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The Numbers Game

Searching for Sleepers

by Ryan Knaus
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:09 pm ET

Today's column compares every player's statistics with their theoretical stats if they all played 40 minutes per game. My primary goal was to identify low-minute guys with the most potential, either in one category or across the board, but as usual I didn't know what the analysis would yield until it was completed.

 

There are a few explanatory points worth mentioning. I eliminated any player who has appeared in two or fewer games, as well as all those playing 10 or fewer minutes per game. This excluded players like Russell Westbrook, Kyle O'Quinn, David Lee, Andrei Kirilenko and Glen Rice Jr., among others. The resulting population had 302 players, while feels just about perfect for the purposes of this analysis.

 

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Be mindful that a guy averaging 14 minutes who suddenly averaged 40 minutes would be hard-pressed to continue their per-minute numbers in a much larger role. For some players, more minutes would allow them to find and sustain their rhythm. For other players, a bench role gives them far more touches than they'd get with the starting unit. Increased competition against opposing starters could also prove too difficult. The resulting increase in fouls could prove untenable. Veteran players might simply find it impossible to maintain such a heavy workload on a nightly basis.

 

On the flip side, players already averaging 30+ minutes will naturally show minimal increases in this analysis -- Reggie Jackson and LeBron James are the only players exceeding 40 minutes per game already, so they come out with slight negatives. This isn't about the best players or those who get all the playing time, and if you view this as a guide to potential rather than a blueprint for undervalued players, you'll be in position to identify deep sleepers and guys on the cusp of reliable value, as well as those players who might not be able to handle a much bigger workload.

 

To view the entire spreadsheet, comparing per-game stats to per-40-minute stats, click here and use/peruse it as you see fit.

 

Before examining the shifts from per-game stats to per-40-minute stats, here are the actual population means of these 302 players:

Points: 10.2

Field Goal Percentage: 44.7%

Free Throw Percentage: 73.2%

3-pointers: 0.78

Rebounds: 4.3

Assists: 2.2

Steals: 0.75

Blocks: 0.49

Turnovers: 1.5

 

Points

 

Marreese Speights is the big winner here. He's currently averaging 7.2 points in just 11.1 minutes off the Warriors bench, which extrapolates to 25.9 points in a 40-minute role (+18.7). Speights was on the court late during Tuesday's loss to the Spurs, as the Warriors were trying to dig themselves out of a late deficit, and his scoring punch is even more crucial for the second unit while David Lee (hamstring) is out of commission.

 

Speights was followed, in descending order, by Rodney Stuckey, Mike Scott, Dennis Schroder, Shabazz Muhammad, Anthony Bennett, Tyler Zeller and Jusuf Nurkic, all of whom are currently averaging under 15 minutes per game. Stuckey has the most immediate appeal given the Pacers' injury woes, but a tendon issue in his foot has spoiled his appeal through the first weeks of the season.

 

Mike Scott has been red-hot to begin the season, flirting with 14-team value in spite of his marginal bench role -- he's averaging 9.7 points, 2.0 threes and 2.5 rebounds while making 51.2 percent of his field goals. That's an unsustainable level of efficiency from Scott, but it highlights his explosive potential for points and 3-pointers, should Paul Millsap or DeMarre Carroll go down with an injury.

 

Hawks teammate Dennis Schroder has been even more impressive through five games, making 65.2% of his FGs and 87.5% of his FTs while averaging 9.0 points, 0.2 threes, 1.8 boards, 1.6 assists and 1.6 steals in under 15 minutes per game. He even played well enough to erode Jeff Teague's playing time in the Hawks' most recent game. It's hard to envision that becoming a trend, but Schroder belongs on all fantasy owners' radars.

 

The pair of Wolves, Shabazz Muhammad and Anthony Bennett, would likely need an injury or two ahead of them to gain currency in standard fantasy formats. I was pleased to see Jusuf Nurkic so high on this list, as I'm enamored with his upside despite his awkward position on the depth chart -- both Timofey Mozgov and JaVale McGee are ahead of him at center, and J.J. Hickson's return from suspension won't help the 20-year-old Nurkic. He actually fell out of the rotation upon Hickson's return this Sunday, but that shouldn't dissuade deep-league owners from monitoring him as the season progresses.

 

Other players with the most substantial gains in the points-per-40-minutes category: Tim Hardaway Jr., JaVale McGee, Lou Williams, Jonas Jerebko, Marcus Thornton, Alexey Shved, Nate Robinson, Gerald Green, Kevin Seraphin, Aaron Brooks, Cory Joseph, and (of course) Isaiah Thomas.

