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 a three-pack of Bobcats, current and gone -- Ben Gordon, Jamario Moon, and Kemba Walker.
Generally, I don't think marginal gains in the shooting talent employed on the wing add a ton to a team's bottom line. It can help fill in the edges, sure. But most of the time you're talking about the difference between a single 33% three-point shooter and a single 35% three-point shooter, or some such small gain that's hardly going to impact the way the team plays offense. It's one of the reasons the Ben Gordon signing was somewhat unnecessary for the Detroit Pistons in the first place. Gordon has one legitimate use on the floor -- he shoots the lights out. They added Gordon with the intent to upgrade their three point shooting, but the thing is? It wasn't really that bad the season before, at least from the wing. Sure, the Pistons weren't top 10 or anything (24th, actually), but their youngest bomber (Afflalo) shot 40%, Prince and Hamilton were both converting around 36%. They weren't exactly absent three point shooters from the wing, they simply thought Gordon's play and internal improvement from Gordon would dramatically improve their bottom line. Somehow.
They then proceeded to trade Afflalo for virtually nothing and sign Ben Gordon to fill Afflalo's role -- essentially spending gobs and gobs of money on a few percentage points of an upgrade in their wing shooting. The problem with Gordon on the Pistons, in my view, was one of marginal improvement -- in 2010, Gordon suffered several injuries and gave nothing approaching his true value from behind the arc. But in 2011 and 2012, Gordon shot around 40% from behind the arc, and the Pistons were still a relatively awful team. Which is generally my point -- even if things had gone completely right in 2010, a few percentage points of improvement from three wasn't going to dramatically change the overall team structure of 2009 Pistons, they of an inglorious first-round sweep. And when you compound that with the dramatic slide of the Pistons' defensive mindset in the post-Sheed, post-Wallace era? You have exactly what you got in 2011 and 2012. A relatively shiftless and awful team whose three point shooting -- while a tiny bit better than it was in the last few years of the Pistons' dynasty years -- barely moved the needle on the team's effectiveness.
All that said, let's look at the 2012 Bobcats. Here are their top 5 three point shooters (minimum 1 attempt per game):
- Corey Maggette; 36.4%, 2.1 attempts per game
- D.J. Augustin; 34.1%, 3.7 attempts per game
- Reggie Williams; 30.8%, 3.2 attempts per game
- Kemba Walker; 30.5%, 3.4 attempts per game
- Eduardo Najera; 27.6%, 2.3 attempts per game
When the 5th best shooter on your team makes under 30% of their threes, you're in BIG trouble. All told, the 2012 Bobcats shot 29.5% from three last season, an abhorrent number that only one other team in the last decade matched. There were two reinforcing issues that resulted from this outside shooting deficiency. First, teams gave virtually no respect to any option plays that Silas ran with the express intent of getting one of their three point shooters open. Teams shaded the post and rotated slowly, knowing full well that getting caught on a cross-match and giving up an open three point shot to Kemba Walker was about as threatening as Boris Diaw threatening to diet. Second, when the three wasn't run on a play and was part of an isolated half-court enterprise, the Bobcats' lack of serious screeners would essentially ensure that the defense would leave defenders home on the Bobcats' three point shooters and make it virtually impossible to get an open three. Which helped feed into the lack of respect that made the first point problematic, which in turn made it easier for teams to justify almost never sending a rotating cover on a three point shooter. Vicious cycle, that.
This is all to say that I think the Bobcats may be a significantly better fit for Gordon than the Pistons. If you simply look at it on the basis of what it gives a team on-the-margin, the Gordon acquisition is one of the few this summer that makes an active, tangible change to how a team operates. With Gordon on the court, the Bobcats will finally have a shooter you can't leave unguarded. The 2012 Bobcats had absolutely none of that. The closest was Maggette, whose career 32% three point shooting (last year's "hot" season included) was hardly scaring anyone. In Gordon, the Bobcats will have a career 40% three point shooter. His game is limited, and he can't really make plays at the rim -- but frankly, simply having the THREAT of a player that can make that many threes will improve the Bobcats' prospects going forward. As long as they relegate Gordon to a spot-up role and don't force him to act outside his true value, he'll be a fine player. And when you're looking at a historically bad three-point shooting team with nobody a team needed to guard? A single player who can strike a bit of beyond-the-arc fear into the hearts of a defense could portend a boost. Not just for their three point shooting in a vacuum, but in the success rates of option plays, in how other three point shooters can get, and in their general offensive coherency. Gordon should help. The Bobcats will be bad, but he's a piece that fits and a serious upgrade in something that actively changes how a team plays offense.
Anyway. Net result? I could be wrong, but I'm rather confident that Gordon will be a useful player this year.
Follow Jamario Moon by learning crazy dribble tricks.
