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 Danilo Gallinari, Ersan Ilyasova, and Eric Maynor.
I don't really get why Mike D'Antoni was quite so high on Gallinari's jumper. I've heard stories that it's far, far better in practice. While that may be true, you'd think that a shooter with a ceiling like that would actually act on it at some point, right? You know, post at least one randomly insane season, a few "oh my god he can't be stopped" games per season, and give people a sense that he's actually a serious threat. He... really hasn't done that, yet. Other than his rookie year, where he played 14 minutes a night in just 28 contests (hardly a large enough sample size to truly assess -- he only took 72 threes that year, after all), he's never been supremely impressive behind the arc. Always one of the most prolific three point shooters in terms of how often he gets behind the arc, but never really one of the most accurate bombers -- this came to a head last season, where Gallo shot a barely-above-PF-average 32% from three on more three pointers than 80% of all power forwards. And if you consider him a small forward -- as he was often used in the Karl lineups -- that's even more below average, and even more troubling. The thing with Gallo -- and I don't mean to make excuses, but this is rather important -- is that three point shooting never happens in a vacuum. He wasn't taking these shots in the cold expanse of space, he was taking them in an actual team concept. And all things considered, when Gallinari got the ball behind the arc last year? He faced far more pressure than he would've on almost any other team.
This is because -- while they were a great offensive team -- last year's Nuggets virtually had no three point talent whatsoever. They finished the year as the 26th overall team in three point percentage, primarily because only two major rotation players could shoot above the position average from three -- Arron Afflalo and Ty Lawson. That's it. That's the comprehensive list. For a teaching example, watch how the Spurs move the ball compared to how the Nuggets move it -- the Spurs rarely take the shot off the first pass, redirecting the ball and allowing it to travel from person to person, as the defense lunges towards each individual shooter. For the Nuggets? They could do that, but it generally led to a far less open shot -- their three point bombers were so awful that the whole effect of an entire defense lunging to cover a shooter simply didn't happen as often or as effectively. Gallo's man knows he's good at threes, so he stayed on Gallo and pressured him. Afflalo's man knows he was the only member of the Nuggets with a remotely wet shot, so he'd simply stay on him -- occasionally, the whole defense-redirection ploy would happen on a pass to Afflalo, but it was never endemic and it never sustained for as long as it does against a team as good at threes as the last-season Spurs, or the mid-aughts Suns, or the late-aughts Magic. As for their only other good three point shooter (Lawson), he was hardly an impact on how open Gallo could get, because most of Gallo's passes came from Lawson -- over one third of Gallo's three point makes came directly off a Lawson pass, and a large proportion of the misses did too.
If Gallo had been on the Spurs, or the Warriors, or the Bulls? I'd imagine he'd have posted significantly better numbers from behind the arc, simply because the surrounding talent would've helped him get open. Same holds true for his time in New York, where they never had quite the three point bombers around him that he could've had in several other NBA locales. (Completely off subject, but worth noting -- this concept also works from the opposite angle. Afflalo's insane shooting numbers look markedly more insane when you consider the duress he was under when he took most of his three point shots.) Beyond that, he has some other talents too -- he isn't merely some three point bomber with no game around the threes. He's great at drawing fouls, moderately decent at keeping his turnovers down, and a solid man-defender. (Very bad on help, but that's because he's oversized and slow for the wing despite being too small to effectively defend big men.) He's an inordinately bad rebounder, an incredibly shaky passer, and really poor when you get within the long midrange. Incredibly below average for his size at the rim, very poor at posting up, and far worse than expected from the true midrange. Which is all rather rough -- his current contract definitely overpays him, unless the Denver front office can put the talent around him that'll get him open enough to convert his threes. Which is all well and good... except for the fact that you don't want to be stuck paying $10-12 million a year to a player whose skillset demands he be surrounded by great shooters if you want him to perform at a remotely above average level from the place where he (theoretically) makes his bread. Alas.
