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 Enes Kanter, Ricky Rubio, and Derrick Favors.
_Follow Enes Kanter on Twitter at __@Enes_Kanter.___
One of my most notable Enes Kanter memories came back in mid-2011, when I was new at my job and meeting some friends. I talked with my friend Hugh (a fellow statistician) about the NBA, and happily discovered he was a huge fan. Big Nets guy -- incredibly excited about the move to Brooklyn. We talked about the draft, for a while, and specifically about the pick the Nets had traded away to the Jazz for Deron Williams. It had turned out to be the third overall pick, and the Jazz had chosen Enes Kanter with the traded pick. I asked Hugh what he thought about that. He scoffed and said that Kanter was why he didn't care that the Nets had traded the pick. Curious, I probed -- he went on about how he'd watched a ton of footage on players in the draft for a project for his master's thesis. He was only really confident in Kyrie Irving to actually assert himself well as a player in the NBA, and if there was one player he was low on, it was decidedly Enes Kanter. As he said, his skills weren't all that excellent -- he'd put up middling numbers at best overseas, and what's worse, he couldn't perform an in-game jump. Sure, he had a "decent" vertical in workouts, but Hugh had quite literally never seen game footage in the hours he'd watched of Kanter where Kanter made any non-hop jump in an in-game situation. Suffice to say, Hugh was not expecting much from Kanter. I admit, it doesn't really say great things about his rookie year that I find an offhand conversation like that more memorable than Kanter's entire season.
There are some positives, here. His rebounding was extremely strong for a rookie -- Kanter was among the league leaders in defensive rebounding percentage. His stats, translated to 36 minutes a night, indicate a player with the potential to put up stats hovering around 13 points and 12 rebounds a night. Extremely solid totals, all things considered. And although he still can't jump amazingly well, with a season's worth of footage to choose from, you can actually find a few nice hops. (Well. Sort of.) Despite all that, there are a few big problems. First, his defense -- it's not actively harmful, but it's not great. He's gigantic and lumbering but he tries to get into the passing lanes like a guard, which is pretty taboo when you're not very quick. He can defend individual big men decently, if they're mountains like Shaq. Against limber, quicker big men he has troubles. Unfortuantely, that's most everyone in the league. What's more, while his offensive stats were decent in a vacuum, almost every minute Kanter was on the court was a minute Al Jefferson wasn't. I'm not Jefferson's biggest fan, but he was offensively essential to the Jazz last year -- without three point shooters or wings that could really produce offense, they needed their men in the middle producing offense to function as a productive team. Hence it being a problem when Kanter saw the floor. The Utah offense was (this is not a typo) 12 points per 100 possessions worse with Kanter on the floor. Rough stuff, that. Combine that with his foul troubles, and you have a player who has a lot of work to do.
Amusing things about Kanter? Many. Just look at who he's following on Twitter for a taste of what he's like off-the-court -- he's following Hugh Hefner, a bunch of men's magazines (Maxim/Playboy), aspiring starlets, NASA, and Spongebob. (God bless you, Amar.) His most recent pictures posted to his twitter involve Kanter kissing an alligator, chillin' like a bro with some snakes, and giving a shout out to an extremely attractive Latin dance teacher. Fair warning: his tweets contain an excess of winking emoticons, exclamation points, and a strangely solemn and somber profile picture. Still. He seems like a nice guy. And with rebounding like that, as long as he can work on his mobility and conditioning (and stop the silly fouls!), he'll eventually be a decent player in this league. A man his size can make it in the league with only one or two crucial skills, and lucky for Kanter, rebounding is one of them. I think that as his mobility improves his general command of the game will improve, and eventually, he should be a decent big-off-the-bench for a contending Utah team. We'll see, though. At the very least he should be tweeting for the forseeable future. And he's a fun follow, so that's pretty excellent.
_Follow Ricky Rubio on Twitter at __@rickyrubio9.___
Today's edition of our extended capsules features -- who else? -- the international man of mystery with floppy hair and a winning smile, Ricky Rubio. I'm discussing Rubio's general game, the Who, one of my ex-girlfriends, and the burden of expectations. Should be a fun time, provided you have a different definition of fun than the majority of the human race.
In 2009, to much fanfare, the Minnesota Timberwolves drafted Ricky Rubio. This was ironically months before Justin Bieber’s first album, meaning that if either of the two are copying the other, it’s decidedly Bieber copying Rubio rather than the other way around. When he first was to come over, we were treated to several love songs about his game — Rubio was, so they said, “bigger and better” than Pistol Pete Maravich. He was the most hyped prospect in years, promising to bring together things like Steve Nash’s passing with Pistol Pete’s scoring, and a touch of Wally Szczerbiak’s good looks to really bring everything together. The floppy hair, the scrawny frame, the glowing smile. Everyone eagerly awaited for his arrival, and as the basketball-loving public waited, Rubio mulled coming over. And decided (perhaps in part due to David Khan’s “drafting another point guard directly after him” move) that it’d be best if he refrained, for a while, and continued his development in the Euroleague as he worked out his contract and figured out the exactitudes of his personal journey to America. Then, last season, he finally relented — he came over to play the point for an intriguing Wolves team that had finally accumulated some solid pieces. This tends to happen when you’ve been among the worst teams the sport had ever seen over the previous three seasons. The comparisons started up again. Pistol Pete, Steve Nash, Isiah Thomas. Every good NBA point guard — or, in Pete’s case, a scoring guard — was a comparable for Rubio. Which might’ve been a mistake.
