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 Randy Foye, Cole Aldrich, and Arron Afflalo.
Follow Randy Foye on Twitter at @randyfoye.
When it comes to Foye's game, the first thing I'd think of is "bursts." No, not starburst candies, although now that you mention it I could use some breakfast. (Sponsor me, Mars!) No, the first thing that comes to mind for me is the concept of burst scoring. If you haven't heard the term, it refers to the situation where you have a player whose main purpose is to come in the game off a cold open, get the ball on a few fortuitous bounces, and proceed to make shots until he gets cold again. Then they're off, thrown in the cooler for the next round. Go on these 9-12 point personal runs, where they're scoring almost every point purely on the basis of a ridiculous hot streak. Draining shots they have no business taking and even less business making. And then the streak ends abruptly, they embarrass yourself a time or two, and they're back on the bench waiting for the next hit. It's like getting off on danger, a bit -- living from high to high, never knowing when the high is going to abruptly end and you'll fall flat. It's when you have cash flow problems and live paycheck to paycheck just trying to stretch your funds to that next so-needed infusion. That stuff.
That's how Foye's game comes to mind for me. Very feast-or-famine. Is this fair to his game, though? Not completely. Although his defense is markedly poor, to simply distill Foye's game to a "make a few shots, get the hell to the bench" style is to underrate him. One of Foye's greatest assets actually contributed to what made the Clippers such an immensely dull team to wtach for me last season -- his absurd knack for drawing free throws as a jump shooter. Of his 10 shots a night, 8 of them come outside the rim. Usually, if you're talking role players, that kind of a disparity would tend to indicate a player that barely gets to the line at all. Not so for Foye. He averages on his career three free throws a night, and while he had a down year last year, he had been hovering around four a night in years directly previous. He's very tricky -- he jumps into his defender in such a way that few can actually guard, and he draws free throws with the best floppers and gamesmen in the league.
It's always weird to me that Foye is rarely considered for the current top-NBA-floppers list -- it's not that he flops in such an aesthetically ridiculous way as the league's grandest floppers, necessarily, but that he's simply so good at drawing free throws for someone who shoots ONLY jump shots that you'd think at some point someone would notice "hey, dang, we should probably pay attention to this guy." Given his veritably insane free throw percentage (86% for his career, 89% from 2009-2011), this is a ridiculously great asset to have for a guy of his repute. Aside from the foul-drawing, he's a so-so shooter with a tendency for high-variance performances. Which isn't a bad thing, and should be a huge upgrade over the pu pu platter the Jazz put out at the two-spot last year. But it's definitely not "NBA starter" quality -- not that that's a bad thing. After all, that leaves the door open for Burks or any old D-League guard to prove their mettle in the Utah kiln. Flexibility is good, with a roster as multifaceted as Utah's. Although they probably would've liked to find a better defender, given the sad state of Utah's currently abysmal team defense. Jerry Sloan is crying on his ranch, somewhere.
Off the court, you have to respect Foye's accomplishments. He came from about as rough a background as one could possibly come from, with his father Antonio killed in a motorcycle accident when Foye was a scant two years old. He doesn't remember his father very much. His mother was caught up in the drug trade, and not three years after his father's death, she was kidnapped and met her own grisly end. Foye was taken in by his grandmother, who in his words, was a recovering drug addict herself. They had to do a lot of crazy stuff just to help him get by, things most of us can't even really imagine. At every step of his education and upbringing, Foye encountered setbacks and doubters -- for instance, the many who doubted he'd make it out of high school. He proved them wrong about as thoroughly as a man can do, as well as the people who doubted he'd get a college degree and people who doubted he'd make it in the NBA. Sometimes it's hard to really think about the crazy, circuitous roads taken by the entertainers who adorn our screen when we watch an NBA. I'd entreat you to think a bit on Randy Foye, though, and how inspiring his journey has been, grisly and awful though it may be. Here's a man who was orphaned at six, growing up in a broken household besides. Through constant work and grind, this man was able to find both prosperity and the resources to help people in his old position (hence the Randy Foye Foundation, dedicated to the constant improvement of living conditions in Newark, NJ). It's essentially the American dream realized. Beautiful stuff.
Follow Cole Aldrich on Twitter at @colea45.
