Uncovering hidden gems

If you ever take a class in screenwriting (and I strongly recommend you don't), you will invariably hear about how Hollywood studios are looking for "Four Corner" projects. These are scripts that appeal to all four areas of general demographics: women, men, young people, older people.

The Harry Potter movies would be examples that hit all four corners.

In fantasy basketball, I am always on the lookout for "Three Corner" players, and even more importantly, players with "Three Corner" potential.

What are the three corners in fantasy hoops? Well, if I were to draw you a Venn Diagram, it would look like this:

Average minutes, efficiency, volume of possessions. Those are my three corners of fantasy production.

Here are some examples of NBA players mapped across that diagram:

Ideally, you want a balance between all three. Kevin Pelton's SCHOENE projection system is an example of a system that looks to balance volume, efficiency, and minutes.

Kevin Durant is an example of the ideal Three Corners player; he gets a ton of minutes (third in the NBA at 39.2 MPG), he's brutally efficient (fourth in the NBA in PER at 26.62), and he gets a ton of touches (sixth in the NBA with a Usage Rate of 28.8).

The importance of minutes played per game is obvious. If you can't get on the court, you can't produce. But how do you maximize the time you get on the court?

Jared Dudley is an example of a player who is not making use of the relatively high amount of minutes he receives in the Clippers' rotation (27.7 MPG). He doesn't get touches, and he isn't producing much of statistical worth.

He is disappointing to me. But he is still getting a steady diet of minutes, which says he's going to get an opportunity to turn things around.

Efficiency is my favorite neighborhood in the above diagram. These are the players who maximize their minutes and possessions. They contribute in ways that may not necessarily be connected to getting the ball on offense, or playing heavy minutes. But you still need time on the court, and ideally, possessions, to turn that efficiency into fantasy production.

There are some of fine measurements of Efficiency (John Schuhmann's PIE is underrated), but my go-to metric is still John Hollinger's PER rating.

As you probably know, PER is a snapshot of a player's impact on the court. It accounts for field goals, 3-pointers, rebounds, percentages, blocks and steals, while deducting for turnovers and fouls. Basically, it's all the stats we care about in fantasy basketball.

Kenneth Faried is an example of a high PER player whose fantasy production is getting kneecapped in other areas. He's 28th in the NBA in PER (20.85), but only 149th in MPG (25.4) and 201st in Usage Rate (18.3).

Now, what about a player who might get decent minutes and might have a strong PER, but might still be underperforming in fantasy?

A lot of big men such as Andre Drummond are good examples of this phenomenon. He doesn't handle the ball, and he doesn't get a lot of plays run for him (yet). He's lacking volume on the possession end. And the metric that best measures that is Usage Rate.

Usage Rate is a number that gives a numerical estimate of how many possessions a player gets per 40 minutes. If you want to try it at home, have at it:

Usage Rate = {[FGA + (FT Att. x 0.44) + (Ast x 0.33) + TO] x 40 x League Pace} divided by (Minutes x Team Pace)

Now, Drummond's minutes are way up in his sophomore season (32.4 MPG). He's posting a strong PER (23.26) despite his atrocious free throw percentage (.322). But he's still not getting a lot of touches on offense, as evidenced by his low Usage Rate (14.6).

This is because Drummond isn't as heavily featured in Detroit's offense, as say, DeMarcus Cousins is in Sacramento's. Drummond is still raw offensively, and a danger to be fouled any time he gets the ball in the post. It might be awhile before Drummond refines his offensive game, but if he does -- and sorts out his free throw shooting -- he could end up as the No. 1 center in fantasy.

All in all, when a player registers a high mark in any one of the three circles in our Three Corners diagram, that player is evidencing fantasy potential. He might be an injury or a trade away from becoming a factor.

With all this in mind, let's take a look at some players showing potential in the three areas.

Minutes Played

Lance Stephenson, SG, Indiana Pacers (35.1 MPG): Stephenson has arrived as one of the most underrated fantasy assets. Thanks to the boost in MPG (from 29.2 to 35.1), he's made a mini-Nicolas Batum-type leap this year, with big boosts in out-of-position stats such as rebounds (6.7 per game) and assists (5.1), to along with 1.1 3s and 0.7 steals.

