Adam Levitan

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The Real Bayless

Tuesday, January 31, 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.

Here’s last week’s look at the West. Let’s kick this week off in Toronto, where an explosive guard is demanding minutes.

Position: Shooting guard
The Raptors have played eight games without Andrea Bargnani (calf) this season. They are 1-7 in those contests, with the one win coming in Jerryd Bayless’ first start of the season.

Coach Dwane Casey isn’t giving Bayless all the credit, but it’s surely not a coincidence. He has to see that the 2008 No. 11 overall pick is a difference-maker on both ends of the floor. In 14 starts a year ago, Bayless averaged 18.1 points, 6.7 assists, 3.6 rebounds, 1.2 treys and 1.0 steals. We can safely project top-50 fantasy status for Bayless anytime he’s getting 32-35 minutes per game.  

No one knows right now if Bayless will continue to start. Here’s what we do know:

* DeMar DeRozan has started 168 career NBA games. One of those (Sunday night) has come at small forward, and the other 167 were at shooting guard.

* Leandro Barbosa (ankle) was out Sunday. He expects to play Tuesday.

* It’s going to be really tough to play Bayless and Jose Calderon together against big shooting guards like Joe Johnson (Tuesday) and Dwyane Wade (Sunday).

* Bargnani says this calf strain is worse than the one that cost him six games earlier this month. He’s unlikely to play for at least a couple weeks.

* The Raptors are averaging 87.5 points per game, 28th in the NBA. They desperately need some punch.

* ESPN’s Marc Stein reported Friday that the Raptors are open to trading Calderon. That's nothing new, Calderon has been on the block for more than a year.

Add this all up and what we have is a must-add. Even if Bayless is coming off the bench for now, the Raptors need him for 25-plus minutes per night. An intermittent starting role based on matchups and a possible promotion over Calderon is very possible.  

Position: Sixth man
With D.J. Augustin (foot) and Corey Maggette (hamstring) nowhere close, there are a lot of minutes and shots to go around. There’s also a desperate need for offense. Enter Reggie Williams, who is finally ready after offseason knee surgery. Coach Paul Silas sounds excited.

“He really understands the game,” Silas said. “He’ll really help our offense. How he passes, how he shoots. Two or three weeks from now I think he’s going to be unbelievable.”

In 104 career games with the Warriors, Williams averaged 10.6 points and 1.3 3-pointers per game in just 23.1 minutes. Even though Augustin, Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson aren’t going anywhere as starters, deep leaguers should have Williams on their radar.

Position: Small forward/shooting guard
Did anyone really think that Stephen Jackson in Milwaukee with Scott Skiles was ever going to work? Jackson has been suspended by the team, suspended by the league, took a DNP-CD on Monday night and is now predictably angry. He’s also shooting a career-low 36.7 percent from the field and averaging just 12.8 points per game.

"I ain't surprised. They know how I feel. It ain't no secret," Jackson said. "Everybody knows the situation. I'm going to cheer the team on and do what I've got to do. ... My situation is going to get better soon. But until then I'm going to support these guys and continue to collect my check.”

It sounds like Jackson expects to be dealt out of town, but the interesting part is that would not even clear up the swingman spots in Milwaukee. Shaun Livingston, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Carlos Delfino, Mike Dunleavy, Beno Udrih and Ersan Ilyasova are all candidates for 20-25 minutes on any given night. All upside is capped, meaning we can safely ignore game-to-game outbursts.

Position: Center
Perhaps all Joakim Noah needed was a little spark to set him off. He got that last week when Taj Gibson was sidelined by an ankle injury.

Gibson is back now. But in five games since that injury, Noah is averaging 34.2 minutes. And in the last three -- when Gibson has been active -- Noah is averaging 35.1 minutes. He’s earned that with renewed aggression and the kind of well-rounded game that makes him a top-40 kind of fantasy player. Over those last five games, Noah is getting 13.2 points, 12.6 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.4 blocks, 1.0 steals and shooting 64.1 percent from the field. Gross. It's smooth sailing now that the torch has been lit.

Position: Shooting guard
Anthony Parker’s back issues have turned chronic. He aggravated the injury again on Sunday and at age 36, it’s not going away. Daniel Gibson would normally get the starting nod here and be staring at 32-35 minutes, but he can’t even turn his head right now due to a neck injury.

For the immediate future, former undrafted free agent Alonzo Gee projects as the likely starting shooting guard. In 34 starts last year, he averaged 8.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 0.9 assists and 0.4 treys. Move along.

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

Position: Power forward
When Jermaine O’Neal missed a game back on Jan. 2, Greg Stiemsma got the nod. Over the last three games that O’Neal has missed, it’s been Brandon Bass in the starting lineup.

It’s a small yet key note here because O’Neal is hurt so often and the Celtics could be looking at major changes around the trade deadline. Bass’ per-36 minutes this season are: 14.6 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.9 blocks. And over the last 15 games, Bass is all the way up at 30.0 minutes per game. Coach Doc Rivers has no problems leaning on him.

Position: Point guard
There was never going to be a real battle here. Kirk Hinrich is healthy now, but he’s 30 and has an expiring contract. Jeff Teague has led the team to a 15-6 start and is a part of the future at age 23. A Hinrich trade for a big man at the March 15 deadline is a reasonable expectation.  

The main reason Teague’s minutes have been limited over the last three games is his minor ankle sprain. After resting in Sunday’s blowout and getting an off day Monday, he should quickly ramp back up to 32-35 minutes per game.

Position: Point guard
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have all been active together 11 times this year. In those games, Mario Chalmers is averaging just 6.7 shot attempts while playing 27.0 minutes per game.

It’s the same story down the line throughout the Heat’s lineup. When the Big 3 are all healthy, the minutes and shots are squeezed so tight that no one else can hang on. It’s not Norris Cole or Shane Battier or Mike Miller that makes Chalmers an unreliable play -- it’s the team he plays on.

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Adam Levitan is in his seventh 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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