Adam Levitan

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Marreese's Piece

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Who will get the minutes? It’s a simple question that rarely has a simple answer.

Coaches are constantly tinkering and toying with their rotations. Sometimes it has to with injuries and in other instances, it’s a result of ineffective play from a certain player. The impact this has on minutes played and thus statistical production is where we come in.

Every Tuesday for the rest of the season, I’ll explore a certain aspect of half the league’s rotations while attempting to get inside coaches’ heads. The idea isn’t to tell you what Kevin Love and LeBron James are going to do -- it’s to decipher how much burn fringe players are going to get.

Let’s kick it off in Memphis, where rash of injuries has opened up an opportunity for a former first-round pick.

Position: Power forward
The opportunity Marreese Speights has been presented with is blinding. Zach Randolph (knee) is out for two months and Darrell Arthur (Achilles) is done for the year. Dante Cunningham has started four straight games at power forward, averaging 3.3 points and 3.3 rebounds on 30.0 percent shooting. He’s a backup-caliber player at best.

Speights certainly has issues, ranging from shot selection to defense to conditioning to basketball IQ. But when coach Lionel Hollins looks down his bench, Speights is the best he’s got at the power forward spot. The ex-Sixer logged 28 minutes off the bench Sunday night and jacked up 18 shots. It’s a trend that will continue as Speights has one of the highest touch-to-shot ratios in the league. We can safely project 24-29 minutes per night until Randolph returns.

Position: Power forward
When healthy, Chris Kaman has the ability to be one of the better offensive bigs in the game. Right now, he’s healthy.

Since taking over for Carl Landry as the Hornets’ starting power forward, Kaman is averaging 12.0 points, 8.3 rebounds and 0.7 blocks while playing 27.1 minutes. Coach Monty Williams is fine with rolling two 7-footers out there in Kaman and Emeka Okafor. Look for the “Caveman’s” minutes to hover around 27-29 all year, making him a valuable fantasy asset.

Position: Shooting guard
The Jazz have a young, talented core that needs to be developed. Raja Bell simply doesn’t fit. Although Bell continues to start at shooting guard, it is unlikely to be a long-term role.

Gordon Hayward is Utah’s most talented all-around wing. He’s currently averaging just 27.1 minutes per game as the starting small forward. Once Bell’s role is reduced, Hayward won’t have to share as many minutes with Josh Howard and Alec Burks. Deep leaguers need to hold steady here as Hayward is a good bet to push for 32 minutes per night once the dust settles.

Position: Power forward
DeMarcus Cousins has a strong relationship with new coach Keith Smart. Lock him in at center. That leaves J.J. Hickson to battle Jason Thompson for minutes at power forward while Chuck Hayes (shoulder) rehabs.

We already have a sample of what Hickson can do at this level. In 66 starts for the Cavs last season, he averaged 14.0 points, 9.5 rebounds and 0.8 blocks per game. Thompson has started 153 career games for the Kings, but managed just 11.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and 0.8 blocks.

In the first game after Hayes’ injury, Hickson logged 38 minutes while Thompson saw 19. While the split won’t be so heavy going forward, Hickson is good bet to hover around 30 minutes per night until Hayes returns. Cousins and Thompson are two of the most foul-prone players in the league.

Position: Small forward
Mike Brown has wisely decided that Metta World Peace is better off sustaining his career by playing against second-unit players. He also quickly found out that Devin Ebanks is not a starter on a team aiming for a championship. Enter Matt Barnes.

Here’s Brown’s latest quote on Barnes: “He's my small forward for the foreseeable future. He earned it. He's held onto it and he's played the right way for us at that position.”

Barnes has played at least 30 minutes in two straight games and 20 or more in five of his last six. Although he’s not a plus-scorer, Barnes has averaged 1.3 3-pointers, 1.2 steals, 0.6 blocks and 7.5 rebounds per-36 minutes his career. With World Peace and Ebanks clearly in the rearview mirror, 25-30 minutes per night the rest of the way is a solid bet.

Editor’s Note: For exclusive columns, chats, pickup advice, weekly rankings and much more, check out the Season Pass!


Position: Center
Brendan Haywood has never been much of a player. The Mavericks knew this last season as he was limited to a bit role behind Tyson Chandler. So what were they thinking when they let Chandler walk in free agency without even an offer? Some mix of 2012 salary cap space and Ian Mahinmi.

Over the last five games, Mahinmi is playing 22.1 minutes per game off the bench. Haywood is playing 20.5 minutes per game as the starter. Look for that kind of split to continue as the Mavs try to match up with the athletic bigs in the West. The problem is that Mahinmi isn’t much of a shot-blocker -- he’s swatting just 0.7 shots per game this season in 20 minutes per night.

Position: Sixth man
Most good teams have a designated scorer off the bench, like James Harden in Oklahoma City, Lou Williams in Philly and Jamal Crawford in Portland. Al Harrington is not that man anymore.

On the season, Harrington is playing a healthy 24.3 minutes per game off the bench and scoring 14.4 points. The problem is he’s shooting 55.3 percent from the field when his career mark is 44.7 percent. There’s a nosedive coming here. Harrington will also turn 33 in a month and has a history of lower-leg problems. Rudy Fernandez has played 27-plus minutes five times in 10 games already this season.

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Adam Levitan is in his sixth season covering football and basketball for Rotoworld. He won the Fantasy Sports Writers Association award for Best Series in 2011 and 2009, and ESPN's overall fantasy football title in 2000. Find him on Twitter.
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