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 Omer Asik, Kevin Garnett, and Manny Harris.
• • •
Follow Omer Asik on Twitter at @AsikOmer.
How good is Omer Asik, and how much is he really worth? It's a fair question, and one that's been asked more often than ever since Morey's "poison pill" offer sheet dissuaded the Bulls from resigning him. We'll start with a few inherent traits about Asik. One thing most people ignore is that Asik came into the NBA relatively old. Not in a general sense, but for a third-year player, Asik is up there in the years. Last year, Asik was the 10th oldest sophomore in the league, and if you're only counting sophomores that played more than 50 games, he was the 3rd oldest. He'll be 27 at the end of next year's playoffs, and by the time Morey's contract expires, Asik may very well be starting to fall off. If we contextualize the fact that this may be Asik's only "big" contract, that does tend to put the whole ordeal into a different light. The second important fact about Asik is size -- while size alone means little, Asik is a legitimate 7'0" on the court, and he doesn't combine that with any particularly lacking tertiaries -- he's got excellent shoulders, a strong lower body, and a 7'2" wingspan. Players with those size qualities tend to get paid in their prime regardless of if they're any good, as long as they're passable enough to play 15-20 minutes a night.
Let's cover the on-court stuff. There are two things Asik does well. First, he's a plus defender. In fact, simply calling him a "plus" defender might underrate him -- Asik is essentially a transformative defender when he's on the court. As an example courtesy of Kevin Pelton: when Asik was on the floor against the Miami Heat this season, the Heat shot 29% from the restricted area. When he was off the court in Heat/Chicago matchups? They shot 61%. As good as we think Joakim Noah is defensively, Asik has always gotten results at another level entirely on the defensive end. When he was in the game, nobody scored on the Bulls in the paint. Secondly, Asik is a great rebounder. In limited minutes, mind you, but still. Asik's total rebound percentage of 20% was actively insane, and while he didn't meet the minutes minimum to make the league leaderboards, that percentage would've been 3rd overall among all NBA players. What does Asik do poorly? Simple. All manner of offense (he shoots under 50% from the free throw line! THE FREE THROW LINE!), keeping from fouling (why do you think he plays so few minutes?), and simply keeping hold of the ball when it's passed to him (if you want a laugh, go to Youtube and queue up videos of Asik receiving passes, then play them with this video in the background). These are Asik's biggest weaknesses.
So, addressing the question of his worth -- I think Morey overpaid him a slight bit, I don't think the contract he was offered was really all that bad. In the Bulls' version of the offer sheet, Asik was paid a reasonable $5 million for two years, then became a $15 million expiring contract in year three. For a player of Asik's size and defensive acumen, in his prime? Are you really going to be paying less than $5 million a year? No. Yes, the single year at $15 million is tough to swallow (and ironically, Houston's having to pay him almost $9 million a year is almost certainly a worse contract over the full duration), but at that point you've got a somewhat portable expiring deal you can use to help a team with a free agent target clean their books. Plus, it's only one year at an insane rate -- if he disappoints, you don't have to bring him back after that year, and if you're savvy about your salary you may not even have to pay the tax outside of that single year. I think the Bulls made a slight mistake in not bringing him back on Morey's, but the real mistake was made years ago. When the Bulls brought Asik to Chicago, why in God's name didn't they negotiate into one or two team-option years at the end of that contract? Team options at the end of second round deals are quite possibly the biggest value-add propositions an NBA team can do when they're signing potentially useful players with very little cap leverage. In Asik's case, he had little leverage, so the fact that the Bulls simply didn't put a team option on a relatively lucrative contract for Asik's first speaks to genuinely stupid asset management on the part of Chicago. These are the kind of mistakes we string up lesser franchises for all the time -- Philadelphia was slammed for literally forgetting to do this with Lavoy Allen, New York was slammed in some circles for forgetting to do the same with Landry Fields. Chicago shouldn't get a free ride for the same. (To be fair: they aren't totally getting a free ride. Some have noticed.)
