Fantasy hoops veterans know that for fringe players, minutes are the key to success. An increase in minutes almost always leads to an increase in production. It's a simple premise, really. The more time a player spends on the court, the more chances he has to put up stats. It's not rocket science. So when we're scouring the wire for pickups, the best way to do our research is to examine stats on a per-minute basis. This will give us an idea of what a player might do if an injury, trade or coaching change leads to a spike in minutes.
Now, not all players will be able to sustain their production in extended minutes. There is a difference between producing in 15 minutes per game and producing in 30 minutes per game. The level of intensity can be different, and conditioning does come into play. Still, more often than not, a player's per-minute statistics are the best indicators of future success. Take Lou Williams and Rodney Stuckey, for example. As you'll see below, both were highly productive in limited minutes before breaking out with increased playing time. With that in mind, let's take a look at some surprising per-minute producers who will see their value jump with a boost in minutes. Some of these players already have seen their minutes spike, while others still are waiting for the opportunity.
Lou Williams, PG/SG, Sixers (28.5 points per 48 minutes) -- We already knew Williams was a dynamic scorer, but even I was surprised to see him among the league leaders (15th) in scoring on a per-minute basis. Williams' numbers suggest he's one of the game's best pure scorers, and it's not at all surprising that he has really taken off since Tony DiLeo replaced Mo Cheeks. In six games since the coaching change, Williams is averaging 19.2 points, 1.3 steals and a 3-pointer per game. He is earning 28.5 minutes per game under DiLeo, compared to 17 minutes per game under Cheeks.
Charlie Villanueva, SF/PF, Bucks (27.2 points per 48) -- This is exactly why most folks continue to be tempted by Villanueva. As you can see, when he receives ample minutes, he produces … in a big way. Villanueva ranks 21st in the league in per-minute scoring, and there is no doubt that if he were given 30-plus minutes per game, he would be a dominant fantasy force. Unfortunately, Villanueva never has been able to secure those type of minutes on a regular basis. He's a poor defender who commits far too many fouls, and that is why he typically lands in his coach's doghouse. Still, if he could find a way to consistently earn 30-plus minutes per night (via injury or trade), he'd be a valuable fantasy contributor in many leagues.
Kevin Love, PF, Timberwolves (16.6 rebounds per 48) -- I've been talking about this all season, so it should come as no surprise that Love ranks sixth in the league in rebounds per 48 minutes. The kid is a master at positioning himself under the basket to pull down rebounds, particularly on the offensive end. He still is not getting the playing time he needs to be productive, but he will at some point this season (probably in the second half) and will be valuable when he does.
Aaron Gray, C, Bulls (15.9 rebounds per 48) -- Here's an intriguing candidate for those in deeper formats. Thanks to Drew Gooden's injury, Gray has earned himself a starting gig at center for the Bulls. He still is not seeing enough of the court, but he's proved to be a more-than-capable rebounder in the paint. Keep an eye on his playing time and be ready to use him as a rebounding specialist if it looks like he's going to stick in the Bulls' frontcourt rotation.
Rodney Stuckey, PG, Pistons (9.1 assists per 48) -- We spoke about Stuckey as a pickup candidate last week, and hopefully you were able to grab him off the wire, as he's averaged 16.0 points, 3.4 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.9 steals and 0.9 3-pointers in 11 starts this season. Most impressive has been his ability to create open shots for his teammates. Stuckey is more of a scoring combo guard, which is why it's so nice to see these fantastic per-minute assist numbers. He still is just 22, and there's no telling how good he will become as he matures.
Luke Ridnour, PG, Bucks (8.5 assists per 48) -- Always overlooked in fantasy leagues, Ridnour is quietly putting up a nice season in Milwaukee. After fending off an early season push from Ramon Sessions, Ridnour has separated himself as the clear-cut starter and is averaging 10.9 points, 6.2 assists and 2.2 steals per game this month. Ridnour should be owned in most fantasy leagues at this point, but he still is flying under the radar in shallower formats. With assist and steal numbers like those, he shouldn't be available anywhere.
