Adam Levitan

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Beating the Drum

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

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 do with injuries and in other instances, it’s a result of ineffective play or outstanding 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 some of the league’s most interesting rotations while attempting to get inside coaches’ heads. The idea isn’t to tell you what LeBron James and Kevin Durant are going to do – it’s to decipher how much burn fringe players are going to get.

Let’s start this season off in Detroit, where a raw rookie is raising eyebrows.

Position: Power forward
Just so we’re all on the same page, let’s establish how impressive 19-year-old rookie Andre Drummond has been this season. His per-36 minute numbers are: 13.0 points, 13.3 rebounds, 3.0 blocks and 1.5 steals. He’s also shooting 59.7 percent from the field.

So of course, the obvious question is when will Drummond start playing 36 minutes? Well, not this year. But I’d consider him a must-start in any format at a mere 26 nightly or more minutes more. Here are his season averages, divided into thirds:

First 12 games: 14.9
Next 13 games: 20.0
Last 13 games: 23.1

OK, so we’re moving in the right direction. Drummond also has two important factors working in his favor. First, the Pistons are 14-24, six games out of the East’s final playoff spot already. Second, the man in front of him (Jason Maxiell) is an eighth-year veteran bruiser whose contract is up after this season. Coach Lawrence Frank and the Pistons will have no choice but to use Drummond more extensively in the second half.

“If Andre continues on the path he’s been on, he’s going to play more and more,” Frank said last month. “[It’s] a delicate balancing act, not easy and what everyone has to remember is it’s a long season.”

Stash Drummond with confidence. Frank projects to see the big picture here sooner rather than later.

Position: Power forward
The biggest beneficiary from Scott Skiles’ long-awaited firing was Ersan Ilyasova. In case you were sleeping on the job, here was the money quote from new coach Jim Boylan in his very first interview in charge:

“[Ilyasova] is a vital part of our success. We need him feeling good about his game, playing well, being productive. So that’s step one for us right now.”

In 30 games under Skiles, Ilyasova started 11 games and averaged 22.8 minutes. In four games under Boylan, he’s started four games and averaged 26.5 minutes – settling into an even timeshare with the intriguing rookie John Henson. If pressed, I’d still consider Ilyasova the one to own here. He has a very roto-friendly game, he has the unquestioned starting gig and he has the coach’s backing. Ride him.

Position: Shooting guard
The Cavs are 9-31, are without Anderson Varejao for two months and are in all-out rebuilding mode. Let’s not read too much into Dion Waiters’ demotion.

Waiters is the No. 4 overall pick in the draft and needs tons of in-game experience at age 21. C.J. Miles is on a two-year, $4.45 million contract and has a history of flaming out after hot shooting streaks.

Moreover, Waiters’ minutes haven’t been hurt too badly since losing the starting gig. In seven games off the bench, he’s averaging 26.8 minutes. In 25 starts, he was at 31.6 minutes. More importantly, Waiters gets more shots up when playing with the second unit. Despite the five-minute disparity, he attempts 14.0 shots per game as a reserve vs. 14.6 as a starter. Owners in search of points and 3-pointers shouldn’t be discouraged.

Position: Power forward
I’m not quite sure what all the excitement over Jared Sullinger is about. When we’re talking about fringe players, we like to think about the monster numbers they could give us if they ever got to start. Well, Sullinger has started three games this year – and he’s averaged 4.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 0.7 assists and 1.0 blocks in those contests.

So when I see Sullinger post back-to-back double-doubles off the bench, as he did last Thursday and Friday, it doesn’t faze me. Here’s a guy that gets zero plays called for him, competes with Jeff Green and Brandon Bass for minutes and doesn’t block or steal. The January averages of 8.7 points, 8.7 rebounds, 0.7 blocks and 0.1 steals are the ceiling.  

Position: Shooting guard
When you are undersized and don’t defend people, you get blamed for a lot. Lou Williams has been dealing with that for much of his career. A generously listed 6’1/175, Williams is one of the most talented offensive players in the league. He flashed that difference-making ability during a nine-game stint in which he got an absurd 39.0 minutes per night and averaged 18.6 points, 5.8 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 3.0 treys per game. But Lou was starting when the Hawks lost three straight, so he was quickly dismissed to the bench.

In the four games since then Williams is playing just 26.3 minutes per game. I think Larry Drew wants to get Lou back into the starting five, but it’s really hard to start him next to the 6’2/181 Jeff Teague. They’re just too small. Lou’s season average of 26.2 minutes when coming off the bench is here to stay.

Position: Shooting guard
I’d venture to guess that J.R. Smith is on a ton of first-place teams right now. He’s averaging career-highs in points (16.8), rebounds (5.0), assists (3.0) and blocks (0.4). He’s also making 1.5 treys and getting 1.3 steals. What else is he averaging a career-high in? Minutes, of course!

So, the question is if those 33.4 minutes will sustain now that Iman Shumpert is back from his torn ACL and possibly starting Thursday. The short answer is a flat-out “no.” But I wouldn’t sell.

First, we can’t trust that Shumpert will be at full strength for some time. Look at what Ricky Rubio has done in his first month back: 19.5 minutes per game, five DNPs. Second, the Knicks actually need Smith’s scoring. Jason Kidd doesn’t get his own shot. Neither does Tyson Chandler, Shumpert or Ronnie Brewer.

Position: Power forward
Don’t hold your breath waiting for Andray Blatche or Kris Humphries to get the starting job and run with it. Since P.J. Carlesimo took over on Dec. 27, Reggie Evans has started seven of nine games and is averaging 26.3 minutes. More importantly, the Nets have gone 8-1 during that span. This three-headed monster projects to cancel each other out in the long run.

Position: Point guard
When it comes to minutes, Dwane Casey and the Raptors aren’t into politics. That’s what happens when you go 23-43 in your first season as coach and start your second season 4-19. So if Jose Calderon is going to outplay Kyle Lowry, then Calderon is going to play.

In the 22 games that Calderon has started this year, the Raps are 12-10. In the 15 that Lowry has started, they’re 2-13. Moreover, Casey seems to think that Lowry – an impending free agent that has been somewhat outspoken about his desire for a long-term contract – was playing a little too selfishly before getting hurt and losing his job.

“I thought we tried to do a little bit too much individually and once we honed in and started moving the ball, making the extra pass … we became a better team,” Casey said when asked what changed once Calderon took over. “Jose has earned the position. Jose has played as well as any point guard we’ve had this year, so that’s where it is right now.”

Lowry has one of the most roto-friendly games in the NBA, so no one should be cutting bait under any circumstance. But things like Sunday afternoon – when Calderon left with a little calf tweak and the Bucks went on a 12-0 run in Lowry’s face – are going to have to change. Calderon has some leash here now.  

Position: Shooting guard
Here are the minutes per game for the entire season: Jason Richardson 28.7, Dorell Wright 23.2 and Nick Young 23.2. That doesn’t tell the whole story.

Those averages for Wright and Young are boosted by heavy playing time during the seven games Richardson has missed thus far. Note that Young – playing on a one-year contract -- took an embarrassing DNP-CD in Saturday’s win over the Rockets. And in the games Richardson has suited up for, Wright is playing just 21.6 minutes.

Most importantly, the more J-Rich plays, the more the Sixers win. When he plays 30 minutes or more this season, the Sixers are 11-4. Coach Doug Collins seems to recognize that now.

“I would like to start increasing his minutes a little bit. I talked to him about that [Friday],” Collins said. “We really need him. We not only need his minutes, but we also need his voice and his leadership.”

Owners in need of 3-pointers and steals should take notice here.

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.
Email :Adam Levitan

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