With Chauncey Billups back in the mix for the Clippers, Vinny del Negro has a tough task ahead of him in properly dividing up minutes.
More often than not, having a deep team is considered to be a luxury.
In baseball, you can never have too much pitching.
In football, having too many weapons on either side of the ball is hardly considered a detriment to the team.
In basketball, the same concept applies. Having a deep team means that the play of a given team's bench could be the difference between watching a lead slip quickly after your starters are subbed out or watching the lead grow while getting your starters get some much-needed rest.
The latter had been true for the Los Angeles Clippers prior to their just-snapped four-game losing streak.
The bench play of the Clippers is a big reason—if not the main reason—as to why the team came out of the gates scalding hot.
During their first 10 games of the season, the Clippers' bench averaged just a tick under 42 points per game. Not surprisingly, the Clippers won most of those games, eight of the 10 to be exact. And against some good teams, no less—the Bulls, Grizzlies, Heat, Lakers, Spurs and Thunder, to name a few.
Conversely, over the course of the following four games, the Clippers' bench pitched in a combined 31.5 points per game. Coincidentally, the big drop off in bench productivity led to four consecutive losses.
Now that Chauncey Billups is back in uniform and starting for the Clippers, this leads to an interesting question that Vinny del Negro may or may not have the answer to.
With so many quality options to choose from, how do you divvy up the minutes and make sure everyone gets enough playing time?
There's no easy way to answer that question, and last night's game against the Minnesota Timberwolves was a prime example.
Replacing Willie Green in the starting lineup, Chauncey Billups played a total of 19 minutes in his first action since early February of this year. Green, getting an average 18.4 minutes of playing time per game prior to last night, didn't step foot on the court once.
There are only 240 minutes to go around.
The Clippers are going to want to get Chris Paul and Blake Griffin 36 minutes each per game, although they both are currently averaging slightly fewer minutes than that.
That's two players down and 168 minutes left to disperse.
Caron Butler and DeAndre Jordan are getting around 50 minutes per game between the two of them.
That whittles the remaining total down to 118. Four players down, more than half of the minutes are gone.
Jamal Crawford, the team's leading scorer, is getting almost 29 minutes per game. Only 89 minutes left now. Here's where things get interesting.
How many minutes per game would you give Chauncey Billups?
Matt Barnes has been playing his behind off all season and has earned every one of the 26 minutes per game he's averaged thus far. Now we're down to 63 minutes remaining.
Ryan Hollins and Ronny Turiaf, the Clippers' two backup bigs, get nearly 24 minutes of burn between the two of them per game. Only 39 minutes to choose from now.
You know who hasn't even been factored into those minutes yet?
Chauncey Billups, Eric Bledsoe, Willie Green and Lamar Odom.
As Ralph Lawler would say... yikes!
I'd have to imagine Odom's role will continue to develop, as he's averaged just under 18 minutes of action in each of the last three games.
Chauncey Billups played 19 minutes last night, and Eric Bledsoe's play commands much more than the nearly 19 minutes he's getting per game.
After applying those numbers to the Clippers' rotation, that puts the Clippers over budget by 17 minutes.
That means somebody, if not multiple players, are going to be a bit unsettled by a downturn in minutes.
Whose playing time will suffer the most due to Billups' return to the team?
Will an increase in Billups's minutes cut into Bledsoe's playing time and consequent development?
Will the Clippers feel obligated to pay their Lamar Odom-based due diligence, even at the expense of potentially cutting into Matt Barnes's surprisingly productive minutes?
Would the Clippers really consider lessening the minutes of their leading scorer in Jamal Crawford?
There are question marks abound here and with good reason...so, the question that needs to be asked is: What's the solution?
It may seem complicated and mathematically overwhelming, but here is the minute-splitting formula that I'd propose.
Chris Paul and Blake Griffin should get 72 minutes between the two of them. That should be a given for Vinny del Negro.
Chauncey Billups, Caron Butler and DeAndre Jordan should average 20, 25 and 25 minutes between the three of them, respectively. So altogether, the starters should account for 142 of the team's 240 minutes.
The Clippers need Jamal Crawford to have a minimum of 28 minutes per game. The scoring punch he brings off the bench is a deadly asset that the Clippers have sorely missed over the years, and they will need Crawford to be issued his fair share of minutes so he can be able to properly contribute.
Get Eric Bledsoe at the very least 22 minutes per contest. He's a game-changer on both ends when he's on the floor and the Clippers would be fools not to play him more. The more he plays, the more he impacts the game and the better the Clippers are off in both the short and long-term.
Lamar Odom should get around 15 minutes per game, but he may command more if he turns the corner and rounds into the Lamar Odom of old like the Clippers and their fans desperately hope he will.
Let Hollins and Turiaf get roughly 18 minutes of action a game. Both provide excellent energy, enthusiasm and hustle off the bench and that just can't be taken out of the rotation. Plus, they act as an upgrade at the free-throw line compared to the numbers that Griffin and Jordan put up.
So, despite the fact that I'm not overly happy about what I'll say next, one way or another it means that Matt Barnes will be the one who suffers the loss of minutes. With only 15 minutes left to divvy up, I feel that Barnes should get all of those remaining minutes. If that means Willie Green doesn't play, so be it. Oh well. Not much of a loss to begin with. He acted as a stopgap between the start of the season and when Chauncey Billups returned. He did his job, now it's time to move on.
So altogether, here is my ideal Clippers rotation and minutes breakdown:
- PG - Chris Paul (36) - Eric Bledsoe (22)
- SG - Chauncey Billups (20) - Jamal Crawford (28)
- SF - Caron Butler (25) - Matt Barnes (15) - Lamar Odom (15)
- PF - Blake Griffin (36) - Ronny Turiaf (8)
- C - DeAndre Jordan (25) - Ryan Hollins (10)
Do you agree with this minute distribution?
240 minutes dispersed between 11 players. It keeps the starters relatively happy, maximizes the strength of their bench as a collective whole and still allows room for the ever-important growth of Eric Bledsoe.
Vinny del Negro, I do not envy your position on how you adequately break up the 240 minutes you have and keep everyone happy. I do not envy you there one bit.
And oh...I almost forgot.
Then there's Grant Hill when he returns...
Time to dust off my old TI-83 calculator and do this again.