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 Rasual Butler, Udonis Haslem, Deron Williams.
Follow Rasual Butler on Twitter at @RasualButler45.
To be totally honest with you, I'm not really sure why Butler made the list. I don't really have much to say about him. I suppose the whole idea here -- write something about every player in the NBA -- wouldn't be such an absurd and ridiculous goal if there weren't some challenging ones. So here's me, trying to think about a player I haven't paid attention to in-game for seemingly years, with very little of interest on a personal level. I mean, don't get me wrong and assume the worst -- Butler is a strongly religious person, according to some NBA bios. Big bible man. He has a daughter, and does a heck of a lot more charity work than most NBA players. Very respectable, very neat, but perhaps a little hard to really say much about other than an expression of my utmost respect. So I grant that, but again, not really a subject to focus a whole capsule on. I guess there's that time he accidentally posted filthy pictures on twitter. That was kind of funny. I mean, it wasn't like "Airplane" funny or anything but it was kinda funny in the same way that awful live-action Avatar movie was funny.
Realistically, Butler has had one foot out the door for quite some time. He hasn't put up a field goal percentage above 40% since the Precambrian era (... or the 2010 season, whatever floats your boat), and despite the fact that most people know him as a sharpshooter, he hasn't put up an above-league-average three point percentage since the 2009 season. (Which was, I might add, the last time he played with Chris Paul.) Butler has a few nice skills -- he's a nice rebounder from the large-guard position, for his slim build, and over his career he's had very solid ball control. Now, granted, this is mostly because he absolutely never puts the ball on the floor. But per-possession, Butler's 2008 season was the greatest low-turnover-rate season of all time. Which is cool. You don't really want your hired gun sharpshooter turning the ball over all the time, that's just silly. That would be like hiring someone to mow your lawn and then finding that while he mowed the lawn, he also left dead bodies all over your lawn the next day. Sure, you may have done what I asked and mowed the lawn, but seriously, what is wrong with you don't leave dead bodies on my lawn I thought we had a deal. Exactly the same thing as the situation we're talking about. Definitely.
The situation of sharpshooters who end up dominating the ball and turning it over (or worse, not dominating the ball and still turning it over a lot) is a relatively common one, and it inevitably comes back to bite the teams that pick the wrong sharpshooters. For much of his career, Butler was one of the right sharpshooters. Now he's well over 33 years old, and he isn't. At all. He had a relatively prolific 10-year NBA career, and he made a startling $20,000,000 over the course of it. Butler isn't a very recognizable player, isn't a very good player (anymore), and doesn't really have a ton to talk about. As Basketball Reference clued me in on, his hall of fame percentage is a legit "0.000". Which actually got me thinking -- if you were an NBA player, and you saw on Basketball Reference that you had a hall of fame percentage of zero percent, wouldn't that feel kinda crummy? Poor guy. Well, I've got some news for you, Rasual Butler. If you're feeling bad, don't worry. There's a 100% chance that I'll feature you in a 2012 Player Capsule.
(There's also a 100% chance that I've run out of things to say about Rasual Butler. So... make that past-tense.)
Follow Udonis Haslem on Twitter at @ThisIsUD.
What a contract, right? At the time he signed his current deal, most people thought the Heat picked up Haslem at an incredibly solid value-deal, and a huge discount. While that may have been true at the time, in practice, Haslem's contract may come back to bite the Heat. Now, in fact, I'd argue their franchise loyalty to a Miami stalwart might've hurt them -- if they'd gone for a larger dollar figure in lesser years, then the mistake would be easily fixable. But they didn't. Now, Haslem is getting around $5 million dollars every year for the next three, despite putting up some positively dismal performances for the 2011 and 2012 Heat. Haslem is on the wrong side of 30, and unfortunately for the Heat, they'll be paying him until he's 35. In general, when a player has a down year after the age of 30 and things go poorly, you hope they'll recoup the next season. Haslem emphatically didn't in 2012, and arguably did considerably worse than he did in the 2011 season. He shot worse, he rebounded less, and he turned the ball over more. Not a good look.
