Adam Levitan

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Tuesday, April 10, 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 Jersey, where one of the game‘s premier shooters is trending up.

Position: Swingman
The hamstring injury Gerald Wallace sustained on Sunday has the potential to really clear things up here. Coach Avery Johnson has already moved away from DeShawn Stevenson (11.8 minutes over his last five games) and Wallace has no incentive to rush back for the 21-37 Nets.

The elimination of those two veterans from the rotation leaves MarShon Brooks, Gerald Green and Anthony Morrow to gobble up the vast majority of swingman minutes. Like it or not, those are the kind of names that win fantasy championships.

That’s because a guy like Morrow has unique skills that can change categories in a short timespan. He started 18 games earlier this year, making 2.7 3-pointers per game and hitting 94.9 percent of his free throws on the way to 16.2 points per game. Note that on the season, only Ryan Anderson (2.9) has made more than 2.7 treys per game.

Additionally, Morrow was trending in the right way even before Wallace’s injury. As a reserve over the last five games, he’s logged 28.2 minutes per night and is shooting 47.3 percent from the field. Of course, he’s banged 13 3-pointers during that span.

With Wallace out and Green (oral surgery) suddenly questionable for Tuesday, Morrow’s arrow is pointing up the rest of the way. He's an ideal option for category hunters.

Position: Power forward/point guard
Coach Paul Silas has been relatively true to his word about letting the young kids play. But injuries have certainly helped the cause in the backcourt.

D.J. Augustin’s knee continues to act up, Reggie Williams’ knee is getting worse instead of better and Corey Maggette is battling through Achilles’ tendon woes. In 21 starts this year, Kemba Walker is averaging 34.5 minutes per game.

Up front, Byron Mullens is earning his minutes. Coach Silas asked Mullens to play more defense and focus on rebounding. He didn’t ask him to suddenly start banging in the post and backing guys down for baby hooks. What we’ve seen is rapid in-season improvement.

Over the last six games, Mullens is averaging 17.5 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in 32.6 minutes per night. He’s found a home as a “stretch four,” not as a center despite his 7’0/275 frame. There’s no competition for minutes there as Tyrus Thomas is in the doghouse and Edjuardo Najera (head) is likely done for the year.

Position: Small forward
Coach Scott Skiles has plenty of faith in Carlos Delfino. Even though Delfino had missed six straight games due to a groin injury, he immediately rejoined the starting five on Saturday. And even though Monta Ellis now forms an atrocious defensive backcourt with Brandon Jennings, Skiles isn’t handing defensive specialist Luc Richard Mbah a Moute extra burn to compensate. Against Kevin Durant and company Monday night, Delfino logged nearly 32 minutes.

So, as usual, what we have to do is wait for Delfino to get hot. When it happens, he’s a difference-maker in 3-pointers and steals while also an asset in rebounds and points. We can hold on here as long as Skiles can.

Position: Shooting guard
The Bulls appear to finally be coming to the conclusion that a 34-year-old Richard Hamilton is not their savior. Even if he’s healthy.

Since coming back from a shoulder injury, Hamilton is averaging just 19.5 minutes per game. He’s been cleared to play more minutes, but coach Tom Thibodeau isn’t just going to hand them out. “Performance is part of it too,” Thibs said.

Hamilton is not earning his minutes and there’s not much reason to think he’ll suddenly start. On the season, he’s shooting a meager 43.8 percent while scoring just 10.7 points despite 24.8 minutes. Kyle Korver, C.J. Watson and Ronnie Brewer can all play the shooting guard spot. There’s not much upside in Hamilton for the Bulls or fantasy owners.

Position: Point guard/shooting guard
Kyire Irving (shoulder) is only going to come back this season if he’s 110 percent. We certainly can’t count on that. Therefore, the Donald Sloan/Lester Hudson party is going to rock on.

Let’s be clear here, though. Hudson is not going to start and the Cavs didn’t even extend him a season-long contract on Monday. Instead, they merely gave him a second 10-day deal. And as a bench player, we can’t expect consistent minutes. It certainly doesn’t help that Anthony Parker (sternum) is expected back in the starting five Tuesday night, thus limited shooting guard minutes.

Over the last five games, Hudson is at 27.0 minutes per night. He’ll struggle to sustain that the rest of the way, even if Kyrie Irving shuts it down.

Sloan, meanwhile, is another story. In his four starts, the former undrafted free agent out of Texas A&M has averaged an obscene 37.4 minutes per game. As the starting point guard, his role will be more consistent on a night-to-night basis.

Position: Shooting guard
The Celtics are 13-5 when Avery Bradley starts. In all other games, they are 19-19. Additionally, coach Doc Rivers claims that he’s been trying to figure out a way to bring Ray Allen off the bench for a while now.

“We only talked about it for two years as a staff, but we’ve never had anyone to step forward," Rivers said of moving Allen to the bench. "We’ve always wanted a stronger bench.”

That should be enough signs to tell us that Rivers is serious about leaving a future Hall of Famer in Allen as a reserve. However, it’s not a panic statement for owners.

Allen has come off the bench in three straight games. During that span, he’s averaging 30.5 minutes. Bradley is at 30.4 over the same span. There’s enough room for both to get the burn here in the Celtics’ thin rotations.

Position: Center
Joel Anthony started 50 of the Heat’s first 51 games this season at center. But coach Erik Spoelstra apparently sees a need for slightly more offense, so newly-signed Ronny Turiaf has started the last four.

During those last four games, Anthony is at 9.1 minutes and Turiaf is at 18.7. It doesn’t look like much, but Turiaf has managed 1.8 blocks during that span. And for his 372-game career, he averages 1.4 blocks despite seeing just 17.8 minutes per night. Deep category hunters should be aware.

Position: Point guard/shooting guard
Baron Davis might be a little banged up, but that’s the point. He’s “only” 32, but he’s always nicked up and out of shape. Frankly, Davis is not that good at this point in his career.

Coach Mike Woodson has already said that he doesn’t want to play Davis more than 30 minutes in a night. But due to ineffectiveness, that number has dipped even lower. Over the last five games, Davis has played just 24.4 minutes, scoring 4.6 points to go with 4.2 assists. It’s the production of a bottom-five NBA point guard, which Davis is right now.

Therefore, we can expand Iman Shumpert’s role even further. We already know that Shumpert is locked in as the starting shooting guard in the Knicks’ small lineup. We know that he’s earned minutes by being a difference-maker on the defensive end for Woodson. And now, thanks to Davis’ ineffectiveness, we know that Shumpert can serve as the point guard in crunch time.

Over the last five games, Shumpert is playing 39.8 minutes. With that kind of burn, the 2.6 steals and 1.8 3-pointers are sustainable.

continue story »
Adam Levitan is in his seventh 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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