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. Today we continue with Dorell Wright, JaVale McGee, and Kevin Martin.
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Follow Dorell Wright on Twitter at @DWRIGHTWAY1.
Dorell Wright is a decent player. He's not exactly an incredibly high upside player, but so long as he can hover around what he's done the last few years, he'll stick in the league a long time. Most people assume that Wright's 2012 season -- in which his playing time collapsed, his shooting percentages dropped, and his aggressiveness waned -- was a disappointment in the context of his broader career. I'm not so sure that's true. To be sure, it wasn't quite as impressive as his fantasy gold-mine in the 2011 season, where Wright played the fourth most minutes in the entire league and took an insane amount of three pointers, to great effect. But it had its own positives. Like, for instance, his rebounding, which improved from a career-low rebounding percentage of 12% to a very solid 14%. While his efficiency dropped, he also dropped the number of possessions he used up, which theoretically could've helped the team a bit even if it was absolutely frustrating (as a fan) to watch him throw away open shots with regularity. His turnovers dropped precipitously as well -- Wright had only 51 turnovers in 61 games, an impressively low sum. In fact, only two other players produced that few turnovers in that many minutes -- Richard Jefferson and Thaddeus Young.
This isn't to say it's all good. Wright's defense was decent to start the season, but only for a few games. He suffered a left knee contusion in a January game, and from then on out, Wright returned to his tentative self on defense. Most people forget this, but early in Wright's tenure in the league, he was a massive injury risk -- most of Wright's early seasons are spotted with missed games and surgery-related ills galore, which tends to explain Wright's passive approach to defense. Early this season, off his 82 game stalwart year, it seemed like Wright's passive approach had waned, but a quick reminder of his injury demons brought back the passive tendencies on the defensive end. A pity. While he's no athletic freak, he has relatively decent timing and great length, which makes most coaches/fans imagine that he could be much better on the defensive end. To be fair, the hesitance from injuries is a perfectly reasonable barrier to his becoming a plus defender. But it's still a problem. Also an issue is Wright's hesitance on offense, as I touched on in the first paragraph -- often in 2012, Wright would simply refuse the ball if he wasn't feeling it. This is a respectable trait in some ways -- a player determined not to let his lacking offensive performance harm his team -- and a less-than-salutatory bad habit in the more overriding sense that as a poor defender, offensive contributions are what he's supposed to be doing.
I'm not sure I love the acquisition of Wright by the Sixers, all things considered. I understand they're trying (somewhat foolishly, in my opinion) to convert natural SF Evan Turner to be their SG of the future -- but even then, Philadelphia's two best remaining players with Brand's defensive rock gone are Andre Iguodala and the still-inexplicably-benched Thaddeus Young. There aren't going to be a ton of minutes for Wright to play unless they trade Iguodala (something that reports say is exceedingly unlikely) or play Wright at SG (something that his size and inactivity on defense say is extremely silly). While I think Wright could thrive in the sort of free-form "Lou Williams" role on next year's Sixers (and, indeed, his stats are very similar to Lou's), that's going to require a lot of lineup wrangling on the part of Doug Collins to make sure Wright is properly featured and properly supported. A tall task for Collins, though if you have faith in his role as a talent facilitator and Philadelphia's very own pied piper, you might be excited about Wright. He's not quite as good as the ridiculously underrated Williams, but he fulfills the same role and if Collins manages the minutes effectively it's unlikely that the switchover is going to harm the team at all.
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Follow JaVale McGee on Twitter at @JaValeMcGee34.
Here at the Gothic, we find McGee to be a sometimes-muse, inspiring both strange fictional pieces and pieces inspired by his altogether hilarious postseason run. There isn't really anyone like him in the league today -- nobody else quite embodies McGee's combination of odd detachment and preposterous antics the way he does. And I mean that seriously. Have you ever watched a JaVale McGee interview? It's an experience. The way he simply refuses to look at the camera, the detached devil-may-care approach to his team and the game discussed, the refusal to acknowledge his personal antics? I don't agree with whoever titled that video, necessarily -- it isn't really all that awkward, it's more a simple detachment endemic to he who doesn't like talking about himself. But that's the problem. JaVale seems to love talking about himself, at least on Twitter, where he engages in all sorts of silly, absurd antics. Whether that's retweeting himself, spouting off about his Pierre alter-ego, or asking his followers to find him a Denver segway shop, McGee's personal antics are as outgoing and creative as his interviews are detached and lifeless. And as the riddle indicated, he's the greatest planking talent of all time.
Which, in some ways, makes McGee a nigh-perfect representative of the latest generation. Not simply of NBA players, but of this generation of human beings in general. There's been an increased prevalence in the visibility of hyperactivity disorders like ADHD and autism spectrum disorders like Asperger's -- not necessarily because there's been significantly more of either illness, but because screening techniques have gotten increasingly sophisticated and cases that would once have been fringe cases not-to-be treated have become treatable and accepted. This isn't to say McGee is autistic, or deals with ADHD -- he might, but that is completely unrelated to the point here, and it's absurd to speculate when you simply don't know. It's simply to say that in how McGee treats the press and lets loose on twitter, McGee perfectly represents this new generation of kids and teenagers. There's the trouble concentrating, the alternatingly brilliant and boneheaded moves, the difficulty looking reporters in the eye one-on-one. All of this reflects, in a strange way, the generation in which McGee was reared.
