Adam Levitan

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Tuesday, February 26, 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 West, bang it here. This week, the focus is on the Eastern Conference. We’ll start in Milwaukee, where a deadline deal has shaken up the backcourt rotation.

Position: Shooting guard
J.J. Redick’s Bucks’ debut was a smashing hit for fantasy owners as he logged 35 minutes – five more than Brandon Jennings. Don’t expect that to be the norm.

Redick was able to play with both Jennings and Monta Ellis because the Hawks ran with Devin Harris, Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver for much of the game. Elite wing defender Luc Richard Mbah a Moute’s services were not needed.

Some reaction from that game:

“I’m 23 years old. I can play 40 minutes and be fine. But if it’s going to be like this, I guess we’ve just got to deal with it,” said Jennings.

“The way Atlanta plays allowed us to play the three guards [together] without much discomfort at all, coach Jim Boylan said. “We’re still trying to work through it. I certainly want to have the three guys out there on the floor. But I’ve also got Mike [Dunleavy] and Luc and other guys I’ve got to keep getting production from.

The real winner in this trade could very well end up being Monta Ellis. With Beno Udrih gone, he’s now the backup point guard. Ellis played 43 minutes and dished out 10 assists against the Hawks.

Position: Point guard
Coach Tom Thibodeau has been extremely stubborn when it comes to Kirk Hinrich. In Hinrich’s (elbow) first game back after a seven-game absence in early February, he was immediately inserted back into the starting five. And even though he was clearly a shell of himself thanks to a lack of mobility in the elbow, Hinrich still played 30 minutes.

Since that game, Hinrich has missed three more. That’s allowed Nate Robinson to continue his predictably exceptional fantasy production. In 15 starts this year, Robinson has averaged 13.5 points, 6.5 assists, 2.5 rebounds, 1.9 steals and 1.8 3-pointers in 33.5 minutes. In the 41 games that Hinrich has been active for, Nate averages just 20.3 minutes.

Perhaps we can trace Thibodeau’s lack of faith in Robinson to wins. In his 15 starts, the Bulls are just 5-10. In Hinrich’s 41 starts, they are 27-14. Coincidence? Probably not, and Thibs knows it. Robinson is worth hanging onto as Hinrich’s infection lingers, but once he sustains health we can move on.

Position: Power forward/Center
Marreese Speights is one of those “on paper” guys. If he played as good as looks when getting off the bus, he wouldn’t be on his third team in five seasons.

Speights is a legit 6’10/255 and has a nice jumper. The problem is his horrifically low basketball IQ, lethargy on the defensive end and penchant for taking bad shots. Coach Byron Scott is starting to see the bad.

In Speights’ first seven games with the Cavs, he averaged 24.2 minutes per game. Over the last six, he’s at 18.5. Any owner that hasn’t moved on already can safely do so.

Position: Shooting guard
When Kyle Korver comes off the bench, it’s not because he’s getting demoted or in coach Larry Drew’s doghouse. It’s just because of matchups and it’s not really a concern for fantasy owners.

Note that when Korver starts, he plays 31.6 minutes a night and makes 2.9 3-pointers per game. As a reserve, he plays 29.0 minutes and makes 2.4 treys. As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, he’s still a strong candidate to lead the league in 3-pointers made for the rest of the season.

Position: Center
For some reason only known to mind-readers, Brook Lopez has been benched during the fourth quarter in three of the Nets’ last four games. Yes, that Brook Lopez. The All-Star that is in the midst of a career season.

For once, however, a coach is actually manning up to his error.

“I created the situation, and it’s not a good situation. I worry about it that I need to address it, and I worry about it that I need to watch what I do going forward,” said P.J. Carlesimo.

Carlesimo’s explanation is muddled, but it’s clear he knows he made an error. In the long run, playing Andray Blatche over Lopez is going to produce a negative expectation. There’s nothing for owners to worry about here.

Position: Point guard
Newly acquired point guard Beno Udrih was coach Jacque Vaughn’s teammate back in 2006-07 with the Spurs. There’s a serious comfort level here, as evidenced by Udrih’s 27 minutes in his very first game with the Magic.

“I’ve been here three days, and I’ve already felt more at home than I did in Milwaukee for a year and a half,” Udrih said Monday.

Jameer Nelson’s latest knee issue doesn’t sound overly serious, but he doesn’t have much motivation to fight back for a 15-41 team. And although E’Twaun Moore started in place of Nelson on Saturday, he is more of a combo guard than a pure point guard in the mold of Vaughn. In Moore’s 12 starts this season, he’s getting just 4.7 assists per game. Udrih had seven assists in that previously noted Magic debut.

We can safely give Udrih at least a chance to supplant Moore as Nelson’s direct backup – a position that will yield major dividends if Nelson shuts it down.

Position: Small forward
If you want to see how you blow up a roster and start a rebuilding process the right way, check out what Orlando is doing. Instead of just letting Dwight Howard linger this season, they traded him for some serious assets in Nikola Vucevic, Arron Afflalo and Moe Harkless. They also got three protected first-round picks and cleared out $20 million in cap space.

Then, at the deadline, they didn’t hang on to a guy they know is going to walk like the Jazz did. They traded J.J. Redick, got some more assets, maintained their cap situation and guaranteed themselves a ton of ping-pong balls in the draft lottery.

Now Orlando can use the final two months of the season to simply develop their young. And there’s reason to believe that Harkless is going to be something special.

By moving Redick, Afflalo is no longer siphoning off small forward minutes. He’s locked at shooting guard, leaving Harkless all he can eat at small forward.

“J.J. played a major role, and a lot of his minutes will probably come my way now,” said Harkless, who presumably had a talk with the brass following the trade. “I just have to just take advantage of that and step up.”

At the tender age of 19, Harkless has a ways to go. But he’s going to have an extremely long leash as a core piece of the rebuilding process. Tobias Harris is not a threat. Over the last 10 games, Harkless is averaging 35.3 minutes and flashing what a 6’9/210 athlete can bring to the table. He’s getting 11.5 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.0 blocks during that span. He’s also made one 3-pointer in each of his last four games. Ride him.

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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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