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 Jeremy Lin, Demar DeRozan, Roy Hibbert.
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Follow Jeremy Lin on Twitter at @JLin7.
To start this capsule, I'm going to loosely copy what I wrote about Jeremy Lin this time last year, when I wrote his capsule for the first series of player capsules. As I often remind, the 2011 capsules are essentially lost to the ether of private forums and the simple fact that they're all completely unedited and occasionally written under the influence. So beyond the paucity of edited ones, very few will ever see the light of day. But the Jeremy Lin one will, and long-time followers in the comments who followed the first series of capsules can confirm or deny if this is actually what I said.
Jeremy Lin was a standout college player at Harvard. He was then picked by the Golden State Warriors, where he played... well, less than 300 minutes in his rookie year and was reassigned to the D-League about halfway through the year. Why? Because he's simply not an NBA player. at least not yet. There's a fringe possibility that someday Jeremy Lin will have made enough progress that he can -- hopes run high -- be the Adam Morrison-type "creepy guy on the bench in a suit who people dominate in practice" player in the NBA who lasts 3 or 4 years. Perhaps that's just dreaming. More likely, he stays in the D-League for the rest of a very short NBA career, then goes overseas where he Harvard-level dominates either the European or Asian circuits. Maybe. To be totally honest with you, he's kind of a low IQ player from what I've seen -- extremely smart off the court but his on the court game most resembles a Stephon Marbury sort of relentless gunning, lacking defensive effort, and a "turn it over as often as you assist" kind of game. It would be really cool if he was a good NBA player. As of yet, he isn't, and was basically just drafted in a sort of transparent ploy to get the Asian community to come to Warriors games.
What a difference a year makes, huh?
I admit, while I was certainly off in some parts, I don't completely abandon that characterization of his game. I wrote about the Lin phenomenon earlier this year and heavily noted the fact that "high IQ" has never been a good characterization for how Jeremy Lin approaches the game. He certainly works hard, and he's a good player, but calling him a high IQ player is conflating off-court and on-court achievements. This idea that a better school means a smarter player is intrinsically present in most, and it's regularly wrong. The problem is, the things that make a basketball player "high IQ" are completely and utterly disconnected from the things that make an academic high-achiever "high IQ." Much like the generally accepted disconnect between street smarts and book smarts, being a high IQ basketball player tends to mean you react quicker to on-court stimuli, and see plays a move or two in advance. A high IQ player doesn't take stupid chances on defense and doesn't take bad shots if they can figure out a better one to set up instead. A high IQ player approaches the on-court machinations of basketball as a game of chess rather than a game of Hungry Hungry Hippos.
Realistically, high IQ indicates a more instinctual triumph than an intellectual one. And while Lin has fantastic scoring instincts, as a point guard, were he a truly "high IQ" player, it'd be expected that he'd have significantly better passing instincts than those he demonstrated. His passing is very much a work in progress -- he virtually always makes the correct pass in the macro sense, but in terms of the manner of delivery, the fundamentals of the pass are generally lacking -- whether it's in the location the pass lands (often requiring more of a reach to pick up than most elite passers in the league), the difficulty of the thrown pass (often far more difficult than it needed to be), or the motion the pass is meant to match (often matching the wrong shooter's motion, leading to a somewhat awkward shot-off-the-pass for everyone but Steve Novak). It doesn't hurt matters that Lin spent most of the year in D'Antoni's offense, which is designed to get tertiary scorers more open than any other offense in the league. Still, there's his scoring. He's got the stuff to be a decent scoring guard in the NBA -- he is genuinely a talented slasher, and he has an excellent driving bank shot he'll rely on more and more as teams key to his driving and try to force the pass-out. I said this in my earlier column this year and continue to back it now -- the key to Lin's sustained success in the NBA is going to be the success of his banker and the development of a consistent three point shot (no, 32% is not consistent whatsoever.)
On the plus side, if he continues taking three triples a game at an anemic 32%, maybe people will stop viscerally calling him a high IQ player without actually backing it up with analytics. Accuracy through attrition! Still. The way Lin knifes through the lane and figures out his plan of attack isn't always basketball-smart, but it's almost always entertaining and engaging. And as many have pointed out, characterizing him as simply a book-smart flash in the pan is silly -- Lin's physical gifts were considerable even before he burst onto the scene in New York. He tested out as one of the most athletic guards in his pre-draft combine, and while he may look like an unassuming Asian-American in an odd fit of a role, when you've got his combination of wingspan, height, and length you're going to have a shot at being a pretty decent NBA player. Lin's story isn't one of a random, unheralded D-League guard bursting into stardom. It's a story of a guard whose physical talents were unjustly slept on due to his race and looks, and whose generally lacking passing was good enough for a D'Antoni system and developed quickly into an asset he used to get an incredible contract.