It kind of pains me to say this, but Jamario Moon was probably the worst player in the NBA this past season. This pains me to say because I've always been a fan of Moon's, even going back to his days in Vietna--... uh, I mean, the 2010 Cavaliers. He's not very good at basketball, mind you, but he's always been entertaining. Moon got his start as an upstart talent out of Mississippi's Meridian Community College, leaving early to declare for the 2001 NBA draft. After teams refused to take a flyer on him, he was signed into the D-League by the Mobile Revelers for two seasons, being drafted in actuality by the D-League's Huntsville Flight in 2004. In-between his D-League stints and his NBA career, he played for teams in the USBL, Mexico, Rome, the CBA, and the WBA. My favorite, though? His short-lived stint with the Harlem Globetrotters back in 2004. Dude's been AROUND. After years of trying, Jamario finally made it to an NBA team after an excellent training camp with the Toronto Raptors in 2007.
Here's the issue, with Super Jamario. Beyond his athleticism, he really doesn't have a ton of active talents. He's a "good" defender relative to many, simply because he has the athleticism to play the NBA game. But his reputation as a defensive stopper has always been vastly overstated. He can cover a player, for a possession or two, but he isn't all that creative and he's pretty bad at getting around screens. As he gets older he's gotten worse and worse at recovering on spot-up shooters, and he doesn't really have any defensive talents other than "possessing the requisite athleticism to do the occasional thing." His only serious offensive skill is his dunking -- he's a solid dunk artist who, at his prime, could go dunk-for-dunk with any of the league's top enthusiasts. Some style, some pizzazz, some vigor. And he did it often. According to 82games.com estimates, on his career, Jamario had roughly one converted dunk for every 6 field goals he took -- given that you shoot (almost by definition) 90%+ on dunks, that combined with his career field goal percentage (46%) should tell you about how well he did at every other type of shot -- not very good at all. Including tip shots, short shots, and all manner of non-dunk close baskets, Jamario shot 37% on non-dunks in his career. Yikes.
Last year, Jamario didn't dunk. Not once. Wondering why he was so bad? Well... there's that. At this point, designating his athleticism as "waning" is flat-out charitable. He's no longer athletic enough to even pretend to be a positive defender, and his handle has collapsed within itself to the point that he's a turnover threat every second he touches the court. This is a massive, massive shame. When he was in his relative prime and still good enough to contribute to an NBA team, he was one of the more fun guys to keep an eye on during garbage time. He'd quite often break out some of the crazy globetrotter dribbles, and go the extra mile on a completely meaningless dunk. He'd do it all with a grin and a goosey, pointing at the crowd and making everything just a tad bit more fun. Showboat? A bit. But it was always fun showboating, and there was a genuine sense that it was born out of his years in the NBA's various minor leagues. This was a man who knew to appreciate his fleeting time in the league before it was gone -- he was a natural entertainer who did his part to make any random Cavs or Raptors game as entertaining as he could muster. While he may be gone now, and he was such a marginal player I doubt many will remember any of this, you shouldn't forget it. Remember the times we had, Jamario. You were awesome.
Anyway. A capsule on Jamario is -- almost by definition -- an entire capsule on trivialities, so I may as well end with a few more. Jamario Moon's middle name is "Raman." Which, given his total career earnings (pre-tax) peter out at a tad bit under $7 million dollars, may nicely reflect his dining choices going forward. Yuk yuk yuk. I'm a jokester. (No, honestly though. Legitimate ramen -- the actual stuff -- is pretty tasty. The haute cuisine of the college-inclined notwithstanding, give me some legitimate ramen any day. That stuff is nice.) Off the court he refurbishes old cars and plays video games. His favorite food is a "cheese biscuit." He really wants to end his career playing with this year's Hawks team for some reason (I bet they have great cheese biscuits), although it looks rather unlikely he makes it. Someday, I hope to meet Jamario. He seems like a really solid dude. Great entertainer, brilliant smile, named Jamario? Simply awesome.
I don't think Kemba Walker's rookie year was a failure. Let's start with that. If you were starting with a reasonable expectation for what he'd give an NBA team, I don't see how you can be particularly disappointed in what he gave. Entering the NBA, there were a few things we knew for sure about Walker, if we cared to look. First we knew the ephemeral -- he "knew how to win" since he'd won an NCAA title, he "could play big minutes" since he'd played 5 excellent games in 5 nights to win the big east tournament, and he "had a lot of swag and poise" since... well... he had a lot of swag and poise. All pretty simple observations, but also mostly worthless -- winning an NCAA title has virtually nothing to do with your success in the NBA (just ask Jon Scheyer), trying to assert a player's ability to play big NBA minutes with a 5-game stretch is like predicting a runner's mile time from their 100 yard lap (barely correlated), and merely having swag and poise doesn't tell you a thing about a player's proclivity for NBA dominance. Bad teams have stylish players quite often -- look at Nick Young, Monta Ellis, or Jamal Crawford.
