Solving NBA's Worst Position Logjams: How Will Whiteside, Fultz Get Minutes?July 20, 2018
Solving NBA's Worst Position Logjams: How Will Whiteside, Fultz Get Minutes?
Ask anyone who's been through an all-you-can-eat buffet two too many times—it's possible to have too much of a good thing.
That life lesson holds true in the NBA.
As important as it is to have depth, overloading players at the same position can hurt more than it helps. It might mean there are a ton of acceptable answers without an obviously correct one. Or it could be the sign teams are worried more about talent than fit, which works for rebuilders, but only as a temporary strategy.
Even in an increasingly positionless Association, there are only so many ways to complete roster puzzles. Having a glut in one area can distort the entire image, potentially dragging down the players trapped in it and failing to balance the rest of the roster.
Let's examine the most crowded position groups left over from the draft and free agency, then analyze the best way to manage them.
Indiana Pacers: Point Guard
The primary selling point of Indiana Pacers rookie Aaron Holiday is his ability to make an early impact.
"Coaches can count on Holiday to give them minutes right away," Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman wrote. "He'll be 22 years old in September, ready to come in and make shots, handle the ball for a second unit and apply defensive pressure."
Considering the Pacers are coming off a 48-win campaign, it seems easy to see the appeal of an early contributor. The problem is they might not have anywhere to put Holiday yet. He's stuck at No. 3 on the depth chart, per J. Michael of the Indianapolis Star, behind Darren Collison and Cory Joseph—Nos. 4 and 6 among Indy's minutes leaders from last season, respectively.
Playing two of them together is a possible workaround, but it might only work in certain matchups. Joseph is the tallest at 6'3", so oversized wings will be an issue defensively. Not to mention, the Pacers may not have many wing minutes available behind Victor Oladipo, Tyreke Evans, Bojan Bogdanovic and Doug McDermott.
The good news is this is only a temporary issue. Both Collison and Joseph come off the books at season's end, meaning there's a simple way to move forward with only one and Holiday. The not-so-great news is the best short-term solution might be burying Holiday on the bench or letting him get some G League run until the congestion clears up in front of him.
Miami Heat: Frontcourt
Four different players averaged more than 27 minutes last season; none of them factored into the power rotation.
The 4 and 5 minutes had to be split five ways. James Johnson, Hassan Whiteside, Justise Winslow, Kelly Olynyk and Bam Adebayo all received between 26.6 and 19.8 minutes per game. Johnson, Whiteside and Winslow each lost floor time from the previous season, collectively logging 18.1 fewer minutes per outing.
Whiteside was unhappy and less productive. Winslow was dispatched at both forward spots and backup point guard just to get him burn. Johnson, perhaps pressuring himself to live up to his $60 million deal, took time to find his rhythm and never quite looked fully comfortable. Adebayo's role fluctuated. Olynyk, who had the rotation's top net rating (plus-4.9), spent more than half the game on the sideline.
"I'm going to tell you one thing about our team that we do have a problem with—we have a logjam," team president Pat Riley said, per Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. "We have too many good-to-great players."
The ideal solution would be shedding Whiteside and the $52.5 million owed to him, but that's not happening without adding a sweetener (or more) to the transaction. The Heat have searched for a suitable trade and predictably come up empty, per Jackson.
Someone else needs to go, then. Adebayo and Winslow should be untouchable given their youth and upside. That means it's Johnson or Olynyk, with the former the preference since he's four years older. Johnson's two-way versatility would help a contender and should deliver something decent to South Beach. His absence would make this rotation more manageable and increase the franchise's future flexibility.
Orlando Magic: Center
The following sentence, submitted by the Ringer's Jonathan Tjarks, should thrill Orlando Magic fans since he's discussing one of their own:
"He could develop into one of the best centers in the NBA by the time he reaches his prime."
Sounds incredible, right? There's only one catch—Tjarks wasn't talking about No. 6 pick Mohamed Bamba or $12.7 million man Nikola Vucevic. To cover all bases, he wasn't referring to fellow Magic centers Timofey Mozgov or Khem Birch, either.