Scratch that — it was definitely a mistake. Rubio was never to be the same kind of a scorer as Pistol Pete, and the idea that he would be was one of the most ridiculous overstatements that’s ever entered the popular consciousness. While Rubio started the year shooting a decent percentage from three, there’s virtually nothing that distinguishes Rubio’s freshman year scoring ability to that of the highly less heralded Brandon Jennings — Jennings started the year on fire from three point range, as did Rubio, but there were warning signs as to their overall scoring game even then. Poor form on the three point shot, no real long two to speak of, and (perhaps most importantly) one of the worst at-rim finishing percentages in the league. He had the 6th worst percentage in the league last year (sort by “at rim” percentage), which matches exactly Jennings’ finish in his rookie year (6th worst in the league). Both players started the year on fire from three, and neither finished the year with an exceptional true shooting percentage despite that. Their final true shooting percentages, in fact, are almost exactly equal — 2010 Jennings had a TS% of 47.5%, while 2012 Rubio had a TS% of 47.6%. Not very good at all — 50% is the Mendoza line for “even remotely competent.” Clearly, both their rookie seasons miss that not-particularly-high mark.
_Follow Derrick Favors on Twitter at __@dfavors14.___
Out of all the players on last year's Utah Jazz, I don't think there's a single one I'm more interested in than Derrick Favors. Kanter has the size, sure, and Burks is interesting (if only just). Millsap pretty much is who he is, at this point, and Jefferson strikes me the same way. Gordon Hayward could be really good if he puts it all together, too. But none of them make me feel the same excitement as Favors when I think on their future potential. He's got an incredible amount of potential. He made a solid leap between his rookie and sophomore seasons on defense, going from a "decent with potential" defender to a legitimate lockdown option. On offense, he regressed -- but with defense like that, you can wait a bit for the offense to flesh out. He was just about as good at the rim last year as he was his freshman year (slightly below positional-average, but decent), but he experienced a huge falloff from outside 10 feet -- from 10-15 feet, he went from 45% on a shot every two nights in Utah to close last season to an abysmal 22% on one shot a game. Outside 15 feet, he went from 36% (not great) to 28% (dear God). Some rough regression, especially for a player like Favors who isn't quite comfortable in the post yet with the ball.
But that defense? Lord, that defense. The numbers don't blow you away (the Utah defense was better with him on the court -- to the tune of 4 points per 100 possessions -- but that's not the largest gap in the league by any stretch), but visually, it's a fun watch. His on-ball post defense is stingy, rangy, and brilliant. His instincts aren't perfect yet, but they're developing -- if he keeps getting better, he's got the potential to be a Garnett or Duncan type of dominant defender from the flex-four quasi-center position. Even as his offense is a tremendous work in progress, his defense is more than enough to get him floor time and guarantee him work going forward. He's an all-star level stopper who should get his due at some point -- as the numbers catch up to his general abilities and his playing time increases, I expect to see an increasingly outsized impact from Favors on the Jazz. He may not be their best player right now, but he's sure as hell their best defender, and if the Utah Jazz are to make the leap from "intriguing lowly quasi-contender with a chance to get HCA" into "legitimately elite team in the western conference", it's not going to be on the backs of Millsap and Jefferson's offense. It's going to be on the back of Favors developing into his own and pushing their defense to a level beyond "atrocious."
The big question -- as with just about every big man on the Utah roster -- is how the heck the Jazz are going to get enough playing time to develop him well. The Jazz are currently experiencing a surfeit of "not quite" bigs -- big men who are very good and have lots of solid talents, but who simply need more development or more complementary pieces around them. In the case of Jefferson, you have to look at his game and imagine that Jefferson and Favors could make a dominant frontcourt pairing in the future -- with Favors arming the defense and Jefferson controlling the ball on offense, the Jazz could have a wonderful thing if they could get it to work. But right now you have Kanter (who rebounds like a monster but ruins offensive pacing and doesn't have the mobility to defend outside of one-on-one situations), Favors (whose defense and rebounding move mountains but whose offense actively harms his team), Jefferson (who's their best player by a country mile on offense but whose defense is substantially lacking), Millsap (whose offense is great, but again, his defense can't do a thing and his size is lacking), and Jeremy Evans (who can dunk... and that's it). The Jazz have this giant menagerie of talent to draw from, but it's mismatched, with so many players that are assets on one end and come up lame on the other. Coach Corbin has a ridiculous task ahead of him to organize these disparate talents into one coherent unit. And while I'm interested to see how he acquaints himself to such a challenge, if I'm a Jazz fan, I'm a tiny bit worried about his ability to manage this many intriguing talents at once.
• • •
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. Lots of 3/3 riddle performances last week -- it started with "animeweedlord_gavman420" (I'm not kidding), went on with Brian and longtime guess-master J. Also Atori and Chilai. Basically I need to make these harder, is what I'm figuring.
- This recent Utah acquisition should shore up their three point shooting nicely. Player #163 likes the threes. (And their quota of sitcom guest-stars, too.)
- While the Thunder don't give Player #164 enough time to really let him show his stuff, I'd argue he hasn't shown enough to warrant it. His ridiculous PER excepted.
- The question is thus: will the Magic get Player #165 from the regular season, or Player #165 from the playoffs? Depending on which they get, the trade will succeed or fail.
Sorry for the late capsules -- spent the weekend in Chapel Hill (and met @CardboardGerald!), had fun, but didn't have as much time for writing as I was perhaps hoping. See you tomorrow.