Player Capsules 2012, #202-204: T.J. Ford, Joel Przybilla, Josh Smith

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 T.J. Ford, Joel Przybilla, and Josh Smith.

• • •

Follow T.J. Ford on Twitter at @tj_ford.

Last March, directly after a freak elbow to the back in a routine regular season game versus the New York Knicks, T.J. Ford hung up his Nikes and retired for good. The retirement of someone who played for one of my favorite teams generally makes me feel conflicted and sad. And sure enough, that's exactly how I felt with Ford, despite the fact that I wasn't anywhere close to his biggest fan in San Antonio. While he was playing well, I spent most of the time essentially waiting for the other shoe to drop. He'd been relatively poor in Indiana over the past couple years, with his ongoing injury problems sapping his game and turning a once awesome player into a relatively tentative one. In San Antonio, some of that was still there, although Pop had carved out a better role than either O'Brien or Vogel did in Indiana. Suffice to say, though, I wasn't exactly writing paeans to his brilliance. But that's somewhat besides the point -- my point is, no matter how little regard you had for a player's game in-the-moment, you still get a definite sense of sadness when watching a nice guy like Ford walk away from the game he loves. After listening to him talk about the not-completely-voluntary retirement, though, I felt significantly better about the retirement. For two reasons.

First, although I felt bad when I realized it, I honestly had never quite internalized the depth of Ford's injuries. I knew he was injured and I vaguely knew that he'd lost his first season to a malady of the spine, but I'd never known the exactitudes. Apparently, Ford has been going against doctor's orders to eschew contact basketball for almost 5 years, playing on a surgically repaired spine that nevertheless posed a huge risk to Ford every time he stepped on the court. If he was tentative on the court (and to these eyes, he was)... an injury that serious would tend to make being anything else impossible, wouldn't you say? The looming, creeping thought in the back of your head that one errant mistake is going to break your spine? That's insane stuff. And you can hardly blame anybody for walking away from that. Second, his attitude regarding the retirement isn't one of regret or sadness. It's one of opportunities he'll take in the future, hope, and general contentedness. It's the most positive spin you could put on the genuinely awful happening that Ford simply HAS to retire for his health -- he'll gain more time for his family, his friends, and his life-after-basketball. He'll get to coach the Austin Toros. He seems to look at it as the next step in a long journey rather than a serious setback in his life -- that's inspiring and wonderful, and it's a beautiful sentiment. It's the equivalent of actually following through on the sentiment behind the outworn politician pap behind "spending more time with the family" and "enjoying the community" for reasons of wanting to do it rather than reasons of scandalous necessity.

So, I don't feel too bad. He'll go forward, he'll become a great coach, and he'll continue to beat the odds for people with his back condition. Game, set, match. Fun stuff. With his career over, here are a few interesting statistical facts about T.J. Ford -- did you know that in the 2007 season, a 3rd year T.J. Ford was 2nd in the league in assist percentage? Really. With a bullet, too. Ford was higher than Kidd, Deron, Paul, et cetera. This fact is one of the many things about T.J. Ford that consistently amuses me. Never in Ford's career has he been a fantastic player, but in that year, his passing went insane and everything seemed to come together. It culminated in Ford putting up relatively insane numbers in his limited minutes during that year's playoffs. 56% true shooting on 35% usage? Assist rate of 44 to a turnover rate of just 13? Eldritch. In short, Ford did play lights-out ball in his last two years in Toronto. And while his $8,000,000 a year contract looked pretty awful in Indiana, it's easy to forget that Ford strung together two very good years that (all things considered) probably deserved that kind of a hail mary contract. If not a tad more. But those arguments are essentially behind us now, I suppose.

While sad, I take his view -- at least he walked away while he could still walk, right? And walk he will.

• • •

Follow Joel Przybilla by eschewing the concept of chocolate.

