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 Yi Jianlian, Kwame Brown, and Derek Fisher.
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Follow Yi Jianlian on Sina at his ridiculously popular blog.
The fall of Yi Jianlian as a reputable NBA player came quicker than most expected. Especially considering his history. Jianlian was drafted at sixth overall by the Milwaukee Bucks way back in 2007. At the time, this was considered a reach -- just check this post-draft article at DraftExpress covering international prospects, where Luis Fernandez stated that scouts had "concerns about Yi’s defensive ability and competitiveness, which ultimately might jeopardize even his success as a contributor on an NBA team." Not as a go-to guy, which he states earlier in the article he likely won't become -- as a contributor. And this was written directly after the draft! Before Jianlian did anything in the NBA. Good call, Mr. Fernandez. Good call.
Anyway, as for Jianlian's game. Last year was Jianlian's first stint on a playoff team. As tends to be the case for players that transfer from a career of bad situations to a halfway decent team, his minutes went down dramatically. Unfortunately for his case as a legitimate NBA player going forward, Jianlian's productivity didn't go up at all with the lessened role -- in fact, Jianlian's productivity tanked. He became an even less efficient scorer, his pick and roll defense (previously decent-looking) felt worse from a subjective standpoint in his more-limited minutes, and he simply provided the Mavericks a dearth of positive contributions when on the floor. Part of his issue has always been shot selection -- he primarily plays the pick-and-pop, offensively, but he isn't very good at it. Last season in particular, Jianlian's decreased role translated to increasingly bad shot selection. For his career, Jianlian takes roughly 44% of his shots from a 16-23 foot range -- with the Mavericks last season, that number rose to a clean 59% of his offense.
I don't have a table that's easily sortable for this data, but I'm reasonably sure that nobody else in the NBA takes that high a percentage of their shots from 16-23 feet. To be fair to Jianlian, he wasn't as bad at it as some might expect -- he shot 44% from that range, which is actually very high for that area of the floor. The big problem with Jianlian's offense? He doesn't do anything else. He shot an impossibly poor 42% at the rim last season, didn't make a single shot from 3-9 feet, and shot 20% from the "true" midrange. He did make three of nine three-point-shots, though! Hooray! This sort of offense would be potentially surmountable if he coupled it with extremely good rebounding, or passing, or defense, or something. But there's simply nothing else. His rebounding is charitably described as below-average, his passing is comically robotic and passionless, and his usage rate is way too high for a big man who can't shoot efficiently to save his life. And as I said -- his pick and roll defense looked decent when surrounded by the Wizards or the pre-Bogut breakout Bucks. But on a legitimately good defensive team like the 2012 Dallas Mavericks, Jianlian looked shaky and lost. Just look at his 82games stat page, where you'll note that Jianlian's man -- at either PF or C -- had a PER of 20-25 when he was on the floor. This is especially jarring given WHEN he played -- he was pulling mop-up duty all year! He was playing against backups-of-backups! His most-used lineup was sharing the court with (NBA Champion) Brian Cardinal! What!
A few interesting facts about the Chairman. Despite the fact that he's never been a particularly excellent NBA player, he's been a pretty amazing asset for team exposure over his career. Some say that the influence of China on overseas marketing and exposure is overstated. I totally understand where people are coming from with that, but it's very hard to deny the excitement that players like Jianlian bring to the Chinese market. In his sophomore season, Jianlian came in as the 3rd forward in the Eastern Conference all-star voting, ahead of reigning finals MVP Paul Pierce, Chris Bosh in a vintage season, and scores of other more-deserving players. His first game ever against Yao had over 100 million viewers in China, which is pretty incredible, but less incredible than the fact that his second game ever against Yao had over 200 million viewers in China. He was the Chinese flag-bearer at the 2012 London Olympics, making him one of many recent NBA players to serve as their country's flag-bearer -- Manu Ginobili in 2008 for Argentina, Pau Gasol in 2012 for Spain, Andrei Kirilenko in 2008 for Russia, Yao Ming in 2008 for China, and Dirk Nowitzki in 2008 for Germany. Want to know why NBA players are awesome at being flagbearers? Read this incredibly poorly-translated article from Tencent sports, detailing the many reasons why. I don't know why the article's translation made me laugh, only that it did.
