Managing Minutes

With rotation spots limited, Frank searches for the right fit

Lawrence Frank bumped Kyle Singler into the starting lineup as part of his continued roster tweaks.
J. Dennis/Einstein/NBAE/Getty Images
Playing time is a zero-sum game. There are 240 minutes to go around – five players at a time multiplied by 48 minutes in a regulation game – and that’s not enough to satisfy 15 players. When Charlie Villanueva finally got his chance at a spot in the Pistons’ rotation in late November, it meant Jonas Jerebko was out. When Austin Daye moved into the rotation as Tayshaun Prince’s backup in the season’s 27th game on Monday, it came at the expense of Corey Maggette.

Lawrence Frank’s rotation was 10 deep when the season started, then essentially was cut to nine when Will Bynum lost his spot as Frank sought to not only extend the minutes of Rodney Stuckey but find ways to put the basketball in his hands more frequently.

Frank often says that though the skill sets of his players are different, the talent level that separates those in the rotation from those on the outside is less distinct. So even if there is a razor-thin margin in determining the benefits of playing Villanueva or Jerebko, for instance, the reality is stark: one plays, the other sits.

His point is a valid one. There isn’t a clear separation, a dividing line, between the four players who opened training camp at power forward for example – Jason Maxiell, Austin Daye, Villanueva and Jerebko.

So has Frank ever considered going a step beyond convention and allowing the rotation – without using any more than the conventional nine or 10 for any single game – to expand to allow for game-to-game flexibility? Could Jerebko be the backup to Jason Maxiell one night, based on either matchups or recent performance, without excluding Villanueva from consideration in the following game?

Consider? Yes. Seriously ponder the viability of such a setup? He’s skeptical.

“In theory, it sounds good,” he said after Tuesday’s practice. “The reality is, it’s hard. You’re trying to search if the certain stars are aligned. If you’re really trying to evaluate it, I’ve always been of the belief that you give guys a sample of games to see what they can get done. I’m not saying you can’t do it and that’s the right or wrong way, but it makes it a whole lot harder. If there’s a certain matchup, then yeah. If there’s a certain element in the game missing, yeah. But it’s very hard. Specialist basketball is very hard. It’s hard to play and it’s hard to coach.”

It might be a more attractive option, Frank admitted, if the Pistons had two or three established stars, where they would be the constants and the cast around them could change based on what best complemented their abilities with regard to the night’s opponent. Don Nelson, Frank said, employed such a system in both Golden State and Dallas.

“He had a core group, whether it was (Tim) Hardaway, (Chris) Mullin and (Mitch) Richmond (in Golden State or (Dirk) Nowitzki-(Steve) Nash (in Dallas). You can start (former Oakland University star) Rawle Marshall (who played in Dallas). OK, you have cornerstones. We have a bunch of guys who are good players, but it’s trying to figure out, on certain nights, which group fits better with each other.”

For now, the rotation includes the five starters plus a bench led by Stuckey and Andre Drummond with Villanueva and Daye the current backups at the two forward spots. Daye, Frank said, will get an honest shot to remain as Tayshaun Prince’s backup. For players like Jerebko and Will Bynum, the challenge will be to stay both sharp and in shape so that if and when their opportunity arises, they’ll be ready to make it impossible to take them back out of the rotation. Frank would like to find a more or less permanent rotation, if possible, but the prospect of juggling the rotation to fit the matchup holds little appeal for him.

“It’s not a computer game,” he said. “It’s hard to just dial that up. It’s hard for the player to dial that up.”

  • Rodney Stuckey, who missed Monday’s game with the Clippers due to back spasms, participated in Tuesday’s practice. Though still listed as day to day, Frank indicated he expected he would be OK, barring a recurrence, to play in Wednesday’s game at Toronto. The spasms flared on Stuckey after Monday’s shootaround, he said.