Who gets the minutes?


Virtually every article from Pistons’ media day focused on one thing — health. Richard Hamilton is healthy and ready to contribute. Iron man Tayshaun Prince has shaken off his lingering back troubles and is healthy once again. Charlie Villanueva is ready to atone for last year’s lackluster season because he’s no longer struggling with plantar fasciitis. Ben Gordon’s got his legs back and is ready to be the overpowering scorer from his Chicago days. Tracy McGrady is supposedly going to be Arnie Kander’s latest reclamation project.

Everyone’s healthy! Great! Only one problem: everyone’s healthy.

What I mean is that there are only a limited number of minutes to dole out, and there is a surplus of players who feel like they deserve them. Oh yeah, another problem: One of the benefits of last season’s plague of injuries was that the Pistons’ rookies played quite well, and on a team that doesn’t expect to contend, I’m sure many fans, and many within the organization, would love to see the young guys continue to develop — especially rookie Greg Monroe.

My analysis shows that there is an “expectation” among players of 320 minutes of playing time and only 240 minutes available. Assuming we want a healthy team all year, minutes are going to have to be cut, players are going to fall out of the regular rotation and veterans aren’t going to get the minutes they feel they so richly deserve..  There are four, 12-minute quarters in an NBA game, a total of 48 minutes. There are five positions on the floor so the total minute allocation is 240 minutes. Let’s look at the average minutes per game the players on the Pistons are accustomed to (numbers in parentheses are player’s minutes per game last season). Starters: Rodney Stuckey (34.2), Richard Hamilton (33.7), Tayshaun Prince (34), Jonas Jerebko (27.9), Ben Wallace (28.6). Key Reserves: Ben Gordon (27.9), Charlie Villanueva (23.7), Tracy McGrady (26.1 w/Knicks), Jason Maxiell (20.4), Will Bynum (26.5).
That leaves five players, including two promising players that will need minutes: the Pistons’ best player in the Las Vegas Summer League, Austin Daye, and rookie Greg Monroe. The true end-of-the benchers are rookie Terico White, ColorTyme’s DaJuan Summers and Chris Wilcox. All three can pretty much be completely discounted.

The median minutes played for qualified rookies last season was 18.2 mpg; and the average for players in the draft lottery was 21.8 mpg. Seeing as the Pistons are painfully thin up front and are not expected to contend, thus more likely to allow a rookie to play through mistakes, I think slotting Greg Monroe for 22 minutes per game is a conservative estimate. As far as Daye, the Pistons will definitely want to give the wiry small forward some additional minutes, and I think a conservative estimate would be a 20 percent increase from last year’s 13.3 mpg average, up to almost 16 mpg. So let’s add it up. Remember, there are 240 minutes available to divvy up every game. Starters: 158.4 minutes; Key reserves: 124.6 minutes; Daye and Monroe: 38 minutes. Grand total: 321 minutes, or 81 minutes more than humanly possible. So who gets there playing time cut? And will it cause discord in the locker room?

A template might be to take a look at the Spurs. Not that the two teams are close talent wise, but San Antonio has always had to juggle a lot of players sharing scarce minutes. Last season the Spurs had five players average between 28.7 and 31.3 minutes. Another seven players averaged between 21 and 15.8 mpg. Here is there breakdown from last season of players who played at least 25 games with a possible Pistons 12-man rotation:

Tim Duncan31.3Rodney Stuckey
Richard Jefferson31.1Richard Hamilton
Tony Parker30.9Tayshaun Prince
George Hill29.2Ben Gordon
Manu Ginobili28.7Charlie Villanueva
Antonio McDyess21Ben Wallace
Keith Bogans19.7Jonas Jerebko
Roger Mason19.2Greg Monroe
DeJuan Blair18.2Will Bynum
Matt Bonner17.9Tracy McGrady
Michael Finley15.8Austin Daye

This total also equals over 240 minutes: 263 to be exact, but it gives us somewhat of a better approximation of how the Pistons could dole out their minutes. Noticeably absent from this list is bonafide baby-eater  Maxiell.

Of course, this quick and dirty method can be adjusted as you see fit, but from just looking at this list I already see too few minutes for Wallace and a “healthy”  McGrady, and not enough developmental time for Daye and to a lesser extent Monroe.  I can easily see Stuckey losing some of his minutes at the expense of either Bynum or McGrady, and it’s possible that in an attempt to placate  veteran egos in the locker room, Keuster will chop down the minutes of Jerebko, Monroe and Daye, but I certainly hope that’s not the case.

This just underscores, highlights and glitter-pens a fact painfully clear heading into this season: To maximize whatever success is possible, the Pistons need to trade a damn player already. Preferably a two-for-one sale that involves a big man.