Minutes, ESPN player rankings, and your Sacramento Kings

Kelley L Cox-US PRESSWIRE

Do the Sacramento Kings rank, or are they just rank?

One of our running conversations around here revolves around the disbursal of game minutes. Precious, life-sustaining game minutes. The calculations can sometimes be challenging, as a player's per minute average is based on the number of games in which he has played.

For example, Travis Outlaw averaged 11.7 minutes per game last year, but he only played in 38 games. Pro-rated over an 82 game season, that would average out to about 5.4 mpg. Another way of looking at it is that over the course of last season, Outlaw played roughly 2% of the team's available minutes, and about 11% of the minutes that would have been potentially available to him.

On the other hand, DeMarcus Cousins led the team in total minutes with 2,289. This was an average of 30.5 mpg, but adjusted down to 27.9 mpg when you pro-rate it over 82 games. Cousins played 11.5% of the team's available minutes and 58% of the minutes that would have been available to him.

Confused? Good! Welcome to every day of my life.

Alrighty then. Let's take a look at some league numbers from last year. What I've done here is taken the minutes that every team logged last year, 1 - 14 on their roster. I then calculated the average, based on actual minutes per game and also pro-rated over 82 games. It came out looking something like this:

Player

Games

Minutes

MPG-Actual

MPG-82 Adj.

1

79

2755

35

34

2

76

2495

33

30

3

74

2302

31

28

4

76

2080

27

25

5

71

1876

26

23

6

68

1608

24

20

7

68

1391

20

17

8

59

1238

21

15

9

55

1020

19

12

10

59

792

16

10

11

45

685

15

8

12

41

537

13

7

13

36

379

11

5

14

24

259

11

3

I don't want to waste a lot of time belaboring last year, but if you compared the 2012-13 Kings to the average, you would find that the top Kings players got less than league average minutes, while the bottom players got more than league average minutes. This was likely due to the fact that last year's roster was more wide than it was deep, coupled with Keith Smart's whacky rotations. The Kings minutes disbursal lined up the closest with San Antonio, though San Antonio did it under an entirely different design (conserving the energy of the team elders for the playoffs).

The minutes averages should provide a relatively fair baseline. The league-leading 3,119 minutes that Kevin Durant logged are offset by the team-leading 2,200 minutes of Washington's Martell Webster. Factor anything by all thirty teams and you should get a reasonable average, and minutes should be no exception.

Also, the adjusted 82 game minutes total comes to 237, while a regulation NBA game comes to 240. The difference here can be attributed to players that fell outside of the top 14 in minutes.

For grins, let's plug the Kings roster in utilizing ESPN's NBA player rankings for 2013-14. Here are the rankings:

Player

ESPN Rank

2012-13 +/-

Rotation Eq.

Cousins

40

2

2

Vasquez

124

100

5

Thornton

131

0

5

Landry

141

-17

5

Thomas

153

-3

6

McLemore

157

n/a

6

Mbah a Moute

159

-6

6

Patterson

167

64

6

Thompson

186

42

7

Hayes

230

-52

8

Fredette

287

18

10

Salmons

289

-26

10

McCallum

357

n/a

12

Outlaw

371

-23

13

("Rotation Eq." is the relative equivalency of where a player's ranking would place him on an NBA roster. For example, Vasquez's ranking of 124 would place him in the fifth tier of players when utilizing a multiplier of 30 teams.)

According to ESPN's player rankings, we could see the Kings continue to divvy up the minutes broadly, at least among the players that they rank 2 - 9 on the roster. The Kings lack a 1st, 3rd, or 4th "best player," but have nine(!) players that rank in the 5th - 8th tiers.

A word about the ESPN rankings. They are not perfect, nor do they intend to be. Quoting ESPN: "This year, we asked our ESPN Forecast panel to predict the overall level of play for each player for the upcoming NBA season. This includes both the quality and the quantity of his expected contributions, combined in one overall rating."

It's easy to look at this list and argue that this player should be ahead/behind that player, but when you remember that each set of 30 players basically represents one player per team, the list isn't all that bad, and really gives a fair overall representation. Also, keep in mind that the list represents this coming year only. The list makes no attempt to forecast the ascension or decline of the players in future years.

So yeah, I could see Vasquez or Thornton or Landry as the 5th best player on a median NBA team (and maybe even 4th best if I drink enough Kool-Aid), or Thomas or Mbah a Moute as a 5th-6th man (and maybe McLemore), and Thompson and Hayes as core rotation players.

Player

Games

Minutes

MPG-Actual

MPG-82 Adj.

Cousins

79

2755

35

34

Vasquez

76

2495

33

30

Thornton

74

2302

31

28

Landry

76

2080

27

25

Thomas

71

1876

26

23

McLemore

68

1608

24

20

Mbah a Moute

68

1391

20

17

Patterson

59

1238

21

15

Thompson

55

1020

19

12

Hayes

59

792

16

10

Fredette

45

685

15

8

Salmons

41

537

13

7

McCallum

36

379

11

5

Outlaw

24

259

11

3

A quick check of the numbers here shows that over an 82 game season, Mbah a Moute, Salmons and Outlaw would only take up 27 minutes a night. Even if they spent each and every minute at small forward, that would still leave 21 minutes a night vacant at that position. That would mean an awful lot of small ball, as evidenced by the 18 excess minutes doled out to the guards (or an ample dose of Trent Lockett as an undersized small forward, which I don't really see). So let's adjust this just a little to reflect perhaps a dozen minutes or so of small ball a night.

Player

Games

Minutes

MPG-Actual

MPG-82 Adj.

