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 leaves turn frosty, this quixotic quest of a series has happily reached the last full week. Not quite done yet, but close. Today we continue with Ed Davis, Darrell Arthur, Wilson Chandler.
Aha, Ed Davis. Finally. The mainstay of promising young big men everywhere. Davis is as Davis does -- he's a relatively capable defender, a decent rebounder, and (as currently utilized) a poor offensive player. He's not a willing passer, he's not good at controlling the ball, and he's a rather atrocious scorer once you get outside of about 7 feet. That said, he has the tools to be at least somewhat useful on offense -- it's up to Dwane Casey to set him up correctly. He's a quality finisher at the rim (75% last year, which is simply insane) and holds the keys to an excellent 3-9 foot baby hook he tends to rely on from that range. In fact, last season he made his hook shot as far as 11 feet out from the basket. Quite impressive, I think. When it comes to a jump shot, that's certainly nothing to write home about, but he's got a decent short jump shot from about 6 feet in that's effective on the left side of the basket and toothless on the right -- something about the angles or personal comfort, I'm assuming, because even in college he never attacked the basket for jumpers from the right. Looking through the tape, I wasn't sure I saw him make a jump shot in the paint to the immediate right of the basket over his entire career -- sure enough, looking at his shot locations on Basketball Reference, he hasn't. Ed Davis hasn't made a shot from the close-right of the basket since his rookie year, when he made three shots relatively close to the basket to its right. Last year he made zero, and this year he hasn't even attempted any.
Quite the interesting tic, and probably reflective of one of his playing time issues -- if Davis is playing a big man who knows this and effectively forces him to the right of the basket, he fumbles around a bit and usually ends up turning the ball over. Not too hard to scout when you can only attack one side of the basket with any particular efficiency. To Davis' credit, he never seems to act outside his comfort zone badly -- he doesn't try to do too much, or overpass, or hog the ball without reason to. He doesn't play a ton of minutes, but he's active on defense (sometimes too active -- he really needs to learn to get the feel for those times that help defense is detrimental to the team's overall structure) and his athletic package is excellent. The key's really got to be putting it all together. He's young, so you have to like his chances, but you also have to be a bit skeptical after two seasons of being a relative nonentity that he's ever going to establish himself as a real young star in the league. But stranger things have happened. Perhaps adding some offensive moves to the basket's right could help. And I mean anything. Anything! Just some competent offensive move. Please? Bueller?
A friend of mine once told me that Ed Davis was really cool, and by far the coolest guy on the dismal Carolina team he left behind right before my senior year. I never had much of a reason to believe him, and the rivalry feelings are strong, so I didn't really pay him much heed. This came to mind while looking up today's off-the-court research for Ed Davis, and after reading a few interviews with him, I have to agree. He's accurately describing himself in the following excerpt from this particularly fun interview with Eric Koreen of the National Post:
What’s one thing about you that people don’t know that they should know?
I’m a boss. I’m a boss.
I just do boss things, move like a boss, talk like a boss, act like a boss. That’s about it.
Made me smile, if nothing else. Keep bossin', Ed.
Oh, also! Fun fact -- Ed Davis went to high school in the same city I live in now! That's crazy to me. Virtually nobody in the NBA comes from this part of Virginia. Of course, it's not like people around here really remember him -- he went to a private school in Richmond. Still though. This is the sort of thing I go scrabbling for when I've reached players like Ed Davis, who are fundamentally hard to separate out of the rest of the NBA's promising young big men. Sorry, Davis.
Follow Darrell Arthur and his outsized impact on a great Grizzlies team.
Although the Grizzlies are going through a bit of a rough patch now, let it be stated for the absolute record that the Memphis Grizzlies DID improve this last offseason. People slept on it, didn't really think about it, and continually underrated it. But they did. They really did. Although the core is the same and the upgrades aren't sexy, the Grizzlies got Darrell Arthur back and shored up a bit of their three point shooting problems with a few solid acquisitions straight from the scrap heap. The Grizzlies having a good, semi-elite season was always in the cards, even if it may not have been the easiest thing to see from the outset. The team has been blessed with some rather incredible roster continuity ever since the Randolph acquisition, and they've seen improvement from most if not all of their pieces. Much as I liked to put down Chris Wallace's strategy no less than 3 years ago, time has seen him successful. They're mean, lean, and they aren't leaving for a year or two. And unlike last year's debacle, they now stand a pretty good chance of being better in the playoffs than they've been in the regular season. They aren't going anywhere. The Western top seeds should be quaking, a bit -- they're a challenge, a roadblock, and a grit-and-grind nightmare to any good offense that relies on their execution. Like the Clippers during their current streak, or the Thunder, or the Spurs. Wait. That's all three top seeds. Huh. Fancy that.