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Follow in Kwame Brown's footsteps by becoming the first pick in the 2014 NBA draft.
What is there to say about Kwame Brown, really? He's a relatively mediocre NBA player -- he can sop up minutes without absolutely killing your team, theoretically. Note the theoretically. This is only applicable if he can stay away from injury, which is rare -- since Brown turned 23, his best season for games played was his 2011 stint with the Charlotte Bobcats, in which he played 66 games in an 82 game season. His second best? Detroit, 2009, with 58 games. Ever since he's reached NBA middle-age, he's been consistently absent for 20-35 games a year, sometimes more. This makes Brown a bit of a risky pickup. He's a mediocre stopgap when he's on the floor, but with so many missed games, Brown is a mediocre player who over a full season gives you sub-mediocre production. Brown's injury woes raise with them an interesting question of value assessment -- how do you count context in value?
For instance, with last year's Warriors, part of the problem with Kwame's injury issues was that they simply didn't have anyone to play behind him. He started the season behind Biedrins, but quickly proved to be the Warriors best non-Udoh minutes-eater at center. That was good. But he followed that up by getting injured and being out for the rest of the season -- that was bad, because the Warriors simply didn't have anyone other than Udoh that really was fit for big minutes from the position. In any respect. Which meant that any game where Udoh showed fatigue, the Warriors had to play David Lee at center or bring up D-League guys or do crazy stuff like that. In context, even a less-than-mediocre player who could've played all 66 games would've been more conducive to winning games than Brown was. If you're a good team with a lot of depth, like last year's Bulls, durability doesn't matter quite as much. Durability is in and of itself an asset when you're looking at a team that lacks depth. Udonis Haslem would be significantly more valuable on a deeper team than the Heat where durability is less valued, and a lesser player with better general health would be better for the Heat than on a team with the depth that they can play fewer minutes. Context and team depth is important to assess when you try to figure out how valuable a player is in the NBA, and in statistical analysis, I think we often fail to properly contextualize players before we try to assess their value, or how valuable they've been.
As for Brown, again -- he's mediocre. He was less-than-that due to last year's injuries for the Warriors, but when healthy, he's a decent pick-and-roll defender with a large body and fluid movement. His offensive game is and has always been comically bad, though last season he finally seemed to figure some stuff out. Namely that he can't shoot worth a damn from outside 10 feet -- he attempted only 6 shots outside the restricted area, and only a single shot outside the paint. Which is good, and led to the third highest field goal percentage of his career. Per-minute he's a relatively proficient rebounder for a backup big, and he's got a great handle. ... Alright, I mostly was joking to see how many analysts I could make throw up at once. His handle is terrible. Last season, he had a turnover percentage of 20%. To contextualize how bad that is, think of it this way -- every 5 plays Kwame Brown touched, one of them turned into a turnover. Dear. God. He also is a career 57% shooter from the free throw line, which is... not very good, you know? It was 44% last season, bested only by Andris Biedrins' nigh-unbeatable 11% free throw shooting. (You think I'm joking? NOPE.) I thought the Sixers pickup was puzzling, but then again, consider context -- Philadelphia boasts a relatively deep front line, at least in the number of bodies on the roster, so a mediocre bit-minute player that might miss a few games is less deletrious than he was in Golden State. At least in my view. In sum: not very good, not very useful, not very interesting. Next!
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Follow Derek Fisher on Twitter at @derekfisher.
I was reading Le Morte D'Arthur back in 2010, around the NBA finals. It's Sir Thomas Malory's history of Arthurian legend, for those who aren't aware. I've always been at least passingly interested in the tales of King Arthur, though admittedly not enough for me to really sink my teeth into it -- I've never read Malory's opus all the way through, and I've always been a bit more fond of T.H. White's Once and Future King and Tennyson's Idylls. But that's beside the point. I was reading Book IV, the quest for the Holy Grail -- specifically the point at which Galahad heals the unnamed, maimed, and bedridden King before finding the Holy Grail and ascending to heaven. This King is one of Malory's several manifestations of the Fisher King, a somewhat ubiquitous character in Arthurian legend. According to legend, the Fisher King is the corporeal manifestation of the domain he rules over. In Arthurian mythology, the Fisher King is always wounded -- to the legs primarily, but often the groin as well. Through the King's wounds, his lands become barren and infertile. According to legend, the Fisher King is the keeper of the Holy Grail, and to bear the Grail one must heal him. Hence his importance to the story. Given his wounds, all he can really do is fish -- leading to the name, the Fisher King.
