Have potential, need opportunity
When the players worth starting have already been plucked off the waiver wire and you're looking to make an addition, per-minute stats become a barometer for player potential. With bench players, there typically are two options: You can let a decent player who already is getting significant minutes languish as he remains unstartworthy, or you can fill your bench with potential-laden players who would be worth starting if they were getting minutes. The latter gives your roster more upside, so unless you are lagging in your maximum games played pace or have a roster full of injury-prone players, it's a keen strategy. It's shrewd to have one established player on your bench with some positional versatility whom you can swap in if you need a spot start, but otherwise, the bench is a place to cultivate potential. Here are some players performing well on a per-minute basis who would vie for a starting job on most fantasy teams if their minutes increased:
Josh Howard, SF, Washington Wizards (9.8 percent owned): Howard missed the first 24 games of the season for the Wizards and returned to a team filled with swingman options such as Nick Young, Al Thornton and now Rashard Lewis. He's always been a productive fantasy player who can contribute a little of everything across the board, including some blocks from the shooting guard position, a difficult quality to find. He's averaging only 20.6 minutes in his eight games since returning, but in that time, he's averaging 1.4 steals per game to go along with 0.4 3s and 0.3 blocks. His shooting has been an awful 33.3 percent from the floor, a number that should trend toward his career mark of 45.3 percent as he gets back into the groove. He'll need more than his current playing time allotment to be a viable fantasy option, although he's demonstrating the type of impact he can have even with limited minutes with his steals numbers. And as his shooting improves, so should his 3-point total. Howard's minutes are at a career low, and he needs an injury to occur on the Wizards' roster to have true value. But there's no question he has the tools to help a fantasy team when getting the playing time, so stashing him with that in mind gives you a legitimate fantasy starter who just needs the opportunity.
DeShawn Stevenson, SG, Dallas Mavericks (8.4 percent owned): Stevenson has started 29 of the Mavericks' 31 contests this season, although he is quickly subbed out in most games, making his average minutes per game a paltry 16.1. In that limited time, he's been excellent from downtown, averaging 1.6 3s per game while shooting 46.3 percent. Now that Caron Butler is out for the rest of the season, his prospects have greatly increased, and he's been scorching of late. The Mavs suddenly need his offense from the perimeter to go along with his stingy defense, and he's played more than 33 minutes in each of the past three contests, going an insane 13-for-29 from 3-point range in that span. He might have been starting all season but wasn't really getting starters' minutes. Now that has changed with the Butler injury. He should be able to average double-digit points with around two 3s and close to a steal per game in his current situation, and his recent 3-point barrage demonstrates the fact that he has the green light to gun. Stevenson has made a case for being worth adding in all formats, and those who noticed his high 3-point totals on a per-minute basis and stashed him on their benches are reaping the benefits. He boasts few turnovers and solid percentages, so he won't hurt you anywhere, and he suddenly has become one of the most helpful sources of 3s in the game. Stevenson is a perfect example of a player performing well in limited time who just needed an opportunity to increase his aggregate production. Now he has that opportunity, so pounce to add him if he's still available.
Tony Allen, SG, Memphis Grizzlies (0.5 percent owned): Allen is stealing the ball at an epic rate, leading the league with 4.78 steals per 48 minutes. He is a fiesty defender who is doing the most he can with limited playing time and is performing well enough to have an effect on your steals category even while playing in just 14.3 minutes per contest. The Grizzlies are involved in trade rumors, and a swap could open more PT for Allen, who doesn't just steal the ball but also blocks shots from the guard position at a fine rate, averaging 0.4 per game despite the limited time. He's always been a prolific thief despite his minimal floor time, with a career average of 1.1 steals per game in just 18.1 minutes. His production has fantasy owners begging for more PT, as he averaged 1.6 steals and 0.6 blocks per game in 13 December contests, and he has notched an insane 3.4 steals per game in his past five. Quite simply, nobody steals the ball as effectively as Allen right now when he's on the court, and if there's any chance he's going to see increased minutes, you'll want him to be on your bench when he does, because owners will scramble to add him if there's even a notion his minutes will increase.