The sad thing for Haslem now has to be looking at his performance and wishing he was simply a year or two younger -- back in the pre-Heatles days, Haslem was a relatively versatile, useful player. If Bosh was playing the five, the sweet-shooting longball Haslem of yore would've been a great fit for floor spacing purposes and defensive purposes. It would invert the usual orientation of an NBA offense (I.E., two shooters at the bigs to open the floor for two post-operating slashing wings as opposed to shooters at the wing to open up the floor for big guys in the post), but it'd be extremely effective with a classic Haslem season and a solid Bosh year. Now, with Haslem's big falloff, that's a pretty shaky proposition -- part of the reason people are saying the Heat need to go back to LeBron at the PF as a full-time option is because the just-as-planned Haslem/Bosh frontcourt pairing has been relatively dismal. Despite taking fewer shots than he used to take, Haslem's midrange shot went from around a 50% conversion rate to an awful 25% last season. The going rate on his long two pointers went from the high 40s to the high 30s. He stopped posting up very well (going from 40-50% to 30% from there) and his at-rim percentage went down. His scoring was down across the board, and while he rebounded well, his turnovers increased and he was rather clearly a step or two slow on defense last season.
Still. Haslem is a fan-favorite in Miami for a reason -- his hustle is unparalleled, and while he's only going to become more of an injury risk with age, I'm probably being a bit hard on the contract. He's only making 4-5 million a year, not anywhere close to the level of the awful contracts everyone put forth in their guesses. Haslem's contract is mostly a mistake in the idea that they could've had a player like Jared Jeffries, Nazr Mohammad, Kenyon Martin, Marcus Camby, or any of the other low-contract, low-year bigs they could've taken a flyer on when the Big Three came together. It's also a mistake in the idea that, had they done slightly more of a yearly total on a smaller year-length contract, they'd have (this year or next year) a valuable trade asset they could use as an outgoing expiring to snag a tertiary piece as a hanger-on in a larger trade (like the Cavs would've been in the proposed Nets-Cavs-Magic trade). Instead, they're sort of reduced to hoping Haslem gets better (unlikely, given his age) and hoping LeBron/Wade/Bosh don't fall off at all (likely for LeBron and Bosh, a bit of a high hope for Wade, but we'll see). Flexibility's the key for a team like the Heat, and Haslem's contract affords them less than they'd perhaps hope for.
Follow Deron Williams on Twitter at @DeronWilliams.
Deron Williams is one of the best point guards in the NBA. This is a fact. He's got elite scoring talent, putting up efficient isolation scoring numbers that put a lot of talented scorers to shame. Despite a surfeit of isolations and a ridiculous number of self-created shots, he's averaged a stunning 45-35-80 on his career (FG-3PT-FT), which is ridiculously good for a player that has the ball in his hands as much as Williams does. Among top tier point guards, he's right around the dead-on average in terms of turnovers, which is in and of itself relatively impressive -- he's taken on rapidly increasing usage without rapidly increasing his turnover rate in the last two seasons, which is a very valuable skill. His crossover is a work of art, and one of the smoothest moves in the game today -- it's a clear Iverson rip on style but he makes it work. He's among the best passers in the league, even in last year's dismal Nets situation with virtually nobody to pass to. He actively improves just about every offense he touches. His defensive potential is fantastic -- huge widebody at the point guard position, which gives him a bullish size advantage on just about any point guard that dares to enter the court. Combine that with his natural agility, and you have the formula for a brutally good defensive player.
