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Can You Solve Orlando’s Frontcourt Rotation?

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Who would be the star of your system?

NBA: Orlando Magic at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest concerns following the Magic’s sometimes wild, sometimes enigmatic offseason is how they’re going to balance the frontcourt rotation. How is Aaron Gordon going to get the minutes he deserves? Did Orlando sign Bismack Biyombo only to have him play backup minutes? Which big man pairings will they try, and which ones are going to work?

More importantly, can a bunch of amateurs on the internet figure out the best answers to these questions? Probably not! Let’s try anyway.

Inspired somewhat by The Ringer’s roster-building game, I thought I’d make up a challenge to figure out a minutes rotation for the 3-to-5 spots. The goal is to assign 140 minutes-worth of playing time to the five key players in those positions: Bismack Biyombo, Aaron Gordon, Jeff Green, Serge Ibaka, and Nikola Vucevic. Technically, the three positions have a total of 144 minutes to divvy up, but let’s assume some other guys will get in the mix here and there.

Once you’ve decided how many minutes each guy is gonna get, check the table below to see how many “chemistry points” your lineup is worth. Points aren’t everything, though, and if you have a reason why you think your picks exceed the points you’re getting, feel free to provide some details in the comments below.

Each player has minutes standards which they’d like to meet. You get points based on “tiers,” which include Happy (+1), Content (+0), Unhappy (-1) and Upset(-2). For example, Vucevic averaged about 31 mpg last season, so he’s happy with anything 33+, content from 30-32, unhappy down to 27 minutes, and a major negative presence on the team if he’s getting anything less than that.

These standards aren’t based on any secret insider information on my part, just some arbitrary benchmarks I decided on relative to minutes played last season and expected role on the team. It also doesn’t really consider the actual attitudes of each player. For all I know, Biyombo would be totally fine playing 10 minutes a night, but the game would be a bit too easy if we assumed that, wouldn’t it?

One more thing: for the sake of simplicity, let’s keep things in the realm of whole numbers, no decimal shenanigans to optimize your lineups.

Player Upset (-2) Unhappy (-1) Content (0) Happy (+1)
Bismack Biyombo 18- 19-21 22-24 25+
Aaron Gordon 20- 21-23 24-26 27
Jeff Green 23- 24-26 27-29 30+
Serge Ibaka 26- 27-29 30-32 33+
Nikola Vucevic 26- 27-29 30-32 33+

Here’s a few examples of my own creation:

The Average Lineup

Biyombo-28
Gordon-28
Green-28
Ibaka-28
Vucevic-28

Total score: 0

Simple and straightforward, just give everyone the same minutes! Upsides are that the coaching staff doesn’t have to play favorites, and with all of these guys playing a solid amount there will be plenty of opportunities to explore different combinations.

Unfortunately, while Biyombo and Gordon are “happy” with their increased playing time, 28mpg represents a fairly significant decrease for Ibaka and Vucevic, so they cancel out the effect. Also, Green probably should be playing less than any of the rest of these players, on the basis of merit.

The Optimal Lineup

Biyombo-25
Gordon-27
Green-27
Ibaka-30
Vucevic-33

Total score: +3

This is my attempt to purely game the system and max out the “chemistry” points. I actually wouldn’t be surprised to see a rotation close to this. Biyombo and Gordon, again, see increased playing time over last season, while Green and Ibaka get just enough playing time to be content in their roles. Throw in a “happy” amount of minutes for Vucevic that cements his position as the franchise center, and the chemistry looks pretty solid.

Of course, this isn’t perfect in terms of the on-court impact. Again, Green probably needs to play less if he performs similarly to his last couple seasons. It also gives a lot of playing time to the lesser defensive players of the bunch, which leads me to my last example...

The Defense-First Lineup

Biyombo-30
Gordon-30
Green-20
Ibaka-33
Vucevic-27

Total score: 0

This is the kind of distribution we might see if Frank Vogel wants to prioritize defense and athleticism over offense. Expect to see a lot of Gordon-Ibaka-Biyombo on the court together, a combination that threatens to smother the offense...on both teams, frankly. Think about the blocks, though! So many blocks!

Then again, this might present a bigger chemistry issue than the score of zero suggests. This rotation suggests Biyombo has taken center stage over Vucevic, and while this is probably a more reasonable minutes total for Green, it’s probably not what he’d like when his 1-year deal means he’s already playing for his next contract.

What do you think? Bust out your calculators, add up your points, and throw your suggestions in the comments below.