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. This week's closing salvo: George Hill, Carmelo Anthony, and Andrew Bogut.
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Follow George Hill on Twitter at @George_Hill3.
You know, all things considered, I think I like Hill's game less than any other Spurs fan I know. I mean that. I love his personality -- very humble, extremely hard worker, and a guy you want in your corner. There are certainly good things, too -- when he gets locked in, he's a nasty defender that occasionally goes a bit dirty. On offense he doesn't tend to dominate the ball, and only takes shots he has a somewhat reasonable chance of making. To a limited degree, he can play the point. But even when you put together all these positive aspects, there's something lacking. There's this sense that Hill embodies the spirit of a true sixth man -- not a Manu Ginobili or Lamar Odom type, but a player whose contributions are simply utterly tertiary to the team he serves. Can George Hill really be one of the best starters on a championship team? I don't think that's true. He can shoot wide-open threes, but when the defense keys in on shutting down his shot, Hill's offensive game collapses. And his passing isn't something that he came into the league with -- it's developed, a quasi-robotic singularity. Which is impressive.
Very few players have developed their point guard talents from virtually nothing. Hill's ability to do so makes him special, in all the best ways. Taken altogether, the way Hill developed is pretty inspiring. Hill entered the league as a legitimately terrible NBA player. No consistent shot from any distance, no passing ability of note (beyond the obvious telegraphed passes that rookies love to break out), and a hesitant first step. All he really had going for him was his solid dribbling, his decent ball control, and his hustle plays -- blocks at the basket, steals, rebounds, etc. But when he entered his sophomore training camp, Hill was a markedly different player -- still a lacking playmaker (something he's developed in years since), but his offensive game had undergone an incredible transformation. A hustling array of floaters, runners, and a consistent form to his jumper -- all of it was serviceable at the least and incredible at best. The fact that Hill rose above the doldrums of his rookie campaign to become a decent NBA offensive player is a relatively awesome testament to Hill's work ethic, and the brutal efficacy of the Spurs' player development efforts.
Now, none of this is to say that Hill is necessarily unstoppable -- he made an incredible leap from an offensive horror-show to a passable offensive player, but the developed quality of his game doesn't lend itself to many shows of blithely unstoppable play. If faced with a good defense that's scouted his tendencies, Hill has a lot of trouble really excelling -- that was one of his huge problems against the Grizzlies in 2011 and one of his biggest woes against Miami in 2012. He can use his dribble to captivate a defense, but if the defense knows what to expect, he doesn't quite have the creativity to outsmart it. But it IS to say that Hill's ability to rise above his natural talent and develop skills nobody quite expected him to have on an NBA level is respectable and interesting -- while I'm not a huge fan of his overall game, as it stands, I am a huge fan of the journey that brought him to his game. If you know what I mean. I liked his pickup for Indiana, and while I think his new contract is a bit much, I like the fact that Hill's NBA journey brought him back to his Indiana roots, and I love the fact that the Pacers have a locked up trio of Hill, Hibbert, and George. They'll need to be creative to build a title team around them, but that's always true in a market like Indiana. The core is absolutely there. And it doesn't hurt having Hill around for the invisible benefits -- according to trusted female sources, Hill is "definitely the hottest player in the NBA" and "a total dreamboat." So, if the Pacers were having trouble picking up the "ladies who want to watch attractive NBA players do press conferences" demographic (and judging by their attendance woes, they were having trouble with basically every demographic), the Hill acquisition made a heck of a lot of sense. Larry Bird knew what he was doing.
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Follow Carmelo Anthony on Twitter at @carmeloanthony.
I'm not really a big Melo fan, so I'm going to try to make this quick, as the point of this series isn't for me to belabor the point on why I don't like certain players. I think Carmelo Anthony is one of the 10 best offensive players in the NBA. He has an incredibly slick midrange shot, his elbow jumper is virtually unguardable, and his ability to finish under duress is pretty incredible. He's not as good at finishing as Wade or LeBron, but then again, who is? The singular thing that keeps Melo from being top-5 (and heavily detracts from his argument as a star) is his shot selection -- or more specifically, Melo's general inability to shoot threes. Many Melo fans blow this criticism off. After all, guys. He's a shot creator, and it's okay if he's a little inefficient from three because every shot Carmelo takes is a Sisyphean challenge to the universe and logic. Thus, we should forgive all flaws in his shot distribution as necessary and reasonable -- keeps the defense on their toes, natch! But what is a shot creator, really? What is it about those two words that makes every poor shooting decision by a player excusable and every place a player refuses to fix their form a solid decision?
