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 East. Let’s kick this week off in L.A., where we have a position battle at point guard.
Position: Point guard
Since acquiring Ramon Sessions last Thursday, coach Mike Brown has been hesitant to make any commitments at the point guard spot. He wants competition between Sessions and Steve Blake, and that’s fair.
"I don't want to guarantee anything or put anything in stone because I don't know if it's healthy to do that all the time," Brown said Saturday. "It's definitely Steve's job for the foreseeable future and it might be his job for the rest of the year. I don't know."
Brown went on to call Sessions’ integration into the Lakers a “process.” But even though the ex-Cav didn’t know the schemes, he logged 19 minutes on Friday and 22 on Sunday -- averaging 8.5 points and 5.5 assists. Blake played 28 and 26 minutes in those games, averaging 0.0 points and 2.5 assists.
The reason the Lakers went out and got Sessions is because he can penetrate a defense. He’s a playmaker, as seen by his other-worldly per-minute numbers at previous stops. Metta World Peace can’t make a play, Blake can’t penetrate, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum need someone else to set them up. The Lakers desperately need Sessions in the starting five and playing close to 30 minutes nightly. It’s a good bet to happen sooner rather than later.
In 89 career starts, Sessions has averaged 14.8 points, 7.5 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 1.1 steals. He won’t reach those numbers as the fourth option in Los Angeles, but that doesn’t mean there’s no upside. Be patient here.
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After blowing up the team at the trade deadline, the Blazers are left with just five legit NBA players: Raymond Felton, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge and Jamal Crawford. All are locked into solid roles regardless of performance because they have no reasonable backups.
The spot that intrigues me more is at center, where Joel Przybilla is now starting. Remember that Przybilla was just signed off the street in late-February and has a history of really chronic knee issues. Right now, his backup is 39-year-old Kurt Thomas.
That brings us to 2009 No.2 overall pick Hasheem Thabeet, who the Blazers acquired at the trade deadline. The Grizzlies and Rockets have already given up Thabeet, but he’s still 7’3/263 and he’s still only 25 years old. When Thabeet got 13.0 minutes per game for the Grizz as a rookie, he blocked 1.3 shots per game.
Considering their other options at center, the Blazers don’t have much to lose by giving Thabeet a chance. It’s something for deep-leaguers to monitor closely as our never-ending quest for blocks rolls along.
Position: Shooting guard
The Clippers made it pretty clear that they weren’t happy with Randy Foye as their starting shooting guard. Leading up to the trade deadline, they were linked to Ray Allen, Jamal Crawford, Raja Bell, Kirk Hinrich and J.R. Smith. They finally pulled the trigger on a deal in the 11th hour, acquiring Nick Young from the Wizards.
So it shouldn’t be a surprise that coach Vinny Del Negro was forthcoming when asked what role he sees Young in. Del Negro said that he expects Young to start once he “learns the offense, plays, etc.” In fact, in Young’s very first game, he came off the bench for 28 minutes. Foye started, but lasted just 24 minutes.
Once Young settles in, that gap in minutes will grow even wider. Mo Williams is locked into 25-30 minutes per night as a scorer off the bench and Young will push for 30 as the starter. Chris Paul is going to play 35-39, so there’s just not enough room for Foye. Most owners should be able to do better.
Position: Power forward
There’s not too much to talk about here. Zach Randolph has come off the bench in his first two games back so the Grizzlies can monitor his minutes closely. The shackles should come off as soon as this week, leading to the usual 32-36 minutes. The Grizzlies exercised extra precaution with Randolph’s knee, so there’s no concern there.
The Gilbert Arenas signing doesn’t make much sense to me. There’s a reason he’s been on the street all season as a free agent -- the Hibachi doesn’t light anymore due to crippling knee injuries. Arenas will start off as the fourth guard and is unlikely to sustain health or minutes.
Position: Power forward
The surprise of the trading deadline was that the Hornets did not move Chris Kaman despite significant interest around the league. Owners that didn’t sell now have themselves the focal point of an offense playing at a high level. Over the last 12 games, Kaman is averaging 16.3 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks while playing 34.3 minutes. He wouldn’t be doing that in any other spot in the league.
Meanwhile, Kaman staying is really bad news for deep-leaguers that have been riding Gustavo Ayon’s glue-guy skills. Jason Smith (concussion) is back and logged 20 minutes in his very first game following a six-week absence. Carl Landry (knee) is expected to return by Saturday at the latest and will eventually ramp up to his 21-25 minutes. Ayon’s arrow is pointing down as he’ll struggle to reach the 28.5 minutes per game he’s been playing over his last 20.
Position: Sixth man
It’s really, really hard to be a reliable fantasy performer as a bench player. Manu Ginobili, James Harden, Lou Williams and Jason Terry are the exceptions in that they get their minutes no matter what. Even when they’re not shooting well or when the second unit scuffles, the rotation is built so they stay on the court. Gordon Hayward cannot say the same.
In Hayward’s eight games off the bench this season, he’s averaged 28.3 minutes per night. He’s dipped as low as 19 and played as much as 37. It proves that Hayward’s role is dependent on game flow, which will lead to inevitable inconsistency. Raja Bell sticking with the Jazz at the deadline certainly didn’t help.
Position: Power forward
Someone asked me in Saturday’s live chat what the heck has gotten into Jason Thompson lately. The answer is a hot streak. It happens.
In his first 26 starts of the season, Thompson averaged 8.4 points and 7.3 rebounds while shooting 47.2 percent from the field. In his last three starts, he’s averaging 18.3 points and 13.3 rebounds while shooting 82.7 percent from the field and 77.7 percent from the free-throw line. (Thompson is a career 66.3 percent foul shooter). In other words, this three-game binge is unsustainable.
So even though J.J. Hickson has been bought out, Thompson projects to slip back to reality soon. He’s playing 28.3 minutes per game as a starter and that’s a reasonable expectation going forward.
Position: Shooting guard
Before we get too excited about Roddy Beaubois’ two straight starts and games with 35-plus minutes, coach Rick Carlisle has a reminder for us.
"One of the downsides to starting him is his minutes get run way up," Carlisle said. "He's not used to playing 35, 36 minutes a game. We got to be mindful of it because of the frequency of games."
Remember that Beaubois is just 24 years old and is perhaps the best athlete on the Mavs. Carlisle “concerns” sound like an excuse more than anything.
Regardless, it’s a reminder that Beaubois’ role is not secure despite difference-making talent. Once Shawn Marion (knee) and Delonte West (finger) get healthy, we’re going to have some duds. All we can do is ride Roddy B for now and see if he can finally convince Carlisle that he deserves 30 minutes nightly.