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 or trades and in other instances, it’s a result of ineffective or outstanding 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 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.
For last week’s look at the West, bang it here. This week, the focus is on the Eastern Conference. We’ll start in Cleveland, where the rebuilding Cavs are pulling the reigns back on their rookie center.
Anderson Varejao’s season-ending injury left the Cavs woefully thin up front. In the 17 games immediately after he went down, Tyler Zeller was asked to play 34.6 minutes per night. It was way too much for a 23-year-old rookie that doesn’t have anything close to the requisite strength to play on the block in the NBA. The Cavs knew that, which is why they went out and traded for Marreese Speights.
In the two games since the trade, we’ve seen about what I’d expect going forward. Zeller will continue to start as the core piece of the Cavs’ future, the one they really want to develop. But they won’t wear him down, keeping his minutes right around 30. Speights, meanwhile, gets his wish as he’s now the first big off the bench and a good bet for 20-24 minutes nightly.
Zeller takes a monster hit with those five less minutes a night. Although I’d still prefer to own him over Speights if I’m desperate for a strict blocks/boards specialist, most owners will want to move on. Zeller’s per-36 minute numbers in those categories are 1.3 and 8.1, respectively. Adjust those down to 1.0 blocks and 6.7 rebounds for per-30 projections. It’s not enough.
Position: Power forward
In last Friday’s Dose, I detailed how fill-in starting power forward Hakim Warrick is not a real threat to a healthy Byron Mullens. Saturday’s rare win over the Wolves proved that theory even further.
Coach Mike Dunlap played Warrick just three minutes, choosing to roll with a small lineup that included Gerald Henderson as the power forward. On Monday, Warrick got a DNP-CD. It’s another sign that Dunlap has little faith in Warrick and wants more natural scorers/shooters on the floor – something he gets from Mullens.
Once fully back in game shape and up to 100 percent, 28-31 minutes for the long-range bombing Mullens is well within reach.
Position: Power forward
We now have a decent amount of data on new Bucks coach Jim Boylan and the returns are good. Unlike predecessor Scott Skiles, Boylan has established a consistent rotation and stuck to it. The biggest beneficiary of this stability – somewhat predictably -- has been Ersan Ilyasova.
In 30 games under Skiles, Ersan Ilyasova started just 11 times and averaged 22.8 minutes. In 10 games under Boylan, Ilyasova has started 10 times and averaged 28.3 minutes. That includes the last three games, which he’s played 34-plus minutes. Ersanity is back? Indeed.
Position: Point guard
Rajon Rondo’s torn ACL represents a seismic shift in the Celtics’ landscape. At 21-23 and on track for a first-round date with the Heat, they were a candidate to blow up their core anyway. Now that Rondo is done, their chances of making a late-season, championship-caliber run are almost non-existent. No matter what Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge say, the odds of Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett being in play at the Feb. 21 deadline have now increased dramatically.
Therefore, the players that get an immediate boost thanks to Rondo’s absence could get an even bigger bump in three weeks.
For now, it looks like Rivers will roll with Avery Bradley and Courtney Lee as his starting backcourt, with Jason Terry and Leandro Barbosa off the bench. The problem is that all four players are around the same talent level, leaving us with a hot-hand situation more often than desired. In Sunday’s win over the Heat, Barbosa and Terry each played 30-plus minutes while Bradley and Lee combined to shoot 4-of-15, playing 27 and 25 minutes respectively.
If I had to choose one of these four to close my eyes and roll with, it would be Bradley. He can play both backcourt positions, was already starting and has a roto-friendly game. Remember that late last season, Bradley emerged as a key piece while playing next to Rondo. Over the final 15 games, he averaged 15.1 points, 1.2 3-pointers and 1.2 steals per game. For his career, he shoots 46.4 percent from the field and 73.5 percent from the line. During that 15-game stretch, he was playing 32.9 minutes per game – a stark contrast to this year’s 24.7. We can safely expect him to be back in that 28-32 minute range going forward.
