like they had a tough schedule. They’ve only gone up against one top-five team in offense and that’s the Orlando Magic. The Magic! It’s been a weird season.

We’ll be back tomorrow to talk more about matchups on the NBA DFS podcast. Wednesday is the biggest slate of the year so far with 12 games, so we'll be super busy and give you all the info you need.

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