By Mike Barner, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
Believe it or not, the NBA season is already almost halfway complete. If you’re off to a hot start in your league, you want to take stock of your current roster and see where you can make improvements to help you make it across the finish line. If you’re toward the bottom of the standings, it’s now or never to right the ship.
One key advanced stat you should be examining to see where you can gain an edge is usage rate. As defined by Basketball Reference, usage rate is an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while on the floor. Simply put, usage rate demonstrates how often a player shoots, turns the ball over, or gets to the free throw line when he is on the court.
While this isn’t the only advanced stat you should be looking at, it is valuable because it helps gives you an idea of how much volume a player has within his team’s offense.
Let’s take a look not only at a few players who have higher-than-normal usage rates and could see some regression to the mean in the second half, but also some who are off to a slow start and could see an increase over the second half of the season.
Tyreke Evans, Memphis Grizzlies: The Grizzlies made one of the best moves in the league over the summer, signing Evans to a one-year, $3.29 million deal. They have struggled to find shooters and bench scoring in recent years, leaving them to take a chance on Evans, who had played only 65 combined games over the previous two seasons.
Evans has been healthy so far and got off to a hot start, but really saw his usage rate increase when Mike Conley (Achilles) went down. His current usage rate sits at a career-high 28.3% as a result, ranking 21st highest in the league. To put that into perspective, Evans’ usage rate is higher than that of players like John Wall, Anthony Davis and C.J. McCollum.
Conley is out indefinitely right now, meaning Evans will continue to play a huge role in the Grizzlies’ offense. The problem is Memphis is one of the worst teams in the league, so when you factor in his ability to score with his extremely reasonable contract, Evans becomes a valuable player on the trade market.
If he were to be dealt to a playoff contender, his usage rate could take a big hit. And it figures to suffer anyway, to a lesser to degree, whenever Conley returns. Now might be the time to deal Evans before that happens.
Jimmy Butler, Minnesota Timberwolves: Butler became a star player with the Chicago Bulls, which resulted in his usage rate increasing in each of his last four seasons with the team. He finished with a career-high 26.5% usage rate last year as he carried the Bulls into the first round of the playoffs.
With Butler being traded to the Timberwolves in the offseason, he immediately stepped into a roster with more young, elite talent. His usage rate was likely to drop some no matter what, and it currently sits at 24.6%, ranking just inside the top-45 in the league.
It takes time for star players to adjust to playing with each other, which has been the case for Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Butler seems to be settling in nicely, though, resulting in his usage rate increasing with each month.
After posting a 26.8% usage rate in December, Butler is all the way up to 29.1% thus far in January. He’s going to be the leader of the team on the offensive end and have the ball in his hands late in games, so don’t be surprised to see his usage rate creep back up to around what it was last season with the Bulls when all is said and done.
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks: With Carmelo Anthony traded to the Thunder, it’s no surprise that Porzingis has taken on a more prominent offensive role with the Knicks. The offensive burden was placed even more squarely on his shoulders when Tim Hardaway Jr. (leg) was injured early on this season.
The issue with Porzingis is that his usage rate currently sits at 32.5%, which is fifth-highest in the league. He’s already admitted he is tired from carrying the offense with Hardaway out, which is not good news considering it’s only halfway through the season.
While his usage rate is crazy high right now, he’s already shown signs of regression with it dropping each month so far this season. The Knicks have already started to give Michael Beasley more playing time to help provide offense and Hardaway is making progress towards a return.
While Porzingis is going to continue to be a valuable fantasy asset, his value may have already peaked this year.
LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs: Running the show is nothing new for Aldridge, who had a usage rate of at least 29.8% in both of his last two seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers. The move to a more talented Spurs team took a hit on his usage rate, dropping it to 25.9% or less in each of his first two seasons with the team.
Aldridge is an excellent example of what usage rate means to a player’s value. In his last two seasons in Portland, Aldridge averaged at least 23.2 points per game in both campaigns. In his first two years with the Spurs, he did not average more than 18.0 points per contest.
Aldridge has been forced to be the main man again with Kawhi Leonard (shoulder) battling injuries and minutes restrictions this season, leaving him to post a 28.8% usage rate. To no surprise, his scoring average has jumped back up to 22.6 points per game.
Somewhat surprisingly to those who watched him for much of last season, Aldridge has been able to re-establish himself as a borderline-elite fantasy asset, but his numbers are likely to decline once Leonard finally gets healthy. Leonard’s latest injury, a partial tear in his shoulder, could keep him out for a few games, but the Spurs don’t believe another lengthy absence will be in Leonard’s future.
Nicolas Batum, Charlotte Hornets: Batum’s move to the Hornets prior to the 2015-16 campaign had done wonders for his value heading into this season, considering he’d averaged at least 14.9 points per game and notched a usage rate of at least 21.4% in both seasons since joining the team. Batum had a usage rate above 20% only one time in his previous seven seasons, so he looked to be primed for another valuable performance this year.
Suffice it to say that has not been the case. He was diagnosed with a torn UCL in his left elbow before the start of the regular season, forcing him to not make his debut until midway through November. Add in the fact that Dwight Howard is having a resurgent offensive season at center and the result is a paltry, 17.3% usage rate for one of the league’s most well-rounded role players.
Batum’s value is at his lowest right now since he joined the Hornets, leaving an opportunity to buy low. He has the ball in his hands a lot as one of the best passers on the team, so his scoring opportunities could increase as he gets healthy and adjusts to playing with Howard. While his usage rate might not finish over 21% like it has each of the last two seasons, it’s also unlikely to finish as low as it is right now.
The same can be said for Batum’s efficiency. Through 24 games, he’s shooting just 41.0% from the field, including a career-worst (by far) 28.7% from three. While his elbow may be something that bothers him throughout the season, he has almost nowhere to go but up when it comes to fantasy value.
Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors: Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have formed an elite offensive backcourt in Toronto, helping Lowry to reach career-highs last season in points (22.4) and three-pointers (3.2) per game. Big things were expected from Lowry again this season after recording a usage rate of at least 24.9% in each of the last three seasons.
So far, Lowry has not lived up to expectations. His usage rate sits at only 21.5%, which would be his lowest since the 2012-13 campaign. Not only is he attempting three fewer shots per game, but he is also attempting almost three fewer free-throws per contest, as well.
A lot of Lowry’s problems can be attributed to a slow start, as he averaged only 13.5 points per game and recorded a 19.7% usage rate in six games during the month of October. The Raptors are going to continue to count on him to be a big part of their offense moving forward, so expect his usage rate and production to increase accordingly as the season progresses.