It's hard to find much to say about Cole Aldrich, all things considered. It's not that he's an awful player, but he's certainly not a good one -- for a 3-year college player that came into the NBA at the age of 22, he's awfully unpolished. His freshman season was notable mostly in how ridiculously bad he looked -- just a terrible fit on the court, seemingly several hundred steps slow on defense and several dozen steps lacking on offense. He posted a freshman PER of 7.0 and it felt a hell of a lot worse than that. Last season he had a PER of 17.7 (and a PER of 19.8 in the postseason), but I'm hesitant to really assess much value from that. First off, he was playing against busted competition -- the Thunder blew out a hell of a lot of teams last year, and the vast majority of Aldrich's minutes came in garbage time during blowout wins. In fact, the Thunder went 25-6 in the 31 games that Aldrich saw the floor last year. Kind of skews the picture a bit. What's worse is that not only did he virtually only play in wins against poor late-game competition, he also managed to be part of bench units that were incredibly awful.
It's nitpicky, but one of the things most don't necessarily internalize about "deep" teams like the Thunder or the Spurs is that their depth tends to mean that their late game blowout lineups are actually a bit worse than that of an average team -- when the coach is playing the "preserve your players" game you play in a blowout like that, you're putting important roleplayers at risk every minute you keep them on the floor when unnecessary. With lacking depth, your 6th or 7th best player isn't actually all that important to your team concept, so you can afford to play them a bunch of minutes during garbage time -- when you're sporting a 10 man rotation and have decent players all over the place, you quickly discover that you either need to risk injuries to valuable tertiary pieces (say, Danny Green or Eric Maynor) or play guys who might not get minutes anywhere else. So you end up with lineups featuring the INSANELY overmatched end-of-rotation level folks, and lineups that get HILARIOUSLY overwhelmed if you actually take their stats and extend them to a full-game scenario.
Anyway. Regarding this phenomenon, that general trend held true for Aldrich. Lineups featuring Cole Aldrich last year may have featured a center sporting a 17-20 PER, but that sure wasn't helping his team out much. In the regular season, if you pro-rated the performance of the Thunder during Aldrich's 173 minutes of burn, you're left with a team that was outscored by 6.5 points per 100 possessions (as opposed to a team that outscored others by 8 with Aldrich off the floor). That team featured insanely anemic rebounding, a ridiculously slow pace (which I can attest to -- Thunder blowouts ended up slowing the game down considerably, a phenomenon that made writing about games in-the-moment a bit easier but made watching them occasionally awful), and 42% shooting from the field. Gross. The crock-pot of small sample size reared its ugly head once more in the NBA playoffs, where the Thunder found themselves outscored by (no typo) 21.2 points per 100 possessions with Aldrich on (and outscored others by 5 points per 100 possessions with Aldrich off). Insanely small sample size, but hilarious numbers. And it points to the ephemeral nature of decent advanced individual statistics (not to pick on PER, either -- this is true for EVERY non-minutes weighted statistic you can possibly rattle off) for players with scant floor time. If Aldrich was actually a center with 20 PER performance, he probably wouldn't be the featured player on lineups that underperform the Thunder's overall performance by such a drastic degree. No -- Aldrich is a developing and limited big man with a lot of energy and an unfortunate lack of NBA-level talent. He could potentially develop into more, I suppose, but I've certainly got my doubts. Hasn't really shown us much of anything yet, that's for sure.
Follow Arron Afflalo on Twitter at @arronafflalo.
Denver was one of the deepest teams in the league last year. One of the ways you can gain some insight into this -- beyond simply watching them play -- is to look at how the Nuggets' bench competed compared to the Nuggets' starters. Look, for instance, into Arron Afflalo's numbers. With Afflalo on the court, the Nuggets outscored opponents by about 2 points per 100 possessions -- their defense was worse, their offense was slower, and their general outlook more of a fringe 0.500 outfit than that of a high seeded, dangerous Western team. With Afflalo on the bench, and the Denver depth ravaging the scrubs of the other team (and, underratedly, the incredible two-PG offense featuring Andre Miller and Ty Lawson in concert)? The Nuggets outscored opponents by 6 points per 100, which is elite. The problem with this kind of a setup on a good team is that when rotations shorten for the playoffs, the level of competition those bench units face rises considerably, which in turn lowers their efficacy -- I have my doubts that the 2012 Nuggets could've competed at all in the first round against any team with better depth than the Lakers. The Lakers were thus the dream matchup for a team like the Nuggets -- very old (the Lakers have been one of the 5 oldest teams in the sport for the last few years), relatively plodding, and with shaky depth that left the Nuggets' bench mob facing relatively tired starters and marginal-beyond-logic bench players. But if the Nuggets wanted to beat the Lakers, they really needed one thing -- one single starter to have a good series and keep their starting lineup in the game for the bench to win them the series. Before the series, most people (me included) thought this would be Afflalo.
