Golden State Warriors: Managing Minutes Is The Key To Success

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 09: Klay Thompson
CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 09: Klay Thompson /

The Golden State Warriors return home from an early three game road trip having posted a middling a 2-2 mark, looking to get on track, and managing minutes will prove key.

The Golden State Warriors are off to a very average start this season, but the biggest story of the first week of the NBA season is that player injuries are already a concern as players such as Gordon Hayward and Jeremy Lin have already been lost for the year.

Injuries are always going to happen, but teams with championship aspirations – like the Warriors – are especially mindful of how an injury (or injuries) can derail those championship goals.

One way to decrease the likelihood of injuries and also minimize the wear and tear on a player’s body is to play them  fewer minutes per game. Sitting players out of games is one method for achieving this goal. And that topic has received a lot of attention.

The other approach is to limit minutes in game – as the Philadelphia 76ers did with Joel Embiid last season.

In the moment, with the game on the line though, sticking to such limits can be difficult.

As the first week of the Warriors’ season draws to a close, here is a look at key Warriors players and their minutes per game for the last three seasons and a goal for this season’s minutes and games played.

Stephen Curry will turn 30 years old n March this season. And an average of 30 minutes per game is the goal. Over the last three years, he has averaged playing 33.4 minutes in 79.3 games a year.

Cutting Curry’s play by 3.4 minutes across 79.3 games would be a reduction of 270 minutes, or the equivalent of sitting out nine games at 30 minutes per game. His career average is 34.6 minutes per game.

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He is averaging 31.5 minutes in the first four games this season.

Kevin Durant is six months younger than Curry, turning 29 last month. Over the last three seasons Durant has played 62, 72 and 27 regular season games – and he has a track record of injury.

He played 33.4 minutes per game in his first year in Oakland.

A reasonable target for Durant is 32 minutes per game, but expect him to sit some games out either when he is dinged up or as a preventative measure. He has averaged 37.4 minutes per game in his career. It is time to cut that number.

A week into the season though, he is averaging 37.3 minutes per game.

Draymond Green will turn 28 in March. Since becoming a starter in 2014-15 he has averaged 32.9 minutes and 78.7 games in those three seasons. He had an MRI after a knee issue in the opener – a stark reminder of how quickly the injury bug can strike.

Keeping the competitive Green’s minutes down will be a challenge. So a goal of 32 minutes per game seems reasonable. And he is at exactly 32.0 minutes through four games.

Next: Golden State's 2017-18 Roster Preview

Klay Thompson led the team in minutes played (2,649) and minutes per game (34.0) last season. He has averaged 78.3 games per season the last three years while averaging 33 minutes per game. He turns 28 in February.

Thompson has been durable throughout his career, playing at least 77 games each season since 2012-13, so there probably is not a major adjustment needed in his playing time. He is playing 35.3 minutes per contest in the first week.

Before leaving the “Core  Four” of Curry, Durant, Green and Thompson, it is important to note that the franchise is already doing a great job limiting their minutes. No Warriors player was in the top 20 in the league in minutes played or minutes per game last season.

For context, Andrew Wiggins led the league with 3,048 minutes last season and LeBron James led the NBA in minutes per game at 37.8 per contest.

From a Warriors historical perspective, Chris Mullin (then 27), Mitch Richmond (then 25) and Tim Hardaway (then 24) each averaged more than 39 minutes and logged over 3,000 minutes in their last season together in 1990-91.

Golden State Warriors
Golden State Warriors /

Golden State Warriors

The NBA season is a marathon, not a sprint. And the way Steve Kerr manages minutes reflects that reality. And the way Bob Myers has built the roster – deep and flexible – has allowed Kerr to limit his starters’ minutes.

Most bench players would prefer more minutes, not fewer.

But the three Warriors veteran bench players are worth keeping an eye on with regard to minutes played.

Andre Iguodala returned with a new three year contract. That big deal means the Warriors want to keep him in top form not just for the inevitable playoff run, but also for he next two seasons. Iguodala turns 34 in January.

Over the last three years – since moving to the sixth man role after being a starter in his first year in Oakland – Iguodala has averaged 26.6 minutes per game and appeared 72.7 games per season.

He sat out the Warriors opener and we can expect him to be held out whenever a minor injury necessitates it. His presence in the post-season is what counts. Whether by sitting out or playing fewer minutes in games, it would not be surprising to see his total minutes drop from last year’s 1,998 to more in line with his 2015-16 total of 1,732.

In three contests thus far he is playing 25.3 minutes a night.

David West is 37 years old. Last season, he played 68 games and averaged 12.6 minutes per contest for a total of 854 minutes, which was way down from his previous season with the Spurs when he played 1,404 minutes in 78 games.

Keeping him at about 12 minutes per game this year is probably as low as a rotation player can go. He is at 10.8 minutes per game after a week.

Finally, there is Shaun Livingston and his injury-ravaged career. In three seasons with Golden State he has never averaged even 20 minutes per night. Look for that trend to continue in year four.

Through the first week of the year Livingston has clocked in at 16.5 minutes per night.

Just a week into the year, it is key not too read too much into any “small sample size” statistics, including the Warriors’ 2-2 record. That goes for minutes played in just a handful of games, too.

But, tracking minutes will be a key subplot throughout the next six months of the 2017-18 regular season.