On defense, Carmelo is a lot worse than top-10, and arguably more like a bottom-10 player. It's true, my Knick fan friends -- when Melo gets keyed in, plays the power forward position, and really tries to defend, he's a passable defensive player. Not good -- passable. You can survive with him as a defender there. At the small forward slot, though? He's not quick enough to cover anyone, and he's never really put in the effort to learn how to rotate. The problem with playing him at power forward is two-fold -- while he's a good rebounder from the wing, he's a poor rebounder if you're playing him as a big man, so he needs to be played next to a rebounding wizard to make sure the Knicks don't get crushed on the boards. And then there's the other issue -- when Melo gets placed in a one-on-one situation with a mobile big man, the defensive problems rear their ugly head once more. Melo is not a player who can guard players like Tim Duncan or Pau Gasol over an entire series -- unlike LeBron, he has neither the size nor the appetite for it, and it's a huge problem going forward for a Knicks team that's produced far better numbers with Melo at the PF slot. And his passing is an issue too, though that's not totally relevant here.
Which leads to the overall assessment of Melo. He's a superstar brand without superstar production -- essentially the P.F. Changs of NBA players. Sure, everyone knows who he is. Sure, he's consistent. Sure, he's a little expensive. But are these particularly good things? Melo has done what he does for the last four years with no real evolution or change to his game. If you like what he did in Denver, you'll like what he's doing in New York. But it's not the best at his position, or anywhere close. His poor defense and generally limited game lead him to be lumped in a group of NBA players that are Melo's polar opposites -- poor offensive players with nevertheless rock-solid defensive games, like Luol Deng and Andre Iguodala. Both of these players are about as useful to have on your team as Carmelo Anthony, at slightly less money and with slightly less hype. If you prefer offense, as most NBA watchers do, Melo's a bit more fun to watch. And that's fine. But I don't really understand the superstar talk, and all things considered, I don't think I ever will.
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_Follow Andrew Bogut on Twitter at @AndrewMBogut_.
Many people wrote Andrew Bogut off his first few seasons as a draft bust at #1, and some continue to do so even after a few excellent seasons. I've had a soft spot for him, though. Bogut has a very old-school game -- an incredible thirst for rebounding, and his defense is (and has been since his third year) a level beyond spectacular. Really. In terms of defensive impact, I think there are three "can't beat" defensive players in the league. One is Dwight Howard, whose defense needs no introduction. Another is Kevin Garnett, who's still beastly when he gets on a roll. And the last of the three? A healthy -- or even an 85% -- Andrew Bogut. I say that sincerely. If we were taking defensive acumen exogenous of a player's athletic ability, I might even take Bogut ahead of Howard -- Bogut dragged arguably worse defenders to a top-5 defense in 2011, and even last year, according to the NBA's advanced stats tool the Bucks with Bogut on-court surrendered just 88 points per 48 minutes on 41% shooting -- all of which would've led the league. By a small margin, mind you (thanks to commenter asds for pointing that out), but it would have. Bogut impacts the opposing offense in so many ways, it's almost rude to try and boil it down to a single aspect. It's hard to find an aspect of his defensive game that lacks polish.
He's an excellent pick and roll defender, even on limited mobility, and always seems to make the astute calculation of where he needs to help and where he needs to lay back. He's got enough size to bother big men like Dwight Howard and Al Horford in the post when they try to back him down, and he's got quick hands that allow him to bother on the dribble to keep his man from getting into a rhythmic motion. He's an excellent shot blocker, and he doesn't overjump on his contest or get caught in the air very often. The real issue with Bogut isn't really his fault, exactly -- he's suffered two freak injuries over his career that have colored his last three years poorly. When asked about his injury history, Bogut famously stated that his major injuries have been "the equivalent of walking under 1,000 ladders and seeing 1,000 black cats." I tend to agree. He was hit at a bad angle while he was going for a dunk and absolutely obliterated his arm after an accidental push. He stepped on a player's foot during one of his few errant block contests and shattered his own. It's not like Bogut could've fixed these injuries by improving his conditioning or working out more. Unfortunately, the injury woes have sapped his offensive game almost into nonexistence -- his once difficult-to-guard post moves are now merely difficult-to-watch, and his once "bad, but whatever" free throw form is now cringe-worthy. While the full-package Bogut we saw in 2010 was an All-Star, the Bogut we saw in 2011 was merely an all-defense standout and a completely inexplicable snub from the 2nd team all-defense. He dragged that Bucks team to a top-5 defense. Look at that roster. Look at his backups. How can you ignore a defensive performance like that?
