Adam Levitan

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Tuesday, February 14, 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 New York, where Linsanity has taken over.

Position: Point guard
Jeremy Lin has been evaluated in every way, shape and form over the last 10 days. The purpose of this column is minutes, so let’s keep the focus there. Over the last five games, Lin is averaging a ridiculous 39.0 minutes per game. To put that in perspective, only one player (Kevin Love) is averaging at least 39.0 minutes on the year.

Late in the wins over the Wolves and Lakers last weekend, Lin was visibly exhausted on the court. Simply put, this usage is unsustainable. Lin needs to exert maximum effort to get the most out of his talent and is also the primary ball handler. He’s not like Love or Kobe Bryant (38.4 MPG) or Kevin Durant (38.0 MPG), who can glide around the court with ease.

That said, there’s a reason Mike D’Antoni is riding Lin like “friggin’ Secretariat.” The Knicks are 5-0 when he plays 35 minutes or more and 8-15 when he doesn’t. Lin is going to have a long leash as the starter and won’t be threatened in the least by Baron Davis, Iman Shumpert or anyone else. Expect him to settle in around 31-35 minutes the rest of the way, with Shumpert moving off the backup wing spot and into a backup point guard role once Carmelo Anthony (groin) returns.

OK, so we know Lin’s numbers will take a hit simply by the eventual loss of 4-8 minutes each night. Amare Stoudemire’s Tuesday return will mean fewer shots. And once Anthony returns, possibly as soon as Friday, there will be even less shots. Over the last five games, Lin is attempting 19.4 shots per game and getting to the line 8.4 more times a night. Carmelo Anthony was taking 18.8 shots and 7.4 free throws and everyone called him a cancerous ball hog.

I’m not selling Lin for anything less than a top-60 player, but not anticipating some kind of hit in minutes, points, field-goal percentage and just about every other category is unreasonable.

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Position: Shooting guard
Yes, the Bobcats are 3-25. But when healthy, they actually have a decent amount of talent that needs playing time.

Let’s talk about what’s going to happen once D.J. Augustin (toe, day-to-day) and Gerald Henderson (hamstring, week-to-week) return. Coach Paul Silas has already said he wants to scrap the mini-me backcourt, pushing Kemba Walker into a backup role. He’s also said that Henderson is his starting shooting guard, so we can say goodbye to sharpshooter Reggie Williams’ starting gig. Tyrus Thomas has already (and deservedly) been benched in favor of Corey Maggette. Thomas shot just 34.6 percent in his 18 starts.

OK, so in the long run we’ll have a starting five of Augustin, Henderson, Maggette, Boris Diaw and Bismack Biyombo. Walker, Thomas and Williams will struggle to top 25-28 minutes as reserves. The time to sell on those three is now.

Position: Small forward
Stephen Jackson won’t confirm or deny that he’s asked for a trade. Still, we can be pretty confident that he has and that the Bucks are trying to accommodate him. Over the last three weeks, Jackson has picked up three DNP-CDs and not started a single game. In six February appearances, he’s playing just 21.9 minutes per night. Captain Jack is playing the good soldier for now, but we can be sure he’s seething inside.

At this point, it’s unclear where Jackson will land after the March 15 deadline. We know he won’t hold reliable value in Milwaukee and I’m not sure he will be an asset anywhere. A rebuilding team won’t want him, so only good teams make sense. And at age 31 with a 36.5 field-goal mark this year, he wouldn’t be a first, second or third option on a good team. Only deeper-league owners should be holding.

Position: Shooting guard
The Bulls have one of the most stable rotations in the league right now. Even when they’re hit with injury, we know what’s going to happen. With Derrick Rose’s back acting up over the last four games, C.J. Watson has averaged 32.2 minutes per game. When Luol Deng is out, Kyle Korver starts and plays at least 35 minutes. And when Richard Hamilton is out, Ronnie Brewer starts and plays around 30 minutes.

The problem, of course, is that Brewer is a defensive stopper that gets exactly zero plays run for him. In his 22 starts this year, he’s averaging just 8.1 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists. The 1.4 steals are sustainable, but we should be able to do better. Hamilton’s predictably declining health is a yawner.

Position: Shooting guard
Anthony Parker (back) has been out for two full weeks and doesn’t appear close to a return. The real question is if he’s been “Pipped” by Daniel Gibson?

Parker is 36 and averaging a miserable 6.0/2.4/2.0 triple slash in his 18 starts this year. Gibson is 25 and averaging 11.8/4.5/4.0 in his four starts. Boobie is also widely recognized as the Cavs’ best perimeter defender.

The only thing holding Gibson back here is size. Much like the Jerryd Bayless situation, it’s hard to start a 6’2/200 guy at shooting guard. Over the last two seasons, Parker has started 83 of the 90 games he’s appeared in. It would be a mild surprise if Gibson holds the starting gig when/if Parker gets healthy. All we can do is simply ride Boobie in the meantime.

Bonus: Power forward
Anderson Varejao’s injury theoretically opens up monster minutes for No. 4 overall pick Tristan Thompson. But coach Byron Scott has chosen to start Semih Erden at center and Thompson has got just 19 minutes on Saturday. What gives?

Well, Thompson was coming off an ankle injury that caused him to miss four straight games at the start of February. He’s also just 6’9/227 and won’t be 22 years old until March. Scott is going to bring him along slowly.

"I want to keep him coming off the bench for right now," Scott said. “He missed a while and I want him to get a few more practices in and get his timing back."  

Thompson will eventually be the man here, but it’s going to take some time. He’s a hold while we wait for Erden to inevitably faceplant.

Position: Center
Sixth man Brandon Bass (knee) is not expected back until after the All-Star break and Jermaine O’Neal (shoulder) is day-to-day. That’s led to two straight games with 22-plus minutes for pure rebounder Chris Wilcox. In those two games, Wilcox is averaging 7.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 0.5 assists with one block and one steal. Yawn. Even when injuries inevitably leave the aging Celtics’ front line shorthanded, there’s not much upside here.

Position: Point guard
Kirk Hinrich made his season debut 10 games ago. During that time, Jeff Teague is playing just 27.7 minutes per game. In the first 18 games of the season, Teague was playing 35.0 minutes per game. Yes, the 31-year-old Hinrich has siphoned more than seven minutes per game from the youngster.

The saving grace here is that Hinrich has an $8 million expiring contract and the Hawks are in desperate need of a big man. They are also 13-5 in games Hinrich hasn’t played in and 5-5 with him. A trade at the March 15 deadline would make a ton of sense here.

Position: Sixth man
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh combine to attempt 50.2 field goals per game. The average NBA team attempts around 80 field goals per night. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that the Heat have just 30 shots to split up among the other six players in their rotation. Udonis Haslem, Mike Miller and Shane Battier are all excellent real-life players whose fantasy value is swallowed up by the Big Three. I also discussed Mario Chalmers’ declining role when the Big Three are healthy two weeks ago in this space.

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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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