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 Derrick Williams, Darius Morris, and Joel Anthony.
Follow Derrick Williams on Twitter at @RealDwill7.
What if Derrick Williams could shoot? This is a big question that I (among many others, hat tip to Haberstroh) often ask when watching him ply his wares. Last season, in late February, the world was treated to a fine example of what that would look like -- he shot 9-10 against the hapless Clippers, powerless to stop a brutal onslaught of threes, free throws, and short post moves. It was a great performance, made all the more interesting by looking at the other players on his team -- other than Beasley, there were virtually no Timberwolves players that played all that well, including the entire starting lineup. Kevin Love put up 10-7 on sub-40% shooting. Ricky Rubio posted 9 assists to go with 2 points, in a relatively absent performance. Pekovic only played 22 minutes for a reason -- he looked bad. But on the back of Williams and Beasley, the Wolves upset a Clippers team that sported stellar nights from Griffin, Paul, and Jordan (seriously, look at his line). If nothing else, the performance demonstrates that when Derrick Williams is making shots, the entire complexion of the Timberwolves changes. Suddenly the margin of error is wrenched open, and even with the customary Timberwolves shaky defense, the offense is so good that just about every key piece can have a decidedly "meh" game and still go home with a victory. On the road. In the Staples Center!
Of course, there's a reason I framed the question as a curious "what if" statement instead of a simple "isn't that great" assertion. Up until now, Williams hasn't really displayed a strong ability to shoot. Actually, he's displayed the exact opposite. Despite making three three-pointers in one night for that excellent performance, over the entire rest of the season (65 games, 1390 minutes) he made only 34 more. This is despite playing most of his minutes with either Ricky Rubio (whose passing needs no introduction) or J.J. Barea (whose passing was actually relatively excellent on the Wolves this year, and spent a ton of time on the floor looking for Williams and trying to get him the ball). The average Derrick Williams night -- outside of that incredible one I linked above -- featured significantly less than one made three on two attempts a contest. That number is even worse than you might imagine -- of his 37 made threes on the season, 36 of them were assisted. This isn't some example of an excellent shot maker that isn't being set-up correctly -- all but one of Williams' made three pointers came off an assist, which tends to indicate a naturally poor level of shooting. Bad news.
If I had to pick a single comparable player, I'd probably pick Jeff Green. Completely forgotten in most assessments of the so-called Thunder model, Green represents something of the dark side of tweeners and athleticism (even if Boston is paying him as though he's a minor star). In Green, you have an undersized tweener that isn't really sized properly to play the wing, but sure as hell can't play the four in a reasonable lineup. He has yet to play a big role on an actual contending team -- he was always the limiting factor in Oklahoma City, whose only real purpose seemed to be keeping the far better Serge Ibaka off the court. That's exactly where Williams stands, unless he bulks up or fixes his shot. Like Williams, Green took a lot of awful jumpers and made astonishingly few of them, with the exception of a few shining moments that tended to give false confidence to his fans and make the Thunder wary of giving up on him. Williams is a bit of a better rebounder than Green was his rookie season (which makes it more likely he could someday ACTUALLY swing to the four rather than pretend to), and is less prone to turnovers and stupid fouls. Green was a bit better at creating an unassisted shot (40% of Green's made shots were unassisted -- with Williams, the percentage was 32%). Pick your poison, if you will.
But overall, if you're trying to figure out how Williams career projects out, I'd say a slightly better-on-the-boards Jeff Green is about as good as you'll get. Not with a shot as busted as his looks, anyway. It's possible that you could've seen this coming if you'd really thought about his skillset as he left college -- while he made over 50% of his three pointers in the 2011 Arizona season, he didn't shoot all that well from the long midrange in college and was coming off a first year in college where he made just 25%. Couple that with his collegiate free throw percentage (around 70%) and you don't really have an image of a sparkling, flawless shooter. His skillset indicated he'd be an athletic tweener whose size could hamper his defense until he learns to use his body properly at an NBA level. His rebounding was solid but not exceptional, his offense good but not incredible. There were simply a lot of questions as he made the leap as to what position he'd play, where he'd operate on the court, and how his game would adjust if he wasn't a great shooter. But most people simply shrugged it off, assumed he'd be able to shoot, and went with it -- some even chastised and eviscerated the Cavaliers for taking Kyrie Irving (a player whose college play DID legitimately indicate he was going to be a star in the NBA) over Derrick Williams. If Williams could develop a reliable shot, he could be a brilliant player. Up until now, though, he hasn't. And if he never does? Well, I'll be honest with you -- it's pretty hard to see where he really fits in the league.
