NBA Playoffs 2017: Give These Guys More Minutes!
Unless there's an overtime period, each NBA coach only has 240 minutes to allot throughout his roster.
He can hand almost 48 apiece to his primary stars, divvy much of the rest among the remaining starters and then have a handful left over for the key members of the supporting cast. He can choose a more balanced approach if his roster is deeper. But he can't manufacture minutes out of nothing.
Only 240 exist. Them's the breaks, even in a postseason contest.
What he can do, however, is find a more appropriate way to split them up. Every so often, someone emerges as a per-minute stud who isn't seeing enough time on the court. Whether he's a proven veteran or an up-and-coming youngster, the numbers indicate he could be doing more to aid his team's postseason efforts.
Apparently, the 2017 playoffs need to get a lot bigger. Only one of the top five men in need of more action operates outside the frontcourt.
Clint Capela, C, Houston Rockets
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 10.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.6 steals, 2.7 blocks
During the regular season, Clint Capela logged 23.9 minutes per game for the Houston Rockets. Through eight postseason appearances, that number has risen to 24.2.
It's still not enough, and that's about to change in a big way now that Nene has been declared out for the rest of the postseason with a torn left adductor.
Capela has thrived offensively against the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs, shooting 61.9 percent from the field and contributing solidly in the pick-and-roll (61.9 percentile in points per possession as a roll man before the Spurs shut him down in Game 4, which doesn't include the quality of the screens that set up James Harden and the team's other handlers). His defense is a bit more confusing, since he's allowing 51.2 percent shooting at the rim and anchoring a unit that's ceding an additional 10.7 points per 100 possessions.
Perhaps a bit more time will help Capela realize he doesn't have to block everything in his vicinity. That's been his biggest downfall, as he seems to feel an unrelenting need to contest every shot and can easily be baited into elevating and allowing an uncontested bucket after the pump-fake.
But let's pretend he doesn't. Maybe he'll continue to serve as a slightly negative presence around the rim, thereby limiting his defensive impact to jumping passing lanes and switching onto smaller ball-handlers—two things he's done more than adequately during the small sample that is the 2017 postseason. In fact, he's been so stellar outside the restricted area that he's still an overwhelming positive on the preventing end.
Houston could benefit from seeing Capela try to maintain his offensive efficiency in a larger role. Even with Nene, who played in short spurts, Houston struggled to match San Antonio's size. With just Capela out there now, the Rockets could benefit from attempting to force the Spurs to match their style. In this case, Capela's size and athleticism might give Houston an edge.
Dewayne Dedmon, C, San Antonio Spurs
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 2.9 points, 3.6 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.1 steals, 0.4 blocks
Illnesses and altercations haven't been the only scenarios forcing Dewayne Dedmon out of the San Antonio Spurs' lineup. Head coach Gregg Popovich has also been strangely hesitant to put him on the court, holding him to just 7.7 minutes per game. Even in his three starts against the Memphis Grizzlies during the opening round, he totaled just 38 minutes of run.
Questioning Popovich isn't usually a good strategy—especially if you're a television reporter tasked with sideline interviews between quarters. But it's worth wondering why the future Hall of Famer has so seldom turned to his 27-year-old big in spite of his excellent per-minute play.
Dedmon's efficiency in the playoffs shouldn't come as a surprise. He was fantastic throughout the regular season, thriving as a finisher around the rim and excelling on defense. As Dan Favale explained for NBA Math, his rim protection gave the Spurs' stopping unit a new element:
"Rim protection is Dedmon's bread and butter, like basically every other San Antonio big ever. Opponents are shooting 45.1 percent against him at the iron—the sixth-best mark among the 94 players who've defended 200 or more point-blank looks. He trails only Kristaps Porzingis, Draymond Green, Rudy Gobert, LaMarcus Aldridge and Joel Embiid.
"And yet, this doesn't do Dedmon's interior presence justice. He's not just a protector; he's an actual deterrent. Ball-handlers pull-up for more long-twos when he's on the floor, and offenses in general don't get to the bucket as readily—an effect none of the other Spurs' bigs share."
This should be ideal against Houston, even if his presence didn't fit as well against Memphis. Given his foes' predilection for three-point buckets and around-the-rim finishes while eschewing mid-range jumpers, Dedmon's athleticism and instincts around the hoop could help deter some penetration and force Houston to play outside its comfort zone.
It's usually James Harden who forces people outside that aforementioned zone, and turning the tables—even by a marginal amount—could go a long way in a tight series.
