Player Capsules 2012, #196-198: Marcus Camby, Lance Stephenson, Luke Ridnour

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 Marcus Camby, Lance Stephenson, and Luke Ridnour.

• • •

Follow Marcus Camby on Twitter at @MarcusCamby23.

While I've always been at somewhat fond of Marcus Camby's personality and character, I must admit that I wasn't incredibly positive about Camby's game going into the 2012 season. He's something of an enigma, somehow considered the epitome of the all-D no-O big despite (at this point in his career) being no great shakes on either end of the court. Offensively, the story is obvious -- Camby has no low post game of any particular repute, beyond taking advantage of his prolific rebounding to tip in the occasional errant miss. He gets the majority of his offense from midrange jump shots and long two-pointers. That's perfectly fine for players like Dirk who shoot ridiculously well from that range. That's not quite as fine for players like Camby whose shot has gotten less and less reliable as the years trudge onward. He went through a nice little hot streak to end the year in Houston, shooting 44% on the long midrange and 42% from the short midrange -- this made up for the fact that, for the last 3 years, he'd been immensely inconsistent from those ranges, going from highs of 47% to lows in the teens. Impossible to know what to expect from him, which is what makes his offense so aggravating -- you simply have no idea what he's going to give you from night to night.

Defensively? He has a very good reputation. But I'm starting to wonder what he has beyond that, at least now. It's mostly age. In his prime, he was a great weakside shot blocker. Fantastic at it. He was disruptive, effective, and sneaky. And that has a lot of value -- he consistently had sparkling on/off court numbers, defensively, when he was in his prime. If you consider rebounding a part of defense -- which some do not, in a view I'm actually quite sympathetic to -- his always amazing rebounding adds a lot of value on the defensive end as well. But it's worth noting that despite his skills, there was always some degree of separation between the perception and the truth regarding Camby. He was never a fantastic pick and roll defender, and he never really had the ability to defend centers one on one. Complex plays (even in his prime) didn't tend to lend to his defense very well. His defensive player of the year award in 2007 strikes me as a bit odd, in particular; Duncan and Bowen were still in prime form that season, and Shawn Marion had singlehandedly dragged an awful defensive supporting cast in Phoenix to the fringes of a top-10 defense. I realize this is partly revisionist history. I don't know what I would've voted had I been there in the moment. And this is obviously colored by the playoffs, where Bowen and Duncan dismantled that Denver team defensively and Camby proved unable to cover Duncan in any meaningful way. But then again. It's not really a postseason award, it's a regular season award -- and I don't really remember much at all of the 2007 regular season, so I feel I don't really have a place to talk.

Notice, however, that the last paragraph was almost entirely framed in the past tense. That's because -- plain and simple -- he isn't nearly as good anymore. While he had a positive effect in Houston, for the entirety of his Portland tenure, Camby found himself simply unable to exert a strong impact on the court defensively -- those Portland teams played better defense with him off the court than with him on it. His block percentage has plummeted, his steal percentage has fallen off, and in general he's gone from a can't miss prospect to a player that's only situationally useful. He rebounds, yes. He'll block some shots, yes. He'll make a few long jumpers, sure. But the rebounds come at the expense of any remaining ability to get out in transition, the blocks come at the expense of solid play defense or positional defense, and the long jumper makes will be so few and far between they won't be worth it. I find it absolutely puzzling that the Knicks gave him $4 million a year, given his recent falloff -- it's not that I dislike him as a person, but I simply don't know what tape they were watching when they decided to pay that sort of a price and give up Josh Harrellson (another situationally useful player, albeit one making a fraction of Camby's salary and with a less storied name). By signing Camby, the Knicks get to continue selling fans on the illusion that this Knicks team is markedly better than last year's version. It's not, but it should be fine in a weaker East. To be totally honest with you, I'm expecting this Knicks team to get about the same Pythagorean record of last year's team, despite not being a better team in any cohesive way. Unless Camby has been sandbagging it the last few years. Because, you know. Late-30s big men with no guarantee of a future contract love sandbagging.

