Fantasy basketball: Key takeaways from early season rotations

Jarrett Allen has seen his minutes rise despite the addition of DeAndre Jordan, but a bigger bump up would be ideal. AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

We've advanced beyond the hustle and bustle of draft season. Past postulation. The numbers are live. Everything counts.

We're a little over a week in. It's still a little early to start proclaiming most players as booms or busts. Sample sizes are still a little too small. In short: you can start panicking next week.

But the first stat we can start to lock in: the minutes. The doling out of the most precious fantasy resource -- playing time. The opening week of the season gives us a chance to see how NBA coaches are setting their in-season rotations.

Think of each team as its own Petri dish. The NBA offers 30 different environments. Each team presents a different dynamic to spawn and power production.

Some teams (the successful ones) are already locked into a tight eight-to-nine-man rotation. Some teams (the lottery-bound ones) are still throwing down different combinations on a nightly basis, trying to see what sticks.

In Fantasyland, we're looking for weight. Consolidation. The fewest number of players playing as many minutes as possible.

We're looking for players that surpass the 25 MPG barrier. That's where we start. 25 MPG is just enough playing time to start registering a fantasy impact.

(Remember it's "minutes." Not "run." Fantasy enthusiasts should never, ever use the term "run." Because we're simply not cool enough. When you say things like "run," you're one step away from wearing Ed Hardy, buying a BMW, and investing in Bitcoin. Trust me. I've seen it happen. It's a slippery slope.)

So, 25 MPG is the bare minimum. Just enough to make a statistical dent. We prize rotations that are giving three to four players over 30 MPG. If they can get into the 33-36 MPG range? Even better.

Because short rotations offer stability. Reliability. Opportunity. Touches. Most importantly: tempo. Good teams with short rotations deliver production at a steady rhythm. It's the ideal environment for bankable fantasy production.

Here's an example of a bad rotation.

Memphis Grizzlies

Jae Crowder: 30.8 MPG
Ja Morant: 27.7 MPG
Dillon Brooks: 27.7 MPG
Jaren Jackson Jr.: 23.5 MPG
Brandon Clarke: 22.4 MPG
Jonas Valanciunas: 21.7 MPG
Tyus Jones: 21.7 MPG
Kyle Anderson: 20.7 MPG
Solomon Hill 17.8 MPG
Grayson Allen: 16.9 MPG
Marko Guduric: 16.5 MPG
Bruno Caboclo: 11.2 MPG

The Grizzlies are in a rebuild. So they're going to have a lot of young guys in the 20-24 MPG range -- enough minutes to garner our attention, but not enough to reliably get the job done.

The Grizzlies have five guys in this range. This isn't a rotation. It's numerical guacamole. A viscous statistical mush. Hopefully, as the season progresses, you'll see minutes shift and consolidate around the players with the most upside.

Now, seven games in, we can see which squads are locking down the tempo. With all the player movement this offseason, it was bound to take a week or so to feel how rotations are setting in.

Let's take a look at a few teams that are doing great things on the rotational front.

Philadelphia 76ers

Tobias Harris: 36.2 MPG
Josh Richardson: 34.5 MPG
Al Horford: 32.1 MPG
Ben Simmons: 31.8 MPG
Joel Embiid: 28.0 MPG
Furkan Korkmaz: 19.8 MPG
Matisse Thybulle: 17.3 MPG
Mike Scott: 16.9 MPG
James Ennis III: 14.5 MPG
Kyle O'Quinn: 9.9 MPG
Raul Neto: 9.7 MPG

Seven games in, and Philly already sports an ideal rotation. Four guys well over the 30 MPG mark. Joel Embiid is in a load management situation. But he doesn't need a ton of time to make his presence felt.

The first thing to look at: how are the new starters fitting in? Are Horford and Richardson meshing with the Sixers' established players? Answer: heck, yes.

And when players in new situations average more minutes than they did with their old teams, it yields unexpected positive production.

Horford only averaged 29.0 MPG last season in Boston. Now, he's getting more playing time than he's seen in years. When you add fresh volume to Horford's established premium efficiency, you get a player that's going to vastly outperform his ADP. His averages to date: 17.1 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists (secret sauce), 1.7 3s, 1.1 steals, 1.1 blocks. That's top-40 stuff.

A comer to monitor: Thybulle. Averaging 3.0 steals + blocks per game in just 17.3 minutes. That kind of defense at the SG slot is something rare.

Brooklyn Nets

Taurean Prince: 33.9 MPG
Kyrie Irving: 33.8 MPG
Joe Harris: 33.6 MPG
Caris LeVert: 32.6 MPG
Jarrett Allen: 27.1 MPG
Spencer Dinwiddie: 24.0 MPG
DeAndre Jordan: 21.1 MPG
Garrett Temple: 20.9 MPG

Irving is the obvious headline here. He was one of my targets in expert leagues during draft season, because simply he offered the most upside in the second round. Irving has to share with Durant next year. This season, he gets to do whatever he wants. And when a player with documented issues above the shoulders gets a new role in a new town, it can translate into boffo stats. Irving was a calculated risk. But if Irving can stay healthy and motivated, he's going to be one of the great steals of 2019-20.

