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Just messing around, getting triple doubles
Rookies, Minutes and 4th Quarters at the 1st Turn
December 14, 2015Posted by on
“Just let ‘em go.” With that simple message, Kobe Bryant cracked the hard-assed algorithm of Byron Scott’s face palming rotations. “Let ‘em go,” he told the coach in regards to the Lakers future, embodied by true rookie D’Angelo Russell and red shirt rookie Julius Randle. Both kids played all of the fourth quarter and overtime in a game the Lakers would lose to the T-Wolves with Russell hitting the contested drive to send the game into an extra period. The loss did little to dampen the unanimous feeling that this was the Lakers best game of the season – and almost exclusively because Scott’s arms-crossed drill sergeant act was defused by Kobe.
Rookies can oscillate between futuristic revelations and immature mistakes on a single possession. There’s no playbook for coaches detailing how and when to appropriately develop 19 and 20-year-old basketball players. Should they be given 30+ minutes and allowed to succeed or fail with high volume opportunity? Or should they be given nothing, forced to earn everything, and kowtow to vets by carrying chinchilla coats and fetching donuts while wearing Hello Kitty backpacks? The Lakers are caught in the center of this question with Kobe’s farewell tour adding a contentious element to an already-imprecise process.
Russell was the second overall pick in the draft. Scott’s currently playing him about 5.5 minutes/4th quarter which is 10th overall in his rookie class, wedged between Jerian Grant (19th overall, 5.7 minutes/4th) and Frank Kaminsky (9th, 5 minutes/4th). The Lakers are 3-21 right now, losing by more than 10 points/game and prior to Kobe stepping in and disrupting Byron’s rotation schemes, Russell still couldn’t get court time. But in 4th quarters, Russell’s inefficiencies get worse. His TS% drops from 48% to 44% while his O and DRtg’s (per stats.nba.com) also get worse in the last period.
Meanwhile in Miami, Justise Winslow is leading all rookies in 4th quarter minutes played at 9.2/game. The Heat are 13-9, yielding the 2nd least points to opponents with the 4th best defensive rating. He appears in all (5-man, 4-man, 3-man, 2-man) of Miami’s best lineups based on point differential and is defining himself as an updated mold of fellow Duke player Shane Battier as an indispensable defender whose impact exists beyond two-dimensional statistical measures. The only Heat player getting more 4th quarter minutes is perennial all-star, Chris Bosh. While Winslow’s NetRtg comes in at +6.8 (best of any Heat player getting at least 20 minutes/game), that number jumps up to +14.2 in the 4th. For all players appearing in at least nine minutes/4th quarter, Winslow ranks second to LeBron James (+23.4) in NetRtg.
Erik Spoelstra uniquely deploys Winslow in almost an inverse of how Scott uses Russell. Where the Lakers point guard has started 22 of 24 games, he gets the bulk of minutes (~7/quarter) during the first three quarters of the game before Byron’s thousand yard stare narrows and his moustache tightens and he relegates Russell to the bench in favor of some combination of Kobe, Jordan Clarkson, and Lou Williams. Winslow hasn’t started a single game, yet sees his highest volume of minutes come in the 4th quarter.
Winslow is the exception and not the rule for rookies. Number one overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns sees his NetRtg boost from -1.4 overall to +5.7 for 4th quarters, but still only sees six minutes/4th – much to the consternation of Wolves Twitter. Emmanuel Mudiay is second in mpg for rookies (29.9), but ranks fifth in 4th quarter minutes at 6.3 where his NetRtg drops from bad (-8.9) to worse (-9.5). Philly’s top choice Jahlil Okafor is getting 32 minutes/game and typically saves his best for last. In the final quarter, he averages his highest points while shooting 60% TS – up 11% from his overall TS. And any rookie conversation would be incomplete without the Lativian Gang Banger, Kristaps Porzingis. The Knicks are 11-14 and only one player on the roster with any impactful playing time has a positive NetRtg: the Zinger at +0.1.
A quarter of the way into a rookie’s inaugural season is probably too early to start seeking out trajectory-threatening trends. Teams, coaches, and players walk a developmental balance with their young players that become interpreted by media, writers, and passionate fans. What works for Towns with Sam Mitchell and Kevin Garnett isn’t likely to be replicable with Russell and Byron and Kobe. What Spoelstra does with Winslow in Miami can’t be copied by Derek Fisher and Phil Jackson in New York. What we can see in the numbers above and when we vainly try to read between the lines of coach-to-media communications are trends and then attempt to draw conclusions from those trends, but lacking a clearly-defined intent, even that can become confusing and noisy. What’s left but to (over) analyze and project and wonder in amazement at the rising arcs and sleeping valleys of kids not even old enough to legally consume alcohol.