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 Shelden Williams, Jodie Meeks, and Lamar Odom.
Last season, Shelden Williams coupled one of the most self-aware shot distributions in the league with one of the least efficient offensive seasons of anyone in the NBA. Really. Williams took over 70% of his shots at the rim, which compares quite favorably with his position as a whole -- most forward-centers take around 30-40% of their shots at the rim, which is good, however... there's an important general rule that the less versatile you are on the offensive end, the more you should pump that number up. Williams took that and ran with it, leading to a shot distribution that -- for any average offensive center -- would've led to a well-above-average shooting percentage. Unfortunately for Williams, he isn't an average offensive center -- he's a straight-up abysmal offensive center, and even a super-efficient shot distribution profile couldn't save his overall offensive game. Case in point: Williams shot 57% at the rim. You'd perhaps think that's good, in a vacuum, but that's only good if you aren't culling it down to his position's average -- most positions aren't as good at the rim as centers and big men.
To wit: among centers and large forwards, shooting 57% at the rim is only good enough to (just barely) put you in the 20th percentile of NBA centers. Yikes. Over 80% of the players at his position shot better at the rim than he did. The picture obviously doesn't get better once you get past the rim -- in the 53 shots he let off outside the rim, he made a scant 13, a completion percentage right around 24%. Rough story. For Nets fans, this does have sort of a point -- while I've been notably scathing in my criticism of Deron Williams, for last year's Nets, slightly under half of Deron's minutes (909 out of 1999) came with Shelden Williams at center. I'll repeat that. Almost half of Deron Williams' minutes came with Shelden Williams at center. While Deron Williams had terrible numbers last year (to the point that few people even remotely realize how bad they are), it's almost impossible to belabor the point enough that he was feeding a player as offensively rudderless as Shelden Williams as his primary man in the middle. I don't know that the Nets are going to really be that good this year -- I have them pegged for just over 0.500. But there's at least some reason to believe he'll return to his pre-Nets numbers when you look at the sorts of crummy offensive players he was having to force-feed in New Jersey.
All in all, I find it kind of darkly fascinating that Williams is this bad of an NBA player. The offense is one thing -- the defense is another, and he's bad at it too! His overall lacking size (scarcely hitting 6'9" is NOT a good look for an NBA center) doesn't help matters, as it makes it relatively easy for most NBA-size centers to simply convert over him. His lack of speed makes it difficult for him to recover when he gets out of position (which is disturbingly often for fans of wherever he happens to be playing). And his often sky-high turnover rate means he's so often caught having to sprint the length of the floor to stop a fast-break, something he simply doesn't have a very strong skillset in. For a player who was -- in college -- extremely good, this all is pretty disappointing. I don't really remember the 2006 draft, but I don't imagine most people thought this pick was that horrible. For instance, look at Simmons' draft diary -- calls it a "solid pick", shrugs, moves on. But Williams has been, all things considered, a pretty unmitigated disappointment in the NBA despite having a decent skillset coming in and constantly tweaking his shot distribution to try and play to his strengths. Is this seriously the best he can be? I wish I could say it wasn't, but at this point, I have legitimately no idea what aspect of his game is under his control that could make him any better. So... it's quite unfortunate, but yeah, it probably is the best he can be.
Surprised anyone DIDN'T snag this riddle, although a few figured it out. I noted in yesterday's riddle that today's 2nd player would be the one guy that could improve the most if he played alongside Nash. To that end, there are exactly two types of perfect complementary players for Steve Nash -- athletic rim-cutting bigs with incredible finishing ability and spot up specialist three point shooters with a quick release. The Lakers have one of both -- they have Dwight Howard for the first, obviously, but he can't really be expected to improve that much at this point of his career. For the second? They've got the young and restless bomber, Jodie Meeks. Now, Meeks isn't exactly the most versatile player -- most shooting guards stick to some combination of the rim, the long midrange, and the three on offense. Meeks takes that to a whole other level, taking 90% of his shots from those three ranges and 60% of his overall shots from beyond the three point line. What makes Meeks effective is that he's quite decent at those shots, over the last two years converting 38% from beyond the arc. For reference, there were exactly two Lakers last year who shot better than that from three in significant minutes -- Ramon Sessions and Troy Murphy. With Nash on the floor to redirect the ball to Meeks, he should see the customary Nash bump to his three point percentage, and kill more than a few teams over the course of the year with timely bombs.
Wouldn't expect him to do all that much else, though. The fatal flaw to Meeks' game is simply that of lack -- he lacks any other cogent skills he can leverage into a more important role on a good team. He's one of the worst rebounders in the game, even for a guard -- he ranked 404 out of 478 in total rebounding percentage last season. He doesn't really generate assists either -- his assist % of 5 is well below the position average, even for supposed ballhogs. One amusing thing you can do with Meeks' numbers to demonstrate his lack of tertiaries is to simply rank every player in the league on their assist percentage added to their rebound percentage -- due to the higher average assist percentage than rebound percentage, the top of the list ends up being very guard heavy, but not with Meeks. He comes in at -- I kid you not -- 463 out of 478 players. The only players under him include a lot of specialists and players who played 4 or 5 games total -- he's the lowest (by far) of anyone who played the string and appeared in a full 66 games. If he could develop at least one tertiary hustle skill, I have a feeling he'd be a really solid piece. Not sure what he can develop, but if he could just get something, he'd be right there as a starter-quality talent on an excellent team.
