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 Philadelphia, where a versatile starter is regaining health.
The Sixers exercised extreme caution with Spencer Hawes as he returned from an Achilles injury. He played in five-minute bursts at first, then six and then seven. On Sunday, he lasted eight minutes in the first quarter before coming out. And with three full days off following Tuesday’s game against the Cavs, the reset button is about to be hit. Starting Friday, coach Doug Collins should have free reign to use Hawes as he sees fit.
In Hawes’ first 14 games of the season, he played 27.6 minutes per night and the Sixers went 12-2. Now the Sixers are fighting for the Atlantic Division title and are desperate for playoff positioning. Expect Collins to try to squeeze as much as possible out of Hawes, making 27-30 minutes nightly a strong bet.
With those kinds of minutes, Hawes’ roto-friendly game is on the upswing in a big way. Remember that in those 14 games, Hawes averaged 10.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.5 blocks while shooting 56.8 percent from the field. He's in a true contract year and remains extremely motivated to finish out the season strong. There's significant upside here.
Coach Paul Silas says that his starting center, Bismack Biyombo, is actually a natural power forward. He also says that his backup center, Byron Mullens, is also better suited to play power forward. That’s a problem for fantasy owners as Silas appears hesitant to play the duo together.
Biyombo was not injured on Monday when he logged just 15 minutes. Simply put, he and starting power forward Tyrus Thomas got outplayed by Mullens and Derrick Brown.
Still, Biyombo owners shouldn’t be overly concerned. Mullens is a pure jump-shooter and jump-shooters of Mullen's caliber inevitably go cold. Prior to Monday, Biyombo had played at least 28 minutes in nine of his previous 10 games. That’s going to be the norm once Mullens comes back to earth, leaving Biyombo with his usual blocks and boards upside.
Position: Small forward
When the Bucks gave up Andrew Bogut and Stephen Jackson at the trade deadline, they lost two guys that weren’t even playing. They got back Monta Ellis and Ekpe Udoh, two guys that are playing. Clearly, the rotation was going to get squeezed.
The biggest losers were Tobias Harris, Shaun Livingston, Beno Udrih and Mike Dunleavy. But on Monday night, Dunleavy saw some light as Carlos Delfino went down with a groin injury. After the game, Delfino conceded that he was in substantial pain. And as we’ve seen with Derrick Rose, serious groin injuries can linger for weeks.
Coach Scott Skiles prefers Dunleavy as a reserve, but that doesn’t really matter. He once again has a clear path to playing time and a role as the team’s best perimeter shooter. Dunleavy also has ideal size for a small forward, which is important now that Monta Ellis is locking down the shooting guard spot. The 30 minutes Dunleavy logged on Monday night are sustainable for as long as Delfino is out.
Position: Point guard
John Lucas has certainly put up some extremely impressive numbers while Derrick Rose (groin) has been sidelined. But make no mistake, this is C.J. Watson’s job.
Over the last five games, Watson is playing 33.0 minutes per night. Lucas is at 18.6 minutes during that span. There shouldn’t be any questions as to who the handcuff is here, even if Lucas gets hot every now than then.
At the 2011 draft combine, Tristan Thompson measured in at 6’7.5” without shoes and 227 pounds. That’s clearly not optimal size for a center. But with Anderson Varejao (wrist) still lacking a target date, Ryan Hollins dumped and Semih Erden inept, coach Byron Scott is rolling with the rookie at the pivot.
Scott says that he can get away with playing Thompson at center because of the dearth of true big men in the league. The coach certainly has a point. On Tuesday, Thompson will match up on Spencer Hawes. On Wednesday it’s Greg Monroe and on Friday it’s Drew Gooden.
Since finally cracking the starting lineup five games ago, Thompson is averaging a hefty 35.5 minutes per night. The production will be inconsistent as a 21-year-old raw prospect, but the minutes are safe until Varejao returns.
Position: First big off bench
The Celtics are in a position they’re not accustomed to. At 27-22, they’re tied atop the Atlantic Division and in a major fight for playoff positioning with just a month left. Therefore, the starting five is logging some absurdly heavy minutes despite their collective age.
Outside of those five, one sneaky play can be found. Thanks to the season-ending injuries of Jermaine O’Neal and Chris Wilcox, undrafted rookie Greg Stiemsma has solidified a role as the first big off the bench. Over the last 10 games, Stiemsma is averaging 2.5 blocks, 1.2 steals and 3.8 rebounds while playing just 18.1 minutes per night. If Kevin Garnett or Brandon Bass ever get hurt, even shallow-leaguers will have to take notice.
Position: Shooting guard
The Hawks surprisingly kept Kirk Hinrich and his expiring contract at the trading deadline. It was yet another sign that they see him as their starting shooting guard for the foreseeable future, thus making Marvin Williams a sixth man.
In Hinrich’s 15 starts this season, the Hawks are 10-5. In all other games, they are 20-15. Larry Drew’s team is currently on a four-game winning streak and he’s talked openly about how much he likes the three-guard starting unit.
Over the last 10 games, Hinrich is averaging 11.2 points, 3.2 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 1.7 3-pointers per game while playing 38.5 minutes. Those numbers are sustainable even though the minutes will come down now that Williams is healthy.
Position: Shooting guard/Small forward
Amare Stoudemire (back) could be done for the season. The guy was playing 33.2 minutes per night, so we’ve got a massive hole in the rotation here.
Coach Mike Woodson likes the idea of going small and it makes sense. Carmelo Anthony is 6’8/230 and extremely powerful. He can certainly guard power forwards like Ryan Anderson (Wednesday), Josh Smith (Friday) and Antawn Jamison (Saturday).
That leaves the shooting guard and small forward spots wide open for some combination of Iman Shumpert, Landry Fields, J.R. Smith and Steve Novak. On a night-to-night basis, we can generally expect a hot-hand situation here. Smith has the most upside thanks to his explosiveness while Shumpert’s defensive abilities give him the best chance at 30-plus minutes.