Chase Budinger, SF, Houston Rockets (0.5 percent owned): Budinger has turned some heads of late due to his run of four consecutive double-digit scoring performances and impressive per-minute numbers, especially from downtown. He's averaging 1.1 3s per game in just 19.2 minutes, to go along with 0.6 steals and 0.3 blocks. He's been on fire recently, with 2.2 3s per game in his past five contests, and his impressive per-minute stats for the season would translate to quality across-the-board numbers if he were given more minutes. Budinger could average about 12 to 14 points with 1.5 3s, 1.0 steals and 0.5 blocks per game if his playing time increased, which bestows him with solid upside due to his ability to contribute in multiple categories and excellent 3-point shooting.
Paul George, SG/SF, Indiana Pacers (0.2 percent owned): George is a promising-but-raw rookie who has some holes on the defensive side of his game, but his per-minute fantasy numbers are drool-inducing. He's averaging 0.7 3s, 0.9 steals and 0.4 blocks per game in just 14.7 minutes, an indication he could be above 1.0 per game in each category if given increased run. He's seen the floor in just 11 of the Pacers' contests this season, three of them being the past three contests. It would take a drastic alteration of the Pacers' lineup for George to see enough playing time to be fantasy-worthy, and they're still holding on to a playoff spot, so it's unlikely he'll see a huge uptick anytime soon. But monitor his minutes closely, because what we've seen thus far indicates George can put up special numbers if given minutes. He has a promising future as a multifaceted fantasy contributor.
Earl Watson, PG, Utah Jazz (0.2 percent owned): Watson has been around the block and landed as the backup to Deron Williams in Utah. The only way he'd be worth rostering is if Williams went down with an injury, although if that happened, he'd immediately be a huge contributor in assists, as he's averaging 9.2 dimes per 48 minutes. In deeper leagues, in which assists become especially difficult to find beyond starting point guards, he should be on the radar, as he's averaged 4.4 assists per game in his past five contests. Williams is averaging a career-high 37.8 minutes per game this season, a number the Jazz likely will attempt to temper in preparation for the playoffs, so Watson could see a bit more run down the stretch. But the real upside here is if he's called into starting action due to injury; if that happened, he'd immediately be worth starting in most formats and provide six to seven assists per game. Planning for such disaster is a bit morbid but often proves to be a trait of the most strategic fantasy owners.
Dante Cunningham, PF, Portland Trail Blazers (0.1 percent owned): Cunningham's averages of 0.6 steals and 0.5 blocks per game in just 18.8 minutes prove he's capable of putting up some nasty defensive statistics, and he's seen a bit more court time recently, averaging 22 minutes per game in his past five contests. He's averaging 1.6 steals per game in that span, and since the Blazers are on the fringe of the playoff picture and involved in trade rumors, it's worth paying close attention to his minutes. If he receives more, he could average more than a steal and a block per game, which would make him worth owning if you were in need of defensive stats.
Vladimir Radmanovic, SF, Golden State Warriors (0.1 percent owned): Radmanovic used to vie for the league lead in 3-pointers, most notably when he averaged 2.2 per game for the Clippers in 2005-06. He has fallen off the map since but is resurfacing in Golden State with solid play off the bench, averaging 1.0 3s, 0.8 steals and 0.6 blocks per game in 16.6 minutes. His game has improved as the season has progressed, and after averaging 1.3 3s, 1.2 steals and 0.5 blocks with 53.7 percent shooting from the floor in December, Radmanovic is doing the most he can with very limited time. When he's on the court, his production shows up in the box score, so if there ever looks like a chance he will see more time, he's a worthy fantasy contributor able to drain a bevy of 3s with some steals and blocks thrown in as well.
Josh Whitling is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
FANTASY TOP HEADLINES
- Hard Count: Make choices you can live with
- Matthew Berry's Love/Hate for Week 16
- Week 16 flex ranks: Trust your Bears
- Kaiser: More playing time, more value