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 Raymond Felton, Antawn Jamison, and Al Harrington.
Follow Raymond Felton by calling the Butterball Turkey Hotline.
Veteran leadership is a nice buzzword. It's a thing that media-savvy teams say when they need to convince their fanbase they didn't just make a grievous error. "Oh, we know that [X] is more productive than [Y]... we just figured that [Y]'s veteran leadership would raise the tide for everyone around him, thus making the entire team better. [X] will just be focused on his own numbers. [Y] will be unselfish, and defer. It'll work out better for everyone. We didn't need [X] anyway." ... Okay, honestly, until this offseason, I can't remember a time when I've actually heard a team put down a player they hyped up less than two months earlier through the false paradigm of "veteran leadership." I can't really recall any other teams being quite that breathtakingly duplicitous and disrespectful. For the most part, when teams let a player go, it's because of reasonable ignorance of a player's potential or simply getting priced out of the market. Having a good backup in place can push the needle, too. Teams don't tend to try and push a completely false narrative to their fans. There's spin, and there always will be, but it's never completely rooted in falsehood. But you know what? With the Knicks, it basically is. Let's take apart each of the given reasons for the Felton/Lin swap.
- Reasonable ignorance of a player's potential. Well, given that Lin put together one of the hottest streaks of any rookie-level player in the last... er... ever? Don't think this is very fair. You tend to have at least some facsimile of an idea of a player's potential when you create entire ad campaigns based around that player's talent. There are a great wealth of things the Knicks don't know. "How good Jeremy Lin could be" is not one of them.
- Priced out of the market. The New York Knicks are one of the most profitable teams in the NBA. Dolan has gone deep into the luxury tax virtually every year in the last ten. The Knicks getting "priced out of the market" is like Richard Branson saying he's too down-on-his-luck to tip a limo driver. Alas, even if you could make an argument that the "situation has changed"... the Knicks paid Felton/Kidd $24 million dollars. They would have paid Lin $25 million. They quite literally spent the exact same amount of money on their two new acquisitions as they would've on keeping Lin around. It was completely lateral.
- Already had a good backup in place. I'll assume the Knicks knew they could get Felton if they tried hard enough. We'll ignore Kidd, because I already discussed him and most people will admit that he was a completely unnecessary throw-in here. This basically comes down to Felton vs Lin, and how much you value either of them. Lin is the not-quite-as-good-as-he-seemed 25 game wonder. Felton is the terrible-career-numbers guy who is ALSO a 25-game-wonder in New York. So, wait. It was another completely lateral move? Well... snap.
Look. Knicks fans. I'd like to tell you that this is going to be alright. That the Knicks made an error, but it wasn't egregious and it won't affect your bottom line going forward. But you know what? It will. Lin may be in for a rough season this year as he recovers from his meniscus surgery. But had the Knicks taken a bit more of an interest in C.J. Watson (who, by the way, is still better than Felton) as a stopgap and accepted the fact that without Shumpert on the floor, the Knicks' ceiling isn't very high to begin with? They could've actually ridden out Lin's downtime due to surgery and waited for Lin -- a young, athletic, improving point guard -- to get back to full form and raise the ceiling of their team. They didn't. They chose instead to go for Felton. Other than the guy whose "veteran leadership" was just utilized in Portland to oust a beloved coach and help the team rationalize giving up on a loving fanbase... who is Felton, really?
Well. Raymond Felton is a point guard who -- over the course of his career -- has always had a relatively decent reputation. He's also a point guard who benefits from exactly the same thing Lin benefits from. The only difference is, with Felton, we actually have the adequate sample size to establish that the hot streak was statistical noise. For 26 games in the 2011 season, Felton played incredibly good ball for the Knicks and posted numbers of 19-4-10 (with 4 turnovers a game) on 45-36-90 shooting. Very solid numbers. However, if you do the same thing a lot of people are now doing and take that hot streak out of his career numbers? Felton averages -- in a sample size of 17,523 minutes and 500 games -- 13 points a night, less than seven assists, and 3 rebounds a game. He averages 3 turnovers a game. He shoots just barely over 40% from the floor, and 32.5% from three. 78% from the line. He isn't doing this in small-game minutes, either -- he averages 35 minutes per game over his outside-the-streak career.
