As our summer mainstay, Aaron's writing a 370-part series discussing almost every notable player who was -- as of last season -- getting minutes in the NBA. Intent is to get you talking, thinking, and appreciating the myriad of wonderful folks who play in our favorite sports league. The next three: Jameer Nelson, Monta Ellis, Sasha Pavlovic.
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_Follow Jameer Nelson on Twitter at @jameernelson._
At one point in his career, Jameer Nelson was the key. Do you remember that? Back in 2009, Nelson was an All-Star and easily one of the best at his position in the league -- after Chris Paul, Steve Nash, and Tony Parker, you were hard pressed to find a single point guard that was playing better ball than Jameer. He was putting up hyper efficient numbers -- 50% shooting, 45% from three, 90% from the line -- while chipping in per-36 stats of 20-4-7, which don't sound that amazing until you realize he was doing it on 14 shots a game and a career-low turnover rate. He was running the Orlando offense masterfully, and before he went down, the Magic looked like a substantially stronger team than the one they ended the season with. Unfortunately, Jameer got injured about halfway through the season, and he hasn't been the same since. The real key, and the part where Orlando fans have to wonder what-if? If Jameer Nelson -- in some very close facsimile of that magical 2009 form -- had been able to suit up for the finals, would the Lakers have beaten Orlando?
Before you laugh, look at those numbers. 50-45-90 against the entire league. Imagine that kind of a point guard playing 30-40 minutes per game in the finals against a team that was abysmal at defending point guards all year, as you could plainly see in the 2009 Lakers' rampant disregard for Aaron Brooks and Chauncey Billups. Both of those players -- relatively limited players at that point -- filleted the Laker defense even in their dominant 2009 title run. You can argue that the 2009 Lakers were simply too good, and that's a reasonable statement. I'm of the opinion the 2009 Lakers were one of the best Laker teams of the last 2 or 3 decades, with the exception of a few of the Magic teams and the 2001 squad. But add a dynamic, 2nd or 3rd best-in-the-league point guard to the 2009 Magic and that series goes 6 or 7, at least. Don't just think about what Jameer could do, but what his replacement (Rafer Alston, who is as of this moment completely out of a job in the NBA) did. Alston produced 11-2-3 numbers in 31 minutes a night, which is pretty bad already, but did that on 38% shooting. Really. Tell me with a straight face that the 2009 Finals don't look like a completely different series with an all-star performing as though he's one of the league's 4 or 5 best point guards. It's difficult, is it not?
This is all rather academic, though. Jameer has fallen off quite a lot since that brilliant flash-in-the-pan 2009 season, and in particular, his 2011 playoffs were really awful. Everyone not-named-Howard fell apart against the Hawks in 2011, but even though Nelson was still the Magic's second best player, his performance was markedly horrible. He put up 13-4-5 in 36 minutes a contest, which sounds "fine" until you realize he put those numbers up on abysmal 37-23-78 shooting numbers, and 14 shots a night. It's the percentages that really get me -- at his best, Nelson is a hyper-efficient shooter. That's his role. His developed shooting is without question the most valuable facet to his game. And in the 2011 playoffs, Nelson simply seemed to forget how to shoot a basketball, in a performance that essentially served as the culmination of an extremely poor several season-stretch as he tried to recover from his injury woes. Coming out of the 2011 playoffs, I told a friend that if the Magic's supporting cast was going to vanish like that, perhaps Dwight really DID need to leave. The main point of yesterday's Jameer riddle (implying that I forgave him this summer for his recent poor play) was to imply that throughout this Dwight drama, Jameer has acted as a great advocate for the city of Orlando and a steady presence in a locker room that unquestionably needed one.
Is he a fantastic player? Nah. Is he good enough to be the second best player on a title contender? If he's playing like he did in 2009, sure -- if not, NO WAY. But his performance in 2011 becomes less of a blight given his stellar defense of the franchise in the wake of Dwight's media collapse, and the way that Jameer has actually acted as a team captain and interacted with Magic fans in the wake of Dwight's collapse. It's fair to say most people would've wiped their hands of it and sided with their old friend if they were in Jameer's situation. But Jameer didn't, he defended the fans and franchise from the absurd requests of their former idol, and I think that's quite respectable. I don't know if Jameer will ever be a very good player again -- he's getting up there, a bit, and there have been no signs of returning to his all-star form. That might be over. But even if he's gone as a player, his acting as a true captain in the wake of the drama deserves some dap. So good on you, Jameer Nelson.
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Follow Monta Ellis on Twitter for the Instagrams, if he ever gets one.
Monta Ellis is one of those players who's better than you think. Unless you're a fan of Monta Ellis, in which case he's probably worse than you think. Sound funny? It is. That's the inconsistency with Ellis -- his game is somewhat controversial and most people love him or hate him, and in so doing they either underrate or overrate his game by several levels. So let's go over a few things that Ellis isn't, as a player. Ellis isn't a good defender. Absolutely a poor player on the defensive end, and I don't know what he could do to really allay that at this point. I'm not a fan of the "he is what he is" argument for players that are just now entering their prime, but on defense, that seems to be the pickle with Ellis. Simply never put in the effort, and at this point, expecting him to even improve to league average is pushing it. Ellis isn't quite as much of a ballhog as you think. Really. People have an erroneous vision of Ellis where he's a mindless chucker, using far too many possessions every season and refusing to pass the ball. It's not that Ellis actively refuses to pass the ball -- he doesn't, and while his usage is high it isn't quite as high as most people assume. Generally sticks in the high 20s, which isn't wonderful, but isn't anywhere near the horror-show most people think. Only once has he cracked the top 10 for usage percent -- 2010, when he was 6th. He's never quite lived up to his reputation as an incredibly egregious shot-vortex -- he's certainly a bit of a vortex, but nowhere near the sort that most people take him to be.
