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NBA AM: Who’s Struggling To Find Playing Time?

Around the league, there are numerous players unexpectedly out of the rotation or in diminished roles.

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Who’s Struggling To Find Playing Time?

Preseason theories that look good on paper before the start of training camp are typically altered throughout the course of every NBA season. Every year there will be individuals expected to play key roles in their team’s nightly rotation who instead find themselves in lesser roles and, in some cases, glued to the bench. The reasons are plentiful: Age, injury, poor conditioning, newly implemented offensive and defensive schemes or a freshly acquired talent all present challenges to a player’s playing time.

As we near the season’s halfway point, let’s take a look around the league at some guys who were expected to play bigger roles but have found themselves battling for minutes every night.

Josh Smith, Los Angeles Clippers
2015-16 season stats:
5.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.1 blocks, 14 minutes per game

Smith was once considered a potential All-Star talent but has bounced around the league the past few seasons. Starting fresh with the Los Angeles Clippers, it would have been unrealistic to expect huge stats across the board for Smith since he would be playing behind All-Star forward Blake Griffin. However, Griffin has been out of the lineup for a couple of weeks and Smith has remained non-existent in the Clippers’ rotation. In the past six games, Smith has played less than five minutes while racking up five DNP-CDs – losing minutes to the unheralded Cole Aldrich.

Julius Randle, Los Angeles Lakers
2015-16 season stats:
11 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 26 minutes per game

For the third consecutive season, the Lakers are lottery bound and the squad is giving their young collection of talent plenty of court time to gain experience. On the surface, Randle’s minutes and nightly production are solid for a guy basically playing his first pro season. However, the forward has lost his starting position to Larry Nance Jr. while seeing his nightly minutes dip from 29 minutes per game in November to 19 minutes to begin 2016. Randle still has the higher upside, compared to Nance Jr., but Lakers head coach Byron Scott appears to be showing his young charge tough love and holding him to a higher standard.

Kevin Martin, Minnesota Timberwolves
2015-16 season stats:
12.2 points, 2.2 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 25 minutes per game

Martin played a key role during the early portion of the season for the T’Wolves, but it’s clear the organization is investing fully in their youth movement, leaving the veteran out of the rotation. Martin has racked up seven straight DNP-CDs and more than likely will hear his name in trade rumors as the deadline approaches next month.

Markieff Morris, Phoenix Suns
2015-16 season stats:
10.5 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2 assists, 23 minutes per game

It is well documented that Morris and the Suns have an unsteady relationship, but both sides appeared to head into the season willing to give it a shot. However, Morris has appeared in just six of the Suns last 17 contests and for a team now missing its best player in Eric Bledsoe, you would think the forward would get more run – but it has yet to materialize. Morris seemingly having one foot out the door in Phoenix hasn’t helped.

Ben McLemore, Sacramento Kings
2015-16 season stats:
7.3 points, 2.1 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 21 minutes per game

McLemore started in all 82 games for Sacramento last season while playing 33 minutes per night. However, to start the season, the third-year guard is seeing just 21 minutes of action and briefly lost his spot in the starting lineup. The former lottery pick has reportedly voiced his frustration with head coach George Karl, but for the time being it seems like last season’s floor time is truly a thing of the past.

Ty Lawson, Houston Rockets
2015-16 season stats:
6.4 points, 1.9 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 25 minutes per game

From 36 minutes per night in October down to 18 minutes to begin 2016, Lawson’s role with the Rockets is nowhere close to what was projected to begin the season. Although Lawson has recently found his shooting stroke, his biggest adjustment has been playing without the ball next to All-Star guard James Harden. Once thought to be the final piece to Houston’s title contention plans, Lawson now serves as a $12 million struggling reserve.

Tim Hardaway Jr., Atlanta Hawks
2015-16 season stats:
2.6 points, 1.2 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 12 minutes per game

The Hawks acquired Hardaway Jr. in a three-team draft day trade where Atlanta sent their first-round pick to Washington. The deal made sense since the Hawks were coming off an Eastern Conference Finals trip and wanted a bit more experience in the backcourt and rookies rarely contribute on championship teams. After all, Hardaway Jr. averaged double figures in his first two seasons in the league. But to date, the guard has played just 66 minutes for Atlanta, while racking up multiple D-League stints.

Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic
2015-16 season stats:
12.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4 assists, 1.1 steals, 29 minutes per game

Oladipo averaged a whopping 35.7 minutes per game last season while starting in all but one of his 72 appearances. But the third-year guard lost his starting role earlier this season under new head coach Scott Skiles and has struggled to maintain a rhythm. Oladipo discussed his contributions and lashed out at his critics in the video at the top of this post.

Lance Stephenson, Los Angeles Clippers
2015-16 season stats:
4.2 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 17 minutes per game

The Clippers desperately needed wing help and acquired Stephenson last summer from the Charlotte Hornets. However, after beginning the season in the starting lineup, Stephenson has continued to see his role decline with just 36 minutes combined in his last four appearances.

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons

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