Follow Darius Morris on Twitter at @dariusmorris4.
Darius Morris is a phenomenal three point shooter. Just ridiculous. Did you know that he made 44% of his threes in the 2012 season, 16th overall in the NBA? Ridiculous! It would be even more ridiculous and impressive if Morris hadn't taken just 9 threes in the entire season. But eve-- ... wait, he only took nine threes? Alright, cancel the effusive praise. Most people have a general understanding of randomness and the problem with small sample sizes, but let's use this as a teaching example -- had Morris made just a single less three, that percentage would've dropped to 33%, pedestrian at best. Had he made two less threes, he'd have shot a disturbingly bad 22% on the season. I've heard a lot of my Laker-loving friends refer with hushed reverence over the past few months to Morris' three point shooting mark. And I agree, 44% is very good. But with just nine shots, it's hardly an accurate reflection of Morris as a player, and his sub-40% shooting on non three point shots would tend to indicate that his ACTUAL proficiency for threes at an NBA level might be significantly lower. His form looks relatively solid, but given his college numbers and his general profile I'd dial back on the insane faith, just a touch. Speaking of college, Morris was a pretty good player there. At least in 2011 -- he scored 15 a night on just-under-50% shooting and ran the offense well, fueling a solid Michigan team to a near-upset of favored Duke and getting out of the college grind while the going was good. He proceeded to get drafted early in the second round, signing a minimum deal with the Lakers.
He didn't light the world on fire in his first year, although it's worth mentioning that Morris hardly got the chance to do it. Very few minutes for this guy. We'll see how he does next year with an extra dose of Nash and a full training camp to get acquainted with everyone. He could potentially be a big benefit for the Lakers, if he can bring his play up beyond that of Chris Duhon and get Nash some rest. On the "hopeful" side, he was pretty good in this year's summer league, showing off additional weight (crucial to becoming a real NBA-size player) and an ability to look better against lesser competition (he was the Lakers' best player, on a summer league team with Goudelock and Sacre). On the "not so hopeful" side, much like Derrick Williams, if you take out a single great performance (a 9-of-9 shooting night against the Summer Swaggin' Spurs) his numbers get significantly worse (a ridiculously bad 27% from three over the summer and -- if you take out his 9-for-9 night -- an astonishingly bad 25% from the field overall). While his numbers look fine in the aggregate, if shooting like that reflects his true talent level in the NBA, Morris isn't going to be long for the league. Worth noting, though -- from my eye-test level, he's finally gotten his fitness up to a place where he'll be able to take the grind of a full NBA season. If he has the skillset to be an actual NBA player, his fitness certainly won't keep him off the court this year, which is a good sign for Morris fans.
Follow Joel Anthony's example and live at the gym.
Believe it or not, Joel Anthony has a really compelling life story. In the first place, Anthony learned basketball from books. Not coaches, not Jordan -- books. The whole story is really neat, and I highly recommend this profile courtesy of Tom Haberstroh of the Heat Index -- long story short, there weren't any nearby coaches he could rely on when he picked up the game of basketball at the age of 16 after a growth spurt, and all he really had was a book with Alonzo Mourning on the cover. Seriously. He learned basketball from the pages of that book, and modeled his game off Alonzo Mourning's because he felt like shot blocking was a thing he could do. Anthony was cut from the first college team he tried out for, joined an AAU team, and ended up transferring to UNLV where he'd eventually make a sweet 16. Anthony never got drafted, and ended up getting picked up through an impressive summer camp with the Miami Heat. He has a really solid work ethic, which is something you really need if you're going to make it as an undrafted player in the NBA.