Mario Chalmers, PG, Heat (2.8 steals per 48) -- I know he doesn't score much, but it's strange that Chalmers gets so little respect in fantasy leagues when he's so dominant in the steals department. Add in the fact that he's averaging 12.3 points, 4.5 assists and 1.6 3-pointers this month, and Chalmers is a fairly versatile fantasy point guard, worthy of a roster spot in most formats.
Jamario Moon, SF, Raptors (2.7 steals per 48) -- After averaging a versatile 8.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 1.4 blocks as a rookie, Moon has disappointed in almost all aspects of the game this season. Earning just 22.7 minutes per game, Moon hasn't been able to earn a steady spot in the Raptors' rotation, and his stats have suffered as a result. Still, his per-minute numbers have remained solid, especially on the defensive end. With that said, keep a close eye on Moon's minutes under Jay Triano, as any increase in playing time would result in a serious bump in production.
Chris Andersen, PF, Nuggets (6.3 blocks per 48) -- Simply put, Andersen's per-minute numbers are ridiculous. He's putting up 5.0 rebounds and 2.2 blocks in just 17.2 minutes per game. The Birdman doesn't see enough of the court to warrant a pickup in fantasy leagues just yet, but with the injury history in the Nuggets' frontcourt, Andersen should be on your radar at all times.
Tyrus Thomas, PF, Bulls (3.5 blocks per 48) -- It doesn't take a genius to figure out that Thomas is a beast when he's earning enough playing time. Unfortunately, Thomas is almost always a defensive lapse away from finding himself in the doghouse. It doesn't help matters that he plays a bit out of control and, as a result, is foul prone. Still, with both Gooden and Luol Deng out with injuries, the Bulls have little choice but to give Thomas some extra run. The increase in minutes will make him a big-time option for the next week or so while the Bulls heal, so consider adding him for the time being.
Players named last week who remain quality waiver-wire additions: Rodney Stuckey, Mickael Pietrus, Andray Blatche, Lou Williams, James Posey, Marco Belinelli, Mike James, Tyrus Thomas, Marresse Speights.
Marc Gasol, C, Grizzlies (74.3 percent owned) -- With Darko Milicic out of action for four to six weeks, Gasol should be able to get back on track in Memphis. He had been struggling this month, but life without Milicic treated him well Saturday, when he recorded 15 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks in 42 minutes. We know he has upside, and he'll be earning a ton of minutes in the Grizzlies' frontcourt while Milicic mends.
Mike James, PG, Wizards (4.1 percent owned) -- James was mentioned here last week but deserves another mention after averaging 16.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 2.6 3-pointers in five starts in Washington. Go ahead and scoop him up for help in points, steals and 3-pointers, because he looks locked in as the starting point guard until Gilbert Arenas returns.
Andres Nocioni, SF/PF, Bulls (33.5 percent owned) -- With both Drew Gooden and Luol Deng on the shelf, everyone is falling all over themselves to get Tyrus Thomas. That's a fine idea, but Nocioni is the safer bet to produce for the injury-plagued Bulls. Of course he, doesn't offer the upside Thomas does, but Nocioni has averaged a solid 14.0 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.0 3-pointers over his past five games.
Kosta Koufos, PF, Jazz (0.3 percent owned) -- Koufos has emerged as a threat in the Jazz frontcourt, thanks to injuries to both Carlos Boozer and Paul Millsap. With nowhere else to turn, the Jazz almost have to give Koufos more run until they heal. Koufos has stepped up his play, with 18 points, 8 rebounds, 2 steals and a block on Friday and 14 points, 4 rebounds and a block on Saturday. Look to add Koufos in deeper leagues and use him as a short-term stopgap in shallow formats.
Daequan Cook, SG, Heat (2.1 percent owned) -- Cook was featured in this space a few weeks ago, and he's back on another hot streak from behind the 3-point line. He's not much of an all-around contributor, but he is hitting 2.9 3-pointers while scoring 11.0 points per game this month. That's enough to be worthy of a pickup in deeper leagues and enough to be considered as a streaming specialist addition in shallower formats.
Brian McKitish is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.