The Luxury of Depth: Resting Your Superstars

USA TODAY Sports

I was reading some comments in another thread, and we were talking about minutes played (or lack thereof) by the Clippers' stars. It got me thinking: of the elite teams (SAS, OKC, MIA, NYK, MEM, and LAC), how much are the other stars playing? And how much might this affect their performance at the end of the season, as well as the playoffs?

Here's a table I've put together with the top 4 players on each of the top 6 teams (5, in the Spurs' case, because I couldn't really exclude Manu) and their minutes played this year, their minutes played last year, and the differential.

Player

2012-13

2011-12

Diff

SPURS

Parker

32.8

32.1

0.7

Duncan

30.6

28.2

2.4

Green

29.4

23.1

6.3

Neal

25.4

21.5

3.9

Ginobili

24.3

23.3

1.0

THUNDER

Durant

39.5

38.6

0.9

Westbrook

36.2

35.3

0.9

Ibaka

31.8

27.2

4.6

Martin

29.6

31.6

-2.0

GRIZZLIES

Gay

36.7

37.3

-0.6

Randolph

36.0

26.3

9.7

Gasol

36.0

36.5

-0.5

Conley

34.4

35.1

-0.7

HEAT

James

37.5

37.5

0.0

Bosh

33.2

35.2

-2.0

Wade

32.4

33.2

-0.8

Allen

25.9

34.0

-8.1

KNICKS

Anthony

35.6

34.1

1.5

Felton

33.5

31.8

1.7

Smith

32.2

27.6

4.6

Chandler

31.4

33.2

-1.8

CLIPPERS

Paul

32.8

36.4

-3.6

Griffin

32.4

36.2

-3.8

Crawford

29.6

26.9

2.7

Jordan

25.7

27.2

-1.5

The Spurs are obviously doing a great job (as usual), and considering their historical success resting guys this much, I'm happy the Clippers are following suit. The increased minutes for Neal and Green just show why the Spurs continue to be successful, after all these years. Pop is, and always has been, a master at managing minutes. There doesn't seem to be any indication that their current minutes allocation will have a negative (or positive) effect on outcome of the Spurs' season, as compared to last year.

The Thunder may be young enough to withstand these kind minutes, as they went all the way to the finals last year, playing similar minutes. Again, there isn't any indication that their minutes distribution is a problem. Maybe Ibaka stop being so dynamic if he gets tired, but I'm not banking on that.

Memphis has been riding their top 4 all season long,and no one's noticed. Though Randolph is up from last year, he was coming off of an injury last year, so these look like regular minutes for him. There still doesn't seem to be any indication that the minutes distribution will adversely affect the Grizzlies, but if they hope to be an elite team, they don't seem to have made any real changes from last year (when they, like the Clippers, were just below elite-status). Since their minutes distribution is mostly the same, and their roster is mostly the same (though Bayless seems to be contributing more than Mayo did for them) they have to be banking solely on team cohesiveness creating improvements. This worked for the Thunder, so it could work for the Grizzlies. But if they face the Clippers in the playoffs again, they are going to face a much less exhausted/dinged-up pair of stars.

The Heat seem to be relying too much on LeBron, but that's nothing new when compared to last year. They'll probably be fine, and their problems seem to be with defensive lapses, so that's not a minutes-issue. Their older player, Allen, is playing far fewer minutes than last year, so that's probably not going to be a big problem. All I know is that I'm not betting against LeBron.

The Knicks are doing a pretty solid job spreading out the minutes. It looks like they have a few guys playing more minutes than last year, but Melo's always played about 35 mins, and 33 mins for Smith isn't crazy at all. Giving Chandler some rest is probably a great call too. Once again, the minutes probably won't be a factor at the end of the season, either positive or negative. The Knicks are playing great team D and knocking down everything from deep, and maintaining that is what will determine how far they go.

The Clippers are the one team that seems to have made a huge change from last year. Their two most important pieces, Paul and Griffin, are playing FAR fewer minutes than last year. Crawford's minutes are up, but he's still not even playing over 30 minutes. And Jordan's minutes are slightly down too (though that might be more of an indication of how well Odom's been playing lately). It's commonly mentioned that depth is a luxury during the regular season, but it evaporates during the playoffs when rotations tighten. This theory is a misconception fails to tell the whole story. The luxury of depth extends beyond bringing talented players off the bench. San Antonio and Gregg Popovich already know this. Depth is the reason Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are going to be far less exhausted after 82 games. Every year since he's joined the league, Blake's talked about how tired he gets at the end of the season. This year, he's singing a completely different tune. The lower minutes may not be playing a significant role right now in their winning, but I am confident it will be a huge factor at the end of the season.

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