The more you think about it, the crazier the whole ordeal becomes -- Anthony picked up the game of basketball at the age of 16, which means it took him only 5 to 6 years to become one of the best few hundred basketball players on the planet. It would be like me, at my tender age of 22, randomly deciding I wanted to be a professional pianist and becoming one of the hundred or so best piano players in the world within 6 years. The amount of work it would take to do that would boggle the mind, and the amount of work it did take for Anthony to succeed boggles just as well. The sad thing is that despite how far Anthony's hard work got him, it's still not enough to guarantee success in the league. And it doesn't erase some of the fundamental flaws that weaken and cripple his overall game. Well, the one fundamental flaw -- because it's really a single problem that infects every element of his game. It's his hands. They're oddly proportioned and his hand-eye coordination isn't very good for an NBA player, no matter how hard he works at it.
This results in several huge problems for Anthony. First, he can barely catch the ball. LeBron, Wade, and Chalmers need to aim their passes to an absolute pinpoint level for Anthony to successfully corral them. Most players master the art of catching when they're young, but when you start the game of basketball at 16 and learn it from a book with no coach to drill you, you don't really get the chance to master that. Second, rebounds often pop out of Anthony's hands, which is a problem -- again, catching. Third, he's a poor finisher, mostly because of his hands. Those dang hands. Last year, Anthony got a lot of dap as a humongous defensive presence for the Heat. As I like Anthony personally it pains me to say this, but I have to disagree. He's a fantastic shot blocker, arguably the best in the league, but I don't love his general defensive game at all. He fronts on the pick and roll relatively well, but he's undersized for the position and can't body up larger players. His offensive limitations (and they're huge limitations, don't cut corners) make him hard to play unless he's in a situation where the other team's playing smallball and he can't get overpowered at the rim. He's too slow to bother large forwards but too small to cover fives. It's tough. If it wasn't for his shot blocking and his excellent weakside help, there wouldn't really be any reason to play him at all.
Which leads us to one of the most curious statistics I've ever come across. I don't know if this is the first time this has ever happened -- it probably isn't -- but it has to be rare. The 2011 Heat started Joel Anthony every single game of the 2011 finals. He averaged 21 minutes a contest and never played less than 10. Want to know how many minutes Joel Anthony played in the 2012 finals? Two. He played two minutes in game one, then he never saw the court again. I can't think of any situation where a team with very little roster churn went from starting a player -- who at the time hadn't even entered his 30s -- every single game of one year's finals to playing him a grand total of two minutes in the next year's finals. It speaks to the Heat's total realignment of how they played their stars, and the generally good job Spolestra did in finding the weak spots in the Heat rotations and fixing them. Even if it meant -- in some ways -- completely leaving a hard working player behind. While I hope Anthony recoups a bit this year, at this point, what you see is essentially what you get. A loveable gym rat who works incredibly hard but due to his one fundamental flaw can't really see the floor when the chips are down for a title team. More than any other Heat player, I'm happy he got a ring. I just wish he'd been able to contribute a larger part to it, after all his time with the franchise and all the work it took him to get there.
• • •
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. Jkim was our only 3/3 yesterday, which pushes his overall riddle record to a ridiculous 9/9. Jkim: who gave you the power to directly look into my mind?
- Every year, there seems to be one classless jerk who makes their franchise look like fools with an overly rough play in a playoff situation. Unfortunately, this one (Player #154) has a ring now.
- Someday, at the end of the world, there will be an empty gym. To the mellow tones of John Legend music, Player #155 will take the technical free throw to save the human race. Unfortunately for him, given his years on the Cavs as reference, he'll miss.
- Come on. Chill out, Player #156. That strut isn't impressing anybody.
Anyone catch yesterday's U.S. Open epic? One of the greatest tennis matches I've had the pleasure of watching. Congratulations to Andy Murray on a well deserved victory.