Player Capsules 2012, #124-126: Hasheem Thabeet, Rajon Rondo, Baron Davis

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 Hasheem Thabeet, Rajon Rondo, and Baron Davis.

• • •

Follow Hasheem Thabeet on Twitter at @HasheemTheDream.

Has Hasheem Thabeet succeeded? I find this a more interesting question for Thabeet than I do for most players. If you're looking at it from the right context, for most players, the answer is usually an unqualified affirmative. Few NBA players could make the sort of money they make in their sport elsewhere. Few NBA talents come from wealth -- by playing in the NBA and entertaining millions, they've made more money than they'd have possibly made in their lives, and opened their lives up to a plethora of new experiences they wouldn't have otherwise had.  They work on their game for years and years, spending untold hours in the weight room and keeping their bodies in peak physical condition to play a beautiful game for a discerning audience. You get to be one of the several hundred greatest-on-earth at the game you love, and you get to live a ridiculous lifestyle. How cool is that?

On the other hand, you have players like Hasheem Thabeet, who have been tarnished with the label of an eternal, bottomless bust. A seven foot stiff that "wouldn't be in the game" if it wasn't for his height. A failure on the court, if nothing else. Thabeet was drafted at 2nd overall, and it's worth noting that even at the time this was seen as something of a reach. For instance, Bill Simmons called him "either a homeless man's Dikembe Mutombo or a rich man's Keith Closs Jr." Not exactly sparkling praise. People weren't really sure what to make of anyone past the first pick in the 2009 draft, and while it's true that Thabeet has disappointed relative to his draft position (I count at least 25 players selected after Thabeet that have up-to-now had better NBA careers), it's hard to really argue that at the time Thabeet was any especially hyped up or expectation-laden second pick. He was just an overdrafted player that nobody expected huge things out of. This is what bugs me about the concept of a "bust." We're necessarily decoupling the player from his humanity and turning him into a concept -- some sort of icon for severe disappointment.

Look, Thabeet is reasonably good at basketball. He's no amazing player, but he's proven to be effective in limited minutes as an off-the-bench change of pace for numerous teams. He was decent in college, if not sea changing. On next year's Thunder, I expect him to play 7-10 minutes a night and be instrumental in a win or two for one of the finest teams in the NBA. It's not great, but hell -- look at where he came from. Thabeet comes from Tanzania, and is actually the first ever NBA player from his country. He'll finish his career having made around $20,000,000 in U.S. dollars -- given the current exchange rate ($1.00 U.S. dollar = 1,572 Tanzanian Shillings as of August 29th, 2012), Thabeet may very well be among the 10 richest Tanzanians in the world! Only by decoupling Thabeet's broader life can we really come to the conclusion that he's some kind of a failure. He may not be as great an NBA player as we'd like him to be, but it's not like he's dramatically underperformed the already-low expectations he had coming in. And relative to his background, he's done some pretty amazing stuff. That's context that I think is essential to grasp Thabeet's place in both life and the NBA, and to understand what makes him interesting. Even if he's a veritably penniless man's Dikembe Mutombo. (Which he basically is. Reasonably good call, Simmons.)

• • •

 

Follow Rajon Rondo on Twitter at @RajonRondo.

Let's say I'm examining an NBA player. He's Team #1's primary man in the middle -- he played 2,838 minutes in the season we're focusing on, over 70% of the minutes available for the team. No other big on the team came remotely close. Let's say the team he plays for is a winning team -- in this case, a team that just made a conference finals! It's a really good team, but not a great team. Now, let's say Team #1 has a rather... unique way of winning games. They rated out over a full season as the 23rd out of 30 teams, defensively -- offensively, however, they were #1 with a bullet. Absolutely dominant. But their defense? Hide the children, seriously. Team #1 barely ever forced turnovers, and while they kept teams to a league-average field goal percentage, it didn't really matter that much when they can't get a rebound to save their lives. It was bad. Even though they were 23rd of 30, they were barely a point out of 25th in the league. It's rough. Very one-sided team. The thought process would generally lead to some element of blame. Some aspect of "hey, Mr. NBA Center, please play better defense. This is your fault." You look at their offensive dominance and wonder just how incredible the team would be if the center could really play defense.

