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 Troy Murphy, Chris Kaman, and Andre Miller.
Follow Troy Murphy's example by becoming a franciscan friar.
I really feel like people don't realize how far Murphy's fallen in the last few years. Over two years in Indiana from 2008 to 2010, Murphy averaged 14-11 in a scant 33 minutes a game. He shot 81% from the line as a big man, 41% from three (on five three pointers a game!), and missed just 19 nights of play over two seasons. That's very near an all-star level. Very good work from him. Entering the 2011 season, Murphy was 30 years old -- although big men usually begin to fall off around their early 30s, it's rarely a rapid decline. I wrote my thesis on aging in basketball players and in a general sense big men tend to have the slowest decline-from-peak rates among all positions. Point guards fall off the quickest from their peak, wings fall off less quickly, and bigs fall off quite slowly. Murphy sees this trend and spits on it. From his two-year peak from 28-29, Murphy's performance descended from "patently decent rotation player" to "WHAT ON GOD'S EARTH" in no time flat.
He had a PER of 18 in that two year peak -- his PER has been 8.7 in the two years since. He went from 41% three point shooting on five tries a night to 33% on a single heave. He went from a solid and dependable 33 minutes a night to 15 minutes a game. And his defense suddenly transformed from "extremely poor" to "consistently causing blood to shoot indiscriminately out of any random fan's eyes." Bad, bad news. And he did this without any serious injury problems, too. Sure, he started the 2011 season with a strained lower back. Back injuries can sap a player's game terribly (which is one of the reasons I'm bearish about next year's Lakers). But it wasn't a break, or a torn muscle, or a bone bruise. It was a strain. He strained something in his lower back and had some hamstring troubles. That SERIOUSLY doesn't explain this sort of a rapid decline. Especially since he was never some kind of physical beast -- he's a slow and plodding white guy who makes some threes. I mean, damn. His game is as "finesse" as they come, based far more around a decent three point shot and decent rebounding instincts than any particular penchant for rough-and-tumble post play or fluid motion. And his talents have vanished.
In Los Angeles, he should've been in a perfect position to fix his career up. Make a few spot-up shots, trust in Mike Brown's system, and rebound. No big deal. But he looks like a completely different player. He went from quasi-all-star to utter schlub. Will he be in the league next season? Probably, because GMs love throwing money at old vets who look washed up. Will he be effective? Doubt it. In general, though, it's worth pointing out that Murphy's current disgusting play doesn't totally erase the fact that he was actually a really good player with the Indiana Pacers. He was a plus rebounder, a great three point shooter, and (although his defense was awful) there was nothing in his numbers that indicated he was anything other than a solid starter in the league. We tend to let a player's final few enfeebled years detract from how good they were at their peak. In Murphy's case, given the sudden transition, we're even more in danger of doing that. He was solid. Now he's not. But his current state doesn't mean he was NEVER solid, and that he NEVER accomplished anything.
Follow Chris Kaman on Twitter at @ChrisKaman.
Chris Kaman has his skills, but I'll be honest with you -- I'm not a fan. I've been watching him closely for a while, due to his constant presence in trade rumors and the drumbeat of people who treat him as though he's a major acquisition in the making for any team silly enough to sign him. I've come to a few conclusions. First, he's one of the biggest shot-vortex big men you can possibly find on offense -- he has a few assists a night on the really obvious passes, and he can be efficient if you set him up right, but on almost every possession Kaman records a touch he'll end up shooting a basket one way or another. He's had a usage percentage (a stat measuring what percentage of possessions Kaman ends in his time on the floor) over 20% for the last 5 years running. In fact, in the past 5 years, Chris Kaman has had the 6th highest usage percentage among big men in the NBA. Seriously! It'd be one thing if he did efficient things with those touches, but he doesn't -- out of every big who played over 5000 minutes and over 164 games in the last five seasons, Kaman sports the 36th worst true shooting percentage. He's one of only three players on that list with a shooting percentage below 49% that didn't take any threes, and he's got the second lowest offensive win shares (-1.3) of any big over those five years.
