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.
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?
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.
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