In the NBA, not all players are alike.
Understanding each player’s unique role can help you understand the consistency, floor and upside of that player’s minutes played. As you’ve probably heard, minutes are key in the NBA.
The easiest group of players for which to project minutes, so long as the Super Star is healthy and the game is expected to be close. Shooting troubles, difficult match ups, and teammates getting hot will often hurt a player’s minutes. However, this is rarely the case for Super Stars, whose range of minutes will have little variation.
Coaches don’t mess with a Super Star’s minutes. When Lebron James is struggling, there’s still no chance Tyrone Liu is going to bench him. If the Warriors are playing the Thunder and the Thunder deploy big lineups, Draymond Green is not going to get less minutes. If Corey Brewer’s shot is on fire and he picks up some unexpected minutes, you can be sure as shit those minutes aren’t coming from James Harden.
This stability in Super Stars’ minutes keeps their floors high and gives them room for upside every game. This makes them consistently the safest type of player.
Starters can often come with more risk. Starters are (usually) the best positional option for their team, hence why they start. For that reason coaches typically try to play them as much as possible. Most Starters minutes are nearly as secure as a Super Star’s minutes, but that isn’t always the case.
There are 2 common scenarios that can greatly effect a Starter’s minutes:
- The Starter is in a slump
- The Starter’s backup has been hot
Jeff Teague has struggled this year compared to last year, seeing a decrease in his field goal percentage, assists per game, and steals while also committing more turnovers. Teague’s backup point guard, Dennis Schroder, has continued to play solid basketball over the same stretch. Teague has been benched multiple times this year late in close games in favor of Schroder. This makes Teague difficult to play in Cash Games, as we run the risk of him losing 4th quarter minutes cause by his poor play. All of these factors lead to Teague’s floor being lower than a typical Starter.
Fringe Starters and Sixth Men
As mentioned above, Starters are usually the best players at their positions on a team, but that is not always the case. A more talented player will sometimes come off the bench because their talent is needed for the team’s second unit. Jamal Crawford is a great example of this.
Luc Mbah a Moute has started the majority of the season for the Clippers, but in close games it’s Crawford who will often get more minutes. This is because Moute is mostly a defensive player, contrary to Crawford, who is a very strong offensively. Having Crawford play with the second unit allows the Clippers to still score competitively with the second units on the floor, but when the clippers need scoring late in games Crawford will get the call over Moute. This lowers Moute’s minutes floor (although he’s not a particularly compelling DFS play in general) and gives Jamal Crawford some minutes upside. Crawford may not be guaranteed to pick up those extra minutes, but the possibility of these extra minutes can make a Sixth Man like him a compelling tournament play.
Fringe Starters can also have added risk, even when there’s no traditional Sixth Man behind them. When a teams has multiple players at a position who have similar abilities, starters can lose minutes to the ‘hot hand’. For example, Steven Adams of the Thunder has averaged only 4 more minutes than backup Enes Kanter this season. With both players being similar, Adams loses minutes when Kanter is playing well. This hurts Adams minutes floor and makes it him a difficult play in Cash Games, but simultaneously gives both players upside as GPP(Guaranteed Prize Pool) tournament plays.
Bench Players rarely see extended minutes in close games, but they can benefit greatly from blowouts. While there’s always a chance for a blowout in any NBA game, games with big spreads are the most likely to become one. Not only are the Spurs likely to blowout the 76ers, they may also limit their Starter’s minutes a bit more throughout the game. These games give Bench Players potential upside and playing them in tournaments and sometimes even Cash Games can often be a good strategy.
It’s important to remember player roles can change over time, even day to day. Be on the lookout as players’ games improve or diminish and watch for injuries, these things can dramatically change a players’ role.