My Name is JonasTuesday, February 12, 2013
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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 Toronto, where a Lithuanian prospect is turning heads.
Position: Power forward
On Sunday, we got a look at what the Raptors’ big-man rotation might look like without both Ed Davis (traded) and Andrea Bargnani (trade candidate), who was sidelined by the flu.
Coach Dwane Casey rolled with a starting frontcourt of Rudy Gay, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas. It was Valanciunas’ first start since fracturing a finger on his shooting hand and he passed the test with flying colors. The 20-year-old Lithuanian 7-footer posted 11 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks in 34 minutes. That came on the heels of a 14-point, 13-rebound, two-block outing two nights earlier in Indiana.
The back-to-back performances in two wins have the Raptors buzzing. The Toronto Sun now says Valanciunas is “showing no signs of ever heading back to the bench.” When Casey is deciding between plodding, unathletic, low-upside journeyman Aaron Gray and a No. 5 overall pick with monster potential, there isn’t much hemming and hawing.
“Jonas did a heck of a job of rebounding and taking up paint rolling to the basket, finishing the plays and defending the post,” Casey said after Sunday’s win. “He’s getting his rhythm back, his condition back and his game rhythm back more so-to-speak. I was really proud and happy for him the way he played.”
During his first stint as a starter to open the season, Valanciunas hovered around 24.1 minutes per game. Expect more this time around. Davis is gone, Bargnani shouldn’t be far behind and Jonas appears more confident in his offensive game. There’s a ton of appeal here in terms of both plug-n-play and stash.
Position: Shooting guard
Coach Byron Scott has waffled all year regarding his shooting guard spot. At first, he said Dion Waiters needs to start because he needs to learn how to play off the ball. Then he said he liked Waiters with the second unit because he got to have the ball in his hands more. And now, he seems to have settled back into Waiters as a starter – citing improved play.
“In the last two to four weeks he’s really starting to grow just from a maturity standpoint,” Scott said. “He’s really starting to understand what being a pro is all about. He’s really starting to put in the work before and after practice and it’s really starting to pay off. He’s playing with a lot more confidence right now. He understands what his role is, even as a starter.”
In 35 starts this season, Waiters is averaging 30.2 minutes. In nine games off the bench he’s at 26.5 minutes. Now “entrenched” as a starter, think of him as a points specialist that can also help in 3-pointers and steals.
Position: Shooting guard/small forward
Kyle Korver obviously isn’t a great defender, especially on the ball. So when opponents come in with speed and athleticism at the 2/3 spots, coach Larry Drew likes to play matchups and bring KK off the bench.
However, that’s happened just twice in the last 10 games. During that span, Korver is averaging 38.2 minutes and making an absurd 3.5 3-pointers per night. Chalk up Monday’s off night to a gimpy ankle. Korver is a strong hold and start through the deadline while we wait to see what the Hawks pull off. For now, I’d still project him as the NBA’s 3-point leader in makes the rest of the way.