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 Paul Pierce, Shane Battier, Al Horford.
Follow Paul Pierce on Twitter at @paulpierce34.
Sometimes, when writing about certain players, my thoughts run long and I end up with something far too long to turn into a subsection of these three-player packages. I’m making it a point to explicitly allow the leeway to produce those sorts of long capsules, but I’m trying to also use them as an opportunity to spread word of the project to new readers. To that end, I’m going to take these super-long post-sized capsules and spread them to different institutions we’re partnering with. Today, Paul Pierce’s capsule goes up at Hardwood Paroxysm. In it I share a personal story about a man named Max, and try to reconcile my general distaste for Paul Pierce with the facts about his life and game.
Some will bring up Pierce's gang ties for a reason they hate him. I think that's a bit ridiculous. While Pierce was fined by the league for throwing up an ersatz gang sign back in 2008, he denied it heavily and pointed out that it would be kind of absurd for a person with a foundation dedicated to keeping kids out of gangs and off the streets to be throwing up gang signs on purpose. And it's worth noting that Pierce has faced more hardship than most -- his father abandoned his family at the age of six, and Pierce has always dealt with that with a maturity far outstripping his years. You may mention the ridiculous wheelchair moment all you want -- I can name exactly zero other NBA stars who came back within the week after being stabbed 11 times. And having to go through lung surgery to fix puncture wounds to the lungs. And only getting stabbed for trying to break up a fight before it got violent. It's not exactly a common feat. Pierce exudes toughness, grit, and a highly respectable fortitude. Sure, he may be a little annoying on the court (although, again, he and Kobe are the models most expect and demand younger players emulate, so the annoying qualities can hardly be considered as such in the broad scheme of things), but his off-court steadfastness and respectability tends to indicate a person better than he generally gets credit for.
And, again. I kind of hate him.
Follow Shane Battier on Twitter at @ShaneBattier.
I can't be the only person in the world who thinks Battier is somewhat overrated, right? I'll admit -- in his prime, he was a defensive force, and a genuinely talented all-defensive type that changed the game (in the regular season only) for numerous teams. His run this year with the Miami Heat has redefined his legacy, a tad. Some have taken to calling Battier one of the keys to the Heat's run, and point to his incredible work ethic and genuinely excellent ability to play the press. They also point to a downright excellent NBA finals, where Battier sunk seemingly every open three he got and played "gritty" defense for the team that won. But a single series doesn't make the man, and a single (excellent) New York Times profile shouldn't make us unable to register several evident facts about Battier's current game. While he scouts with the best of them, Battier's lost the versatile lateral mobility that made him a notably tough defensive player back when he was younger.
He's still good, mind you, but he's not exceptional. And when you combine his falling-off defense with his offense (never lights out, Battier can only convert 50% of his shots at the rim and just barely reaches the 33% mendoza line from the three point line, despite playing with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to open up the arc), you get a picture of a player who isn't long for the league. Regardless of his solid NBA finals performance. This may seem a bit caustic for a player whose personality is hilarious and whose general demeanor is a breath of fresh air. He's a nice guy. I don't personally mind him. I admit that. This general desire to disprove theories that Battier is some amazing player could be a result of a bias that's not Battier's fault. To try and explain my bias, let's go over a story.
I was at a showing of one of Duke's final four matchup against West Virginia in 2010, in Cameron Stadium. There were some frat boys sitting behind me, because at Duke, that's virtually always the case. They were talking about Duke's retired jerseys, and pointing up at them. I was working on some coursework, as it was one of the last breaks in the game and I had to get back into "doing work" mode. They suddenly get to Shane Battier. One of them yells "BATTIER, YEAH!" and slaps the other one hard on the back. Some beer splashes onto the back of my head, so I turn up and hear the following.
"Yeah, dude, that's my favorite player of all time. He's literally the greatest to play the game."
"... wait, what? Legit? What about like... Michael Jordan, bro?"
"Haha, dude, that's crazy."
"My bro Shane is mad underrated, are you one of those #*$# who don't know the score?"
"Uh... I guess so, I think he's pretty average and stuff, I mean he's real good but like nah dude."
"Holy *#@$ dude $*#& you holy $&*#."
"Shane Battier is one of the greatest players alive and you just have to live with it."
"Easily top ten in the NBA and the only players better are Carlos Boozer and Kobe Bryant so suck my $#&@."
"... are you joking?"
"DOES IT LOOK LIKE I'M JOKING, @#&%$???"
He then proceeded to storm out of Cameron stadium and throw his beer at a random bystander. ("No, sir, it does not look like you're joking.") Given that he and his friend had cheered when Da'Sean Butler was injured, I wasn't all that sorry to see him go. But it remains to this day among the most hilarious "basketball facts" I've heard someone share without shame or remorse, and has inspired within me a constant desire to make sure nobody ever thinks remotely similar things about Shane Battier again. Sorry, Shane. I don't mind you or anything, but some Duke fratstars made this my personal goal. It's nothing personal. You understand, right?
