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 Brandan Wright, Rodrigue Beaubois, and Boris Diaw.
Brandan Wright -- he of the oddest spelling of "Brendan" I've read in my life -- is one of the more interesting pieces in the Dallas rotation, simply because we don't exactly know what they're going to get out of him. Even compared to most big men, Wright is money at the rim -- he shot a ridiculous 11% over the at-rim average for NBA bigs, converting on 76% of his at-rim shots. Offensively, he was actually an asset from every area of the court, at least relative to most bigs -- he shot right around average from 3-9 feet (40%), a bit above average from the true midrange (42%), and way above average on his rarely-used long two (55%). Still, with at-rim numbers like that and a usage rating so low, you wonder why he got outside the basket at all. To put it this way -- Tyson Chandler led the league last year with a field goal percentage of 67%, acquired primarily because he was so good at the basket he rarely ventured outside of it. If Wright distributed his shots the same way Chandler distributed his -- that is to say, taking the same share of shots at the rim, from midrange, etc -- Wright would've "shot" 70% on the season. Which would've been the 2nd best FG% season by a player that played 15+ minutes a night in the history of the league. Crazy.
He's actually been doing neat stuff on offense for a few seasons -- the issue has less been his offensive efficiency and more his lack of a true position, relatively poor rebounding, and shaky defense. He doesn't really have the strength to defend centers, which is a problem given that he's too large to effectively defend power forwards. Carlisle is probably the best coach for him to be working under, though -- Carlisle has done an excellent job putting Wright in some of the few defensive schemes he can actually succeed, like a floating zone or a disconnected helper off an offensively shiftless center. Still, even Carlisle can't do this long enough to get Wright big minutes, which emphasizes the problem with Wright. So long as his offense stays at the level he's demonstrated in Dallas, Wright will have amazing per-minute scoring stats and ridiculous field goal percentages. With a slight tweak to his shot chart, he'd be in rarefied air. But he still probably wouldn't be able to play more than 15-20 minutes a night, simply because his defensive skillset is so bare and his tertiary skills are so shaky. Going forward, if he works on strength training and spends some serious time working on his defensive instincts, he could potentially be a nice first-big-off-the-bench -- we'll have to see, though.
This much doubt would be rather strange to read if you were a kid in Tennessee during the mid-aughts. Little known fact: Wright led his high school team to an unprecedented four straight state championships, and was named Tennessee's "Mr. Basketball" an also-unprecedented three years in a row. His one-year stint at Chapel Hill was pretty good, though his defensive issues were beginning to take root. Which is kind of funny -- he's stated in interviews that Kevin Garnett was his favorite player growing up, so you'd think he'd be just a bit more focused on the defensive end. There was never any real doubt that he'd be a halfway decent NBA player once he went pro, though. Unfortunately for him, Golden State sort of botched his development -- what he's done with Dallas so far is in no way surprising if you look solely at his pre-NBA background. To be fair, Golden State was something of a mess when Wright was drafted. But that doesn't really excuse just how poorly the Warriors messed up his trajectory. The fact that the Mavericks managed to snag a player with Wright's talent for such a paucity of money is a reasonably nice coup for Dallas. Although he's hardly a cure-all, I'm looking forward to seeing how he improves under Carlisle going forward.
_Follow Rodrigue Beaubois and eat a baguette, huh huh huh.__
Hey, look! It's Roddy Buckets! While Beaubois has been a pretty big disappointment for most who expected a series of quantum leaps after an impressive rookie year, he's not terrible. He looked solid his rookie year, especially in the playoffs -- I think I speak for most Spurs fans when I say that Beaubois terrified us a bit in the 2010 first round series. The Spurs won, but not without a few big scares and Carlisle keeping Beaubois (essentially) leashed to the bench. When Beaubois played in that series, he played extremely well. And he changed the composition of the Dallas offense just enough to confuse the Spurs defense and put them on their heels. Really interesting stuff. The thought was that coming off that performance, Beaubois would take a step forward by improving his shot and improving his skills as a distributor. Instead, he suffered a series of annoying lingering injuries and never really got all that much better. The spark-plug that could've helped the Mavs upset the Spurs in 2010 turned into a "DNP-Ever" during the Mavericks' title run, benched due to a pesky sprained ankle he suffered right before the playoff run. He's still in about the same place as he was when he was a rookie. Some promising aspects, some caution-inspiring ones, and a general sense that he's not quite as good as we all had hoped. Which isn't to say he's chopped liver or anything. Just not quite there yet.