No, these were the things that would lead you to blithely overrate Walker going into the season, and people who tended to focus on these attributes found themselves sorely disappointed in Walker's performance. But when one looked beyond the title-team minutiae, one could glean a few scouting gems from watching Walker play. In my observations, I found the following to be true about Kemba Walker, after the conclusion of the 2011 college basketball season and his declaration to the draft:
Walker was not a shooter. In college, he shot roughly 33% from behind the three point line. He shot under 43% his final two seasons, and while his usage rate was extremely high, those numbers tended to indicate a player whose shot would never be utterly perfect. Something to work off, perhaps, but more likely a 25-30% three point shooter who needed a few seasons to rebuild his shot from scratch.
Walker relied on free throws. While Walker was a brilliant scorer his senior year, he wasn't EXACTLY killing teams through excellent isolation plays. That helped, and he was always good at making space for himself, but a huge proportion of Walker's scoring output relied on taking massive amounts of free throws he probably wouldn't be getting immediately at the NBA level, if he ever got them at all. And that in and of itself was going to depress his scoring numbers from his college highs, even if he didn't get worse in the presence of better defenders.
Walker was not a very good passer. In his senior season, despite taking utter and complete ownership of his Connecticut team, Walker posted a 28% assist percentage. That's honestly pretty bad for a star point guard on one of the best teams in his sport, and looking at the numbers, it does tend to bear that out -- the only star point guard prospects who had a lower assist percentage in their last year of college were Jrue Holiday, Brandon Knight, Jeff Teague, Toney Douglas, and Eric Bledsoe. Not exactly a murderer's row. Some people expected Walker to be an awesome passer right off the bat -- that was an exceedingly unrealistic expectation.
How did these individual traits pan out in one season of NBA action? About as expected, with a few surprises. First, he emphatically WAS NOT a shooter his first year -- although he was in the Bobcats' top five three point shooters, he still shot remarkably poorly, posting below average from every single area of the court and barely hitting 30% on his threes. More impressively, after being an at-rim aficionado in college, the NBA game quickly revealed a fatal flaw in Walker's current approach to at-rim scoring -- as a result of that second factor I noted above, Walker relies so much on the free throws he drew in college that once those vanished his scoring efficiency dropped considerably. He was in the bottom eighth of all point guards in at-rim scoring, actually shooting below 50% at the rim. Rough. Finally -- and the particularly hopeful nugget here -- was his passing. He wasn't phenomenal by any stretch, and he was still well below average in his per-possession passing statistics and his general control of the ball. But he wasn't any worse. He posted an assist percentage of 30%, slightly above his percentage in his senior year of college -- that tends to indicate he's got at least a slightly higher ceiling on that end than he displayed in college, which could be valuable later as he continues adapting to his more tertiary role in the NBA.
Beyond all that, he was predictably awful on defense and shockingly good on the boards -- while the Bobcats weren't really good with anyone on the court, they were slightly better with Walker than without. His priorities need to be rather simple -- if he intends to be a good player in the NBA, he's going to need to get past his yips and go full-hog for contact until referees finally start calling it. At 6'1", one of the few advantages he has is that it's a mite bit easier to draw contact for incidental hits. Beyond getting his free throw attempts back, he needs to work on actually using his separation talents. He's always been great at sliding out to create separation off a solid screen -- now the trouble is actually making the open shot, and fixing his general form to the point where teams actually have to plan for him. Finally, he needs to continue developing his passing game -- while the step forward he took in the NBA is a great start, it's certainly not enough. If Walker wants to be anything more than a 20-25 minute a night backup, he's going to need to take some serious steps. Realistically? He's already somewhat improved from what I expected he'd be coming out of college, and I don't think he's anywhere near his ceiling. I don't think he's ever going to be a serious starting-quality player, but he could definitely develop into a solid pace-changing 15-20 minute a night guard leading the string for a contending team. That's, in my view, a realistic place for Kemba in the NBA. Now let's see how it goes.
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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. Last Friday's riddles were won by a bunch of 2/3 guesses -- I thought the "satellite" key-in would be a dead giveaway for Jamario, but thinking back, I'm not sure anyone even realized he was a Bobcat last year. The key riddle problem. Anyway. Good job to Sir Thursday, J, Chilai, Atori, and the world's leading expert on pig backs, Dr. "wul.f".
- This player has the same last name of another NBA star. No relation -- their heights should tell you that much.
- One of the few exceedingly minor players in the league who has had at least one game of extreme dominance. It was in college, but it was among the best individual performances in the NCAA of the last few decades. Just crazy stuff.
- "I just want to make sure I’m [Player #216] wherever I’m at. I think I can be [Player #216] wherever. It just depends on the system, the people around the system, who’s going to let [Player #216] be [Player #216], not make [Player #216] something they think he should be."
Stay frosty, friends.
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