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Not starting puts Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon at a disadvantage

Why do teams start their best players? There are two primary reasons.

1. Starting is a status symbol. Starters have their names announced before the game, and that recognition means a lot to players.

2. Teams want their best players to play the most minutes. Starters can begin playing their minutes sooner, leaving more time to rest later.

Occasionally, there are reasons to bring the best player at a position off the bench. Maybe he doesn’t complement the other starters as well someone else, or maybe he’s more comfortable coming off the bench.

I’m not sure either applies to Charlie Villanueva or Ben Gordon, neither of whom start regularly for the Pistons.

If the Jason Maxiell-Austin Daye rotation for starting power forward has taught us anything, it’s that the Pistons see Villanueva as their top power forward. He’s played in all of Detroit’s games. When Maxiell or Daye doesn’t start, he doesn’t play.

Gordon has outplayed Richard Hamilton so far this season and played more minutes, but it’s not clear which of the two the Pistons value more right now. At minimum, the case could be made either way.

Villanueva’s ability to space the floor and his improved defense and rebounding makes him a good fit with the other starters. Gordon, like Hamilton, is a scoring guard, so he fits as well as Hamilton with the other starters.

I don’t believe either Villanueva or Gordon is more comfortable coming off the bench.

So, I see no reason Villanueva shouldn’t be starting. Whether Gordon should be starting comes down to whether you believe he’s better than Hamilton

What kind of burden does coming off the bench place on those two?

Minutes breakdown

On average, Ben Gordon enters the game with 3:23 left in the first quarter. Then, Villanueva checks in with 2:47 left.

That’s about nine minutes of time wasted for two of Detroit’s top players. They’re not playing, and they’re not recuperating from playing.

So, although Gordon plays the third-most minutes per game and Villanueva plays the fifth-most, they’re cramming their minutes into a smaller window.

Comparing to the rest of the NBA

Through Tuesday, 85 players started all their team’s games. I’m comparing Villanueva and Gordon to that sample.

I wanted to see how the percentage of Detroit’s minutes Villanueva and Gordon played after entering the game for the first time compared to those starters. Admittedly, Villanueva’s and Gordon’s relative percentages were lower than I expected, but you can still see how their task is a little more difficult than it needs to be.

Click for full size


  • Dec 2, 20103:52 pm
    by Laser


    well, there’s certainly a chart here. ha. feldman loves him some charts.
    i’ve been saying the same thing, give or take a chart or two. there are a certain number of minutes that are off-limits to top players (not to mention guys we targeted, made MAJOR financial commitments to, and were the extent of our rebuilding process). but there are two different situations going on here.
    in villa’s case, there isn’t a compelling argument in the world that he shouldn’t get a chance to start. he’s distinctly our best option at the position, and you hit the nail on the head with the bit about how daye and max sit if they don’t start. if they’re not good enough to PLAY, why are they starting over someone who plays every night no matter what? it makes no sense. add to that the fact that daye might not actually get eaten alive every night if he was up against backups (though i maintain that PF is a terrible position for him regardless), and you have a ridiculous situation. it’s hardly worth a debate. villa may be an “ideal” big to bring off the bench, but stuckey would be “ideal” to bring off the bench, too. but with stuckey, there’s room for discussion. not so with villa; there’s no better option at PF.
    i’ve said it before that the minutes that are off-limits to him are important. we know what he’s capable of, and he needs a chance to get into a rhythm early. he can carry the offense for stretches, and all that upside is glued to the bench for 15-ish minutes at the start of halves. there’s no room for discussion here. he’s the most logical candidate to start by a wide margin, and the starting job should have been his to lose from the beginning of the season. unless you’d rather win the bench battle than the game, like some people seem to want.
    as for gordon, it’s a gray area. he’s the better shooter, pairs better with stuckey, fits better into our isolation “system.” but anyone with half a brain would LOVE to dump rip for all those reasons, so establishing his value is important if we hope to see him in another jersey some time soon. gordon’s earned the chance to start, but there are no “open competitions” here. he’s completely wasted as a backup behind two scoring guards, playing 20 minutes and taking 7 shots. partly because this team has so many shooters and so few playmakers, it looks like he’s been less aggressive with his shot, but he needs to be a focus of the offense to earn his salary.
    the villa situation is kuester’s problem, which means it’s fixable. if that dud ever decides to fix it. the gordon situation (like most of our troubles) is on joe, which means it might not get fixed until rip’s got an expiring contract.