What I just described was the situation of Amare Stoudemire and the 2010 Phoenix Suns. The Suns were a good team, but not a great one. And there was a strange, surreal ceiling to the Suns teams that featured him. He was fated to carry them offensively but disappoint defensively, and always bore the brunt of the blame for the Suns' constantly failing defense. After all, he was the big man. Controlling the defense is the primary responsibility of a team's largest player -- that's as close to gospel as you can get, in this sport. So, I present this question to you. If we're going to blame a primary big man for a team's defense consistently failing, why don't we blame the primary playmaker for a team's offense consistently failing? That question -- and the implications thereof -- brings us to today's main player. I don't want to bash Rajon Rondo, because I think he's a wonderful player to watch. Some call him immature -- I'd simply call him a loveable weirdo who doesn't seem to take the media too seriously. His oddness is refreshing, and while I doubt I'll get too far into it today, I highly recommend checking these videos out. Rondo is great, in a lot of ways.

But let's get real: at what point does Rondo need to bear some element of responsibility for Boston's abysmal offense? Don't cut corners -- the Boston offense is exactly that. The Suns defense I described finished as the 23rd worst defense in the league. Boston's offensive rating in the 2012 season tied the Wizards and Pistons as the 27th worst in the league. Relative to league average, it was significantly worse than the 2010 Suns, and among the worst ever to make a conference finals. If we're divvying up "credit" for the Suns performance, I don't know how you point out anyone but Amare. He was the primary defender on all those blown coverages. Amare's reputation has always included as an asterisk his defensive failings -- it's always included his inability to properly cover, and the odd habit he's got of being the primary defensive center on teams that are abysmal at defense. That's just part of the package. As for the Celtics' awful offense, how do you really point to anyone but Rondo as the catalyst? There isn't a single team in the league with the offensive weaponry of the Celtics in their stratosphere of offensive teams -- they had a 40% three point shooter, one of the best midrange big men in basketball, and a still-potent, efficient, volume-shooting wing. And various nice pieces off the bench, too!

It isn't that Rondo's a bad player, at all, but this is an honest to God curiosity for me -- why is it that basketball fans as a collective pillory big men whose teams are defensively suspect but completely excuse point guards who helm demonstrably bad offenses? The Celtics' offense is the epitome of drudgery. It's "give the ball to Rondo and let him do everything." He creates a lot of decent shots, but not a surfeit of great shots -- the Celtics offense is based around moving pieces trying to get open around a point guard who's great at passing, and taking the shot whether it's still open or not. It's a relatively uncreative design for an offense with so many good offensive pieces, and you have to wonder whether there's a better way. Rondo's passing is a work of art. It's a Dali, a Pollock, a Chavel. But in basketball, you play the game to a measure of results -- the aestheticism is compelling, and can at times be more than enough. But aestheticism shouldn't (and can't) completely erase the facts of a situation. I love watching Stephon Marbury (when he's not playing next to Duncan, obviously), but that doesn't mean I excuse the fact that he's an incredibly inefficient player.

In the same way, as fun as Rondo is to watch, you really have to wonder when people are going to catch on to the dirty little secret that underlines his beautiful game. He's a great passer, in a vacuum. But if we're assessing how much a singular player contributes to their team, it's hard to dock Rondo some for the dismal offense he's responsible for. Blame Doc some-- he deserves some for putting together a poor scheme like that around a player with Rondo's talents. But some has to be on Rondo. The idea that the Boston offense would be markedly worse without Rondo seems flawed to me -- if you took Rondo out and replaced him with a point guard that could generate more efficient offense of their own alongside worse passing like Stephen Curry or Ty Lawson, are we really saying that players like Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett would find themselves completely unable to make a shot?

The problem with assigning paramount post-aesthetic value to Rondo's passing and offense is that you are necessarily assuming that to be the case. You're saying that an offense that ranked 27th out of 30 teams would suddenly collapse unto itself, a black hole of dust and woe, if Rondo left the picture. That a team with those pieces and that bench would suddenly become the worst offense in the history of the sport. Because there's little room to fall beyond where they already are. His aesthetics are doubtlessly incomparable, and I've no problem with calling him things like the most entertaining player in the game, or the best showman in the sport. Where I find fault is when we conflate his incredible showmanship with efficient and effective usage of the pieces around him, and assign incomparable basketball value to a player whose presence isn't demonstrably sea-changing in the aspect of the game he's most attuned to impact. After all. He's an incredible player, and a very valuable piece. But the results that underly Amare's defensive failings will never leave our thoughts, and will never allow us to exogenize our distaste for his teams' defense in favor of a unbiased look at his career.

