Player Capsules 2012 #157-159: Jason Kidd, Taj Gibson, Nick Collison

Posted on Fri 14 September 2012 in 2012 Player Capsules by Aaron McGuire

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 Jason Kidd, Taj Gibson, and Nick Collison.

• • •

_Follow Jason Kidd on Twitter at __@RealJasonKidd.___

I don't like Jason Kidd. At all, really. That doesn't mean I don't respect his game or accomplishments, mind you -- I respect that Jason Kidd was an incredibly good NBA player for an incredibly long time, even if he isn't quite there now. In his prime, Kidd was the best point guard in the league at about the same separation from the pack Chris Paul has today. He was that good. His offenses were brilliant, his defense was incredible, and (while he did have the advantage in playing in one of the least-difficult Eastern Conference slates in the history of the sport) he pushed a team with Kenyon Martin and Richard Jefferson as his other "big three" talents to two consecutive Finals. And it probably should be remembered more often, as well -- they did it in dominating fashion. In 2003, the Nets went on a 10 game playoff win streak, a streak that included sweeping Pierce's Celtics (who they'd faced in the previous year's ECF) in the semifinals and sweeping the would-be dynastic Pistons in the conference finals. In 2002, the Nets were swept in the finals, but after a shaky start against Reggie Miller's Pacers, they went 8-3 in the middle two rounds once again. People tend to think of those Nets teams as fundamentally flawed, and from a championship perspective, this is true -- the best 2 or 3 teams were in the West for every year of Kidd's Nets' reign. But you can only really play the teams in front of you, and from that respect, Kidd's Nets thoroughly dominated the Eastern playoffs. They were a legitimately solid team.

How did Kidd's play contribute to that? If you listen to the Wages of Wins advocates, the main reason Kidd has been elite has been his rebounding. And I think that's fair, in some ways -- he's one of the best rebounders the point guard position has ever seen, and there's a good reason he's got such a ridiculous number of triple doubles. But I think the rebounding is more of an indicator of what he really does well rather than the reason why, per se. Jason Kidd had two big talents, in his prime. The first was that he ran solid offenses that improved the shaky offensive acumen of the players the Nets put around him, and could turn a fundamentally flawed roster into a middling-tier offense in no time flat. They weren't brilliant offenses, and they weren't going to win any awards as pretty or aesthetic, but they got the job done and actively improved the platter of awful players he'd been given to play with. The second was that he was a legitimately game-changing defender -- he could guard up to the large wing without really giving an inch, and he was as tenacious and vicious as they came. He also had (and has, and always will have -- even at the age of 80 in the local YMCA) a spookily effective talent at boxing out smaller players on the defensive end. Usually, he'd box them out so they couldn't receive passes. Which worked well. As a tertiary benefit, though, it also dramatically increases his rebounding totals and makes his stats that much more impressive.

In terms of the modern league, if I had to assess a player most-resembling prime Jason Kidd, it'd probably be Rondo with better offense. Even in his horrendously inefficient scoring prime, Kidd was still a far more dependable scoring option than Rondo. But Kidd suffered some of the same issues as Rondo, wherein his offenses weren't all that great and his main contribution to the team was game-changing defense, and making the players around him statistically better in ways that didn't necessarily translate to a fantastic offense. I also think Kidd's late-career shift to the Mavs is something that could be in Rondo's future, whether he has to change teams or not. Suddenly, when Kidd joined the Mavs, he had better offensive pieces around him than he had at any point in his entire career. He realized that, changed his style a touch, and worked with Rick Carlisle to make the team great. And indeed, they were -- the 2011 Mavericks were one of the best offensive teams of all time, and while I'd give the vast majority of the credit to Dirk, it's hard to deny that Jason Kidd's ability to find the open seam and hit open threes absolutely helped that team make the next-level leap they needed to win a title. Can't someone else see this too? Some situation where, later in his career when he's past his prime, Rondo gets moved to a team with brilliant offensive pieces (or the Celtics actually manage to sign some) and uses his creativity in the pursuit of a fantastic offense? I could see Rondo succeeding in that kind of a capacity later in his career, with Kidd-style triple doubles seemingly every other night as he functions in the same role that Kidd did on the last few years of Maverick teams. (Not this last year -- he was awful this last year, and giving a player his age who just had a terrible year a three year contract might rate as the single stupidest move the Knicks made this offseason. Sort of beside the point, but wanted to throw that in here.)

