As our summer mainstay, Aaron was writing a 370-part series discussing almost every notable player who was -- as of last season -- getting minutes in the NBA. As the summer dies down and the leaves turn, this quixotic quest of a series has happily reached the last third. But it's certainly not done yet! Today we continue with Samuel Dalembert, Jason Smith, and DeShawn Stevenson.
I've never been a huge fan of Samuel Dalembert's game. It's not any personal failing of his -- it's mainly just his skillset, which I've always found a bit of an ill mesh. When it comes to passing, he's got hands of stone and has never in his career been able to master the art of passing. Whether that's a dump-down, a post entry play to pass out to the open option, or even just a simple inbounds pass... Dalembert isn't great at it. If Boris Diaw is one side of the spectrum (blatant and unnecessary overpassing due to significant underlying talent), Dalembert is decidedly the opposite, and not for lack of trying. He does try to throw passes every now and again, but it rarely works and it's rarely pretty. Additionally, while he's a large man, he's no overwhelming force of nature a la Shaq or Bynum. This leads him to often settle his post-ups for shots that are a bit too far out -- he takes more 3-9 foot chippies and 10-15 foot midrange shots than almost every big man in the game, and while he produces an admirably above-average percentage from those ranges, that still means he's only shooting about 40% on his offense with absolutely marginal spacing gains. Not totally what you like seeing from your center, offensively. He's a very good free throw shooter who never draws contact. A decent post player who's rarely tied to the post. A phenomenal rebounder who... no caveats needed, really -- he's just a phenomenal rebounder, let's be honest.
Defensively, Dalembert is good but a bit overrated. He puts up gaudy block totals, but he fouls quite a lot and subjectively doesn't get great post position against bigger guys. Which isn't that common, it's worth noting -- he's 6'11", and he does an excellent job of swallowing up players smaller than he is. But when a true 7'0" comes to call he tends to be a bit of a poor cover, and his rotations often seemed more focused on following the ball for a highlight-reel block rather than a fundamentally sound defensive attack. His size, length, and general fluidity make him a valuable defender, but watching him you tend to get the sense that he's leaving a bit on the table by being so focused on the blocks rather than the whole picture. He's still good, just not quite as good as he could be, and that bugs me at times. On the other hand, Dalembert is essentially the embodiment of all NBA players that are far better people than they are NBA players. Really, really great guy. He's from Haiti, and was intimately involved -- through both financial contributions and trips out to Haiti to help out -- in the cleanup from the devastating 2010 Haiti earthquake that most people have inexplicably forgotten about. He seems like a great guy from all accounts.
I don't have much else to say, other than register my personal confusion that Skiles has yanked around Dalembert's minutes so much. The Bucks picked him up for a reason, and while he's getting up there in the years, he's still been a rather effective player for them. With the exception of the Bucks' win against Chicago a few weeks back, I haven't watched Bucks games with the thought Dalembert really looked actively bad -- he's doing his job, certainly. But he's still getting his minutes yanked around as though he's playing like absolute crap. Which I think I've mentioned on five to six Bucks players in a row. For reasons unknown to me. So, yeah. I don't understand Skiles' rotations. At all. Even before this excellent Point Forward highlight of the ridiculously changing rotations, I was wondering what was going on -- the animation just made it all the more befuddling. Perhaps he's just thinking about basketball on a plane of thought far beyond that which I am capable of. But it makes no sense to me whatsoever. Alas.
Follow Jason Smith by seeing things that happened, things that will h--wait, that's the Dead Zone.
Jason Smith is a classic example of a player whose status as a lesser offensive player on a very bad team gave him a shot to improve a few facets of his game on the sly with none the wiser. I refer to his at-rim game, something that had been exceedingly below-average for the majority of his career but completely blew up last season. Smith shot a startling 80% at the rim last year, exceeding his previous career high by almost 15 percentage points. Several reasons that happened. First, he went 27/27 on dunks in 40 games last season -- in the previous 133 games combined, Smith had only taken 24 dunk attempts. He showed a better adeptness at cutting to the rim and a better general understanding of space last season, which is sort of funny if only because it's incredibly silly that he shows this sort of versatility right after Chris Paul left. Still. Fun stuff. More important than the heightened incidence of dunks, though, was the heightened conversion of layups -- he was simply getting himself into slightly better position and getting a lot more of those benefit-of-the-doubt rolls than he used to. He shot 70% on layups last season after 50% the season before and 57% the season before that. Combine those two things -- which started in last year's preseason and maintained all year -- and you have a player mixing up a bit of previously absent offensive value.
The key problem to keep in mind with Smith's advancement is the same one that dogs every player who has a quantum leap in one area of their game -- it may be sustainable in a vacuum, but the NBA isn't a vacuum. Subjectively, most teams didn't really make much of an effort to guard Smith much at the rim. He's traditionally been a floor-spacing midrange-type player, and when you're that kind of a guy, teams don't exactly make a strong show of running you out of the post. In fact, they often get lost on you when you enter too closely, almost as though they're assuming you can't really finish -- now that Smith has shown he can, scouting reports will begin to adjust to that reality. Last season, the Hornets were a pretty bad team. Bad enough that you can't subjectively see teams guarding Smith all that differently. That's because teams don't scout every team exogenous to the quality of the team -- if you're playing the five win Hornets, your coaching staff isn't going to get quite as deep-in-the-weeds into scouting your opponent and digging out nuggets like Smith's improving at-rim game as you would be if you were scouting a very good team with the same player. This is (incidentally) one of the reasons it's so hard for rookies on good teams to play well -- other teams simply spend more ink and tears scouting the better teams in the league, and when you have a weak link like a rookie, they're much better scouted on a night-to-night basis and they aren't usually allowed more than 6 or 7 games before scouting starts to catch up with short-lived trends. On terrible teams, the scouting is less prominent and the rookie doesn't necessarily need to contend with micromanaged adjustments meant to completely change the way they're playing the game. Hence why they're a bit better.