Follow Al Horford on Twitter at @Al_Horford.
I don't think there are many people who understand how good Horford is, when he's on the court. Seriously. For the past two or three years, I've been waiting for him to have a fully healthy year where people actually watch the Hawks and start to understand how lights out he's been for that team. Nothing going. Last year in particular, Horford was injured virtually all season long. The year before that? He was injured in the playoffs, leading to constant talk of how he wasn't good enough to hack it there. After all, the 2011 Hawks went on one of the better-looking playoff runs in the last decade -- they made it to the second round, but not in a fluky sort of tedious way. They dominated the Magic, then they legitimately challenged the Bulls. And they did it with Horford injured and playing poorly. It was refreshing, in some ways, but it was also distressing -- it just contributed to the layman's view of Horford as a genuinely useless (or at least tertiary) player to Atlanta's core. Which is absurd. He's been their best player since he turned 23 and he'll be their best player for years and years to come.
There are a lot of people who don't feel Al Horford has deserved his multiple all-star nods. I think that's pretty absurd. It's true that Horford's position has been miscast for virtually his entire career -- the man's a floor-spread power forward who tends to operate from the post when he's not spotting up to spread the floor, not a bruising center that requires to be in the post at all times. But his miscast role hasn't stopped him from being brilliantly productive in his minutes. He's one of the better floor-spacing power forwards in the league, and for his career, he's shot an incredible 47% from the long midrange. Wondering where that ranks among the league? Consider this. Last season, only eight players in the entire league matched Horford's career average from that distance. Which, suffice to say, is pretty insane. He also shoots, for his career, over 70% on at-rim shots and 42% on "true midrange" shots. While he doesn't hog the ball or demand more touches, he's about as efficient as a player could possibly be with the touches he gets. His only real flaw is a somewhat lacking suite of post moves -- admittedly, the Hawks don't tend to enter the ball to him in the post in very good situations, but there's no doubt that Horford needs to get better at converting from the low post.
As for his tertiaries, you can't find much to impugn there either. He's not among the best rebounding talents in the game, but he's certainly good enough, and he'll get you a double double in decent minutes with relative ease. He's a lights-out passer, too -- in 2011 (his last healthy season), Horford sported 3.5 assists a night. That was by far the best among centers in the league. And even if you compare him to players at his natural position of power forward, the only players that season who matched him in assists per 48 minutes were Lamar Odom and Tim Duncan. His assist rate was less than a percentage point separated from Mike Bibby, who played big minutes at point guard for the finals runner-up Heat. As for his defense, that's not a place to knock him either. He's not a natural center, and the numbers show it. If you look at Horford's splits, throughout his career, he's virtually always defended centers worse than power forwards and wings. He's an amazing switch-defender. But he doesn't do an outright bad job covering centers, he simply doesn't do an excellent job. Against power forwards, he's one of the better defenders in the league -- if the Hawks would pick up an actual center to put next to Horford, they'd be much improved.
Basically? Horford was (and still is) great. The only two real knocks on his game you can come up with in good conscience is to point out that it isn't exciting and his conditioning is a mite bit suspect. He's easily fatigued, essentially. Isn't a great fourth quarter player, because he tends to be exhausted by the end of games and the moves that dominated the first few quarters fail at the close. You could argue that his poor conditioning is a contributing factor to Horford's injury woes, but that's a pretty tenuous case to make. He's an excellent player who works hard and produces at the absolute peak of what he could possibly produce. And the best part? That contract. Horford is locked in through a period that may span his entire prime making $12 million a year for the production of a slightly sub-max player. It's a ridiculous coup for an Atlanta front office that isn't used to making them, and I'll admit... I've got some hopes that a surprising Hawks team this season that finally emerges from the dredgery of iso-Joe and Woodson-style hardball forces people to pay attention to Horford. He's good, alright? Better than most people think. I promise.
• • •
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. Bunch of 2/3s, no 3/3s. Big announcement for the day? We're doing a soft rollout of a new database structure we're using to organize the capsules, located here. We're still working out the kinks, but try it out -- you can filter by team, sort by age, or do all manner of cool things to our broader list of capsules. It's really rad. Big ups to Alex Dewey, who did the backend coding of the database. Now for today's riddles.
- The Cavaliers spent absolutely nothing to acquire Player #121. It was still too high a price.
- Player #122's importance to the Heat was made explicitly obvious in the playoffs last year. But does Taco Bell know?
- One of John Krolik's favorite players. Hard to really dislike Player #123 after that documentary, unless you actually have to watch him play.