As for Kidd's personal issues... I started this capsule by saying that I greatly dislike Kidd. He was arrested in 2001 for beating his wife. It wasn't some puffed-up charge, either -- according to testimony and evidence, he didn't simply hit her with fists, but beat her to the ground. Which (to me) is so far beyond disgusting it's hard to comprehend how a human being could do that. He told her he'd get counseling, reportedly continued it after the court-mandated counseling ended, and became active in his local church. Then in 2007 they divorced, with Kidd saying that she had grossly abused him (though offering little evidence outside of one incident where his wife threw a remote at him) and his wife filing a counter-claim saying that he had as recently as a year ago beaten her head into the console of a car, damaged her hearing, and kicked her while she was pregnant. Atop the (relatively benign, but evident) cases of Kidd fathering children with other women and cheating on his wife to a ridiculous degree. And... you know, the DWI he just got not less than 2 months ago. He's 39 years old. You shouldn't be driving drunk no matter what age you are, but once you get past 25 or so, you don't even have a vestige of an excuse for it. He could've killed someone, not least of whom himself. It's absurd. Look. I don't want to pretend like I know Jason Kidd personally, or that I really understand the full story on any of this. But this is terrible, terrible stuff. If even half this stuff is true, Kidd is one hell of an awful person. He gets a lot of good publicity because -- predictably -- he's white, quaint, and reportedly decent to reporters. But off the court there are no shortage of indications that Kidd is one of the absolute worst people in the NBA, and someone who makes just about the worst role model a man could possibly make. So yeah. I don't like him much. Respect his game, sure, but don't conflate that with respect for him as a human being.

• • •

_Follow Taj Gibson on Twitter at __@TajGibson22.___

Taj Gibson is a very solid player. Most people just sort of lump him in with Chicago's bench mob, and to some extent, that's fair -- Chicago's bench has been phenomenally effective during Gibson's time in Chicago, and it's partly the fact that when they come together they produce something better than the sum of its parts. But I feel like people often use that to the detriment of Asik, Gibson, and all the pieces that really make the bench unit good. And that's a massive mistake. Gibson and Asik are very good players in their own right, and as I was saying in the Asik capsule, people underrate Asik's status as an essentially transformative defender. The same is true of Gibson, who has a relatively strong case as being the best defensive power forward in the game today. In 2011, he led all power forwards in Synergy defensive stats -- in 2012, he improved the best defense in the league's defensive rating by (this isn't a typo) 11 points per 100 possessions when he was on the court. Click on that. Scroll down to the on/off stats. Stare in awe, because it's ridiculous. With Gibson on the floor, the Bulls flat-out destroyed teams defensively, and while part of it is the Asik/Gibson effect, part of it is simply that Gibson is an incredibly good defensive player and pretty underheralded for all the things he does. And for those wondering where that effect was in the playoffs? Well, it was still there -- the problem was the offense falling apart without Rose, folks, not the defense. In any real way.

Offensively, Gibson is less of a rock-solid player, but that isn't to say he's bad. Just a bit lacking. His at-rim finishing leaves a little to be desired (conversion rate of 61%), but that settles in right around league average for a big man, which is fine. His big problem is that he doesn't really have much on the offensive end outside of his finishing -- his outside shot is vastly overused by the Bulls, with Thibodeau's system forcing Gibson to spot up outside the paint far too often. This is bad for two reasons. First, he's simply not very good at it -- he shoots in the mid to low 30s from every range outside the immediate rim area (and an almost-there 3-9 foot percentage of 41%), which is pretty awful. This is made worse by the fact that almost 90% of the shots he takes from 10 feet and out are assisted -- these are plays that the Bulls are actually trying to run, and they simply aren't a very good use of Gibson's offensive skillset. In an ideal world, Gibson would be the 4th or 5th best offensive starter on a very good team, called upon for about 5-6 cuts to the rim per game to get him open dunks when necessary. Essentially, he'd be a slightly smaller Anderson Varejao. Very low usage offensively, but a game changing defender and a strong 25-30 MPG player on a great contender.

In general, I really like Gibson. It's partly his game. After all, I love watching his defense -- it's as aesthetically pleasing as it is effective, I think, and it's really fun to watch him going at opposing bigs and mucking up every play he can get his hands on. He's great. But it's also partly personal sympathy -- take a second and read this profile on ESPN, going over the depth of Gibson's personal tragedies during the 2011 season -- three friends dead and his beloved grandfather died of cancer. He coped with basketball, playing his heart out every night in dedication to the ones he'd lost. Absolutely heart wrenching story. And I find it really, really hard to root against a player who had to go through that. Going forward, I admit, it's hard to see how he really improves beyond simply playing more minutes. Gibson is older than most people think, clocking in at just over 27 years old as I write this. To put that in context, he's older than all but three players that'll be suiting up for the Thunder next year -- Thabo, Perkins, and Collison, in case you were wondering who those three are. He'd immediately be one of the older members of that team. But after this contract-year with the Bulls (where he SHOULD get quite a few more minutes than he's gotten the last few years, if Thibs doesn't bury him behind Boozer again) he should get a very decently sized contract, and hopefully, a chance to shine with a franchise that gives him the minutes he deserves. I really look forward to seeing him succeed and finally get the widespread, public validation as an excellent player. Whether it's in Chicago or not. Because he's a fine, fine player. And he really deserves it.