If that's the case, whither Rondo?

• • •

Follow Baron Davis on Twitter at @Baron_Davis.

It's rather strange to look at Baron Davis' numbers and facts to realize how little time he has left. After all, consider his age -- he's 33 years old, right now, a solid 5 years younger than Steve Nash and 6 younger than Jason Kidd. Both of those guys just got two year contracts. Unlike those two, though, Davis recently suffered what may turn out to be a career-ending injury -- he went through an exceedingly brutal injury in the 2012 playoffs where he not only completely tore his ACL and MCL, he also suffered a partial tear of his patella tendon. As Knickerblogger pointed out at the time, a tendon injury like that isn't an injury players tend to whistle their way back from -- when Antonio McDyess suffered a similar tear, he missed 72 games of the 2001 season to try and recover. He then proceeded to completely tear the tendon in the 2002 preseason and missed another entire season. Given that he's out for the entirety of the 2013 season and may still be recovering when 2014 begins, it's exceedingly unlikely Davis makes a big comeback. His numbers have been declining for years, and he hasn't really been capital-B Baron since 2008.

Still, if this is really it, what is there really to say about a player like Davis? As compelling as he's been -- the wonder of leading the 2007 Warriors to the biggest upset ever can never be taken away -- there is certainly a sense that he's left something on the table. His abysmal conditioning throughout his career didn't cause his career-ending injury, but it couldn't have helped him recover from all the minor injuries he's suffered over the years. Despite the disappointments, Davis is the 37th highest earning player in NBA history. That's a suitably absurd place for Davis to be, in-context. He hasn't been a failure, necessarily -- there have been brilliant successes in his career, and there have been awful nadirs. A bit of a disappointment in totality, but hand wringing over that doesn't erase the fact that Davis has made hundreds of millions of dollars and will likely make even more in a variety of entertaining post-retirement moves. He's a smart guy, a cerebral guy, and an entertainer through and through. If we aren't making the case that he's an all-time elite (and, well, nobody in the known universe is), that's about all one can really ask for, isn't it?

• • •

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. A friend of mine from work got 2/3, as did "my funeral" (?!?!?!?), and mgallop from the comments. Good work folks.

  • The most famous Czech in Serbia, Player #127 has avoided making a serious impact in the NBA. (Yet.)
  • He was a revelation in last year's playoffs, but I've got doubts that Player #128 can play with CP3.
  • After Player #129 does anything on the court, the only reaction allowed is "CARLOS!"

I shall now prepare to be lit on fire by the people of Twitter. See you tomorrow if I'm still alive, friends.

19 comments on “Player Capsules 2012, #124-126: Hasheem Thabeet, Rajon Rondo, Baron Davis

  1. I watched the Celtics last year and they were bad offensively! They were also terrible at rebounding and second chance points. Just terrible so could that have an impact as well? I will say this though: when they played elite teams (i.e. Knicks, Heat, Lakers, Bulls) they were good. Those teams are Rondo's favorite teams to play against. He turns it up then. I guess I hadn't thought of that about Rondo but here's something else: I cringed anytime Rondo or KG sat down. That bench was not good! No one outside of Paul Pierce can create their own shot. Rondo has to force feed everyone especially Brandon Bass who has no post-game. I also hated that offensive set with Rondo pounding the ball at the top of the key waiting for Ray to get open and then having to throw up a bad shot b/c Ray couldn't. While I love Doc and his coaching, I think its time Doc change some sets. I don't want to say some of the pieces around him don't fit with his type of game but this capsule is great food for thought.

    • The first note regarding the rebounding/second chance posits a good point. And as someone else noted on Twitter, the Celtics were primarily a jump shooting team. They didn't create a bunch of easy baskets or free throws. But I'd argue that drives home my point -- Rondo creates a bunch of pretty baskets, but not necessarily a bunch of effective baskets. He didn't set up a lot of baskets where it was even remotely possible for any Celtic player to turn a miss into second chance points or free throws. I don't really have the numbers on it, but I'd have to think that in terms of "free throw assists" (IE, possessions where a PG gets the ball in only for the other team to immediately foul), Rondo has to rank pretty low among elite point guards on that leaderboard. That's on him, at least to some degree.

