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. This morning's three gentlemen: Luke Babbitt, Jason Richardson, and David West. More later.
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Follow Luke Babbitt on twitter at some point in the distant future when he has one.
This particular player's lore of legends defies quick description. Some call his shot is heavenly in its brilliance, others mean and rueful of the western dream. (They're a jealous bunch, those others.) His defense is a whirling dervish of pain and misery, leaving other teams genuinely sobbing in the possession's wake as they bemoan the unfairness of such a man. Were Luke Babbitt a member of the Trojan militia, the War would've lasted but three hours -- Achilles and Agamemnon would cower before him, and Homer would've retired a poor man with not a penny to his name. His feats of athletic brilliance are impossible, improbable, imperceptibly quintessential. His jersey is the most-bought jersey in seventeen other solar systems. Every single Burl Ives song is actually about Babbitt's game -- but Babbitt didn't want to boast, so he didn't let Burl state it outright. Woe betides all who doubt the glory of Luke Babbitt.
... Ahem. Sorry. I promised myself I wouldn't let my personal biases color these capsules, but on a capsule for a him, I couldn't help it. Not only do I like Babbitt, I'm also clincially addicted to Taco Bell. Don't hate -- as a vegetarian, it's the only fast food place I can actually order things from. I like Babbitt because the man clearly has a developed appreciation of the venue. And thus did I write an entire paragraph singing nonexistant praises -- the truth is out. Babbitt is not a fantastic player, nor a supremely useful one. You'd wish for more from the 16th pick in the draft. But at least he's making good on his one presumably NBA-level talent (his lockdown shooting), and at least he still has a lot of room to grow. He could develop into a Bonner type, or he could develop into a Meeks or Hayward type, with a far more versatile game. I can't say "the sky's the limit", because it certainly isn't, but the Blazers at least have someone interesting from that draft.
Which isn't to say they're much different from the picks around Babbitt -- in my estimation, picks 13-19 from the 2010 draft (including Babbitt: Ed Davis, Patrick Patterson, Larry Sanders, Kevin Seraphin, Eric Bledsoe, and Avery Bradley) have the potential to be starting caliber players in the NBA . Maybe not on fantastic teams, but starters. The 2010 draft had a relatively weak upper echelon, but the lower tier picks were actually very useful. Lot of depth. It was a pretty good draft to be a good team in the 13-19 range, all things considered. Babbitt is probably the worst of that group, but if he keeps shooting like he did to end last season and develops a few more wrinkles to his game, he's right there. Oh, also. He has the greatest highlight film of all time. So I guess there's that.
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Follow Jason Richardson on twitter at @jrich23.
It's hard to get excited about Jason Richardson now, although it didn't use to be that way. Anyone remember the 2010 Suns? I hated watching Richardson during the 2nd round sweep of the Spurs, for obvious reasons, but he was an absolute revelation during the Suns playoff run. Just... really, really solid. He averaged 16-4-2-2 on 48-40-72 during the conference finals, though it felt like a lot more. He also had the last game of his career where he posted a game score (a linear extrapolation of Hollinger's PER metric) above 35 -- in the first round, when the Suns won against Portland in Portland behind Richardson's 42 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, and ZERO turnovers. Things have been pretty downhill since. In his first year with the Magic, Richardson was mostly pretty awful with a few good weeks interspersed to keep his fans hopeful. In his second year, he was abjectly awful -- the wheels sort of fell off, and he's been reduced to a place where he's nothing but salary fodder for any team to take on in a trade for Dwight Howard.
This isn't totally fair, mind you. He's still got the quickest shot release this side of Kyle Korver. While Van Gundy's slowdown offense is heavenly for some players (like Ryan Anderson) it can be absolutely hellish for a guy in the wrong situation. So, Jason Richardson. I originally thought that with his shot release and Dwight down low he'd be in a great situation. I turned out to be pretty wrong, because I underestimated how much of the poor guy's game is predicated on being able to run in transition and take shots before the defense sets -- in a halfcourt offense, without Steve Nash passing to him? Significantly less useful. His defense has always been a bit porous, too, so he doesn't even really have that to fall back on. And on the Magic, he's doubly useless because J.J. Redick should be getting the vast majority of his minutes. It's just a bad fit all-around, and made worse by the fact that the Magic signed him starter's money last offseason in a situation where it appeared not a single other team was prepared to make him a serious offer. Which makes sense, given that he was coming off an abysmal playoff appearance against the Hawks where he averaged 10-4 on 33% shooting in 30 worthless minutes per game. THIRTY-THREE PERCENT SHOOTING.
