- John Cregan, Fantasy Basketball
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In many ways, fantasy basketball rewards volume over efficiency. Take the case of Marreese Speights. He's got a PER above 20, but is far off the fantasy radar, because of a coach unwilling to supply him with that most precious of fantasy resources: minutes.
Minutes can be fickle things. It all depends on who's doling them out. Minutes mean little if they're not coupled with that second-most precious of fantasy resources: stability.
It's a simple equation. What we're looking for here are teams that distribute the maximum amount of minutes to the fewest amount of players. And we want those players to remain the same throughout the season.
We want the shortest rotations we can find. We want our coaches to cram in as many players averaging at least 30 minutes per game as their situations will allow.
And it's not as easy as saying "winning teams have stable rotations, and losing teams have unstable rotations." Sometimes, a good, deep team may have as many as eight players averaging more than 20 minutes. And sometimes, a bad team may have only six or seven guys even worth suiting up, which means mega-minutes (35-plus per game) for multiple players.
When trying to predict the second-half fantasy fortunes of individual players, it's helpful to take a look at NBA rotations. Which ones are the most, and least, fantasy-friendly?
I'm breaking them down by how many players each team has in four different slots over the past 30 days: 25-29.9 minutes per game (MPG), 30-34.9 MPG, 35-39.9 MPG and 40-plus MPG. As a bonus, I'm listing players whose minutes have been on the rise as of late.
It wasn't hard to look at the Grizzlies' lineup this preseason and see the fantasy potential. With Darrell Arthur going down in training camp and Hakim Warrick's departure for Milwaukee, new addition Randolph was primed for big minutes from the start. Hasheem Thabeet's lack of authority in the paint spelled a huge role for Gasol at the center position.
But what made this rotation really begin to sing was, of course, Allen Iverson's temporary retirement.
Once Iverson skipped town, the Grizzlies could stop worrying about getting Iverson his touches and simply concern themselves with maximizing their newly shortened rotation. Worries about a Mayo/Iverson/Conley time-share evaporated, and Mayo instead became one of the most heavily played shooting guards in the NBA.
One second-half question mark? Conley may have to contend with a challenge from Jamaal Tinsley.
Mike D'Antoni's smoke-and-mirrors routine with a painfully thin roster has been delighting fantasy owners all season. The Knicks offer a high-paced system, four fantasy starters, a not-bad assists specialist and Jeffries, who wouldn't be fantasy-worthy on 50 minutes a night.
There's only one gray area in this rotation: point guard. Duhon is good for some cheap assists and absolutely nothing else. D'Antoni, being a fantasy genius, knows this and keeps sniffing around other players (Douglas is the latest) to take Duhon's minutes. Nate Robinson's minutes yo-yo as well, but his feast-or-famine output is too frustrating to consider except in deeper leagues.
The Hawks feature a well-balanced rotation, with six players above the watermark (25 MPG) and no one else above 15 MPG. And, as good teams tend to do, they are tightening their rotation as the season progresses.
The only significant minute movement has to do with Crawford stealing minutes from Bibby, who probably will be closer to 25 MPG than 30 by season's end. The historically streaky Crawford seems to have finally found some stability in Atlanta and is having one of the more reliable seasons of his career.
Like the Hawks, the Nuggets have a clearly defined, balanced rotation with no messy time-shares. My biggest wish would be for the Nuggets to find 5-7 more minutes a night for Lawson, who was brutally and statistically tantalizing in his brief stint starting for the injured Billups.
During the past month, Afflalo has come out of the woodwork, siphoning minutes from Smith and playing his way into fantasy consideration. You also have to hope the Nuggets are jockeying for playoff position until the end of the regular season, because Billups will be rested at every opportunity.
40-plus MPG: 1 (Monta Ellis)
35-39.9 MPG: 2 (Corey Maggette, Stephen Curry)
30-34.9 MPG: 1 (Cartier Martin)
25-29.9 MPG: 1 (Anthony Tolliver)
Players on the rise: Anthony Morrow, Andris Biedrins, C.J. Watson
Under normal conditions, I would never, ever list a Don Nelson-programmed rotation under the category of "relatively stable," but injuries and a lack of depth have forced my archnemesis to give an ungodly amount of minutes to a very short list of players. When Stephen Jackson left, it became apparent Nelson had finally traded away one player too many. And it seems as if every time a Warrior returns from injury (Watson), another one goes on the shelf (Ellis).
The dearth of ambulatory Warriors is especially apparent in Golden State's frontcourt, which means unknown ingenues such as Cartier Martin and Anthony Tolliver are suddenly becoming hot pickups. No matter the injury, I would keep an eye on the forward and center positions in the second half for surprise contributors.
The danger here lies with Warriors getting healthy. Returning fringe fantasy players, such as Vladimir Radmanovic, become fantasy teases in Nelson-land. In fantasy terms, the best option is to give Don Nelson as few options as humanly possible. (By the way, he's coming back next season for one final run, which is the concept for a fantasy basketball reality series that television has been waiting for: an unhinged Nelson on a hardcourt vendetta ride, free of fear of consequences.)
I'm listing the Spurs first here for a reason: to show their corruptive influence over the other offensively challenged, rotationally stingy teams soon to follow.
When it comes to elite teams being fantasy killers, the Spurs made the mold. Their stat-sucking compound of slow-paced basketball and even distribution of minutes has made them a fantasy black hole for many years. At least there was once a time when you could count on their big three (Duncan, Parker, Ginobili) to give solid production, but Parker and Ginobili have been too brittle in recent years to qualify as "reliable."
Duncan is having a renaissance season, but aside from that, the single bright spot on the horizon could rest upon Hill (it would take another injury to open up the required minutes for Blair). Hill's been starting alongside Parker lately, and should be grabbed with confidence following Parker's latest injury (an ankle on Wednesday night).
They might be the best team in the NBA, but the Cavaliers are a fantasy dust bowl. They are led by Mike Brown -- a Gregg Popovich acolyte -- who features a painfully similar marriage of slow pace and sub-30 MPG players.
Yet another team in the Spurs mold. At least here we've got the brightening prospects of Harden to watch.
The Kings get my vote for most frustrating rotation in the NBA. There's so much potential here: a bevy of young, athletic players in a Paul Westphal system who are playing for the future. But instead, we get seven players in the 22-38 MPG range, and another three in the 14-21 range. That's a prescription for multiple time-shares, which means the Kings play home to more fantasy teases than any other team in the NBA.
When Martin went down early this season, you had an idea as to what the Kings could do with more minutes to distribute; both Omri Casspi and Beno Udrih became fantasy starters. But Martin returned, and both of their values immediately and spectacularly cratered.
The logjam might even be worse in the Kings' frontcourt. Thompson, Hawes, Greene and Jon Brockman could all be productive given the chance, but are in statistical limbo in Westphal's rotation. What they need is for the Andres Nocioni trade rumors to become reality.
This rotation, which resembled day-old guacamole about a month ago, has started rounding into semimediocrity as of late. Shockingly, the stabilizing factor was the acquisition of the historically unstable Alston. Now, if O'Neal could stay this hot (22 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks on Wednesday) when Beasley returns, I might have cause to remove the Cavaliers from this list.
John Cregan is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
John Cregan discusses the importance of consistent opportunity in fantasy basketball, and breaks down the best and worst rotations in the NBA in terms of fantasy-friendliness.