This edition of Stat of the Week will focus on minute projections for every player this season. Much has been made of the comments about head coach Michael Malone wanting to move to a nine-man rotation. That will be very difficult for a number of reasons. There is no true backup small forward, there are too many backup power forwards, and guys just aren’t going to be happy with any resulting rotation. Unfortunately, Malone has to make tough choices, and a tight rotation is likely best for the short term outlook of the team. Here’s how I project said rotation to look.
48 minutes. 82 games. Possible overtimes. Each position plays a total of 3,936 minutes with potential for overtime added on. For my calculations, I just used the base 3,936 minutes, assuming that the starters or high quality bench players would cover the balance of the overtime.
I assumed that each starter and guaranteed bench player would play 72 games, leaving room for them to play more games in event of health, or less in event of injury. Beyond that, players assumed to be rotation members played in between 62-64 games, while spot rotation players played in between 20 and 50 games based on position. Three players play zero minutes in this calculation.
Beginning with one of the easiest positions to project, Nikola Jokić is going to play a lot of minutes at center, and Mason Plumlee will be his primary backup. The only real questions are what the minute share for both players will be and whether any players will play significant minutes behind them. At this point, Jokić is pencilled in for 33 minutes per game for me, while Plumlee plays about 16 at center and 4 at power forward. Based on the games played projections, it frees up some small ball center minutes for Paul Millsap, but nobody else. Kenneth Faried and Trey Lyles may play some garbage time minutes there, but that’s about it.
Power forward is convoluted, and that’s okay. In this scenario, Lyles has won the backup 4 position based on his fit with Plumlee. Millsap takes the bulk of the minutes, while Lyles is in second place. Four other guys (Faried, Plumlee, Juancho Hernangómez, and Wilson Chandler) split the rest of the minutes behind them. Faried likely suits up with Jokic mostly, as does Plumlee in bigger lineups. Hernangómez and Chandler will play the small ball role, possibly even when Millsap moves to center, to match up against faster teams.
Nobody is going to be happy with this setup, even Lyles, who would play a career low in minutes played in this scenario. Still, sacrifices must be made in what is one of the best front court groups in the entire NBA.
Small forward is difficult to predict as well. Chandler is clearly the starter and received the lion share of the minutes here, but his primary backup remains a question. Hernangómez is slotted in at the position here, as he needs to find time to get on the floor. Will Barton is the other option, but because he’s also the primary backup at shooting guard, it makes it difficult to give him too many minutes at both spots. Behind them, Torrey Craig and Gary Harris should see some spot minutes at the position, especially given Malone’s appreciation for Craig’s two-way play in camp so far.
The shooting guard position is basically set in stone as well. Gary Harris is a rising star at the position and will take most of the minutes. Barton is his primary backup and a Sixth Man of the Year candidate if he makes a potential leap. There aren’t many minutes to go around behind them, and they go to Malik Beasley, Jamal Murray, and Craig. Murray will likely be needed to shoulder minutes at point guard, especially if he wins that position battle like I believe he will. That leaves Beasley to cover the garbage and spot rotation minutes at the position, while Craig may play some spot minutes for defensive purposes.
The position we know the least about is the point guard position. I have a hunch that Jamal Murray will win the starting battle, but it’s possible one of Emmanuel Mudiay or Jameer Nelson win it. initial reports out of camp are that Mudiay is performing really well, and while I think he will get a crack at the rotation, I don’t think he will be a starter. Murray projects to start here, while Mudiay backs him up and Nelson plays the third point guard role. Nelson may end up playing less minutes than this, but only if the young point guards struggle. Monte Morris gets an honorable mention, but minutes for him just aren’t in the cards at this point.
Ultimately, the total minute count breaks down to this:
The pecking order on the team becomes very clear when looking at it this way. The three best players are Jokić, Millsap, and Harris. Chandler and Murray round out the starting group. Barton is the sixth man. Plumlee is the backup center guaranteed. Those seven guys look to be locks in the rotation at this point.
The real questions arise if Murray loses the starting point guard battle. The entire power forward rotation behind Millsap is a question, and the backup small forward still isn’t set in stone. The eighth man in this scenario (Mudiay) might be the 12th man in a different reality. Faried may be given twice the minutes I estimated for him, but it’s hard to see his fit with Plumlee making it easy to do so. One of the young players may break out, and one of Hernangómez, Lyles, or even Beasley could see 500 more minutes than I allotted for them initially.
The good thing? Some of these questions should be answered in the coming days. The goal of this Stat of the Week was to show what the minute totals in what I think is the most likely scenario. Still, the regular season is chaotic, and anything can happen, including a trade, that can make it even crazier.
Other than power forward, which position is the most difficult to figure out?
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