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 Jan Vesely, Eric Bledsoe, and Carlos Boozer.
Follow Jan Vesely on Twitter by trying to be a detective.
The best aspect of Jan Vesely to this point in his career has been his ability to dunk. Seriously. Vesely was known for it before he came into the league for a reason -- it's really a thing you have to see for yourself. Vesely's aggravated assaults on the rim are something to behold. Just watch his highlight reel. When he came into the league, a commentator asked him if he considered himself the Czech Blake Griffin. In a lovable pull-out-the-carpet moment, Vesely scoffed and said that he didn't think that at all, and that instead, he thought of Griffin as the American Jan Vesely. What confidence, right? Really cool. There's a ferocity to his dunk artistry that begs analysis, and makes people apt to his game. Combine that with his hilarious interviews? If he even had a single other basketball talent, he'd be an amazingly popular star. A new-age Dirk Nowitzki, at least in quirkiness and fun. Alas, at this juncture of his career, he doesn't really have what you'd call "other skills."
A few not-so-notable facts about Vesely. This last season, he took 73 shots from outside 3 feet. He made -- I kid you not -- 11 of them. I'm a statistician, so let me assure you; going 15% on shots outside the direct vicinity of the rim is pretty bad. His handle is a mockery of the term "work in progress" -- Vesely managed to turn the ball over on 20% of the possessions he handled the ball, which becomes more horrifying the more you start to think about it. His defense was poor, in my mind. He was billed as a tough-nose defensive talent coming into the league but in practice this usually just turned into a constant drumbeat of silly fouls and blown coverages. He has a decent eye for pick-and-roll recoveries, but not a very good eye for when he needs to shade off the roll coverage and get back to his man. He has decent floor vision, but his passing ability is so defunct that even when he sees a good angle, the poor quality of his passes tended to ruin it. In a kind of amusing twist, Jan Vesely is essentially what Blake Griffin would look like if (as many commentators erroneously suggest) the actual only thing Griffin could do was dunk. He's a strangely packaged message from the basketball gods, in that sense -- if Blake Griffin was actually as talent-free as we tend to portray him, he'd look exactly like this.
This isn't to say that all of these things are designated facts going forward. Hardly -- from all accounts, Vesely is a hard-working guy who's putting a lot of effort into fixing these problems. I'd somewhat unintuitively say he should stop trying to fix his outside jumper, for now. I say that because, frankly, he has so far to go to even turn his outside-the-rim shot into a remotely passable offensive option that he's probably better off simply learning better ways to cut off a pass and get more free for rim-slashing and thunderous dunks. There's this irritating tendency of NBA players to spend a summer or two working on some aspect of the game where they're obscenely awful, improving the tiniest amount, then assuming they've got carte blanche to utilize their new "talent" at the expense of what actually makes them valuable. In Vesely's case, he's valuable because one can't guard his dunks effectively. So... use that. Leverage that talent. He shouldn't pretend that he's really going to have a passable outside shot in a few seasons -- that's a pipe dream right now, you know? So he'd be better suited to work the tertiary parts of his game -- his handle, his on-ball defense, his off-ball movement. That, I think, is the key to "fixing" Vesely's game. He's got the personality, the highlight reel, and the work ethic to be a very solid NBA talent. Here's hoping he puts in the hours and makes it work out.
_Follow Eric Bledsoe on Twitter at __@EBled24._
It's kind of funny the difference a playoff run makes. Had the Clippers not made the playoffs, this capsule would likely be about as pointed as an episode of Seinfeld. (The capsule about nothing, of course!) That's because Bledsoe's 2012 regular season was -- quite frankly -- awful. Some of his greatest hits: Bledsoe shot an incredibly poor 20% from three point range. Painful. He didn't make a single shot from 3-9 feet in the 2012 season. While he finished decently at the rim (to the tune of 59%), that wasn't a notably excellent total for a rim-finishing point guard -- the league average at-rim percentage among point guards is 59%, after all. That was compounded with a turnover percentage hovering around 25%, an assist percentage that barely cracked 20%, and a relatively poor job running the Clippers' offense. With Bledsoe on the bench, the Clippers had an offensive rating of 106. With Bledsoe on the court, they had an offensive rating of 100. Pretty huge gap, although the absurd brilliance of Chris Paul (and the lesser pieces Bledsoe played with) has a lot to do with that.
Luckily, though, the Clippers did have that playoff run and there are notable things to talk about because of it. Unless Bledsoe went on the most absurd hot streak in the history of hot streaks, his playoff run indicated that his regular season statistics aren't anywhere close to his ceiling as a player. In the 2012 playoffs, Bledsoe averaged 8-3-2 in only 17 minutes of play -- in a full 36 minute game, that's 17-6-4. Very solid. Even more solid were the percentages he used to get those numbers -- a blistering 58% from the field, featuring 43% from three. To contextualize his three point shooting -- Bledsoe made a total of six three point shots in the regular season, among his 464 regular season minutes. In 189 playoff minutes, he made three, and didn't overuse the shot. Bledsoe's increased personal offense didn't result in a decrease in his team's offense -- in fact, that aforementioned relationship between Bledsoe and the Clippers' offensive rating completely flipped in the playoffs, with the Clippers featuring an abominable offensive rating of 90 with Bledsoe on the bench and a blisteringly hot offensive rating of 115 with Bledsoe on the floor. Obviously, the sample size was smaller. But it was encouraging, if nothing else.
