by Dave Fuller of Third League
Take a stab as to what the topic of this article is if you would. Seems like it involves time, and allows players to play. Preferably younger players, I assume. I'm gonna go out on a limb myself and guess that it has to do with young players getting playing time. Hmm. It's a possibility.
What's the big deal with playing time you ask? Well now, the difference between starters' minutes and backup minutes is the difference between a fringe fantasy starter and a fantasy all-star. Skeptic? Here are a few examples of players who were hardly draftable in fantasy leagues before last season started, and ended up being huge pieces on championship teams (not to mention how high a draft pick will be required for their services this season). I'll explain why this happened and how it will affect players (and your fantasy team) this season.
(DIfferentials derived from '05-'06 to '06-'07 seasons.)
Al Jefferson :: PF/C, Minnesota Timberwolves
Playing Time Differential: +15.6 min. | Points Differential: +8.1 | Rebounding Differential: +5.9 | Blocks Differential: +0.7
The Celtics became rather thin in the frontcourt a month or two into last season, so Big Al's progressive increases in minutes translated into major improvements. It's also interesting to note that the former first round pick broke out in his third season, a trend that is occurring more and more frequently (especially for talented youngsters).
Andris Biedrins :: C, Golden State Warriors
Playing Time Differential: +14.3 min. | Points Differential: +5.8 | Rebounds Differential: +5.1 | Blocks Differential: +1.0
The Warriors needed a legitimate center to do their dirty work, and that's exactly what the third-year Latvian did. His development came out of nowhere (third year however), but he was awarded nearly double the previous year's minutes and proved that losing Adonal Foyle and was more than worth it.
Kevin Martin :: SG, Sacramento Kings
Playing Time Differential: +8.6 min. | Points Differential: +9.4 | 3-Pt Differential: +0.7 | Steals Differential: +0.4
Yet another third-year break-out, this shooting guard from Western Carolina was handed the task of being a reliable scorer for a team lacking such pieces, and that's just what he did. He only got an extra eight-and-a-half minutes, but he scored nearly nine-and-a-half more points per game. The increase in 3's and steals is nice, too.
Mo Williams :: PG, Milwaukee Bucks
Playing Time Differential: +9.9 min. | Points Differential: +5.2 | Assists Differential: +2.1 | Rebounds Differential: +1.7
Mo was handed a solid 10 extra minutes along with the starting role, and he put up increased numbers across the board. Williams misses the third-year break-out mention because it was his fourth season, but such a playing time difference goes to show how valuable a player can be. I drafted him as the 113th pick last season, too.
Monta Ellis :: PG/SG, Golden State Warriors
Playing Time Differential: +16.2 min. | Points Differential: +9.7 | Assists Differential: +2.5 | Steals Differential: +1.0
Last but certainly not least is the second MIP (Most-Improved Player) awardee in the past five seasons for the Golden State Warriors. The former? Gilbert Arenas. With Jason Richardson ailing and Ellis' obvious talent and potential (he was drafted out of high school), the 16 extra minutes he got was enough to make his name known.
Pretty impressive names, and not one of them should last past the 7th round this season. I doubt any of them were drafted in the top 100 last season either. Let's examine how and why this happens before going on to my projections for possible break-out candidates in the coming season.
As I touched upon in the last article (Doubled Brewer-ed), consistent and consecutive minutes are one of the best things that can happen to a young player. If there is talent and potential there (in most cases with players who see increases in minutes, there will be a lot), good things are bound to happen. First, an increase in minutes brings an increase in confidence. Confidence is key for young players because it allows them to step up and play more within their abilities. As we see with Martin and Williams, these players were awarded starting roles because their coach saw it in them to produce consistently for their respective team. That is a huge display of confidence, and the results are pretty obvious.
Consistency in playing time is another necessary piece to the break-out puzzle. When young players are subbed in to the game after sitting on the bench for the start of the game, they need to figure out what the opposing team is able to do on that particular night (quick offensive/defensive starts and whatnot). Then, they need to shake off the rust they've accumulated since their last time in a game. After that, they need to see which kind of role they're asked to play and figure out how to perform it against that night's particular team. And finally, they need to find their offensive rhythm (we'll call that whole system the game-initiation cycle). If a player is marred in a shooting slump, things tend to get worse and worse when they're finally in the game because they tend to try too hard or just can't find their touch. The problem is, it's very difficult to get out of these slumps if their playing time isn't consistent. They have to go through the game-initiation cycle again and again when they find themselves seated for increased periods of time. This can also tend to subtract heavily from a player's confidence, so it's really a pretty negative cycle.
After confidence and consistency, the only thing a player has left to do is realize their potential. As I mentioned with the third-year trend, it seems that an increasing number of 1st-round selections (who will actually end up realizing their talent) have their break-out season in their third year. Now of course, this isn't a necessary factor in the playing time/break-out analysis (Ellis and Williams were 2nd-round picks and were 2nd- and 4th-year players, respectively), but it becomes a little easier to predict who the hidden gems will be in the coming season.
With those things in mind, it comes time to make some predictions and projections. I will name my top 5 (technically 7) choices for playing time break-outs in the following section.