Although Darrell Arthur isn't a humongous world-changing part of that Memphis equation, he's certainly not useless. Arthur's an excellent defensive player, to start with -- not exactly Marc Gasol-type world changing, but very good. He does a good job defending the pick and roll, and that was one of his main values in 2011. The Grizzlies were one of the only teams in the NBA that could (at all junctures of the game) put a competent pick-and-roll big man defender on the floor. If you spammed pick and rolls against the 2011 Grizzlies, it didn't really matter how ornate they were or how well-designed they were -- they weren't going to be as effective as they were against virtually any other team in the league. Most teams have one or two good pick and roll defenders. Some teams have zero. The Grizzlies? They had 3 or 4 available in the frontcourt, depending on your view on Zach Randolph's pick and roll defense (I think it's fine, especially next to someone like Gasol or Arthur). When you have a team who can effectively take away the pick and roll and control the game's tempo, it doesn't really matter what adjustments the offensive team makes -- it's going to be impossible to consistently hit 100-110 points against that kind of a defensive unit. That's why this particular Grizzlies team feels so elite, and it's why the 2011 Grizzlies were such a nightmarish matchup for the 2011 Spurs.
Offensively, he's nothing to write home about but he's nothing to scoff at either. Arthur is a decent at-rim big guy, with a few decent moves and a good sense of space on his layup attempts. He's good at the rim, but not so overwhelmingly good that he won't mix it up a bit outside, and that's a good thing, because his best use on this Grizzlies team is to act as a floor-spacing stopgap and can a bunch of long two point baskets. Not bad. Combine the picture and you have exactly what you'd want from a backup big -- a few offensive talents that complement the team well, great defense, and a gritty devotion to the team. "But Aaron," you'd say, quizzically cocking an eyebrow, "That's hardly good enough to greatly improve a team. How does he make the Grizzlies better than last year?" Good question, Time's 2006 Person-of-the-Year! He helps the Grizzlies for exactly the reason San Antonio's regular season depth helps the Spurs. In last year's first round series against the Clippers, Marc Gasol was tired. He was visibly lagging, and dead in the second half of almost every game of the series. Randolph wasn't in great shape, and that was one of the main catalysts of their loss, but to assume it was all on Randolph misunderstands just how important Gasol is to this Grizzlies team.
If Gasol had been a bit less winded from a terribly long season that forced him into far more minutes than he'd ever played in his career, he provides enough defensive resistance to stave off LA's game deciding run in game one. He showed some vintage Gasol brilliance in the fourth quarter of game 6, when the Grizzlies were fighting for their lives -- He proceeded to fall apart in Game 7, an exhausted mess. Arthur's main and primary use for the Grizzlies is simple -- he just needs to help Hollins rest Gasol and Randolph. They don't need to rest much, they simply need to rest. Marc Gasol is not a 36-37 minute-per-game player -- he's a 32-34 minute guy, at least until the playoffs dawn. He simply doesn't have the fitness to play that much more in a single game without balking. Arthur's a better defender than last year's Speights experiment, and he's a better stopgap to fill those minutes without forcing the Grizzlies to change their playbook or give up regular season wins for Gasol's health. So that, in a nutshell, is why Darrell Arthur can help this Grizzlies team. If he can fully return to his 2011 form, he can help Hollins draw Gasol's minutes back as the season goes on, and keep him fresh for the playoffs. And facing down a Memphis team with a fresh Gasol in a playoff situation? That's terrifying. One of the greatest fears of ANY Western contender, for sure.
Wilson Chandler hasn't been very good lately. In fact, that's probably the nicest way to put it -- in the aftermath of his relatively inauspicious stay across the pond in Hangzhou with the Zhejiang Lions, Chandler has looked about as far from a real NBA talent as he possibly could. Last year he had his surgery-requiring strained hip to contend with. This year? Same problem. During his time battling this injury, how's his game failed him? Let's examine.
First, his defense. Chandler was never an excellent defensive presence. He was one of those shot-blocking wings who would sacrifice position and rotation for the good block attempt or the semi-smart steal. But even if you couldn't get behind his exact style, you would never concede him to be a nonentity -- as of late, though? He's been just that. Guys blow by him like he's not even there. Opposing wings salivate, knowing he'll go for the block on nearly every attempt he stays in front of. So if they don't blow by him, it's no real problem -- they just jump into him, throw up a wild shot, and get the call. It's rough to watch.
One of Wilson Chandler's primary skills on the court is a solid shooting stroke that had him canning around 35% of his threes in New York and Denver the year of the Carmelo Anthony trade. This is sort of problematic, given that his shot -- outside of that year -- has been relatively shaky. Decent at the long two, awful at the three. But his shot has been absolutely abhorrent ever since he got back from China. Really bad! Just 36.9% from the field, including 5-of-20 from the three point line. Rough times.
