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 Tim Duncan, Jonny Flynn, and Marvin Williams.
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Follow Tim Duncan's example and tweet through .
In doing a series like this, you encounter problems. Most are organizational and motivational. Finding time to write and edit all the copy outside of my time-consuming day job, finding the motivation to keep to my schedule, staving off the desire to skip around in the list, et cetera. Those issues pale in comparison to the one I'm struggling with today, though. If you're writing about anything comprehensive, how do you properly feature your favorite? How do you make a post that's altogether fitting, special, and meaningful to feature the player dearest to you? I've been tending to go philosophical on the more important players -- I've covered Hobbes, Rand, and Dr. Lawyer IndianChief. I've got notes down for future capsules relating the league's brightest lights to ideas espoused by Tolstoy, Gogol, and Kierkegaard -- I've got ideas galore, and all the players in the world to use them on.
But what about Tim Duncan, my favorite player ever? There simply isn't an idea that seems good enough. Everything seems contrived and overwrought. I don't have any personal stories -- I've never met Duncan, and I've never had any personal interaction with him. Basketball itself has gotten me through tough personal turmoil, but there's no particular story I have to share that features Duncan heavily. Talking about his legacy would work, but that seems too impersonal. You see my problem? I've spent weeks dreading this post, knowing that without a good idea of how to approach Duncan, it'll never live up to my brightest hopes. Then, the other day, I was having breakfast and salting my scrambled eggs. And all at once, it hit me. I realized that -- just like Duncan -- the answer was staring right in front of me. Today, at 48 Minutes of Hell, you can read the results of my efforts.
To frame the metaphor I'm going for, let's describe the Spurs. Many pieces have been written likening the San Antonio Spurs to a clockwork machine. The pinpoint offense, the crisp rotations, the sly execution -- all of it combines to create a mechanical process seemingly fated to produce startling on-court success, greater than the sum of its parts. I've always found this an effective metaphor, even if I disagree with those who use it to put down the personality of the Spurs as nonextant or absent. Still, there's something lacking about it. The metaphoric "well-oiled machine" is one of a singular purpose -- a car that goes fast, a clock, an instrument. The Spurs are more akin to a combination of many machines, or a process that everyone takes for granted. The Spurs system involves coaching the players in a position where they succeed, drafting the right players for the role, and developing players as well or better than any team in the league. At every step, the Spurs set new standards and build new cultural mores for the basketball universe.
With such a convolution of moving pieces, simply calling it a machine isn't wide-ranging enough. No -- the Spurs are the basketball equivalent of a network, a process, and a system. And, in fact, I'd argue they're the basketball equivalent of one of man's greatest achievements. Modern first-world civilization is driven by a process so finely tuned, so long-running that it's faded into the background and become a given. People just assume it to be there, without ever really thinking about how astonishing and glorious an achievement it was (and continues to be) for a first world civilization. I refer, of course, to our global food distribution network -- we've taken the specialization of food to an insane extent, putting at the fingertips of first-world countries every sort of comestible we can possibly produce, at any given moment. There's something tremendously beautiful about it -- thousands of years in the making, people 500 years ago could scarcely imagine the convenience of the modern grocery store. It's incredible. And it owes a great debt to refrigeration, and the ongoing study of food preservation.
Before refrigeration? There was salt. Before salt? There was nothing.
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Follow Jonny Flynn on Twitter at @J_Flynn.
Jonny Flynn's career has been something of a disappointment so far, but I can't deny that I really wanted him to work out. While I'm not a connoisseur of the college game, I do catch the occasional high-profile game. And as luck would have it, I somehow managed to make 2009's 6-OT Syracuse-Connecticut tournament game the only full game of Big East play I watched in the 2009 season. And I saw it the whole way through, too! I was just sitting there in my freshman dorm, working on some sketches for my drawing class, when I found myself compelled to watch some of the Big East tournament. I hoofed it to the common room. There was nobody else there, for once, because it was spring break and I was seemingly the only person at Duke that didn't have the funds to justify any sort of trip -- even just a trip home. I had the entire common room to myself. So I did what any self-respecting college student would do -- I made some popcorn, grabbed my laptop, and plopped down to watch the last few minutes of West Virginia's upset blowout of a solid Pittsburgh team in preparation for the last game of the night.