One thing I try to do with these capsules, in a strange and possibly misguided effort, is try to unearth things most people don't know about players. When I can find one or two little facts that most people who read the capsule won't have known going in, that's usually when I feel I've really given the reader some value. In this case, the item you may not know about Gallinari isn't some funny trait or silly habit. You may not realize this, but Gallinari really doesn't take disappointment well, and has a thirst for winning that actually goes beyond that of most everyday NBA folk. My evidence? This almost-heartbreaking article from last year's playoffs, where Gallo describes in some detail the feelings of shame and regret caused by his poor playoff performance, culminating in being unable to sleep and unable to get comfortable in his own skin, immense frustration, and the feeling that he's let down everyone from Denver to Italy. We often ask of our sporting heroes an incomprehensible amount of internal pressure -- we ask them to feel angry at losses, to feel as strongly as a fan each disappointment. We often neglect to take this to its logical end, and realize that we're essentially asking every player to approach games like Gallo approached the playoffs -- that we're asking players to internalize all the outward anger and disappointment we feel as fans of the sport. If most players took what we said at face value, they'd probably sound a lot like Gallo. Given how disappointed and frustrated he sounds... a bit of a sad truth, that.
Follow Ersan Ilyasova by erasing your past and embracing the future.
I liked watching Ilyasova this year -- he was an unrepentant beast and played like the best player on the Bucks for long stretches of the year. He did it through an odd mix of talents, though -- odd enough that I can't help but wonder exactly how he'll respond to a year (or, rather, the several his new contract spans) with far heightened expectations. We'll start with something that he (actually somewhat shockingly) isn't very good at. Namely, finishing at the rim. While Ilyasova boasts a well-over 7'0" wingspan, he simply doesn't have the strength or height to finish over stronger offensive players, and it generally leads to Ilyasova being at least slightly baffled at the rim. He didn't shoot a number that's immensely poor -- converting on 60% of his at-rim plays, in fact -- but that rate actually ranked in the bottom 25% of NBA big men last season. So, while it was nice that he got to the rim, it was more a function of a naturally efficient player doing his thing than a player who actually found himself above-average at acting there. He fared much better from essentially everywhere else on the court, shooting right at the position average from 3-9 feet and slightly above it from all manner of midrange shots. But his primary value? Making it rain from three, essentially. Ilyasova converted on -- I kid you not -- 45% of his three point shots last year. Despite taking 20% of his shots from three point range! That's crazy! Seriously, legitimately, absurdly crazy. Only three players in the NBA shot nearly as well in a similar amount of shots -- Ray Allen, Stephen Curry, and Danny Green. That's it. That's your comprehensive list.
The thing that makes that even more ridiculous? He'd shown absolutely no proficiency at the three point shot before. Ilyasova had -- prior to this last season -- barely shot 33% from three point range. Part of it was a little-noticed step forward made by Brandon Jennings, who (despite a veritably marginal step forward in his assist rate), did a much better job actually finding the right places to set his teammates up. Part of it is that Ilyasova has always been a decent shooter, and it stands to reason that a shooter like him (before last season, he'd shot almost 80% from the line and regularly was above par from the long midrange) has the potential to get better. I don't think he'll shoot 45% again, but assuming the Bucks keep Jennings around, you'd think he'll retain at least some measure of his three point efficacy. He was also a maven on the glass, posting one of the strongest rebound rates at his position and throwing up more than his fair share of ridiculously dominant performances on the boards. On the downside, while Ilyasova's aforementioned talents deserves accolades galore, his defensive game is more quixotic and lacking -- despite long reach, he doesn't have a lot of strength or defensive talent. He tends to be slow to respond to rotations, a bit of a heavy floater (never quite committing to his man but never quite committing to the help) and his somewhat lacking height for his position does requires a good defensive presence beside him to make him worth playing. Bogut was good at this -- it remains to be seen if Udoh and Ilyasova can effectively coexist as well.
While Ilyasova is known more for his game than any particular personal items of interest, there is one element of Ilyasova's story that I've always found pretty interesting. Namely his age. Or rather, the odd lack of documentation behind it. At this point, it's generally agreed that Ilyasova is nowhere near his listed age (which I went by for the stat-capsule, but figured I'd write about here). He's probably 2 years older, at a minimum. The details are rather sketchy, but it appears to be similar to the Fausto Carmona (aka Roberto Hernandez) drama that embroiled the Indians this past MLB season -- essentially, Carmona was arrested in the Dominican Republic for paying a woman $26,000 to falsify his birth certificate. He was in fact three years older than his "Fausto" birth certificate would have us believe, and as such, everything he'd done under the Carmona name was done under a false identity. According to reports, there was a longstanding case wherein the Uzbek Basketball Federation filed a complaint with FIBA regarding Ilyasova's background, alleging that Ilyasova was actually a man named "Arsen Ilyasova", born in 1984 and who entered Turkey illegally in 2002. FIBA ruled in favor of Turkey, but despite that, many still believe the Uzbek's claims have merit. Count me as one of them.
