5 NBA Players Who Need More Playing Time
Every young player in the NBA wants more playing time. Not only is it a prerequisite to becoming rich beyond your wildest dreams, but it is the first true sign that you truly belong in the world's best basketball league.
But who actually deserves more minutes? Whose play has been so good that it demands the coach take notice?
In reality, it's often more complicated than that.
Situations usually dictate roles, and the timing needs to be right. Just ask Colin Kaepernick.
For many, the players getting more minutes are just better than they are. For others, the financial investment the team has made in others means they just have to wait their turn. Some have just wound up in their coach's doghouse with no exit in sight.
Whether due to their situation, their talent or their production, the following five players should be on the court more in the weeks to come.
Minutes Per Game: 18.5
Anyone familiar with YouTube should now be familiar with Eric Bledsoe. The athletic marvel now being heralded as "Mini LeBron" has gone must-see GIF this season with blocks on Dwyane Wade and even the full-sized LeBron James himself.
It isn't just the highlights, however. Bledsoe is producing.
He ranks second on the Los Angeles Clippers in player efficiency rating, and he's second in points and assists per 36 minutes. He also has the highest shooting percentage (49.6) among guards on the team's roster while remaining a passable three-point threat (35.3 percent).
None of this seems to matter to coach Vinny Del Negro, who has played Caron Butler and Matt Barnes more than Bledsoe and is now doing the same with Chauncey Billups since he returned from injury. Even Willie Green, the team's starting shooting guard until Billups suited up, has played more minutes than Bledsoe at times.
GMs across the league are salivating at the idea of prying Bledsoe away from the Clippers after his rookie contract is up. If he was playing for most franchises, that wouldn't even seem like a possibility: a young, promising, improving player with his brand of athleticism would already be a major part of the team's long-term plans.
Not Bledsoe, though. Not for the Clippers.
Instead of being molded into a future cornerstone, he shows up to the arena every night wondering if he will play even 15 minutes—which he hasn't in two of the team's last three games.
Minutes Per Game: 17.0
The Detroit Pistons have surprised some people of late with their uncharacteristic, not-so-terrible play. After losing their first eight games, they have gone 6-5. It may be no coincidence that the team's recent success has coincided with strong play by Andre Drummond, a 6'10" center who Joe Dumars drafted with the ninth pick in the first round of the 2012 NBA draft.
After not doing so in any of his first 12 professional games—including the eight straight losses—Drummond has grabbed nine or more rebounds in three of his team's last four wins. And despite not starting a single game, he ranks second in PER, behind only Anthony Davis, among rookies who have played at least 100 minutes.
For Detroit, there is little reason to hold back and ease Drummond into the league slowly. They do have Greg Monroe, another promising young big man, to consider. He is getting the bulk of the work at center, as he should, but coach Lawrence Frank needs to make sure he doesn't leave Drummond languishing on the bench for too long.
It is a delicate balance, but Drummond, the team's best interior defender and one of the league's most productive rebounders (fifth in the NBA in rebound rate), needs more reps. His offensive skills are raw, and it may be a long time before he resembles even a passable offensive threat.
That, however, is just what he needs: time.
Minutes Per Game: 15.5
The Toronto Raptors have plenty of reasons to pull the plug on the Andrea Bargnani experiment. For one, he refuses to adjust his game to become a more efficient scorer, instead continuing to launch long-distance shots despite the increasing evidence that he is not good at making shots from far away.
Last year, for example, he took 115 three-pointers compared to just 164 shots in the paint. Over the past three seasons (114 games), he has taken 21.6 percent of his shots from beyond the arc despite making those attempts just 33.2 percent of the time.
Let's compare this to a few other players with reputations as good long-range shooters.
So far this season, J.R. Smith has taken only 24.3 percent of his 189 shots from behind the arc despite making a remarkable 45.7 percent of them. Ben Gordon, who shot 42.9 percent from three-point range last season, remained disciplined enough to launch only 27.7 percent of his looks from deep in 2011-12.
Smith and Gordon are two guys without conscience. Yet in comparison to Bargnani, they almost seem too shy.
This isn't just a referendum on Bargnani, however. Ed Davis has earned more run.
During the 118 minutes he has played in the past six games, he has put up fantastic numbers, making 23 of his 35 shots (65.7 percent) while scoring 17.1 points and grabbing 13.7 rebounds per 36 minutes. This isn't a fluke stretch, either.
