As our summer mainstay, Aaron's 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: Shawne Williams, Danny Green, DeAndre Jordan.
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Follow Shawne Williams on twitter at @ShawneWill3.
Shawne Williams is a relatively limited player. Many would say that today's post is entirely composed of limited players -- I'd say they're right, but of today's triad, Williams is certainly the most limited. Which actually would be met with bemused chuckles and disbelief if you'd asked someone this having only their pre-NBA career to assess them on. Forgotten by many, Shawne Williams was actually one of the premier talents in the 2006 draft -- he was easily the most highly-touted prospect around, and had he declared in 2005, he'd probably have gone sooner. His senior year of high school was spent in a North Carolina prep school -- they went 40-0 behind nightly dramatics from Williams, and entering his first and only year of college, he was rated the 6th best SF prospect in the nation. The future looked bright for the young man out of Memphis.
But you know what they say. You can never quite escape your roots -- you can only hope to whet the demons and come to peace with them before they consume you. In Williams' case, it appears he's narrowly gotten to that point with them -- but who knows what the future holds. I refer to his birthplace, a rough neighborhood in Memphis replete with (as the New York Times put it) drug dealers, prostitutes, and trouble on every corner. Williams has tried to get past it, to limited success up til 2010 -- his early career with the Indiana Pacers was derailed completely after several arrests. It's worth noting that few of them were distinctly the fault of Williams -- he was arrested for having a person in his car with marijuana and weapons, arrested for harboring a murder suspect, ticketed for illegally tinted windows and seatbelt violations. All in the span of a year after his drafting, putting a once-promising NBA career on hold. Things haven't quite been the same since. He started to erase the legal trouble that dogged him in some solid play for the 2011 Knicks, but he wasn't returned to the Knicks and has been a bit of a vagabond ever since. He's a free agent, now.
His services aren't particularly noteworthy -- his once formidable skillset has waned as he's reached his mid-20s, partially because he (by his own admission) goofed off a bit when he came into the league. In 2011, he was an excellent three point shooter and an overall solid bench player. But last season the Nets tried to push him into a bigger role and he put up an anemic season at best, shooting under 30% from three, and setting career lows for all of his rebound/assist/usage percentages. He's never been a fantastic defender, so he's a good case of "what you see is what you get" -- from what he showed last season, it certainly doesn't look like teams will be getting much from him any time in the near future.
While Williams has been arrested and dealt with much more legal trouble than most players I've covered so far, I think I agree with many of my Knicks fan friends when I wonder why exactly he -- of all people -- is the one with the bad reputation. Not Jason Kidd, a confirmed and convicted wife-beater with a huge alcohol problem. Not Jordan Hill, battling abuse accusations of his own. Not Neal, Kobe, Andersen -- so many NBA players have a litany of run-ins with the law that are actually related to things they themselves did. You can't help but feel some element of sympathy for Williams, whose problems seem related less to a fundamental flaw in Williams' own moral code and more to where he came from. If you come from a place filled to the brim with unsavory types and a bad environment, it's very hard to cut off the hangers-on when you make it big. Williams has figured this out, seemingly, and has reportedly tried to cut ties with many of the people who led him astray. But no matter how many ties he cuts and replaces with better people, that never really erases his roots, it simply patches them over. It's just an empty substitute for a healthy, full upbringing. And for that I hope that Williams latches on to a team and doesn't let go -- he deserves another shot to get past his demons, and make good on the potential we all saw in him almost 7 years ago.
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Follow Danny Green on twitter at @DGreen_14.
