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 Michael Redd, Andrea Bargnani, and Hakim Warrick.
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Follow Michael Redd on Twitter by buying a bible.
One of the neater stories of last year's NBA season was a relatively archetypal one. An old NBA veteran -- widely considered washed up and finished -- with no expectations goes to a good training staff, suddenly rebounds back from a precipitous dive into a useful player (to some extent) and shows flashes of brilliance as a sometimes-reminder of how good he used to be. In 2010, it was Antonio McDyess. In 2011, it was Tracy McGrady. In 2012? The former sweet-shooting Milwaukee star, Michael Redd. It was something of a feel-good story, and to anyone following last year's dismal Suns team, it often seemed like the only one. Redd wasn't fantastic last year, as most can tell -- after all, the once-efficient shooter only converted a scant 31% from three point range and barely sniffed a league average PER (average is 15, his was 13.9). And even atop his offensive struggles, Redd's defense was absolutely awful, far below replacement level. Which makes one think, after saying all this, that I'm crazy to call him a feel-good story. How can a player performing that badly be a feel-good story? Well, two reasons.
First, he got better as the year went on. And not just a little better -- the Redd we saw in April was markedly better than we'd seen the entire year, shooting 40% from three point range and 42% from two point range, despite taking almost no shots at the rim and acting at times as a primary floor spacer for a playoff-contending Suns team. He upped his minutes per game back to 18.8 during the season's closing month, and chipped in a few rebounds and an assist per game besides. He scored around 12 points in those 18 minutes, which roughly translates to a per-36 scoring average of 23 points a night, right above his career average. Some would say that the performance was fluky, and in some sense, I agree -- Redd certainly can't be expected to produce 23 points a night on 36 minutes a game anymore, and roughly a point every two minutes in limited burn is probably all we can expect. But if you were, like Redd, coming back from spates of season-ending injuries and working your way back into game shape after you thought you might retire, wouldn't you peak near the end? Wouldn't you be expected to play poorly until you got into shape? I'd say yes, and as such, I think the Redd that finished the season with Phoenix is a bit more akin to the Redd we'll see in the swan song of his career than the hollow husk that started the year.
The second reason? Expectations, expectations, expectations. Sure, if Redd had been expected to score 25 a night and act as Phoenix's second star, this would've been an incredibly disappointing year for him. But was anyone even expecting Redd to see the court? One of my favorite examples of this was in Bright Side of the Sun's season ending evaluation for Michael Redd, where Leiland Tanner (an excellent writer, by the way) extracted examples of what people had said at the time Redd was signed. My favorite was Scott Howard's comment that if Redd was the answer, the question you were asking was "how do you become the worst team in the NBA." Redd wasn't exactly a lights out star, but he sure as hell wasn't THAT bad. And he certainly was that bad the previous two seasons, so there wasn't all that much reason to expect Redd would recoup and have a solid better-as-he-gets-in-shape season. Really wasn't any reason to expect that. Because of that, the simple fact that Redd was able to be a contributor was impressive. Going forward? I'd expect Redd to recoup a bit from his health troubles and stay at a level somewhat close to the high he closed the season on for a few more seasons. Decent shooting, no defense, volume scoring backup. Not amazing -- especially for a guy who has been an incredible scoring talent his entire career -- but a suitable closing act for a guy whose injury-tarred demise in Milwaukee was far less than he rightfully deserved.
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Follow Andrea Bargnani on Twitter at @AndreaBargnani.
Andrea Bargnani is an interesting player, to me. I think he's a heck of a lot better than most people think, especially defensively. You think I'm insane? Perhaps. But I'll list off a few facts that Matt Moore shared back in the summer of 2010, when he first got access to Synergy's video database and took some time to parse through the numbers. I saved them, and spent the entire next season paying extremely close attention to both players in an effort to see if the Synergy-based assertions matched what I was seeing. (I didn't have Synergy until mid-2012, so I could only really watch stuff like this by living on League Pass.)
- While Bosh was in Toronto, Bargnani guarded the better opposing big 9 out of 10 times.
- Despite guarding the better big Bargnani's man D was better than Bosh's man D.
- He's actually a very effective post defender, and uses his athleticism and size to make easy shots challenging.
- He's recently been in the top 15% of NBA players in isolation defense. When guarding big men shooting jumpers, Bargnani holds them to 30% shooting.
- Despite all this, he's still been a net negative defender on the Raptors over his career.
When I first read all of these but #5, I thought Moore was playing a practical joke on all his basketball-inclined followers. Bargnani has been a notably defective help defender for years, to the point that his awful help defense can be noticed even by those who don't have a particularly trained eye for a player's defensive acumen. Bargnani ignores cutters, doesn't help off his man, and simply doesn't take the role of "protecting the paint" seriously when he's playing center. He always wants to float and focus on his man, which is fine when he's playing the large forward and playing alongside an actual center but atrocious when he's supposed to be the last line of defense. But note that I haven't said Moore was wrong. That's because, honestly, he wasn't. I can't assess #1, because I wasn't really paying attention to that when they played together, but I can state confidently that Bargnani is a effective defender in the post, a decent isolation defender, and actually very good at getting out to contest when his man takes a jumpshot. What's more, while Bosh is the far superior help defender, Bargnani's individual post defense and the totality of his overall individual defense is above that of Bosh, meaning that if I had the two of them on a team, I'd probably give Bargnani the harder assignment as well.
