Tag Archives: Nikola Jokic

The 2016-2017 All-Bizarro Leaders in Minutes

It’s about that time of the year again. It’s time to announce the most important All-NBA squad, a lineup composed of the most unusual players who led a team in time on the floor.

I started this because guys like LeBron James and James Harden are likely to lead their respective teams in total minutes, but there will be players who got a ton of burn on rebuilding teams that need someone, anyone to be a key cog during that phase. There could also be minute eaters on contending teams, an aging player with fresher legs than expected, or one who came back from a devastating injury only to pick up where he left off.

Since 2007, these are not the best All-NBA teams ever. Given the minutes they’ve totaled, maybe they’d log all of them together, 2,000-minute lineups bad enough to get coaching staffs fired, but net top-five picks. The good and bad even themselves out, really. As an example of how these rosters look, below is what 2016’s looked like.

2016 Tm MIN G MPG
Jordan Clarkson LAL 2552 79 32.3
Evan Fournier ORL 2566 79 32.5
Wesley Matthews DAL 2644 78 33.9
Matt Barnes MEM 2190 76 28.8
Anthony Davis NOP 2164 61 35.5

Clarkson received a ton of minutes despite competition in the backcourt in Kobe Bryant, D’Angelo Russell, Louis Williams, and whatever they could get from Marcelo Huertas and Nick Young. Meanwhile, Fournier had a rare, healthy season and appears to be one of the few players to spend a handful of years in Orlando. Davis was a choice for a similar, but more weird reason. He was reasonably healthy on a team with a roster that dropped like flies. Due to his decline in overall scoring efficiency, Matthews may not have completely recovered from a torn Achilles tendon, but is still capable of eating a ton of minutes at a position thin on depth league-wide. And finally, Barnes was a selection because of his age (35 years old) and having his two highest minute totals in his two most recent seasons.

This season was a challenge to find a five-man squad because most stars had great health, fueling an unexpectedly (to me, at least) great regular season. Below were my five picks.

Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic, 2,412 minutes

Payton led the Magic in minutes despite going back-and-forth between starting and coming off the bench, a common theme on this list. It felt unlikely that Nikola Vucevic, Bismack Biyombo, or Serge Ibaka would rank first because of their minute-crunches up front, but Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier were key cogs, much less tradeable than the frontline or Payton. In particular, there wasn’t a ton of depth behind Fournier until Orlando traded Ibaka for Terrence Ross, but Fournier played 14 less games than Payton and, well, now we’re here.

I don’t have a whole lot to say about Payton. That’s not to say he hasn’t improved. He’s a triple-double candidate with enough minutes, his shot percentages from around the rim to 16 feet have increased each year, and he’s still only 23 years old, but there’s a ceiling for guards who struggle from beyond the arc (27 percent on 2.2 attempts per 36 minutes), don’t draw a ton of fouls (2.7 team fouls and 3.2 free throws per 36), and aren’t freakishly good on defense. It’s hard to find consistency with that player type, especially on a mess of a roster.

Jordan Clarkson, Los Angeles Lakers, 2,397 minutes

Clarkson makes his second-straight appearance, playing the second-most minutes among players of the last five years who started less than one-fourth of their games. The obstacles to playing time weren’t as stiff this time around. Kobe Bryant retired, Louis Williams’ career year with the Lakers lasted only until the trade deadline, and Nick Young missed 20 games in the best season of his own career.

But a bad team typically mixes in young pieces no matter what, like Tyler Ennis and David Nwaba, and just about any Laker was going to make this list. If it wasn’t Clarkson, it would’ve been Brandon Ingram or someone like Nick Young, second and fifth in total minutes, respectively. This might be the last time Clarkson is in this post anyway. Every summer is obviously important for teams, but it #feels even more so for the Lakers to return to playoff contention, and trading Clarkson and/or another young building block #feels necessary in order to do that.

Darren Collison, Sacramento Kings, 2,063 minutes

If not for the shocking mid-season trade, DeMarcus Cousins would’ve led the Kings in minutes. If not Boogie, it would’ve been Rudy Gay, but a torn Achilles injury sidelined him for the rest of the season and possibly some of 2018.  That left the random assortment remaining, and Collison squeaked by with just over 2,000 minutes. Collison’s one of 30 “active” players who’s averaged 10 or more points per game in each of their first eight seasons. It doesn’t feel like it was already his third season in Sacramento, but who knows if he’ll keep the streak going there as he’s a free agent this summer.

Collison’s also the third guard on this list, but we were thin on candidates this season.