Position: Shooting guard
Before tearing his ACL, Lou Williams was playing 28.7 minutes per game and getting 11.4 shots up per night. That’s a large hole to fill.
In the five games since Williams’ injury, Kyle Korver has been the biggest beneficiary. He’s playing an absurd 39.8 minutes per game during that span, up from 29.2 in all other games. I’d expect Korver to easily lead the NBA in 3-pointers made per game over the final three months.
I’m far less excited about the prospects of the wildly inconsistent Devin Harris. It’s not a coincidence that this guy has already played for four different NBA teams in his nine NBA seasons. He’s simply not that good. Harris has started 16 games this year, but is averaging just 10.3 points, 2.9 assists and 2.6 rebounds in 27.3 minutes. Owners speculating here should be viewing Harris as a steals specialist that will hit some 3-pointers as well – and nothing more.
Position: Point guard
Well, it was a fun ride for Jason Kidd owners while it lasted. He ascended to top-40 fantasy value, riding his uber-friendly roto game and injuries to Raymond Felton/Iman Shumpert.
Now comes the harsh truth. Kidd will turn 40 in March, has a balky back and Felton/Shumpert are healthy. Even though Kidd isn’t necessarily hurt, the Knicks will be very careful not to overextend him. He was held out in the fourth quarter on Saturday and the entire second half on Sunday.
“He’s fine, I just decided to rest him,” coach Mike Woodson said. “This is a marathon, one game isn’t going to determine anything. I’m going to need him for the long haul and I think he knows that.”
It’s an awful situation for owners because even when Kidd starts, we can’t be sure he’ll finish or top 15-20 minutes. I’ve moved on in a bunch of spots, but if there’s an injury to Felton, Shumpert or J.R. Smith, I’ll be pouncing back on Kidd hard.
Position: Shooting guard
Two weeks ago in this space, I discussed Andre Drummond’s monstrous upside. Coach Lawrence Frank still hasn’t seen the light. Although Drummond continues to show rapid improvement in all facets, he’s playing just 21.6 minutes per game in January. That’s actually slightly down from the 22.1 he got in December. Owners shouldn’t be discouraged – he’s turned those meager 21.6 minutes into 8.4 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 1.1 steals. The true breakout is still coming.
Anyway, let’s get to Kyle Singler. The rookie has now started 28 straight games at shooting guard, but unlike most rookies, he’s going the wrong way. After earning 30.0 minutes in December, Singler is at 25.1 minutes in January.
It’s really just a talent issue. Singler slipped to the second-round of the draft for a reason and he’s going to get outplayed by Charlie Villanueva/Will Bynum/Austin Daye on plenty of nights. We can reach for more upside than Singler.
Spencer Hawes’ recent surge and promotion to the starting five would be much more exciting if not for two concerns: His history of inconsistency and the impending return of Andrew Bynum (knee).
Remember that Hawes started 29 games for Doug Collins a year ago and -- despite a hot start -- still managed just 9.5 points, 7.6 boards, 2.6 assists and 1.3 blocks in 25.8 minutes. Expecting much more is grasping at straws.
That’s especially true when we consider the encouraging progress of Andrew Bynum, who has gradually increased his activity without sustaining any setbacks. The tentative plan is for Bynum to finally participate in his first practice of the season on Friday and then make his long-awaited debut one or two games before the Feb. 14 All-Star break.
OK, so we know a player with Bynum’s upside needs to be owned in all formats. He’s in a contract year, he’s the second-most talented center in the NBA and the entire Sixers franchise is counting on him as a savior. Expect 8-12 minutes at first, then 12-18 and so on until he settles in around 30.
“You can definitely see in his demeanor he’s more excited,” GM Tony DiLeo said. “You can see it in his body language.”
Of course, there will be headaches along the way. I doubt Bynum will play on both sides of back-to-backs. The minutes progression could be slower than owners would like. And there’s always the risk of a setback. But the risk is more than worth the reward here.