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. Today we continue with Robin Lopez, Tyson Chandler, and Carlos Delfino.
• • •
_Follow Robin Lopez on Twitter at __@eegabeeva88___.
Ah, Robin Lopez. Let's start with the obvious: it's a great thing for all parties that Lopez got traded to the Hornets. The Suns, the Hornets, Lopez himself -- there's basically nobody that the trade doesn't help. For the Suns, they were able to bring in an asset at a position where they were relatively bare in the form of former lottery pick Wesley Johnson. No, Johnson isn't an excellent player, but he's still got some potential and at the bare minimum he'll eat minutes at the expense of Shannon Brown and Michael Redd. Not a bad thing. For the Hornets, they put an end to the (really, really bad) idea that would have Anthony Davis spend his first year or two in the league playing primarily the center position. It's true that naturally Davis is a center, but his weight and lacking strength would make life very hard on him offensively in his first year or two when any strong NBA center wanted to guard him, and would potentially put him at risk of more injury. Lopez may not be wonderful, but he's a true center, and he should help the Hornets put together a rotation with Davis only playing half his minutes or so at the center position. Which should help his development immensely. It's not an awful contract, either, and the Hornets have crystal-clean books going forward. So that's nice.
And finally, it helps Robin Lopez. There are problems, don't get me wrong -- last season, Lopez only had one particularly efficient play-type, and it was scoring as the roll man in the pick and roll at 1.11 PPP. He only was utilized in the PnR on 14% of his offensive possessions, primarily due to the fact that Lopez spent barely any time on the floor with Steve Nash. This is actually an OK thing going forward, as it tends to indicate that last season (and to a lesser extent the season before) Lopez had to adjust to life without Steve Nash's easy feeds and pinpoint passing. The Hornets don't have anything remotely close to Nash from a pure passing perspective, and are currently set to be placing the worst passer in the history of college basketball in as their point guard of the future. Having played for the last year or so with Ronnie Price and Sebastien Telfair as his point guards helps prepare him for what's going to happen in New Orleans, and a change in scenery (with a markedly better coach) may help his game recoup a bit from a few-year lull. Which is good, because all things considered, it probably needs some recouping.
He hasn't really approached the excellent play he showed at the end of the 2010 season since the Suns' Cinderella run to the Western Conference Finals ended. Which isn't necessarily an awful thing. After all, he's an unremarkable minute-sopping backup center. What's wrong with that? The problem with Lopez is mostly injury-related and difficult to cull out from Alvin Gentry's rotation decisions. How much of his falling out had to do with Gentry's distaste for his game? How much was skill related and how much was effort? It's hard to really tell. The other thing that should be good, at least in Davis' rookie year, is that he won't be slotted in a rotation behind a 30+ MPG can't-play-anything-but-center big man as well as a stretch-five that Gentry has a weird fascination with playing. That should increase his minutes per game considerably. So too should Monty's system -- Robin has skills, defensively, and while they weren't really properly utilized in Phoenix (see here -- he had good individual numbers but the Suns system actively tried to pull offensive players away from centers rather than relying on their centers for solid contributions) I have a lot of confidence in Monty's ability to figure out how they're best applied. Lopez isn't a great rebounder for his size, and he's extremely foul prone. But he's decent.
All things considered, he should be an asset on a very solid, rebuilding Hornets team and he has the potential to be a super-sixth off the bench for a very good team sometime in the near future. Nothing in that sentence is bad at all. Off the court, Lopez is a lot like his brother. Avid comic book nerd, somewhat of a surfer bro, very amusing guy. In one of the cooler things that I've seen a player do for a team blog, Lopez sat down and answered questions for Bright Side of the Sun readers way back in late 2010 -- tons of personality in his answers. His sheepish reveal that he basically eats nothing but pasta always makes me laugh out loud, because that's exactly what my little brother would do if he was an NBA player. Dude loves his pasta. Anyway, I've liked Lopez a lot since then, even if his game has been a bit disappointing up til now. I feel like this opportunity with the Hornets is a really strong one for Robin -- there's a lot of growth potential, and a designated role that's going to be 100% available to him. Really can't wait to see how he does, though I admit it does sadden me that the Suns apparently made this ridiculous free agency video for nothing. Nevertheless, should be fun -- and can you imagine how hilarious a lineup of Vasquez-Rivers-Thomas-Anderson-Lopez will look like on the court? Goofy white dudes galore. Gonna be swell.
