As our summer mainstay, Aaron's going to be 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's three players, in our fourth installment: Chuck Hayes, Trevor Ariza, and Toney Douglas. More on wednesday.
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Follow Chuck Hayes on twitter at @c_hayes44.
Despite injury woes, it's not incorrect to say that Chuck Hayes is one of the biggest enigmas in the league. At the very least, it's 100% true BEFORE his heartbreaking health troubles sapped his game. Hayes is notable primarily for his size -- or rather, the lack thereof. At 6'6", he's the shortest starting center the NBA has ever seen, narrowly edging out multiple-time all-star 6'7" Wes Unseld. Unlike centers like Dwight Howard or Ben Wallace, whose lacking height isn't explicitly obvious unless you explicitly make a point to watch how they compare to true 7 footers, Hayes is notably and obviously short. When the Rockets were putting out Hayes as their backup center to Yao, it led to a lot of really funny moments where opposing centers were legitimately confused at the height difference -- Hayes would inevitably have an easy scoring opportunity or an easy defensive steal in his first few possessions after Yao left the court, all because the height difference was such a crazy switch for opponents to adjust to.
Then this season happened. Hayes was diagnosed by Sacramento's medical staff with pericarditis, a treatable but nevertheless scary medical condition involving an inflammation of the outer sac of the patient's heart. They voided the contract they signed with Hayes on the first day of free agency. Hayes' agent responded by saying the issue didn't actually exist, there was a bit of a back and forth, and doctors at the Cleveland Clinic finally gave Hayes the go-ahead on playing again. The Kings responded by then giving Hayes a slightly larger contract than the one they'd voided (perhaps out of an apology for the botched diagnosis and the stress), which was fine for the first 10 games of the season, but then immediately marred by a freak shoulder injury that took Hayes out of action for most of January and much of February. As a result, Hayes played far fewer minutes per game this season than he had played in years, and he was markedly less effective at what he did. His passing wasn't quite on-point, his finishing was anemic, and his defense was harmed greatly with the decreased mobility caused by his shoulder injury and the fact that he came into camp somewhat out of shape.
Which ignores the other big issue -- the Sacramento coaching. Westphal is an awful coach, as most people know, but the confusion and lack of organization in the Kings organization showed even after he left. All season long, the Kings employed one of the laziest defensive schemes I've seen in a long time. Really seemed to me like they were essentially running no defensive sets whatsoever. No organized schemes, no overarching philosophy, nothing -- instead choosing to simply put men on an island and, if they had a good defender or two on the floor, try vainly to push all offensive players to that player. Which... tended to be Chuck, when he was on the floor. Even with his shoulder. A bit too much pressure, a bit overutilized on that end. All things considered, I'd tab Hayes for a bounce-back next year. Shoulder injuries are tricky, and it's absolutely possible that Hayes never quite comes back the same. But given his work ethic and his fundamentally excellent grasp of defensive principle, you have to think he can come back with a strong 2nd year with the Kings. If he does, the Kings should have a pretty strong frontcourt -- Cousins and Robinson are two extremely strong starters, and Jason Thompson/Chuck Hayes make for an excellent one-two punch off the bench. The guard rotation needs some work, as I'm not totally sold on Thornton or Tyreke-at-the-three. I am sold on Isaiah though. Really can't wait to write about his game, guys.
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Follow Trevor Ariza on twitter at @trevorariza.
In a league filled with many, Trevor Ariza's contract is one of the best teaching examples of how a wayward GM can create a terrible contract. I think the blowback against Daryl Morey has been needlessly harsh and incoherent, fraught with too little criticism of Morey's own decisions in favor of overly broad hit jobs on statistical thinking in general. To take the failure of Morey's broader strategy as some sort of sign that statistical thinking is fundamentally flawed is like disregarding mathematics because nobody's quite wrangled the Hodge Conjecture yet. It's absurd to think that an entire approach to generating knowledge and insight is flawed simply because a singular advocate of the method has failed at a certain goal -- especially when many, many others using his principles have succeeded. The point is, regardless of the general sense that the Rockets won every trade Morey ever made, it's vastly overstating it to say that Morey never made any atrocious individual moves. This is the prime example. Trevor Ariza's contract looked somewhat shaky at the time, and in retrospect is absolutely laughable.
Just consider: the worst contracts in the league aren't usually superstar deals, or gigantic overpaid masses for quasi-stars like Joe Johnson. Contracts like that CAN be bad, and they CAN turn poor -- but for the most part the enormous contracts only get derailed by injury or age. You tend to get one or two seasons of star-level production out of them -- given the top-heavy manner in which production trickles down in the NBA, that's usually worth the hassle of the late contract. But contracts like the Ariza deal, where you pay 6+ million a year for a marginal player with the expectation he'll play better than he's ever played before? Those are far, far worse. On deals like that, GMs tend to give out all-too-long deals in an attempt to outbid an imaginary opponent -- "hey, Trevor, make sure you take THIS one! We're giving you 5 years!" They eat up an outsized portion of your cap (in the case of Ariza, he'll make up over 12% of the NBA's salary cap next season while being virtually guaranteed to statistically contribute <12% of the Wizards' positive statistical accomplishments) for an unreasonable period of time, and in that time, you'll probably need to give away an asset if you want to move their salary. Criticize Morey's approach all you want -- contracts like the Ariza contract make up the vast majority of the NBA's worst deals, and Morey was the one who inked it. You should never sign a fifth man to a deal like Ariza's. This isn't a failure of ideology or anything of the sort -- it's simply an poor decision that Morey made that few people remember or care to note.