Of course, that leads us to now. I'm not entirely sure which is going to harm Lin more -- the lack of talent on the Houston roster, the strange fit Kevin McHale is to his game, or his injury from this year lingering into the next. As Lin relies a lot on his physical gifts, I lean towards the injury. While he has a much better chance of turning out OK after sitting out the Knicks' futile first round struggle against the Heat, lingering injuries have derailed the careers of too many promising young guards to count. So that's concerning. The other two aforementioned problems are as well -- I'm not really sure how well Kevin McHale fits with his game, and he rather thoroughly managed to disenfranchise both of the Rockets' excellent point guards just last season and never proved particularly adept at developing point guard talent in Minnesota. That's a problem. And the talent around him? There are a few interesting pick and roll combinations -- in particular, Donatas Motiejunas looked like a good pick and roll scorer in the Las Vegas summer league. But the Rockets lack a proven pick-and-roll scoring big man, and they lack the perfect complementary pieces that Lin had in New York. It's quite likely that the Lin contract doesn't start paying off until the Rockets replace their coach and get some more talent.
I know that in my case, my expectations are extremely low for the Rockets -- I expect them to be a cellar-dwelling, 20-30 win team at best, and it's likely that the hype and wonder of Linsanity drops off the face of the Earth for a year or two as those three aforementioned factors combine to make him seem feeble in the same way last season's factors collided to make him seem invincible. But as the talent comes back around him and he truly recoups from his injury, I wouldn't be surprised to see a return to form somewhere in the late reaches of his contract. He's too physically talented and mentally strong not to. Lin may not be exactly as good as that magical week indicated, but he's no chopped liver either. He was a phenomenon, a beacon of hope, and a brilliant fad. And then, when that all fades? He'll be what he's always been -- a talented basketball player with a lot of promise and a lot of ability, if you put the right pieces around him. And on the decent contract he's got? That's enough.
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_Follow Demar DeRozan on Twitter at __@DeMar_DeRozan._
I'd love to say I have a lot of hope and promise for DeRozan, but that would be an incredibly silly (and unnecessary) lie. I don't. DeRozan has his talents, I won't cut corners around it -- he's arguably the greatest dunk artist in the NBA today(and he should've won the 2011 dunk contest, damnit!), and he has the tools to be a very good defender. His short range jump shot is exsquisitely pure in form, and his overall offensive repertoire looks really, really nice. There's a lot of aesthetically pleasing aspects to his game. Pizzazz, style, all that stuff. The problem? Style does not an effective NBA player make, and beyond his style, there's a player with very little efficiency and very little in clear role. DeRozan is one of those players who isn't simply a score first guard -- he's a score first, second, third, and fourth guard, whose fifth option is "hey did I mention I score sometimes???". DeRozan scores, but he does every single thing a basketball player could do outside of score poorly. If one had to characterize the other aspects of his game, I don't know how you'd come to any conclusions other than assessing his defense porous, his rebounding anemic, and his passing ghastly.
And you know what? I'm not even sure you could fairly assess him as a totally positive scorer. After all, DeRozan may score buckets with the best of them -- averaging about 20 points per 40 minutes, or a point every two minutes on the court -- but the only thing he does actively above average is his shooting from the line, where he's a career 80% free throw shooter. He shoots around 60% from the rim on his career, which is good but not phenomenal, and he shoots around 45-50% on his short within-9-foot jump shot, which is (again) good but not phenomenal. Get him outside that range? Lord almighty, that's a bad look. In perhaps the best example, during the 2011 season DeRozan took 52 three pointers. He made five. That's nine percent from behind the arc, if you're counting. Because that was such an encouraging percentage, he took 92 three pointers this season, making a blistering 24 of them. And hey! That's above 25%! Too bad that's still an ABHORRENT percentage from three. It matches his percentage from the long jumper in general -- he shoots a relatively lacking percentage on the long two. In his career, he also takes seven such shots from that general range (midrange to three) a night. Again -- not a good look.
This isn't to say he has no shot at being a good NBA player, or that he's a bad person. I respect DeRozan a lot -- he grew up in a very hard situation in Compton, and unlike some players who leave college just because they don't really like college (though there's absolutely nothing wrong with that, as a later capsule may outline), DeRozan only left because his mother was ill with a life threatening condition and the family needed the money. And in terms of positives, there are some -- he draws fouls at a ridiculous rate, which makes his highly inefficient shooting at least slightly efficient. And as I mentioned, he shoots a good-though-not-phenomenal rate from the short to midrange jump shot, and does it relatively unassisted. If that efficiency increases with a good point guard to set him up in his pet spots, DeRozan has a good shot to become one of the most effective scorers in the league from that range. For DeRozan, there are a few keys. First, he simply has to develop some tertiary skills -- whether they be rebounding, defense, passing, SOMETHING. Anything! He simply needs to have a dimension to his game that isn't purely based around his scoring. Second, he needs to cut back on the threes, and keep to the assisted long twos instead of the unassisted off-the-dribble pull ups. He isn't good at those. There's no reason to take seven of them a game, especially when a good 3-4 of them are completely unassisted and off the dribble. If he can do that, and Lowry can put him in good positions? DeRozan will be a very solid player in the league, someday.
