“Take these broken wings and learn to fly.” – The Beatles / Joe Budden

Coach Dwane Casey’s wing rotation has been curious of late. It seems he’s had some difficulty deciding who to play when now that all the bodies are healthy. It hasn’t helped that the big rotation has been thinned out, providing opportunities to play small with a wing at the four.

Still, the minute allocation seems suboptimal relative to the franchise’s goals. I thought I should pull some numbers to see if there was something in the advanced data I was missing.

In my mind, it makes the most sense to start DeMar DeRozan and Landry Fields and use Terrence Ross as the first wing off the bench. All three of these players are young and a big part of the future, so it makes sense to give them every opportunity to learn and grow in what is a developmental season for the team. See the chart below for a basic explanation of why I think these three should be getting the bulk of the minutes.

Note: All Fields stats basically have to be taken with a giant grain of salt given his long layoff and recent return. We probably don’t know what we have with him yet.

But maybe Alan Anderson, Linas Kleiza and Mickael Pietrus are doing some things I’m not noticing when watching the games. After all, Anderson scores a lot, Kleiza has ducked to the four and Pietrus has a reputation as a solid defender, so perhaps these elements in isolation don’t appeal to me but are “working.” Plus they’re all savvy veterans!

Nope, not at a basic statistical level, anyway. Using Per-36 stats to judge, Anderson is scoring the most but not in the most efficient way, basically scoring via volume rather than any apparent skill at putting the ball in the hoop. Kleiza and Pietrus really aren’t doing anything offensively well, with even Ross and Fields, who both had horrific starts to the year in percentage terms, outperforming them there.

Now, let’s get to where I really like to look, in the advanced stats. We should be dealing with a large enough sample now that these stats reflect the real story to a degree, though they’re still not anywhere close to gospel (ever, really). Maybe the veteran savvy and defense are showing through in advanced metrics?

Nope. Again, Kleiza and Pietrus are otherworldly-bad, as are Ross and Fields. I’ll again direct your attention to the first table, displaying the ages of the players, and let you decide who you’d rather see on the floor.

At this point, Kleiza is a sunk cost with his $4.5M player option for next year that I doubt he’ll decline (unless some European team saves us and gives him a big offer to head home). Pietrus was signed due to depth issues but should probably be thrown back on the scrap heap.

Anderson has been good, especially on the defensive end, and at least has the stones to take the big shots. Still, he’s shooting A LOT, and those are shots and minutes that could be learning opportunities for the other wings. There’s certainly a place for Anderson, especially on his team-friendly contract, but he’s unlikely to be a part of the future since he’ll command a pay raise in the offseason. He’s probably better served as the ninth man in the rotation.

No, Ross hasn’t blown us away despite a few big games and plenty of highlights. He hasn’t learned to utilize his length and athleticism defensively except in transition, but there are very clear signs that the potential is there. He just needs reps. And that shooting stroke is so damn pretty that it’s not a leap of faith to project him as a good three-point shooter in the near future.

Fields basically needs to be given a do-over on the year so far. I do believe his wrist troubles probably effected his shot and then his confidence, and he’s looked better (albeit reluctant offensively) since returning. With the contract he received, it’s in the team’s best interest to let him figure it out on the floor and get acclimated with the team and his role here.

DeRozan has improved, though he’s still not quite a scratch player in the advanced metrics, likely because his defense is yet to catch up to his offense. But for a guy in his fourth year, he’s still very young and still possesses very obvious potential to improve, something you can’t say for all fourth-years. He could probably use his minutes scaled back, but that’s more because he’s played such a heavy amount than because he hasn’t been good.

My Rotation
I’d start DeRozan and Fields for a nice offense-defense balance and hope that Fields finds his stroke so there’s some floor spacing on the first unit. Ross would then be my first wing off the bench, playing the three with DeRozan or the two when Anderson checks in as the fourth wing. I’d probably be playing DeRozan 35 minutes, Fields 25-30, Ross 25 and then Anderson six plus whatever minutes are left over from he and Fields playing the four (say, another eight minutes, giving him 14-19).

This article is all a way of saying play the young guys. Let’s see what Ross has and if he can improve with more game action, and let’s give Fields a mulligan and see if there’s value to be mined from that contract still. Anderson can stick around because he’s decent and is by all accounts a great guy.

Kleiza, Pietrus…well, you can get out.


  • http://twitter.com/Liston Tom Liston

    For the year (with *many* variations from game to game depending on opponent), something close to this appears optimal:
    SG:  DeRozan 30 min (start), Ross 18
    SF: Fields 18 (start and more D sits), Anderson 22 (off the bench, need the three ball), DeRozan 8
    PF: Fields 4 (often zero or 8 depending on lineups – usually when DD plays 3 while Ross at 2)

  • KJ-B

    DeRozan/Fields started the season.  Pietrus as we’re seeing was available on waivers for a reason–he’s not physically as healthy as he once was and looks very much on the downside of his career arc.

