Player Capsules 2012, #199-201: Ronnie Brewer, Kevin Durant, Shawn Marion

Posted on Mon 08 October 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 Ronnie Brewer, Kevin Durant, and Shawn Marion.

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_Follow Ronnie Brewer on Twitter at __@RonnieBrewerJr.___

Contrary to popular belief, I do read every comment posted here. Although I rarely have time to offer a coherent response, I often incorporate tidbits and thoughts from the comments (whose writers tend to be smart, avid fans with very valuable perspectives on the ideas espoused in the capsules) into the capsules themselves, especially if I reach a mental block or find a certain thought particularly compelling. Sometimes, though, I see them as something of a challenge. Geezer correctly guessed that this capsule would be Ronnie Brewer, but noted that he had serious doubts as to whether the team acquiring Brewer -- here the Knicks -- really had reason to be hopeful or happy about his addition. This is pretty fair, all things considered. Brewer has his flaws. Especially on offense, where he was rudderless to the point of incomprehensibility last season -- he's got the offensive conversion rates of a bigger player, posting downright excellent numbers close to the basket (within 3-9 feet) and decent numbers on the true midrange. He just... didn't do either thing very often, choosing instead the strange route of taking well over half his shots outside of 15 feet, despite shooting an abysmal 33% on the long two and 27% from three. Less of that, Ronnie. More cuts and smart reads, please -- things you're good at and could add definitive value with.

But offense wasn't the question. The question was defense, and in that regard, I'm quite firmly in the camp that Brewer has a lot to offer. I tend to believe in his defense -- I think I've watched enough tape of Brewer that I can confidently say he's excellent. Knicks fans spun yarns to the heaven last season about Iman Shumpert's defense. It was good, don't get me wrong -- but his offense was abysmal and his defense didn't quite bear out by the numbers. Brewer, on the other hand? Brewer's worth on the defensive end was insane last year. It was partly filled by playing with Omer Asik, a player who I've previously outlined as one of the best defensive centers in the league. At least, you'd think that -- the thing is, Brewer actually played less than 25% of his minutes with Omer Asik. So that seems to be sort of a bunk theory. And even if he was gaming his sparkling on/off numbers... how Brewer could possibly be gaming his other tertiaries? He's one of the least foul-prone guards in the league, something that's IMMENSELY valuable when you're guarding players that shoot free throws as well as most modern guards. If you're constantly sending your player to the line -- something that, regrettably, Shumpert did quite a lot last season -- you're giving them a better chance to score than if they'd taken a wide open shot. Brewer didn't give up quite as many of those easy points to his man, enhancing his value. And harder yet to fool? Have to look at Brewer's Synergy numbers -- he posted excellent ones.

As for the eye test? I'd entreat you to ask Dwyane Wade how that turned out in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals. Rather astounding set of statistics, here -- with Brewer on Wade, the Dwyane Wade who proceeded to run wild in the finals averaged a paltry 15 points a contest on abysmal shooting and rare free throws. THAT'S how guards can impact the court -- by keeping stars like Wade both off the line and out of rhythm, Brewer and other perimeter stoppers can do incredibly valuable things for any team willing to take a shot on them. Which brings us to his role next year, on the Knicks. Why, exactly, didn't anyone else pick him up? Seriously. Look at the contract he got -- a single year at the minimum. This guy is still in his mid twenties, just played 25 MPG as a primary perimeter stopper for one of the best defenses in the league, and is barely a year removed from being played extended minutes on shutdown duty in the Eastern Conference Finals. And you're telling me nobody was willing to give him more than the minimum? Insane. I think his impact on this Knicks team will be far more broad than most think, so long as he can keep from chucking up random shots. Counterintuitively, being a team featuring ball-dominant iso-heavy players may actually help him achieve that goal. If Melo and Amare are freezing him out on every possession, he essentially has no choice but to play his solid defense and fade into the ether on offense. Which means he can focus on what he's good at and play to his strengths. Brewer can produce everything Shumpert gave this team, and a little bit more. And in my view? He's the only new Knick that actively improves their bottom line. So yeah. I do think Knicks fans should be excited about Brewer. He was a major cog on a team that's won about 75% of their games over the past 2 seasons, and they got him for the minimum at their weakest position. An exciting pickup, to be sure.

