During the summer, so many questions evolved about what this team would look like with all the new additions, particularly regarding the depth chart and rotations. Would Robin Lopez be able to play heavy minutes? How much development time for Meyers? How much rest would the starters get?
It was during training camp that I decided I would start tracking how many minutes the players spent on the floor. My hope was to look past the box score and see if I can learn something about how our players are valued and utilized. Could I see into Coach Stotts's mind? What I have discovered over the first ten games is that these charts tell two stories. First they largely confirm the obvious. There are no revelations that defy the conventional wisdom. Secondly, they highlight a couple of trends that have received little attention. Let's start with a full graph of all the players:
all photos via i838.photobucket.com
If there's a surprise here it's how consistently the minutes have been handed out so far. Stotts has occasionally been accused of playing games with his lineups, but there is little experimentation to be seen. The three tiers of players on the roster are easily recognized. Starters, bench, and deep bench all trend within distinct groupings.
The most interesting lessons to be learned here are hard to make out in this graph, so I'm going to break out some sub-groupings to look at the players in more detail. No better place to start than the starters:
As I mentioned above, the different tiers of players all tend to play a consistent number of minutes, and the starters have the tightest grouping of the three. Damian started out playing the most minutes of everyone, but it appears that LaMarcus has edged past him in recent games.
We'll get into that shortly, but for now notice that one of our key questions has already been answered. Robin Lopez, who only played 26mpg last year, is not being held back. He's got the lowest avg of all the starters but there is no doubt that he's playing starter's minutes here. Of the three games where his minutes dropped, all were due to foul trouble. That brings us to the rest of the front court...
The rotation of bigs has been a major storyline starting with the last game of the preseason. Here we see in numbers what we've been talking about. Meyers Leonard has been shut out of the rotation. The only game he saw time was due to Freeland's injury. Had he not been sick lately he might have gotten floor time vs. Toronto, but even that can be questioned.
In the debate about whether or not there should be minutes for Meyers to develop, the visuals make a sobering point: Meyers Leonard has been given the court priority of 2nd rounders and player-coaches. The other lottery pick, Thomas Robinson, has been given a steady if small diet of minutes from day 1. That's not accidental. It gives credence to the notion that Meyers is not showing enough in practice to justify dipping his toes in the water. I don't think it's far-fetched to imagine a D-League stretch for him in the future.
Now if you look more closely at T-Rob's minutes, you'll notice that they are gradually ramping up. Is this a sign of trust and an increasing role for Thomas? Sort of... We talked earlier about Damian and LarMarcus switching places as the leader in minutes. What I think we're seeing here is an increased use of a small ball lineup with LaMarcus and T-Rob on the floor together. Is this a deliberate strategic move, or a coincidental string of single-game tactical decisions? In the case of Toronto, it had everything to do with foul trouble for both Lopez and Freeland. I think a big question going into the next ten games is whether this is a pattern or a blip. Now lets examine what might be the most interesting sub-group of all, the back court:
I present to you the biggest outlier on the whole graph, Mo Williams. With the exception of Game 3 which featured peak floor minutes for both Lopez and Freeland, Mo has progressively earned more and more time on the floor. In the last 3 games his minutes have been indistinguishable from the starters. The extra burn appears to have been taken from Lillard, Matthews, and Batum in equal measure. Conclusion? Mo Williams is not just our BUPG, he is a 6th man in the truest sense of the term. Was this always Coach Stott's plan? I suspect it was, but Mo's early shooting and turnovers made easing him in slowly an easy decision. Now? He's as important to this team as Ginobli is to the Spurs.
The evolution over the next ten games should prove interesting. Will Mo get reeled back if his shooting cools down? Will Dorell Wright fans ever be thrown a bone? For me, I'll to be watching to see how often we turn to the small ball lineup.