The common refrain I hear is that Felton's hot play with the Knicks is indicative of his "new" career average if he played with the Knicks. That he'll play just as well as he did during his hot streak simply because he loves New York and can't stand those evil small market teams like Portland or Denver or Charlotte. I'd be more inclined to consider this possibility if we didn't already have evidence that it's full of baloney. Look at his Knicks numbers. After Felton's excellent play in his first 26 games with the team, his numbers in his last 24 games as a Knick fell back to his career averages and he started to... well... kind of suck, again. He went from 19-4-10 to 15-3-9 in almost 39 minutes a night, and his shooting tanked from 45-36-90 to 38-28-83. Felton's play in his last month as a Knick was essentially what he'd look like over the course of his career if he'd played a few more minutes and played his whole career in the D'Antoni-style "EVERYONE'S OPEN!" offense. Almost indistinguishable. Which makes the whole "Felton will be markedly better in New York" hype even more befuddling. It's not only as though the Knicks and their fans are applying tunnel vision to Felton's Knick career, it's like they're applying tunnel vision to one specific 25 game sample of Felton's Knick career.
The reason Lin is intriguing to me is that we don't really have a good idea of what his real value is as a player. He's interesting because we don't exactly know how representative his hot streak is of his broader career. With Felton, we know exactly how representative it is -- barely representative at all, and it was arrived at in a different offensive system than the Knicks currently employ. Different coach, different surrounding players, different Amare. Felton is two years older, now and even above his lazy effort, he looked as though he took a step back last year athletically. His formerly decent defense was nowhere to be found, replaced with slow lateral recovery and an inability to stay with anybody. The Blazers played better defense with him on the court, but that was more because Felton shared the vast majority of his minutes with LaMarcus Aldridge rather than a display of Felton's superior defensive chops -- he looked slow, sluggish, and his reaction times were all messed up. He was certainly a bit better defensively than Lin, who was pretty poor this year, but he's also older and any decrease in his athletic potential will markedly decrease the efficacy of his defense. When you're so prone to getting completely out of shape as Felton is, your athleticism is prone to decline earlier. That's just how it is. Fitness matters, and at some point, you can't simply put in a few extra hours at the gym in hopes of returning to athletic glories you frittered away.
All this said? We'll have to see how he does in New York. I could be completely wrong, and he could be the 20-4-10 guy that New Yorkers think he's destined to be. It's possible, definitely, and he has "already done it" in a certain sense, just like Lin. But I just don't see it. I could be eating crow in a few months, as Felton makes the all-star appearance he looked to shakily deserve back in 2011. But, again -- can't see it happening. We'll have to see. Until then, I'll continue to stare befuddled at the Knicks front office, wondering how in God's name they can continue topping their own absurdity.
(Oh, also. Happy birthday, Wes. Hope it rocks. Now stop bashing Lin. Jesus Christ, Marie.)
Follow Antawn Jamison by naming your son Cortez, the best name possible.
I've spent an overly long amount of time trying to figure out what I think about Antawn Jamison. His existence as a player is quasi-schizophrenic, qualitatively. His off-the-court endeavors are as classy and respectable as a player can get. Absolutely wonderful interview, loves his teammates, works his heart out. If there's any player whose off-court interview style and general demeanor lent itself to overrating the player's game, it's Jamison. Classy as all get-out. Great dude. What makes him qualitatively schizophrenic is that despite all of this high character on a personal level, and despite all the reasons to love his humble demeanor and respectable hobbies? Jamison's on-court play is more frustrating than virtually anyone else in the entire league. It's HORRIBLE. His offense involves rampant chuckery in the oeuvre of a Starbury or an Iverson more than a team-centric concept, and his rebounding (while misleadingly high) has been falling off for years. He's not BAD at this offense, but he puts up too much of it on teams where there are clear better options -- he puts up three after three after three, despite being a barely-above-par three point shooter. He has a poor handle, he barely ever passes, and he is highly prone to responding to slumps by continuing to shoot.
