A couple of articles got caught by my filter over the past couple days about Lou Williams' confidence in stepping into the role of starting point guard, and e-mailed to me by loyal readers (thanks Dean). One blurb in particular caught my eye. Basically, Lou said he's going to be playing 30-35 minutes per night. I'm sure I realized that would be the case, but I hadn't really thought about it. Nor had I thought about how the minutes will be doled out at the guard positions. After the jump, I'm going to try to make an educated guess and see how Jrue fits in.
At its core, we're talking about a simple equation: splitting 96 minutes of playing time between the available players at the positions. Namely, Lou Williams, Andre Iguodala, Jrue Holiday, Royal Ivey, Willie Green and possibly Jason Kapono.
Six players for 96 minutes. I think we can probably pencil Lou in for 30-35, so let's call it 33. That's probably the only sure thing right now. I have no idea how much time Iguodala will play at the two. Odds are, at least 20, hopefully more. Let's say he spends better than 2/3 of his time at the two, so 28 of his 36+ minutes. That brings us to a total of 61 between the two starters. Still 35 minutes to be split between Jrue, Royal, Willie and Kapono (maybe).
I doubt Royal sees his role expanded much from last season. He appeared in 71 games, averaging 12.1 minutes per. Kapono will probably be an afterthought/oddity at the two. I don't expect him to log regular minutes there throughout the season, so let's leave him out of the equation for the time being, assuming when he plays the two his minutes will come out of someone else's regular share. That leaves us with Willie and Jrue to split somewhere near 23 minutes per game. Which brings me to the essential question: how will the Sixers bring Jrue along?
Over the past two seasons, we've seen the Sixers draft guys who were thought of as long-term projects. Both Thad Young and Marreese Speights had to fight for minutes in the their rookie campaigns, and I'd say both also wound up playing more minutes than anyone expected on draft night. Is the same plan in place for Jrue this year?
Personally, I hope Jrue's handled more like Thad was than Speights. Marreese totaled 1,262 minutes last season (16 per game in the 79 games he appeared in). Thad played 1,554 the prior year in his rookie season (21 per game in the 74 games he appeared in).
The Sixers let Miller walk so the youth movement could have its day. The plan is to start Williams and play him heavy minutes, and you know what, I'm on board with that. I think it's time to give him a shot and see what he can do in this system. But if you're going full-speed ahead with the youth movement, there's really no place in your rotation for regular Willie Green minutes.
If I'm sitting in a room with Eddie Jordan right now, trying to figure out a gameplan for doling out minutes to my guards, it's pretty simple. I'm penciling in Lou and Iguodala for their 60-65, Jrue for 20 and the other 10 are going to be used by the two veterans, each with a specific skill set. If we need an energy boost, a perimeter defender and a guy to maybe stretch the floor occasionally, I call Ivey's number. If the offense looks dead, I roll the dice and send Willie in there with full knowledge that he's going in there to score the basketball. Obviously, you have to be flexible and adjust your rotations to meet the demands of the current game, but this is the loose plan I have going in nightly:
Lou - 33 minutes
Iguodala - 30 minutes
Jrue - 20 minutes
Ivey/Willie - 13 minutes, mixed and matched
My biggest fear right now is that Willie is going to be the guy on the bench pegged for 20 minutes/night, and I just think that's the absolute wrong path to go down. If Holiday seems extremely over-matched early on, then fine, adjust, but the plan should be to space his 20 minutes out so he gets as much burn with the first unit as possible. Put him in situations where he won't be the focal point, where he can go out there to defend and hit open jumpers created by the other playmakers.
At this point, is there really anything new we need to learn about Willie? He is what he is. A decidedly below-average NBA player who is capable of getting hot for stretches. Is playing Willie 20 minutes per game going to accomplish either of the primary goals for the team: winning now, or developing for the future? Let's face facts, Willie is one of the least efficient players in the league and given equal minutes we should expect even a rookie to produce at a higher level. Willie shot 43% from the floor, 31% from three, accumulated 2.2 win shares in over 1,800 minutes last season. That's just a pitiful amount (almost as pitiful as the -0.7 he accumulated in over 1,800 minutes two seasons ago).
The minutes are there, and I don't see how you can justify giving them to anyone but Jrue, unless he reaches a point where playing is hindering his progress, which I don't think will be the case.