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_Follow Kevin Durant on Twitter at __@KDTrey5.___

Hey, everyone, this is Alex, and I'm technically speaking the second-most prolific author on the blog (look it up!). Anyway, Aaron has some conference that he's at, so today I'm your guest editor, because I am writing this single introductory paragraph. Today, Aaron writes another Player Capsule Plus and despite talking with him for hours every day I still have no idea how he does it either. Anyway, the subject today is none other than Kevin Durant, whose offensive game is as dominant and as beautiful as anyone's in the game today. His game really fits the famous SportsCenter montage from "He Got Game" better than Ray Allen, in my opinion, and that's saying quite a lot. Anyway, here's a sample from the Durant capsule (which includes a preview of the Thunder and a rumination on the limits of prediction in the wake of last season's WCF). Check it out. Not like you'd have to be convinced by me.

Which leads to the main point of this post. A lot of people refer vaguely to the concept of youth when they discuss the Thunder, and default to the position that the Thunder will "naturally" be better next year due to youth alone. And thus, I posed a question to myself. How much better can Kevin Durant really get? I thought, and thought. I thought some more. And, after crunching the numbers and trying to figure out his most likely steps forward, I came to a basic conclusion. He could be a bit better. He could be a bit worse, if his shooting numbers fall off a tad -- something that often happens to tall shooters earlier than most. There are a few basic ways to improve his offense -- he needs to either get better at getting himself open against pressure (something he's currently horrible at) and better at controlling the ball when he handles it (as he's extremely turnover prone). Beyond that, short of becoming a Nash-style sniper, it's hard to see how Durant improves his offensive game. He can shoot from any spot on the court, he draws free throws in bundles akin to the Walter White methylene barrels, and he has a better shot than anyone his height in the history of the league, excepting (perhaps) the immortal Dirk. He was the best defensive rebounding small forward in the league and every single problem he has on defense is rooted in his general body-type, not a lack of effort.

But the most likely scenario? He stays about the same, onwards to the infinite.

To read more on Kevin Durant, read today's Player Capsule (Plus).

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_Follow Shawn Marion on Twitter at __@matrix31.___

The thing with me and Shawn Marion is less that his defense has been markedly more impressive this past few years and more that he's simply been markedly more important to markedly better teams. No, Julien -- you're correct, his defense hasn't been markedly better the past few years. He's lost a step, or two, or three. Certainly isn't quite the same as he was in his prime. But I still think the last two years have changed the way I look at him quite a lot. This past year in particular -- the 2012 Mavericks were rated a well-within-the-top-10 defense over the course of the season and started the season off as a significantly better defensive team than they finished it. Marion was integral to that in just about every way -- in the same way Dirk key the Dallas offense on the floor, in the same way LeBron keys the Heat defense, so too does Marion key the Dallas defense when he sees the court. He has the versatility to cover four positions rather comfortably and throw in a few small centers as well. And help defense? Fantastic. Part of the Mavericks' defensive success is rooted in the fact that Marion can (when healthy and sprightly) effectively wall off usual routes from opposing ballhandlers and force them to take passes charitably described as "unintuitive" in order to get past Marion safely. The fact that teams facing the Mavericks end up with a highly restrained passing playbook helps the Dallas big men stay on their man and commit to certain spots in the defensive scheme -- this simplifies their defensive playbook at the expense of Marion's, which is a trade-off that (for the last few years) has absolutely worked like a charm.