The key going forward is to figure out where the heck Bledsoe fits in the Clippers future plans, and perhaps moreso figuring out what the heck he actually is. A 60-70% free throw shooter in his career, chances are low that the "58-42" shooting playoff Bledsoe is the real deal. More likely, his peak would appear as something of a 45-30-75 type player, a scorer who lives at the rim with his slashing layups and free-throw drawing prowess, with a not-really-respectable three point shot that he only takes when absolutely necessary. His defense is fantastic, and much like Avery Bradley and Dwyane Wade, Bledsoe can impact a game defensively as strongly as the average guard impacts the game offensively. That's where most of his value comes. If he can bring his offensive game to "merely passable" levels, his defense should carry him into a Tony Allen-type role on a very, very good team. The problem is, as he's spent his entire career a point guard and lacks both size and spot-up prowess, it's difficult to see a situation where Paul/Bledsoe works as a primary rotation. This is especially glaring given that the Clippers have stocked up on a surfeit of awful two guards -- a washed up Billups, a washed up Jamal Crawford (for four years?!?), and "Nick Flynt Favorite" Willie Green. Paul/Bledsoe is clearly the Clippers' best option on paper, but in actuality there's almost no way it sees the court for serious minutes, especially not with Vinny Del Negro at the helm. So, while the prospect they put all their eggs in may very well have worked out, the Clippers have put themselves in a position where there's virtually no way he gets minutes or develops beyond his current state. Classic Clippers.
Follow Carlos Boozer on Twitter at __@MisterCbooz.____
Carlos Boozer poses a conundrum, to most analysts. When the Bulls signed Boozer, you were hard pressed to find a single statistically adept analyst that disliked the signing. John Hollinger thought it was excellent, I thought it was great, and most people looked at it as a high-upside signing of a big man that would thrive next to Rose. Oh, how wrong we were. There are a few things that could've indicated to us that Boozer's light's out 2010 season was a bit of a fluke -- his poor playoff run, and specifically his awful free throw shooting, in retrospect seems to be a bad omen for the first-year collapse of his outside shot in Chicago. While we always understood viscerally that Boozer's defense wasn't good, there was this unstated assumption that Tom Thibodeau would be able to fix him up and make him a useful defensive player -- he did his best, but two years into the Boozer experiment I think we can say with some confidence that even Thibodeau's genius can't overcome a player with as few defensive talents as Carlos Boozer. And finally, there's the conditioning/injury issue -- Boozer isn't the best conditioned big man around, and even though his injuries are often hilarious and ridiculous the end result is the same. A big man you can't count on to be there all season, and you can scarcely ever count on to be healthy for the playoffs. Especially when you combine that with Thibodeau minutes, though nobody knew about those before the Boozer signing.
The funniest thing about Boozer -- and the saddest, for Chicago fans -- is how poorly he fits into the equation in any estimation of the Bulls next to the Heat. Boozer is an incredibly poor defensive player if you're assessing the totality of his defense -- so many missed pick and roll coverages, so many lazy possessions where he simply doesn't figure out what his man is doing. But he has a few defensive skills, believe it or not. He's a decent cover for widebody large forwards (and some larger, less mobile centers) like Josh Smith, DeJuan Blair, or Boris Diaw, and he stays on them relatively well when he's locked in. But look at Boozer compared to the Heat, and you wonder where the hell he fits in on defense. He can't guard LeBron James -- that is legitimately insane, and one of the worst matchup ideas anyone has ever posited in their lives. He can't guard Bosh either, though, because Bosh is too quick and slippery. He gets caught on Spo's misdirection screens and ends up guarding Mario Chalmers or something every time he tries to guard Bosh. It never seems to work out well for him. On offense, Bosh is essentially tailored to stopping Boozer -- he can extend out as far as Boozer can without any real problem, and in the post his pesky challenges tend to ruin Boozer's obscenely slow setup motions and ruin Boozer's post play. As if to add insult to injury, Bosh also rebounds slightly above his career averages against Boozer. I know the Bulls had no real way of forseeing this before they signed Boozer, but the fact that Boozer has no realistic matchup against the Heat is a fact that adds insult to the injury of his immobile contract and bottoming production.
And I suppose it'd be unfair of me to keep this in my back pocket -- I really don't like watching Boozer. People complain endlessly that Anderson Varejao is the most "annoying" big man in the game, but I don't think people who say that have taken a close look at Carlos Boozer recently. Boozer is simply the whiniest man in the game today. He preens, screams, and screens with the abandon of a dirty player who virtually nobody realizes is dirty. Really. Lost in all the talk about Boozer's terrible defense is that he's terrible at defense despite being a somewhat dirty player, when he's locked in. He's got no qualms about ribbing his man, throwing an errant elbow when the refs aren't looking, or grabbing a jersey whenever he thinks he can get away with it. Somehow, despite often getting away with all of these things, he's still a horrible defender. It defies logic. Most bad defenders don't play dirty, they just play soft -- Boozer somehow manages to get away with dirty play and still be an absolutely abhorrent defender. Absolutely absurd. He flops a bit, too, but in the case of his flopping he usually does it so poorly that even the referees realize it. (Which is funny to watch, when it happens.) Off the court, I admit, I don't have much love for Boozer -- I don't outright hate him for abandoning Gordon Gund and the Cavaliers, but I can't say the chances are high that I'll ever really like him again. Unfortunately for Bulls fans, I have a sinking feeling that most of them feel the same way. Did anyone really see that coming, when they signed him in 2010?
• • •
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. And yes, virtually everyone got 3/3 on last week's capsules -- Mike, Chilai, Luke, and a bunch of others. Let's see if you can do it again, friends.
- I'm always confused as to why this 2012 Raptor is still in the league. They waived him midseason, tho -- Player #130 may be done.
- While they probably overpaid out of loyalty, it's hard to look at Player #131's contract and not conclude it to be a big mistake.
- If people gave Russell Westbrook as many excuses as they're now giving Player #132, Russ would probably have an MVP by now.
This week went by fast. The week's last capsule-dump comes tomorrow.