Nik Stauskas, Philadelphia 76ers, 2,188 minutes

Any 76er was going to make this list, but the Stauskas reclamation project topped T.J. McConnell, Dario Saric, and Robert Covington by 50 to 70 minutes. Suddenly, Stauskas’ next contract looks interesting. After a frustrating first couple of seasons, he became a league-average three-point shooter with the help of super-hot shooting from the corners at 48.5 percent. Stauskas could still improve around the rim, 53.6 percent this season when the average is 63, but he’s at least taken about 80 percent of his shots in the most efficient areas of the floor. That should bode well with a healthy Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, or at least one of the two being healthy.

Wilson Chandler, Denver Nuggets, 2,197 minutes

Chandler rounds out the squad as the tiny-ball center, leading the Nuggets in total minutes despite missing the 2016 season due to hip surgery. In second and third place for Denver was Danilo Gallinari, who’s only played 60 percent of games since 2012, and Jameer Nelson, who is old.

There should be minute shifts next season as Nikola Jokic, Gary Harris, Emmanuel Mudiay, Juan Hernangomez, and Jamal Murray enter another year of their rookie contracts. That’s a ton of prospects, but Chandler and Gallinari should still get a ton of play if they stick around and stay healthy. Both offer the versatility and bodies to be modern-day power forwards, but it seems like the Nuggets are also primed for a trade. They’re deep, but too deep.

Honorable mentions: Dennis Schroeder and Tobias Harris.

As usual, hopefully Boris Diaw has 4,000 minutes in him next season.

Minutes and other stats, unless noted otherwise, were from Basketball-Reference. 

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Tweaking the Sixth Man of the Year Award

It’s award season in the NBA, helping pass time from now until the playoffs. Personally, I look forward to the All-NBA and All-Defensive teams more than the Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year, etc. The five-man teams offer a good look at who the best players were from season to season long after they’re over and its minor details have left our memory. The rest of the awards are fine, but they can mean multiple things to multiple voters. That shows itself each year in the voting results and sometimes, well, things happen.

The Most Valuable Player is an easy example, but I actually wish the Sixth Man of the Year was like that, too. It’s an award given out to the best player who starts under half the games they’ve played in. That’s the only benchmark that needs to be met in order to be eligible for the award, but the trend for who wins has been just as simple. Sixth Man of the Year winners tend to be high-minute, high-scoring, and high-usage players. This might be fine for most fans and voters, but when I think of the Sixth Man of the Year I think of some sort of sacrifice being made, a player thriving in a limited role that could very well be the best situation for him, but also one performed well enough to deserve some sort of promotion. Looking at the voting results, this often applies to players who score a lot of points, but not for the better “gluey” or “energy” guys who find other ways to make positive contributions to their team.

That’s bugged me for a while, and especially during a season where the Jamal Crawfords of the league aren’t doing too hot yet still might get heavy consideration for the Sixth Man of the Year. I’ll admit that not starting can be a big deal on its own despite getting similar levels of minutes, shots, and crunch time appearances. There’s a human element to a player sitting on the bench during the beginning of a game and not having their name announced before it. It’s something I obviously will never grasp from the couch but also because of my comfort level with anything like that kind of attention. A few retweets on Twitter is fun, but anything more is kind of scary. The same goes for a blog post like this getting some views and some feedback, but if it reaches Reddit I become terrified.

But the Crawfords of the league will still put up a ton of shots, typically play starter-level minutes which boost their point totals, and for better or for worse they might play in crunch time. Not every professional basketball player can play a role like Crawford, but not everyone can contribute across the board either, and this year the latter deserves to finally get more recognition, but I doubt it’ll happen. Year after year, points per game seems to overpower any other statistic when it’s an unfair way to measure most reserves.

So I hope a few suggestions for the Sixth Man of the Year help. Also, it has to be said that I have an irrational love for multi-positional players who don’t shoot a ton, and some of these players expend too much energy to log 30-plus minutes. Anyway, I’m hoping the first suggestion becomes more of a benchmark for the Sixth Man of the Year…

24 Minutes Per Game or Less

Using per game stats feels gross, but minutes per game still carries value and is especially useful during award season. For this award, though, it wouldn’t hurt to go the other way around. Instead of the requirement being starting less than half of the games, what if it was changed to playing less than half of the game? It’s a very simple cutoff, one that evens the playing field for starters who don’t log a ton of playing time.

