Last spring, the Celtics and Lakers both went deep into the playoffs, both with aging players whose minutes might be a concern. At age 35, Ray Allen is coming off a season in which he played over 100 games, regular season and playoffs combined. It would seem, then, that at an age when most shooting guards are near retirement, Allen's minutes would be an early season concern for the Celtics. On the contrary, Allen is being used at an incredible rate: almost 40 minutes per game (39.3) early in this young season. His teammates are also being used at heavy rates -- each of the Big Four is experiencing a significant bump in minutes, with each player being used at least 9% more than their 2009-2010 rates.
Boston -- Minutes Per Game
Is it part of Doc's plan to ease up later this season? Once the Celtics get out to their traditional hot start (Boston is an amazing 78-12 in games played on or before Christmas since Garnett and Allen arrived), will these minutes go down? It might not be surprising that Garnett's minutes are up, considering that in Kendrick Perkins' absence, he is the Celtics finisher at PF/C with Glen Davis as his partner. But Marquis Daniels has been phenomenally efficient so far this season and it hasn't translated into increased minutes tossed his way. He could be used more to spell Pierce and Allen, but perhaps Delonte West's return will be the real key in getting them more rest.
Los Angeles - Minutes Per Game
In the Western Conference, the Lakers have taken a different route to get off to their unblemished 7-0 start. Kobe Bryant's minutes are way down as the team tries to rest his knees. Artest is also getting less playing time, while Pau Gasol and Derek Fisher get used at about the same rates as they did during the '09-'10 season. The only player here whose minutes are up significantly is Lamar Odom, arguably the one who might need rest the most over the course of a long season, given that he went from a championship season in June, to FIBA preparation and play in August and September, and then right back to the NBA a few weeks later. His minutes for this season are up 12%. It's a trend worth following as the season progresses.
There are other veteran players on championship contenders (Duncan, Nash, Vince Carter, Mike Bibby), but given the long playoff runs of both the Celtics and Lakers, these are the two teams whose minute-management skills may be most important once we get to 2011. And while the early season is a small sample, the Celtics seem to be taking their chances with such heavy usage of their starters.