    Ross/Anderson should be the only others “wings” getting PT…

    Honestly speaking, for all the “lack of talent” on the wings argument, they’ve collectively done most of the scoring, brought decent presence physically and is the deepest position with potential on the Raps.  

    Our point guards are flawed in different ways-Jose can’t log too many minutes for consecutive games which is why he’s looked slower/less energetic last few games. Lowry is over eager but very skilled–my biggest knock against him is his fitness…If Kyle could lose 15 lbs and get in tip top shape many of his injuries wouldn’t occur in the 1st place…

    Perhaps a body fat requirement a la championship Miami wouldn’t hurt to go along way with the “recent” emphasis on individual player development.  But back to the wings, minus “Peaches” I’m alright with any combo on the floor.

    • Sam Holako

      +1

      Well said

  • Milesboyer

    The “Alan Anderson” effect can’t be denied – even your stats prove it as he has the best PER and the best TS% of the bunch.  You don’t just play the younger guys because they’re young, they need to experience the process of earning minutes.  Maybe it’s a reflection of our poor quality of talent but AA is, on most nights one of the best options to get win (and I haven’t even mentioned his intangibles).

  • cdub

    Fields needs more PT.  They signed Pietrus because they were in a bind at the 3.  Why Pietrus is now starting ahead of Fields I don’t get.  AA does take too many shots, but he does a lot of other good things, gets to the line.  Needs to take less shots though imo.  I like Ross but he gets a little chucky  for my tastes at times.

  • FAQ

    Do you seriously believe that Casey and staff look at these number statistics in their decision making process as to who starts, minutes played, value to the team?  I don’t.

    Casey must make playing decisions as the game progresses and he can see who is hot and who is not… and who to send in for defensive purposes.  He doesn’t depend on these stats before and during a game because he has a greater in-depth and current knowledge on each player than past stats conjure.

    • BlakeMurphy

      That’s fine, but part of the problem is also that coaches by nature likely have a difficult time with the value of developing players vs. the perceived value of players who can win now. It’s difficult to take the long-view when you’re in the trenches on a day-to-day basis, I fully understand the psychology at play there.

      The point of the article is just to suggest that Kleiza and Pietrus in particular, whatever their perceived value, aren’t getting the job done in any sense. I cited simple stats, on/off-court stuff, and the +/-s cited are opposition and teammate adjusted.

      I understand and accept that a coach has more knowledge than me, but I don’t see what spin a coach could put on playing Pietrus and Kleiza in their current form over the younger (and better) players.

      • FAQ

        Casey takes a holistic view of the team of men he coaches, in practice and in games.  You admit your analytical stats don’t jibe with Casey’s decisions playing Pietrus and Kleiza instead of the younger players.  This means that Casey makes strategic decisions for each game plus his assessment of the opposition team.

        Your stats fail to take into account each game and each team played.  It is just a summation of all games without considering how those numbers evolved.  You may believe statistical summation reveals the best players, but it appears Casey’s gut feel for each game is different.

        How do you reconcile your past statistical numbers with Casey’s future decisions?

        • BlakeMurphy

          “coaches by nature likely have a difficult time with the value of developing players vs. the perceived value of players who can win now. It’s difficult to take the long-view when you’re in the trenches on a day-to-day basis,”

          from my response above.

          • BlakeMurphy

            It’s fine to value vets even if the reasons are unclear, especially if you’re a team built for the now that doesn’t need to take the long-view into account (e.g. Celtics or Heat for example).

            My argument is just that if I were in charge, I’d take development into account and shift those minutes to the players who will be around longer. (It’s also my opinion that Kleiza is a terrible player.)

            • DumbassKicker

              This entire “analysis/conclusion” is very ill-timed, considering how short-handed the team is right now, and the playing time adjustments that have been necessary.

              Kleiza
              1. Kleiza hasn’t played the last 4 games
              2. Kleiza’s last 7 games, Raps’ record was 6-1
              3. That aside, weren’t many of those minutes playing the 4, not the 3? Is that considered in evaluating these stats? Whose minutes was he taking?

              Fields
              1. He just came back from a long layoff. The word is “patience” toward fitting him in to the rotation, while he gets back in game shape.
              2. That’s been a little difficult, as he’s been pressed into playing most of his minutes at the 4, playing small ball.
              3. Amongst 20 minutes a game banging with 4s, how many minutes do you see him having to play the 3?