• • •
__F__ollow Kevin Garnett on Twitter by going to your local rec league and eating the stanchion____._
There's one big thing about Kevin Garnett you need to remember: he's still really good. In last year's playoffs, the four best players were LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan, and Kevin Garnett. That's how good Garnett and Duncan were in last year's postseason. While we don't know how Garnett and Duncan will age going forward, it's worth appreciating how insane it is that two 35 year old men were that valuable in one of the more exciting postseasons we've seen in a while. Both Boston and San Antonio seem to have excellent medical personnel, and both teams are making distinct efforts to keep their star big men's minutes in check during the regular season. Whereas Duncan's offensive game has migrated out to a set-shot jumper game, leveraging his passing to build up the offense through constant motion (and leveraging his status as the only big man on the team who still has defensive chops to keep the Spurs from being the worst defense in the universe), Garnett's offensive game is the same as always, if not a bit less efficient. Garnett is a bit less effective as a rebounder than he used to be, and a bit less of a useful passer. But he's still a fantastic defensive player, combining incredible help coverage with vicious (and, to be fair, often unabashedly filthy) one-on-one shutdown capabilities. Without Garnett, I'm convinced that the Celtics would be a middling NBA defense with a proclivity for dirty play -- he does so much for them, and keeps them above water in so many ways. It's simply ridiculous what he's been able to do at this stage of his career, and it's insane that when I read about his $27 million dollar contract I found myself completely unsurprised and completely convinced that he was worth it. Let's reflect on how crazy that is.
Alright, reflection over. As Duncan's ubiquity in the first paragraph indicates, it's really hard to talk about Garnett without talking about Tim Duncan. The Garnett-vs-Duncan argument has always interested me. There's two basic factions to the argument. The first is that Garnett -- in Duncan's situation, entering the league with David Robinson and Gregg Popovich flanking him -- would've won as many or more titles than Duncan did, because Garnett is a "better" player in a completely exogenous environment. The second is that the first faction is insane, and no matter how good Garnett was statistically (and he was excellent), there were outside factors from Duncan's dominance that Garnett could never have accomplished. We're never really going to have a true answer to this question. Personally? I think proponents of the Garnett side are partly basing their conclusions on a flawed premise. You simply can't switch the two out and imagine Duncan wasting away in Minnesota for 10 years of his career. Lost in the KG/Duncan debate is the simple fact that Garnett stayed in Minnesota because they were willing to pay him an insane amount of money to keep him. Nothing in Duncan's countenance suggests that he would've done the same thing -- he would've been a prized free agent and he would've been pursued by countless other teams. While Minnesota would've paid him more, the main reason he stayed in San Antonio was that he trusted the franchise more. So, no. I have no faith that he would've trusted the early-aughts Timberwolves to surround him with good pieces. I think he would've gone to Orlando, with Grant Hill, if he'd been placed on a situation that dire.
Perhaps I'm alone in this, but I think Duncan would've made more than a few finals on a team like that. While Grant Hill was awful due to injuries, McGrady was still an amazing player in Orlando. Duncan was an incomparable defensive anchor in his prime. It wouldn't have been quite as deep as his late-aughts Spurs units, and he probably wouldn't still be playing today -- he would've had to play more minutes, certainly, and that would've affected his longevity. But in an Eastern Conference as low-down and weak as the early aughts? I don't think it's at all a stretch to say that Duncan would've still made 3 or 4 NBA Finals, and with how dominant he was in 2003, I think he still would've schooled Garnett's Spurs or the Shaq/Kobe Lakers in that theoretical finals. (Most likely the Shaq/Kobe Lakers. The 2003 Spurs were positively barren on non-washed up talent outside of Duncan -- his carrying that woeful group to a title was an underrated, difficult task.) Perhaps done the same in 2004 or 2002, as well. Duncan's career would be very different, no doubt, and Garnett would probably have 2 or 3 rings as opposed to one. But the idea that Duncan and Garnett would simply swap ring totals if you swapped the two seems ridiculous to me. You can't overlook Duncan's demeanor, and you can't overlook Duncan's sustained playoff dominance -- in the playoffs, Garnett has had a career PER of 21.5. Very, very good. But his regular season PER has been 23.3 -- in Duncan's career, he's had a career regular season PER of 24.7, and a career playoff PER of 25.3. Traditionally, Garnett has gotten worse in the playoffs, while Duncan's gotten better. You think that wouldn't have impacted the Spurs' title hopes in years like 2007, against that brilliant Suns team? Or 2005, against a great Pistons team?
