Everybody is asking the question. Who does a shortened season benefit? And they’ll probably be asking it about 500 more times come the first official media availability for each team.
There are two schools of thought, both correct: 1) A shortened season helps older teams because the season is shorter and there are fewer games, meaning less opportunity for wear and tear over the long haul of 82 games. And 2) A shortened season helps younger teams because 66 games will be piled into four and a half months meaning back-to-back-to-backs, five games in six days and a lot of nights with heavy legs and ice baths.
This type of situation puts a lot of pressure on coaches. They’ve got to get creative with rotations and maybe even consider using the depth of their roster a bit more. If you’re team is sleepwalking into the fifth game in six nights with a roadie in Toronto, you might have to consider dusting off that seldom used rookie or token veteran on the end of your bench.
Which of course begs the question for Thunder fans: How will Scott Brooks handle this?
Know this first of all: Brooks is pretty stubborn when it comes to playing time and his rotation. He was strangely committed to a nine-man rotation in 2009-10 and never considered wavering from that. He was stuck with the same setup last season before Daequan Cook rose from the dead and hit a couple 3-pointers.
Stick with the 10-man, but judge minutes more judiciously? A shortened season means less minutes so you expand out and flex a little? Or because OKC’s young do you just let them go?
The Thunder are at that point where they should probably consider the postseason some in late February. Meaning, instead of committing to winning a road game in New Jersey, maybe let KD rest a little longer than usual in the fourth and see if Westbrook can shoulder the load for a win.
How did the rotation break down last season? Most of the time, like this:
Bench (in typical order of appearance)
The minutes shook out like this: Durant 38.9, Westbrook 34.7, Ibaka 27.0, Harden 26.7, Thabo 25.9, Perkins 25.6, Collison 21.5, Mohammed 17.1, Maynor 14.6 and Cook 13.1.
But again, add a new faces in Reggie Jackson and the fact the season is compressed and you wonder if that would change. Harden will likely be starting meaning his minutes will probably go somewhere into the 30+ range. Thabo’s minutes will likely go into the 17-20 range. And there’s where Brooks would likely have a bit of wiggle room to fit in Jackson.
I see it more like this for 2011-12 as a rough estimate:
Westbrook — 33
Harden — 31
Durant — 36
Ibaka — 29
Perkins — 27
Collison — 22
Maynor — 18
Thabo — 16
Mohammed — 15
Cook — 13
Jackson — 8
That’s a rough guess, but I do see a good reason to trim down on minutes. It makes sense for a lot of reasons, but not just because the season will be more stressful.
Is it necessary to expand the rotation? I don’t think so. Last season we all wondered how Cole Aldrich would fit in. In the end, he didn’t. And that will likely again be the case for players like Jackson and Aldrich. Maybe there’s more opportunity to try and cut back during a fourth game in five nights during March, but I don’t see it happening much. The Thunder aren’t an aging team like the Celtics or Spurs. They’re built to handle this schedule.
But I do think Brooks will want to shuffle Jackson in and out of the rotation. If Harden does indeed start, there is the feeling to have a little more punch off the bench. Thabo, Maynor and Cook aren’t really giving you that, but Jackson could. The only way to find out if he’s capable is to play him. Maybe he’s ready for a shot, maybe not. We’ll see.
Playing time is a difficult thing to manage. You’re a better team when Durant and Westbrook and Harden are on the floor because they’re your best players. But a great asset to a good team is depth and Oklahoma City has some.
This will probably be a pretty challenging couple weeks for Brooks as he tries to figure out where and how to place minutes. Thabo can slide over and be more of a natural backup to Durant to help bring those minutes down some more. Playing Maynor more isn’t a problem. Same goes for Collison or Mohammed. The issue is how deep do you go and at what cost do you value how fresh and ready your team is compared to how good the group on the floor is.