“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.