This isn't to say Ariza is necessarily a bad player -- I would agree with At The Hive's Rohan (who once called him "the worst offensive player in basketball") but explicitly note that defenders of his caliber aren't exactly an overvalued commodity in the league. His numbers tend to indicate that isn't an excellent defensive player in isolation, but I'd argue that it's primarily because he spends the majority of his possessions guarding the best isolation players in the league. What he is, however, is perfectly physically built to contest without fouling and cover a ton of ground virtually instantly. This makes him one of the premier spot-up recovery guys in the league, and his next-to-flawless control over his athletic frame allows him to be one of the best in the league at fighting over screens and disrupting possessions. His defensive impact on a purely systematic perspective is extremely strong. Unfortunately, what he takes away on offense is almost as bad -- he's a wholly marginal shooter, with underwhelming career percentages of 43-31-67. This unfortunately doesn't stop him from jacking up 11-14 shots a game, some fully guarded. His defensive strengths are excellent, and were on full display in Monty's brilliant schemes the past two years. But his offensive problems will keep him from being more than a 5th or 6th guy on a contending team. Which isn't really a good value on a 5-year full MLE deal. And it wasn't from day one, unfortunately.
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Follow might-be Toney Douglas on twitter at @therealtoneyd.
For the first time, I'm not at all sure if that twitter is actually the player-in-question! The John Salmons account was unverified, but it had several pictures of him and his family doing mundane things at stores, so it seemed legit. This twitter account is, obviously, a pretty quiet one. It IS followed by a confirmed Adidas corporate account, though, so something tells me it's got as good a shot as any of the unverified Toney Douglas poser accounts of being real. Still. I was a bit surprised that it took until player #12 for me to find a player that doesn't use Twitter relatively prolifically. Once I finish this series (you know, in mid December) I'll do a look-back and see what percentage of the players covered actively use Twitter. I have a feeling it's going to be a ridiculously high percentage.
As for Douglas, he's... an interesting one, no doubt. I remember watching a lot of him in college. I went to an ACC school, and while his Seminoles were never in strong contention for anything while he was there, it was impossible to talk about the ACC in his senior season without mentioning him. He was simply amazing -- tenacious defender, could score with the best of them, and absolutely RAN that Florida State team. He was one of the greatest players you could watch in the NCAA during his senior season -- I couldn't possibly give enough praise to his game. Though... not with his passing. That always was the big weakness in Toney's college game. His passing ability was never exquisite, never strong, and never anything that looked remotely NBA caliber. Given his shaky NBA size (a little under 6'3") and his relatively low weight (180, on draft night), there were legitimate questions whether he'd be able to translate any of his game to the NBA level. Those questions look to have been relatively well founded. In his limited NBA career, it wouldn't be a stretch to say that Douglas has been a bit player.
His defense hasn't translated amazingly well to the NBA, because he's undersized and can't seem to wrangle point guards very well. He actually does a decent job on shooting guards, and he has defensive strengths, but as an overall defender he's only slightly above average. His offense has been streaky, albeit with a few bright spots during his sophomore year when he started getting comfortable -- believe it or not, Douglas owns a share of the New York Knicks' franchise record of most threes in a single game, with nine. He's been really, really bad as of late, though. Which may not entirely be his fault. Douglas suffered a bad shoulder injury in the run-up to the 2012 season, and it as well as several unspecified but reported "personal problems" affected his play through the entire year. By the end of it, he'd essentially completely dropped out of New York's rotation at the end of the year, in favor of the sandy corpse of Baron Davis and the ghastly phantasm that calls itself Mike Bibby. He's something of an unknown going in to next year. Most people have utterly written him off, but given that he was battling injury all season, I'm not 100% sure that's fair. If he can get his shot back, he's a passable defender and a solid second or third guard-off-the-bench. Perhaps not what the New York media circus was expecting, but essentially par for the course for the 29th pick in the NBA draft. At least I'll always have his dominant college years to look back on.
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For the uninitiated, I'll continually restate this -- at the end of each post, I'll be scribing riddles for the next batch of players. Whoever gets the most riddles 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. If several people tie, I'll post everyone who tied. No overtime in this riddle-guessing competition, guys. For the last post, the winner of our respect goes to commenter J, who got 2/3 of these players correct. Great work, J!
Three players to guess for Wednesday.
- Once, there was a little ducky named Player #13. Nick Young's replacement, whoo!
- If you blink once, you might miss Player #14's scare tactics. Kobe didn't.
- Portland really liked Player #15. Then he proceeded to obligingly keep a proud Laker tradition going strong.
Stay frosty, friends.