Here are a few things that actually do describe Ellis. He's actually a pretty good passer -- he's not a point guard despite his point guard size, but he's among the leaders at the off-guard at generating assists per-minute. Though, funny thing -- this only became completely obvious after he stopped putting up 40 MPG seasons. He always had gaudy APG totals, but any stathead could've noted that the assist totals were fools gold -- his assist rate was decent, but nothing truly extraordinary until 2012, when it was fringe top-20 -- not among shooting guards, in the entire league. Which is pretty good, especially for someone advertised to be an impossible-to-play-with ball hog. Here's another thing Ellis is: extremely inefficient. This is the main knock on Ellis, and it rings true. He's more inefficient than his backers tend to think -- in the last four years, Ellishasn't surpassed a TS% (field goal percentage adjusted for free throws and the added value of threes) of 54% once. Last season alone, there were 44 guards that reached that number. Including several rookies. That's not good. His turnover percentage isn't supremely high -- about average for his position, though his heavy minutes load makes it seem higher than it is. And one last thing that's a rather underrated fact with Ellis -- he's been relatively good at staying on the court. Despite being played relatively insane minutes by all of his coaches in Golden State, he avoided serious injury in both 2011 and 2012, and in fact, his last serious injury happened in the 2009 season with a sprained ankle sustained riding a moped. There is something to be said for the ability to play ridiculous minutes without breaking, and Ellis definitively has that ability.
As for his fit on this Bucks team? I know most people don't like it, but I think it's a decent fit. Part of the reason Curry and Ellis didn't seem to work well to me was that Ellis was the only one really demanding the ball -- Jennings is brash, and while both of them are a bit undersized for their position, they're both excellent passers who can set up their men with easy shots relatively well when they get it going. It's also worth noting that while Ellis is a very inefficient scorer, the Bucks are horrible at offense. Is it really that bad of a bet to take a lot of inefficient shots taken by roleplayers and give those shots to Monta Ellis? In an ideal world, I'd rather they just have Andrew Bogut -- a healthy Bogut is fantastic, and makes that team (with a more-fully-developed Jennings, Ilyasova, and Mbah a Moute) a fringe playoff team at worst. I don't think that the Ellis experiment in Milwaukee has a ton of upside, as I'm 90% sure this team is never making an Eastern Conference Finals. But it should be more fun than most of the teams that Senator Kohl's been putting on the floor for the last few years, 2010 excepted, and that's worth something in a market where the NBA is virtually on life-support. The second best thing? Ellis is great at media day photos. Add that to Bango the Buck being hilarious, and you have a potentially all-time memorable 2013 media day coming your way. Personally, I can't wait!
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Follow Sasha Pavlovic on Twitter at @pavlovic11. He has less than 100 followers. He needs it.
Sasha Pavlovic happened to come to the Cleveland Cavaliers around the same time LeBron did, and has earned a solid $18.5 million dollars over an NBA career that's seen him not once produce a PER over 12 or a WS/48 above 0.1. He's not a good defender, either. Which makes you wonder the obvious -- what in God's name do NBA decisionmakers really see in this guy? The answer, so far as I understand it? Experience, money, and residual afterglow from being the de facto "starter" on an Eastern Conference Champion. Which is, I'm sure you realize, kind of ridiculous. He's a low usage player who somehow manages to turn the ball over at a stunning frequency, one of the worst rebounders in the NBA at his position, and one of the worst free throw shooters among all rotation players in the league. To me, Sasha Pavlovic is one of the many beneficiaries of the NBA's over-reliance on way-over-the-hill veterans over young blood that could reinvigorate rosters. I mentioned this annoying, aggravating trend in the post about Beno Udrih and I'll probably continue beating the drum until it's dead and gone.
Seriously. Tell me why it's better for the NBA to have Sasha Pavlovic playing 500-600 minutes a year when you could be bringing thirsty kids up from the D-League, or taking a flyer on new guys. There's something to be said for consistency and a player who understands the NBA grind, yes. But there's also something to be said for new blood, and the constant fascination teams have with Pavlovic aggravates me from that level. Off the court, Sasha is notable for having an actual IMDb page (starring in that low-rated 2007 sitcom, "Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals"). He self-reported his interests as "reading and driving cars", though never stating what books he actually enjoys reading. Which makes me wonder what kind of books he likes. Does he read in his native tongue, or does he read in English? Does he like translations of European authors like Goethe, or does he stick with Serbian literature with authors like Gorski Vijenac and other names I could never, ever say out loud? These questions and more are to be answered on later editions of my new hit sitcom, "Aaron McGuire Bugs NBA Players With Questions Nobody Cares About."
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At the end of each post, I'll be scribing riddles for the next batch. Whoever gets the most right will get a shout out at the end of the next post. Tweet me your answers at @docrostov, or post them in the comments. This time, one commenter got a 2/3 score. Good job to Lester!
- Without much fanfare, Player #49 was waived last week. I can't really imagine why, as I feel he's pretty promising.
- On the other hand, Player #50 probably SHOULD have been waived, if any rookie scale deal deserves it. KHAAAN!
- He was useful in the 2009 Western Conference Finals. Don't laugh, that's Player #51's entire resume.
Obviously, we're going with once a day with two on Friday this week. Get excited.