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Follow Roy Hibbert on Twitter at @Hoya2aPacer.
I have a soft spot for Roy Hibbert. While I don't think Hibbert is the best center in the league, or even one of the best three, it's hard to find a two-way threat as effective as he is. When you ask the average fan what the most unguardable shot in the NBA is, you'll probably hear something from a guard -- a Ray Allen three, a Kobe pull-up, a Dirk anything. All good answers. But for my money, there's a single shot in the league that's essentially impossible to consistently stop, and that's Roy Hibbert's Duncan-improved hook shot. Seriously. Show me a single NBA player that's had consistent success against it -- Hibbert is 7'2" with an insane wingspan, and when he rises up to take his hook shot, I'm not sure if there's a single player in the league that can really stop it. Nobody's that tall, nobody's that long, and nobody can really touch it. Unfortunately for the Pacers, as they lack a true point guard, they find it relatively hard to actually get the ball into Hibbert on a regular basis -- that's what killed them in the playoffs this last year, as they simply couldn't consistently enter the ball to the post. Because of that -- and Hibbert's own personal issues with getting himself open and getting in proper offensive position -- Hibbert isn't a really efficient offensive player in his totality.
I suppose Hibbert "technically" has a long jumper, in the sense that he takes a lot of them for no particularly good reason, but in their totality it ruins his offensive game. Within the paint and post-up range, Hibbert is an excellent offensive option -- once you get to the midrange and the long two, Hibbert's value essentially drops off the face of the Earth into an conscience-free abyss usually reserved for Stephon Marbury's offensive stylings and Kobe Bryant's everyday chucks. It's rough, is what I'm saying. He's no Zydrunas Ilgauskas from range, that's for sure. Still. While Hibbert's hook shot is the unguardable sky-occupied limit to his offense, his real bread is made on defense. Hibbert isn't the most mobile player in the known universe, but he's an absolute bull in the post, and bothers even the best centers in the league with his raw size and length. His pick and roll defense leaves a bit to be desired, as the world discovered in the Pacers' second round rubber match with the Miami Heat. His lacking mobility and lateral movement hurts him on that front. But in terms of a one-on-one post defender, and a last line of defense in a very good one, Hibbert's hard to beat. He could stand to work on his rebounding a bit, but he's made strides in the time he's been in the league and at this point it looks like there's nowhere to go but up.
By the way? Little known fact -- Hibbert has asthma. I know a lot of people with asthma, and one trait endemic to the illness is that staying in shape gets a whole lot harder. You get winded at the slightest workout, and playing organized sports with friends becomes really tough -- people go for you on defense, once word of the asthma gets around, and they actively try and play faster to tire you out. It's rough. Given the context of his illness, that puts a wholly different context on how strong an achievement Hibbert's career actually is. Here you have a mountain of a man, a 7'2" behemoth, who plays the game with a compulsory shortage of breath. Despite the lack of breath, Hibbert still manages to play as many minutes as he's able, hustles his tail off, and has put in an incredible amount of work at the weight room ever since his lacking fitness to open his college career. And don't cut corners on it -- Hibbert has lacked fitness since the day he entered the league. Seriously. Check out this brilliant profile of Hibbert by Jordan Conn over at Grantland, specifically the bit where it talks about Hibbert in high school.
It's absolutely hilarious to hear stories of the high school version of Hibbert, who had virtually no athletic ability and simply went home to play simulated versions of himself on his Playstation. And take that in context of his late diagnosis of asthma and you start to see why I find myself so impressed with the level that Hibbert's managed to raise his game. Heck, I'm ridiculously unathletic -- I'm remotely passable at pickup, because I'm 6'4", but that's with no help from my so-called athleticism. It took Hibbert years and years of conditioning and training to rise from the level of a seven foot stiff to a seven foot ringer. Now, years later? He's at the heights. One of the best centers on earth, and while many would ridiculously needle that he "won the genetic lottery", you go tell that to most people with asthma and no natural athleticism. Don't think they'll appreciate it. It takes work to do what Hibbert's done, and he's earned everything he's gotten up to now. No -- Hibbert is one of those guys you can't really help but root for more as you learn more about him. He was an absolutely wonderful find for Indiana, and while the max contract may be a slight overpay, I can't really say I'd expect it to be one they'll have much regret for going forward. Can't wait to watch him continue to move forward and develop.
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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. Good correction-guesses. Mike was the first one who aced this one, with a well-earned 3/3 -- Chilai got it as well. I know that Roy Hibbert is Mike's favorite player (and the Pacers are his team), so it's a good day for the dude. Win the riddle guessing, AND get your favorite player! Nice. Also: happy belated birthday! (He's a good friend of mine, and a great person. Love that guy.)
- Franchise player? Hardly. Paid that way, though, and when Player #115 got the contract, it didn't look THAT bad.
- Surprisingly useful center. One of the weirdest Rookie of the Year winners ever, retrospectively. Player #116 has some talent.
- His career has been on a prolonged downslide since a blistering start to his rookie year, but I believe in Player #117. Too much swag not to.