Adam Levitan

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On the Defensive

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Position: Guards
In the three games since Carmelo Anthony came back from his groin injury, Jeremy Lin is averaging 34.3 minutes per game. In the previous seven without Anthony, Lin averaged 38.2 minutes.

It’s an extremely small sample size, but the four-minute decline is real. In order to keep Lin playing at a high level, he can’t be pushing 40 minutes nightly while running Mike D’Antoni’s up-tempo, point-guard reliant offense. It’s also worth noting that Baron Davis is a below-average NBA player, but is getting 12.4 minutes in his first three games back.

As discussed here two weeks ago, look for Lin to settle in around 31-35 minutes nightly. If only the rest of the Knicks guards could be so lucky.

Now that Anthony is back and J.R. Smith is in town, this rotation is crazy-deep. If Steve Novak stays hot, he’ll get 15-18 minutes. Once healthy, Iman Shumpert (knee) needs 20 minutes thanks to his defensive abilities. Landy Fields remains locked in as the starter, while Toney Douglas will be a healthy scratch most nights. Only Smith is the fringe player worth betting on thanks to his annually impressive per-minute production.

Position: Shooting guard
It’s really, really hard to explain why the Magic signed a 30-year-old (now 31) Jason Richardson to a four-year, $25 million contract in December.

In 27 starts this year, Richardson is averaging 12.0 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 28.5 minutes.
In nine starts this year, J.J. Redick is averaging 13.9 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists in 32.0 minutes.

The problem is that Richardson has stunted Redick’s growth. When J-Rich has been active this year, Redick is playing just 23.5 minutes per game. It’s only enough for him to be a strict handcuff or reserve in most formats.

Position: Small forward
It makes sense that the Nets have locked back in a now-healthy MarShon Brooks to a massive role as the starting shooting guard. He’s among the most impressive rookies in the game. What doesn’t make sense is their insistence on starting DeShawn Stevenson.

Stevenson has started 16 of the last 18 games that he’s appeared in. Here are his numbers in those 16 games: 3.8 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.1 3-pointers in 22.8 minutes. Anthony Morrow has started 18 games this year: 16.2 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.7 3-pointers in 32.7 minutes.

It’s unexplainable why Stevenson continues to start, but we can’t realistically expect a change. Complaining about Avery Johnson won’t help. All we can say is Morrow is playing 26.0 minutes per game off the bench in his last six. That’s the reality going forward.

Position: Guards
Coach Frank Vogel loves to talk about how X guy has a chance to unseat Y guy. Chalk it up as good, solid coaching. Telling George Hill he has no shot to win a starting job wouldn’t be wise, just like telling Darren Collison he’s safe the rest of the season would be silly. Vogel likes to keep his players on edge.

Therefore, we can safely ignore all the talk about Hill coming in and stealing the starting job from Collison or Paul George. The Pacers have played 33 games this year. They’ve won 21 of them, with Collison and George serving as the starting backcourt every single time.

Position: Sixth man
The power forward spot has gone about how we expected over the last two weeks. Jonas Jerebko has played just 21.6 minutes off the bench over the last 10 games. Jason Maxiell is locked in next to Greg Monroe up front.

The backcourt situation has taken shape as well. Brandon Knight and Rodney Stuckey have started 19 straight games together, logging heavy minutes and producing. Over the last 11 games, the Pistons are actually 7-4. Ben Gordon hasn’t topped 28 minutes in any of those games and will likely need an injury to reach anything more than 21-25 minutes the rest of the way.

Position: Center
Nikola Vucevic can really play and Spencer Hawes (Achilles) is out at least two more weeks. Sounds simple, right?

Well, not so much. Coach Doug Collins doesn’t like to start two rookies together on the front line, so anytime Lavoy Allen starts Vucevic is a bench player. Also, Collins thinks Vucevic has good chemistry with the “night shift” aka second unit of Thaddeus Young, Lou Williams and Evan Turner. And finally, the Sixers’ organization as a whole has concerns over the rookie’s defense. The bottom line is that Vucevic does not project as a starter anytime soon.

That has led to a meager 18.8 minutes per night over the last 12 games for Vucevic, even though Hawes has appeared in just two of those. We can see Vucevic’s upside in his 8.1 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.0 blocks during that span, but the trust isn’t there quite yet.

Perhaps that will change as the Sixers’ offense struggled to a brutal 83.2 points per game during their current five-game skid. Vucevic would certainly help the offense and is therefore someone to put on watch lists. For now, anywhere from 18-26 minutes based on matchups and game flow is all we can expect.

Position: Power forward
Andray Blatche (calf) is expected back at some point in the next couple weeks. Does he deserve to get his starting job back from Trevor Booker? Definitely not. Will he get it back anyway? Probably.

Blatche is 25 years old and in the middle of a ridiculous $35 million contract. The Wizards are shopping him, but no one is going to take his cancerous attitude on. The only solution to try to squeeze out the sizable talent he has. Starting him is step one.

Although Blatche was brutal as a starter earlier this year en route to 11.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 38.3 percent shooting, there is upside here. He started 63 games last year, averaging 16.9 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.5 blocks and 44.6 percent shooting. There’s enough ceiling with Blatche as an eventual starter to stash him in most formats.  

* The Heat and Bulls are not listed as they are the only Eastern Conference teams without any true question marks in their rotations. Perhaps that’s why they’re a combined 54-15 on the season.

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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