Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Forget About You, Benchwarmers

Out of all 30 teams in the NBA, there are only 21 players averaging 38 minutes per game. So that means two out of every three teams have a single player who sees 38 minutes each game. So how come last night, a night when only 10 teams played, did 29 players play at least 38 minutes? Well, for one thing there were two overtime games. Those two games did account for 18 of the 29 players. Still, 8 of those 18 players saw at least 43 minutes of action, meaning they would have played 38 minutes anyway. So even if we only count those 8 players, that still leaves 19 players on 10 teams who saw a legit 38 minutes of action. That’s almost two players per team, far higher than the .66 per team that’s the average.

What does this mean? Well, it might not mean a thing. But it probably does. As we get closer to the halfway point of the season, things are becoming clearer for most teams. Early season tinkering is coming to a close. Rotations are being firmed up. In Detroit, for example, only seven players are seeing significant playing time, with Lindsey Hunter and Antonio McDyess the only bench players getting off the pine too much. This is great news for Detroit’s starters, as it will take some serious foul trouble to keep each starter from seeing at least 35 mpg. Injuries are to blame elsewhere. In a game they trailed by 33 at halftime, a game that benchwarmers dream of, three Wizards starters – Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Juan Dixon – all saw upwards of 40 minutes. With Larry Hughes out, Eddie Jordan decided to stick with his offensive firepower.

Teams are starting to take games more seriously, knowing that jockeying for playoff position is well under way. The Houston bench combined for only 43 minutes in last night’s game. In their game exactly one month ago, a one-point loss at Charlotte, the bench combined for 75 minutes. Juwan Howard has never been a fantasy favorite due to his appalling inability to get a steal or a block, but if he keeps seeing 37 minutes, he might be able to help some team, somewhere.

Portland and Sacramento were also playing to win last night. The game did go to OT, but every starter still logged at least 40 minutes. It certainly helps that Portland’s top three forwards are all out, but these are the trends that you need to look for and act on. Sacramento has almost no bench to speak of. Each Sacramento starter is averaging more minutes in January than in any previous month. Combine this with the fact that one of those starters (guess which one?) is a candidate to go down with a serious injury every time he takes a step, and this makes guys like Mike Bibby, Brad Miller, Cuttino Mobley and Peja Stojakovic excellent targets in trades.


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12:27 AM  

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