There has been some handwringing about the Warriors’ big man rotation and how their minutes could affect the playoff run so I wanted to take some time to lay out how the team’s minute allotment will change once the playoffs start.
There are 48 minutes in a game, so 240 total to be played per team.
It is best to find a middle ground between aberration games like blowouts and overtime contests. Fortunately, the Warriors have enough of a playoff sample to find those.
Stephen Curry– The MVP has played 34 minutes per game this regular season, up from 32.7 last year. In the 2015 playoffs, his playing time bounced around somewhat with 38.3 MPG against Memphis and a whopping 42.5 per game against the Cavs. Staying on the lower side and going with 39 is fair.
Draymond Green– Another regular season uptick, going from 31.5 in 2014-15 to 34.7 in 2015-16. Averaged 37.3 minutes per game in last year’s playoffs, which is a good starting point for this time.
Klay Thompson– Smaller increase for this season (31.9 MPG to 33.2) and played 36.2 per game last spring. I will kick that up slightly to 37 because he missed extended periods due to foul trouble in a way that hopefully does not repeat.
Just those three players take up 113 minutes, almost half of the team’s total.
Andre Iguodala– He has played nearly identical regular season minutes (per game) but likely will need a reduced workload in the early rounds just to make sure he gets all the way back. His ascendance to the starting lineup in the finals took his minutes from 27 in the rest of the playoffs to 37 in the Finals so 29 serves as a judicious estimate.
Shaun Livingston– Even while shouldering a bigger role during Iguodala’s injury, Livingston is still playing under 20 minutes per night in the regular season as a whole. He only broke 20 per game in the Finals (20.2!) so Sdot’s regular season 19 per game makes sense as the baseline.
Harrison Barnes– The sometimes maligned forward is playing the most minutes of his career, adding two from his previous high to reach 30.7 this season. His count was rock solid in the 2015 playoffs, playing between 31 and 33.8 minutes in every series with an overall average of 32.4 minutes per game. Rounding that down to 32 works for this exercise.
Adding these three to the mix brings the team total all the way to 193, just 47 short of a full game.
At this point, it is best to look at this as an overall unit rather than specific players. Andrew Bogut went from 27.8 minutes per game against New Orleans to 21.4 per game in the Western Conference Finals to three minutes total in the final three games of the NBA Finals while Festus Ezeli’s role changed even after he returned from injury. If Iguodala is healthy enough to play the nuclear lineup with any regularity, ballparking these two at about 22 minutes a game combined combines the pressures in both directions.
That pushes the team total to 215.
The Remaining Minutes
Penciling in 215 minutes for the above players leaves only 25 for the rest of the team.
Leandro Barbosa will assuredly have a role and the Kerr favorite scaled back his role from 15 regular season minutes to 11 in the playoffs last season, which sounds reasonable for 2016 as well.
Brandon Rush showed more this season than he did last year but he only played seven playoff minutes last season so it is hard to project how that expands, though it absolutely will. Even if he only averages four minutes per contest, that takes the remaining minutes to 10 per game.
While the players not counted at all so far (most notably Mo Speights) may seem like the biggest possibility to sop up those minutes, remember that this estimate gives Bogut and Ezeli just 22 minutes combined. Assuming the remaining center time goes to Draymond, that would mean he would be playing 26 of his 37 minutes (about 70%) at center. That would certainly be possible in the later rounds but is likely too much strain for the entire run. One interpretation is that those minutes go to bigs early in the playoffs and then smaller guys later, potentially even the major players like what happened last year.
What was truly remarkable putting this together is how strong this team can be when they really need to push it towards the end. If the Warriors make the Finals again, a rotation of Curry, Green, Thompson, Iguodala, Barnes, Livingston and centers could play every minute with Barbosa, Rush and Speights on deck when necessary. As great as the Spurs and Thunder have been, that kind of a condensed rotation will be just nasty on the biggest stages.