And oh, what a game it was. When it began, there was little sense that it was going to be an all-time classic. Syracuse got out to a nicely sized lead about midway through the first half, and while they were fun to watch, there wasn't any aura of all-time greatness. Just a bunch of college kids playing for keeps in Madison Square Garden. I called a friend of mine, a Syracuse dropout, and asked him to get online so we could comment on the game in concert. After all, it'd be a big upset if the Orange pulled it off. But then Connecticut came back -- and in truth, looking at the play by play, I don't know why I ever felt like they were truly out of it. They were only down five, which speaks to the warping power of retrospection -- a game as close as this turned out to be retrospectively made a five point lead into some kind of insane mountain. Regardless. Connecticut "came back", the game got close, the game got chippy, Kemba Walker made a brilliant last-possession layup to force a tie, and they went to overtime. At this point, my friend and I were pretty entertained, and we made a pact to keep watching until the game finished. But like the Isner-Mahut epic, it refused to finish. The first overtime came and went, with UConn in pole position until Flynn and Rautins staged a grand comeback to tie it again. The second overtime was much the same -- except instead of a grand comeback, Orange tied it with about a minute to go and the Huskies simply couldn't get a score, leading to, well... the third OT.
At this point, you started to see active fatigue from everyone involved -- the announcing crew was getting tired, the players were coping in their own ways, and the coaches were far less animated than they'd been not 30 minutes before. The basketball slowly degraded in quality, reaching a ridiculous low in the anemic, exhausted play from both teams in the fifth overtime -- it roared back with a vengeance to open the sixth, though, as Syracuse decided there was no way they'd lose a game they'd put that much effort into. But all through it all, there was a conductor leading anyone who was even glancingly rooting for the Orange to pull the upset (as I was, thanks in part to my friend). Jonny Flynn was his name, and hype was his game -- like a pint-sized Clipper Darrell, Flynn grinned and grinned and collapsed to the floor at the advent of every new overtime, eyes pinched shut as his laughter rang through the stadium. At one point, he even leaned against the press box and told the announcers -- I'm serious, this happened -- "man, this game is crazy. What? I mean, what?" It was simply amazing. It broke the fourth wall, and took the experience of watching the 6OT thriller from interesting basketball oddity to seminal basketball experience. Flynn's infectious enthusiasm carried the night, and turned everything into a joy.
I'll be honest. When Flynn was drafted, I was REALLY hoping he'd turn out well. I knew the warning signs -- too short, too confident, too bereft in the most cursory of fundamentals. He never had a great three point shot, and while he was a decent passer, it was very easy to imagine that when faced with NBA athleticism the defense would essentially cut his passing game off completely. But I retained my hopes that Flynn would develop into the next pint-sized wonder, a new generational Earl Boykins or a J.J. Barea. This... this didn't happen. He's small and crafty, and he can create space to get his initial shooting form completed, but he's ALWAYS pressured on the release in a way he never was in college. And it detracts from his game, quite a lot. His passing has predictably fallen off in the NBA -- too close to the ground, too predictable, too easy to telegraph. He improved on it last season, but he still played like he was a shoot-first guard, averaging 12 shots per 36 minutes despite producing above average offense from quite literally no area of the court. He doesn't even draw fouls very well. It's really sad, and unless he completely changes his shot and increases his creativity, I'm honestly not sure how he'll get any better. But I'll say this. Bogart and Bergman will always have Paris, Nash and Dirk will always have Dallas, and Flynn and I will always have that one night where it seemed like Flynn would live forever, an infinite conductor of basketball joy and wonder leading an audience through the longest game that may ever be played. I miss that Flynn, but I suppose we'll always have the memories.
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Follow Marvin Williams on Twitter at oh god I have to write about Marvin Williams.
Marvin Williams is interesting more in what he represents than any actual merit or demerit to his game. On the court, Williams is almost entirely average -- he's an average scoring talent who's not particularly amazing at anything in particular but not particularly awful at anything either. He's an average passer for his position, that of a large small forward -- not great, but his passing doesn't exactly kill your team, and at least he's got an assist to turnover ratio over one. He's a decent rebounder -- not a great rebounder by any stretch of the imagination, but a decent one. He'll eat minutes, as well. Not a ton of minutes, mind you -- you can't really play him 33-36 minutes or he'll be prone to injury, but slot him in at 25 to 30 minutes a night and he's golden. He's not young enough that his potential impresses anyone, but he's not old enough to be staring age-related falloff in the face. He's not a good defender, per se, but he won't actively harm your team. He's not good enough to lead your bench unit, but he's so blasted average at everything you're necessarily letting someone who's worse at something than Williams start if you leave him on the bench.
