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Doc: Playing Starters Too Few Minutes Does More Harm Than Good

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There's nothing wrong with getting these guys some extra rest
There's nothing wrong with getting these guys some extra rest

Many fans have called for Doc Rivers to play the starters vastly reduced minutes this season, mostly to keep the "big three" fresh for the playoffs.  According to Doc, it isn't going to happen:

While Rivers said it sounds good in theory to limit his starters to less than 30 minutes a night to prevent injury and excess fatigue before the postseason, he believes that holding them back would do more harm than good.

"You have to play your starters for a certain amount of minutes," Rivers said. "People think that if you can play them 28 minutes a night that’s good, but that’s awful. If you look historically, Michael Jordan never played under 37 minutes a night. There is a reason for that — rhythm. You have to keep your rhythm during the season. [Playing fewer minutes] sounds like a great idea, but if you play them 28 minutes to conserve them, then you throw them out of their rhythm."

That sounds good in theory.  However, there's a fine line between playing the starters too little, and over-playing them to the point of exhaustion, like last season.  Repeatedly last season, Doc admitted that he was overplaying Pierce and Ray.  Last season, Pierce stated that fatigue for he and Ray Allen was a concern.  Already in training camp, Doc has admitted to playing KG too many minutes.  In the past, Doc has played other players too many minutes, even against doctor's orders (i.e., Wally Szczerbiak, among others).  Should we trust him, then, when he's already talking about playing the starters more minutes than maybe some fans are expecting?

The good thing is, the players are on Doc's side on this one:

Celtics captain Paul Pierce and fellow All-Star Ray Allen both said they don’t want to play fewer minutes to conserve themselves for the postseason if it means the Celtics are going to lose games.

"That doesn’t make sense to me," Pierce said. "I’m trying to win every game we play. … When I step out on the court and the other guys step out on the court, we play to win."

Furthermore, Doc's plan isn't as radical as it may seem, as he recognizes that he can't run the starters into the ground:

"We’re going to be who we are," Rivers said. "We are not going to apologize for it. We are going to play every night to win games, and at the same time, because we have a bench, the minutes will be fairly good."

Rivers said that ideally he would like to play his starters somewhere between 32 and 36 minutes a night.

"Everybody’s different and you don’t know what it is until it starts," Rivers said. "With Kevin, with injuries, you might have to do it less. … I think Paul is one of those guys that you can play any stretch of minutes, but Kevin and Ray need minutes. That’s what they need to get going to get their plays."

Ultimately, if Doc truly keeps the starters in the 32 to 36 minute per game range, that's probably fine.  As Doc points out, there have been plenty of aging starters in league history who have averaged 32+ minutes per game.  I think, though, that you start running into problems when the starters are averaging closer to 40 minutes, like they did late last season.  Obviously, there were extenuating circumstances there; KG was hurt, and Doc was basically left without a bench competent enough to win games.  However, it's imperative that Doc keeps the team fresh down the stretch.  With Rasheed and Daniels on the bench, I think that's something he'll have a lot more success with this season.

UPDATE:  Doc has more on the subject in this morning's Dennis & Callahan interview:

I assume the addition of Rasheed and Shelden Williams and Marquis Daniels allows you to even further monitor the minutes your guys are playing, mix and match and get guys rest to extend their viability throughout the course of the season. Fair to say?

Yeah, that is fair. You know, you have to careful with the rest, though. There’s a limit, if you know what I’m saying. If you play Paul Pierce let’s say 28 minutes a night, that’s probably not good for him. It doesn’t allow him to stay in rhythm and get done what he likes to get done on the floor. So, there’s a happy medium to that, too. Historically, if you look at all the great players who are [older than 30], they still stayed in that 35-minute area. And I think if you ask each one of them, they would even say higher. I’ve asked them, and they always say the 38[-minute] number, which I think is too much. So, we’re going to try to keep him at that 35, 33 number, and that would be terrific.