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Minutes Watch: A Positive Report

 

Playing time. It’s always been a strong point of debate within the Celtics blogsphere. That debate includes us here at CelticsHub, where myself and two esteemed colleagues have been making the case for months to keep the veterans minutes down, particularly those of Ray Allen and Paul Pierce.

Doc has a history of leaning on these two too much, for mostly logical reasons (lack of depth, injuries, etc.) in the past couple years. A contingent of C’s fans may argue that these extra minutes has been partially response for both players’ regression in on-court performance (Allen) and injury woes (Pierce), but that’s an argument for another day.

This year, with the additions of Marquis Daniels and Rasheed Wallace to the bench, things were supposed to be different. This team would now have depth, as well as a couple shooters to space the floor, reducing the need for Pierce and Allen to play major minutes with the second unit.

Unfortunately, like most things involving this team, this setup didn’t exactly go as planned. Thanks to injuries to Daniels, Tony Allen, and Glen Davis, the second unit was left shorthanded for nearly three months. This, combined with some spotty (I’m being kind), performances by the 2nd unit’s supposed shooters, left the need for Pierce/Allen to anchor that unit nearly as critical as last year.

The onus fell even harder on Ray Allen, along with Rajon Rondo to a lesser degree, with the injuries to Pierce and Kevin Garnett in December-February. Bench players were being shuttled back and forth between the starting lineup and bench, leaving no continuity between either unit, as well as a dependence on Rondo and Allen to lead the way offensively with the 2nd team on any given night.

That was the story with this squad through February. Thanks to this, the minutes per game for those guys, along with the rest of the starters (when healthy, at the All-Star Break were high. Let’s take a look at the breakdown.

Pierce: 35.5
Allen: 36.7
Rondo: 36.9 (career high 33.0 min)
Garnett: 30.6
Perkins: 28.6

It was the same old song and dance from last year. This squad was primarily old, weren’t getting much rest, and to top it off, the team was floundering for two months.

Fast forward to the month of March. Finally, this team is healthy and has gone 7-3, albeit against primarily inferior opponents. It’s progress nonetheless. The thing I am most encouraged by in this month though, is the minute management by Doc. A closer look at how it is all breaking down recently, after the jump

I’ll just cut to the chase here and let the numbers do the talking, with the minutes per game averages for the starting five in the month of March:

Minutes per game in Month of March

Pierce: 28.2
Garnett: 27.2
Allen: 29.7
Rondo: 33.6
Perkins: 26

Let’s compare those numbers to the guys that have the most drastic minutes splits (Rondo, Pierce, Allen) over the earlier months this year:

Month:    Rondo  PP       Allen
March      33.6     28.2    29.7
February  37.3     31.9    37.5
January   40.8    37        37.5
December 37.4  34.6     37.1
November 33.8  36.7    35.6

Quite the contrast there, especially with Allen’s numbers. It almost brings a tear of joy to my eye when I see those breakdowns. A few simple reasons seem to account for these reductions.

1) The acquisitions of Michael Finley and Nate Robinson

We will start with Robinson. He was brought in to do one thing and that’s provide instant offense and energy. He’s done that extremely well in flashes, especially from deep, providing a sharp upgrade to Eddie House. However, his small size as well as being an unnatural point guard, limits his playing time, as Doc has also given him 16.5 minutes a game since his arrival. Give him credit though he has made the most of that time.

The C’s weren’t sure what they were getting with the former Spur, but his arrival has provided Doc with a crucial weapon. Another legitimate 2/3 that can shoot from deep. Those are the roles that Pierce and Ray have also served with the second unit, to help the team keep the floor spread. Daniels and TA have never been able to bring that threat to the table at those spots. Finley can…and has thus far. He may not do it as well as The Truth or Jesus, but it’s the threat that is most important and that’s what he provides. Kudos to Danny Ainge for this pickup as well as Doc for not hesitating to insert him in the rotation. Ray Allen thanks you as well Mike.

2) Getting Healthy

Pretty self explanatory here. It hasn’t happened all year, to be frank. Seeing the team build some sense of continuity with a healthy roster and their new personnel is something this squad hasn’t been able to achieve, well, all season long. With a full bench, Doc has a full array of options to mix and match his starters and 2nd unit with. Ainge built some nice depth for this team, to try to avoid the bench problems the team had last year. It must be nice to see the complete picture for once this year, as it has led to our next reason for the minute reduction…..

3) Better overall play/blowouts

The C’s are lighting the world on fire, that much is clear. However, as mentioned earlier, they are 7-3 in the month of March. This is progress. They also have blown out four teams at home this month, impressive no matter who the opponents were, given how much this team struggled with any kind of inferior team the past 3 months. This team hadn’t blown out anyway in awhile and in turn, hadn’t been able to give extended rest to the starters. This has changed in March, and it serves a dual purpose, helping the bench unit built some cohesiveness together.

4) Doc isn’t pushing guys minutes

I’d argue this is the most important factor on this list, for the simple reason that Doc hasn’t been able to adhere to it, in months and years’ past. He would always talk the talk with reducing minutes, but never walk the walk. It droves Celtics fans nuts, for good reason since it wore down Allen, Pierce, etc. as well as stunted the development of potential contributors like Bill Walker.

This past month though, Doc has finally got the message. A lot of you might argue that Rivers hasn’t had to push the minutes due to the inferior competition and blowouts. This is partially true. However, check the minutes breakdown for two crucial games this month for the C’s, in Cleveland and Milwaukee.

Oppon. Cle Mil
Rondo  37  37
Pierce   36 35
Allen     35 34
KG         28 30

Those numbers are right around the season averages for the starters. This is telling. The C’s had a chance to win both those guys and clearly wanted to. However, Doc wasn’t going to go “all in” with any of those guys in these regular season games. If they are going to win, they are going to do it without putting the extra onus on all those guys.

It seems like a simple enough formula, but it’s been something Doc has been unwilling to do in past years. Consider the month splits for last season with Pierce and Allen.

Month:         PP     Allen
April 09      34.2    37
March 09   39.5   36.1
Feb 09        41.4   37.0

Now, a lot of these minutes had to do with the absence of KG, other injuries, fighting for seeding, etc. All that being said, those numbers were way too high for both those guys. They got the 2 seed and home court against the Magic, but it didn’t matter This team ran out of gas last year against Orlando and those minutes are a major reason why. It appears evident Doc won’t make the same mistake this year with those guys in the last couple months. These next few games will be extremely telling whether Doc will follow through on this or not.

No matter how you slice it, these numbers make me encouraged about this team’s playoff prospects. Doc is pacing the starters, and they look like they may be beginning the peak at the right time. These kind of minutes should allow the key players to have enough in reserve to “be great” as Doc described it, when the games mattered most. Let’s hope it keeps up.

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  • Joel W

    The tough thing is trying to figure out what sort of points per game maxing out on the best players’ minutes will do for teams during the playoffs.

    I think, if healthy, the Celtics get a real advantage because their starting 5 is so much better than the bench, in particular the crap-sandwich that is Rasheed Wallace. The starters are averaging 32 mpg, in the playoffs if that goes up to 38, we’d be seeing basically a 20% increase in the quality of the team.

    What about Orlando, Cleveland, and Atlanta? Those teams don’t stand to gain as much, I don’t think, because their depth is one of their biggest assets.

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