Thunder: Minute Restrictions Needed For Big Three

Sep 28, 2015; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35), Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka (9) and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) pose for photos during media day at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 28, 2015; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35), Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka (9) and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) pose for photos during media day at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports /

A lot of things need to go right to win an NBA championship. You need the right players, the right coach, the right matchups, the correct chemistry, and, of course, you need a little bit of luck.

Last season the Golden State Warriors had all those things, culminating in a championship banner. They had the MVP, an innovative coach and a roster full of selfless players. They also had a lot of luck on the injury front.

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The Warriors went through the entire postseason with almost a 100 percent healthy team — Marreese Speights being the only casualty. And on the flip side, faced a depleted Cleveland Cavaliers team in the NBA Finals, and a Houston Rockets team minus two of their starters in the Western Conference Finals, not to mention coming up against a Memphis Grizzlies side playing a broken-faced Mike Conley.

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Because of this good fortune, some folks downplay the Warriors’ achievement, placing a figurative asterisk beside their name as champions. These people must have short memories, as they seem to have forgotten how dominant the Warriors were for the entire season.

It’s also downplaying how they were able to stay injury free.

In a way, the Warriors created their luck by resting players at crucial points of the season and smartly managing player workloads. In essence, they gave themselves the best possible shot at staying injury free. It’s something the San Antonio Spurs have been doing for years, which has clearly contributed to the longevity of Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili.

The Oklahoma City Thunder have been at the other end of the injury spectrum the last three seasons, and probably feel harshly dealt by the basketball gods. Last season was especially bad, with all three of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka missing large chunks of games.

If the Warriors created their good fortune, did the Thunder, on the flip side, contribute to their bad injury luck?

Let’s compare how Golden State’s coaching staff managed their player workloads compared to what Oklahoma City did with the big three of Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka:

Minutes Per Game:                           Minutes Per Game:

Andrew Bogut         24                          Kevin Durant               34
Draymond Green    32                         Russell Westbrook    34
Harrison Barnes     28                         Serge Ibaka                  33
Klay Thompson       32
Stephen Curry         33

Above are the minutes per game totals from last season, and at first glance all appears normal, but these numbers are misleading. The difference between the two sides was how often players logged huge minutes in a game.

For instance, Steph Curry went over the 40-minute mark just twice the entire regular season, while Kevin Durant was able to double that in his injury-riddled 27-game campaign. The oft-injured Serge Ibaka went over it seven times while Russell Westbrook did it a whopping 14 times.

Normally it wouldn’t be as big an issue as it turned out to be, but with all three players having injury-checkered histories, why risk your three brightest stars like that?

Front offices are becoming more aware these issues. It’s a big reason Tom Thibodeaux was fired this off-season. He and the Chicago front office were never on the same page regarding player minutes, they believed in restricting player minutes, Thibodeaux didn’t, and now Fred Hoiberg‘s the coach of the Bulls.

Do As The Spurs Do

As mentioned earlier, the Spurs have been doing this for years, and not just with the three old amigos in Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, they limit the minutes of all their players.

Minutes Per Game (2014-15):

Tim Duncan          29
Kawhi Leonard     32
Danny Green         29
Tony Parker           29

Even the youngest of their stars, Kawhi Leonard, only averaged 33 minutes for the season. He also only went over the 40-minute threshold just twice during the regular season. And on both occasions in the game after logging 40 minutes he didn’t play more than 25 minutes.

Compare that to Ibaka, who twice played back to back 40-plus-minute games, and on the second occasion broke down with a season-ending injury in the following game.

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  • Even though Serge is younger than both Bogut and Duncan, with his injury history the Thunder need to use him the same way the Spurs and the Warriors use their big men. About 30 minutes a night seems right, and certainly no back-to-back 40-minute games.

    Oklahoma City would be wise in adopting a similar model, in managing player minutes, to what Golden State and San Antonio did last season.

    Even with the league reducing the four games in five nights, and the back-to-back-to-backs, it’s still a long and grueling season. The days where players could put in 40 minutes a night for 82 games a season are gone; the NBA’s just too intense now.

    Teams need to find ways to keep players fresh during the regular season to fully maximize them when the real games begin in the playoffs. The adage of creating your own luck is still relevant today, but the new adage that all teams should be adhering to is: Do as the Spurs do.

    Apply that mantra to every team basketball decision and things should work out just fine.

    Next: Oklahoma City Thunder: 2015-16 Season Preview

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