              Pietrus
              1. One of the problems the Raps had was getting down early, as in the 1st quarter. Have you noticed how the opposing 3s have been doing with Pietrus on the floor? KD included, not much. That’s why Casey has him out there to start games, though he’s only averaging about 15 minutes his last 10 games.
              2. Pietrus was signed as a stop-gap, but with being so short-handed of bigs, and Fields and Kleiza playing the 4 at times, he’s still needed, and is most valuable as a defensive starter right now, not forever.

              Development
              Has a many more aspects to it than how many minutes a young guy gets in games. I think coach Casey has far more knowledge than you or I about what’s needed in the NBA and where Ross fits at this point, whatever the fn blind stats say.

              • Nilanka15

                So in other words, trust Casey no matter what? 

                • DumbassKicker

                  Doh, no.

                • FAQ

                  But the buck stops with Casey and he calls the shots as to who plays and who doesn’t.  Prior to each game there is a game plan notwithstanding past statistics, which may not be representative of current reality in the opinion of the coach.

                  IOW, statistics are hindsight numbers and cannot be projected into the future.

  • RapthoseLeafs

    [“Why Pietrus is now starting ahead of Fields I don’t get.”]

    I think in time, Fields will take this position over. But until Landry gets more comfortable around the basket, it may be best for him to “practice” against Bench talent. Right now LF believes his difficult days were a function of bad nerve placement. No sense bringing doubt (at this time) to that perspective.   

    I can only guess that Pietrus brings a bigger presence to the Big situation (imagined or real), considering Raps are lean at Mr. Big guys. Illustrated by Points in the paint being one of our weaknesses at this time. Whatever happens, MP is not the long term solution.

    .

    As to Anderson, I also believe his value goes beyond the stats. He might be 30 (almost 31), but I believe his age is EXACTLY why he has that value. We worry too much about vets taking “talent” time, when the more useful approach should be that talent needs to earn their time.

    AA brings perspective to his team-mates … knowing what it’s like to jump around the league, as he has done. Actually ….. Around the World in 2600 days (give or take a few):

    – Michigan State
    – drafted 3rd OVERALL ……… in the 2005 CBA draft
    – Charlotte
    – Tulsa
    – NBADL All-Star Game (2007)
    – Charlotte
    – Italy
    – Russia
    – Croatia (Cup)
    – Israel
    – Greece
    – New Mexico
    – Spain (MVP of Spanish Cup tournament) (Won League with FC)
    – TORONTO RAPTORS

    .

    Down the road, when our Big situation returns to normal, and we get more production from the Front Court, I think the SF position will continue in a state of flux, subject to Casey’s mood. And of course, what type of Andrea returns.

    .

    I still hope we maintain the Jose-Lowry duo as it’s currently employed. It works for the most part. Of course that doesn’t mean you can’t go to Kyle sooner, if need be. Or the opposite.

    Simple facts seem to suggest it works.

    Lowry Starts (15 games): Record … 2 – 13
    5.7 apg …. Team avg – 19.2 assists

    Calderon Starts (19 games): Record … 10 – 9 10.5 apg …. Team avg – 24.4 assists

    Off the BenchKyle – 7.0 apgJose – 4.2 apg

    .

    • RapthoseLeafs

       Oops  …. Anderson turns 31 in October (a long way from “almost 31″)

      And the Stats were hard to read.

      .

      Lowry Starts (15 games): Record … 2 – 13 5.7 apg …. Team avg – 19.2 assists

      Calderon Starts (19 games): Record … 10 – 9
      10.5 apg …. Team avg – 24.4 assists

      Off the Bench
      Kyle – 7.0 apg
      Jose – 4.2 apg

      .

      • RapthoseLeafs

        I should quit while I’m ahead.

        Lowry Starts (15 games):
        Record … 2 – 13
        5.7 apg …. Team avg – 19.2 assists

        Calderon Starts (19 games):
        Record … 10 – 9 10.5 apg …. Team avg – 24.4 assists

        Off the BenchKyle – 7.0 apgJose – 4.2 apg

        .

  • Nostradamus

    Ed Davis (Top 10 PF),future picks  and Jose Calderon for Rudy Gay  apparently offered by Raptors

    • vino

      should probably be in a separate thread; nevertheless, u got a link for the source of this info?

      p.s.
      I’m all up for this, assuming the “future picks” = max two second rounders. If they discuss any 1st ones… its a “no, thank you”

  • AR

    I believe Anderson is a big part of the future as a solid vet. Even if you give the team to the young guns, you still need vets. AA has the trust of Casey. You can see it. There’s a reason he is playing big minutes. Your argument is flawed.