In the event it is true, and Ilyasova is actually markedly older than his stated age, his new contract might be a little bit tough to swallow in the last year or two. I'm of the opinion it's a bargain deal overall -- getting a player who's obviously starter quality and just shot 45% from three to agree to a $40 million dollar deal with a partially guaranteed last year is a coup for the Bucks, and especially when you look at how often free agents blow off Milwaukee and demand crazy overpayment simply to consider the franchise an option. Paying around 7-8 million a year for Ilyasova's talents is perfectly reasonable, and if he actually is the age he says he is, this could end up being a value deal over it's entire duration. But even if he is actually entering his age 28 or 29 season, the Bucks should get a minimum of 2 solid years out of him, have a medium-sized trade chip for two, and have given themselves the flexibility to waive the contract altogether if he's fallen off by the last year of the deal. Really not a bad move for the Bucks -- even if you don't like Ilyasova, one must note that an above-value contract is ALWAYS a solid trade chip. And if the Bucks actually decide to take the leap and embrace a tanking strategy, the Bucks should be able to swap out Ilyasova for a draft pick or two, and perhaps some young talent to help round out a "lose a ton of games" core.
I want you to imagine something. Remember how Derek Fisher shot 37% from behind the arc in last year's playoffs? Imagine that he also knew how to pass the ball. Imagine if Derek Fisher had actually remembered how to pass -- he coupled that three point shooting with a hilariously bad 1.3 assists in 22 minutes a night. Imagine if the opposing team actually had any reason to foul Fisher. Imagine if Fisher had been a positive rebounder from the point guard position, and had actually played anywhere near a level that required the other team to guard him when he was on the floor. Imagine if Fisher -- rather than simply plugging into the offense as a spot-up three point shooter with a proclivity for taking stupid long twos and defending poorly besides -- actually changed the structure and the dynamic of the Oklahoma City offense, with more ball movement and markedly different pace.
So, you know. Imagine if Fisher was Eric Maynor.
Really -- everything I used to describe the theoretical "better Fisher" was something Eric Maynor either has done or has shown the capability to do. One of the things that baffles me about the general consensus that the Lakers are actually going to be better than the Thunder this year is the idea that the Thunder are simply going to stay the course. I don't totally disagree -- I think the Thunder team we'll see in the 2013 will be just about the same. I don't think Durant will improve in any way that moves the scale. I don't see Westbrook improving, though perhaps his public perception will. Harden may have a better playoffs, but overall, the team is going to be virtually the same in the bigger pieces.
But you can't tell me with a straight face that it isn't a good thing to be swapping out 22 playoff minutes a night of a mummified Derek Fisher ambling towards the grave with 22 playoff minutes of a versatile, pace-changing guard with a knack for getting teammates open and improving the team's offense. Simply can't tell me that won't help things. A big knack. Look at the 2011 season -- the OKC offense played REMARKABLY better with Maynor on the floor, something that will likely be slightly less prevalent this year (given OKC's increased offensive efficacy overall) but something that could vastly improve the Thunder's chances against the Heat. And, of course, against the team where Chris Duhon serves as the primary backup at the point. Just saying.
(Also, I'm just going to leave this here -- Maynor was ridiculously awesome in college.)
• • •
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 really need to stop putting team names in the riddles. EVERYONE gets them when I do. Last time, 3/3 from Ethan, Zewo, J, Atori, and Chilai. And in response, NO MENTIONS OF TEAMS TODAY. Take that, readers.
- How, exactly, do people expect him to survive three more years? He's 38. He's been falling off. come on, now.
- "In response to making this 'choke' gesture, I will now get choked myself. Also, I'm a jerk."
- Best duck in the league today! Which really isn't saying much. Or... anything.
Thanks for all the love and support over yesterday's LeBron capsule -- I very much appreciate it. I'm glad most of you found it to be a good read -- I think it stands up nicely to many of the best things I've ever written, and I'm glad others feel the same.