Adam Levitan

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Ringing the Belinelli

Tuesday, March 12, 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 Chicago, where an Italian gunner is making filet out of meatballs.

Position: Shooting guard
Two weeks ago in this space, I discussed the Kirk Hinrich vs. Nate Robinson situation in depth. In short, we can love Nate when Hinrich is out and must bench him when Hinrich plays. Let’s move on to the off guard spot.

Now 35 years old, Richard Hamilton has been a shell of himself for a few years now. He can’t get separation, can’t elevate on his jumper and -- most importantly for our purposes – can’t sustain health.

Enter Marco Belinelli, a true shot-maker and volume shooter. When Hamilton has been active this year, Belinelli has played a paltry 20.5 minutes per night. When Hamilton has been sidelined, the Italian product plays a massive 37.0 minutes. Although coach Tom Thibodeau despises Belinelli’s defense, he has no choice but to play him now.

The ex-Warrior is going to have some off nights thanks to his penchant for poor shots, but we can live with that. Belinelli’s numbers in 18 starts this year: 15.1 points, 1.8 3-pointers, 1.2 steals, 89.8 free-throw percentage. Buy up.

Position: Power forward
We don’t have much information on the Bobcats because, quite frankly, no one in the local or national media seems to care about a 13-50 team in a small market. Therefore, we can only suspect that Byron Mullen’s recent benching has to do with his knee. And his knee woes are probably related to that severe ankle sprain that curtailed his breakout season way back in December.

Over his last six games, Mullens is playing 13.4 minutes a night, essentially giving coach Mike Dunlap everything he has on that gimpy knee. It’s obviously not enough and redraft owners need to move on. Dynasty owners, however, should stash if possible. Mullens downturn in minutes is not due to his talent level.  

Position: Power forward/center
Injuries to both Larry Sanders (knee) and Ersan Ilyasova (knee) have opened things up here.

Sanders has a hyperextended knee. “He’s having a little bit of pain,” coach Jim Boylan said. “I don’t think it’s anything too serious.” Meanwhile, Ilyasova is dealing with a bone bruise and is listed as day-to-day.

Perhaps the most interesting note here is that Boylan intended to start Samuel Dalembert at power forward on Sunday night even if Sanders was able to play. Sammy is apparently out of the doghouse and back in the rotation, especially when health issues strike. Owners in need of blocks should watch the injuries closely here as Dalembert is averaging 3.0 blocks and 12.7 rebounds per-36 minutes this season.

Position: Point guard
Is Kyrie Irving, out 3-4 weeks, injury prone? Perhaps.

Since arriving at Duke for the 2010-11 season, Irving has sustained the following injuries: Foot, concussion, shoulder, broken hand, broken finger, knee and now shoulder again. He missed 26 games during one year at Duke, 15 as a rookie with the Cavs last year and now has the potential to miss 33 this year.

Making matters worse for owners is that Irving has no real handcuff. Backup Shaun Livingston plays 29.1 minutes per game when Irving sits, but averages just 8.7 points, 2.7 assists and 3.1 rebounds. Dion Waiters gets the real boost here as he’ll have the ball in his hands far more often.  

In 10 games Waiters has played without Irving this year, he’s averaged 17.0 points, 4.6 assists and 35.1 minutes. Those numbers are way up from his season averages of 14.7 points, 3.2 assists and 29.4 minutes.

Position: Point guard
Everyone always knew that Avery Bradley was one of the NBA’s premier perimeter defenders. But we also thought he was a below-average shooter and sub-par playmaker. He’s proving us wrong and it’s led to a bump in minutes.

Much like Ricky Rubio, it took Bradley some time to get over his dual shoulder surgeries. Now appearing 100 percent and benefitting from Rajon Rondo’s absence, he’s really producing. Over the last 10 games, Bradley is playing 33.0 minutes per night, averaging 12.2 points, 3.3 assists, 1.3 steals and 0.9 3-pointers.  Thanks to his defensive prowess and the Celtic’s injury situation, those numbers are the floor.

Position: Power forward
There’s something to be said for a guy earning his way into a starting job. Tobias Harris has done just that.

Since arriving in Orlando, Harris has outplayed Andrew Nicholson so soundly that it would have been comical for coach Jacque Vaughn to not make a switch. It would have sent the wrong message to his team.

The 37 minutes Harris played in Sunday’s win over the Sixers is a sign of things to come. He’s under cheap club control through 2015/16, making him a core piece of a rebuilding team. Ride Harris the rest of the way.

Position: Power forward
We are at least partially to blame for this, but Andre Drummond is being viewed as a savior by a lot of owners. That’s not fair.

The stress fracture in Drummond’s lower back should not be taken lightly. It’s the kind of injury that can linger and needs rest even when it feels good. That’s why Drummond has already been ruled out for the rest of this week despite being nearly five weeks into a six-week timetable.

Although Drummond was going to finally crack the starting five right around the time he went down, we can no longer expect that. Rookies that don’t practice for a 1 ½ months aren’t handed anything – no matter how talented they are.

Position: Shooting guard/small forward
Trevor Ariza has quietly been playing really good ball in a variety of roles.

Obviously, Brad Beal (ankle) being out the last three games has helped. During that span, Ariza is averaging 32.0 minutes a night and has started twice. But even when Beal was healthy, Ariza has been impressive. He can play both shooting guard and small forward, is a defensive stopper and accepts a bench role well.

Over the last 10 games when both Beal and Ariza have been active, the latter has gotten 29.9 minutes per game. Considering his ability to make 3-pointers, steal and board, that’s more than enough for fantasy owners to give Ariza a long look.

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.
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