Fantasy basketball: What True Shooting Percentage reveals about players like Paul George, Luka Doncic

Paul George is on pace to set new career-highs in FG%, FT% and 3FG% in 2020-21. Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Volume vs. Efficiency.

The endless struggle. The foundational argument of fantasy basketball.

Whether you're playing in a Points or Roto league... to win, managers must affect an operational balance between these two dynamics. Winning fantasy basketball strategy starts with understanding that one can't succeed without the other.

And yet? Volume is the side that tends to suck up the oxygen. When one of your players scores 26 points, you don't care how he got there. If he went 9-for-26? You'll forgive.

What's worse? The Points format rewards this mindset. Because when you're measuring fantasy goodness in an aggregate number (fantasy points scored), the means of getting there can become obscured. The absolute is embraced. Whereas a category-based system breaks out your player production with a 360 degree perspective.

But right about now?

I'll bet you're craving something else.


Given the forgivable uncertainty swirling around present day-to-day NBA operations? You'll be excused for craving some night-in, night-out normalcy. A little less standard deviation.

Well. I'm going to break out a category for you that will help. Help to boost your team's consistency and improve your team's overall performance.

True Shooting Percentage.

True Shooting Percentage (TS%) is one of my two favorite "supporting stats."

"Supporting stats" are what I call the stats that power your league's chosen categories. The numbers behind the numbers. My other fave: Usage Rate, which we recently discussed.

If you visit this space with any historical regularity, you already know what I'm talking about. TS% is a formula that artfully conflates field goal percentage, 3-point percentage and free throw percentage into a single all-encompassing percentage.

TS% doesn't just cravenly jam the three separate percentages together. TS% is really giving you an idea of how efficiently a player is producing points per shot (even free throw attempts.)

Think of it this way: TS% assesses how well your player performs any time one of his possessions ends in a shot attempt (including free throws).

The TS% formula: Points Scored / Field Goal Attempts + (0.44 x FTA)

The 0.44 coefficient accounts for the rare occasions when a single free throw is awarded, as in and-1s and technicals.

I love TS% for fantasy because it gives managers a clearer means to gauge how a player is performing from the floor in totality.

Because you shouldn't believe a player is helping your team if he's doing great from the field, but stinks at the line. Or that he's struggling if he's only shooting 45.0% from the floor, but the majority of his shots are 3-point attempts.

TS% rewards players for the extra point generated by a made 3-pointer. It penalizes players who may shoot well from the field yet struggle at the line, or don't take 3-pointers, such as Ben Simmons.

Even better? TS% is a stat I employ regardless of fantasy scoring format. It's marvelous for assessing hidden fantasy value in Roto and Points leagues.

Its charm in roto leagues is obvious: it's letting you whether a player is really helping or hurting your overall shooting efficiency, even if they're struggling in one of the percentage-based categories.

Example: Duncan Robinson of the Miami Heat. Robinson offers an anemic 43.6% field goal percentage. But he boasts an elite 63.9 TS%. This is thanks to the fact that 8.3 of his 9.7 field goal attempts per game come from downtown, and Robinson's 3-point percentage is excellent (41.4%). Plus, his 81.3 FT% helps, but not as much as it should, since he only averages 1.7 free throw attempts a night.

Robinson is going to help your team's overall shooting efficiency more than Shai-Gilgeous Alexander, despite the fact that SGA's FG% clocks in at a gaudy 51.2%. Alexander's merely average free throw performance (75.8 FT%) and 3-point performance (37.5 3PT%).

What's considered a good TS%? A 50.0 TS% used to be considered the average. But thanks to analytics' positive effect on NBA shot selection, TS% keeps climbing. For the 2020-21 season, the league average TS% as of this writing: 56.8%. An elite TS% is anything over a 60.0 TS%. Jarrett Allen currently leads the NBA with an astronomical 71.9 TS%.

In Points leagues, I like to employ TS% because I prefer my scoring volume to possess both efficiency and consistency.

Now, the truth is that if a player is elite in any category, his production in that category is going to fluctuate no matter what. The night-in, night-out performances of most top players contain a fair amount of standard deviation, even in TS%. But high volume scorers with high TS% tend to hurt your team less frequently.

But what really helps is when you combine TS% with volume. How many shot attempts is a player averaging per game. And the corresponding location the of said attempts are generated (2-pointers, 3-pointers, free throws).

Because conflating TS% with shot volume gives you the absolute best, truest assessment of how a player is helping or hurting your squad.

Players with high averages of total shot attempts per game are going to have a greater effect on your team's overall shooting performance than low volume shooters.

It's better for your team to roster a player with a 60.0 TS% averaging 20 total attempts per game than a player with a 62.0 TS% averaging just 10 total attempts.

The dynamic works in reverse. It's less odious to have a player with a 50.0 TS% averaging just 10 total attempts than a player with 52.0 TS% average averaging 20 total attempts.

Okay. So, with all of that in mind, I'm going to close this out with two lists.

1. Players with a high percentage in FG% or FT% that are actually not helping your team as much as you think... or are even secretly hurting your squad.

2. Players that are boosting your team's overall shooting performance more than you think.

List one: Not as good as you think

Luka Doncic, PG, Dallas Mavericks 27.2 PPG, 56.2 TS%, 28.6 Total Shot Attempts Per Game
Nikola Vucevic, C, Orlando Magic 22.5 PPG, 56.5 TS%, 21.0 TSPG
LaMelo Ball, PG, Charlotte Hornets 12.7 PPG, 53.3 TS%, 13.3 TSPG
Fred VanVleet, PG/SG, Toronto Raptors 20.4 PPG, 55.8 TS%, 20.1 TSPG
Andrew Wiggins, SG/SF, Golden State Warriors 17.7 PPG, 55.6 TS%, 17.8 TSPG
LaMarcus Aldridge, PF/C. San Antonio Spurs 14.1 PPG, 54.2 TS%, 13.8 TSPG
De'Aaron Fox, PG, Sacramento Kings 22.3 PPG, 56.6 TS%, 23.4 TSPG
Julius Randle, PF, New York Knicks 22.6 PPG, 58.0 TS%, 23.2 TSPG

List two: Better than you think

Paul George, SG/SF, Los Angeles Clippers 24.4 PPG, 66.2 TS%, 20.8 TSPG
Nicolas Batum, SG/SF/PF, Los Angeles Clippers 10.2 PPG, 68.1 TS%, 8.2 TSPG
Damian Lillard, PG, Portland Trail Blazers 29.1 PPG, 63.1 TS%, 27.3 TSPG
Wayne Ellington, SG, Detroit Pistons 11.9 PPG, 69.1 TS%, 9.1 TSPG
Justin Holiday, SG/SF, Indiana Pacers 10.9 PPG, 63.7 TS%, 9.3 TSPG
Seth Curry, PG/SG, Philadelphia 76ers 13.0 PPG, 67.2 TS%, 10.6 TSPG
Harrison Barnes, SF/PF, Sacramento Kings 17.2 PPG, 63.7 TS%, 16.1 TSPG
Joe Ingles, SF/PF, Utah Jazz 10.5 PPG, 66.6 TS%, 8.3 TSPG