 

Field Goal Attempts and Field Goal Makes are inextricably tied to the 'total points' numbers discussed, so I won't give them their own section. However, it's worth pointing out a group of players who would theoretically gain the most shot attempts per-40-minutes, yet who are shooting under 40% from the field (in some cases, much worse). It's a red flag that they're unlikely to return fantasy value in 8-cat/9-cat leagues, even if they do luck into much bigger roles: Austin Daye, J.J. Barea, Darrell Arthur, Vince Carter, Alexey Shved, Greivis Vasquez, Phil Pressey, P.J. Hairston, Rasual Butler, Jon Leuer, Rodney Hood and Richard Jefferson.

 

Follow me on Twitter @Knaus_RW for injury updates, statistics and fantasy advice!

 

3-pointers

 

Fantasy owners often find themselves scouring the waiver wire for specific categories, 3-pointers included, and this analysis should make it easier to narrow the search. There are 41 players who gain at least 1.0 threes per game when their numbers are extrapolated to a 40-minute basis. Here are the top 20, in descending order: Mike Scott, Anthony Tolliver, Tim Hardaway Jr., P.J. Hairston, Mirza Teletovic, Phil Pressey, C.J. McCollum, Kendall Marshall, Marco Belinelli, Rasual Butler, Aaron Brooks, Randy Foye, Jason Terry, Vince Carter, Gerald Green, Alexey Shved, Isaiah Canaan, A.J. Price, Jonas Jerebko and Ryan Anderson.

 

Of that group, Ryno is the only player sure to be owned in all formats. Mirza Teletovic, who I view as Ryno-lite, is also likely to be owned in 12-team leagues (or at least, he should be). Isaiah Canaan has been useful for sporadic value thanks to Patrick Beverley's ongoing hamstring injury, but the clock is ticking. Aaron Brooks, Gerald Green and Randy Foye have all done enough to hold 12-team value despite averaging under 25 minutes per game in bench roles.

 

Vince Carter is off to a very slow start in Memphis, due in part to offseason ankle surgery, but he's slowly rounding into shape and could be a low-end value within a few weeks. Hornets rookie P.J. Hairston has carved out a steady bench role and provides much-needed perimeter scoring for Charlotte, but he's only a deep-league target thanks to poor FG% (see above) coupled with limited minutes. Again, this is meant to populate your 'fantasy radar' with high-upside guys. It's hard to imagine any of these guys getting 40 minutes per game, but you never know...injuries are a remorseless and unforeseeable part of the game.

 

Free Throw Makes/Attempts

 

There is a predictable overlap between players who would gain the most free throw attempts and the list of players who would gain the most points in 40 minutes per game, as discussed above. There are, however, 11 new additions in the top-25 for FT attempts: Omri Casspi, D.J. Augustin, Jonas Valanciunas, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Mason Plumlee*, Reggie Evans*, Donatas Motiejunas*, Danilo Gallinari, Spencer Hawes, Carl Landry and Rudy Gobert*.

 

The four players with asterisks after their names (Mason Plumlee, Evans, Motiejunas and Gobert) all shoot under 75 percent from the line, so their increased free throw attempts would be a negative for their fantasy value. Other guys to be leery of for this reason include Jusuf Nurkic (shooting 44.4% at the line), Shabazz Muhammad (40.0%), Anthony Bennett (62.5%) and Kendrick Perkins (52.6%).

 

Rebounds

 

On a per-40-minute basis, our new friend Jusuf Nurkic looks like the big winner, shooting from his current average of 4.6 rebounds (in 11.1 minutes) all the way up to 12.0 boards per game. The Nuggets' big men should already be looking over their shoulders.

 

Nurkic is followed on the list by Cole Aldrich, Reggie Evans, Mason Plumlee, Josh McRoberts, Malcolm Thomas, Gorgui Dieng, Anthony Tolliver, Chris Kaman, Samuel Dalembert, Tyler Zeller, Kosta Koufos, Quincy Acy, Rudy Gobert, Jon Leuer, Marreese Speights, Darrell Arthur, Nikola Mirotic, Shabazz Muhammad, John Henson, Aron Baynes and Timofey Mozgov (it's worth mentioning that JaVale McGee barely missed the top-25 in this category).