Why are teams still trying to sign Joel Przybilla? Seriously. I don't tend to get too low on players here, but with Przybilla's current state, I honestly can't help it. I realize he's a name that some people recognize. I realize that over his career he's been a phenomenal, game-shifting rebounder. The Wages of Wins metrics have always liked him a bit more than I feel they should. He WAS a low-usage, high-impact rebounding talent. Theoretically. Before he suffered from brutal injuries in the late 2010 season, he actualized that ideal nicely. Then he got injured, then he got traded, then he got injured again, and I mean... cripes, guys, he just isn't that good anymore. His rebounding has fallen off from levels of per-minute insanity to levels of per-minutes "slightly-above-averageity." His defense is completely gone, as is his ability to jump -- his few offensive talents have dwindled into simply "reaching up and placing the ball into the basket." Take it this way -- he took 14 shots outside the immediate vicinity of the rim last season. He made... one. A single shot! That's not even enough to manufacture a buzz. Shoot!

"At least he's still low usage, right?" Sure. But Przybilla's turnover rate -- extremely high over his entire career, especially for a guy as insanely low usage as he's been -- tends to indicate the problem with usage statistics that don't incorporate turnovers. While Przybilla put up a usage percentage of just 7.9% last year (among the lowest in the entire league), he posted a turnover rate of 28% -- that means that 28% of the possessions Przybilla tried to use resulted in a turnover. That's... pretty hilariously bad, honestly. And it's not like there's any indication that it'll get better -- he actually posted an even worse percentage the season before, with a turnover percentage of 34% in the 2011 season. If you gave Przybilla the ball during the 2011 season, there was a 1/3 chance he'd turn it over. I actually like all the interviews I've read with Przybilla, and he seems like quite the stand-up guy. Some random facts: he's listed "The Big Lebowski" as his favorite film of all time on multiple occasions. He owns a bulldog named "Beanie." Avid outdoorsman -- loves to fish. Maybe that explains it. Maybe the Blazers, Mavericks, and Bucks all were competing for Przybilla's ability to teach their young bucks how to throw out a line.

I don't really know what else to say. I feel like a character from The Walking Dead, assuming that my character is some wonky guy picked up by the group and tasked with writing a 370 part series outlining the different zombies the group has encountered. "Well... this one was real bitey, wouldn'tcha know, and this one had a more guttural moan than most. This one bled a lot when we offed it, as opposed to like, you know, that one had bled out all the way beforehand so it was kinda desiccated and stuff. Oh yeah, I guess he was wearing a Grateful Dead shirt, so I mean... didn't really have a long ways to go from human to zombie, you know? Probably had a tattoo of a peace sign somewhere but hell if I'm lookin' those dudes are gross as heck. But I mean, fellas, this ain't rocket science. He's, um, a zombie."

That's basically Przybilla, at this point in his career. Not rocket science, here -- he's, um, a zombie. Good signing, Bucks.

• • •

Follow Josh Smith on Twitter at @TooSmoove5.

People harp on Josh Smith for his errant long range jumper. Normally I'd use this space to try and counteract any overly-negative comments or thoughts people have. I'd really like to defend him, here. I try to defend more than I harp because I feel like it's simply a far more productive conversation to have. But you know what? It's essentially impossible to defend Smith's love of long jumpers from any remotely reasonable basketball perspective. At all. It's not like he takes these shots with split seconds left on the clock -- he'll regularly get the ball with 15-20 seconds on the clock, isolate, and simply let it fly. It's not like he doesn't have any other offensive skills -- he converted 98% of his dunk attempts last year and almost 70% of his shots at the rim overall. He's got talent, and a brilliant left-block post game to boot. Heck, he wasn't even that bad from 3-9 feet, putting in a field goal percentage roughly at the position average despite taking more than the average number of shots from that range. And, of course, better than his relatively abysmal percentage from the long two -- he shot 34% overall from outside 15 feet. Big men shot an average of 37% from that range.

Then again, Josh Smith also shot 7.95 shots per game from that distance -- the average big man shoots 3.58 a night. Maybe it's just a usage effect -- which explains the percentage, I suppose, but offers no guidance on what I find to be the most ridiculous thing about Josh Smith. It's not JUST that he shoots these with a low percentage, or that he shoots them late in the shot clock, or that he's bullheaded about the whole ordeal. It's simply the raw number he takes. Let me say it again -- on average, Josh Smith takes 7.95 shots beyond 15 feet in a single night. Let me try and put that in context. First, the raw number -- the average big man in the NBA shoots 6.86 shots a night. Not from any specific range -- OVERALL. Josh Smith, on an average night, takes more shots from outside 15 feet than the average NBA big man takes from the field. That's patently absurd. Second, the components -- despite being well below average for the range, Smith shoots more long two pointers than anyone in the league but Kobe Bryant. In fact, here are the top 5 in field goal attempts per night from 15-23 feet (along with their percentages from the range):