While he's not an incredibly efficient player, posting below-average shooting percentages at all but one range (the 3-9 foot range, where he's got a nice little floater and a good pull-up on a dime), he's not egregiously bad from any range but the three. Just really average. He's a very good rebounder for a guard, which is a non-inconsequential skill. His assist totals are somewhat paltry, but also a bit misleading -- he gets a lot more value out of his assists than a lot of other players (in terms of setting up easy shots rather than difficult ones), and last year, the Dallas offense did look better with Beaubois on the court. About 3 points per 100 possessions better, to be exact. Not all of that is Beaubois, certainly, but he isn't offensively useless. He takes a few too many shots and really needs to fix up his three-ball, but he's not completely shiftless. Defensively, he's a decent shot blocker who doesn't really have much else in his arsenal. He isn't good at getting under his man on defense, and he doesn't really have a great set of instincts as to when he really has the room to try for a steal. He's blazing quick on offense, but perhaps a step slow on defense -- really embodies that odd disconnect in the playing styles on different ends of the court for really fast players. Lightning-fast on offense, but consistently several steps slow on defense. Never quite understood how that works, but if you want to watch a player who has that problem, Roddy's a good one to watch. He has good shot blocking instincts, but until he tamps down the stupid steal attempts, his defense is going to be a problem.
Next year should be an interesting one, for Beaubois. The hype he used to have is all-but-gone, which could have a wide range of impacts. He could be disdainful of his new and lesser status and play even worse than he has been (a la Rudy Fernandez). He could use it as motivation and put up one of his better years and rebuild the derailed hype-train (a la Dorell Wright). He could be blissfully unaware that there ever was a hype-train and the stakes (that is, his career essentially being on the line) may simply be unknown to him (a la JaVale McGee, forever and always). Beaubois should be healthy for more of the year than he's been since his rookie contest. Theoretically. He's shown signs of occasional competence in recent years -- if he can start producing that with consistency, he'll make quite a bit of NBA money and help the Mavericks out quite a bit as well. With Delonte West experiencing his current round of trouble, it's possible more time will open up for Beaubois than he's ever had before. He's the prototypical two-guard in a one's body, but I have a feeling he won't acquaint himself all that badly if he gets cast to be the Mavericks' pace-changing ball-hogging backup point guard off the bench. Maybe it's just the long-faded echos of 2010 tugging at my mind, though. I did fear Beaubois in that series, and perhaps more often than we'd like to admit, fear and faith go hand in hand. We'll see.
Follow Boris Diaw and eat the whole bakery, huh huh huh.
I spent almost 15 minutes trying to track down the tweets... but I couldn't, so you're just going to have to believe me. Early in the 2012 season, I was watching Boris Diaw hilariously closely. My reason? Through three games (yes, it was VERY early, shush), Boris Diaw's season average was 11-11-8. He had done this despite, in those three games, putting up just a single double-double and no triple doubles. He had carved out an average -- in a hilariously small sample size, mind you -- that was just two assists per game from a triple double... despite never actually having had a triple double in the season! He was averaging a double double having only had a single one on the year in three games! So, me... I was watching Boris' averages very closely. I think I called it #BorisDiawOscarWatch or something. Because, well, think about it. Wouldn't it be the single most hilarious accomplishment in NBA history if a player like Boris Diaw was the second player EVER to average a triple double -- and to do it without ever actually fielding one in a single game? We spend so long frittering about arbitrary accomplishments and whether players like LeBron can do it -- if a player like Diaw had managed it, I feel like the whole conversation changes in a better way. Less about arbitrary guidelines, more about what's really valuable. Of course, then Diaw averaged 8-5-4 in his next 15 games and totally ruined my dreams.
It's funny, though. When Diaw was unceremoniously cut from the Bobcats, my thinking was less on my early-season Diaw fever (I watched the first 10 games of the 2012 Bobcats season in their entirety! I CAUGHT THE FEVER!) and more on how he actually rates out as a player. A more multifaceted story, to be sure. When Diaw is in a limited role on a good team, he's a very decent player -- when he feels the need to act as a superstar and dominate the ball on a bad team, he's hilariously awful. The Boris Diaw who started over half the season for one of the worst teams in the history of the league had only a few traits in common with the Boris Diaw who ended the year as a key cog in the conference finalist Spurs. He shot the ball FAR too much despite being out of shape and lazy with his shots. He focused on the accumulation of individual stats at the expense of actually helping the team, quite often. And he was incomprehensibly out of shape. These are the three big problems that made his Charlotte tenure so incredibly bad that the team seriously felt the need to waive him.