All things considered? Williams is arguably the last of a long-standing breed of overdrafted players that's finally coming to an end. In 2005, Marvin Williams won an NCAA title with Roy Williams and the UNC Tar Heels. He was a freshman. He immediately left college and was drafted second overall. But he wasn't the only UNC player drafted far higher than he should've been -- that team had an astonishing four players taken in the lottery -- Marvin Williams, Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants, and Sean May. You may be surprised to know that out of those four players, not only was Williams the least overdrafted pick, he was actually the most productive. Examine this excellent Basketball Reference post, where Justin Kubatko establishes a formula for the "expected value" of each and every pick in the NBA draft based on their first four years of production. According to Kubatko's EV calculations, not only was Marvin Williams the most productive of all four title-winning UNC picks, he was the least overdrafted as well.
A little hard to read, but the essentials -- this shows UNC's four 2005 lottery picks, as well as the win shares each player produced in their first four seasons. It then shows, given their draft pick's "expected value", what a player of that pick should have produced in their first four seasons. Then it shows their actual value minus their expected value. As you can see? Williams was not the most egregious overdraft from the 2005 UNC title team, and in fact, he was arguably the most deserving of UNC's lottery picks. Indeed, 2005 was a down year for the draft -- there were only four players in the entire draft that produced more in their first four years than their "expected value" would've predicted. If you did a re-draft of the 2005 draft, Williams' first four year production would put him at eighth overall in that anemic class. Still, Williams was clearly over-drafted, and in that sense, the 2005 UNC class arguably the last collective example of their kind. Relative to the previous decade, in the last 4 or 5 years, very few college students have been egregiously over-drafted out of college based on strong postseason performances. Nobody in 2012 was overpicked, I don't think, and in 2011 the only arguable premature selection was Kemba Walker (who admittedly does have some limited upside). In 2010, not a single member of Duke's 2010 title team was drafted into the NBA. Hansbrough and Lawson were drafted in reasonable selections, and Chalmers was actually relatively underpicked after an excellent title run.
Anyway. All things considered, Williams was drafted too highly. In the sum of his NBA career, Williams is an exceedingly average, low-upside talent. He's clearly good enough to play in the NBA and clearly good enough to contribute to a good team. But in what capacity is not so clear. Is he a minutes-sopping wing on a team with no star wings, like the Lakers? Is he a sixth man off the bench to spot minutes for an aging superstar? Not really sure. I do know this. Marvin Williams -- in his distressingly average play -- is a pretty terrible fit for this Jazz team. This is a Jazz team that should be getting Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks all the minutes they can possibly handle -- instead, they're picking up frustratingly average-to-poor veterans and letting Tyrone Corbin play them over their budding high-upside young guns. No, I don't think Williams is a bad player. But he's a player that deserves about 25-30 minutes a game, and on this Jazz team, he absolutely shouldn't be playing 25-30 minutes a game. Yes, Williams only has two more years on the books. He'll be out of there soon. But the entire move just strikes me as picking up an overpriced hard-to-trade asset for the sake of picking up the asset, not really doing any sort of coherent teambuilding. Young players are wonderful, but if you don't get them the minutes they need to make mistakes and build their confidence, they're never going to cash in on their talent. And while the acquisition may make the Jazz a tiny bit better next season, I wonder if the Marvin Williams acquisition really helps with their future.
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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. Yesterday, for the first time in a while, we had a 3/3! Good work Brian. Exemplary guessing.
- The first of last season's Bulls to grace the capsules. I think, next season, they'll wish Player #100 was still a bull.
- ... wait, the RNG seriously is putting Player #101 this close to Duncan... but slightly after him, just like in reality! Oh, RNG.
- It's a 50-50 proposition that Player #102 even sees the court this season. Cavs fans who don't recognize him will continue to get endlessly trolled by that one guy on twitter for it, though.