• • •
Follow Tyson Chandler on Twitter at @tysonchandler.__
Let's start with his game. Although Chandler's stats in the pure box score are a bit pedestrian, averaging a per-36 11-11 on his career, he has an outsized impact on the court that runs far beyond his averages. Offensively, Chandler's an exercise in restraint. Sure, he could shoot midrange jumpers and threes -- after all, when he was a hyped-up high school prep kid, that was pretty much all he did! He doesn't, though. Over the last five years, Chandler has taken 120 shots from outside 10 feet in 385 games (and over 12,000 minutes) played. For context, Yi Jianlian took 227 shots from outside 10 feet in the 2011 season alone (in which he played 63 games and 1,117 minutes). To say that Tyson Chandler doesn't care for the long ball is to say that John F. Kennedy didn't care for Fidel Castro. He's virtually allergic to it. And you know what? Good for him! One of the most aggravating traits in the modern NBA is the widespread desire for every big man to become a sweet-shooting Chris Mullin clone. There's something to be said for a player who steps back, assesses his talents honestly, and does what he's good at. It's refreshing, and it's helped Chandler become one of the most efficient, limited-use offensive players around. He's currently #4 on the career field goal percentage leaderboard, and with a few more seasons like his last two, he may end his career atop it. Not on high usage, mind you, like Shaquille O'Neal did. But Chandler is nothing if not effective in his role.
Effective on offense though he may be, the true meat of Chandler's game comes on the defensive end. Chandler once said that he wanted to have a culture-changing impact on the defensive end a la Kevin Garnett. I think Chandler's mostly succeeded, though instead of Garnett's spitting rage Chandler does his job with an effusive grin. Chandler's 7'0", and his standing height in shoes is closer to 7'1". He's got a hell of a lot of strength in that body, too, with a strong core and an excellent build. Just enough muscle to push people around on the block, just enough grace to fluidly cover the pick and roll. Tyson was a transformative defensive player in New York, taking the beleaguered franchise from a bottom-10 defensive rating in 2011 to a top-5 performance in 2012. He was effective on his man, he was effective helping off his man, he was effective in the locker room. He got the team to adopt some of the defensive principles that brought the 2011 Mavericks to the promised land, and he did it all with his glowing smile. It's no wonder Knicks writers like Jared Dubin love him so much! There are some things to work on -- NOT a long jump shot, which wouldn't fit very well in his game at all. What would fit? A better ability to catch the ball in traffic, and for Woodson to stop running so many sets where Chandler ends up stranded outside the paint. He's electric at the rim, why not leverage that? It'd also be nice if, going forward, he stays uninjured. Not really anything he has control over, but this team really needs him to stay healthy to have a title shot.
Off-the-court, Chandler's straight-up awesome. There's a fanzine dedicated to him, and what's more, he supported it! For those who don't know, a zine is significantly distinct from a magazine -- a zine is a small circulation indie publication. Usually filled with pictures, some zines end up being more like small collages than anything else. They aren't really made for profitability, nor are they made for mass consumption -- they're printed in small runs, distributed locally, and usually not several-part or monthly things. They're left to history. Chandler got wind of the zine from the creator, Ari Marcopoulos, and loved the idea -- he found it interesting and engaging, and while I'm not the type of hipster-bro who is generally into zines, I just find the whole story very cool. Chandler's style (which is underrated -- one of the snappiest dressers and most stylish guys in the league, for sure) is fitting to the whole concept. It all fits. Not to mention the resultant interviews, where we learn that Tyson Chandler paints in his spare time. I paint sometimes, so I find this really cool. (We also learn that the interviewer likes to randomly drop questions about stalkers, listen to stories about a player being stalked, and then never address it at all and immediately move on. I realize this is probably not what actually happened, and the interviewer probably talked to him about it in a not-released segment. Totally sensible. But as edited, the interviewer's complete lack of a response to Chandler's immensely creepy story about being stalked looks REALLY weird, you have to admit.)