But what's Diaw like when he's active, keyed in, and engaged? Very, very good. He's a great passer -- almost too willingly, sometimes -- and he quickly develops a solid within-post passing relationship with every good big man he plays with. In the Spurs' motion offense, his passing provides a beautiful added wrinkle. His rebounding has always been solid, and when he tamps down on the sheer volume of shots he takes, he gets markedly more efficient. What's more, when he's put within a decent defensive scheme and given strict guidelines of what he should be doing on defense, he actually does a reasonably good job -- he's a widebody defender for sure, but he has a lot of length and his weight makes it extremely hard to move him around. He's no Asik or Fesenko, but his sheer bulk and his long arms make him an excellent one-on-one cover for large and small big men alike, at least when they isolate. This bites back in a big way when he's tasked with defending the pick and roll, as his weight that makes him an asset on post-up play types makes him a problem when defending fluid, active plays like the pick and roll or spot-up recoveries after a blown rotation.
So, what's Boris "Babacar" Diaw got in store for us this year? Who knows, really? If I had to guess, I'd say he plays at a level somewhere in between his crummy Bobcats-inspired uselessness and his insane Spurs-inspired stretch. He's not THAT good, but he's not THAT bad either. He's getting a bit old (especially when you factor in the added age degradation due to his poor conditioning), and I'd expect his skills to continue their gradual falloff next year -- especially his defense, which was always a bit too good to be true in San Antonio. I'd expect slightly less offensive efficiency, slightly less mustard on his passes (he's going to eat it eventually, you know), slightly more head-scratching moments, and slightly lower mobility on the defensive end. Nothing particularly dramatic, just nothing quite as good as he looked last year. By the end of the season, I'd also expect him to be a bit better than he starts the season, if only because Diaw is going to be a bit more in shape once his restaurant's "Boris Diaw Burgers" finally flush out of his system entirely. It's also possible Diaw's presence enacts a somewhat subtle shift in some aspects of the Spurs playbook, as well -- he and Tony Parker are high school teammates and national team friends, and if Pop massages their minutes to keep them on the court together, there could be a few really interesting new plays that you'd only see from players with that kind of a history. Could be interesting. Watch out for that.
Almost done, but I would be quite remiss if I completed the Diaw capsule without linking to a particularly great piece by my friend Angelo Benedetti, Cleveland's leading connoisseur of substandard horror, substandard basketball, and Troll 2 jokes. Mr. Benedetti graced the world with this thought-provoking piece analyzing the special, wonderful, and beautiful underpinnings of Boris Diaw's play. Er. Wait. Not his play, exactly. More accurately, his weight -- as a professional athlete, Boris Diaw burns an insane number of calories a day. In order to continue being incredibly overweight, it takes a minor miracle of consumption and preparation for Diaw to remain in prime Pillsbury shape. In this article, Angelo tackles the tough questions -- how many calories would he need to eat to do this? How many animals is that? How many months would it take for Boris Diaw's calories to equal the energy of a dynamite explosion? Just... just go read it. It answers every question you could've possibly had about Diaw and more you couldn't even think about. Trust me.
(Ed. Note: His twitter handle is actually @theborisdiaw. I couldn't resist the gag.)
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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. Easy peasy. 3/3s today from Adam Koscielak, J, Luke, Chilai, Atori, @JoshsPseudonym, and @MillerNBA. Excelling work, folks.
Fate can be fickle. Not so long ago, Player #223 was a team's best hope to replace their departed star forward. Now he's a per-minute whiz-kid that's been on the block for a year.
One of the best defensive players in the league. Intensely smart basketball mind, although he's never played over 27 minutes a night for a reason.
He only played 135 minutes last year, but he has a cool name and I have a strong feeling he could be a decent last-on-the-bench guy. I could be crazy, though. Hope Player #225 sticks.
I was hoping to get 6 posts done this week, but that seems unlikely. Hopefully I can get ahead of the game this weekend.
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