For example, below is a look at Amar’e Stoudemire and Hassan Whiteside from February 3 to April 4. Try to ignore who’s started during the last couple months and decide who really is the reserve, or sixth man:

amare and hassan

This season is something of an outlier for situations like Stoudemire and Whiteside. 34 players have started over half their games while averaging under 24 minutes per, minimum 10 games played. That’s the highest amount in a season since 2006-07, around 10 more than any of those seasons except the lockout-shorted 2011-12. Meanwhile, 32 players who have started in less than half their games are averaging more than 24 minutes per.

If the 24 minutes per game ceiling made starters eligible for this award, they could pretty much replace the bench players who become disqualified.

So how would the Sixth Man of the Year race look if there was a 24 minutes per game ceiling? Below is a look at who the top candidates would be if this change was made, sorted by VORP (Value Over Replacement Player), via Basketball-Reference:

24 mpg

Not a bad group of players. When looking at VORP, the winner here is Nikola Jokic. When filtering out starters, the top player is Ed Davis. Both tables feature players who are solid but for health, age, or depth reasons have not cleared the 24-minute mark. Of course, this is only one statistic to measure by, but I’ve enjoyed fiddling around with it lately and it sounds cool, the latter reason about as good of a reason to judge a player by as points per game. Maybe. (This often seems so true for whenever Win Shares makes an appearance. It’s a darn good name for a stat.)

Going back in time, this minute benchmark would alter several Sixth Man Awards. Since 1983, only three averaged under 24 minutes per game: Bobby Jones, Bill Walton, and Corliss Williamson in 1983, 1986, and 2002. Here are links to the top players in VORP regardless of their frequency of starting games and a link filtering out players who started over half of their games.

Take Crunch Time Minutes Into Account

Just something to consider, but this could go either way in helping or hurting a player. Andre Iguodala, for example, may be penalized missing a decent chunk of games. Should he also be penalized for being a part of the Warriors’ death lineup or should that give him a boost? Is not starting as big of a deal as not being on the floor for the final minutes of a close game? Should players who neither start nor play in crunch time be given a boost or downgraded? What is life?

From the couch, it’s silly enough to decide what is sacrificing and what isn’t and it’s just as bad to decide which is more important for an NBA player between starting and finishing a game. My flaming hot take is that they both carry weight, but it seems like fans remember games and players by what happened during high-leverage moments at the end of games compared to how they started. There’s sacrifice when it comes to being fine with not starting, but it’s probably less of an issue if it means participating in crunch time. Especially in a contract year.

Dividing a player’s crunch time minutes (up or down by five or less points with five or less minutes remaining in a game) by a team’s total crunch time minutes is easy to find with players who have played in every game, but it’s kind of a hassle, at least for me, to calculate how many minutes a player like Manu Ginobili who get banged up or have frequent DNP-NAPs. So for this, I only took six eligible players who are at least something of a contender for the Sixth Man of the Year, whether it feels right or not. I also let the 24-minute filter slide because there are only so many players who have played close to 100 percent of the season so far, and only so many who happen to play less than half of the game and/or start less than half of their games. Crunch minutes are from NBA.com:

clutch

So maybe this graphic helps Enes Kanter, who does what he can without starting games or finishing them, but it hurts him because there are legitimate reasons for why he shouldn’t be on the floor against opposing closing lineups. It could go either way for him. Who knows? Just something to consider going forward.

Below-Average Usage

My last thing to consider is usage rate, but it’s probably a bit much. I only threw this out there, though, because points per game seems to be the biggest component of who wins the Sixth Man of the Year. Below is a look at players eligible for Sixth Man of the Year with below-average usage rates, and then another top 10 when applying just a 24-minute-per-game filter. Again, sorted by VORP:

usage

This all might be a collection of hot takes, and everyone is more than welcome to jump through their laptops and tell me to stahp and especially after writing the word “sacrifice” multiple times, but really I just hope for a better mix of players who make their way to the top of the Sixth Man each year. The key suggestion of 24 minutes per game or less would do just that. It might even be over the top, tilting things in favor of some players who can only be effective in so many minutes before they’re gassed, but we can fiddle with a minute ceiling. The bottom line is that it’s not just players who take a ton of shots who excel off the bench.

A player who fits well with all I’ve mentioned is Ed Davis. He doesn’t boost his stats by playing a starter’s amount of minutes, doesn’t log a whole lot of his minutes in crunch time (for better or for worse), and is a low-usage player who has found other ways to contribute while on the floor. It’s a weird year for the Sixth Man of the Year as Jamal Crawford hasn’t been his complete self, so hopefully that opens the door for Davis to get some votes that, in the past, haven’t really been there for reserves like him.

All stats are as of April 4, 2016.

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