So, yes. His offense is extremely tough to deal with, if you're a fan of a team featuring Kaman. He was notorious in Los Angeles for constantly freezing out Eric Gordon and other better offensive options to run obscene isolations from 20 feet out. He set weak screens, barely freeing up the men he was setting the pick for in an effort to try and get the ball off of every one. If he does that to Dirk in Dallas, there are going to be some major problems on that Mavericks team -- he's the best offensive center they've had in years, but with the scorers they've got, they don't NEED the center to take 15 shots a night and use 20% of the offense. They need Dirk to do that, and Mayo, and Collison. Not Kaman. If he overuses his own offense when there are better options available, he's going to raise his stats at the expense of team quality. Which would be bad. On defense, well, the story is slightly different. Mark Cuban has stated outright that he believes Chris Kaman will be a phenomenal defender in the Mavericks' system. With all due respect to Mr. Cuban, that's kind of absurd. Kaman has NEVER been an amazing defender in his career, and nothing in his playing style indicates he has the ability to do what Dallas is going to need.
Look at what he did in New Orleans, with Monty Williams -- Monty's system is manna from heaven for poor defenders, because he explicitly maps out defensive strategies and redirects players to the right spots to maximize their talents. Under Monty's system, rotations conspired to give Kaman one of the higher DPPP ratings on spot-up shooters, and allowed him the freedom to cover his man in isolation decently. Unfortunately, he also was a terrible defender in the post, and an atrocious pick and roll defender -- the key for Carlisle is going to be to transform Kaman from a bollocks low post defender to a good one. Because you really need the big man next to Dirk to have some ability to guard the post. Okafor, Smith, and Ayon were able to cover the post for Kaman and allow him the room to stick to his man and focus on the space he was rotating into. In Dallas, Dirk isn't going to be able to replicate what those three did in New Orleans. Shawn Marion will help, but as Marion gets older it's doubtful he'll be able to do everything he needs to. Elton Brand and Chris Kaman could probably make a great defensive lineup under a Carlisle scheme, but I have serious doubts that a Kaman-fueled starting lineup is going to do great shakes for Dallas defensively. Or offensively, if Kaman freezes out Dirk.
In any event, it should be interesting to see how he acquaints himself in Dallas. I'm looking forward to watching if Kaman can really evolve as a player -- he'll finally be on a team with a solid cast around him and a reasonable expectation of a decent playoff seed. If he can mold his skills to fit a new role, he'll be fine, and he certainly has the talent and skill to be a considerably positive presence on a contending team. But he absolutely needs to reinvent his game and reorient how he approaches his offense. If he can't do that? There will be serious issues. Off the court, Kaman is a hilarious gun-toting conservative with penchant for shooting everything that moves. Seriously. He shoots bobcats. He tweets pictures of himself holding assault rifles (...days after a shooting in a movie theater, even). He tweets pictures of himself gutting deer. Should be a decent fit for Texas, in that sense, though given the generally liberal bent to NBA fans I'm skeptical that his off-court gun nuttery will really endear him to Mavericks fans all that much. We'll see. He's an interesting dude, if also a moderately scary one.
Follow Andre Miller's example and you'll eventually be really cool.
So, fair warning. There are a few players in the league that I'm an unabashed fan of. I tend to try and be positive in all these capsules, because I think there's far more reason to celebrate players in this league than there is reason to detract from them. And even if there WAS more reason to detract from them, it seems like every player analysis you read nowadays is some scathing critique or dripping with vitriol. I don't like to use that, except in rare cases where I truly can't stand watching a player's game or can't stand a player I feel is absurdly overrated (as in the case of the Chris Kaman capsule above). But despite my making every capsule positive, there's definitely something that differentiates capsules I write about players I'm huge fans of from those of players I'm tepid on -- they're just way more positive. Today, at Hardwood Paroxysm, I'm covering Andre Miller. I will admit this from the start -- Miller is one of those players I find it impossible to be reasonable about.
