Sunday, November 20, 2005

Dealing With Crazy Coaches

Minutes and the predictability of minutes are two of the most important factors to fantasy success. The most reliable players are out there on the court for big minutes day in and day out, no questions asked.

The Even Distributors
These are usually the most frustrating coaches to deal with. Everybody gets minutes, often with little regard as to the actual effectiveness of players. The most obvious example of this was the dreaded Hubie Brown era in Memphis, when it seemed like each player was playing between 18 and 32 minutes, even when the best players clearly deserved more time. Scott Skiles, who was talked about at length on Thursday, is the current worst offender in this category. The current leader in minutes for the Bulls is Chris Duhon with 34 mpg. Of players who have played at least four games, there are nine other players seeing at least double-digit minutes. There are seven guys averaging between 23.5 and 34. This makes it hard to rely on many of these players on a consistent basis. It was very interesting to see Mike Sweetney go into the starting lineup and see 42 minutes on Friday night, while guys like Othella Harrington, Eric Piatkowski and Jannero Pargo all saw seven minutes or less. After the Bulls miserable start last year Skiles found something that worked and stuck with it, but if it’s not working, he may have to adapt. Still, there’s always reason to be suspicious until he proves otherwise.

Charlotte’s Bernie Bickerstaff is another coach who likes to get everyone involved. At least 10 players have seen 10 or more minutes in 10 of the Bobcats’ 11 games. Emeka Okafor leads the team in minutes with just 33.9 per game, which is down from last year’s 35.6, which helps explain why Okafor hasn’t taken a step forward this year, and so far has regressed slightly. This means that while it can be tempting to pick up hot hands such as Kareem Rush or Sean May, chances are that they will sooner rather than later fall back into playing not quite enough to be a solid option. Last night’s game is a perfect example of what often happens in Charlotte. Ten players saw at least 15 minutes, topping out with Kareem Rush’s 32. The Bobcats aren’t the most talented team by any stretch of the imagination, and keeping fresh bodies on the court and playing at a high intensity level is how they stay competitive. This makes Okafor – and Gerald Wallace when healthy – the only consistent options on the team.

The Schizos
Just as frustrating as the Even Distributors are The Schizos, who can’t be trusted at all from night to night. Utah’s Jerry Sloan and Toronto’s Sam Mitchell are the biggest culprits here. Sloan is also a member of the Even Distributors, but is even more unpredictable. Mehmet Okur began the season averaging 23.5/10.2/1.5 on on 53% shooting. And the next game he saw 15 minutes. The following three games he went 22.7/11.7/1.3 on 54% shooting. And the next game he saw 22 minutes. And it’s not like this is a star-studded team, especially with Andrei Kirilenko and Carlos Boozer out. Okur is clearly the team’s best player, but Sloan had no problem yanking him out. Devin Brown will be a DNP one night followed by getting 23 minutes the next. Kris Humphries will see two minutes followed by a game where he gets 26. Injuries seem to be forcing Sloan’s hand lately, which is good news for fantasy owners. With Kirlenko, Boozer, Keith McLeod and occasionally Matt Harpring out, Sloan’s options are limited, which should mean that his top players like Okur and now Deron Williams will be out there a lot. But know that there’s always a chance you could look at a Jazz box score and see some bizarre things.

Sam Mitchell yanks around his players as well. Jalen Rose is his favorite target. On any given night he could play 40 minutes or he could get on Mitchell’s bad side and be held in the 20s. On Nov. 16 against Philly he got in early foul trouble and Mitchell never gave him a chance to get involved in the game and he played just seven minutes and went scoreless in a 121-115 loss. Rose owners couldn’t be too happy with that. Jose Calderon went 16-32-43-17 in the season’s first three games. He’s gone 31-25-7 in the last three. Granted, with Mike James playing so well it’s been hard for Calderon to be out there, but it’s not out of the question that the roles could be reversed down the road. Mitchell also played Matt Bonner 15 minutes or less in six of the season’s first seven games, then when he decided to mercifully end the Loren Woods/Rafael Araujo experiment, it was Bonner – not tearing-it-up-rookie Charlie Villanueva that got placed in the starting lineup. Morris Peterson saw just 20 minutes on Nov. 11 – his lowest total of the year, and he turned in a 0/1/1/ performance that night – so of course Mitchell decided to put him in the starting lineup the next game.

Larry Brown is another obvious schizo this year, with Jamal Crawford being his favorite person to toy with. Here is Crawford’s minutes log this season: 37-24-17-35-39-23-35-28-44. Huh? Granted that with teams struggling early on coaches can be expected to do some shuffling with their rotations. But it’s clear that Brown isn’t really enamored with any players on his roster, and could very well continue to hand out PT at his whim. It’s no secret that there aren’t many reliable Knicks right now, but those who are expecting Channing Frye to keep up what he’s been doing might want to hold their expectations in check. He’s been playing great the past few games and has earned his time and could see even more if Eddy Curry is out. But LB still loves his vets and a lackluster game or two by Frye and he could find himself behind the likes of Malik Rose, Antonio Davis and Mo Taylor again.

The Fantasy Player’s Best Friend
It’s not all bad news with coaches. There are some that you can count on to give your players the minutes you want. Sacramento’s Rick Adelman has long had a reliance on his starters, which combined with the team’s high scoring ways meant fantasy gold. Some people thought things might be a bit different this year, as the team has a bit more depth, but each starter is averaging at least 32 mpg, with all except Bonzi Wells getting at least 34 mpg. Even with guys like Mike Bibby and Brad Miller off to slow starts, they still make attractive targets because there is no question they’ll get their minutes and eventually start producing.

Mo Cheeks is another coach making fantasy owners very happy. Just look at last night’s game. Four starters – Allen Iverson, Andre Igoudala, Chris Webber and Kyle Korver – all saw at least 40 minutes. For those that are staying patient with Korver, continue to do so. As poorly as he’s played, he’s still seen at least 40 minutes in four of the last seven games. Andre Igoudala has been incredibly solid and is a top 40 player so far, but his stat lines still might disappoint some owners who were expecting a more traditional breakout. If you can get him from someone who doesn’t realize that he’s a top four round pick, you probably only have a few more games to be able to do that. Cheeks’ style is something to keep in mind in case an injury occurs. If Iverson were to miss a game, there’s a good chance that John Salmons – who is already averaging nearly 25 mpg – could see upwards of 40 himself. If Chris Webber were to go down, it wouldn’t be surprising to see both Stephen Hunter and Samuel Dalembert – if he ever comes back – to log heavy court time.

So what does it all mean? It’s just another small piece of information to keep in mind. If you have a player on one of the teams with an unpredictable coach who happens to be playing quite well, that guy may not be the worst trade candidate, while guys on teams where the starters are always out there are good targets. Stability is key. For the most part, players’ performances are pretty predictable. It’s just some of those coaches you have to worry about.


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