We're barely one week into the grueling 82-game NBA season, yet there's undoubtedly been a flurry of roster moves made in your league (or leagues, if you roll like the Lab does). While the NBA preseason certainly helped the coaches get a feel for their new players, many coaches are still tinkering with their starting lineups and adjusting their rotations as they try to develop the consistent pattern that is the mark of a playoff-bound team. Or they are
Unlike baseball with its constant call-ups from the minors, shuffled pitching rotations and newly minted closers every time someone blows a save -- or football with its bye weeks -- the time to strike in fantasy basketball's free agent market is now. If you have a player that's slow out of the gate or not meeting your expectations, gambling on some fresh blood now might mean a championship later. But whom should you pull the trigger on?
Surely you've discovered by now that there's never a clear-cut way to identify the breakthrough players, however, the Lab relies on one crucial statistic that seems to shed the most light at this time on who will make the leap from unrosterable to a productive player or even a star.
This statistic isn't one of the nine traditional categories. Yahoo's platform didn't even deem it worthy enough to appear on their free agent page for the last few years before finally bringing it back from hiatus this season, yet the Lab won't add a player before checking this stat. Before someone can dare be welcomed into the sanctity of my roster -- though many of my leaguemates might take exception with that word choice given some of the stabs I've taken at beating the curve on adding a player, "inventing" him so to speak (
With such a small sample size for the regular nine categories at this point in the year, minutes are the one true indicator of a player's future fantasy potential. If you're on the floor, you have a chance to put up stats. But if you're riding pine, then there's zero chance for you to help my team win. And don't throw that "but you're winning turnovers" junk at me. If you're planning to win turnovers, you're planning to fail.
There's no denying that some coaches are starting the wrong players right now. That may be due to variety of reasons because the coach is: a) on a new team, b) feeling out a new player or player combo, c) allowing an old vet to start since he's warm, d) sending a message to a talented but somehow troubled youngster, or e) begrudgingly appeasing their GM by playing the prized summer signing even though he doesn't fit the system. It could even be the whimsical, yet widely accepted cliché of "wanting to give something a try." Most of them will figure it out and switch their lineups accordingly. A winning fantasy team is tasked with figuring out who that player is now and snagging him before the move is made.
One such move was announced last night as Sacramento's new coach,
Hawes doesn't start the next two games for the Kings, but he plays 31 and 43 minutes. Even though he wasn't starting, it wasn't too much of a surprise when he blew up for better than 20 and 10 in each of these games. Now he'll be in the starting five, presumably on a permanent basis given his youth, talent and May's lack thereof.
The big minutes Hawes played indicated that the coach had faith in him but was still figuring out that he deserved to start. Finding other waiver wire gems means identifying the weak links in other starting fives and the valuable reserves that should replace them. One such way to know who these players are is by looking at game flow charts, the fourth quarter of close games in particular. These players are getting crunch time minutes due to some combination of their coach wanting to win and them earning it. If a reserve does well here, there is a good chance that he'll get a crack at the starting lineup or at least carve out a major role in the rotation as a sixth or seventh man capable of providing positive fantasy contributions from the back end of your roster.
One great flow chart site is
This information is extremely helpful in figuring out why a player got extra minutes or saw fewer minutes than normal. In turn, you can use this info to spot trends that lead to starting lineup replacements and/or bigger minutes as a player gains a coach's trust -- something that doesn't come easily in the NBA.
Let's examine the case of Sixers' F/C
Trade rumors were rampant during the summer, but no one wanted to take on his albatross of a contract. A new coach and a new offense are put into play, one that requires the center to operate facing the hoop, away from the rim and to make good decisions, passes and jumpers. Dalembert doesn't do any of those three things well, and often does them exceptionally poorly. Speights, however, is proving capable of accomplishing these tasks more steadily than Dalembert and the coaches are noticing. The game flow charts confirm it.
In the season opener, Speights saw 26 minutes compared to Dalembert's 15, even though Dalembert started. Speights came in for him late in the first quarter, promptly scored three points and then reeled off another 10 points in seven minutes. What makes this more impressive is you can see Speights getting some of these points against
The Sixers' third game went to overtime against the Knicks. Again replacing Dalembert, Speights was the first man off the bench for Philly with 3:37 to go in the first and then didn't come out again for Sammy until eight points were on his docket and 1:12 was left till halftime. In the third quarter, Speights got in the action even quicker with 5:46 to go and didn't leave until he had eight more points. Once overtime hit, Dalembert was nowhere to be found with Speights playing the entire extra frame, dropping four more points on his way to 20 points in 30 minutes against Dalembert's 5 and 18, respectively. It sure looks like this is trending in the right direction for Speights and the wrong direction for Dalembert.
These game flow charts are also good for identifying some miscellaneous factors that led to a strange number of minutes that the game recap and box score might not be able to tell you. You can find out if a player was in early foul trouble, or if his plus/minus was terrible, indicating a bad matchup and providing a reason for why he was pulled. Blowout wins and losses become much more apparent and you'll easily see that this means fewer minutes for veterans and more time for youngsters on both teams.
Since you've made it this far, the Lab wouldn't leave you without a few interesting tidbits and some names for your Watch List. Rapid fire form in three, two, one ...