NBA Position Battles: Will Greg Monroe Ever Fit in Milwaukee?
Over the last few weeks, we've studied various position battles around the NBA and speculated about which ones could get shuffled up soon. Since our last installment, luck would have it that some of the exact situations that we've been monitoring actually shifted.
Here are three position battles that got even more interesting this past week. In each case, a regular starter lost (or in one case, conceded) his job to someone who used to come off the bench. Whether any of these moves are permanent or not remains to be seen, but we'll study the before and after effects of each starting lineup change to see if it was the right move for now, and check back on them in later editions to see if the battles continue to rage on or if they can be considered resolved.
John Henson Starting Over Greg Monroe & Miles Plumlee
Greg Monroe is the highest paid player on the Milwaukee Bucks this season, but that hasn't stopped Bucks coach Jason Kidd from bringing Moose off the bench for all 10 of the teams games so far this year.
For the first eight games, Miles Plumlee got the nod as the starting center over Monroe, but Plumlee was generally ineffective and still trailed Monroe in minutes played 21.5 to 14.2 over that span. An overdue shuffle-up at the center position came two games ago, but Kidd threw another curveball by giving John Henson the honor, once again leaving Monroe on the bench.
Here's a look at how all three players fared through the first eight games of the season with Plumlee starting.
And here's how things have looked through two games with Henson as the starting five.
During the Bucks' first eight contests, it was obvious that Plumlee was starting the games, but Monroe was playing the starting center role, getting all the minutes, touches, shots, and basically everything else that goes along with that.
In the two games since Henson was inserted into the starting lineup, however, there has been a big shift in production among the three bigs (albeit in an extra small sample size). Henson is now playing the most minutes and producing the most during his time on the floor. Monroe has fallen off a cliff over those two games, including a four-point, three-rebound dud in a little over seven minutes against the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night. Meanwhile, Plumlee has played fewer than 10 minutes in two straight and might be falling out of the rotation entirely.
Jason Kidd is certainly known for his inconsistent, wonky rotations, and that's on full display here. If a Monroe trade rumor ever comes to fruition, we might get some clarity here, but until then, it'll just be a sticky situation worth monitoring (and we will).
Jeff Green Starting Over Aaron Gordon
Aaron Gordon is one of the most promising young players on the Orlando Magic, but his role on this team got awful muddy when they acquired Serge Ibaka, Bismack Biyombo, and Jeff Green this past offseason to join Gordon and Nikola Vucevic to form a crowded frontcourt. Gordon appeared to be the one light shining through said mud early in the season, but four games ago, he was relegated to the bench in favor of Green.
We've been covering this logjam all season (check the "Related News" on this article to cycle back through previous weeks), but this change (which happened the night after our last installment was released) has created a significant shift in minutes and production among this five-headed monster.
Here are the numbers for those five guys through the Magic's first eight games, when Gordon, Ibaka, and Vucevic were starting.
And here are the numbers over the last four games, in which Green has replaced Gordon in the starting lineup.
Before the change at starting small forward, a pecking order was emerging, even if not one player was playing fewer than 20 or more than 30 minutes per game. Gordon was playing the most minutes of everybody (29.7), Vucevic was getting the most touches (66.3) and shots (11.8), and Ibaka fell somewhere in the middle. Meanwhile, Biyombo and Green were clearly in bench roles and in the lower end of a relative timeshare with their starting counterparts.
The biggest difference with the small forward switch is that Green is not getting the ball as much with the starters as Gordon was in his position or as Green himself was when coming off the bench. That has meant a lot more focus on Ibaka, with an increase in minutes (28.1 to 31.3), usage rate (19.8% to 25.5%), and touches (45.5 to 57.5), and his across-the-board production has followed suit.
Vucevic is slumping and has played in a fairly even timeshare with Biyombo over this four-game stretch (24.4 minutes per contest to 24.2, respectively), and Gordon's minutes have taken a significant hit (dropping from 29.7 to 23.6, causing him to fall from top to almost the bottom of the quintet in terms of time on the floor).
