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 Greg Stiemsma, Vince Carter, and Jordan Farmar.
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Follow Greg Stiemsma on Twitter at @gregstiemsma.
I'm not exactly Greg Stiemsma's biggest fan, nor am I unerringly positive about his potential as a player. After all -- he was a 26-year-old rookie last year with the Celtics, and while he's a decent shot-blocker, he's awful at staying on the court. Absolutely can't resist fouling people, primarily because he's tall and spindly and has slower reaction times than most of his more crafty, more athletic brethren. His instincts are spectacular, hence his amazing block rate and his well-above-average steal rate. But his lacking athleticism puts him at a genuine disadvantage against the majority of NBA centers, to the point that it's not altogether unreasonable to wonder if he'll ever NOT be plagued with massive foul trouble in his career. Again, though -- decent shot blocker, and while his individual defense isn't spectacular (it's good on the whole, especially when he gets switched onto smaller guys, but larger centers mess him up pretty badly), his overall defensive game accounting for his excellent help defense is notably solid and his offensive game is sneakily good. He's got a nice little jumper from within about 20 feet that he's able to get off over just about anyone, if he's in the right position. And while he can't post up whatsoever, he knocks down free throws at a well-above-average rate for a center. So there's that. Still. While I'm not his biggest fan, I'd like you to try and find the time to read this.
It's an interview with Stiemsma and the trainer that quite literally saved his life. You see, Stiemsma had depression, back in college. It manifested itself through a blatant disregard for his studies, resulting in academic probation for a semester and caused a coach to advocate for him and push him forward, past the miasma and the quagmire that had threatened to eat Stiemsma up entirely. All in all, it's a brilliant piece of writing. It does an excellent job putting to paper some of the things that make depression so awful and disturbing to those who suffer with it. It was an absolutely underheralded story, back last January -- in my case, I didn't see it until near the end of the season. And that makes sense. After all, when it was published, the league was shiny and new to the lot of us. Stiemsma didn't look like all that much more than a D-League castaway center, and in general, people don't feature stories about such a player. But the fact remains -- Stiemsma opened up to the press about something most people can barely open up to their families about. He allowed a journalist into the deepest recesses of his life, and offered a startlingly honest portrayal of what it's like to truly suffer from depression. If that's not worthy of respect, I don't know what is.
He's said previously that he didn't want to be a spokesperson for depression, per se, but that in choosing to publicize his struggle and the long road back he wanted to actively fight the stigmas and cultural sticking points associated with depression. To me, that is a very personal struggle and a very noble battle. I've known too many people -- including myself -- who've found themselves muzzled and held back by the way society treats depression at various points in life. A neurosis or a mental illness isn't some problem that's all in a person's head -- it's a disease just like any other. And unfortunately, the way many refuse to treat depression and neurotic behavior as a legitimate illness actively harms the ability of the depressed and the struggling to get help. There's nothing wrong with seeing a therapist, or a psychiatrist, or actively trying to improve your mood and condition through medication and adventures with friends. But the more depression is marginalized as a figment of one's imagination, the more people find themselves driven to incredibly dark measures to get themselves out.
Whenever I read about a depressed person who's lost their battle, I feel lucky. Lucky that I (like Stiemsma) had loved ones, teachers, and friends I felt comfortable reaching out to when I reached rock bottom -- and perhaps more importantly, people who helped counteract the societal pressure I felt to keep it inside and deal with it on my own time. So for my own part, I hold a lot of regard for anyone notable that takes their struggle public and chips away (if only just) at that mountain. That worldly weight that hangs heavy on the shoulders of the depressed and downtrodden. Stiemsma could've simply done what many athletes do -- called it a personal problem, said he needed to spend time with family, and dealt with his depression in the dark. It's what I did, basically -- when I was struggling, there weren't more than 2 or 3 people who even knew I was getting therapy for it. But he chose to go public and continue the slow march towards public acceptance of depression as a legitimate mental illness, and for that, I thank him profusely.
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Follow Vince Carter on Twitter at @mrvincecarter15.
In the aftermath of this year's Dwight Howard saga and last year's Carmelo Anthony boondoggle, I admit, I have more sympathy for him than I did a few years back. It's not that he really handled his Toronto tenure well -- he emphatically didn't, and just as Dwight did, he torpedoed his own trade value and forced his way out in a garish, unsightly way. He spent his last year in a Raptors jersey paying no heed to the concepts of effort or hard work. No, Carter is hardly a saint. But distance makes the heart grow fonder, and in that sense, as we head further down the path of "every single star doing the exact same thing", we start to lose track of why exactly we hated the stars who did it before. Just look at Kareem Abdul Jabbar, perhaps the most egregious trade-demanding jerk to the franchise who drafted him in the history of the league. I like Kareem's game, but it's worth mentioning over and over again -- he completely screwed Milwaukee over and refused to play there despite being three years off one of the most dominant titles in the history of the league. It would've been like LeBron winning the title in 2009 with that excellent Cavs team, then leaving for Miami after personally setting the entirety of downtown Cleveland on fire with gasoline purchased from Art Modell. I like Kareem because he was in Airplane, my favorite movie, but it's hard to deny that he was the prototype for all of today's capricious team-abandoning superstars. It's also hard to deny that virtually nobody remembers it, and thinks of him only through his years as a Laker.