Still. There's a large contingent of people -- including a lot of national writers -- who insist on naming Williams as the greatest point guard in the NBA, or insisting there's some legitimate argument to Williams in comparison to Chris Paul, or Derrick Rose. And silly things like that tend to beg a response. As a scorer, while Williams is good, he's hardly peerless, and I'd argue Rose, Parker, Irving, and Paul all have more potent and effective scoring abilities (even considering adjustments to their efficiency to match Deron's absurd usage). As a passing talent, Paul and Nash are clear betters to Deron, despite Deron's abilities, and you should probably throw Rondo in there as well. In terms of running a top-tier offense, well, Nash and Paul are clearly above Deron, and I'd argue that Parker's utmost importance in the Spurs' system puts him right there as well. Defensively is the only area where Deron is markedly overrated to the point of absurdity -- he has the defensive skillset to be very good, but the results simply aren't there. He gets a lot of dap for being a widebody and a former wrestler, and while that's true, he doesn't really throw his size into his man effectively on defense and he takes as many possessions off as Kobe does without getting blamed for it. His defensive plus/minus numbers have been bad for years, his Synergy numbers are awful, and by the eye test you get the same Kobe-perfected sense that (on defense only) Deron Williams was served a Thanksgiving dinner of talent and left everything untouched but the pumpkin pie. Delicious at times, but only if you ignore everything he's leaving on the table.
And I suppose that's the key. I don't love his game, but he's a very entertaining player to watch and easily one of the top-10 talents in the league. The problem I have with Williams isn't really in Williams himself, but in his insane fanbase. The idea that Williams is somehow superior to Paul just strikes me as such an extremely disrespectful address of Paul's talents, and consciously or not, it recontextualizes the way I watch Williams' game. Instead of being able to simply appreciate Williams for the brilliant player he is, I end up mentally doing exactly what the last paragraph did -- I watch and compare him to other point guards, and constantly tinker with my mental assessment of the players comparatively. Which, by the way, is about the fluffiest and least-substantial way to analyze anyone. Which frustrates me. The compulsion to constantly rank every single player we discuss and make that the be-all and end-all of analysis is aggravating, because rankings and relative value analysis can't hold a candle to individual evaluations and smart scouting. At least in my book. It's like I'm incoherently dumbing-down the way I watch Deron Williams just because I get so aggravated at trying to understand those who overrate him. It's annoying, especially when it infects the way I watch a guy who's among the best 20-or-so players in the game today.
Outlook for next season is mixed, I think. Most people are making a lot of assumptions when they say Williams is on the cusp of returning to his former glory. I'm not completely convinced. While I certainly understand the idea that last year's Nets team was abysmal, I don't think it's simply as easy as taking Williams' overall poor season and attributing it to some combination of disinterest and personal overexposure due to the awful cast around him. Deron Williams played pretty terribly during his last few months with the Jazz, due to a variety of lingering injuries. While this year's injuries (a badly strained right calf, a stomach virus, bruised ribs) have little to do with 2011's brood (a bad wrist injury), as a player ages injuries tend to linger farther and sap their core game. What's to say that those injuries won't -- as they have with, say, Chris Paul -- dog him a while longer, and lower his ceiling somewhat? While he's been an ironman up til now, his would hardly be the first career where a player with previously impeccable health finds his game sapped -- at least a little bit -- by a variety of happenstance injuries. The idea that Deron's relatively poor 2012 season can simply be erased off the face of the earth with the assumption that he'll play in a way he hasn't consistently played since 2010 is a bit assumption-heavy. I hope he does, because I think the league is a better place when Deron Williams is at his best. But there's an ever-present possibility that some level between Deron's last great season and Deron's quasi-all-star 2012 campaign is Williams' new regular talent level. That really isn't something that can simply be ignored, in any fair estimation of his career.
• • •
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, Utsav was our riddle winner, getting both Butler and Williams to the exclusion of Udonis Haslem. Today, the winner could be you!
- Andrew Bynum doesn't like Player #133. He doesn't like him at all.
- This summer addition should seriously change the complexion of last year's poor Raptors offense.
- Player #135 goes hard presently, has a dog that jumps high, and dunks like the wind. He's also barely an NBA player.
Pretty glad to get that week behind me, all things considered. Thanks for the birthday wishes yesterday. See you Monday.