This is written by my friend and fellow PistonsForumer dba aka the stat sprocket. Iron Men or Tin Men Written by the stat sprocket on Saturday, June 23, 2007 Looking at This Season - Tin Men From about the two thirds mark of the regular season, every nationally televised Pistons game began with a discussion of bench development. The Pistons were playing the bench more, were sacrificing regular season wins for player development that would help them in the post season. After hearing it and reading it a few dozen times, we even began to believe it. And a cursory look at the data even supports the argument. Top Six Players (counting Webber and Mohammed as one player in 2007) 84.1% of team minutes in 2006 / 72.9% of team minutes in 2007 Top Four Plus McDyess (excluding the center position) 68.9% of team minutes in 2006 / 62.6% of team minutes in 2007 This means that beyond McDyess, in the average game there were twenty-seven additional minutes to be divided up across the bench in 2007 than in 2006. So far, so good. But, the key is how often this average bench-developing game happened. Of the possible 410 regular season player/games (five positions times 82 games) in 2006, Billups, Hamilton, Prince, Wallace, and McDyess appeared in 405. No one missed more than two games. However, injuries and suspensions took their toll in 2007 and this same group played only in 384 of the possible 410 player/games. Only Prince and McDyess played in them all, with Billups missing fifteen and Hamilton and Wallace both missing seven. The effect of this increase in games missed by the top players is that the bench played more – that is, they started a number of games – Murray started eighteen, Maxiell eight, etc. To a large extent, these starts explain the overall increase in minutes played by the bench. If we look at average minutes per game played, the story reverses. When they played, Prince, Hamilton, and Billups all played more minutes per game in 2007 than in 2006. McDyess didn’t change and Wallace played three fewer minutes per game. So yes, the bench played more of the team’s minutes, but the starters really didn’t get any more consistent rest. When the starters played they often played more minutes than last year. This means that the situations in which the bench players logged a lot of their minutes ended up being unlike the situations in which they would be asked to play in the playoffs. Experience is experience, no doubt, but having individual bench players tossed into the starting rotation does nothing to develop the play of bench players with other bench players. On the bench only Delfino got consistent playing time across the course of the season. However, when the playoffs came around those minutes were cut in half to 8.4 per game. The net effect is the worst of all possible worlds. The starters got some time off, but it was concentrated and not consistent over the course of the season so they did not enter the playoffs any more well rested. And the bench got more minutes, but many of them were in situations different from those in which they would play come playoff time. Looking at the Iron Men Across Five Seasons Since 1980 five teams have played in at least five conference finals in a row. 1984 – 1988 Boston Celtics 1987 – 1991 Detroit Pistons 1989 - 1993 Chicago Bulls 1982 – 1989 Los Angeles Lakers 2003 – 2007 Detroit Pistons It is fairly safe to assume that the players who played all five years for their teams had the opportunity to play the most games of any players in the history of the league (at least since 1980). They at least played through the conference finals and many of them played in two or more finals series during the five year span. (For the Lakers who went to the conference finals for more than five years in a row I’ve selected the single continuous five year span for each player in which he played the most minutes.) The players who come to the top of this list are the true iron men of the NBA. Among players with more than ten thousand minutes in the regular season across their individual five year spans, Michael Jordan leads the way as the ultimate iron man. Bird averaged more minutes per game, but played in fewer games. Laimbeer played in more games, but averaged a lot fewer minutes. For the Pistons’ Bad Boys, Laimbeer, Thomas, Dumars, Rodman, and Johnson all played more than ten thousand minutes, particularly interesting when you consider that Rodman and Johnson were bench players for several or all of those seasons. In the top five, between Jordan, Bird, Pippen, Hamilton, and Johnson (Magic), who sticks out? Rip is a fine player, a consistent player, perhaps even a unique player particularly given how the game is played today, but is he a guy who is so valuable that he needs to be on the court as much as his cohorts in the top five? Sorry Rip, but I suspect that with fewer minutes you would be more effective, not less. Likewise, between Worthy, Thomas, Billups, Dumars, and Abdul-Jabbar, is Chauncey really of a skill level sufficient to demand quite that much court time? And let’s not even mention Prince, who manages more than ten thousand minutes across the current Pistons five year run despite playing in the fewest number of games than anyone on the list (tied with McHale), and only averaging ten MPG across 42 games his rookie season (the first of the five years). Prince’s playing time sticks out even more when we look at the four consecutive seasons with the most minutes within the five year conference finals runs of each team. Again, Prince is a fine player, a guy who does a lot of things on the court, including, as we’ve seen over the past two years, disappearing in the conference finals. Perhaps he just isn’t a guy who should have the fifth highest average minutes per game of any player over four seasons since 1980. The runs some of these players made clearly indicate that it is possible, given incredible preparation, monumental physical stamina, and a lot of luck with injuries, to play an extraordinary number of minutes. Both Jordan and Bird averaged more than thirty-eight minutes a game over five long seasons with deep playoff runs. However, despite the wonders of mango extract, perhaps this course isn’t the best route to multiple championships if your name happens to be Billups, Hamilton, or Prince.