      Also, you're probably right that I overstated the Celtics bench. While they couldn't create their own shots, though, they had some specialists with effective individual shots. Four players on the Celtics shot over 36% from three, and Pietrus (historically) has been around that level. Stiemsma and Wilcox proved effective at finishing if you lobbed it in correctly and ran a set to flash them open. There were so many theoretical plays that could've been run with that roster to make the offense a tad bit easier, I think. My point with Rondo isn't that he's a bad player, but that for Rondo to deserve the superlatives most anoint him with, it would need to be the case that replacing Rondo with an average everyday point guard would result in the Celtics being the worst offense in the history of the human race.

      You can potentially defend that position, I suppose, but I don't personally buy it. Rondo is a solid player, aesthetically genius, and among the best point guards in the league. But there's a clear separation between Rondo's outcomes and the outcomes of a rarefied elite sphere that CP3, Deron, Parker, Rose, and Westbrook are in. And I'd argue that it's more likely Kyrie's there this season than Rondo. But perhaps that's just me.

      • I agree that CP3, Rose, etc. are great. While I really like Westbrook as a player/person, its hard for me to buy him as a pg. I do think the media undervalues what he does for his team b/c OKC needs his scoring as much as they need Durant's. I completely understand what you're saying. Not trying to argue with you. Just exploring the elements in play with a bad offense. Do you think he needs to be in a high octane offense and that Celtics need to hire an assistant offensive coach who can help them get better production especially with the some of the young cast he has now?

      • I'm a Celtics fan but also one less than enamored with how Rondo and Doc choose to run the offense so I'm inclined to agree with your assessment of Rondo. I've had enough with the endless number of 2 point jumpshots and never, I mean, never trying to run it back at the opponent after giving up a basket, among many things. I'm not sure it's tracked but I'd be willing to bet that Rondo creates the fewest number of three point shots of any point guard in the league. He just loves creating 18 footers rather than threes. I don't understand. Put that together with the slow pace that involves taking a lot of shots near the end of a shot clock, when efficiency tends to plummet and a paltry number of free throws, which tends to happen when all you're doing is jumpshootin', and you have a recipe for a putrid offense on paper and to watch.

        Concerning the lack of offensive rebounds, while Celtics haven't had good offensive rebounders in their lineup the last few years, mid-range shots statistically lead to the fewest number of offensive rebounds. On a related note, the Celtics take a truckload of mid-range and long 2 point jumpers.

        • How can Rondo create any other shots better than 18 footers if his teammates are incapable of creating their own shot? What Rondo does is inefficient, but only because of his teammates. The only "post" player they legitimately have is Garnett, and he's even better when he's not on the post taking his long 2. There's not much Rondo can do, but replacing Rondo with an average point guard would make the team worse. Replacing Rondo with an elite PG (Rose/CP3/Deron) wouldn't necessarily make it that much better with the exception that the elite point guards can actually shoot unlike Rondo.

  2. While I have to admit Rondo does deserve blame for the Celtic's offense, I think that his teammates aren't as offensively dynamic as it might seem. Allen is a terrific 3-pt shooter, but that's essentially ALL he does at this point, and he almost refuses to take a 3 that is not wide open even though with his quick release he should be able to drop 3s over most players' outstretched arms. The other guys on the team (Pierce, Garnett, and Bass) all excel at mid-range jump shots, and end up taking a lot of those. They convert at a pretty nice rate, but it's still one of the most inefficient shots in basketball. Before Avery Bradley started playing well mid-season, it was rare for a Celtic other than Rondo to make a cut to the basket (and Rondo usually either has the ball in his hands or is clearing out for a Pierce ISO), which made the offense very predictable and easy to defend.

    Also, watching Rondo run out ahead of all of his teammates in transition, and then have to stop and wait for them to catch up is really depressing. There was this game on ESPN between Dallas and Boston I remember watching where this happened over and over again. Rondo ended up having to try to score 1-on-2+ several times. Part of this was because some of the Celtics were out of shape early in the season, but the basic idea remains true. But if Rondo can't take advantage of new younger teammates like Courtney Lee, Avery Bradley (when he gets healthy), and Jeff Green, then it's probably fair to put some more blame on him.