No, Tjarks poured that praise onto last summer's sixth pick, Jonathan Isaac, who might have his brightest future at a position occupied by four other players on the roster. Further muddling this mix, his current home is at the 4, where Aaron Gordon just orchestrated a breakout season so convincing that Orlando spent $84 million to secure his next four seasons.
Stockpiling young talent is generally fine for rebuilders, but how are the Magic ever going to align these puzzle pieces? It's not like they can expect their floor generals to figure it out when D.J. Augustin, Jerian Grant and Isaiah Briscoe comprise one of the Association's worst point guard groups.
Vucevic needs to go, whether in a trade now or when his contract expires next summer. Mozgov and Birch are placeholders who should battle each other for mop-up duties. But Orlando must assess the long-term viability of the Gordon-Isaac-Bamba trio. Maybe there's a minutes mix that keeps all three satisfied and effective, but there's a decent chance the Magic will be forced to choose two keepers sooner rather than later.
Philadelphia 76ers: Backcourt
The Philadelphia 76ers spent last summer's No. 1 overall pick on a point guard, then had a point guard win Rookie of the Year honors.
It wasn't the same player. Markelle Fultz was the top pick, but shoulder problems and shooting woes limited him to only 14 regular-season appearances. Ben Simmons, the top pick in 2016, wound up as the top rookie after what would have been his freshman campaign was ended by a fractured foot.
If the 6'4" Fultz can restore his confidence, he might have the size and shooting stroke to play alongside Simmons. But what does that mean for JJ Redick, Philly's No. 2 scorer last season who returned on a $12.3 million salary? Or T.J. McConnell, the full-throttle fan favorite who's averaged 22.9 minutes over three seasons as a Sixer?
Well, if it was only those four players, head coach Brett Brown could find enough minutes to make it work. But that leaves out Landry Shamet, the 21-year-old selected with this summer's 26th pick. And Furkan Korkmaz, a sharpshooting 2016 first-rounder who opened summer league with a 40-point eruption. And Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, who has logged 37 percent of his career minutes at the 2.
(And Jerryd Bayless, if he isn't bought out.)
Finding significant floor time at forward for any of them isn't easy, with Robert Covington, Wilson Chandler, Zhaire Smith and Dario Saric all factoring into that rotation.
The Sixers don't need a trade to solve this in the short term. Let Simmons and Redick retain their starting gigs, then have the rest battle it out for the reserve spots. Fultz hopefully claims one, leaving Shamet and Korkmaz to try to shoot their way past McConnell. This will eventually require trimming, but it's best to keep them for now and hope some separate themselves as keepers and/or trade chips.
Phoenix Suns: Forwards
The Phoenix Suns have been slowly building toward their current traffic jam at the forward spots.
T.J. Warren arrived during the 2014 draft. Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss landed two years later. Josh Jackson was the fourth overall pick last summer, and Mikal Bridges—taken 10th—came via a draft-night swap with the Sixers last month. Once free agency opened, Trevor Ariza quickly jetted to the desert for a one-year, $15 million pact.
So, if you're scoring at home, that's six serviceable forwards—seven if you count Jared Dudley—for two spots. Not that Phoenix sees anything wrong with that.
"We don't necessarily view it as a logjam," Suns general manager Ryan McDonough said, per Scott Bordow of the Arizona Republic.
There's some truth to that. Versatility trumps traditional position labels in today's game, and the Suns have a stable of players who can contribute in multiple areas. Ariza, Bridges, Warren and Jackson can cycle through different defensive assignments, giving Phoenix's last-ranked defense an intriguing switch-most-everything identity.
Even then, though, this feels like too many cooks in the kitchen. It's particularly glaring when juxtaposed with the team's dearth of point guards. This roster is ripe for a forward-for-floor-general swap, with Warren, Chriss and Bender the most logical candidates.
If the Suns can check that box, they'll only further what's already been a strong summer. If Devin Booker gets some run at point guard and Tyson Chandler's role is further reduced, Phoenix should find enough minutes between the 2 and 4 spots for Ariza, Bridges, Jackson and (if he's left) Warren while Chriss and/or Bender predominantly play backup center and power forward when extra size is needed.
Unless otherwise indicated, all stats from Basketball Reference or NBA.com. Salary information obtained via Basketball Insiders.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @ZachBuckleyNBA.