For his personal tidbit, I'd like to bring you back to the year 2010, when Camby was up for what he figured would be his last contract. He stated on multiple occasions he wanted to retire in LA -- he'd moved his entire family there, and had gotten comfortable with the idea of living there all his life. Remember this? Camby was prepared to give the Clippers a hometown discount to retain his services. Their response, to one of the first decent players in the history of the franchise that actually wanted to stay with them? "Screw you, we're going to trade your expiring for other expiring contracts and cash just to show you how little you mean to us." Classic Clippers. Good thing he got picked up by Portland -- there, he was able to experience the fruits of playing for one of the absolute best fanbases in the league. Just watch the response when Camby had during his best game in 3-4 years, and led the Blazers to an upset of the Thunder back in 2010. Beautiful moment. Not so beautiful: after saying he wanted to retire in Portland, they did almost the exact same thing as the Clippers and traded him away for expiring contracts and junk, choosing to let him go in their own firesale not two years later. Which, in turn, forced Camby to relocate his family once again. Gross. Chances are the Knicks will finally let him actually play out the string, but I said that about Portland a year ago, so... who knows, honestly? Here's hoping. He's a good dude.

• • •

Follow Lance Stephenson on Twitter at @StephensonLance.

Lance Stephenson isn't very good at basketball. Let's start with that. He's obviously a great deal better at it than I am, but that's sort of damning with faint praise when you've actually made the NBA. He's a reasonably sized guard who could theoretically play the wing, but I'm not sure how much better he'd be out there. He makes terrible decisions with the basketball, so you'd think "hey! Play him off-ball!" and hope that works. But it... well, doesn't. You kind of need some sort of shot to actually play off-ball in the NBA. And that's something he simply doesn't have. His shot is completely broken, and in three years of pro/semi-pro basketball, he hasn't once shot over 21% from three. And that 21% came against the college three point line. Gross. This seems to be a reasonable reflection of his NBA shooting ability -- for his career, Stephenson is currently scarcely above a 60% free throw shooter. Which certainly backs up the theory that he simply doesn't have an NBA-quality shot, yet. Beyond his utterly busted shot, Stephenson lazes on defense and doesn't have a great grasp on where he should be on the floor, on either end. He tends to be in awful places to collect the ball and take a shot, just sort of lingering in the dreadful long-two location as his teammates beg him to go elsewhere.

For most players I'd highlight the work they're doing to reach their potential. Their efforts at fitting in on the court, figuring out their role, advancing their game. I don't think I can really do that for Stephenson, who has provided quite a bit of evidence that he's not the kind of guy you really need to focus on the positive for. It's one thing to have a rap sheet with drug use, gun ownership, or drunk and disorderly conduct. That's not exactly ideal, but in my view, it's not necessarily grounds for really disliking a person. I've had friends who are drug addicts, friends who are gun nuts, friends who are alcoholics. To some level I can see and fathom those sorts of excesses. But I cannot abide sexual assault. I can't really look at a guy who was arrested in high school for groping girls who didn't want it at his high school, wash out in a short college career, then get arrested once more for throwing his girlfriend down a flight of stairs and bashing her head into the bottom step. Why? Because she didn't answer his calls when she was out on the town. Christ. I've gotten annoyed at girlfriends for doing that but I can't even fathom what kind of mental disconnect would result in someone doing that to a person they're dating. I just don't get it. And for that -- and, in general, for the disturbed air around Mr. Stephenson -- I can't really think positively of Stephenson or give you any degree of hope for his future. Sorry.

Although, well. Okay. You know what's sad? Despite all of that, after this year's playoffs, I can't help but think of the bush league hit Dexter Pittman placed on Stephenson over any of that ill-repute. When I think of Stephenson, the main image I get is that of Pittman's snide wink, the Heat bench barely responding, and Stephenson hacking and gasping in the hardwood. Which in turn makes me sympathetic to Stephenson simply on account of Pittman being such an incredible jerk. So good job, Dexter. For the first time in my life, you've made me actively sympathetic to a violent assaulter. Really appreciated the help, bro.

• • •

Follow Luke Ridnour by quacking and wearing awful unifo--oh wait, he's not a football player.

