Adam Levitan

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Running with Walker

Tuesday, January 17, 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 do 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 this week off in Charlotte, where a rookie is raising eyebrows and former top-four pick is disappointing.

Position: Shooting guard
When Kemba Walker was first inserted into the starting five at shooting guard, I thought it might be for matchup purposes. The Warriors’ starting shooting guard is the 6’3/185 Monta Ellis. It turns out that wasn’t the case. Coach Paul Silas wants to give his offense a spark and use players that actually play hard. That means Walker is in and Boris Diaw is on the trading block.

Silas is going extremely small, using D.J. Augustin and Walker together in the backcourt and Gerald Henderson at the small forward spot. Through two games, however, it’s certainly worked well offensively. In the Bobcats’ first 12 games, they averaged 89.2 points per game. In the last two games, they’re averaging 103.0 points per game.

Walker has played at least 37 minutes in both of his starts despite making just 14-of-36 shots. The leash here is going to be really long thanks to Walker’s pedigree and the Bobcats’ rebuilding state. Walker’s 3-point range, passing ability and steals upside makes him a must-own while staring at monster minutes.

Position: Power forward
Tyrus Thomas is a raw athlete. It’s now time to question if he’s any good at basketball. In six starts this season, Thomas is averaging 6.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, 0.3 assists and is shooting 37.8 percent from the floor. It’s just not good enough, and coach Paul Silas knows it.

“I want him to play. I want him to do well,” Silas said of Thomas. “But it’s up to him (to perform).”

In other words, Thomas is getting a chance. But if he doesn’t do it -- and there’s not much hope that he will right now -- D.J. White is ready to step in. The ice here is really thin, as seen by Thomas’ 16 minutes Monday. A demotion in the near future would not be surprising.

Position: Power forward
It’s hard to explain what is wrong with Joakim Noah. The career 50.9 percent shooter is shooting 39.1 percent. His defense is down. His energy is down. Coach Tom Thibodeau doesn’t really get it either, so he’s simply giving Taj Gibson and Omer Asik more minutes.

In the last five games, Noah is playing 27.0 minutes per game. He’s averaging 5.6 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks. During that same span, Taj Gibson is averaging 9.2 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in just 20.8 minutes. Gibson is clearly the better defender and scorer. There’s no reason to expect Noah to get back up in the 32-34 minute per game range anytime soon. The production gap between Gibson and Noah is simply too large right now.

Position: Power forward
Since getting promoted to the starting five three games ago, Jon Leuer is averaging just 22.3 minutes per game. Remember that elite wing defender Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (knee) and Mike Dunleavy (groin) are both sidelined. It’s not going to get better.

To make matters worse, Leuer has attempted three 3-pointers all season, has 12 assists in 12 games and isn’t active on the defensive end. There’s not a ton of fantasy excitement here, even if Leuer’s minutes rose to 30, which they won’t.

Position: Shooting guard
Anthony Parker was playing just 23.8 minutes per game. But his absence due to a Monday back injury is going to open up a whole can of worms.

Daniel Gibson started the second half Monday next to Kyrie Irving. In 67 career starts, Gibson has averaged 11.8 points, 2.7 assists and 2.2 3-pointers. He won’t reach true starter’s minutes this time though, because Ramon Sessions and Alonzo Gee are also deserving of extra burn.

Expect Irving to stick at 29-33 minutes, Gibson to jump to 27, Sessions to get 24-26 and Gee to hover around 26 as well. Out of the fringe players here, Gibson is the one to own thanks to his 3-point ability.

Position: Center
The “Big Four” are going to play their usual minutes nightly in a very strict, consistent rotation. The only question mark is how much Jermaine O’Neal is capable of.

Thanks to his balky knees, O’Neal is capped at 23-25 minutes. He’s also going to miss a lot of games, especially the second half of back-to-backs. For most owners, it’s not worth the headache. All that he’s really doing is capping the upside of athletic Brandon Bass, who has started just one game all year and is playing 27.2 minutes per night. Bass will be worth spot-starting only when O’Neal sits.

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

Position: Center
Those that got excited about Zaza Pachulia’s prospects as a starting center forgot one thing: He’s not very good. In 172 career starts, Zaza has averaged 10.6 points, 7.2 rebounds and 0.5 blocks per game. And as the Hawks showed Monday, that means Jason Collins and Ivan Johnson are going to get chances as well.

Furthermore, the Hawks will simply go small whenever they can. Pachulia’s skill-set and non-guaranteed role make him a weak fantasy play. This will all shake out to an ugly three-headed monster, with none of the trio providing any upside.

Position: Center
Don’t be fooled by Joel Anthony starting all 12 games this year. Over the last five games, he’s averaging 19.8 minutes and Udonis Haslem is at 33.6 minutes. That number is a little inflated by the Heat’s triple-overtime loss in Atlanta five games ago, but Haslem is a lock to settle in around 29-32 minutes per game.

That usage is nice, but Haslem’s lack of blocks is the real problem. He’s played in 542 NBA games and blocked a total of 180 shots. Most owners should be aiming higher for big-man stats.

Position: Point guard
Toney Douglas played himself out of the starting job with poor shot selection, bad decisions and worse shooting. He’s not getting back in. Rookie Iman Shumpert is too athletic, too explosive and plays too hard.

It shows in Shumpert’s numbers. In six starts, he’s shooting just 36.4 percent and scoring 11.2 points per game. But he is playing 31.6 minutes because of his 2.3 steals, 3.2 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 0.7 3-pointers. Very fantasy friendly.

Note that Shumpert was kicked to shooting guard two games ago when Mike Bibby was given a shot to run the point with the starting unit. That’s a clear sign of coach Mike D’Antoni’s plan when Baron Davis (back) returns. Davis at the point for as many minutes as his body can handle, and Shumpert for 28-32 at the two-guard spot. Landry Fields will go to the bench.

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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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