Finally, the tertiaries -- one of the places Chandler really helped the Knicks in his time with New York was in his assistance on the boards for a team starting Amare Stoudemire and a bunch of scrap metal. He had a relatively low turnover rate his first few seasons and it helped supercharge the Knicks' offense. His rebounding has stayed solid, but his turnover rate has skyrocketed -- he turned it over on almost 20% of his plays last year, and while he settled down a bit in his limited burn this year, it was bad when he first got to Denver too.
"So what's the prognosis, Doc?"
First, James... I'm a statistician, not a doctor. (Even if I play one on Twitter.) Second, nobody really knows. He's been out since mid-November, sidelined with the same hip issue that caused him to get surgery last season. If you erase his anemic play over the past year due to his injury, you've got a mixed picture. He's had one valuable year and a whole lot of flashes outside of that year -- stretches where he looks like an unimpeachable at-rim monster and a lord of dunking artistry, stretches where he looks like a very solid defensive prospect, and stretches where he looks like a pure shooter. His shot-blocking IS very good for a wing, and he's got the sort of athleticism scouts drool over. And that one year he had a three point shot? Gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous combination of skills. But there's an issue. He's 25 years old and he's had one good year -- a year in which he played 33 minutes a night and still had a bit of trouble fitting in after the big trade.
All in all, I'm not 100% sure what everyone sees in him. It's not that he's bad, or that he utterly lacks potential. He certainly doesn't. It's just that he's at an age where he's going to need a relatively big jump and a full recovery from these hip problems to really make it as an impact player in the NBA. His shot looks bad, his defense looks worse, and I'm a bit worried about this sudden spate of turnovers. I'm also a bit worried about the impact his time in China had on his game. In a nice TrueHoop piece, J.A. Adande detailed how the Nuggets felt they were getting an "improved" version of Chandler -- he averaged almost 27 points a night in China, and professed that he learned to be a more vocal teammate. My issue? I'm not sure being a vocal teammate really helps when his overseas tenure seems to have done little more than make him prone to jack up shots with impunity. Indeed, Chandler was "The Guy" in China. He was the one who needed to take all those shots. But he isn't anything remotely close to that in the NBA. If his time in China gave him the idea that he needs to be that kind of a player, he really needs to reevaluate his lessons learned. Or risk a league leaving him behind as his contract grows musty. Off the court, seems like a very nice guy -- I point you directly to the Chandler anecdotes in this great New York Times piece on the NBA's China boondoggle. Taking his team out for kareoke, staying over his winter vacation to keep practicing, et cetera. Lots of great stuff. And I hope he improves such that he can do that all in the NBA too -- just need to see a bit more before I'm all that confident in it, I suppose.
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At the end of each post, I've been scribing riddles for the next group. Whoever gets the most right has gotten a shout out at the end of the next post. On last week's final Friday post, I gave four riddles, representing these three and the player from our next post. They were a bit easier than normal, and as such, more people got them right. This includes: Matt L, Billy Hoyle, wul.f, and Sir Thursday. Good work on the only 4/4 scores ever awarded in this riddle competition, where the prizes were made up and the rules didn't matter.
I'd like to say I've been keeping track of the riddle guesses and that I can now give lifetime scores to those of you who've stuck with me, but that's a level of nerd well beyond even my considerable capabilities. Nevertheless, I'd like to offer some overwhelming thanks to the people who've been guessing for the majority of this feature's duration. I do hope some of you will stick around and keep reading even at the cessation of the capsules, even if we don't have neat guess-worthy features anymore. I might try to implement some sort of ongoing riddle about what I'm writing about next for my next column project, but it'll never be quite the same now, will it?
In any event, thanks to everyone. I get every Gothic Ginobili comment straight to my phone's email inbox, and I can't tell you the number of times I was between meetings at work and started cracking up at a particularly well-humored, ingenious, or off-the-wall guess. Special thanks to a few comment-fiends of explicit notoriety (i.e., those that I can remember off the top of my head at 7:00 AM): Sir Thursday, wul.f, Chilai, Geezer, Matt L, Mike L, the other Matt L, the other Mike L (yes, I looked at the emails, we had 2 of each), Adam Johnson, Dr. No, Mike Munday, Luke, Ian, Atori, Chris, Corn, Brian, Krishnan, Zero20, Der_K, BaronZbimg (I PROMISE I WILL REPLY TO THAT EMAIL SOON), Steven S (I PROMISE I WILL REPLY TO YOURS TOO), and soconnor.
And, finally, inestimable thanks commenter J, whose riddle jokes were often my favorite emails of the day.
Thanks for sticking along with the ride, friends. Appreciate it more than you'll know.
Final capsule drops in about an hour.
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