  3. I hate to ride the wave of the crowd, but it really does feel like the next capsule is:

    Jan Vesely
    Eric Bledsoe
    Carlos Boozer

  4. Just because a player like Lawson or Curry might make the offense a bit better (because of better shooting ability) does not equate to a better 2011-2012 team. And it would only be a bit better offensively, because while Rondo definitely deserves some blame for the abysmal offense of the C's this prior season, I don't believe he was the primary catalyst.

    The Celtics ranked 30th in rebounds. This means less possessions. Which leads to less opportunities to score. Also let's remember the last time the C's had a above league average offense was I believe in the 08-09 season. The Big Three were younger and the ability to do more offensively than now. They could create more than they are capable of now. It was said by a SI.com writer "In other words, Rondo might be blessed with dreamy shooters everywhere, but his burden to create looks for those shooters has probably grown too large. Who’s to say Rondo wouldn’t thrive if you gave him a bit less shooting and a bit more off-the-dribble help? Boston’s roster provides Rondo with shooting he badly needs, but as the talent surrounding him has aged, it no longer provides him with enough reliable secondary shot creation."

    I believe that the atrocious rebounding situation and the the aforementioned problems with the Big Three's decline shot creation also contributed to the creation of the Celtics awful offense this past season. Most critics of Rondo often solely blame him primarily because he is the easiest to blame (due to his poor offensive perception) but fail to see how the flawed offensive system (sorry Doc) and its reliance on the Big Three factor greatly into the issue. That's why it was so important for Ray Allen to come off the bench. The team was not only better defensively but the offense was more efficient as well. I don't hear this mentioned much however.

    But back to my primary point which is: better offense does not necessarily make a better team. This Celtics team that was sub .500 prior to the ASG break and advanced to the conference finals to push the eventual champs to 7 games. Elite defense had much to do with this of course. Which is where the C's thrived. Without this defense and Rondo's great postseason excellence (along with the excellence of revitalized KG) the Celtics do not get that far with a better shooting but average PG. What Rondo brings to the team just isn't quantifiable like that. This is why he was the primary target for Coach Spoelstra during the series. Look at his comments during that series about Rondo. That postseason run is the outcome and result that should be cared about. A lot of teams (26) had a much much better offense, but only two got further than the C's did last postseason.

    I suspect that with the younger pieces and the departure of Allen (and much better rebounding)the Celtics offense this season will improve much from last season. But we shall see.

  5. I'll just pad you on the back, Andy. This series is great. I'm European and just getting into the NBA so this series is extremely useful to get a hold on basically every player in the league - I'm sure it'll also come in handy during the season as reference - very good work.

  6. I agree that Rondo deserves some of the blame for the Celtics issues; however, it cannot be overstated how bad the Celtics were on the offensive glass. I did a search on basketball-reference for a teams with ORB% rates under 21% and I got only two teams, a 26 win Golden State team and last season's Celtics, who are only team ever to finish with less 20% ORB%. Also, as evidence that some of that issue is just about aging players, their DRB% rate was the worst of the big three era this year as well. From 2008-2011, they ranked #8, #3, #12, & #9 in DRB% and last season in 2012, they were ranked #20.

    http://www.basketball-reference.com/play-index/tsl_finder.cgi?request=1&match=single&type=team_totals&lg_id=NBA&year_min=&year_max=&franch_id=&c1stat=orb_pct&c1comp=lt&c1val=21&c2stat=&c2comp=gt&c2val=&c3stat=&c3comp=gt&c3val=&c4stat=&c4comp=gt&c4val=&order_by=year_id&order_by_asc=Y

  7. I also think that the Celtics' offensive ranking from the whole of last season is a pretty problematic reflection of their true level. They had a historically atrocious first half and a dominant finish to the season, including offensively. Lots of reasons to tease out for the shift (Pierce and Garnett came out of the gates performing shockingly below their standards for lockout-related conditioning and training reasons; KG moving the the 5, Allen moving to the bench; small sample size amplifying the apparent effect of underlying changes), but for all that, it was drastic. For the 2012 Cs more than any other team I can think of, simply going with the average offensive performance over the whole season is going to hide a lot of meaningful stuff.

  8. Pingback: The Best of the Rest: Who Killed MIA and SAS? | Gothic Ginobili

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