One last thing, and an essential read for anyone who doesn't know a ton about Tyson Chandler -- this early 2011 SI profile, from before he became the linchpin to an incredible title run, is required reading. There's the story of Chandler's grandfather, who at the age of 80 picked walnuts for hours every day, trying to save up enough to sell for $180 and buy NBA League Pass to watch his grandson's first year with the Mavericks -- and by extension, how Chandler thinks about that before he goes on the court and thinks about the sacrifices those around him made for him. There's the story of Chandler's youth on the farm, and how naive he was when he came to San Bernardino county -- a kid asked to borrow Tyson's new bike for a spin around the block, and Chandler happily let him, watching confused as the kid rode away with his bike and never turned around. There's the note that Chandler tries to call heralded AAU prospects up on the phone to share his own experiences with the sleazeballs of high school basketball and improve their chances of success going forward. He's an incredible defensive talent, an incredible dude, and an incredible player. He's taken a strange route through the NBA, with a lot of false starts, bust accusations, and unexpected twists. But this farm-bred gentleman is not only the most likeable player in the glitziest city on Earth -- he's also the best one. A little funny, no?
• • •
Follow Carlos Delfino on Twitter at @cabezadelfino.__
Carlos Delfino played injured last year. That much was evident to anyone watching him. The way Delfino lumbered up and down the court, dragging a messed up wrist and a painful groin injury through the season. He actually suffered the wrist injury on the first game of the year, which was some extraordinarily poor luck for Delfino. He suffered the groin injury about a month after the all-star break, when he was finally getting his shooting touch back and putting together a few weeks of solid performances. Delfino played through the injury, though, both when his wrist hurt and when his groin was strained. Is that respectable? I think it's fair to say that most sports fans expect players on their favorite teams to play through injury, no matter the cost. Not most sports writers, who tend to understand why players don't do that, but sports fans tend to react with confusion when a player takes time off to heal.
I mention all this because Delfino is actually somewhat upset that the Bucks haven't reached out to him at all since his contract expired at the end of last season. I think he has a pretty good point. If what he says is true -- and we have no real reason to doubt that it is -- it's a bit of a classless move by the Bucks organization, in my view. If you don't want a player back, you don't have to offer them a contract -- but when a player played through injuries for your franchise and stayed relatively loyal throughout a tumultuous 3-year stretch, doesn't it behoove the GM to at least give an exit interview or a call to say thanks? Is Delfino an amazing player? No. He's really good at using screens to get open, and he has a nice misdirection dribble he uses to create space. And all things considered, Delfino has refined his game into being an excellent three point bomber (currently sits at 36% from three on his career). He gets assisted on the vast majority of his threes, mind you, but his ability to get open for three is fantastic and he'd excel in a system with a point guard like Kyrie Irving or Russell Westbrook, players who have a lot of court vision when they use it but are surrounded by players who can't get open.
Outside all of that, kind of eh. He's an average defender, decent rebounder, and a subpar passer. Overall, nothing particularly special, and it's true that Delfino relies quite a bit on his point guard. But he's effective at what he does, and he did just spend almost an entire season playing through nagging injuries to try and help his team. Maybe consider calling him up, John Hammond, and saying thanks? Just a thought. Bucks fans have a good point when they note that players have a strange and foreign aversion to playing in Milwaukee, but it may not just be the climate. With stories like this one, Jennings/Jackson wanting out, and Andrew Bogut's relatively poor experience with the Milwaukee management, it becomes a legitimate question whether the market-size disadvantage is half market and half management. I suppose we'll figure that out later, but for now, it's an open question that I'm not sure Bucks fans really want to answer. At least Hammond is decent on the trading block, I suppose.
• • •
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. This morning's best guesses were dual 2/3 responses from J and "Troy Barnes & Abed Nadir." Nobody got Robin right, though, which surprised me. Has everyone forgotten he's in the league? Oh well. Good job, folks.
- Player #88 is the best beach volleyball player in the NBA. As for basketball? Jury's out.
- It's rare that "I Hate You, [Player]" campaigns get traction, but the one directed at Player #89 has some followers in New York.
- There was no reason to pay Player #90 a full $28 mil past the age of 30. An underheralded but ever-present mistake, in my view.