  • Dec 2, 20104:00 pm
    by Laser


    sorry, i wrote a lot to have forgotten this. i’d said the same thing about how if villa’s going to play starter’s minutes, he can’t get hardly a moment’s rest once he enters in each half. on the other hand, if gordon’s going to play starter’s minutes, rip needs to have a broken ankle or get tossed or just plain play gordon’s customary 20.
    feldman! can you put together a chart for me? something we can all enjoy. i’m curious about how much money we pay rip, gordon and villa per minute played. i feel like no team in the league has a higher percentage of their payroll playing so few minutes. certainly no team in their right mind would sign someone to an eight-figure contract and almost IMMEDIATELY limit them to, say, 24 minutes. maybe there are even different charts that would illustrate from multiple angles just how badly we’re using our financial resources. it would be fun for you, and it’s a visual representation even i could get behind? thoughts?

  • Dec 2, 20106:47 pm
    by bg8


    you could also increase gordon minute by decreasing bynum minute, or play gordon and rip together but kuester just won’t do that unless its the ending of the 4th.

    also eventhough gordon is third on the team in average minute, its kind of misleading, since half of gordon minutes is basically doing garbage time in the 4th when they are already blown out

  • Dec 2, 20109:39 pm
    by Brett


    Couldn’t agree with you more “bg8″.  Gotta get Rip and Gordon on the court together somehow.  I don’t care if we’re a little out of position on defense (we’re not good anyway), don’t care if we don’t have a point guard on the floor (they don’t make plays anyway).  Our two highest paid players need to play, our two most established scorers need to score, and they need more than 48 minutes combined.

  • Dec 2, 201010:33 pm
    by Laser


    @brett: uh, so you gotta move one of them. or stuckey. or be terrible until rip’s contract expires… in 3 years.

  • Dec 3, 20101:53 am
    by bg8


    what kuester should do next game, especially since its against the magic, start prince at 4, rip at 3, bg at 2 since kuester is obviously hell bent on keeping cv on the bench. why not try it, the pistons really got nothing to lose, and beside the current line up is just not working

  • Dec 3, 20102:30 am
    by tom


    ben gordon is small and not good at defense, that’s probably why he’s come off the bench his whole career…  i personally believe that we need players that can play offense and defense..  we should trade him and play tmac more

  • Dec 3, 20103:01 am
    by tom


    no offense bg8, but how does it make sense to go small against dwight howard?!?!  i think that they may need some help inside

  • Dec 3, 20103:18 am
    by tom


    id start wallace, monroe, taysaun, rip and stucky…  i think of the role of ben gordon as a vinnie johnson, you guys remember the microwave?!?!

  • Dec 3, 20104:10 am
    by Tom Y.


    @ Laser: You keep talking about trading Stuckey as a way to solve the SG logjam, but who do you see replacing him as the main PG? I don’t see Bynum carrying the team as a main PG, especially the way he’s played this season. Or do you want to plug the hole with a mix of Bynum, T-Mac and Tay? That doesn’t sound like something that would make our team much better. Also, Tay and T-Mac are both expiring, so how would we solve the situation next year?
    In other words, though Stuckey may be better suited to play SG, he’s still our best starting PG – give him up and you still have to replace him. And it still doesn’t solve having both Rip and BG at the 2. The way I see it the only solution to this particular problem is to find a way to trade Rip, for whatever you can get, for anything that’s not a long-contract SG. Anything from cap relief to a longer contract that plays a different position (maybe someone like Elton Brand, although we’re rather stacked at the 4 as well).
    Anyway if Rip (or Stuckey) isn’t traded by the trade deadline, I’m all in favor of Rip coming off the bench and BG starting alongside Stuckey.

  • Dec 3, 20104:17 am
    by bg8


    @ tom: well you still have wallace manning the center position. i don’t see why we need another big when magic 4 is lewis and prince should be able to handle him cause we all know lewis don’t play inside at all. why should the pistons have 2 big out their just to rebound when the magic only got 1 big out there to rebound. every other position would be fairly even on the defensive end if you got bg on the pg and stuck on the shooting guard

  • Dec 3, 20104:20 am
    by Dan Feldman


    Laser, that’s a pretty good idea, but I think it makes more sense later in the season. Not just with the Pistons, not enough has shaken out with high-priced players.
    I’ll have another chart influenced by your comments soon, though.

  • Dec 3, 20106:36 pm
    by Laser


    ok cool. i can see at least two charts. maybe one with “percentage of the payroll that plays the least minutes” and one with “number of different players who are paid a sh*t-ton of money to play so few minutes.” hope i explained that right. they’re two different things, and i bet we’re leaders in each group. you should be able to draw meaningful conclusions about how poorly these teams were planned.

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