Some think he's a very good defender. I don't totally disagree, but I also think he's quite overrated by the statistical metrics that generally point to his defensive prominence. His Synergy numbers are good, but watching the footage, I get the sense he benefits a lot from who he's playing with. Meeks spent almost 66% of his minutes on the court with Elton Brand (who just completed one of the best bounceback defensive seasons I can remember any big man ever having -- he was brilliant on that end in 2012, and makes everyone around him look a hell of a lot better), right at 66% of his minutes with Jrue Holiday (who tended to draw the tougher guard assignment), and over 66% of his minutes with Andre Iguodala (whose defensive chops need no introduction and who helped a lot on possessions he wasn't actively shutting a man down with). His Synergy numbers are good, mind you, and the on/off court numbers make him look semi-important. But they seem more a factor of who he played with and the relatively insubstantial role he played on that end with the Sixers. I don't imagine they'll hold up in Los Angeles unless he shares a great deal of time with Dwight Howard. If not, I don't expect he'll be actively poor on the defensive end -- he has solid fundamentals and a good sense of space, timing, and when to foul -- but I also don't expect he'll rank quite as high in Synergy, or have on/off numbers anywhere near as positive as they were in Philadelphia.
I feel like most people don't realize how incongruous Odom's 2012 season was. This is a player who -- the year before! -- was a deserving all-star candidate, MIP candidate, and Sixth Man of the Year award winner. This wasn't some "oh, he's years from last being good" situation. Odom was less than a year from being good. Sure, he had his disappointments late in the year -- he was really quite atrocious in the 2011 playoffs, and on less of a smaller sample size, he did actually get worse as the year went on. As an example, just look at his rarely-examined splits before and after February (I say all-star weekend, but I think I accidentally calculated it by month, heh, whoops.)
Notice the issue? After the all-star break, Odom shot way worse from two point range (primarily the rim), rebounded quite a bit worse, and couldn't play quite as many minutes per game due to exhaustion. On a less statistical level, his defense looked significantly worse after the all-star break in 2011, and his general energy level was at an absolute minimum. None of these were good signs, and as 2012 showed, we might not have put nearly enough stock into them as legitimate signs of an aging player. Odom didn't just look "a little bad" in 2012 -- he looked horrible, posting career-worst numbers in points per 36 minutes, assists per 36, overall shooting percentage, and free throw percentage. He posted "almost" career-worst numbers in rebound rate, fouls per game, and steals/blocks. He posted the absolute worst defensive numbers of his career (and subjectively, those were even worse than they looked) and looked about 20 steps slow for the NBA pace of the game. Absolutely awful. And this happened on a team where he was hardly the oldest piece -- he was the 7th oldest player on the team, and 5 of the 6 players older played FAR more important roles on that Mavericks team.
So, what should we be expecting going forward? Not a whole lot, if I'm honest. Odom's falloff didn't simply look like a man whose head was a bit out of place last year -- he looked like a man who was consistently 3 to 4 steps slow, a man who didn't really know what he was doing, and a man whose athletic marvels were no longer enough to outpace poor effort. I'd look to players like Troy Murphy, Tracy McGrady, and Vince Carter for the new expectation. He may be able to produce better results if he puts in a modicum of effort, but his athletic talents are virtually gone and his game was highly dependent on them. Even if -- as with McGrady and Carter -- he reaches a sort of equilibrium at a certain percentage of his old production, it's not going to be anywhere close to the heights he used to soar. And as he was never quite the MVP-candidate type that Carter and McGrady was, I'd err on the side of the lesser players and expect him going forward to be about as useful as Troy Murphy is now. Perhaps his three point shot will come back next to Paul, and perhaps with increased effort he'll rebound a bit better than his awful rate last year. But without his legs under him on defense and without seriously revising the tenor of his game, I don't really see how we can expect Odom to be anything more than a marginal bench upgrade to a team that needed a bit more than that.
Off the court, you have to feel pretty awful for Odom, even if you don't like celebrities much. He's gone through a lot of traumatic experiences this past year, including but not limited to: experiencing the death of a beloved cousin, being the passenger in a car that hit and killed a 15-year-old boy AT THE FUNERAL for said cousin, having to deal with an extremely ill father, dealing with the ongoing ramifications of his suddenly deceased son, and dealing with the ongoing stress of having virtually his entire life televised. The thing that really gets me about it all is that so many people fall victim to the disease Matt Moore smartly calls "the victory lap" -- our inherent need to run around proclaiming our brilliance when we correctly assess that something is at risk of happening. NBA scribes, fans, and followers make all manner of predictions and share all sorts of thoughts before a season begins. When we're wrong, we like to essentially pretend they never happened. When we're right, we like to stampede around to brag about our brilliance and remind everyone that, indeed, we were the second coming of Nostradamus! But we're not always right for the right reasons, and with Odom's stark and sudden fall, those who throw dirt on the shallow grave of his waning career are completely missing the point. He's fallen off with age, yes, and perhaps he was never so great to begin with. But when the weight of personal tragedy and a body begun to fail descends upon a former great, it's hard to really sit around proclaiming brilliance. Were you predicting his cousin would die? Were you predicting the reality show would stress him to incredible levels? We predicted results, not the manner they happened. And let's be honest: nobody predicts a tragedy. For a darn good reason, too.
• • •
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. The best, yesterday? 1/3. I'm getting my edge back.
- One of Tim Severson's favorite players, this particular forward has never really gotten the chance to shine in the frosty northeast. This is probably because he's not very good at NBA-level basketball.
- The Cavs got this particular player for free. Literally free. The cost STILL may have been too much. Yikes.
- He should be better defensively. He should be more efficient. He's a semi-insane headcase. But he still does have those games, and while he wasn't a major factor outside of that, sometimes that's enough.
Stay frosty, friends.