Playing time is such a fundamental aspect of a player's fantasy value that it can easily be overlooked. Every year there are players who surge onto the fantasy radar with bigger roles and increased minutes, but they rarely come 'out of the blue.' By examining those players with the most obvious upside, both for cumulative and category-specific value, fantasy owners can enter drafts with a better idea of who to target in the later rounds.
In general, a player must average at least 25 minutes per game to return top-150 fantasy value in 8-cat leagues. Manu Ginobili is a unique exception to the rule, having provided steady fantasy value despite averaging under 24 minutes per game in each of the past three seasons. Spurs teammates Kawhi Leonard and Tim Duncan were similarly effective -- they were the only players to produce top-40 value (eight-cat) in under 30 minutes per game, according to my end-of-season rankings. The champion Spurs, however, are unique in today's NBA.
Jodie Meeks was a different type of outlier this season, launching himself into mid-round value with averages of 15.7 points, 2.1 threes, 2.5 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.4 steals and excellent shooting percentages. He was gifted a hefty 33.2 minutes per game thanks to Kobe Bryant's knee injury, and Mike D'Antoni's offensive system suited him perfectly. Even if we'd known that Meeks would play such heavy minutes, his per-minute averages in previous seasons suggested mediocre late-round value rather than a full-blown breakout campaign.
If Meeks is a cautionary example of how fickle fantasy values can be, DeMarre Carroll is a counter-argument for the merits of examining players' upside based upon past production. Carroll finished the 2013-14 season with mid-round value thanks to stealthy across-the-board statistics -- he averaged 11.1 points, 1.3 threes, 5.5 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.5 steals and, like Meeks, he shot well enough from the field and the FT line. He also averaged 32.1 minutes per game, shattering his previous career high. Unlike Meeks, however, Carroll's per-minute splits from 2012-13 with Utah showed ample fantasy upside, particularly in 9-cat leagues where his ultra-low turnovers boosted his overall value.
Many valuable young fantasy options are already logging heavy minutes, and will have to seek improvement through greater per-minute effectiveness and efficiency. Examples include Goran Dragic, Lance Stephenson, Klay Thompson, Gordon Hayward, Jimmy Butler and DeMar DeRozan, all of whom averaged at least 35 minutes per game during the 2013-14 season.
For the purposes of this analysis, I excluded from consideration the 77 players who averaged at least 32 minutes per game last season. These players are by and large 'known commodities' who won't take fantasy owners by surprise if they jump a few minutes, e.g. from 34 minutes to 36 minutes per game. It's worth mentioning a few guys who barely clear this benchmark, however, as they could prove to be undervalued if their minutes jump next season -- DeMarcus Cousins (32.4 mpg), Serge Ibaka (32.9), Eric Bledsoe (32.9), Ricky Rubio (32.2), Jeff Teague (32.2), Andre Drummond (32.3), Greg Monroe (32.8) and Marcin Gortat (32.8).
I've also excluded the 110 players who averaged under 13 minutes per game, or who played in fewer than 20 games, since statistics extrapolated from such small samples would generally be misleading. The games-played requirement eliminated a handful of scrubs, in addition to Derrick Rose, Brook Lopez and Steve Nash.
For the remaining pool of 247 players, I projected statistics in eight-cat leagues with the unrealistic assumption that they'd produce at the same rate that they did in 2013-14, given the following increases in playing time:
For players who averaged between 13-20 minutes per game last season, I added 12 minutes.
For players who averaged between 20-26 minutes, I added 10 minutes.
For players who averaged 26-32 minutes, I added six minutes.
In case there's any lingering doubt, these are not actual projections for the 2014-15 season. The idea is to gauge a player's sheer upside, assuming minutes-per-game is the only variable which changes. Fantasy owners should be mindful of external factors which are not captured in the numbers below, but would impact a player who suddenly finds himself in a much larger role. These include the increased risk of injuries and DNPs, the difficulty of playing against starters vs. reserves, the prospect of fatigue (both in-game and throughout a season), the increased likelihood of foul trouble, etc.
Trivia question: There was one player in the NBA who played in 83 regular-season games last season. Take a guess who it was, and I'll give his name at the end of the column.