 

Gorgui Dieng should already be owned in all formats, in my opinion, as his extreme efficiency has given him top-80 value in under 19 minutes per game this season (averaging 7.5 points, 7.0 boards, 0.3 steals, 1.7 blocks and terrific percentages). Nikola Pekovic is on a minute-limit and coach Flip Saunders has suggested he'll play Pek and Dieng together as the season moves along, so Dieng's future is bright. Josh McRoberts' toe surgery has resulted in a very slow start with the Heat, but his minutes are ramping up and he's on the verge of showing his true value -- get him now, if you still can.

 

Chris Kaman has really found his comfort zone as a go-to offensive option with the Blazers' second unit but his 15-20 minute role isn't enough for reliable value -- just don't hesitate to grab him if Robin Lopez or LaMarcus Aldridge get injured. John Henson is an interesting case, as he has copious upside for FG%, rebounds and blocks, but so far coach Jason Kidd has shown no signs of unleashing him (averaging just 12.1 minutes).

 

If you're format includes OREB as a separate category and you're wondering who the biggest winners are in this per-40-minute analysis, just click here and check out the spreadsheet. It is column AF, labeled "OREB DIF."

 

Assists

 

From the big-man category of rebounds, we shift our attention to point-guard-heavy assists. Celtics backup Phil Pressey leads the top-20 here, gaining 9.1 assists per game if his 10.7 minutes shot skyward. Moving down the list, we find Brian Roberts, Rodney Stuckey (again), J.J. Barea, Kendall Marshall, Alexey Shved, Andre Miller, Zach LaVine, Aaron Brooks, Shaun Livingston, Jordan Farmar, Ronnie Price, Beno Udrih, A.J. Price, Nate Robinson, Darrell Arthur, Luke Ridnour, C.J. McCollum and Brandon Jennings.

 

Zach LaVine is a perfect example of the utility of this study. He lucked into the Wolves' starting PG job after Ricky Rubio's awful ankle injury, which has Rubio out indefinitely (with an informal 7-8 week timetable). LaVine leapfrogged Mo Williams for the starting job and he played well in his first opportunity, notching five points, one 3-pointer, six rebounds, four assists and one steal in just 26 minutes. Low FG% and high TOs will be a concern, as they are for all rookie PGs, but LaVine is absolutely worth a speculative add.

 

Darrell Arthur is an oddball in this list, but it hardly matters as he's buried on the depth chart and would need injuries to Kenneth Faried and possibly J.J. Hickson just to emerge with enough minutes for fantasy value. LaVine, Rodney Stuckey, Brandon Jennings and Aaron Brooks are the only guys in the top-20 who have immediate value (assuming Stuckey returns to health), while the rest of these players would need a change in their team's depth chart to be worth owning. Brooks is on fire through eight games, scoring 12.6 points with 1.9 triples on unsustainable 52.2 percent shooting from the field, but I'm willing to deploy him until he cools off. And with Derrick Rose on a minute-limit and flitting in and out of the Bulls' lineup, there's even more incentive to keep Brooks stashed away.

 

Turnovers

I'll just give a quick overview here, beginning with the fact that Jusuf Nurkic yet again leads this category. Committing a ton of turnovers per-minute isn't commendable, to be sure, but it's understandable for the young rookie and if nothing else it's good that he's so heavily involved while on the court. There are 16 other players who would conceivably commit at more than 2.0 extra turnovers in 40 minutes per game -- Shaun Livingston, JaVale McGee, Josh McRoberts, Austin Daye, Kendall Marshall, Marreese Speights, Rodney Stuckey, Vince Carter, Zaza Pachulia, Kevin Seraphin and Shabazz Muhammad.

 

That list highlights one reason many of these guys aren't playing 40 minutes in the first place. I take exception to McRoberts' inclusion, however, as he was second in the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio last season. He's only on this list due to the distorting effect of such a small sample size, having averaged only 10.5 minutes in his six appearances this season.

 

Steals

 

Which players have thus far been thieving the ball effectively in limited minutes? Phil Pressey, Austin Daye and Dennis Schroder lead the way, followed by Richard Jefferson, Shaun Livingston, Jordan Farmar, Zaza Pachulia, Rodney Stuckey, Zach LaVine, Moe Harkless, Corey Brewer, Gerald Henderson, Ronnie Price, Marcus Smart, Larry Sanders, Gerald Green and Pablo Prigioni.