There may have been players -- lost to history -- who could've gotten away with treating the press as JaVale McGee does. There have been players who make an art of boneheaded play interspersed with moments of imaginitive joyous perfection since the league began -- that's part of the human condition. But in this age of proper screening, and incredible visibility into the lives of NBA players? JaVale can't escape the image -- he can't simply retreat as Moses Malone did and expect the media to ignore it, or expect the scatterbrained plays to be ignored on SportsCenter. It gives him a special notoriety now that he wouldn't have achieved in any prior generation. Just as disorders of the mental sense -- personality, autism spectrum, hyperactivity all -- are better screened in the modern era, the media deluge in effect "screens" better for players like McGee. It's an occupational hazard of playing in this generation, I suppose.
As for his game, while I used to hate it, I've come around to it. I realize how frustrating he is to watch for fans of the Washington Wizards, and I realize that if he was on a team I actively rooted for I'd probably despise him. His lacking effort is storied, and his devil-may-care attitude towards the press doesn't help matters. But as I wrote in the piece I linked to at the start this capsule, I really feel as though McGee's insane on-court play is due not to a deficit of brains but rather an exceedingly impressive surfiet of imagination. His talent is undeniable, and his knack for turning the simple into the difficult (not boxing out in preference to skying above multiple seven footers for rebounds, taking the ball up the court instead of getting prepared to receive a lob, going for a spinning under-the-basket hook shot instead of a simple dunk) strikes me less as a player who'll never put it together and more as a player whose idea of "putting it together" is simply on a different plane of existence than we are.
JaVale McGee may not be an easy player to watch, especially if you watch enough basketball to realize how dominant a player of his physique could be if he simply played conventionally. But there's a lot to be said for the journey a player takes to become a true monster in this league, and it really seems like McGee is aiming not simply to be a conventionally dominant center, but to also be one of the most creative centers of his era. Does it really matter if he is? From a wins and losses standpoint, certainly not. But from an aesthetic perspective, how could we ignore it?
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Don't follow Kevin Martin on Twitter, because he doesn't have one.
I wasn't kidding in the riddle. Ever since the 2007 season, Kevin Martin has been among the greatest one-man offensive players in the NBA, at least in terms of efficiency. There are two extremely efficient things that a shooting guard can do on offense -- get to the line and shoot a three. Look at it this way -- the best offense in the league last year, the San Antonio Spurs, scored roughly 1.00 points per possession. Kevin Martin is an 85% free throw shooter. Every single time Kevin Martin goes to the line, his expected points for that possession are his FT% * Points Scored -- so, 0.85. His expected PPP of a possession where he goes to the line for two shots is 1.70. The same property of well-above-average production holds true of his three point shot, where Martin is a career 0.377 -- that leads to an expected PPP of 1.13. Those are two of Martin's biggest play types, by far, and both of them blow the combined efforts of one of the greatest offenses in the league out of the water. He knows what works.
It's no wonder, then, that Martin is so blasted efficient. Because all things considered, he does virtually nothing else. Martin is essentially a case study in the idea that an NBA player could be an offensive star simply by paring his game down to only a few specific, efficient play types. To wit, over Martin's career, he's scored 8728 points. Of those points, 2232 came from behind the three point line, and 2716 of them came from the free throw line. That means that in Martin's career, almost 60% of the points he's scored came from free throws or threes. There are many people who take a lot of free throws -- there are currently 29 active players that have made more than Martin in their careers -- but few are oh-so reliant on them. Few non-superstars, anyway. In any event, Martin has made a living paring his offense down to a few highly efficient shots and play-types. And he's done a good job of it, up until age began to bite at his efficiency last season.
So, given all these things, why is he so hard to watch? After all, I'm a statistician in my day job. I obsessively try to make every aspect of my life more efficient, and take great joy in it. But Kevin Martin's game simply rubs me the wrong way, you know? It's not a lack of effort -- you get this robotic sense watching Martin, that his anemic defense is calculated in its laziness, knowing he can exert some amount more energy on offense if he lays back on defense. He gives up his body to the game, playing all-out and risking injury constantly for the benefit of his free throw efficiency -- exactly what most people chastise stars for avoiding (although it's led to lots of injury issues, with Martin). He takes efficient shots and makes them. He's the type of player can score 30 on 15 shots, without really breaking a sweat.
But this game, this style... is simply so dull, so bare, so bereft of creativity. It's incredibly hard to watch on a regular basis. He's the essence of the stat-geek stereotype -- this player that advanced metrics say is (in theory) very good but a player whose eye-test absolutely says otherwise. If basketball is an art form, players like Tim Duncan are hardly the cold and calculating robots that publications like Free Darko make them out to be. It's Martin that really embodies it, always striving emotionlessly for that added tincture of efficiency. It's a quest, for Martin, and in its own lost and hollow way you wonder if his obsession with efficiency is just the thing that's always kept him from playing for a relevant team. For all of Martin's myriad positives, I can't escape the stinging pangs of the deepest recesses of my heart. Kevin Martin's game is simply boring. He's the little black spot on the sun today, the same old thing as yesterday -- the king of pain, tedium, and a logic so cruel and calculating it overrides the impressive efficiency with which he yokes his craft.
(... Until last season, where he simply sucked. But don't tell Houston that.)
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At the end of each post, I'll be scribing riddles for the next group. 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. Commenters Corn and Umlaut both got 2/3, missing different ones. No 3/3, but at least there was a correct answer for each of the riddles by SOMEONE.
- Player #64 sounds like a Fortune 500 CEO. Certainly doesn't play up to that worth, tho.
- "[Player #65], get me water." (Quote from Norris Cole, before the roles reversed.)
- I don't get why people sleep on Player #66. Gave the Sixers a fantastic run last year.
More on Wednesday. Stay thirsty, my friends.