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 Gary Forbes, Mario Chalmers, and Lou Williams.
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Follow Gary Forbes on Twitter at @GForbz3.
Interesting story for Mr. Forbes. He's an American, but his origin is different than most NBA players -- Forbes was born in Panama, a rare spot for NBA talent, and reared for the league by way of Brooklyn. Before he played in the NBA, Forbes became one of the greatest players in U-Mass history (normal, though interesting because of the doldrums that program's been struggling with in Calipari's wake), plied his trade in the D-League (common), and Europe (less common). No, Europe isn't uncommon in a broad sense, but for an American-raised player to go overseas, do the D-League, and still make the league is pretty rare, and quite respectable. It takes some hard work and soul searching to make the league after that many rejections, and bully to Forbes for making it over and (in truth) finding real ways to contribute. Especially given his notable limitations -- Forbes, believe it or not, has Type 1 Diabetes. And thrives with it.
For what should be obvious reasons, Forbes didn't initially advertise this fact. Why should he? It's a great accomplishment, to be sure, but look what happens to players who openly advertise or show honesty in their health failings. When Andrew Bogut said he was operating at 85%, media hyenas ripped his comments apart and the Milwaukee front office was mad at him. Seemingly every year, a solid draft prospect gets their stock absolutely destroyed by injury factors beyond their control (Sullinger, Blair, et cetera). What's really stopping teams from assessing based on things like diabetes, or depression, or other chronic conditions? I totally get why Forbes didn't advertise it. After the fact became public knowledge, though, Forbes relented -- he proceeded to use his story as one to inspire, taking it to the American Diabetes Association and sharing his outlook on life with the disease. (For those wondering: eat right, exercise constantly, and don't let the illness detract from your dreams). Sort of heroic, in a sense -- being a professional athlete requires a pretty crazy training schedule, and juggling that with such an ubiquitous health problem in modern society is undoubtedly difficult.
As for his game, it's not incredible by any stretch of the imagination, but it's certainly NBA replacement-level. He's a scoring shooting guard who's passingly efficient (about 14-16 points per 36 minutes, usually spotting a role of about 10-20 MPG). He's a very good rebounder for a guard, and a decent acumen for passing. He's an OK three point shooter, though his percentages are a bit wanting at scoring from inside the arc. A bit more turnover prone than you'd perhaps want, but as long as he's not your primary ballhandler, you should be OK. He isn't a good defensive player, mind you -- while he was better in Toronto under Casey than he ever was under Karl in Denver, he still detracted from Toronto on that end of the court, and his lacking athleticism and length will hurt him for the rest of his NBA career. But he's certainly not bad. A bit old for a third year player (27), but not bad. Now, Forbes one of the many varied forwards and guards milling about in Daryl Morey's remarkably incoherent Houston Rockets "roster", as a tertiary piece in the Kyle Lowry trade. While I'm not 100% on board with Forbes as an NBA talent that's going to revolutionize a roster, I really like his story -- there's something about overcoming massive obstacles like his diabetes that really makes me smile.
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Follow Mario Chalmers on Twitter at @mchalmers15.
I think Mario Chalmers is a bit underrated. Not horrendously so -- he's a limited player in a lot of ways, and has several incredibly aggravating tendencies that detract from his positives. But Chalmers brings value to teams if he's used effectively, and part of the success story of the 2012 Heat wasn't simply that LeBron went murderous on the league when the playoffs began. It was that Spolestra finally, after almost two years, realized that Mario Chalmers was their best non-Wade guard and gave him the minutes to reflect it. Seriously. People may not agree with me on this, but I believe it strongly -- I think that the Heat would've probably won the title in 2011 if Spolestra had benched Mike Bibby and played Mario Chalmers. As someone who doesn't particularly like the Heat, I was absolutely happy that Spolestra decided to go with that rotation -- he played Bibby 20 minutes per game to Chalmers' 24, and it seemed even worse at the time. But I do think that if he'd given 10 of Bibby's minutes to Chalmers, the Heat probably win that title. Why? A few simple reasons. First, J.J. Barea destroyed the Heat in 2011, but only when Mike Bibby was on the court. When Chalmers was on, Barea did virtually nothing, because Mario Chalmers is actually a pretty good defender.