The Magic were 3-5 the old way and are now 2-2 the new way, but those samples are too small to be able to say definitively that the change has made a difference. They might be increasing their chances of re-signing Ibaka by getting him more involved, but it might be at the cost of stunting Gordon's growth.
At the very least, it's still too early to tell which iteration of the Magic's frontcourt makes the most sense or how this situation is going to play out, but we'll continue to keep an eye on it. It still feels like a trade will be needed before any clarity is truly gained.
Kenneth Faried Starting Over Nikola Jokic
Last week, we discussed how the starting frontcourt of Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic just wasn't working for the Denver Nuggets. Almost as if Nuggets head coach Mike Malone were a numberFire subscriber and had read this column saying so, he made a change to his starting five just a game later.
In all seriousness, Malone was actually given an out from his twin-tower frontcourt when Jokic requested to come off the bench instead of continuing to start next to Nurkic. This gave Malone the opportunity to re-insert Faried -- the team's longtime starting four -- into his opening unit and Faried has responded in a big way.
Here is how the Nuggets' trio of big men were doing through the team's first eight games, with the Jokic/Nurkic starting frontcourt.
And here's how they've done in the three games since Faried replaced Jokic in the starting five:
Faried has played like a Manimal possessed over his last few games and seems to have earned his starting job back for the foreseeable future. At the very least, he seems intent on doing everything he can to keep it if last night's comments after his 20-point, 15-rebound, 4-steal, and 1-block performance are any indication:
Kenneth Faried on starting again: That's my spot. I didn't take too kindly to [coming off the bench] it was kind of a wake up call.
— Harrison Wind (@NBAWind) November 17, 2016
Meanwhile, both Jokic and Nurkic are left trying to find their place. Both are still incredibly young (Jokic is 21 and Nurkic is 22), so these early-season growing pains are to be expected. Nurkic has continued to start these last three games, but has been mired in a pretty brutal slump and has actually played fewer minutes than Jokic (who admittedly has not been much better). Nurkic even hit rock bottom on Wednesday night, going scoreless in 15 minutes of action.
Going forward, we'll consider this less of a three-man position battle (considering Faried has earned himself some leash as the team's starting four), and instead look at who is getting the edge between Nurkic and Jokic as the team's starting center. At some point, one will likely separate himself from the other and make a clear bid for that role, instead of this process of splitting the minutes to middling results. We'll be keeping an eye on it.
Darren Collison started for the Sacramento Kings in his first game back from an eight-game suspension last week but has come off the bench behind Ty Lawson over the last three games. Of course, you couldn't tell that by looking at their numbers over that three-game span:
Collison should be starting over Lawson before long, and we'll soon forget we were even monitoring this situation.
C.J. Miles started over Monta Ellis for the Indiana Pacers last Friday night, but Ellis responded with 19 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and 4 steals, and has been back in Indian's starting five in all three of their games since.
Luol Deng and Brandon Ingram continue to play close to the same number of minutes for the Los Angeles Lakers while putting up nearly identical stat lines, while Nick Young and Jordan Clarkson oddly do close to the exact same thing. The older dudes, Deng and Young, have started all 12 games for the 7-5 Lakers, but Ingram and Clarkson are keeping pace and could still edge their counterparts out eventually. It originally felt like it wouldn't take long for the youth movement to be on in Los Angeles, but their hot start has put a pin in that for now.
Marquese Chriss took over for Jared Dudley as the starting power forward for the Phoenix Suns five games ago and has been "meh" to "ok" in that role ever since. Once Dragan Bender works his way into the mix eventually, this could shape up to be a situation worth keeping tabs on in future editions of this column. For now, no one's really grabbing all that much attention from the position, so we'll continue letting it play out.
The Philadelphia 76ers' frontcourt is still bruised up and rife with minute restrictions and guys sitting out games during back-to-back sets. It's going to be a damn fun situation to talk about when Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, and Dario Saric are all at full strength, but alas, that point in time isn't exactly just around the corner. For now? We patiently continue to trust the process.