Thunderbolt of Rest?Tuesday, March 19, 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 James Harden 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 Oklahoma City, where fears of coasting into the playoffs are unfounded.
Position: Point guard, Small forward
The rotation in Oklahoma City, as usual, has been rock solid all year. The only question is if stars will rest down the stretch. We can safely answer that with a resounding "no."
Currently, the 50-17 Thunder are one game behind the Spurs for the top seed in the Western Conference. They are also just 2.5 games behind Miami in the race for home-court advantage in a potential Finals rematch.
Additionally, there’s no history of resting here. A year ago, the Thunder only had an outside shot at catching the Spurs for the West’s best record. Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka still played in every single April game. They averaged 33.8, 38.7 and 26.0 minutes respectively in that month.
Furthermore, these guys play through minor nicks at all costs. Westbrook leads the NBA with 379 consecutive games played while Durant has sat out of just 14 games in his six-year career. Ibaka has not dressed just 11 times in his four-year career. It’s yet another reason why these three are among the top-10 fantasy players.
Position: Small forward
I was high on Matt Barnes when it looked like Caron Butler may have a serious shoulder injury. In the four games that Butler has missed this year, Barnes has averaged 15.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.0 3-pointers and 1.5 steals in a whopping 37.6 minutes. We can certainly make an argument that Barnes is a better player at this point in their respective careers.
The problem is that the Clippers have gone 1-3 when Barnes starts vs. 45-18 when Butler starts. Coach Vinny Del Negro has no incentive whatsoever to make a drastic rotation change – especially this deep in the season.
That means Barnes is stuck with his usual 25.4 minutes off the bench. Sometimes, a bench role can help a player’s statistical production because he is the first option. But the Clippers’ bench belongs to chucking, volume-shooting Jamal Crawford, so Barnes plays second fiddle. It means just 8.4 shot attempts per game and very little fantasy upside.
Position: Shooting guard
I discussed Marcus Thornton a couple weeks ago in this space. I want to hit on him again because owners may be wavering.
Over the last two weeks, Thornton has played fewer than 20 minutes twice. But a closer examination shows that those two instances were fluky games in which the Kings lost by 36 and 42 points. Thornton is not part of the garbage-time rotation, but he remains a consistent part of the main rotation.
If we throw those two games out Thornton is playing 27.5 minutes per game in March. He’s still an asset for owners in search of points and 3-pointers.
Position: Power forward
Mike D’Antoni seems like he’s steering this ship without a rudder. The Pau Gasol situation is a perfect example.
When D’Antoni first came aboard, he said Gasol didn’t fit next to Dwight Howard and therefore benched the Spaniard. Whether that move was right or wrong, at least the coach had conviction about it. But now that Gasol is nearing a return from his foot injury, D’Antoni says he will start. Why the change? Because he doesn’t want any distractions.
Well, D’Antoni’s waffling is good news for Gasol’s projected statistical impact upon his return. He averages 34.5 minutes as a starter this year and 28.6 as a reserve. Make sure Gasol isn’t floating on any waiver wires.