I've always thought of the Fisher King as one of the more interesting and abstract of the Arthurian legends. Most people don't know a thing about him, even though his existence is so inextricably tied to the Grail Quest in most texts that you can't really separate the two. I think it's a bit of a shame that there's so little known about him. Fewer stories drumming home the same point about Lancelot and Guenivere, more stories featuring the Fisher King and the other forgotten and tertiary Arthurian legends. Anyway. You might wonder what this actually has to do with Derek Fisher, and I admit, that's a good question. We'll start with the quality of his play. It's pretty bad. He's among the worst shooters in the entire league, at this point -- he's descended below league average from three point range and is below all reason from anything inside the arc. His physical strength would lead some to expect he'd be a good rebounder from the guard position -- good try, he's not. His assist rate is consistently among the worst for any point guard in the NBA, and his turnover rate has steadily gone up to the point where he's now a threat to turn the ball over virtually any time he's forced to handle the ball. Derek Fisher was one of the worst starters in the entire league last season, and upon being traded to the Thunder, he became one of the worst bench players in the entire league. He's turning 38 today. He's old, washed up, done. A shell of what he once was, and he was never that good to begin with. All he can really do is flop around like a fish and get a lot of calls.
And I can say all that, and drive the point home all I want. But that doesn't make it any less true that Derek Fisher is very likely to be the worst Laker in franchise history to get his jersey retired. Phil Jackson, Kobe Bryant, the Lakers organization -- virtually everyone around Fisher believes him to be an essential and necessary piece to win a title, and when he was traded, Kobe was furious. Without superstars at his side, what is Derek Fisher? What can he do? Without a team with a top-tier talent at every other position, what can Fisher really offer? Does it really matter? Fisher was considered by people who know what they're talking about to be the crux of the chemistry on five distinct title teams. Without healing the Fisher King, you can't sip from the Holy Grail. That much is true. But without letting Derek Fisher make a few clutch shots, healing the wounds of a fanbase forced to watch him chuck up terrible shot after terrible shot, every single game of the regular season? No Laker team in the last decade could sip the championship bubbly. So there you have it. Ever since I happened to read just the right excerpt of Malory's text right after I watched Fisher drill essential threes to steal what turned out to be the deciding game in Boston, I've associated the two. Sure, it's a bit of a convoluted comparison, and it doesn't really address several of the really important facts about the Fisher King -- the ephemeral changing connections with the grail itself, how the fishing aspect is merely a Christ-symbol replete with Catholic tie-ins, how symbiotically he exists with the Holy Grail. All true. But I've still called Derek Fisher the Fisher King from there on out, and I can't possibly be the only one.
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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. Sorry for the delay on this one -- I'm not feeling great, and yesterday was a hectic day at work. The riddle champion of Tuesday's post was Krishnan, who got the first and third players right but missed my forgettable second. Everyone always forgets Kwame.
- The best way to lure Player #85 into a room is to fill it with comic books and floppy hair wigs.
- I don't think there's a single non-Dirk player on the 2011 Dallas Mavericks I liked more than Player #86.
- This Buck was in and out of my fantasy team all year. Probably a bad decision, as Player #87 was terrible last year.
On Tuesday, Tim Allen of Canis Hoopus took his own life. It was a shock to me and many others. I never had a ton of interaction with Tim, but he was always open to talking on Twitter and the folks at Canis Hoopus have been incredibly supportive of our work here at Gothic Ginobili. If you are able, it would be nice if you could consider donating a small sum to any organization specializing in mental health treatment. For instance, this one in Minnesota would be good. Or any of these national organizations. In any event, please take some time today to tell your loved ones you love them and to reassure your friends that they can talk to you if they're struggling. Please. It sounds absurd to those who haven't suffered, but sometimes a single person reaching out is all that separates a senseless tragedy from a shocking recovery. It helps more than you know. I've been there. It doesn't always work, but it can help a lot.
May death bring the peace you could never find in life, Tim. Rest well.