The big issue, with Marion's defense? Age. While these past two seasons have displayed him in ever-more integral roles on ever-more quality defensive units, Marion's beginning to get up in the years, and that could at some point translate to problems. And by "some point", I actually mean "the end of the 2012 season" -- the Mavericks' defense fell off as the calendar turned and Marion got exhausted from being overplayed, perhaps best exemplified by their short-lived playoff run. They competed in game one, competed slightly less in game two, got blown out in game three, and suffered a farther-apart-than-you'd-think loss in game four. Which roughly correlates with their season -- competed at the start, tailed off a bit, got crummy in the third quarter of the compressed season, then played relatively poorly down the stretch despite getting decent numbers. It was -- overall -- a rather underwhelming death rattle for a deserving and patently memorable champion. One of the biggest parts of that decline? Marion, of course. He suffered exhaustion and overwork as the season went on, exacerbated when several keystone parts of the Mavericks' compelling 2012 roster either fell off the face of the earth or succumbed to injury. Carlisle was forced to play him too much, and it harmed their bottom line in increasing form as the year went on.

Offensively, while Marion is mostly known for his hilarious and unbelievably broken shooting motion, you can't really deny its effectiveness. At least in certain ways. He's no three point shooter, sure -- he's a below-average three point shooter over the course of his career, And in fact, he's no shooter on any kind of long shots -- he converted a well-below average total from every range from the midrange to the three. But his free throws -- despite his busted form -- tend to imply that his form is working perfectly well for him. He's a career 80% free throw shooter, which is quite solid for a man his size, and patently absurd when you actually watch the exact tics that make his form so ridiculous. The strange catapult-like contraption he builds from his guide hand and his follow-through, the odd concentration in his eyes, the herky-jerky release... it's all perfectly weird, but it still gets him above-average from the line over his career, so how would anyone have room to complain? Marion's real offensive skill isn't the motion itself, but what he does with it in the post -- he's among the better post players in the league, not just in converting from the post and at the rim (something he's very good at in his own right) but also in his pinpoint passing out of it. Jason Kidd has done an excellent job in the last few years setting Marion up in good positions, where he'll have 2 or 3 solid offensive options to pass to after he fakes out his defender and gets the entire defense off kilter. Given this tendency in his post offense, the general takeaway is pretty absurd. Marion, a player whose defense would be reason enough for big minutes, often helps just as much on the offensive end. And that's rather absurd.

In the final summation, I may be alone in saying this, but I think Marion has a decent case for the Hall of Fame. I distinctly doubt he gets in, mind you -- he spent too many years as the primary defender on a score of awful defensive teams. But I think Marion's late career shine with the Mavericks has finally convinced me. Marion's an intensely valuable defender, and with a clever coach like Carlisle scribbling away behind him, it's certainly possible to make a brilliant scheme based almost solely around Marion's hilariously weird skillset. Combine that with his offensive value in creation from the post and his quixotic-but-solid free throw motion? You get a player who's inscrutable, interesting, and quite possibly one of the best casual-fans-don't-know players in the league. Fantastic sea-changing defender who can be the crux of an entire defense while an important and engaging piece on offense? Solid. Give me more of those in the hall, please. (And I'm not just saying that in hopes above hopes that the Hall creates an exhibit that preserves in amber the exact intricacies of one of the most hilarious shooting motions of all time. Although, to be fair, that's probably reason #1 why Marion in the hall would be fantastic. Let's be honest.)

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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. Most of the comment-folk only got 1/3 right -- today's overall winner is @AtweetVirani with 2/3. Good show.

  • If not tragic, Player #202's retirement last year was certainly sad. But there were some heartwarming and salute-worthy wrinkles if you looked close enough.
  • Three teams actually competed for Player #203's services this offseason. The problem: I have legitimately no idea whatsoever why they'd do that. He's been gone for almost 3 years, really.

Hopefully I'm on-time tomorrow too. Haven't gotten as ahead as I intended. Oh well. Vegas is reasonably fun -- the preseason game was phenomenal, and Alex Arnon and I have a piece on it coming later this week. So watch out for that.

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