 

It's worth noting the repeated appearance of Dennis Schroder, Rodney Stuckey and Zach LaVine on these lists. Celtics rookie Marcus Smart is out with a sprained ankle and may have a hard time earning more minutes with Rajon Rondo healthy, but it's not a fluke that he's high on this list -- his aggressive, physical defense should make him a contender for the league-lead in steals within a few years.

 

Zaza Pachulia and Larry Sanders are the only big men in the top-25, in terms of those players gaining the most per-40-minutes, but some other F/Cs worth mentioning are Brandon Bass, Anthony Bennett, Cole Aldrich, Brandon Davies, Danilo Gallinari, Ersan Ilyasova and John Henson.

 

Blocks

 

If you guessed who the top-20 players would be in this category, you'd probably get at least half of them without trying. JaVale McGee is the biggest gainer, followed by John Henson, while none other than Jusuf Nurkic comes in third.

 

After them we find Brandan Wright, JaKarr Sampson, Gorgui Dieng, Rudy Gobert, Samuel Dalembert, Alex Len, Chris Kaman, Mason Plumlee, Larry Sanders, P.J. Hairston, Cole Aldrich, K.J. McDaniels, Timofey Mozgov, James Johnson, Ed Davis and Roy Hibbert. It's basically a who's-who of under-the-radar shot-blockers.

 

Hibbert, Sanders, McDaniels and Dieng should all be owned in 12-team leagues, and Gobert has so much potential that he too should be stashed away despite the onerous presence of Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors. Mozgov is finally blocking some shots, a trend I truly hope continues as he needs to do more than score and rebound to be a well-rounded fantasy asset. I expect Alex Len's minutes to creep north of 20 per game in the near future and it wouldn't be a shock to see him assume the starting center job before the end of the season. He's not necessarily a guy to add right away, but needs to be monitored closely.

 

K.J. McDaniels and James Johnson aren't surprising to see on this list, and McDaniels has untold upside with a role that should slowly expand as the season continues. I did a double-take when Hairston's name appeared, and we can safely rule him out as a shot-blocker...he had one fluky three-block game on Nov. 5, but has zero blocks in his other four games as a rookie. Just to confirm his lack of shot-blocking appeal I checked Hairston's averages in 32 minutes per game with the D-League's Texas Legends last season -- he averaged 0.4 blocks in addition to 21.8 points, 2.8 triples, 3.5 boards, 0.8 assists and 1.5 steals.

 

Personal Fouls

 

I thoroughly enjoy the results of this category, which show six players who would theoretically be fouling out a lot if they averaged 40 minutes per game. Take one guess who leads the way, with an adjusted 9.4 personal fouls per 40 minutes. If you said Jusuf Nurkic, you've clearly been reading this column. Yes, the Nuggets' 6'11" center has been hacking his way to glory in his first five NBA games, even fouling out last Wednesday in a mere 13 minutes of action. I'll reiterate that these numbers are based on only the handful of games which have been played in 2014-15, but that doesn't mean Nurkic and the rest of this crew aren't foul-prone. It's no coincidence that the top-20 is weighted toward young PF/Cs.

 

The other five players with 6.0+ fouls would be Josh McRoberts, Tyler Zeller, Cole Aldrich, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Darrell Arthur. Close behind them are Kevin Seraphin, JaKarr Sampson, Joel Anthony, Nikola Mirotic, Austin Daye, Tarik Black, Moe Harkless, Jason Maxiell, Aron Baynes, Jonas Jerebko, Marreese Speights and Alex Len.

 

Plus/Minus Ratings

 

These don't have direct fantasy implications but they're interesting nonetheless. Here are the top-10 players whose per-game +/- rating would benefit the most if their playing time leapt to 40 minutes per game: C.J. McCollum, Rodney Stuckey, Pero Antic, Phil Pressey, P.J. Hairston, Jusuf Nurkic (!), Mason Plumlee, Lou Williams, John Henson and Tyler Hansbrough.

 

Here are the 10 players on the opposite end of the ledger, whose per-game +/- ratings would sink the most if their playing time increased: JaKarr Sampson, Zach LaVine, Brandon Bass, Andre Miller, Rasual Butler, Alexey Shved, Marcus Thornton, Aaron Gordon, Malcolm Thomas and Nate Robinson.

Ryan Knaus

Despite residing in Portland, Maine, Ryan Knaus remains a heartbroken Sonics fan who longs for the days of Shawn Kemp and Xavier McDaniel. He has written for NBC Sports Edge since 2007. You can follow him on Twitter.