Among our population of 247 players, Chris Kaman's scoring would increase the most with added playing time next season. He averaged 10.4 points in 18.9 minutes per game during a disappointing year with the Lakers and has made it clear that he wants a bigger role with whichever team signs him as a free agent this summer. My analysis gave the 32-year-old center +12 minutes per game (which may not be feasible given his injury history), resulting in an increase of +6.6 points per game. His FG attempts would jump from 8.9 to 14.5 per game, an added bonus for fantasy owners given his solid 50.9 percent shooting from the field.
Kaman is followed, in descending order, by Patty Mills (+6.5 points), Nate Robinson, Michael Beasley, Mike Scott, C.J. Miles, Brandan Wright, Jon Leuer, Drew Gooden, Will Bynum, Manu Ginobili, J.J. Barea, Luis Scola and Mirza Teletovic (+5.3).
The players with the least room for improvement in the scoring department, in ascending order, include Iman Shumpert (+1.5), Steve Blake, Kendall Marshall, Andrew Bogut, Josh McRoberts, Tyson Chandler, Anderson Varejao, P.J. Tucker, Raymond Felton, Kirk Hinrich, Wes Johnson, Patrick Beverley, Shawn Marion, Mario Chalmers and Ben McLemore (+2.0).
There are three players who, if they luck into the increased minutes I've assigned them, could average at least one more 3-pointer per game next season -- Mirza Teletovic (+1.2), Patty Mills (1.1) and C.J. Miles (1.0). They are followed by Luke Babbitt, Dorell Wright, Jordan Hamilton, Jason Terry, Cartier Martin, Nate Robinson, Danny Green, Al Harrington and Anthony Tolliver (+0.8).
There are 102 players whose per-game 3-point totals would increase by 0.1 or fewer if they saw bigger roles. The list is dominated by centers and power forwards, of course, but it also includes Shaun Livingston, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Ish Smith, Andrei Kirilenko, Luc Mbah a Moute, Tyreke Evans, Al-Farouq Aminu, Rodney Stuckey, Tony Parker, Tony Allen, Ramon Sessions, Gerald Henderson, Tobias Harris, Evan Turner and Alec Burks.
The list of rebounders with the most upside should be familiar to attentive fantasy owners: Reggie Evans (+4.5), Gorgui Dieng, Bismack Biyombo, Omer Asik, Jeff Adrien, Chris Kaman, Kosta Koufos, Kyle O'Quinn, DeJuan Blair, Kris Humphries, Jordan Hill, Tyler Hansbrough, Alexis Ajinca, Gustavo Ayon and Lavoy Allen (+3.5).
A handful of swingmen/forwards make the bottom of the rebounding list, adding 1.1 or fewer boards in increased playing time. There are also two centers on the list, at least one of whom you can guess without giving it much thought: Richard Jefferson, Gerald Green, Khris Middleton, Kyle Singler, Harrison Barnes, Darius Miller, Wilson Chandler, Jared Dudley, Iman Shumpert, John Salmons, Josh McRoberts, Paul Pierce, Evan Turner, Matt Barnes, Andrea Bargnani and Channing Frye.
Phil Pressey leads all players under consideration for upside in assists, adding a potential +2.6 dimes if his 15.1 minutes per game jumped to 27.1. He is followed by J.J. Barea (+2.5), Will Bynum, Andre Miller, Jordan Farmar, Devin Harris, Beno Udrih, Ish Smith, Pablo Prigioni, Nick Calathes, Manu Ginobili, Luke Ridnour, Kendall Marshall and Shelvin Mack (+1.8).
There aren't too many surprises at the end of the list, though it's worth pointing out a handful of SG and SFs with playmaking deficiencies: Kyle Singler (+0.2), Terrence Ross, Ben McLemore, Tobias Harris, Martell Webster, Avery Bradley, Gerald Green and Nick Young (+0.3).
Steals prove to be a more egalitarian category, and the list of players with considerable upside includes both PGs and PF/Cs. In descending order, they are Jan Vesely (+0.8), Phil Pressey, Tony Allen, Gustavo Ayon, Nick Calathes, Rashard Lewis, Pablo Prigioni, C.J. Watson, DeJuan Blair, Ish Smith, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Draymond Green and Kent Bazemore (+0.6).
The players who gain the fewest steals with more playing time are primarily centers, led by Robin Lopez, Jonas Valanciunas, Andrea Bargnani, Roy Hibbert, Bismack Biyombo and Enes Kanter. Tony Parker is also very far down the list, as are Ben McLemore, Gerald Henderson, Ramon Sessions, Tobias Harris, Danny Granger, Wilson Chandler, Mike Dunleavy and Jarrett Jack. None of those players would have added more than +0.1 steals per game with inflated playing time.