Still, although I have "more" sympathy for Carter now than I did back before LeBron changed the game, it's not significantly more. You know how technically, if you find a penny on the ground, you're "more" wealthy than you were a few minutes ago? Yeah. That's how I'd assess the level of my marginally increased sympathy for Vince Carter. Carter was a once in a generation talent whose natural ability and dazzling athleticism redefined the wing position. He was one of the most popular players ever -- did you know that he led the league in all-star game voting for four of five years between 2000 to 2004 (coming in second only once, narrowly missing the leading vote-getting total to Kobe in 2003)? It's crazy. He was insanely popular, just about as much so as Jordan, Shaq, or Kobe. And he did it in Toronto! It's ridiculous. Statistically, some of Carter's best seasons align favorably with those produced by any guard in the last several decades. But his nadirs are just about as low as any -- you can bemoan the lack of talent around him all you want, but Carter has never led a team to serious contention. In fact, his two "best" years for MVP voting were his second and third year seasons, when he finished 10th and 11th respectively -- he's never broken the top 10 for MVP voting, despite his statistically brilliant career.
Many people watched him, loved him, rooted for him. But his marginal accomplishments have made his overriding legacy less about what we've watched him do and more a legacy of what never was -- his legacy is rooted in the titles he never won, and the competition he never dominated, and the playoff runs he never had. His career isn't highlighted by his statistical achievements or his body of work, it's highlighted by all the elements missing. To the point that I honestly don't think he deserves to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame -- he'd be the first player ever with over 20,000 points in his career left out of the Hall, but really, is there any more fitting end for Carter's career? Vinsanity -- the legend, the myth, the soul-crushing disappointment and the first of his kind. Perhaps the only one of his kind -- much to Toronto's relief.
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Follow Jordan Farmar on Twitter by squinting really hard and making a face.
I'm kind of a hypocrite. I spent the entire Omri Casspi capsule talking about how meaningful Omri's faith was to me as a man of serious Jewish descent. I appreciate Casspi so much, and get a special joy from watching him play. Which is all well and good. But then there's Jordan Farmar. Farmar comes from Jewish descent too. He's arguably a better player than Casspi. He's worked just as hard, paid as many dues, and played a decently important role on two title-winning teams. And yet... I don't really care for or against Farmar. I'm just utterly neutral on him, you know? It might be the Laker thing, combined with the UCLA thing. I don't have a ton against UCLA, but I'm not the biggest fan either, so that's not exactly a mark in his favor. But then Farmar was drafted by the Lakers, a franchise I've never been great shakes for appreciating, and proceeded to disappoint. Really, think about this -- he literally had four years to push a constantly aging, mediocre-at-best Fisher out of his starting spot. He failed miserably. Farmar showed no ability to interface with the Lakers in a way that actively changed their team.
It basically goes like this -- if you couldn't prove you were better than Derek Fisher, there was no way you were starting over a player with his gravitas. Luckily, most point guards in the league can demonstrably prove to be better than Derek Fisher in at least one or two respects -- unluckily for Farmar, he is not most point guards. He's a poor shooter who thinks he's an amazing shooter (only once has he shot above 38% from three, but he still takes 6 three point shots per 36 minutes over his career), he's a point guard with virtually no passing ability (in Los Angeles, he never registered an assist percentage significantly above 20% -- absolutely abysmal for a point guard), and he gets caught sleeping on defense all the time. And what's worse? By the time he was nearing the end of his time in Los Angeles, he was actively demanding starter's minutes and a starting spot over Fisher. Which would be fine, if it was some kind of tragedy that he wasn't getting the starting nod -- it wasn't. Virtually every guard in the league could make a reasonable case that they deserved to start over Derek Fisher, but Farmar was so disappointing in Los Angeles he could hardly make that case for himself. Simply ridiculous.
Still. He's relatively young, so I suppose there's still a small bit of room for improvement. And it's worth noting that he's been quietly better in New Jersey than he was in Los Angeles -- he's shot the three ball better, he's passed WAY better outside of the triangle, and while he's been awfully turnover prone, he hasn't explicitly hurt his team on the court. I kind of liked his fit in Atlanta, until they waived him and decided to trade for Devin Harris. Now? He's off to Turkey, playing with Anadolu Efes in Istanbul on a three-year deal. He's making $10.5 million over those three years, which is an absolutely solid contract for a guy who will most likely emerge as a dominant international point guard. Still, I suppose this is something of a requiem to his NBA career. Jordan Farmar was better in New Jersey than he was in Los Angeles, and the triangle probably hurt his game more than anything Jackson, Fisher, or Kobe did to him. Still. He was something of a Jewish icon in Los Angeles, but from my perspective, not one I really cared for or against that much. So here's to you, Jordan Farmar. A bit disappointing, a bit underwhelming, and a bit... gone.
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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. Everyone thought Stiemsma was going to be Scalabrine, and I admit, I kind of made that an intentional red herring. Best was 2/3, from many people. If the riddle's too easy, sometimes it's a misdirection! (Why? Because I'm a jerk! Take that!) Anyway.
- Barely anyone remembers what Player #109 did in 2011 anymore. So let's remember. Will appear... elsewhere.
- Surprises people to realize that Player #110 is so easy to root for. But he is -- he's fantastic.
- While Player #111 is absolutely DOMINANT defensively, he's also injured -- I really hope those subside, though.