It's a testament to how insistent Matt Moore can be that the first thing I think of when I think about Danny Green is no longer how much I like him but how much Moore likes using their love for Green to troll Spurs fans. Let's start with the truth: Danny Green didn't have a great conference finals. That kind of goes without saying. Even before the OKC series, Moore was notably making fun of Spurs fans who were saying Green was a really good player. "Just watch," he said, "OKC's athleticism will destroy him and he is a one-dimensional player who will collapse in a bad situation." Spurs fans got annoyed, tried to ignore him, kept thinking the Spurs were a good team. The conference finals happened, Green had the worst of all possible series, and Moore spent the next month basically bringing up Danny Green any time a Spurs fan said anything to him. So, when I think of Danny Green, the first thing that tends to come to mind is that blasted Grizzlies press conference icon, a mention of any random Spurs fan, and a message of "DANNY GREEN DANNY GREEN DANNY GREEN." This is my curse.
It really is a curse, too. Because Green is a very useful, engaging player. One dimensional isn't exactly how I'd care to describe him -- although he certainly has a game predicated on a single skill, that being his command of the three point shot, he has other ways to impact a game. At least after last year. When his three point shot wasn't working effectively before his quantum leap forward in development this season, Green was a limited and unremarkable player. After building up the skill to use his three point shot on the NBA level, though? After working around the clock to break into the NBA after an extremely poor start to his career, the Spurs system and his work ethic helped him blossom into a viable NBA starter. It's not often that a player goes through two years and several teams playing relatively shiftless ball and suddenly be offered the chance to start for one of the best teams in the league, and a title contender. But Green was offered just that, and he acquitted himself extremely well.
And before you scoff and call him a starter-in-name-only, that's not really true -- while he certainly wasn't the Spurs' best shooting guard (Manu, of course), Green was extremely important to Pop's rotation, and was given quite a lot of leeway from Pop to make mistakes and feel out his own game. I wouldn't say he's an excellent defender -- the numbers don't stack up well for him, and he has trouble staying with his man on PnR switches and getting lost when his man spots up. But offensively, the three point shooting really isn't the sum total of Green's game. He's an excellent ballhandler, not necessarily at finding open guys but at acting as the middle-step pivot in a complex play. Very few turnovers for Green. He's also solid as a team rebounder, which helps him shift over and play the three in small-ball lineups the Spurs turn to at times to spell Duncan for a bit. Green is quite cerebral, and if he hadn't had the ability to learn the Spurs' complex playbook on the fly, there's no way Popovich would've given him the chance to begin with.
His biggest accomplishment does center around his three point shooting, though. Working with Chip Engelland, the Spurs' shooting coach, Green was able to take a shot that he canned consistently in college and return to the precepts that made him (formerly) so successful with it. While he'd been a relatively unremarkable NBA-level shooter before, Green never quite lost confidence in the shot and kept on working with it -- combined with a team focused on keeping him confident and helping him develop into an NBA-starting caliber player, it brought back the three point assassin who was so vital to UNC's four contending teams during Green's years. Which I remember well -- I was at Duke for two of them, you know. He was good. Also, no, I don't let my alma mater let me really devolve into hate for Green. One secret regarding my life? I didn't like Duke University all that much at all, and I've dated a girl from UNC for two years. Dating someone from your rival school -- combined with a general antipathy for your school in the first place -- does have a tendency to iron out any outstanding visceral hatred the school has.
As soon as Green left the Tar Heels, I was hoping he'd succeed -- my friends at Carolina always said he was a great guy and an awesome person. To see him do so well on the Spurs is one of my favorite success stories in the league. All things considered? I really like Danny Green. And while it's my hope he develops a bit more and gets a bit better at fighting through defenses like that the Thunder used during the Western Conference Finals, even if he doesn't, he's an excellent player and a starter for a contending team. Look at what he's accomplished and the meteoric rise he's had from the NBA's scrap heap to the starting lineup of one of the most entertaining teams in history. Tell it to me straight. What's there to hate?
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Follow DeAndre Jordan on twitter at @deandrejordan.