Hollis Thompson, SF, Philadelphia 76ers (26.6 MPG over past 5 games): For all of the 76ers' high-flying, high-Pace fantasy goodness, shooting guard has been a dead zone within their lineup. Brett Brown finally made a switch last weekend, giving Thompson the starting nod over James Anderson. Thompson had a nice night -- as did almost everyone -- in Tuesday's tilt against Orlando (10 points, 2 3-pointers, 5 rebounds, 1 block). Anyone who gets 28-30 MPG in Philly's system is a threat to land on the fantasy radar.

DeMarre Carroll, SF, Atlanta Hawks (31.1 MPG): Atlanta is a nice fantasy situation for players with some upside, and Carroll is starting to show signs he's taking advantage. Over his past two games, Carroll has averaged 14 points, 8 rebounds, 2 3-pointers, and 2 steals.

Other names:
Trevor Ariza, SF, Washington Wizards (35.2 MPG)
Corey Brewer, SF, Minnesota Timberwolves (34.4 MPG)
Shawn Marion, SF/PF, Dallas Mavericks (32.6 MPG)
Robin Lopez, C, Portland Trail Blazers (30.1 MPG)
Jordan Crawford, PG/SG, Boston Celtics (29.1 MPG)
Josh McRoberts, PF, Charlotte Bobcats (28.1 MPG)
Channing Frye, PF/C, Phoenix Suns (26.8 MPG)

Usage Rate

Isaiah Thomas, PG, Sacramento Kings (28.7 USG): Thomas has become the rare player to have night-in, night-out fantasy impact in a bench role. He's got the perpetual green light when he's in the game, and he is quietly having a nice across-the-board season, certainly a better one than the man he should be starting ahead of (Greivis Vasquez). A switch could happen there sooner than later, which would drive Thomas' value even higher.

Michael Beasley, SF/PF, Miami Heat (27.2 USG): Beasley has shown he can be a solid source of fill-in offense for the Heat (he scored 23 points Tuesday with Dwyane Wade on the bench). Beasley still has two issues: consistency and a need to produce in other categories outside of points. He has been hitting an insane 53 percent of his 3-point attempts so far, a clear sign his game is improving in the Heat's rarified surroundings.

Dion Waiters, SG, Cleveland Cavaliers (26.9 USG): Despite his struggles on and off the court, Waiters continues to get possessions and minutes (28.5 MPG). Maybe it's to boost his trade value, but there is still untapped fantasy potential with Waiters, who has strung together three 20-plus scoring nights in a row.

Tyreke Evans, SG/SF, New Orleans Pelicans (25.2 USG): Evans has always delivered a strong Usage Rate. It's the main reason I felt he would break out of his early season slump, and his numbers should climb higher in Anthony Davis' absence.

Other Names:
Ramon Sessions, PG, Charlotte Bobcats (26.5 USG)
Tony Wroten, PG, Philadelphia 76ers (25.8 USG)
Jared Sullinger, PF, Boston Celtics (24.9 USG)


Jeremy Evans, SF, Utah Jazz (22.0 PER): I love Evans as a midseason bloomer. He's on a tanking team that has no reason to start veterans (like Richard Jefferson, Marvin Williams) over youth with upside. He's already showing he can generate steady numbers in the defensive columns even in a limited role (1.0 steals, 0.9 blocks per game).

Kenneth Faried, PF, Denver Nuggets (20.8 PER): I wasn't as high on Faried this preseason as others, mainly due to uncertainties regarding Denver's rotation and Faried's health. However, his value should start to climb as the season progresses. He just needs to shake the injury bug (it's his quad this week).

DeJuan Blair, PF/C, Dallas Mavericks (20.2 PER): For the past couple of seasons, I've believed Dallas has flown under-the-radar as a great rehab spot for a player to regenerate his fantasy prospects. So far this season, you're seeing it with Monta Ellis, and to a lesser extent with Blair. Blair's perpetually red-flagged knees will probably keep him out of a 25-plus minute role, but he could become a double-double machine if someone in the frontcourt goes down with an injury.

Other names:
Robert Sacre, C, Los Angeles Lakers (19.6 PER)
Jordan Hill, PF/C Los Angeles Lakers (19.2 PER)
C.J. Miles, SF, Cleveland Cavaliers (18.6 PER)