Ah, Luke Ridnour. The Oregon Duck to end all Oregon Ducks. (Really. One of the best Ducks in recent memory, at least on the hardwood. Led them to an Elite Eight! How wild is that?) Ridnour is a serviceable point guard, especially if your team is really bad. He's unfortunately something of a career backup on any particularly good team, but there's really not much wrong with that. His defense is atrocious, but frankly, point guard defense isn't that harmful to the team defensive context. And his passing is -- if not extraordinary -- extremely solid. He has a great handle, continuously putting up one of the lower turnover rates for his position over the last several years. He's a solid shooter -- nothing incredible, but patently solid. He's getting up there in the years, I suppose, but as long as he doesn't lose his legs on his shot, he can probably play reasonably competent ball well into his mid 30s. If he wants to. After all, we're looking at a guy who's shot 90% from the line over the last 3 years -- I doubt he'll be great in a year or so, but until he loses his touch, he'll still have a modicum of value on the court. Should be a solid backup for Rubio going forward -- and on a reasonably decent contract, too!

I'd now like to spend a short while touching on something I mentioned offhandedly in the Ricky Rubio capsule.

For all this talk about Rubio’s offense, as I said before, the Timberwolves offense was actually worse with Rubio on the floor. If they wanted better offense, they’d play Barea or Ridnour.

Many people have balked at this, and emailed me wondering how that could be true. I wanted to explain why, at least with Ridnour, it definitively is. It's not necessarily that the team around Rubio performs markedly worse with Rubio on the court -- everyone with a set of eyes and a pulse can tell that Rubio's presence helps the players around him get open shots. Indeed, while the on-off court stats show a team that shoots markedly worse with Rubio on the court, the raw stat of surrounding team on-court FG% doesn't quite show the full story for Rubio or Ridnour. What's more elucidating is to show the field goal percentage of all other players on the court while those two are in the game, and when you switch to that sort of view, you find strong evidence to the visually obvious -- that is, Rubio helps his team shoot. With Rubio on the floor, Timberwolves not-named-Rubio shot 44.4% from the floor. With Ridnour on the floor, Timberwolves not-named Ridnour shot a shade over 43% from the floor. Relatively marked difference, and one I think can be primarily attributed to the quality of their passing. (Ed. Note: Yes, I realize Rubio and Ridnour played minutes together. It doesn't impact these broader calculations much because the vast majority of the shots either took were without one another. Also: Ridnour is a pretty bad spot-up shooter, so he personally shot worse than you'd expect with Rubio on the court.)

So -- the question follows -- why, exactly, would the original statement be true? If he improves the shooting around him, why would you bench Rubio if you wanted better offense? Simple. Because the gap between Rubio and Ridnour -- personally -- is more than enough to bridge that. I'd argue that the players around Rubio having better percentages than the players around Ridnour is actually a pretty ridiculous result for Rubio, because not only does it mean he's making primarily the same players look better but also that he's making them look better despite the fact that nobody needs to guard Rubio. Guards can shade off onto the two-man, bigs don't really need to worry about showing hard on a Rubio drive, et cetera. It helps the other team's defensive spacing, so the fact that Rubio's passing still improved the players around him is a fantastic sign for his future going forward, at least as an offense-redefining passing talent. But in the short-term, before Rubio develops his offensive game? There are major problems. He improves a team's defense using his ridiculous defensive capabilities, but offensively, it's absolutely (and unfortunately) true that Rubio's ridiculously awful personal offense is a net drag on his team. Ridnour isn't phenomenal, but he also isn't a nonentity -- rotations have to shade for him, players have to consider his existence, and (most importantly) teammates can pass to him with the expectation he'll can an open shot. None of that is true for Rubio, yet, and as such despite his passing actively improving the players around him he will remain a detriment to the Timberwolves' offense until he develops a personal offensive skillset or two. I think he'll take measures to improve it relatively quickly, making this argument after-the-fact dithering -- but it could remain true for a season or two until his offensive improvements finally kick in.

• • •

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 had two three-out-of-three guesses last time. Good show to Lester and Stefan. Solid riddles for once -- everyone had decent guesses but not everyone got it. Let's see if I can repeat that performance today.

  • Excellent defender. Shocked he was able to be had on the market for that cheap as he was -- Player #199, more than any of their other additions, should make his new team very excited.
  • Player #200 once went to a bar and watched National Geographic on a big screen while sipping a soda and tweeting. Seriously. I'm not kidding. Will be a Capsule (Plus).
  • Is Player #201 a hall of fame player? Depends on where you're standing. But in my view, the case is stronger than most people think, ESPECIALLY given what he's done on defense these last two years.

