Auditing the 2017-18 fantasy basketball season

If the 2017-2018 season taught us anything, it's that power forward is now far and away the most dominant fantasy position. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

This time of year, there isn't a more terrifying word in the English language than "audit."

But what about a fantasy audit?

Let's take one last, long, loving gaze at the statistical campaign we're about to conclude before we close the books and move past the oft-injured 2017-18 season.

I end every season with my own version of a fantasy audit. Because the numbers are constantly changing. It's part of what makes fantasy hoops so engaging, year-in, year-out.

Categorical dynamics are forever in flux. There's always a new way. A new approach to analyzing the numbers. It's a big part of what keeps our grand game endlessly engaging.

The Player Rater is exhibit A. It tells a story.

At this stage, the statistical story of 2017-18 is nearly fully formed. And it's interesting to see where the numbers have evolved versus seasons past.

In seasons past, the story of the Player Rater was one of backcourt scarcity. A decade ago, the Phoenix Suns beget fantasy seven seconds or less. Pace was the watchword. Steve Nash led us into a world of premium point guards. Shawn Marion and Boris Diaw tagged along. But point guards were the alpha dogs in fantasy.

The assist was king. Bind up the dimes with a few 3s? A steal or two? You had Chris Paul (Crescent City Version). Autumnal Chauncey Billups. Late period Jason Kidd.

If you didn't roster one-to-two of the top four-to-eight floor generals? You had better be hoarding some major blocks.

But take a look at our current Player Rater. The plates shifted. Two players that qualify at power forward -- Anthony Davis and LeBron James -- are battling for No. 1 overall.

Take a look at the Rater: what's happened? Power forwards...they're what's happened.

Nikola Jokic got steady playing time. Ben Simmons finally arrived. LeBron picked up PF eligibility. The skill sets of our most oversized players have expanded. Every big seemingly and suddenly morphed into junior versions of 2004 Kevin Garnett.

Dimes diversified. So did 3s. Steals.

Categories that once were the exclusive domain of backcourt players and enterprising small forwards disseminated up and down our lineups.

We're smack in the age of Golden State. Of the Stretch-4. As big men have been asked to expand their skill sets, once-scarce categories have become easier to supply.

Today, we compete for imaginary championships in the age of the crafty, extemporaneous big. The well-rounded power forward. The 7-footer with range.

What was the most productive fantasy hoops position in 2017-18? Power forward. By a country mile. Power forwards delivered nearly 20 percent more production than any other position. Take a look at the Player Rater totals by position, extrapolated across the top 50 players at each slot:

PG: 308.77

SG: 307.14

SF: 311.26

PF: 364.01

C: 299.32

Thanks to small ball (and its fluid, fluctuating lineups) a huge number of players qualified as SF/PFs or PF/Cs. We even had a PG/PF in Ben Simmons.

How many of the top 25 power forwards only qualified at PF? Three: LaMarcus Aldridge, Al Horford and Kristaps Porzingis.

Three of the current top five players in fantasy? Power forwards: Davis, LeBron and Durant. (A fourth big, center Karl-Anthony Towns, owner of the most diversified skill set in fantasy, also sits in the top five). Five of the overall top 10 players qualify as PFs.

And the talent isn't just concentrated at the top. Unlike point guard (ruled by a smaller number of players), power forward distributes its production in a more democratic manner.

The 50th ranked power forward (Al-Farouq Aminu) currently clocks in with 3.39 Player Rater points. Measure Aminu against the 50th ranked PG (1.18 points), SG (2.14 points), SF (1.91 points) and C (0.67 points), and you'll get an idea of the depth at power forward.

And it's not just how much PFs are producing in the aggregate. It's the diversity of the available categories.

Twelve power forwards deliver at least one Player Rater point in assists (Pau Gasol, DeMarcus Cousins, James Johnson, Al Horford, Blake Griffin, Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joe Ingles, Jokic, Draymond Green, Simmons and LeBron). Eighteen deliver at least one point in 3s. Seventeen produce more than a point in steals.

But the secret sauce behind PFs statistical stability?

Efficiency. Percentages.

Field goal percentage has evolved into fantasy's scarcest category. When you add the total top-150 players by category, this fact becomes clear. Take a look at the aggregate point totals by category:

FG%: -3.37

FT%: -1.03

3PT: 31.1

REB: 29.51

AST: 31.56

STL: 37.64

BLK: 17.47

PTS: 32.05

The only two categories that produced a negative total: field goal percentage performance and free throw percentage performance.

The mean in FG% is roughly zero. Which is what makes players like Clint Capela (4.88 FG% points), LeBron (3.91 FG% points) and Taj Gibson (3.24 FG%) so impactful.

By position, centers still rule FG%. But PFs rank second in the category. They're behind centers, but they produce more 3-pointers and shoot way, way better at the free throw line. (The top-150 PFs produced a net 0.34 points in FT%, while Cs bricked their way to a net -36.95 FT% points).

This new crop of power forwards is steeped in efficiency. They don't turn the ball over. They hit a lot of shots from the field. They're hitting 3s. They don't hurt you at the free throw line. Not to mention they're still ladling on the classic PF categories: blocks and rebounds.

We are in the fantasy era of the 6-foot-10 Swiss Army Knife. We're littered with players that can do it all. That deliver a complete, well-rounded box score. Players that produce everywhere and hurt you nowhere.

Now...I just told you all that to tell you this.

The other major development? We have more players that help in every single category than ever before. Whose point totals in each category all go from zero to above.

I call these players "no-negatives."

There are 24 net no-negative players on the Player Rater. Twenty-four players that don't offer a single negative category.

Here's an All-Star team of no-negatives: PG Jrue Holiday, SG Victor Oladipo, SF Kevin Durant, PF Anthony Davis, C Karl-Anthony Towns.

(Don't forget that LeBron is still kneecapping you at the free throw line with -1.09 Player Rater points in FT%.)

Like everything else we've been discussing? Bigs dominate this no-negative category. Half of these no-negative 24 players are PFs or Cs.

But what's so special about PFs in this no-negative category? That you can find them anywhere on the Rater. Oh, you have your elites (Davis, Durant, Jokic). But you can also find middle-class no-negatives at PF: players like Joe Ingles and Jayson Tatum.

No-negatives at PF can even be found at the end of your draft. Players like Markieff Morris (89th overall) and Bobby Portis (113th).

If you draft with this in mind, it's possible to put together a team of players that help everywhere, while not occupying any negative categorical space. If you lean toward PFs at the F and Utility slots, you can construct a team of all no-negatives.

Let's say you're drafting in the middle of a snake draft. That means you could possibly assemble this roster:

PG: Jrue Holiday

SG: Bradley Beal

SF: Kevin Durant

PF: Otto Porter Jr.

C: Nikola Vucevic

G: George Hill

F: Tobias Harris

UTIL: Jayson Tatum, Markieff Morris, Bobby Portis

That's the most efficient, least stressful fantasy roster of all time. And it's dominated by bigs. And you'll still compete in every category.

The biggest fantasy development of 2017-18?

That thanks to power forwards, we can look forward to an indigestion-free 2018-19.