Monday, August 2, 2010

Great Players, Small Minutes

Typically, great players receive 35-40 minutes a game. However, there are exceptions, All-Star caliber players who, for whatever reason, received lesser minutes. These players tend to be underappreciated since they don't put up big (conventional) numbers, but while they were on the court, they had few peers. Here are three of the best.

Manu Ginobili. Per 36 minutes-19 points-5 rebounds-5 assists-2 steals. Ginobili is the king of this category, with a career high of 31 minutes a game, and a career average of under 28 minutes a game, despite ridiculous on-court productivity. As a shooting guard who has never averaged 20 points a game, he is generally not viewed as a superstar, but his all around game compares favorably to the other top shooting guards of his era. Why has he never garnered bigger minutes? A combination of durability concerns, and Popovich's apparent belief that San Antonio is best served by having one of its two stars on every unit (for instance, this past year, San Antonio's top 35 lineups used either Duncan (and/)or Ginobili). This results in less overall minutes for Ginobili, but in a configuration that makes his minutes more valuable to the Spurs.

Arvydas Sabonis. Per 36 minutes-18 points-11 rebounds-3 assists. Sabonis is one of the NBA's greatest "what-if" stories. The big Lithuanian didn't come to the NBA until he was in his thirties with leg and feet problems (the main reason he played more than 27 minutes per game only once during his NBA career), but was still a highly effective player with the Blazers during the late nineties. He was famous for his passing, but also was an efficient scorer, excellent rebounder, and good defender. Despite playing his best ball overseas, Sabonis' rate and advanced stats are similar to that of Hall of Famer Bob Lanier, providing a clue to his effectiveness.

Bobby Jones. Per 36 minutes-16 points-8 rebounds-3.5 assists-2 steals-2 blocks-56% FG percentage. Was Bobby Jones a star? The answer may tell you more about the person answering the question than about Bobby Jones. On the one hand, it seems ludicrous to label a player who averaged 12 points and 6 rebounds for his career a "star". On the other hand, he was a great defender who did everything well (except for outside shooting), and managed to be selected to 4 NBA All-Star games, plus an appearance in the 1976 ABA All-Star game as a member of the league-best Denver Nuggets (he probably would have made the All-Star team anyway that year). If you favor players who can create their own offense, you probably won't think much of Jones. If you are enamored with defense and efficiency (as I am), then he's a Hall of Fame level player on a per minute basis (consider this comparison to current players, focusing on rate and advanced stats). Despite his effectiveness, he only played more than 30 minutes a game three times in his career, and only once in the NBA, where he spent 10 of his 12 seasons. The main reason for his lack of playing time, which mainly occurred after he joined the Sixers, was that Philly had a stacked frontcourt, with coach Billy Cunningham needing to find enough playing time for Jones, Julius Erving, Caldwell Jones, Darryl Dawkins, and Steve Mix. This led to Jones' minutes being limited, and his eventual role as sixth man extraordinaire (for which he won the NBA's first sixth man of the year award in 1983).

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