Player Capsules #27-29: Elliot Williams, Delonte West, Ben Wallace

Posted on Wed 23 November 2011 in 2011 Player Capsules by Aaron McGuire

As one of our mainstay features, Aaron is writing posts highlighting every single player in the NBA. Role players, superstars, key cogs, or players who are barely as useful as ballboys -- none are exempt from the prying eyes of our readers. Check the index for a lowdown on order, intent, and all that jazz. Today's trio includes Elliot Williams, Delonte West, and Ben Wallace.

• • •

[027] Williams, Elliot

Elliot is the first Duke player on this list I actually went to school with, though calling him a Duke player is slightly disingenuous. He transferred to Memphis for his sophomore year, so he was drafted as a Memphis player rather than a Duke player. It's become almost a little-known fact he went to Duke, which suits me fine, since I'm guessing fewer people will judge him before they see him if they think he's a Memphis player rather than a Duke player. Nonetheless. Back when he was at Duke, he was a pretty stand-up guy. Very laid back, very down to earth, very quiet. I don't know if he's still dating the girl he was my freshman year, but seemingly everyone in my dorm was obsessed with how cute they were together and how nice they were with each other. Doubt he's still dating her, but a man who treats women right is always a plus in my book.

From the basketball side of the universe? I thought this was a pretty nice pickup for the Blazers. He hasn't played a single minute in the NBA yet, as he blew up his leg last year. Out of the 2009 Duke team, though? Elliot and Henderson are easily the two most NBA-quality players from that lineup. Elliot was a tenacious defender at Duke, and his shooting was reasonably solid. I didn't get to watch him much at Memphis, but in the games I saw? NBA-quality shooting, decent speed, and NBA athleticism. Penetrates like a pro (stop thinking dirty thoughts), slashes amazingly, etc. With the defensive talent he showed at Duke combined with his shooting talent and general work ethic, I think he's going to be a great NBA prospect if he puts everything together. And he's a nice guy. So, overall? I really hope he succeeds in the NBA. Go Elliot.

• • •

[028] West, Delonte

My favorite player I've examined yet, without question. Look, he's bit of a redneck-type. To put it lightly. He's among the strongest "southern white" type of guy in the NBA, even moreso than Jason Kidd. He's suffered from bipolar disorder for the majority of his life, with a nasty side of depression (something I understand and sympathize with via depression of my own). When he's on your team, his mental state has slowly left him to the point where you can't count on him. He plays like, well, someone who's bipolar could be expected to play. Some days he's there, some days he's not. Honestly, though? Despite his lows, I love the guy. He's hilarious, his game is nasty, and he's got serious gravitas. When his head's on straight he's absolutely the most tenacious guard defender in the league -- up in your grill, won't let you take a shot without his contest. Strong three point range, crazy hustle. Prone to turnovers if you force him to over-handle the ball, but if you utilize him correctly (i.e., not as the primary ball handler, as the Celtics often have him when he comes off the bench) he's the perfect complementary two guard on a contender. That is, when his head's on straight. When it isn't? Different story. He's passive, poor on the defensive end (he's undersized, so unless he's completely mentally dialed in, players can outmuscle him -- he is not a player who can get by on cruise control), and guns poor long twos that you know full well aren't going in. He can't defend anyone halfway passably when his mind isn't dead set on the court. Which is an incredible shame.

Does that all make him frustrating? Very. In that sense, he's like J.R. Smith. Never really know what you're going to get. Whether it'll be the good Delonte or the bad Delonte. Unlike J.R., though, his good includes great defense and doesn't include an overinflated sense of self. And comedy. Well, J.R. brings that too, but it's not as stirring. His style of play is of the hard-nosed sort, the kind of play rooted not in finesse or technique but in the immutable spirit and vigor of a guy who won't back down. It's almost like, when he's having his good days, he lays his mental health issues and the hardships of his upbringing out on the court. As the player he's guarding, of course. Because he gets chippy, he gets angry, and he sticks to them like their attempts to make a shot on him are a personal affront to his existential soul. And as someone who's battled with issues of my own, I appreciate that mindset. While I was going through my "use the NBA to escape from my head" phase of my life, the inflexible grit and anger in Delonte's defensive game (fairly or not) reminded me of my own daily struggles and my angry attempts to force myself out of it. And it made him that much more dear to me.

