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 Milwaukee, where a roto-friendly veteran is earning big minutes off the bench.
Position: Shooting guard/small forward
For some unknown reason, coach Scott Skiles has undying faith in Carlos Delfino. Over the last 10 games, Delfino is shooting 28.1 percent yet playing 32.4 minutes. Yes, you read that right: 28.1 percent. Delfino has also started 38 of the 39 games he’s appeared in this year. We know he’ll have his chance to shoot his way out of this slump.
Meanwhile, Delfino's consistent minutes haven't affected Mike Dunleavy, who has quietly turned into one of the more valuable bench options in the league. With Tobias Harris filling the ceremonial “starter” role and Stephen Jackson banished to the trading block, Dunleavy is averaging 34.6 minutes over his last six games. Skiles said he isn’t planning on promoting Dunleavy to the starting five because he likes the fit off the bench, but that shouldn’t stop us.
“I have a nice comfort level with Mike, to know you can go down there and he can come in, he's so versatile. He can get hot and make 3s and make shots. Even if he's not, he's handling the ball and passing the ball. He's running the wing. He's doing a lot of things that help us."
Dunleavy is averaging 15.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.9 3-pointers and 1.3 steals over his last eight games. Yes he’s an injury risk and yes, Shaun Livingston (ankle) and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (knee) are nursing injuries. But Harris can go back to DNP-CD mode if needed and Skiles desperately needs Dunleavy offense on the floor. Ride him until the wheels fall off.
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Position: Small forward
We talked two weeks ago in this space about how the Bobcats’ talent level really isn’t that bad and how their rotation is actually deep everywhere but center. That’s killed Kemba Walker and Reggie Williams, but there is plenty of light at the end of the tunnel here.
Boris Diaw has been banished to the trade/buyout block, Corey Maggette (back) is hurt again and D.J. Augustin’s name is popping up in realistic trade rumors. Although Walker is getting just 23.7 minutes over his last 10 games, he’s a strong hold through Thursday. Williams started the second half in place of Maggette on Monday night and is also worth holding. Remember that in nine starts earlier this year, Williams averaged 12.0 points and 1.6 3-pointers while playing 31.0 minutes per night.
Bonus thought on Tyrus Thomas: This guy really needs a change of scenery. He’s started three straight games thanks to Boris Diaw’s situation, but is averaging 5.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.0 blocks while playing just 19.1 minutes. In 21 starts this year, the 6’10/225 Thomas is somehow shooting 34.2 percent. The light isn’t going to go on for him while playing for Paul Silas in Charlotte.
Position: Shooting guard/small forward
The rotation here is so clean that we even know exactly what the backups are going to do. When Richard Hamilton (shoulder, week-to-week) is out, Ronnie Brewer will start. Brewer will play 27-33 minutes, but isn’t much more than a steals specialist.
When Luol Deng (day-to-day, wrist) is out, Kyle Korver will start. In six starts this year, Korver has averaged 14.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.2 3-pointers while playing 38.0 minutes per night. Much like teammate C.J. Watson, we can’t do much better for handcuffs.
Position: Small forward
If the Cavs are going to trade Ramon Sessions and/or Antawn Jamison, they’ll primarily be looking for draft picks and cap space. Therefore, the status of Alonzo Gee should not be affected.
Gee has quietly settled in nicely over the last few weeks and has now started five straight games ahead of Omri Casspi. In eight starts this year, Gee is averaging 12.9 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 1.1 3-pointers while playing a hefty 34.5 minutes per night. Deep-leaguers shouldn’t be asleep at the wheel.
Position: Power forward
Over his last 10 games, Brandon Bass is averaging 11.7 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.3 blocks while playing 31.8 minutes. That’s the bottom of his range going forward.
With Chris Wilcox (heart) and Jermaine O’Neal (wrist) both in serious doubt, Bass is going to continue to gobble up plenty of burn. 35-year-old center Kevin Garnett is going to need to back off his current usage rate to sustain health and the 26-year-old Bass actually gives the Celtics some much-needed bounce, leaving him plenty of upside.
Position: Shooting guard
No, Kirk Hinrich has not taken over for Marvin Williams as the starter. Coach Larry Drew went with the three-guard lineup on Sunday to counter the Kings’ Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Thornton, Tyreke Evans starting unit. And yes, Hinrich remains one of the prime candidates to be traded.
Two points here. First, Hinrich’s lack of production in six starts this season (7.0 points, 2.8 assists, 2.8 rebounds, 27.3 minutes) is concerning. Even if he ends up with consistent big minutes somewhere, the ceiling won’t be high.
Second, we’ve talked plenty in this space about how Jeff Teague’s minutes/production have been capped by Hinrich’s presence. In the first 18 games of the year, Teague averaged 35.0 minutes per game. But in 13 February games, that number sunk to 28.7 minutes. Teague has gotten 34.2 minutes in six March games, but that’s mostly due to all the injuries at the two-guard spot in Atlanta. A Hinrich trade would be big.
Position: Point guard
The mess at shooting guard is pretty clear-cut. Coach Mike D’Antoni is going to roll with a “hot-hand” kind of system between Landry Fields, Iman Shumpert, Steve Novak and J.R. Smith. Despite Fields’ run of 27.9 minutes over the last five games, the smarter play is just to ignore this spot. Random blowups are going to happen.
The more interesting, situation, as usual, revolves around Jeremy Lin. Since Baron Davis returned 10 games ago, Lin is averaging 34.1 minutes per game. In Lin’s first eight games as the Knicks’ starter (without Davis active), he averaged 39.1. That decline in minutes combined with a natural regression in Lin’s shot has him slipping back toward reasonable levels.