Next Year's Rotation As It Stands - The Downbeat - #796

Ty Corbin points at an imaginary blackboard, indicating how to his players how many minutes they will each play.

The Jazz currently have 13 players under contract for the 2012-2013 season. This does not include draft pick Kevin Murphy, who may or may not be signed, but either way, it's looking like the roster is rather full. The Jazz could very well be done for the offseason, and so now may be a good time to sit back and evaluate how we're much going to play these guys next season.

Thus, this episode of the Downbeat will be somewhat different: at each note 1-5, we'll go through the team's numbered position, look at what the team has, and decide how to play them. The minutes below reflect an estimate of the rotation after opening day, in an idealized game with no garbage time or foul trouble, etc.

Point Guard

Depth Chart:

  1. Mo Williams
  2. Jamaal Tinsley
  3. Earl Watson
  4. Alec Burks
The situation here is pretty clear: Mo Williams is easily the best PG of the players mentioned. Therefore, he should start and play the majority of the minutes. The question: how many can he play?

This reminds me of a story Jeff Van Gundy told, I think at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. When he had Yao Ming, Yao was a great player, clearly better than the backup centers that played behind him. He wanted to know how much was the optimal amount to play Yao. Conceptually, if you play Yao too much, he gets tired and warn down, and presumably plays at a lower efficiency than his backups. If you play him too little, though, you're wasting parts of Yao Ming, great NBA player.

So Van Gundy went to the Rockets, famed for their statistical department, and asked them to figure out how much he should play Yao per game. The answer: statistically, Yao should play all 48: even when he was dog tired, or played 24 minutes in a row, he still played at a higher efficiency than his backups. Of course, this was impossible for a bunch of different reasons, and so Van Gundy went back to doing his normal rotation.

Mo Williams is not Yao, but it still makes sense to play him as much as possible. How much can we play him? Well, at his 25-year-old peak, he played 36.5 minutes per game. Last year, he played 28.3. I don't think it's wholly unreasonable to ask him to play almost as many minutes as he did at his peak, so I'm going to put him down for 34 minutes.

So, what do you do with the remaining 14 minutes? That's a pretty normal amount for a backup point guard to play. Which point guard gets them? I'm going to give the benefit of the doubt to Earl Watson, and say that his late-season struggles last year were a result of his injuries. To me, he has the higher upside at the position because he could possibly recover to play at that level. Please stop turning the ball over so much though, Earl. It's really a big deal. Tinsley gets the garbage time minutes.

(Now, Yucca is going to comment down below and say "Why not Alec Burks?" Well, in my opinion, he hasn't shown the skills to be an NBA PG. I could be wrong. I really may be. But Ty Corbin also hasn't exactly shown a willingness to experiment, so, I really, really, really, really doubt Burks is the opening day backup PG. Also, putting him as the backup PG makes it so he can't be the backup SG. But I digress.)

Minutes: Mo Williams 34 MPG, Earl Watson 14 MPG.

Shooting Guard

Depth Chart:

  1. Alec Burks
  2. Gordon Hayward
  3. Kevin Murphy
  4. Shan Foster
This position gets pretty thin. Burks and Murphy are really the only two true SGs on the roster, and it's an open queston as to whether or not Murphy makes the team. Gordon played much of his time as a SG last year and I think he makes sense there. I also think that Gordon needs to start due to his defensive skills, and due to the 3 situation, starting him at SG is the intelligent option. Burks, though, is a really promising player, and is pretty good right now, so he needs to get many minutes. Last year, he ended up with almost 16 minutes a game, I think increasing that by about 10 MPG makes sense. His scoring really works in an off-the-bench, 6th man role. So:

Minutes: Gordon Hayward starts, gets 23 MPG at the 2, Alec Burks gets 25 minutes off the bench at SG.

Small Forward

Depth Chart:

  1. Gordon Hayward
  2. Marvin Williams
  3. Paul Millsap
  4. DeMarre Carroll
  5. Jeremy Evans
I have made no secret of my respect for Paul Millsap's game. He is a tremendous player, and improves the Jazz immensely when he plays. This shows up in his ridiculous +/- numbers. We have also been blessed with another player, Derrick Favors, who is also good, and could be really, really good. Unfortunately, they play the same position.

Fortunately, the basketball gods have smiled upon the Utah Jazz and given them an out: Paul Millsap, in his limitless talent, can play at Small Forward. He played there last year, and the team did very well. He personally also did very well, including in some of the biggest games of the season. There is, admittedly, a small sample size, but we have more evidence that he can play at SF than evidence that he cannot. Furthermore, he is a better player than Marvin Williams. Additionally, it turns out Millsap cares a lot about starting. I mean, A LOT. So... we should start our current best player.

Last season, Millsap played 32.8 MPG, it turns out he played even more at the end of the season once we discovered the big lineup. Last year, Marvin Williams played about 26 MPG for the Hawks. He's almost never played SG for Atlanta, so he'll need to get many of his minutes here. Let's give him 24, mostly for logistical reasons, and because he has better competition here than in Atlanta.. That leaves 22 MPG for Millsap, Carroll, and Evans to split. Oh yeah, and we need more time for Hayward too.