... Alright, look, I'm ranting. They're two great players -- they're in rarefied air among the greatest big men of all time. They're living, breathing, ballin' legends. While Kevin Garnett's fury and rage have alienated many and subjectively depressed the views of many on his career, when he's retired and we start truly appreciating what he accomplished, I think future generations will be pleasantly surprised. Sort of a jerk, but a legend all the same. (By the way, hate to pick at a scab here, but is he even that much of a jerk compared to the all-time "greats"? Karl Malone is one of the most contemptible people on the face of the Earth, Shaquille O'Neal blatantly stole the ideas of teammates and ripped off numerous associates in his day, and I don't even need to start talking about Jordan. We complain about Garnett because his actions are over-analyzed in the modern Twitter-powered sports media machine, and he hams it up for the crowd something fierce. That's perfectly fine that we do. But we need to stop pretending that every all-time great is some kind of lovely stand-up role model. They aren't. And relative to most of the jerks that make up the hall of fame, Garnett isn't really all that bad. At least he has a reason for closing up to the outside world and taking solace in feckless rage. Not many NBA stars lose their best friend in the league as a 23 year old. Might've had a bit of an impact on Garnett's general approach to the game. Death changes people. Is it too far a leap to think it changed him too?)
• • •
Follow Manny Harris on Twitter at @313MannyHarris.__
I'll admit it. I really liked Manny Harris, at one point. Harris -- full name "Corperryale L'Adorable Harris" -- was a shooting guard prospect the Cavaliers picked up off the D-League back in the dismal depths of the 2011 season. There was something very attractive about his game, to me. Maybe it was the fact that he played harder than anyone else did on that awful team, maybe it was the fact that he had some limited amount of swagger when he shot the ball, maybe it was the fact that he simply wasn't tarred with quite as much of the runoff from the season as everyone else. Whatever it was, I liked watching him, and tended to ignore the fact that he may very well be the worst shooter in the entire league -- he shot 37% from the field his rookie year, despite taking a very reasonable array of makeable shots. Still, he had a decent handle, he drew fouls like a pro, and he had an aggressive demeanor. After all, he had a very solid shot distribution his rookie year -- he'd get better his sophomore season with a little bit more polish to his shot, right?
Not so much. While his shooting improved marginally from every location of the floor as a sophomore, Harris took that as reason to dramatically increase the number of long twos he took. That would be reasonable, if he didn't shoot a startlingly awful 25% on shots from 10-23 feet. That's not a typo. He made one of every four shots from that distance, despite taking almost two such shots a game in extremely limited minutes. While I love his aggressiveness almost as much as I love his full name, there's a point where I reach the end of my rope. When you play only 17 minutes a night, share minutes with one of the most efficient offensive players in the entire league, and STILL find the time to take two shots from a range where you shoot 25%? Stop. Cease. Desist. Needless to say, while I was a bit sad at the departure of L'Adorable, I can't say I was shocked that it happened or overly torn up about it.
I do know one person who was probably pretty torn up, though. His twitter has long since been deleted, but there was this one guy who absolutely loved trolling Cavs fans on twitter about Manny Harris. His twitter handle was @str8tkilla9 -- note the extra T! -- and he was hilarious. I wish his twitter was still around so I could link you the tweets, but a few legitimate, serious thoughts that our friend bestowed upon us:
"If the Magic had picked up Manny Harris off waivers, they would've won the east and Howard would've stayed." (Title town!)
"I will hunt you down and pick off your family." (Said to a Cavs writer who said Manny was "erratic.")
Absolutely no idea what he said to accomplish this, but he said something that resulted in him being blocked and muted by Stephon friggin' Marbury.
Tweeted Jeremy Lin asking if he remembered the time he'd spent in the D-League on different teams than Manny Harris. When Lin did not respond with solemn remembrance, he went on a 10 tweet curse-laden tirade at him.
Absolutely flipped out at a New York writer who refused to RT him because he used too many expletives, resulting in the writer blocking him. This is the last thing I remember him doing, so this may have actually been what resulted in his account's deletion.
Clinically insane fans. Gotta love 'em. I welcome any additions to the detailed verbal history of @str8tkilla9 in the comments section, from any of the writers he interacted with. I'm sure I'm missing some. EDIT: Okay, if you don't read Angelo's long comment on the dark and sordid story of Str8TKilla9, I don't even want to know you.
• • •
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. Got a solid 3/3 yesterday, courtesy of Sean. Good call, Sean. Must be a Cavs fan who had to deal with the straight-T-killer.
- Player #103 is a somewhat marginal player in the scheme of things, but he's still one of my favorite current Spurs. Great guy.
- On the other hand, I've never liked Player #104, and the current reality show tenor of his life makes him even less likeable!
- I remember Spurs fans were excited about Player #105, as a rookie. Now? Not even sure he'll be in the league in 3 years. Disappointing.