Channing Frye, C, Cleveland Cavaliers
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 8.8 points, 2.0 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.5 blocks
Channing Frye might not know how to miss shots during the playoffs.
The veteran sharpshooter paced the postseason field in true shooting percentage (79.1 percent) last year, and he's actually improved slightly in 2017. Hitting 60.0 percent of his field-goal attempts, 55.2 percent of his triples and 85.7 percent of his freebies tends to produce sterling results, and they don't feel the least bit fluky, given his role in the Cleveland Cavaliers' offense. All Frye has to do is spot up on the perimeter, wait for the defense to compress around a driving Kyrie Irving or LeBron James and connect on the ensuing catch-and-shoot attempts.
Now, he needs to do so more frequently.
Playing him alongside Kevin Love works. Ditto for him and Tristan Thompson. He can even anchor small-ball units by providing a bit of size as an interior defender and rebounder. But so long as he's playing with James, who rarely watches from the bench this time of year, he's going to aid Cleveland's title defense.
But when Frye is working in conjunction with the four-time MVP? Over the course of 88 minutes and eight games, the Cavaliers are putting up an eye-popping 132.1 points per 100 possessions. For added perspective, 141 two-man lineups have appeared in at least eight postseason games while playing no fewer than 80 minutes. Among them, Ryan Anderson and Lou Williams (129) have come closest to topping that mark.
Terry Rozier, PG, Boston Celtics
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 7.3 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.3 blocks
Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens probably wants to play Terry Rozier more. That's just difficult when the 23-year-old point guard is racking up technical fouls and getting ejected, as he did after jawing with Brandon Jennings during the fourth quarter of Game 3 against the Washington Wizards.
"[Jennings] is going to do stuff like that, and [Rozier] just has to do a better job of holding his composure," Jae Crowder said after the contest, per Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald. "He knows it. Hopefully he can move on from it, and we have to have a more level head on our side to move forward."
When he does move forward, he should assume an even bigger role.
Rozier has been a postseason revelation for the Celtics, given his ability to knock down 45 percent of his three-point attempts while playing tough, physical defense against opposing guards. That's especially important in a series against John Wall and Bradley Beal, and it'll be just as crucial if the favored teams advance and Boston awaits the inevitable exploits of Kyrie Irving.
Above all else, Rozier provides attitude. He's only 6'2", but he plays bigger than his size on the boards and never seems to turn off his motor. Whether he's going for loose balls, fighting through trees to crash the glass or playing physical defense, he gives the Celtics an edge when they go small.
That he's shooting so efficiently is a luxury, not a requirement. That he's grabbing so many rebounds is obviously beneficial, but it's not the primary reason Stevens has begun to trust him in more important situations.
Rozier's impact manifests itself in ways that can't easily be quantified, which makes playing him more a pretty easy decision when the quantifiable aspects of his performance are already so exemplary.
David West, PF, Golden State Warriors
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 5.4 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.9 blocks
Though it may seem strange to offer the Golden State Warriors advice after they swept through the first seven games on the postseason schedule with nary a loss, they could make their championship path even easier. Keeping Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Kevin Durant fresh eventually has to matter, so it would be advisable to turn toward role players who can maintain their current levels while reducing the superstars' workloads.
Asking JaVale McGee to do more might seem like an obvious answer. But there are two flaws with that plan: His minutes would come at the expense of Zaza Pachulia (not exactly one of the superstars) and maybe a few spurts from the small-ball death lineups, and the 7-footer is best in limited time. The Dubs would run the risk of mitigating his per-minute impact by asking him to assume a bigger role.
That's why David West makes more sense.
Not only can the 36-year-old frontcourt veteran play at either the 4 or 5, but the diversity of his skill set allows him to fit in with a ton of different lineup combinations. He can serve as a defensive stalwart around the rim or the mid-range zones. He can make plays with his passing, allowing him to function as a secondary hub for the free-flowing offense. He can even assume more scoring responsibilities with his smooth jumper, though his range doesn't quite extend out to the team's preferred shooting locations.
"It's become pretty clear pretty early that this is a series more suited for David West, the Warriors' other backup center," Anthony Slater wrote for the Mercury News, explaining how West was a better fit against the Utah Jazz than McGee. "West got a playoff-high 18 minutes on Tuesday, anchoring that vet lineup to start the second and fourth quarters. He played so well that Mike Brown left him out for a pair of nine-minute stretches..."
It's still not enough. The Jazz remain a threat to surprise Golden State given the prowess of their defense, but the Warriors coaching staff should lean more heavily on role players than stars as often as possible until Utah wins a game and extends the series.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.