Cousins

79

2755

35

34

Thornton

76

2495

33

30

Landry

74

2302

31

28

Vasquez

76

2080

27

25

Mbah a Moute

71

1876

26

23

Thomas

68

1608

24

20

McLemore

68

1391

20

17

Thompson

59

1238

21

15

Patterson

55

1020

19

12

Salmons

59

792

16

10

Hayes

45

685

15

8

Fredette

41

537

13

7

McCallum

36

379

11

5

Outlaw

24

259

11

3

This really isn't perfect, either. For openers, I don't see Jason Thompson missing 23 games. But aside from that, this may not be a bad representation of what minutes disbursal for the Kings might look like for this season. Again, I'm guessing that the minutes in the 2 -5 slots might be a little less and the minutes in the 6 - 9 slots might be a little more, but this at least gives us something to work with.

With that, here is the section214 butt-pulled version:

Player

Games

Minutes

MPG-Actual

MPG-82 Adj.

Cousins

75

2625

35

32

Thornton

76

2052

27

25

Thomas

78

2028

26

25

Landry

74

1998

27

24

Vasquez

66

1848

28

23

Mbah a Moute

62

1612

26

20

McLemore

70

1540

22

19

Thompson

76

1444

19

18

Patterson

70

1260

18

15

Salmons

64

1024

16

12

Hayes

50

600

12

7

Fredette

50

600

12

7

McCallum

40

400

10

5

Outlaw

40

400

10

5

Misc. Players

25

250

10

3

Not factored in here are trades, The number of games played is certainly a blind guess as it pertains to injuries, suspensions, and DNP-CDs.

You will notice that the 82-adjusted column totals up to 240 minutes, or a regulation game when you multiply 48 minutes by five positions. As noted earlier, the adjusted number is determined by dividing the minutes into 82 games. So if you're going to add onto one player's minutes, you have to be ready to subtract from another. If you think that Jimmer Fredette is going to play 15 minutes a night every night, you would be adding 630 minutes to his ledger, so you would have to subtract it somewhere else (or pad for a crap-load of overtime). Also, the minutes are pretty fairly split up positionally. Cousins, Landry, Thompson, Patterson and Hayes average a combined 96 minutes a night, which equals the nightly front line minutes. Mbah a Moute, Salmons and Outlaw total 37 minutes. If you throw all of that into small forward, that leaves 11 minutes a night for small ball. Conversely, there is an overage at the guard position, anticipating some three-guard sets.

The width of this roster up front and at guard certainly presents coach Malone with a few challenges. Cousins and Thompson total 50 minutes a night here. Even if you give Thompson only minutes at center behind Cousins, that leaves limited burn for Patterson behind Landry, and virtually nothing for Hayes. Fredette is stuck behind better ball handlers at the point and a bigger contract and first draft pick of the new regime at shooting guard. And someone is destined to get more minutes than we would like at small forward (Heeeeere's Johnny!). Another blind guess: Thornton's and McLemore's minutes will be on a bit of sliding scale, as McLemore's minutes will increase as the season progresses and Thornton's decreases. And of course, the minutes here from one through fourteen do not reflect any trades that may hopefully be on the horizon.

For the hell of it, let's dice this thing up strictly by position. That is, no small ball, no stretch fours, no multiple point guards on the floor. Everyone has a strict, designated position, at least two deep at each position. Cousins and Thompson are your centers, Landry and Patterson your power forwards, Mbah a Moute, Salmons and Outlaw at small forward, Thomas, Vasquez and McCallum at point guard, and Thornton, McLemore and Fredette at shooting guard. Chuck Hayes double-times as the 3rd big at both center and power forward.

Player

Games

Minutes

MPG-Actual

MPG-82 Adj.

Cousins

75

2550

34

31

Thornton

76

2052

27

25

Landry

74

1998

27

24

Thomas

78

1872

24

23

Mbah a Moute

62

1612

26

20

Salmons

64

1640

26

20

Vasquez

66

1584

24

19

McLemore

70

1540

22

19

Patterson

70

1540

22

19

Thompson

76

1064

14

13

Hayes

50

738

15

9

Outlaw

50

656

13

8

McCallum

40

492

12

6

Fredette

50

320

6

4

Misc. Players

25

250

10

3

The things that you notice the most here is an increase in Patterson's minutes, a pretty big decrease in Thompson's minutes, and a nauseating amount of Johnny Salmons at small forward. As much as Malone might want to play this thing by the positional book, his available talent might be an obstacle. Even if you want to get caught up in "Outlawmania," the small forward position is still a frightening proposition if you're giving all 48 minutes to the team's "small forwards."

It's difficult to look at this roster and not envision at least some rotation juggling by Malone throughout the season. Looking at the sum of this roster is a stark reminder that new ownership and management have only been in place for a few months, and there is still a lot of work to be done. The roster appears that it could use one less power forward and shooting guard, using those spots to add one shot-altering big man and another legitimate wing player. Until that happens, the Kings are still going to be pounding at least a few square pegs into round holes.

-

UPDATE: A late (section214 butt-pulled) version that includes Landry's injury:

Player Games Minutes MPG-Actual MPG-82 Adj.
Cousins 75 2625 35 32
Thornton 76 2052 27 25
Thomas 78 2028 26 25
Vasquez 66 1848 28 23
Thompson 76 1824 24 22
Mbah a Moute 62 1612 26 20
McLemore 70 1540 22 19
Patterson 70 1400 20 17
Salmons 64 1024 16 12
Landry 40 960 24 12
Hayes 60 900 15 11
Fredette 50 600 12 7
Outlaw 45 580 13 16
McCallum 40 400 10 5
Misc. Players 25 250 10 3
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