Once again, apologies for yesterday's lack of capsules. I've been quite busy this week and I'm about to be even moreso -- as mentioned in the comments yesterday, I'll be in Vegas for the SAS Analytics Conference for much of next week. I'll also be attending (and hopefully writing a fun piece covering) the Clippers/Nuggets preseason game on October 6th with Alex Arnon, one of my favorite fellows. Given this, I figured it'd be good to get a little bit ahead on the Capsule writing -- I don't know how much time I'll really have to write early next week, but I'd really like to keep myself on schedule. That, and I didn't have that Capsule Plus finished yet, heh. Anyway. See you next week, hope everyone has a splendid weekend.

• • •

16 comments on “Player Capsules 2012, #196-198: Marcus Camby, Lance Stephenson, Luke Ridnour

    • i agree that camby's defense was always overrated. i remember an article in a magazin a few months after camby had left denver, which was basically saying that Nene's ability to defend centers well one on one was considerably more valuable on defense for the Nuggets than camby's shotblocking and rebounding.

    • Actually, wait. Pretty sure it's not Diaw, because he seems like an unlikely choice for a Capsule Plus (then again, I guess he is a Spur now).

      So let's make that:

      Courtney Lee
      Kevin Durant
      Andre Iguodala

      • Well, he gives someone the Knicks could feasibly put at the 3 other than Melo which means more time for Melo at the 4, which is always a good thing. Also, he gives Tyson an elite perimeter defender that he didn't have last year.

        I don't think Shump's elite quite yet, definitely can be, not sure that he was last year. As a Knicks' hater (most of my friends are Knicks fans and they're all the worst), him and JR Smith on the cheap were the only things I approved of their offseason.

  1. Just for what it's worth, when Stephenson got elbowed, he hopped right up, and definitely was never rolling around wheezing on the court

    If that helps you hate him more that's great. Lance Stephenson is a dick.

  2. Aaron,

    I love this site. I am a huge basketball fan and appreciate all that you offer here. Your piece the other day about your life brought a tear to my eyes. You speak with the voice of someone far beyond your years. Still, your piece today on Lance Stephenson bothers me, partially because I have so much respect for you even though I don't know you.

    As much of an NBA addict as I am, I didn't know Lance Stephenson. I have no connection to him, as a fan or otherwise. And, as you point out, I'm sure he is a very flawed person. But aren't we all in our own way? The line your drawing defining Stephenson's transgressions is an artificial one. On one side is OK, the other bad. Would you have been able to control your prior anger at your girlfriend had you experienced Stephenson's upbringing? What if you had his genetics?

    Recently, Royce White has been getting a lot of support in the press as he attempts to deal with his mental health issues. As Henry Abbott pointed out, shouldn't his problem be treated in the same way as any other injury. Can't we extend the issues surrounding Stephenson to say that in some way they are at least similar.

    I understand what he has done is repugnant. I have never lived like that as I assume you haven't either. I really don't have any clear answers as to how issues like this are treated (well, at least that are brief) but I truly feel that contempt for problems like this is misguided. In my small village there is a Quaker Meeting House. When the war in the Middle East started back in the early 2000's, they put up a flag outside that said simply "There is no Way to Peace. Peace is the Way." Can we ever expect to heal our world and it's ills if we can't consider forgiveness for those such as Stephenson.

    • To be honest, we need to judge him for it because we believe it's wrong to hurt someone like that. Stephenson seems to have a history of repeating his patterns, without repenting. If he has, since doing all he's done, decided that it was wrong and he'll be more careful and never do it again, then we could talk about 'forgiveness'. However there's no reason to accept everything hes done until that moment of truth has been reached, because it's dangerous. I don't think White's issues are in any way similar. The guy has anxiety, but it's not hurting anyone (just maybe his NBA career).

  3. Brad,

    Calling a bad person a bad person isn't the same as attacking them. Forgiveness can certainly lead to reconciliation but more often it leads to continued negative behavior.

    To show someone their wrongs is often the best way to make them right.

  4. The thing that throws me off Marion is why his last 2 years would be singled out defensively. He'd played 3 for Dallas and was a better defender in his prime than when he got there, anyways. Bosh and Chandler would've fit the clue perfectly since Bosh has gotten much better defensively in MIA and Chandler took his career to another level the last 2 years, but both have already been listed

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