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 Will Bynum, Norris Cole, and Glen Davis.
Follow Will Bynum by throwing up a prayer.
At this point, it's pretty fair to wonder what you're really going to get out of Will Bynum. While most fans still think of him as a young guy, he's no rookie anymore -- he's a 5-year vet who's bordering on 30. Bynum struggled through injuries last year and played barely half his games. More worryingly, he suffered through a series of pesky foot injuries, which had a two-pronged effect. First, it made him a literal nonentity for the 45.5% of his games he missed outright. Second, it made him a virtual nonentity for the 54.5% of the games he could actually play. Everything looked bad for the poor guy. His defense (never world beating) descended to incomprehensibly gross levels, his passing fell off a cliff, and his world-renowned speed took a turn for a scary mortality. While Bynum has been an effective player in the past, without his customary blazing speed, his general skillset goes from a decent asset to a shaky problem in about 5 seconds flat.
Bynum shoots the ball first, second, third and fourth -- with an occasional shot at fifth if nobody else is open. When his speed is on, that's not necessarily a bad thing -- you'd never want him starting, but as a change-of-pace guard off the bench, it's solid. Before this last season, he averaged somewhere around 57% from at-rim plays while getting to the rim on a larger share of his possessions than almost anyone else at his position. Of course, then last season happened. He only finished 52% of his shots at the rim last year, and outside the rim, the picture was even worse -- he didn't even make 25% on his outside-the-rim shots in 2012. That's especially rough given his always-shaky passing game -- his assist rate declined from "a bit below average" to "among the worst in the league", posting an assist rate in the bottom 10% of all point guards. His rebounding was OK, but hardly anything to write home about, and he posted more per possession turnovers than the majority of NBA point guards. As for his defense? Run away. The stats looked bad, but the eye test looked even worse -- watching him on defense was like watching a bad villain in a horror movie. The guy was hiding around every corner, slow to reach his prey, easy to lose in the forest. Really, really rough.
So, will he improve? Not sure. He recently said he spent the summer working on both a series of improvements to his defensive game and a "new dunk." Being as they are fans of the Pistons, most Pistons fans I talked to were excited about his theoretical focus on defense. Me? I'm really not sure how good he can actually get -- undersized players can be excellent defenders (see: Bradley, Avery) but it's extremely rare for a 30-something defensive nonentity to transform himself into a positive defender overnight. I'm just not sure how either of these things help his overall picture. I like how Bynum played before last season's horror show sapped his game, in general -- he played offense fearlessly, set up teammates to a semi-reasonable degree, and seemed to work as hard as anyone else in the league. He dominated the ball a bit much, but his blazing speed and general talents were solid enough that you'd put up with a bit of hogging. If last season was borne of the foot problems alone, he's fine. If it represented a broader trend, like Bynum's age catching up to him and taking away the things that made him good? No amount of new dunks or defensive improvements are going to help him, and he isn't going to get any time.
Simple as that, unfortunately.
Follow Norris Cole by destroying the college game
In his rookie year, Norris Cole was inconsistent at best and actively harmful at worst. He showed a proclivity for defensive pressure and a whole lot of gusto, but in terms of actual productivity, there wasn't much there. That was a pity for me -- I kind of hoped that he'd tear the league up. Why? Here's the thing. I watched some of Cole in college, because my family's Cleveland roots guide me to root for even the most inconsequential of Cleveland teams. He played for Cleveland State, a minor school whose main claim to fame -- athletically, in our lifetimes -- lies in a first-round upset of a fourth seeded Wake Forest in a year where my roommate picked Wake to make the final four. Not usually on anyone's radar, but emphatically on mine. I watched their games with some frequency, and paid close attention to Cole -- after all, there was hardly anyone else to watch. And you know what? At Cleveland State, Cole was dominant. He wasn't "very good", he wasn't "a decent talent." He was dominant, and he owned the college game in a way few players ever own ANY game.
Don't believe me? Here. Take a look at this. Nope, no typos. On February 12th, 2011, Norris Cole hung the Youngstown State for 41 points. To go with that 41, he added 20 rebounds, 9 assists, 3 steals, and (somehow) only 2 turnovers. It was among the most dominant college basketball performances in years. Absolute video game numbers, ESPECIALLY for a 6'2" guard -- there's a general reason that point guards don't tend to get excellent rebounding numbers. They're short. Even against college kids, Cole's 6'2" is usually too short to corral boards with that kind of efficiency. But he plays hard, and if the opposing team isn't careful, he'll find the seam and get a board you aren't expecting, or play a creative angle in the off-chance the ball takes a strange bounce. He's creative in how he gets his stats, even if the underlying numbers are -- at times -- not that great. That was, at least, what he was like in college. Engaging, ridiculous, awesome. He had this relentless hustle and grit that -- combined with his natural talent -- made me think he was going to be an NBA natural, even if he was a bit undersized. His creativity would carry over, I figured.