Let's play Millsap for the initial 6 minutes of each half at the 3, Hayward for 8 more minutes at the SF, and the better of Evans and Carroll for the last two minutes of the first half. My preference is Evans, his efficiency stats are much better than Carroll's. And it's hard to be worse than Carroll defensively.

Minutes: Paul Millsap start and play 16 MPG, then Marvin Williams 24 MPG, Hayward 6 MPG, Evans 2 MPG.

Power Forward

Depth Chart:

  1. Derrick Favors
  2. Paul Millsap
  3. Al Jefferson
  4. Enes Kanter
  5. Jeremy Evans
  6. Marvin Williams

With Millsap's move to the starting 3, the role of starting PF for the Utah Jazz becomes Derrick Favors. He is ready, and his game does wonders to complement the strengths and weaknesses of the other players on the floor. He played 21 MPG last year, his role this year bumps him up to 32. Favors, though, has some versatility as well, and so it makes sense to sometimes play him at center. I'm going to put him in for 28 MPG at the PF.

That leaves 20 MPG for the rest. Millsap, remember, plays only 12 MPG at the 3, these remaining 20 minutes are hereby slotted for him. This means Millsap and Favors each play 33-34 MPG. That works.

Minutes: Derrick Favors: 31 MPG, Paul Millsap 15 MPG, Evans 2 MPG

Center

  1. Al Jefferson
  2. Enes Kanter
  3. Derrick Favors
Al Jefferson was quite good for us last year. There is some significant Al bashing in these parts, but by most metrics, he was our second best player last year. That's really important. He is also improving, which is pretty remarkable. He played 34 MPG last year, I'm only decreasing it to 31 MPG for the benefit of Favors, Kanter, and Millsap. I don't think Al will see that as a big drop.

Kanter is the default backup, and, while many will want to play him more this season, he will have to earn it. So far, he hasn't shown anything other than flashes of an ability to play big minutes, indeed, he often looked exhausted after long stretches of PT. He played 13.2 MPG last year, that total lessening as the year went on. I want that number to significantly increase, but Kanter will have to earn it on the court, and because this is a reflection of an early-season rotation, I think a 14 MPG stint again is reasonable. That leaves 3 MPG for Favors at C.

Minutes: Al Jefferson: 31 MPG, Enes Kanter: 14 MPG, Derrick Favors: 3 MPG

So let's look at a plausible substitution pattern to get to these numbers:

Start: Mo/Gordon/Millsap/Derrick/Al

At the 6 minute mark of the 1st quarter: Millsap comes out, replaced by Marvin Williams. Gordon Hayward comes out, replaced by Alec Burks. Lineup: Mo/Burks/Marvin/Favors/Al

At the 9 minute mark of the 1st quarter: Mo Williams comes out, replaced by Earl Watson. Al Jefferson comes out, replaced by Enes Kanter. Lineup: Watson/Burks/Marvin/Favors/Kanter.

At the end of the 1st quarter: Derrick Favors comes out, replaced by Paul Millsap. Lineup: Watson/Burks/Marvin/Millsap/Kanter.

At the 6 minute mark of the second quarter: Earl Watson comes out, replaced by Mo Williams. Marvin Williams comes out, replaced by Gordon Hayward. Enes Kanter comes out, replaced by Al Jefferson. Lineup: Mo/Burks/Hayward/Millsap/Al

At the 9 minute mark of the second quarter: Alec Burks comes out, replaced by Jeremy Evans. Paul Millsap comes out, replaced by Derrick Favors. Lineup: Mo/Gordon/Evans/Favors/Al

Start of 3rd quarter: Starting lineup: Mo/Gordon/Millsap/Favors/Al

At 6 minute mark: Paul Millsap comes out, replaced by Marvin Williams. Lineup: Mo/Gordon/Marvin/Favors/Al

At 8 minute mark: Gordon Hayward comes out, replaced by Alec Burks. Lineup: Mo/Burks/Marvin/Favors/Al

At 10 minute mark: Mo Williams comes out, replaced by Earl Watson. Al Jefferson comes out, replaced by Enes Kanter. Derrick Favors comes out, replaced by Jeremy Evans. Lineup: Watson/Burks/Marvin/Evans/Kanter

Start of 4th quarter: Jeremy Evans comes out, replaced by Paul Millsap. Lineup: Watson/Burks/Marvin/Millsap/Kanter

3 minute mark of 4th quarter: Earl Watson comes out, replaced by Mo Williams. Enes Kanter comes out, replaced by Derrick Favors. Lineup: Mo/Burks/Marvin/Millsap/Favors

6 minute mark of 4th quarter: Alec Burks comes out, replaced by Al Jefferson. Marvin Williams comes out, replaced by Gordon Hayward. Lineup: Mo/Gordon/Millsap/Favors/Al

Okay! I think the math works out there (If it doesn't, I apologize, it's past 4 AM). Obviously, this is just a guideline, and the numbers may be off slightly from what I have written at the top. Also, injuries will creep in, giving more minutes to the players at the bottom of the totem pole. Additionally, you're never going to get a guy an exact number of minutes. Nevertheless, I think it is a good template, and would produce a team that gives the vast majority of its minutes to average, above-average, and very good players. And that makes a big difference in creating a winning team.

That being said, what do you think we should do? If it were up to you, how would you distribute minutes?

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