I have to add -- big ups to the Cavaliers for everything they (reportedly) did in the 2010 season to try and accomodate Delonte's illness. That was a completely underreported story, to me. For about half the season, I was reading stories about how they didn't make Delonte travel with the team, didn't require practice for him, etc. They still allowed him to go to home games and play when his head was on straight. I've been told (not confirmed, but I've been told) the Cavs provided him a team psychiatrist specially suited to work with his case (a service I'm positive not every team offers) and made sure Delonte was about as comfortable as a man can be after going through a heart wrenching destructive breakup of the type he suffered and his general meltdown from his legal troubles and his bipolar disorder. And then, all that said, big downs for whoever the fuck in the Cavs organization started the pathetic rumor that Delonte was doinking LeBron's mom. There's evidence from some sources (namely Scott Raab, someone who I'd expect to get some sort of sick fetishized glee at the rumor and wouldn't want to disprove it so quickly) that whoever "leaked" the rumor originally was a member of LeBron's team, attempting to pre-empt the incoming wave of "dear god, what happened to LeBron" coverage. I didn't believe Raab, at first, but after the "Rashard Lewis is having an affair with LeBron's girlfriend" rumors leaked by "anonymous sources" close to the situation in the finals this year, I'm a bit more inclined to think Raab may have a lead. LeBron has never surrounded himself with the best people, and Delonte's visceral annoyance with the rumor makes me hesitant to believe it all.

In the end? I love Delonte. And I really, really hope he gets his head straight. One of my favorite NBA players.

• • •

[029] Wallace, Ben

This is easily the most liked-by-me triad of players in the 10 posts I've gotten through in this series. Elliot from being in school with him, Delonte from being my depression-fighting muse, and Big Ben for being... well, Big Ben. You may have noticed I'm irrationally up on some players. Big Ben is one of those. He's scary, ripped, and ballin'. I'm of the opinion he should've gotten the finals MVP in 2004. He didn't exactly shut down Shaq, but he completely gummed up the Lakers' offense and kept Shaq from being a defensive force in the paint by making his offensive goal to keep Shaq from shutting down the Pistons guards. One of the all-time underrated Finals performances, and in my view, quite a bit more valuable than Chauncey was then. Regardless. Ben has been underrated for most of the last decade, primarily because he spent that decade locked in a cell with his "never-make-a-shot" offensive stylings. He's been among the best big man defenders in the league since the turn of the century, and he's been one of the most impact-heavy paint patrollers in that duration as well. If you were a guard, and you saw Big Ben was going to be facing you in the paint, you'd have some second thoughts about making a foray down there. To put it lightly.

He's an absolutely vicious rebounder. Shuts down the paint, and any player he wants to. His offense isn't underrated (it's properly rated as "god awful and cringe inducing"), but with a player he has chemistry with, you can occasionally set him up with a basket or two. I'm of the view that Wallace is the main agent responsible for the Pistons' early decade success, and that the Pistons trading him away is the main reason the Cavs were able to beat them in 2007. Under his tenure, though, the Pistons had a hell of a lot of success -- the Pistons were the Eastern dynasty of the 2000s, rather underratedly. Under Ben's tenure they made the conference finals from 2003 to 2006, won a ring over a stacked (though flawed) Laker team, and were without question the class of the eastern conference. Funny thing about Wallace? First big contract wasn't with the Pistons, the team he came to define -- it was with the Bulls, where he proceeded to drastically underperform expectations due to the strange insistance the Bulls had with trying him to provide offense. Doomed to fail, no matter how much money you give him. His 2009, though? Traded to the Cavs, and tore the world asunder. At least until his injury. Ben was lights out for the Cavs early in the year, and was essentially the perfect roleplayer. I'm of the opinion, and have been for quite some time, that his injury was stealthily the most important reason the Cavs didn't make the finals that year. Sure, we had a zombie Wallace playing in the conference finals, but the Wallace the team had for the first few months of the season pre-injury was the same havoc-wrecking terror that haunts all the slashing guards in the league every night.

A healthy Wallace could've slowed Dwight down, even if he was too old to truly shut him down. But in the series, Wallace was absolutely awful when he played -- he was hobbling on both ends, a liability even on defense, and easy for any of the Magic's players to take advantage of. He wasn't the Wallace that we'd had during our amazing season. Which was a damn shame. We then traded him for Shaq, proceeding to get his contract waived by Phoenix so he could resign in Detroit. Which was absolutely the right move for him -- Big Ben should retire a Piston, and I'm glad he gets to do that. Wasn't expected to be a big difference-maker, but he's actually been rather successful. Easily their best and most consistent player over the last two seasons, only falling off from that role as Greg Monroe rose from the ashes of the 2011 Detroit Pistons season. It's really great that they've got him as a locker room presence, I think -- if Monroe can learn some of Ben's tricks, the Pistons are basically set. They'll rise again. Monroe's too good for them not to. Now, a fun Ben Wallace fact: did you know he literally wants to be a lawyer after he leaves the league? He plans to use the money from his latest contract to go to law school and become a Detroit area lawyer. Really, this is a thing. And it's amazing. It honestly makes me want to go to Detroit and get accused of a crime, solely so I can get represented in court by Ben Wallace. I heard his defense is impeccable.

Ed. note: That may be the worst joke I've ever told. Kill me now.

• • •

Thanksgiving's tomorrow! I will be celebrating by eating food, rooting for the Lions for no reason whatsoever, and probably editing more of these to post tomorrow night. No real content schedule right now, just going on the fly. Still. Keep it real, folksom. Here's hoping you have more to be thankful for than the average NBA fan does.