Unfortunately for Cole, the reality didn't really fit my expectations -- after a blazing start in the Heat's first few games, Cole proceeded to crash badly. He played great against the Celtics his second night on the floor, putting up an incredibly solid 20-4-4 line in an efficient, effective, and sneaky performance. But then things fell apart -- Cole's shot stopped falling, he passed sloppily, and he turned the ball over almost compulsively from then on out. As teams began to scout him, Cole's play essentially wilted. It wasn't fun. That is, until game 5, where Cole put up an insane line of 8-2-2 -- ... okay, alright, no. It wasn't that insane. Come on. Even I can't pretend that. But it WAS one of Cole's best games of the year, which basically tells you all you need to know about how good his year was after that blazing start. Locked in a human body, Cole embodied the 2011 Cavaliers -- strong start with an unexpected personal win over Boston, vaguely resembled a playoff-caliber player for a month or so, then fell into a deep funk as his production tailed into the ether. A few tinctures of hope to finish the string, but mostly hollow accomplishment after a season of dismal cringing.
Rough times. Hope he can rebound next year.
Quietly, Glen Davis posted a pretty solid season last year. It wasn't exactly mindblowing, and there were still a lot of his usual Glen Davis style flaws. ("Glendam Style?" I'll show myself out.) It comes with the territory. But it wasn't THAT bad. His playoff numbers were misleadingly excellent, and if you want a real assessment of what Davis is likely to bring going forward, you need to examine his overall play in the regular season. He played much better in the second half of the season than he did in the first on offense, but he also played SIGNIFICANTLY worse on defense when he was asked to act as a center. Therein lies the big problem with Davis, which this season highlighted explicitly. His game is not well suited for the power forward role, and he's prone to chucking up remarkably bad long two pointers when he's forced to squeeze into that role. His defense, though, works just fine from the power forward position -- his wide body and strong stance make him rather excellent at exploiting how thin and wiry most modern power forwards are, and while his rebounding isn't good, he's better than most people realize at the invisible tap-out and getting his man out of rebounding position with his weight. He throws his weight around well.
As a center, though? You see offensive improvement, as he's forced to play a more around-the-rim game and eschew the longballs that torpedo his efficiency and efficacy. He tends to get better personal rebounds, and his field goal percentage rises as he remembers that he's actually not too bad at playing the at-rim game. But his defense falls off the proverbial cliff, twitching sadly in a broken mess at the bottom of the ravine. He simply can't cover centers. Not a single one. There's no center in the league Glen Davis can effectively shut down -- this is in no way his fault, as he's certainly not tall enough and definitely not athletic enough to be expected to do it. But it's a fact. So, when I hear Orlando fans cite his excellent numbers at center, I have to cry foul -- those offensive numbers ARE a legitimate improvement, and he even rebounds better. But the defensive dropoff is bad enough that I can't really take Davis-as-center seriously as a full-year, big-minute concept. The only way it would really work would be if Davis found himself next to a center prospect like Anthony Davis or an old wolf like Kevin Garnett -- someone who could switch to power forward on offense while cross-matching with Davis on defense without really skipping a beat. But that has its own opportunity cost, in the form of confusion in rotations and a lot of information to keep track of for the players. Might not work very well.
You could probably write a capsule by itself about Davis' off-court adventures. Perhaps you'd start with the Shrek thing, back when he was a Celtic. Last season included several instant classic bits, though -- there was the lighthearted pap with the Tas Melas dance-off, the triumphant return of the prodigal son in a dismal game where the Magic ended up getting the stuffing beaten out of them (and their backs as contenders broken), and the true dramatic tension -- Davis forsaking his closest friends and letting fame wrest away his love for "real New York knish." Noble mensches across the world feel a tug of the heartstrings whenever it's mentioned. I've got the sniffles just thinking about it. Clearly, though, his life is a Shakespearian comedy. He's got himself a solid head start on this year's act by writing his very own in-arena song. While nothing Davis makes will ever reach the storied heights of the Q's beautiful "mogotti.wav", it's pretty catchy and honestly hilarious that an NBA player seriously made music that the arena intends to use whenever he does anything of value. I'm highly impressed. Keep doing you, Glen Davis. Keep doing you. Because you know what they say...
“I just want to make sure I’m Glen Davis wherever I’m at. I think I can be Glen Davis wherever. It just depends on the system, the people around the system, who’s going to let Glen Davis be Glen Davis, not make Glen Davis something they think he should be.’’
(Okay, only Glen Davis actually says that. Still.)
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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. Sorry the site was down for a short time yesterday -- clear your cache if you still intermittently get those domain messages on any of your GG-browsing devices. Yesterday's riddles were arrived at on a 2/3 basis by Mike L., Sir Thursday, Chilai, and Atori.
- According to @CardboardGerald, this player experiences #CardboardGeralding in the offseason by eating copious quantities of shrimp bought from Mr. Cardboard Gerald.
- Torn on Player #218. Seems like an awesome dude, his interviews are nice, really seems cool. But it is UTTERLY IMPOSSIBLE to watch him play for your team and not want to punch yourself in the face. Repeatedly. Forever.
- Until last season, I would've just repeated the last riddle for Player #219. But he was actually pretty good last season, and while it was fluky, at least his contract isn't TOTALLY guaranteed.
Really tired today. Sincerely need a soothing siesta.
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