No, seriously. Stop laughing. Chalmers plays relatively physical defense, for a guard, and works hard to make sure whoever he's guarding has trouble getting to their pet spots on the floor. It's not a physical thing, entirely -- Chalmers is actually listed at the exact same height and weight as Bibby. The thing is, Chalmers has a lot of active quickness -- that is, the ability to move quickly in response to an opponent's movement, and to use the lateral quickness that most players use for isolation offense in order to switch positions quickly and freeze up offensive players. He's also a relatively decent shooter -- 38% from three isn't that bad, especially when he's putting up four of them a night. It's true that he's assisted on 90% of those threes, per Hoopdata, but that's still not all that bad a number for Chalmers. He's a solid if not remarkable finisher, and he doesn't hog the ball. Which is an important trait on a team that has LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh on it. This paragraph would lead the uninitiated to wonder why, then, Heat writers and players are so incredibly down on Mario. I think there are two main reasons.
Out of all the players in the league, I don't think there's anybody whose turnovers are quite as visually stunning as those of Chalmers. The best way to put it is that when most players turn over the ball, it's a mistake -- some random "whoops" moment where they usually just lost control for a split second. No big deal, but sad. When Chalmers gets a turnover? It's an event. It's a SportsCenter play-of-the-game. It's Mario Chalmers doing a backflip while trying to thread a pass through two referees and accidentally throwing the ball into the Indian Ocean. It's Mario Chalmers flashing a smile while trying to dribble the ball off his head as he composes an aria. It's Mario Chalmers handing the ball to the opposing point guard, giving him a pep talk, and standing like Jesus in the middle of the court while the play goes on at the other end. Mario Chalmers has the most hilarious turnovers in the game. I don't think there's any real doubt about this. And in turn, although his turnover rate isn't remarkably awful (though it IS pretty bad), Chalmers tends to be remembered more for his turnovers and fouls (which are pretty funny too) than the many good things he does on the court.
The second, and probably more important reason people seem to dislike him? He's apparently really, really obsessed with his own talent. He actually thinks he's the best player on the Miami Heat. Mario, you're underrated, but come on. That sort of mindless exuberance tends to color the impression people have of you, which would tend to explain why Heat journalists and players don't like him that much. And constantly yell at him. Given all these stories, I think the problem is clear -- Chalmers is taking lessons on how to live his life from Juwan Howard. "Chill out, Mario."
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Follow Lou Williams on Twitter at @TeamLou23.
Lou Williams is better than you think. Probably. If you're an average NBA fan -- or even an average Philadelphia fan -- you probably think of Williams as yet another cog in the conscience-abandoned chucker machine. Instant offense off the bench, but not really anything better than you'd get from players like Jamal Crawford, Nick Young, O.J. Mayo, or any of the other offensive-minded bench talents. No tertiary stuff, no external benefits, nothing. Just a chucker. ... Or so most people think. The big problem with that is that it's simply untrue -- while Lou Williams fits that general archetype of player, simply lumping him in with those folks is an incredibly stupid mistake. In terms of production and what Williams does to help a team, he's more akin to an in-control and subdued Monta Ellis, or a level just scantly below Kevin Martin. I got some blowback early in the season for picking Lou Williams as one of my picks for the all-star game, with my pick being soundly panned by most. But I maintain that even with the season over, Williams was pretty damn close to the All-Star game -- I'd go with Kyrie over him, now, but Williams had a really good season.