For the season, Davis' 27.2 defensive rebound rate (the percentage of opponent misses he gathers while on the floor) ranks 12th in the NBA, putting him ahead of players like Kevin Garnett, Zach Randolph and Blake Griffin. His PER is 19.7, 4.7 above the league average, which shows how an improved jumper may be transforming him into more than merely a rebounder and rim protector.
Despite this, Davis is playing fewer minutes than he did in either of the last two years. This is stunning behavior from a team that should be looking to trade Bargnani for anything it can get and—if nothing else—see if Davis is somebody worth re-signing after his rookie deal ends.
Minutes Per Game: 19.0
"Should" is the key word when anyone says JaVale McGee should get more playing time. Of course, a seven-foot real-life Tigger with a wingspan like a bomber jet "should" be on the court more. Naturally, a player who was given a guaranteed $44 million this offseason needs to be one of the guys who plays the most minutes.
Along with McGee's immense talents, however, come...let's call them "side effects." He is a well-documented oddball. He acts aloof on the court at times and generally behaves strangely. Put him on the floor for his elite-level shot-blocking and ability to finish at the rim, and you will have to also deal with his shenanigans.
The fact is, he simply is not trusted. Not yet. Not by Denver Nuggets coach George Karl, who has had no problem publicly discussing why McGee remains a reserve and often watches crunch time from the bench.
I want JaVale to be a 30-minute player for the Denver Nuggets, that's what I want—but I don't know if it's going to happen this year. Right now, he's at 18-22 minutes. I'm hoping to get that higher, but he's got to give me something. In the same sense, his energy level, his asthma and conditioning, the pace we want to play at, we've got to sustain it—we can't sacrifice our philosophy to cater to JaVale. Maybe in time we can, but right now we can't.
Another of Karl's concerns is how many defensive mistakes occur when McGee shares the court with Kenneth Faried, who starts at power forward, plays 30 minutes per game and averages a double-double.
It's hard to question a coach of Karl's stature. But sooner rather than later, Karl needs to find a way to get JaVale into the game more.
He is somebody the team has paid to be part of the long-term solution. He is eighth in the NBA in PER and fourth in block percentage. He doesn't waste possessions by taking bad shots—something that was never more apparent than last year's postseason, during which McGee took 52 of his 53 shots inside the paint. (So far this year, 128 of his 146 attempts have come in the paint.)
This alone warrants more minutes for McGee.
Defensive rotations are important, and sending a young player the message that he will not be on the court unless he plays the right way can be even more critical. But talent is talent.
The Nuggets need to find a way to keep McGee's interior scoring and defensive intimidation on the court for more than 19 minutes per night.
Minutes Per Game: 25.5
The Indiana Pacers have not had many rays of sunshine this season. When even the Washington Wizards have a better offense than you (just one-tenth of a point, but still), things are not looking up.
Unexpected starter Lance Stephenson has not been a part of the problem, however.
With Danny Granger sidelined for the foreseeable future, Stephenson has stepped into the starting lineup and generally played well. After David West, he has the highest shooting percentage of the players in Indiana's rotation, and he leads the team in three-point accuracy.
Moreover, he brings an ability to create off the dribble in the half court and push the ball in transition on a team that lacks dynamic ball-handlers. He does overdribble at times, but he has generally brought a unique quality to an offense that is often stagnant and slow to initiate its sets.
The lineup data bears this out.
Stephenson has been a part of the team's four best five-man scoring units. Meanwhile, the other players in coach Frank Vogel's 10-man rotation who compete with Stephenson for minutes—Sam Young and Gerald Green—have each spent more than half their time in lineups that can't even produce 100 points per 100 possessions.
The most damning evidence that Stephenson should be getting a larger allotment of the minutes Vogel divides among these three players is how they have performed alongside the team's four definitive starters (George Hill, Paul George, David West and Roy Hibbert).
With Stephenson, the lineup hasn't scored well, producing just 100.7 points per 100 possessions. But if you sub in Green, the numbers turn from bad to terrible: 91.9 points per 100. And when Young is on the court, it has been downright abominable: 85.6 points per 100.
Stephenson is not the end-all, be-all of NBA players. As the team's starting 2 guard, he also is already playing more than half the game (25.7 mpg).
But Vogel needs to understand just how badly his team is performing when Green (21.9 mpg) and Young (16.8 mpg) enter the lineup.
It is likely no coincidence that Stephenson has played more than 27 mpg in Indiana's nine wins and just 24 in their nine losses. Until Granger returns, the Pacers need to shorten the rotation and play Stephenson more.
He is only 22 years old. He can handle the extra wear and tear.