• • •

Follow Nick Collison on Twitter at__ @nickcollison4__.

I really feel like this capsule is going to stir up a hornet's nest for me, so I'm hesitant to write it. While I don't think it's an absolutely controversial opinion, it does stray from the usual tenor of discussing Nick Collison, so I'm probably going to annoy quite a few people with it. Let's start by describing Collison's game. First, he's great at taking charges -- really, really good at getting his head down and setting his feet below the offensive player. He has a great sense of space, and he knows exactly where he needs to slide to make everything work. He's a very good cover on the pick and roll, and does a great job mucking up set plays (even if that often results in leaving his own man open). He fouls a ton -- his per-36 foul rate is high enough that he'd rarely be able to play the full 36 minutes a night. His offense is pretty awful at this point of his career -- he's decent at finishing at-the-rim on criminally low usage, and he's decent at the long two (actually led the PF position at it last season, in an incredibly outlier-type year), but he turns the ball over a lot and he legitimately shoots in the low 20% range from 3-15 feet. He's not an offensive asset, for the most part, because his passing is pretty bad and he tends to turn the ball over if you "feature" him too much. Very solid defender, though. And that's why he gets minutes. Now. Read that description again, think about it, and try to take it out of context.

... Doesn't that sound like Jared Jeffries?

I realize this is kind of like throwing dynamite at a golden goose. Collison is ADORED in most statistical circles -- he's a darling of adjusted +/-, and has been among the league leaders for years. Jeffries... not so much, heh. He's been a clearly positive impact player for the majority of the last few years (and in fact, he had the strongest adjusted defensive +/- on the New York Knicks last season among all serious rotation players), but nothing quite like Collison. But their skillsets are virtually EXACTLY the same. They both take charges, they both are fantastic pick and roll defenders, they're great on help, and they're highly foul-prone players who can't really stay on the court. Neither of them are phenomenal rebounders (actually, they're both awful -- Collison was solid earlier in his career, but he's been pretty bad the last few years) and neither are phenomenal passers (they have virtually equal TO and AST numbers over their entire careers). The only thing Collison really has on Jeffries is that he can finish at the rim, while Jeffries can't. But even then -- Collison generally has a far lower usage rate, and while the difference helps build confidence that Collison is a legitimately better player than Jeffries (and he is, if only a little), it doesn't explain the vast difference in reputation.

I mean, cripes. The Jared Jeffries capsule was basically a laundry list of reasons why I don't care for Jeffries' game. His offense is awful, he's foul prone, his man-to-man defense is bad, et cetera. But how is Nick Collison so much better that he deserves the adoration of the entire basketball media? I realize that it's partly his off-court pursuits -- his twitter account is (in my opinion) one of the funniest and most thoughtful of all the players I've ever followed, his observations on being an NBA player he blogged at GQ are legitimately incredible reads, and he's an actively great person outside his sport. His intelligence and class are probably reason enough for his being assessed as so much better than Jeffries. But the fact remains -- his game and general skillset is virtually the exact equivalent of a player that suffers yearly evisceration at the behest of the New York media, and a player for whom "I Hate Jared Jeffries" campaigns have been started and supported in full. This points to one of two things. Either Collison is pretty dang overrated, or Jeffries is pretty dang underrated. My opinion? A bit of both. Collison isn't nearly the perfect roleplayer most people portray him as. But Jeffries is hardly the worthless flotsam most people portray him as, either.

• • •

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. Yesterday's riddles were funny -- almost everyone got 2/3, but nobody could ace it. Surprised nobody guessed that a Spurs fan would dislike Kidd, heh. Anyhow. Good job to Weagle, Atori, Brian and Chilai for their 2/3 guesses.

  • While this Utah player has proven he's a good NBA rebounder, Player #160 hasn't really shown much else. A pity, for such a high pick.
  • Why are we calling him Pistol Pete? May have the mop, but Pistol Pete never had defense half this good. Will be a Player Capsule (Plus).
  • This Utah player has -- ... why are there so many Utah players at once? What? Anyway. Overrated in #NBARank, but should be a REALLY good player someday.

Again, sorry about the missed day this week. Extraordinarily busy. Get excited for next week, though. I have a ridiculous THREE capsule plus posts next week! Absurd. And one the Monday after! I better get writing those now. Have a good weekend.