KOBE BRYANT, 7.72 shots per game, 41.1%.
JOSH SMITH, 6.32 shots per game, 36.7%.
GERALD HENDERSON, 6.25 shots per game, 39.5%
MONTA ELLIS, 6.22 shots per game, 37.4%
LAMARCUS ALDRIDGE, 6.20 shots per game, 43.1%

Ridiculous. Beyond that, he's an awful three point shooter (making 25% a night!) and an awful free throw shooter (his 63% from the line is in the bottom 25% of all power forwards). There are very, very few players with shot distributions more puzzling than that of Josh Smith. I'd argue there's virtually none. It's completely mindboggling.

Especially when you look beyond the shots. Outside of his offensive absurdities, Smith's tertiary stats are essentially the stuff of dreams. His rebounding is phenomenal, either as a small forward or in his natural role as a widebody four. His passing is excellent, although he does manufacture a pretty high turnover rate to go along with that. Steals? Top big man in the league. Blocks? Always up there. He's a fantasy basketball monster, and beyond all that, he's also an excellent defender. As the folks at Hoopinion smartly noted in their must-read season review of Smith's latest hits, he's one of the rare defenders who succeeds despite virtually never boxing out -- relies on his athleticism to make lightning-quick reads, and as such, will always be a more effective help defender than a primary man defender. Also, as they noted, any team that invests a long term high-dollar contract into Smith could turn out to be a pretty poor decision. Just about every facet of Smith's game is rooted in his athleticism -- without it, his defense would be little and his overused jump shot and decent court vision would be essentially all he has.

I don't really know what to say about Smith. Hopefully he puts it together. Figures out his role. Realizes he could easily -- EASILY -- make an all-star team if he didn't outright sabotage his chances with this utterly insane fixation on the long two and the vicarious devil-may-care attitude it represents. He'd make an all-star team, his teams would be better, and he'd probably be in line for a slightly sub-max contract. But, well. He probably won't, honestly. And he'll probably continue to befuddle and confuse right up until he vacates the league. Seems to be his M.O. at this point. Regrettable, but we'll always root for SOME disappointments, I suppose.

• • •

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. Fair notice -- Chilai also got 2/3 for Monday's capsules, I totally missed that. Sorry, Chilai! As for yesterday's riddles, most people got 2/3 -- good work to Raymond C, Lester, J, Chilai (once again!) Geezer, and Atori. Good job, folks.

  • Player #205 is a father, a chimney sweep, and a correspondent on the Daily Show. (I think?)
  • There are so many Celtics fans who are excited about Player #206. I'm gonna be honest. I've yet to figure out why.
  • People need to start paying more attention to Player #207's defense -- THAT'S what's made him an all-star level player, honestly, not his iso-heavy offense.

Last night in Vegas. Time to go get a tattoo of Pitbull! Or maybe the Internet Explorer logo? Sounds chill, bro. Also: just a reminder, I didn't take Colombo Day off, so we DID run capsules yesterday -- Kevin Durant, Ronnie Brewer, and Shawn Marion. Chill stuff. Check it out, if you missed it. (And if you know why we've got a national holiday celebrating the largest city in Sri Lanka, let me know. Always really confused me.)

• • •

12 comments on “Player Capsules 2012, #202-204: T.J. Ford, Joel Przybilla, Josh Smith

  1. 205. not sure I'll get back to you
    206. Terry? I'm excited about Terry. Could be either Lee or Darko, but Darko's the worst and I don't think that many people are excited about Lee.
    207. Joe Johnson

  2. 205. Amar'e Stoudemire? He was on that show once?
    206. Darko Milicic. Because Bill Simmons absolutely loves Terry and Lee, and Simmons is never wrong. Ever.
    207. Andre Iguodala? Never really saw him as an iso player though.

  3. 205. James Jones (Wikipedia tells me there's a Daily Show correspondent called Jason Jones...and he's got the closest name).
    206. Jason Terry
    207. Joe Johnson

    • Actually, just had a brainwave - Jeff Green is a much better fit for 206 than Jason Terry.

      So make that:

      205. James Jones
      206. Jeff Green
      207. Joe Johnson

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