There's this pernicious ongoing myth in the NBA that simply because we aren't existing in levels of big men saturation we had in the 1990s, the center position is somehow completely lacking depth and completely devoid of talent. This myth in turn leads teams to overpay for every center in the known universe, under the guiding notion that we're somehow lacking in top-shelf talent from that position. The problem with this? It's completely bollocks. There are a ton of great centers in the NBA right now, enough so that I could name 15 quality starting centers without opening a single list. In fact, I'll do it right now. We have our four young superstar-quality centers -- Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum, Roy Hibbert, Marc Gasol. We have the formerly-forward centers, who late in their career have switched back to center to much success -- Tim Duncan, Pau Gasol, and Kevin Garnett. Then we have the specialists. Centers who are elite on one end of the court and at the very least serviceable on the other. This typing includes Marcin Gortat, Joakim Noah, Anderson Varejao, Nikola Pekovic, Omer Asik, Al Jefferson, and Andrew Bogut. That's fifteen right there, and I named each of them completely off the top of my head! This isn't even counting players who could someday crack that list but haven't quite made it yet -- your Brook Lopez-types, Jonas Valanciunas talents, DeMarcus Cousins workhorses, Anthony Davis stars (if he puts on weight!). And, you know. Your DeAndre Jordans.
The idea that the NBA is somehow completely devoid of centers -- thus necessitating that teams wildly overpay every single one of them -- has never made all that much sense to me. But it makes even less sense right now, as the NBA is going through something of a renaissance from the center position. Really. Don't laugh, it's true -- just because there aren't two or three hyper-dominant generation-defining centers doesn't mean the position isn't in a really solid place. I just named off a full twenty solid centers -- that's enough for every single playoff team to have a very good starting center, and then for four teams to make the lottery around a solid center. There aren't a ton of times in NBA history when you can actually say there's this many wholly impressive prospects at the center position. When the Clippers announced Jordan's contract, the general consensus was to sigh, nod, and say it made sense. Why? Seriously -- why? The Rockets just snagged Omer Asik, a defensive cornerstone who's about as useful on offense as Jordan, for almost three million less a year. You have one or two solid game-changing centers coming into the trading market every year or so. Why does it make sense to give DeAndre Jordan a bad contract that can be hand-waved away by a totally untrue cliche regarding the NBA's depth at center?
As for Jordan himself, it's not all bad. I'm not a huge fan of his game, but he has some limited defensive potential if he stops trying to block every shot in the history of the human race and focuses more on the fundamentals of team defense -- guarding the pick and roll, staying mobile without losing position, and keeping himself out of foul trouble by restraining himself from the more egregious goaltending/fouling opportunities. Offensively, he's slightly useful as a target for lobs, but against a big man who's smart enough to keep Jordan isolated outside of the paint (as with Tim Duncan in last year's 2nd round SAS-LAC series), Jordan's value on the offensive end is nil to none. His defense is actually more valuable than many think -- in particular, he's a very good defender in isolation on big men, and he's generally good at shutting down the post-up. The problem is that as a starting center it tends to be your role to anchor the entire defense, not just individually shut down a play or a single man. Hence why players like Joakim Noah and Anderson Varejao are extremely superior defenders to Jordan, even though Jordan is arguably better at defending his man in a one-on-one game. Still. Prepare to see millions of articles from Los Angeles bemoaning the death of the traditional center and the lack of big men in the league next time DeAndre Jordan disappoints. Just try to keep in mind that it's sort of a lie, all things considered.
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At the end of each post, I'll be scribing riddles for the next batch. 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. Once again, a bunch of people with 1/3. See yesterday's comments. Again, I'll try to make today's easier.
- The worst single vote in this year's crop of awards voting went to Player #34. It was a bad one.
- TRAITOR! HORROR! BURN HIS JERSEY! ... Wait, how old is Player #35 again?
- He's got no Leeroy battle cry, Player #36, but he's... something, I guess.
I'm going to experiment with doing three players a day this week, with six players on Friday or Thursday. Exciting! See you tomorrow.