As evidenced in recent columns, blocks prove to be a difficult fantasy category since they're concentrated in a relatively small group of players. They are also a 'boom-or-bust' category, in that a player tends to either block shots or not block shots -- unlike categories such as points, rebounds or steals in which most players provide at least a trickle of value.
As expected, centers and power forwards dominate the top of the list for blocks, with James Johnson (+0.7) as the only top-25 player who isn't strictly a big man. He is joined by the likes of Jarvis Varnado (+1.0), Ronny Turiaf, Bismack Biyombo, Kyle O'Quinn, Chris Andersen, Elton Brand, Gorgui Dieng, Ian Mahinmi, Larry Sanders, Andrew Bynum, Vitor Faverani and Ekpe Udoh (+0.7).
A handful of forwards make only paltry gains in blocks with additional playing time, notably Al Harrington, Ersan Ilyasova, Reggie Evans, Harrison Barnes and P.J. Tucker. Analyzing the players who gain the most and least for FG and FT values wouldn't be worth the effort but I've rolled those values into a broader analysis of eight-cat values.
Cumulative Value, adjusted for increased playing time
In this section, I take the 'adjusted' stats for our group of 247 players, assuming increased playing time, and assign them overall eight-cat fantasy values based upon the means and standard deviations for the top-216 overall players from the 2013-14 season (click here for the overall rankings). We've examined who can help or hurt you in specific categories, but now we'll get a better feel for each player's overall upside and eight-cat appeal.
During the 2013-14 season, the cut-off for top-150 value in 8-cat leagues was a cumulative fantasy 'score' of -2.03. Even with the generous playing time allotments which I've given players in today's analysis, 62 players failed to make that cut. Among that ignominious group we find some names worth pointing out...in ascending order, they include Tayshaun Prince (-4.85), Luc Mbah a Moute, Tony Snell, Tyler Hansbrough, Donatas Motiejunas, Andrei Kirilenko, Ben McLemore, John Salmons, Austin Rivers, Kendrick Perkins, Andrew Nicholson, Luke Ridnour, Derrick Williams, Leandro Barbosa, Steven Adams, Jared Dudley, Alan Anderson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Harrison Barnes, Kent Bazemore, Nate Wolters, Dorell Wright, Matthew Dellavedova, Bismack Biyombo and Jason Thompson (-2.06).
Think long and hard before drafting any of the above players next season -- even a significant boost in playing time doesn't seem likely to thrust them into the realm of fantasy relevance (though I'll be keeping a very close eye on Steven Adams).
Russell Westbrook is easily the most valuable player to have made our list of 247 qualifying players, with an adjusted 8-cat value of 10.43. That would have made him the fourth most valuable 8-cat player last season on a per-game basis, assuming he had kept up his statistical pace while averaging 36.7 minutes. (His actual 8-cat value was 6.99, which was still good enough for 10th overall on a per-game basis).
Westbrook was followed by a trio of Spurs: Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, though only Kawhi is a candidate for increased playing time (and a bigger offensive role) next season. After them, we find Pau Gasol, Nikola Vucevic, Spencer Hawes, Brandan Wright, James Johnson, Andrew Bogut, Gerald Green, Derrick Favors, Jamal Crawford, Paul Pierce, Danny Green, Darren Collison, Robin Lopez, Patty Mills, Chris Kaman, Victor Oladipo, David West, Jordan Farmar and J.J. Redick.
Once again, for the sake of clarity, this does not suggest that you should draft Collison, RoLo, Mills or Kaman ahead of Oladipo, since Orlando's rising star is easily the most likely to achieve the +6 minutes he has been assigned in this 'adjusted playing time' analysis. It simply highlights the potential of players, should they find themselves in an ideal situation next season or luck into a huge role thanks to injuries, trades, etc. I've posted the entire list of players online for you to explore at your leisure.
Trivia answer: Ramon Sessions played in 83 games last season. He stayed healthy all year and picked up a bonus game after being traded from the Bobcats to the Bucks in late February. The added game wasn't the only benefit for his fantasy value, as his production surged along with his playing time in Milwaukee (from 23.7 to 32.5 minutes per game). That made him one of the few players to escape the vortex of Milwaukee's rotations under coach Larry Drew.
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