It's not that I think he's the greatest player ever or something like that. It's more that I simply can't help but respect the absurd hardships Miller has perservered through in his life, and I can't help but love the blue-collar abandon and grit with which Miller performs his game. If the NBA was performance art, Miller would be the town's muted bladesmith, performing in front of a nearly-empty house. Always quiet, never elaborate, extremely effective. Spends these long hours pounding away with his scaling hammer on a piece whose beauty is rarely appreciated as much as their application to war. Never gets wholescale appreciation for what he brings to the table, but always comes back and puts the same loving care into every pass thrown and offense built. Miller is simply brilliant, and there's a rare few players in the league that are anything like him. I love Andre Miller, and today's capsule at Hardwood Paroxysm discusses where exactly this love stems from, and why exactly I enjoy his life and game. Apologies for the dripping positivity -- for some players, I simply can't avoid it. Hope you understand.
As a kid, I used to wonder how in the world anyone failed tests like the ACT or the SAT. I always thought I was really bad at them (and relative to the kids in Honors classes with me, even in public schools, I absolutely was), but I got decent scores and the question was less “will you pass” and more “how close to a perfect score can you get”. But as I get older I've started to gain a greater appreciation for how much of a ridiculous privilege it is to not have to concern oneself with that — I grew up in a solid public school system that had great graduation rates and that developed an excellent SAT-friendly curriculum from an absurdly young age. They taught you how to think like a test-taker, in some ways, from grade two onwards. But not everyone has that! Despite getting on the honor roll and working incredibly hard, Miller failed the ACT. Given how intelligently he plays, and how well he had done on the backs of hard work at his schools growing up, I’d consider the failure less a problem on his end and more a problem of development. It’s not his fault, really. He had excellent grades, and worked incredibly hard to get those grades by all accounts. If you get good grades you should be able to pass a standardized test, theoretically. If you can’t that’s less a failure on your end and more a failure in how the school is teaching you and how their curriculum prepares you. Which is really, really sad. So many basketball players come from these depressingly scant backgrounds, with poor preparation for both the real world and any further academic work. If a player works hard enough to excel in their school and still can’t pass a standardized test, I’ve never quite understood how we can vilify the player. That’s on the system, and the broader disparity in the quality of schooling between even comparably well-endowed school systems. In a lot of ways, it’s luck of the draw.
Still. The Andre Miller story doesn’t really end there — due to Proposition 48, due to his failure on the standardized test, he wouldn’t be able to suit up for a college team until he’d accumulated one year in good academic standing. Predictably, this dried up almost every scholarship offer Miller had received. He went from having his pick of schools to having doubts he’d get a solid scholarship from anyone at all. Which, by the way, puts something of a damper on the idiotic criticisms people throw at Derrick Rose for cheating on the SAT. What was his realistic alternative? He couldn’t possibly pay for college, his family needed the NBA money, and if he failed the SAT again he would’ve been in Miller’s position. No scholarships, no ability to go to college, no hope. Of course he cheated on it. Check your privilege — in that situation (one that’s hard to imagine for most people reading this, but consider it deeply), you would too. Anyway. Luckily for Miller, a single college chose to not rescind their scholarship — the University of Utah, wholly used to losing players for a year or two at a time on missions. So Miller packed his bags, going straight out of Compton and into the Mormon-built catacombs of the flagship Utah university. Which there aren’t nearly enough stories about — Miller said once that he went to school with “the first white people I ever went to school with” in Utah, and as neither him nor his mom were Mormon, there HAS to be a bunch of funny stories about his time at Utah. Few are published, unfortunately. But they have to exist, right?
• • •
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. We got a smart guess from BNB who correctly realized I was talking about Andre Miller with my last riddle, and a 3/3 guess from Chilai who put it all together. Good work folks.
- I'm of the opinion that Player #169 got the absolute worst contract given out in the west this offseason. Just completely befuddles me that a team would give him that.
- If he simply replaces Hansbrough's minutes, the Pacers will be A-OK. Should help shore up the bench. Might've given a bit much for him, though.
- "People say not to swim with sharks. But I'm faster than sharks, so it's not a big deal." Will be a Player Capsule (Plus).
Sorry for the lack of capsules yesterday. Work is busy and I've been a bit under the weather. Here's hoping I can rally through this head cold and finish the week off strong.