Playing Time is Key
Playing time is the most important factor in fantasy basketball. I’ve long held the belief that about 90 percent of NBA players would be able to post numbers worthy of fantasy consideration if given enough playing time. Only six players who averaged less than 30 minutes per game last season cracked Yahoo’s top-50 ranked players based on per-game averages. Those six guys consisted of categorical specialists who dominated one category (Serge Ibaka), proven veteran performers who had their minutes limited to preserve their health and effectiveness (Elton Brand, Manu Ginobili), or young players who were on the cusp of a full-scale breakout but weren’t given a full compliment of minutes yet (Paul George, Ersan Ilyasova). Stephen Curry was the sixth player in this group, but he only played less than 30 minutes per game due to injury.
In the end, it’s pretty simple math: the more minutes a player logs, the more opportunity they’ll have to accumulate stats. For the most part, you’ll want to target players who are projected to average 30-plus minutes per game. That’s not to say players who average less than 30 minutes can’t hold significant fantasy value, just make sure they're contributing efficiently in threes, steals, blocks, or percentages.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at players who have seen their situation change this season and could see their playing time rise above or fall below the 30-minute plateau.
Paul George, G/F, IND – George has already managed to solidify himself as a top-50 fantasy player without eclipsing 30 mpg (29:41 last season). The Pacers still have fellow wing Danny Granger as their No. 1 scoring option and Gerald Green, who was also brought in this past offseason, but the departure of Leandro Barbosa and Dahntay Jones should open up at least a couple more minutes for George. With 32-plus minutes and a heavier workload to shoulder on offense, George will have a chance to develop into a top-25 fantasy option this season.
Ersan Ilyasova, F, MIL – Like George, Ilyasova has already teased at his vast fantasy potential. The Turkish forward was given extended run after the All-Star break last season, and he responded by averaging 16.1 points, 9.1 rebounds, 1.1 treys, 0.8 steals, and 0.8 blocks in 28 games. His role with the Bucks this season will at least match his second half playing time of 30 mpg but should be more. With a boost of just a couple minutes, Ilyasova could become a double-double player who contributes over one three-pointer, steal, and block per game, which is something no other double-double player accomplished last season.
Nikola Pekovic, C, MIN – Over the course of the 2011-12 season, Pekovic averaged just 27 mpg, but he had multiple stretches above that 30-minute plateau. During a 15-game stretch in February and March, Pekovic was handed 32 mpg, posting averages of 16.7 points, 8.7 rebounds and 0.9 blocks while shooting 52.2 percent from the floor. Those numbers could become routine this year, especially early in the season while Kevin Love is on the shelf with a broken hand.
Mo Williams, G, UTA – Williams was part of a crowded Clippers backcourt last season, resulting in just 28 mpg for the veteran combo guard. This year he’ll be the starting point guard for a Jazz team that doesn’t have many other options at the position. Don’t be surprised to see Williams return to his more productive ways now that he has a starting gig.
DeAndre Jordan, C, LAC – Jordan has slowly seen his playing time rise the past few seasons, climbing from 16 mpg in 2009-10 to 27 mpg last season. Veteran big men Kenyon Martin and Reggie Evans are no longer on the Clippers, and the team hasn’t brought on much in terms of frontcourt replacements. Look for Jordan to get some of the minutes they lft behind while putting up near double-double production with lots of blocks, production which would make him an equal to big men getting drafted three or four rounds earlier.
Louis Williams, G, ATL – Like in Philly, Williams will be deployed as a sixth man for the Hawks. The difference for Williams this year is the player pool he’s playing behind. As a Sixer last season, Williams had to battle for minutes against the likes of Jrue Holiday, Andre Iguodala, and Evan Turner. This year he’ll have to earn playing time against Jeff Teague, Devin Harris, and Anthony Morrow. It’ll be tough for Williams to carve out 30 mpg, but I still think he plays enough to finish as the first or second most valuable guard on the Hawks roster.
Evan Turner, G/F, PHI – Turner has already been discussed here multiple times this preseason. With Andre Iguodala out of town, the former No. 2 overall pick is set for a huge increase in playing time. He won’t hit any threes, but Turner will be one of the better rebounding wings in the league while having potential for decent all-around production.
Glen Davis, F, ORL – Davis has his flaws (horrible field-goal percentage for a big man, no blocks), but he also proved he could be productive when moved into the starting lineup last season. He has been even more impressive this preseason, averaging 17.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 1.0 steals in 27 mpg. The Magic have a complete dearth of talent this year, so Davis should be in line for the most substantial role of his career.
Greivis Vasquez, G, NOH – Injuries forced Vasquez into the starting lineup last season. He responded by averaging 12.0 points, 7.0 assists and 1.1 steals in 28 games as a starter. After the Hornets drafted Austin Rivers in the 2012 NBA Draft, it looked like Vasquez would be pushed back to a reserve spot, but he’s currently locked in to be the starting point guard on opening night. If Vasquez sees the 33 mpg he averaged as a starter last season, he’ll be an absolute steal as a late-round pick.
Ryan Anderson, F/C, NOR – Anderson was discussed here two weeks ago. After breaking out while playing alongside Dwight Howard in Orlando last season, Anderson is now set to come off the bench for the Hornets. The change in team and role could result in Anderson dipping from 32 mpg to the 27-29 range. Even more worrisome is how well he’ll play without Howard sucking in all of the perimeter defenders. Anderson will still hit a ton of threes, which will inflate his value, but there are enough question marks surrounding Anderson for me to avoid him in the early-to-mid rounds, where he’s currently coming off the board.
DeMar DeRozan, G/F, TOR – DeRozan is the new Corey Maggette. The fourth-year wing puts points on the board while contributing a nice free-throw percentage, but he won’t help you much in any other category. The Raptors gave DeRozan over 35 mpg last season, but the team’s selection of Terrence Ross and signing of Landry Fields indicates Toronto may not be as high on DeRozan now as they were in the past. Even if DeRozan only sees his playing time drop a few minutes, it could drastically hurt his value.
Ray Allen, G, MIA – Allen routinely averaged 34-plus minutes with the Celtics. Now that he’s with the Heat, look for that role to drop below 30 mpg for the first time in his lengthy career. His three-point production will still give him plenty of value in fantasy, but don’t be fooled into thinking Allen’s value isn’t going to drop this year.
Courtney Lee, G, BOS – One of Allen’s replacements in Boston is Lee. Unfortunately for Lee, the Celtics also brought in super-sub Jason Terry and Avery Bradley is expected to start at shooting guard when he returns from a shoulder injury. Everyone is raving about the Celtics newfound depth this season, and while that depth will surely help Boston stay near the top in the Eastern Conference, it’ll also be the reason Lee sees a drop in minutes and production instead of having a breakout season.