Instead of waxing philosophical about Bogut's personal life, I'd like to dig up a pretty old beef. Years ago, there was an absurd confrontation between Bogut and the leading-edge writers of NBA Fanhouse. Ziller and acting editor Rob Peterson posted a daily post -- the Works, if you remember it -- and had a segment on Bogut's perceived racial insensitivity. Now, I completely agree with Ziller's main point (that the ad was troubling). The main problem with the ad isn't necessarily the casual racism (which is still troubling) but the fact that the ad tastelessly boils black athletes down to something that actually happened -- it turned one of the most tasteless stories of the last decade in Australian sports into an impossibly stupid sight gag, and worse, made that the only instance of a non-white player in the advertisement. It was a bad advertisement through-and-through, though the outward racism of the gag was less of a problem than the implied historical connection that most didn't quite realize. That's the point that I think most people missed, and what really made the ad disturbing to me. Anyway. Bogut called criticism of the ad "crazy crazy" in a casual twitter conversation, which isn't cool at all, and isn't exactly warranted. I think he was clearly in the wrong there. But does that response REALLY warrant stringing Bogut up as an ignorant racist, a mindless welfare-hater, and bringing back only marginally offensive comments he said when he was 19 years old? The confrontation came later, when Bogut told "Nathanial Friedman" (Shoals' actual name) to kiss his ass on Twitter in a now-deleted Molotov (that he later said was somewhat facetious -- knowing Bogut's humor, I actually would buy that, but bear with me).
Most people mocked him endlessly about it -- Tom Ziller was the one who wrote the offending piece, therefore, Bogut's anger was comical and misplaced. But what most people didn't notice was that the author section atop the piece (at the time) said "by Bethlehem Shoals", not by Ziller or Peterson. Call me stupid (and, you know, I am) but I actually thought Shoals wrote most of the Works pieces for the first few months as well. I thought the fact that Bogut took at least a limited amount of time to read pieces from Fanhouse and other blogs was a really cool sign of a player starting to interface with new media, not something we should mock him for. I also thought it was pretty ridiculous that we were expecting Bogut to not only read Fanhouse work, but also understand exactly how to sift out who wrote what. And then proceed to respond intelligently and coherently to people essentially calling him an ignorant racist in a public forum. Was calling for Shoals to kiss his ass a ridiculous overreaction on Bogut's part, even if it was actually a good-natured joke? Sure. But as Bogut is a player who reads blogs and interacts with more writers and bloggers than virtually any other player in the league, wasn't some reaction to be expected? And furthermore, the main point Bogut was making on twitter after the offending tweet was that if writers can come from nowhere criticizing a player for a random political opinion or a spur-of-the-moment tweet, what's so wrong and depraved about a player responding in kind on the offending medium?
In the ensuing havoc (which has resulted in many NBA bloggers continuing to throw barbs Bogut's way and reference the kerfuffle whenever Bogut says anything challenging), not enough was made about the fact that Bogut actually had a pretty good point. There's nothing notably wrong about a player personally criticizing something that a writer puts up in a public forum with a large audience about the player in question, especially if they feel the statement was phrased in a way that was inaccurately skewing the player's views or simply out of line. Could he have been the bigger man and approached it in a non-Bayless way instead of sniping? True. Could Ziller have been a bit less inflammatory in how he wrote about the original problem? Also true. For the most part, the NBA network of blogs went crazy with mockery of Bogut and support for Ziller and Shoals. I don't disagree with the point they made in the original Fanhouse article, and actually would go farther in saying the ad was in poorer taste than they stated. But I'm really not sure why the blowback resulted in everyone missing Bogut's point entirely. Players are well within their rights to read what we write about them and respond to it directly. And even if they get the writer wrong, or miss the point a bit, it's not all that difficult to turn a few insults of a back-and-forth into a substantive discussion rather than the petty sniping that this particular interaction turned into. I could be wrong -- after all, Bogut is a staunch conservative, and the majority of writers find his varied political views odious and distasteful enough that it's not hard to argue a case where no substantive political discussion is possible between ol' Bogey and the commentariat. And Bogut himself is a bit of a joker, and sometimes appears to be inflammatory just for the sake of it. But am I wrong in wishing a substantive dialogue could've resulted from the conflict, instead of the widespread mockery and the meta-jokes on meta-jokes?
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At the end of each post, I'll be scribing riddles for the next group. 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. Apparently most of our readers are bad at assessing how attractive my sources find NBA players, as nobody got either of yesterday's first two riddles. At least a few people know that Bogut is funny.
- Wasn't expecting Player #58 to be nearly as good as he was last season. Apparently, 59 chances wasn't enough.
- Had you told me when Player #59 signed his last big contract (now voided) that he'd descend to last season's lows, I'd have thought you crazy.
- That dunk contest was rigged. Rigged, I says. Also: why is Player #60 already starting for all-star games? Come on, fans.
Enjoy your weekend, as well as the Olympics opening ceremony. See you on Monday.