Okay. So. That didn't work out too well. But I think Afflalo has proven pretty thoroughly that he can be an effective NBA player despite that. Before last year's big contract, it was his defense -- he used to be an extremely effective 3-and-D shooting guard. Last year, it was his offense -- he stopped paying much attention to defense altogether in favor of absurdly efficient standout offensive performances. A bit troubling. His defense was excellent before last year, but he simply stopped paying much attention on that end in favor of taking more of a load on the offensive end -- this wasn't a terrible thing, mind you, as he's an incredibly efficient offensive player (despite a career high usage rate by 4%, Afflalo still shot nearly 40% from three and well above-average percentages from almost every spot on the floor) but for a defensive enthusiast like myself it was a tad bit disappointing. No, the question I have with Afflalo isn't whether he can be a good NBA player -- my question is rather pondering which Afflalo is going to show up in Orlando. Will it be the defensive savant or the offensive mastermind? Or, perhaps more importantly -- will it be 2012 regular season Afflalo or 2012 playoffs Afflalo, where every single one of his numbers cratered and he looked like a fringe NBA player at best? It's rough. Kobe's defense certainly isn't what did it -- Kobe was laying off his man so much, I mistook him for a Wall Street CEO. Afflalo had the space, but he just couldn't seem to make an open shot. Over the seven games of 2012 playoffs, Afflalo made just four threes -- to put this in context, in the 2012 regular season, Afflalo had five whole games with that many or more! Absurd.
I don't usually mention one specific game for these guys, but for Afflalo, I feel it's apt. Back in 2011, Afflalo had one of the best "forgotten" games I can remember for any NBA player. It might've been the game of the 2011 regular season. It was a one point home win by the Carmelo Nuggets against the fully healthy would-be champion Mavericks. It was arguably Melo's last great game as a Nugget, as he put up 42 points on a TS% of 80%. It featured 10 lead changes, an Afflalo game-winner, a fantastic Jason Terry game (in a loss, just like a Spurs fan likes it), a ridiculous pace, and some insane offense. The thing that makes Afflalo relevant? He poured in a ridiculous 19 points in the fourth quarter, missing his first two shots of the quarter then making all but one afterwards. Afflalo went completely supernova to close that game, which is doubly funny because he'd played pretty terribly on offense up until the fourth (although his defense was fantastic). I'd never seen him assert himself on offense like that... well... ever, honestly. It was a wonderful watch. And moments like that are what make me think that Afflalo -- although he's getting a bit old, although he's had trouble putting his defense and his offense together at once -- DOES still have the ceiling of an all-star in this league. I don't know if the Magic are the proper melting pot for him to get there, but he should certainly get the chance to improve his numbers these next few years. Not bad for a player the Detroit Pistons gave away for virtually nothing. (No, seriously. They traded him to the Nuggets for a second round pick. I like Vernon Macklin, but DANG.)
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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. I once again need to strengthen the difficulty -- 100% 3/3 guesses were put in by Mike L, Brian, Free_Zero20, J, Atori, and Chilai.
- The Great White Wonder. Nearly an all-star in 2010, Player #166 is basically out of the league today. The most forgettable "recently sporting a 15-10 line" dude in the league, I'd venture.
- Ball dominant center with a penchant for chucking and getting ridiculously undeserved all-star appearances. Hates Bobcats, tho.
- One of my absolute favorite players in the league. Easily my favorite outside the Spurs and Cavs. Humble but tough, of low means but resourceful, underrated but assured. May retire soon. Will be sad to see him go. Will be a Capsule (Plus).
I'm almost done with my nightly Red Dead Redemption livetweeting series (lovingly titled "#reddocredemption"). Should finish the game tonight. Tune in to watch me react live to the game's (seems pretty boring?) end.