Projected 2007-'08 Season Stats -- Randy Foye :: PG/SG, Minnesota Timberwolves
32.0 min. | 16.7 pts. | 44.5% FG | 83.0% FT | 1.6 3's. | 4.5 reb. | 4.3 ast. | 1.1 stl. | 0.8 blk. | 2.7 TO
The 2nd-year guard is going to be expected to take minutes at both the point and shooting guard positions, so he should see at least 10 extra minutes per game as the leader of the Minnesota youth movement. Foye's per-48 minutes statistics last season were eye-popping, and you can expect improvements across the board.
Projected 2007-'08 Season Stats -- Andrew Bynum :: C, Los Angeles Lakers
30.0 min. | 11.5 pts. | 54.5% FG | 69.5% FT | 0.0 3's. | 8.8 reb. | 1.8 ast. | 0.4 stl. | 1.9 blk. | 2.1 TO
Another third-year pro, another potential break-out. You may not consider 4 more points and 3 more rebounds a break-out, but those numbers strike an odd resemblance to those of another center within the state of California. Andris Biedrins, perhaps? Here's a slightly more offensive 2007-'08 version of last year's break-out center.
Projected 2007-'08 Season Stats -- Rajon Rondo :: PG/SG, Boston Celtics
33.5 min. | 10.5 pts. | 46.5% FG | 67.0% FT | 0.3 3's. | 4.7 reb. | 6.0 ast. | 2.3 stl. | 0.1 blk. | 1.9 TO
Rondo will do precisely what he is needed to do this season: bring the ball up the court and dish it to the big three. He won't have many opportunities to score, but the all-star trio will give him open shots (occasionally). Yes, you read the steals average correctly. He just might lead the league in steals this season. That alone is worth the pick.
Projected 2007-'08 Season Stats -- Kelenna Azubuike :: SG/SF, Golden State Warriors
25.0 min. | 12.5 pts. | 48.5% FG | 76.5% FT | 1.2 3's. | 3.8 reb. | 1.0 ast. | 0.7 stl. | 0.5 blk. | 2.2 TO
You never know with Don Nelson, and he proves it once again. This former Kentucky guard went undrafted but came up as a D-League star while the front-court was ailing. KAz is slated to start at SF while SJax serves his time, so at least 7 productive starts are in order. Expect a 10% bump for Mickael Pietrus' stats while starting at PF as well. It's just too difficult to tell who will start, and how long. If you start for the Warriors, 3's and steals will come.
Projected 2007-'08 Season Stats -- Martell Webster :: SG/SF, Portland Trail Blazers
30.0 min. | 14.0 pts. | 43.5% FG | 78.5% FT | 1.4 3's. | 4.2 reb. | 1.0 ast. | 0.7 stl. | 0.7 blk. | 2.2 TO
Yet another third-year break-out candidate. After Roy and Aldridge, the Blazers desperately need a scorer or two to step up. It's tough to tell who will start between him and Travis Outlaw, but I'll give the upper hand to Webster for his high ceiling of potential (has drawn T-Mac comparisons). But really, whoever wins this job is likely to put up the numbers in the preceding projection table (save for Outlaw and 3's; he doesn't do 3's). Keep your eye on this battle.
And, of course, I've already mentioned Ronnie Brewer to you. Now, there's a pretty good chance you've heard of the first three players and know quite a bit about them. You probably also knew that they were projected to out-perform their ADP. But hey, they're very likely to pick up increased playing time and break out. Those were the guidelines weren't they? At least I gave you a few names you probably aren't so familiar with. Fine, I'll give you some additional names to make up for it. The following three players would go off and produce huge numbers if given a large increase in playing time (they're listed here because those minutes may not be too consistent or guaranteed for the time being):
Paul Millsap :: SF/PF, Utah Jazz
After amassing 18 minutes per contest last season, Millsap showed the world his vast potential. The scary thing is, Utah head coach Jerry Sloan doesn't even like playing rookies. Millsap only played more as the season went on. You can fully expect an explosion of production the second Boozer or AK-47 goes down, or if Kirilenko gets moved, because this kid can play. If he's ever in line for starters' minutes, snatch him up quick or he's gone.
Jason Maxiell :: SF/PF, Detroit Pistons
Head coach Flip Murray wants to give his younger talents more playing time this season, and Jason Maxiell is one of the best young players on this team. He averaged a mere 14 minutes last season, hardly enough to make an impact. But with Chris Webber out of the picture, expect a bump in playing time into the low-to-mid 20's. The same rule applies as it does with Millsap; don't miss out on the boards, steals, and blocks he would put up with more minutes.
Tyrus Thomas :: SF/PF, Chicago Bulls
More of the same; Thomas has crazy upside when it comes to steals and rebounds. His potential for blocks, however, is a different story. Tyrus put up 3.5 per game as a starter last season, in only 20.3 minutes. That's insane considering he could garner closer to 25 minutes per contest this season. If Ben Wallace and Joakim Noah don't return soon, Thomas could be in line for quick minutes and quick production. Monitor their situations.
I guess the only thing I have left to tell you is that it's nearly impossible to be accurate on all of your break-out picks. Some players just line up perfectly with your credentials for a season that out-performs expectations, but it's all a matter of everything falling into place in just the right way. This isn't to say that you shouldn't bother picking out likely candidates for huge returns on a late pick, but it's safest to draft only the few most likely break-out picks in the final rounds and keep tabs on the rest of them. That way, if only a few of them pan out, you're not wasting valuable space on the ones who just won't cut it this season. Make sure you do some deep research and find those hidden gems, though, because if you rely solely on luck during the season for a brilliant waiver-wire pick-up, you'll be scrambling for much-needed stats all season long.