And I know DeAndre Jordan was a mandatory in securing Durant. But he's dragging down the upside in one of fantasy's most underrated rotations.

Case in point: Jarrett Allen. Give this guy the 30 MPG he deserves. We deserve. Just a couple more minutes per tilt and Allen transforms all that potential into priceless production. He becomes a bankable double-double with 3.0 steals + blocks. With Jordan's injury, Allen could get his chance.

I tabbed Prince as a sleeper this offseason because he was the natural stand-in for Durant. Not that he was going to start throwing down 30.0 points per game, but in terms of rotational pull. He's giving people a preview of Durant's role come 2021. The 33.9 MPG proves it. And while no one will confuse Prince with KD, managers will gladly scarf up the 15.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.1 3s and 1.4 steals.

With Irving and Joe Harris locking down big minutes, someone was going to suffer. That player: Dinwiddie. Yes, he's logging heavy usage (27.8) in limited minutes (24.0). But he's not locking in enough production to be roster-worthy in standard size leagues. Throw in the streaky shooting (38.8 FG%) and you have a guy who's being frozen out of the fantasy picture.

Charlotte Hornets

Miles Bridges: 34.1 MPG
Terry Rozier: 32.7 MPG
PJ Washington: 32.3 MPG
Devonte' Graham: 31.1 MPG
Cody Zeller: 27.0 MPG
Dwayne Bacon: 26.9 MPG
Malik Monk: 18.0 MPG
Marvin Williams: 17.7 MPG

Here's an underrated, under-the-radar source of fantasy goodness. Going into the season, the rudderless Hornets seemed destined for a Grizzlies-esque pattern. Instead, they're looking more like the Sixers in terms of rotation.

I'm not sure if the Hornets are any good. I'm not sure they continue to play above .500. But as long as they divvy up their minutes in this fashion? They'll be a team to watch closely in fantasy.

When teams give 30-plus minutes to lesser known names, it yields out-of-left-field successes. This draft season, we all had our eyes on Bridges. We knew Rozier was going to deliver volume. But you had to really squint to predict the early-season booms of Washington (66th on the Player Rater) and Graham (49th on the Player Rater). Best of all, their big minutes spell commitment. Graham and Washington's production is coming due to a steady, predictable diet of playing time.

We've seen streaks out of Zeller before. After being a hot pickup the first week (four double-doubles), Zeller has regressed the past two games. Maybe it was matchups, but seeing Biyombo start at Zeller's expense is a pronounced roto buzzkill.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Tristan Thompson: 33.7 MPG
Kevin Love: 33.7 MPG
Collin Sexton: 31.0 MPG
Cedi Osman: 30.4 MPG
Darius Garland: 27.0 MPG
Larry Nance Jr.: 24.2 MPG
Jordan Clarkson: 23.2 MPG

Here's another Charlotte. A low-expectation squad that's consolidated its minutes with the enthusiasm of a playoff team. And it's all rounding into one team-wide sell high situation.

Kevin Love is the bell cow. The indicator. If he's healthy, he's clearly capable of delivering late first-round value. I drafted Love in multiple leagues on the if-come that he could stay ambulatory for 65-plus games. But the injury history screams he can't keep logging these minutes at this rate. If you can get a good deal for Love, do it.

Thompson is the pleasant surprise. A reliable double-double for his career. He's just needed to diversify his production beyond points and rebounds. Now, with extended minutes and a prioritized role, Thompson is responding with strong secondary stats. The 2.0 steals + blocks would be a career high. And the 2.7 assists is Cousy-esque when you factor in Thompson's position and history.

Garland and Sexton are the upside. Sexton simply has to start providing numbers outside of points and 3s. Right now, he's the guiltiest empty points player in all of fantasy. Garland isn't producing at an NBA level, but he is getting minutes.

New Orleans Hornets

Jrue Holiday: 35.0 MPG
Brandon Ingram: 31.7 MPG
Lonzo Ball: 30.0 MPG
Josh Hart: 29.6 MPG
JJ Redick 23.9 MPG
Frank Jackson: 19.4 MPG
Jahlil Okafor: 18.3 MPG
Kenrich Williams: 18.2 MPG
Derrick Favors: 17.3 MPG
Zion Williamson: TBD

This isn't a marquee rotation... yet. And at 1-6, the Pelicans are in for an extended period of rotational variance. But as Ingram (25.9 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.4 3s, 4.3 assists) is presently proving, there is all kinds of special upside stocked within this roster. They just have to get healthy.

All the pieces are here for a truly dynamic fantasy rotation. Holiday can be a top-3 PG. As I wrote in a draft night column three years ago, Ingram is capable of being Durant-esque (in a second-round kind of way). Ball offers triple-double potential. Hart can be Bradley Beal lite.

I don't know how many games the Pelicans win this year. But when Zion gets back, the roles will start to cement. And premium production is going to arrive.