Of course, as I just pointed out -- his help defense is notably awful, enough so that it's hard to notice the things he does right on the defensive end. Not to mention his rebounding, which is the primary reason his defense is immensely disappointing -- even though Bargnani is an effective individual defender, if the opposing team gets 2 or 3 extra possessions a game from his lazy rebounding, fault has to fall on Bargnani's shoulders for ceding possessions that any other non-Lopez center could've gotten. This goes double when playing on a team as defensively hopeless as most of his pre-Casey Raptor teams -- you basically need to win the possession battle when you aren't a good defensive team, and when Bargnani is playing center, you're virtually assured not to. The rebounding problems have remained, but the help defense issues are starting to clear up -- as Dwane Casey has pointed out, he's gotten better. He fell off badly after his injury, so in the second half of the season, Bargnani had his problems. But at the start of the season Bargnani was communicating, and under Casey's scheme, he was doing a very good job of it. After years of wanting Bargnani out the door, most Raptors fans I know started to visualize a future with him on the team. It was cool.
What do the Raptors need to do, going forward, to bring out the best in Bargnani? Well, first off, they need to never ever hire Jay Triano again. Triano may very well be the worst coach the NBA's had in the last 10-20 years. He was abominable in Toronto, both at developing players and building schemes that fully utilized the team's talent. Casey is a great step forward in this regard -- he's already shown to be an excellent defensive coach and all accounts seem to indicate he's gotten a lot of buy-in from his players. The second thing? Stop pretending Bargnani is a center and allow him to slide over to the big forward position. Yes, he's 7'0" -- height alone doesn't make a center, and his rebounding and lacking instincts make playing him as the primary paint-stuffer is a terrible idea. In an ideal world, Bargnani would play the Dirk to some big man's Tyson Chandler -- the sweet shooting huge power forward who spreads the floor and uses his defensive talents on one man and one man alone. Jonas Valanciunas should be good for this -- not necessarily because of his talent, but simply because his size and game are prototypical for the five-spot. If he can chip in something like a per-36 10-10 in 20-30 MPG, the Raptors will be greatly improved for it. If the Raptors had picked up Steve Nash, I might've actually picked them to win their division -- it would've been a great situation for him, as he could've played 25 minutes a night and mentored their young players beautifully. Can't really complain, though -- in picking up Lowry instead the Raptors have a much better set-up going into the future, though the upside play for this individual season isn't quite as high. In any event, this team is a likely playoff contender this year, and if Bargnani plays a bigger-than-expected role in it -- chipping in some defensive chops to go with his to-be-expected 20 points a night -- don't be too surprised.
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Follow Hakim Warrick on Twitter at @hdubb21.
To say that Hakim Warrick hasn't been lighting the world on fire lately is to understate matters entirely. Warrick has been flat-out awful ever since he came to Phoenix, and as he moves on to flaunt his wares in New Orleans, the question is less about whether he'll recoup and more about whether the Hornets are even going to give him minutes in a crowded rotation. His game is that of the prototypical tweener -- offensive decisionmaking of a large wing, moderately enviable per-minute stats, and disgustingly poor defense. Really. His defensive instincts are worse than those of Amare Stoudemire, and while I held out some hope when Phoenix acquired him in 2010 that he'd thrive with Steve Nash, in practice he hasn't improved at all. He's been the same Hakim Warrick he's always been -- cuts, dunks, godawful defense, a somewhat ineffective midrange jumpshot, and foul-drawing up the wazoo. And some extremely questionable decisions in his shot selection -- as I said, he plays like a large wing despite not really having the body or the skillset to do it. Seriously, Warrick took almost one three pointer per 36 minutes last season, despite only making 10% of them. Bad news.
This isn't to say it's all bad -- the Warrick that showed up last season was awful, but in his career, he's traditionally been a talented offensive player. In one way, at least -- he's very good at dunks. Not layups, not post-ups, not jumpshots. Dunking the ball, especially off the pick and roll. Beyond that? He's great at putting other big men into foul trouble, because he's crafty and good at getting calls like a wing. And to be honest, earlier in his career he was a decent midrange shooter -- that's evaporated entirely in Phoenix, but perhaps it could come back. It still isn't going to mean much. Even at his peak, with an above-average PER and highly efficient scoring numbers, it was hard to see Warrick as a truly worthy backup -- his defense is utterly awful, combining the tentative qualities on man-to-man defense that help "big" men like Brian Cardinal avoid foul trouble with the lazy qualities that make big men like Bargnani awful help defenders.
Unfortunately for his career, I don't see any chance of Warrick getting significant playing time in New Orleans -- Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson will dominate the majority of New Orleans' minutes, with Jason Smith and Robin Lopez filling the role of primary backups. Add to that Lance Thomas' ability to slide over to the four and retain Monty's defensive system, and you don't have significant minutes that Warrick could reasonably expect to carve out. If he could play some small forward it would be a remote possibility, but as his three point shot and busted long two would indicate, that's a heck of a long shot. If it'd happen under anyone, it'd happen under Monty. But it's unlikely. More likely, Warrick plays out the year with abysmal games played / minutes totals and moves on after the Hornets refuse to pick up his 2014 option, closing his career on a string of mildly productive runs as an instant-offense spigot off the bench for a few long-in-the-tooth contenders. (I wouldn't be shocked if he was a Celtic in 2014.)
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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 had several perfect scores on last week's last capsules, including Krishnan and Corn. Good work, fellas.
- Player #94 was one of the biggest surprises of last season -- out of nowhere, his offensive numbers from the center position compared well with Dwight Howard.
- Strangely enough, Player #95 appeared in ESPN's playoff lists for both the most disappointing performers and the most surprising. That basically sums up his confusing game.
- This is probably residual ACC bad blood, but I hate Player #96 and his annoying smile. Hate him. Can't deny that he's a decent backup guard, though.