Adam Levitan

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Duncan Going Down

Tuesday, February 05, 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 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 East, bang it here. This week, the focus is on the Western Conference. We’ll start in San Antonio, where Tim Duncan owners should be preparing for rocky waters.

Position: Power forward
Tim Duncan should have been “sold high” a long time ago. At 36 years old, he was never a good bet to sustain a true bounce-back season. These current knee and ankle sprains should surprise no one. More importantly, head-to-head owners need to realize that they are unlikely to have Duncan for a full complement of games or minutes during crunch time:

2011/12 games missed in April: 5 of 16; Minutes played in April: 26.4
2010/11 games missed in April: 1 of 7; Minutes played in April: 27.9
2009/10 games missed in April: 1 of 8; Minutes played in April: 28.2

Making matters even worse, we have no real handcuff here. Boris Diaw has made 14 starts this year, but produced just 6.2 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.6 assists despite getting 26.2 minutes in those games.

Position: Shooting guard
Jerryd Bayless was mentioned often this space last season because of his explosive offensive ability and the possibility of a Jose Calderon trade. It never happened. Bayless then left Toronto for Memphis, where he played behind Mike Conley, Tony Allen and Rudy Gay for the first 43 games of the season. Then, thanks to a Conley injury and the subsequent Gay trade, Bayless got a chance to play 39.0 over the last three games. He responded with 18.3 points, 5.6 assists and 4.3 rebounds. Shocker!

Now fantasy owners are thinking about the possibilities of Bayless in a Rudy Gay world. Don’t get too excited. Here’s Grizz GM Chris Wallace, commenting on the trade:

“We wouldn’t have done this deal without getting Tayshaun. He’s a versatile 32-year-old vet who had won an NBA championship, who has been on an Olympic gold medal team and who understands what it takes to be a successful pro.”

Does that sound like someone the Grizz are planning on bringing off the bench? Nope. And when you consider that in 42 games as a reserve this season, Bayless was clocking just 18.0 minutes a night, there’s not much hope here. Expect a bump to 22-24 minutes, but that’s just not enough.

Oh, and Ed Davis is safe to drop across the board. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph are workhorses that each play 35 minutes a night comfortably. Davis is incapable of playing the small forward spot.

Position: Power forward/center
Mike D’Antoni may be foolish, but at least he’s clear about his intentions. He sees Pau Gasol as a natural center, doesn’t like to play him next to Dwight Howard, wants to go small and thinks the four-time All-Star should just accept it. Once Howard’s shoulder gets healthy, don’t expect Gasol to stick in the starting five.

And in the seven games Gasol has come off the bench this season, he’s averaging 28.6 minutes per game. That’s led to 13.4 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 0.9 blocks. I still wouldn’t dare drop Gasol for two reasons.

1. Howard has a torn labrum in his shooting shoulder. He’s undergone PRP therapy in the hopes that he’ll be able to play through it. The problem is that defenders are always hacking him when he tries to power through, leading to shoulder issues. “If it gets totally bad then you have to do something [like surgery], but the way it is right now, you just have to deal with it,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. If Howard ends up missing significant time, we know Gasol will be top-30. Howard stated Tuesday that his shoulder is just as bad as it was Sunday.

2. A trade by the Feb. 21 deadline is possible. If Howard can sustain health, the situation figures to grow even more hostile. Gasol doesn’t appreciate coming off the bench and D’Antoni seemingly wouldn’t mind shipping him out of town. On any other team, Gasol would return to a 33-35 minute per night role.

In the meantime, Earl Clark continues to shine. Over the last 15 games, Clark has started 12 times. He’s averaging 31.4 minutes per night. And in those 12 starts, he’s produced 10.9 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.0 blocks, 1.0 3-pointers and 0.7 steals. It’s a reasonable expectation going forward.

Position: Power forward
On Jan. 20, Kenneth Faried logged 40.1 minutes. On Jan. 28, he got 12.2. Is it a case of George Karl’s doghouse? Most certainly not.

Faried has started all 48 games this season. Over the last 16 games, he’s played 30 minutes or more nine times. Anytime he’s under 25 minutes, we can bet that it has something to do with foul trouble – not Karl. Faried ranks 11th in the league in fouls per game at 3.1. Among players that get at least 25 minutes a night, he ranks eighth in fouls per-48 minutes. It’s part of the learning curve for a second-year player that out-hustles and out-physicals his opponents.

Owners are best off closing their eyes and not watching the game-to-game dips. And if you don’t own Faried and see a clunker, it’s time for a buy-low offer.

Position: Small forward
I had Michael Beasley on my Target List in the preseason because of his raw offensive ability and starting job in an up-tempo offense. He fooled me once. And I’m going to let him fool me again.

New interim coach Lindsey Hunter seems genuinely committed to getting Beasley heavily involved. Here are some quotes since he took over on Jan. 20:

Michael Beasley was incredible tonight. He’s been really working hard to get to this point, and I really see promise in his future,” Hunter on Jan. 30 after win over Lakers.

“That’s the biggest pleasant surprise we’ve seen, how assertive he’s been defensively,” Hunter on Jan. 31.

“I get in trouble for passing the ball. I’m definitely being more aggressive. I’m trying to also earn more minutes on the defensive side, so that’s where that aggression comes from,” Beasley on Jan. 30.

“I think the thing with Mike is that we have a great relationship. When I was director of player personnel, I worked close with him and really developed a lot of trust there,” Hunter on Feb 3.

All these quotes are just words, except for when Hunter says Beasley has “definitely” earned more minutes and then sticks to it. Here’s the proof.

In seven games under Hunter, Beasley is playing 26.1 minutes per game. In 37 games under Alvin Gentry, he played 21.5 minutes per game. The production has also been better because Beasley feels he has a coach in his corner and isn’t looking over his shoulder. He’s well worth owning and starting right now.

Position: Point guard
Let’s remember where the bar is for Ricky Rubio. Even last season, when he was fully healthy and playing 34.2 minutes per night, he averaged just 10.6 points per game and shot 35.7 percent from the field. His jumper is among the worst in the NBA. That’s not where the value is here.

The value is in assists and steals, something that Rubio does in his sleep – and doesn’t need a fully healthy/explosive ACL to do it. As I’ve mentioned plenty of times before in this space, I actually think it’s easier for someone like Rubio, that doesn’t use athleticism to dominate, to overcome an ACL tear. Derrick Rose needs that lateral quickness and leaping ability.

Now that Rubio’s minutes cap is essentially off, we can expect those assists/steal numbers. Over the last five games, he’s playing 28.2 minutes. In the 10 games before that, he was at 24.7 minutes. Something around eight assists and two steals a night going forward is reasonable.

Position: Point guard
We all know there is a ton of value in rostering Jarrett Jack as a handcuff to Stephen Curry. Just because Curry is back now doesn’t mean he won’t aggravate his ankle again. Once the ligaments in an ankle are weakened, they are much more likely to be sprained or torn again.

But how useful is Jack when Curry is actually playing?

Well, in the four games that Curry has missed this year, Jack is playing 38.4 minutes per night and averaging 18.8/8.3/2.5. In all other games, he’s playing 28.0 minutes and averaging 12.1/5.6/3.3 with a trey and good percentages. Use Jack blindly, regardless of Curry’s status.

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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