This isn't to say that Richardson couldn't potentially do a bit better in a more suitable system. In particular, I think he'd thrive in the running offense Kaleb Canales is trying to use in Portland, and he'd be a decent player in the Spurs' up-and-down system given the speed of his shot and his versatility as an offensive player. Unfortunately, with his contract situation, it's massively unlikely he'll join a club that can really effectively leverage his talents until the contract's almost up. By that point, Richardson is probably going to be pretty washed up. Which is a shame. It seems like just yesterday I was chilling in my summer apartment with my research internship, watching the 2010 Western Conference Finals and literally falling out of my chair when J-Rich made this impossibly clutch three to tie the game in Los Angeles. (Also, keep a close eye on his shot. Notice how quickly he gets it off? Isn't it kind of cool? No matter how much I practice my shot, I don't think I'm ever going to approach half that speed. The velocity of his shot is one of those little things that -- while somewhat functionally useless right now given his shooting woes -- I'll always appreciate as a basketball fan.)
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Follow David West on twitter at @D_West30.
For my money, David West is the toughest guy in the NBA. He's no-nonsense, no-glamour, no-pizzazz. One of the most fitting hobbies in the NBA actually belongs to West, though not everyone's aware of it -- West is an avid boxing enthusiast. He's always incorporated boxing into his offseason training regimen, and from all accounts, loves the sport almost as much as he loves basketball. One of my favorite examples of this came shortly after Monty Williams became the coach of the New Orleans Hornets, when he was watching a David West interview to get to know him. They asked him for his best off-court attribute -- Williams was expecting something relatively tame, like a knack for hiking or something artistic. Stony-faced, West responded: "My left hook." (Monty said he made a mental note right then and there: Don't mess with David.)
One of the reasons the boxing hobby has always entertained me is that West's game has always struck me as sort of the boxing sort. A lot of Sonny Liston. Very tough -- Liston once fought several rounds with a severely broken jaw, and West has always struck me as the kind of guy who would do that without batting an eye. He has, too -- in 2008, West scored 38 points with a severely injured back in game 5 against the then-defending champion Spurs. Liston would batter players with his strength; he relied on his ability to take a punch, knowing that he'd always be able to throw a stronger one. West is similar in that he's absolutely fine taking a beating in the post, as he's 100% aware that as soon as he gets the player on the other end, he's going to make their life absolute hell. Liston was surly and mean to the press, which tended to lead to the press to portray him in racist and hateful undertones -- West's treatment is nowhere near as bad as Liston's, but he is incredibly underheralded for his skills and extremely under-appreciated for the things he does better than anyone else.
It's probably mostly because he hates the media. Seriously hates them. Look at answer two in this excellent six-things-to-know feature. In his early years in the league, West stayed away from the media and assumed everyone in the media was out to get him. He's continued being terse, disdainful, and all-around-difficult since -- the difference now is that ballers like Tim Duncan have in a way cleared the path for people like West to be a bit less open to the media than they were perhaps expected to be a long time ago. Duncan is, by the way, West's favorite player -- growing up, West was a Spurs guy, which has always kind of amused me. All things considered, I like West a lot. His game isn't flashy in any way, shape, or form -- but there are a lot of things he does far better than anyone else, he's a tenacious defender, and he's a really solid shooter. He's owner of some of the best true big man free throw percentage seasons in history and he's going to be in the gym working his game more than most anyone on the team.
I really like West, and while he may be a bit terse and hard to figure out for the media folks who surround him, I hope you take a chance to watch his game and appreciate a guy who does virtually everything right. He's one of those players in the league who doesn't really leave anything on the table -- he's the opposite of a Josh Smith or an Anthony Randolph. He can shoot with range, but he doesn't shoot threes or foot-on-the-line twos. He can dunk somewhat impressively, but he chooses to do simple lay-in dunks to save his legs. He rebounds effectively, he's the most consistent free throw shooter among big men in the modern league, and his vicious strength is absolutely incredible on the defensive end. All in all, David West is a highly impressive player, and although this season was a "down year" for him in Indiana you have to expect he'll come back stronger next year. And beyond all this basketball stuff? He speaks endless truths. Shakin' my head too, David. Shakin' my head.
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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 my friend Mike, who got 2/3 of these players correct. No, Mike. I don't at all think Perkins or Artest are tougher than West. Come on. You know me better.
- A Kentucky Yankee in King Dumars' court. Oh, Player #22.
- Ducktales, analytics conferences, Trump. Lots of angles. Instead I'll just say Player #23 went undrafted.
- The frustration Cleveland fans have with Player #24 is comparable to none. Glad he's gone, even if he's doing better out there.