For the first few years of his career, Smith played tentative and boneheaded basketball on the defensive end of the court. He finally seemed to make strides to that end last season, when he heavily bought in to Monty's rotations and defensive philosophy. He made himself genuinely useful on the defensive end. He became sharper on his rotations, as Coach Williams gave him a more direct and set series of areas he wanted Smith to focus on defensively. Additionally, he stopped backpedaling quite so much and learned to move laterally to cut guys off -- this helped him cut down his previously-quite-high foul rate, which also helped him stay on the court and get into a better rhythm with the players around him. He isn't anything to write home about, necessarily -- a bit slight for his height, a bit slow, a bit lacking at rebounding -- but he certainly isn't bad. Which is essentially all you can say for Smith as a whole. He's decent. Nothing revolutionary, nothing amazing, but not bad at all. And on his current contract, he's a steal -- the Hornets locked him up at $7.5 million over three years in the 2011 offseason, which seemed like a possible reach at the time but increasingly looks like one of the best contracts in the league. He's putting up midlevel production on less than $3 million dollars a year right now. Crazy nice stuff. A good trade chip, too, if the Hornets choose to go that route. Nice finagling, Demps.
Follow DeShawn Stevenson to the club using his ATM machine.
Last season, DeShawn Stevenson may have been the worst player in the league. It's been coming for a while, honestly, and although he was just a lockout removed from being a contributing piece on an excellent title team, he's been on the verge of toppling over for a while. His perimeter defense has always been decent, but it's been falling off somewhat poorly for years, as his mobility leaves him and his strength turns brittle. He still takes charges with the best of them and tries to stay with his man, but it's not all that difficult to simply run him off a screen or fool him with an awkward pump fake. Offensively, though? Lord almighty. A few facts about DeShawn Stevenson's 2012 horror-show.
DeShawn Stevenson took 7 layup attempts in the entirety of last year's 66 game season. He made two. (The five missed layups were all hilarious, by the way. If you have Synergy access, go look at them. Wish I had the video know-how to share it.)
DeShawn Stevenson has not even attempted a dunk since March 8th, 2010. This... this is only scarcely related to 2012, but it's still sort of hilarious. He's small, but he's strong. The man simply doesn't have a vertical anymore. Not "a small" vertical. He does not have one.
DeShawn Stevenson shot three 3-pointers per night in the 2012 season. He made 28% of them. That's barely one in four, which would stand to reason that the man had several games of zero-three-pointers made. Turns out to be a true story. DeShawn Stevenson had 28 games (out of 51 games played) where he didn't make a single three. He's a 3-and-D player. That... that is not very optimal, I do not believe.
All that said, this year he hasn't been nearly as bad as last season. Sort of damning with faint praise, but there you go. He's been a passable three point shooter (currently at 42% on the year), and he's been staying out of the within-arc region of the floor on offense. Which is good. In fact, to that end, Stevenson has taken just 12 shots within the three point line over his 16 games this year. He's only made 4-of-12, but when you're cutting back that severely, you can live with percentages like that. His defense has been useful too, helping the Hawks replace Joe Johnson by-committee. He's 31, and it's unlikely he stays in the league for that much time after this season ends. But one has to respect the fact that he's still grinding at it and doing a passable job of it.
Off the court, Stevenson is much more interesting. Most people know roughly about his feud with LeBron James, which ranks to me as one of the most hilarious feuds in the history of the league. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention it, and point out the obvious -- how delightfully absurd it is that DeShawn Stevenson considers LeBron James his basketball rival. That would be much akin to me considering Usain Bolt my sprinting rival, or Cliff Lee my pitching rival. It's just so remarkably incongruous with reality and their skillsets it boggles the mind. He's also a funny guy off the court. Smarter than most people assume -- everyone thought the ATM machine was for his own use, but it was actually just so he could skim off the top when his NBA buddies needed cash to burn. And it worked! His business model, insofar as it is one, makes sense. He probably makes a nominal profit on it, assuming it's used often enough for the fees to cover maintenance costs. He's able to increase the surcharge because he can j-- ... Okay. Gonna stop myself here. I don't think anyone ACTUALLY wants to know the mechanics of how he can make a profit out of his ATM machine. But I do know how ATM machines work and why he is profiting off of it. Just saying, TBJ Army. Totally open to being an expert witness on the subject. I know a guy, and the guy is myself.
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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. Good work on a 3/3 guess from Andrew Kieser.
Player #343 is the most underrated star in the NBA. He's on a brilliant value contract and he's one of the best 3 players at his position. And nobody seems to notice. It's not easy being red and white. Player Capsule Plus, most likely.
Player #344 has a pet named Yams and a heart the size of ten goliaths. Wait, that's Trey Kerby. Sorry. They look the same.
"Return of the [Player #345]. / Once again, Return of the [Player #345] / Top of the world, Return of the [Player #345] / Here I go."
I am on Day #7 of this year's "no soda, no caffeine" purge that I started on a complete whim for no reason whatsoever. It's been... a thing. This morning I saw doughnuts with names that sound like prostitutes and feel like my brain is being whipped with razors. That said, I am near the end of this particular sonic journey. And perhaps when it ends I'll be able to sleep, perchance to dream.
Godspeed, hoops populi.
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