You may look at his stats and laugh at the supposition that Williams is really that much better than those other myriad instant-offense scoring guards. After all, what's so special about Lou? A few key things. First, despite having a very high usage rate year-after-year, Williams is absolutely amazing at taking care of the ball. Absolutely phenomenal at it. Last season in particular he was absolutely incredible -- for the year, Williams put up a turnover percentage of 7.2%. To contextualize how good that is, among guards playing more than 20 minutes a night and playing more than 10 games in a single season, Lou's full-season mark of 7.2% ranks 24th all-time. That's pretty insane. (And yes, I'll go over Jodie's spot on that list in due time.) While Lou's rebounding is rather crummy, his passing is (like Monta Ellis) relatively effective. And while it often seems like Williams chucks up shots with abandon when you watch him play, his free throw drawing talents combined with his effective stroke on isolation threes makes him a ridiculously efficient scorer, putting up a per-36 total of 21 points on 17 shots per game. And before you ask why he doesn't play more, I'd note that Williams is also one of the best in the league at avoiding fouls -- he averaged just 1.4 per game last season, and never had a game with five or more fouls. He also creates the majority of his offense on his lonesome -- Williams was able to score efficiently on that absurdly low turnover rate despite being assisted on only 40% of his shots, well below the league average of 50%, with that number being in the neighborhood of less-efficient burst scorers like Monta Ellis, Jamal Crawford, and Gary Neal.
So, how does all this -- none of it incredibly special in it's own right -- differentiate him from other burst scorers from the guard position? Simple. It all applies to him. You can find a burst scorer who has some passing talent (ex: Monta Ellis), or a burst scorer with a low propensity for turnovers (ex: Jodie Meeks), or a burst scorer with great efficiency (ex: Danny Green). But you simply can't find one that does it all. Williams consistently does all of these things, all the while barely getting injured at all and staying far, far away from foul trouble. When the Hawks were able to pick up Williams from the bargain bin on a 4-year $21 million dollar deal, I was shocked. I realize his defense isn't fantastic. It's a cliche, but he really does gamble a bit too much, and he doesn't effectively utilize the quickness that makes his crossover so deadly on the defensive end. Too focused on the steal, not focused enough on preventing the shot. There's also the inverse confirmation bias -- Philadelphia refused to run actual offensive sets or action at the end of close games, so Williams got a reputation for poorly-thought-out heroball (though I'd argue that was mostly the fault of Doug Collins, last season). He's also reached something of a peak -- at 26 years old, it's quite unlikely Williams gets THAT MUCH better going forward. But seriously... around $5 million a year? You're talking about one of the best burst scorers in the league, in his prime. You're talking about a position that publications like Wages of Wins have been saying NBA decisionmakers overpay to some level of grotesque state of hyper-indulgence, and you're telling me that all the man could get was $5 million a year? Less than the old midlevel?!
Yes, suffice to say, I think the Williams acquisition was a great steal for a Hawks team that should be a lot better than most people expect. If Horford stays healthy, Williams can pick up 90% of the slack from Joe Johnson at (literally) a fourth of the price. Devin Harris should strengthen their point guard rotation, and add a healthy Horford to that team, and you have exactly what you normally have -- a solid 4-5 seed that'll put up a fight. Except... with incoming cap space, instead of books locked down til the day I die. Good show, Danny Ferry. It's also nice because Williams is actually from Atlanta -- the hometown connection is always fun, when a player gets to play 41 games a year in front of local friends and family. Should be fun. Off the court, Williams is mostly notable to me as one of the two or three best rappers in the NBA. I realize that's sort of damning with faint praise, as being "the best rapper in the NBA" is akin to being the best "mystery" flavored dum-dum at the dentist's office, but hey, I'm serious. He's actually pretty alright. Go listen to his stuff, you probably won't be THAT disappointed. And even if you are, you should read this line-by-line analysis of Lou's freestyle, because it's ridiculously hilarious and easily worth some time.
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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. We got one three out of three from commenter Brian, though I'll also shout out LexThunder for being the first one to realize that "Gary Forbes" is the most CEO-ish name in the NBA, by far. Congrats, Brian! And good working together, folks. Teamwork!
- Player #67 is as defensively incompetent as they come. But if his new running (er... jogging?) mate stays healthy, it won't matter much.
- Everyone sleeps on Player #68, but for my money, he was one of the best surprises to come out of last year's 202.
- ... wait, Player #69 shot 42% from three last year?! WHAT?! Time to go watch some tape, that's crazy.
More soon. Also, shout-out to reader Adam Johnson, who emailed asking if my sign-off from the last post was inspired by this excellent JaVale tweet. Yes, Adam. It was.