Wednesday, April 20, 2011

1 comments To Rest or Not To Rest?

Unanswerable philosophical questions have plagued societies for ages.

1.) If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

2.) Which came first: the chicken or the egg?

3.) Do you eat Ramen with a fork or spoon?

Worry not. I have the answers.

1. Yes.

2. The chicken.

3. Both.

You’re right to wonder why I left out the 4th and most important question. And I apologize for the delay, but the Gods demand more than a simple answer. So let’s take the first step together and pose the eternally frustrating, polarizing and thought-provoking question.

Should NBA teams rest their starters when their playoff position is set in stone?

Before we dive in headfirst, let me make one thing abundantly clear. This question only affects the first round of the playoffs. With at least four full games played with Chestnut vs. Kobayashi intensity, teams can no longer ride the “we haven’t played hard in a while” card. Maybe the coach’s decision to shelve the best players provoked their stumbling out of the gates, but six or seven games is more than enough games to rekindle the fire for the 2nd round. If it’s not, then your team doesn’t deserve to win it all anyway. It’s the playoffs. We ain’t talkin’ ‘bout practice. We talkin’ bout the playoffs.

Although most coaches err on the side of caution, recent history has mixed feelings. The 2006-2007, 67-win, 1st seed Mavericks were bounced in the first round by a misanthropic and multifarious crew of misfits that we refer to as the Golden State Warriors (alliteration included with your Happy Meal). A few weeks before that epic series, Avery Johnson shut down the engines of all his top players after securing the West’s number one seed. Apparently he lost Dirk’s key, because he never fully regained his MVP form in round one. In 2007-2008 and 2008-2009, the Boston Celtics found themselves in a similar situation. With Boston comfortably cruising to the first and second seeds, Doc Rivers took his foot off the gas. The result was two gruesome, hard fought, seven-game series that nearly ended in their elimination.

Meanwhile, the Cleveland Cavaliers of 2008-2009 and 2009’-2010 secured #1 seeds before season’s end. Yet Mike Brown’s decision to shut down LeBron (costing him a scoring title) only helped the Cavs. In fact, in both seasons they easily dismantled Detroit and Chicago in the first round.

This season, the Bulls played Luol Deng and Derrick Rose heavy minutes during the season’s stretch run. The result? Barely squeaking out two victories at home versus the Pacers. Meanwhile, the Spurs, who adopted a fast-paced offense to reignite their aging stars, took the middle approach. Duncan and Parker played 25 and 30 minutes respectively in the season finale vs. Phoenix. But the fear that forces coaches to handcuff their starters to the bench materialized. Manu Ginobili suffered an injury that eliminated him from Game 1 of the playoffs.

So what does all of this suggest? Generalizations are useless. There are countless examples that prove everything and nothing. There’s no hard and fast rule. Especially in a sport where team style does not always trickle down to individual play. Some subscribe to the theory that old teams should rest their players. In the past, the Celtics and Spurs, widely considered old, have followed this guideline. But while they may be old in age, does their play mirror their 1970’s birth date? Manu Ginobili thrives on harnessing his inner-25-year-old recklessness. Ray Allen outworks players with half his age and double his athleticism. Rajon Rondo’s mere speed and effort propel his team to unseen heights.

So what’s the solution? Keep it simple. Rest your injured players. After that, it’s a crapshoot. Just don’t look back and blame a first round series loss on an impossible-to-predict decision.


Bengoodfella said...

Dylan, I think you are right about resting injured starters. I also think there isn't really proof either way on whether to rest the starters of a team or not. The fact there isn't really evidence one way or another it works goes to prove that.

I say, as the head coach if you think your team needs some rest, then rest them. If you think momentum is important (i.e. UConn in the NCAA Tournament) then keep them going. It's impossible to predict the future and impossible to know how a team will react to the gas being eased upon, so there is no point in having a hard and fast rule and take it case by case.