And all of this is decent and reasonable compared to his defense. I won't cut corners -- defensively, Jamison is the worst player in the NBA. He isn't "among the worst" or "in a low class." He is the worst. He doesn't have the strength to keep his position on post-ups. He doesn't have the mobility to recover on spot-up shooters. Despite his 14 years of experience in the NBA, he still hasn't figured out how to make correct reads or correct help decisions in tense defensive situations. Driving past Jamison is about as difficult as outgaining a turtle in the 100 yard dash. Baskets scored on Antawn Jamison should be counted as a single point to address how easy they are to get. That's how bad he is on defense. It's weird, because I'm not a big fan of slamming players or being a jerk about a player's legacy. In the case of Jamison, though, I can't help but fall into it. Most people don't really understand how bad he is on defense -- I certainly didn't until he came to Cleveland. I viscerally understood that Jamison wasn't very good on that end, but figured that Brown's system and a new location would give him the ability to fix up his defense and figure things out. Nope. The pick and roll specifically was an exercise in brutality -- against the Antawn Jamison Cavaliers, teams could absolutely obliterate the Cavs whenever Jamison was on the court by simply running pick and rolls down Jamison's throat and working the ball through Antawn's man. He refused to commit, make any effort to alter the shot, or show any engagement on defense whatsoever -- which, in turn, made it astonishingly easy for the Boston Celtics to simply run the ball through Kevin Garnett and rely on the Rondo pick and roll, slowly plunging the knife deeper in the heart of the LeBron era as Jamison fiddled with his dribble. It's not strictly Jamison's fault that the 2010 Cavaliers failed. But he was a huge, huge part of it. That cannot be denied.
I don't hate his acquisition for the Lakers, truth be told. I don't love it, but for the veteran's minimum, Jamison is a pretty awesome get. After all, he still scored something like a point every two minutes and converted well at the rim. His floor spacing could potentially be helpful, as well, even if he's essentially no better than a 32-33% "true" three point shooter at this point in his career. Kyrie's pinpoint passing was extremely helpful to Jamison's shooting, in one of those tics people probably didn't notice unless they watched a lot of Cavs games. With Kyrie on the court, Jamison shot 35% from three, and the vast majority of his makes were off assists from Uncle Drew. With Kyrie off, he shot 32%, and (frankly) that's quite a bit closer to what his true talent level is from that range at this stage of his career. The hope is that Steve Nash's passing can keep him above the Mendoza line from three-point-range, and given history, you probably wouldn't be too off-base if you were to predict that. But if Jamison's playing enough minutes for him and Nash to share a bunch, the Lakers might be in trouble -- while Dwight Howard has covered up for a lot of bad defensive players in the past, I don't think any defensive player Dwight's covered for has been nearly as bad as Jamison. Which is less a rousing endorsement of the regularly awful defenders the Magic put next to him and more a statement of utmost honesty regarding Jamison's defense. And if the Lakers actually follow through and play him at the wing, as Brown has suggested they'll do? I hope they'll be alright with opposing wings going off for 25-30 points a night. Jamison isn't active enough to cover creaky, athletically suspect big men. Good luck covering guys like Iggy or LeBron, Antawn. Just... good luck with that.
Not Harrington's biggest fan, by any means, but I can't begrudge what he gave the Nuggets last year. In what was almost certainly his best season as a pro, Harrington finally showed some talent on the defensive end and became adept at (as Hollinger aptly pointed out) "pulling the chair" on larger post players. This refers to the practice of a player feigning strong physical contact in the post, causing the offensive player to overcompensate for it and go strong to the rim -- instead of actually creating the contact, though, the defending player simply steps back into the air and lets the player storm forward, generally tripping them up and inducing a traveling violation. It's one of those defensive moves that's a bit kitschy and not incredibly common, but when you lack a ton of athleticism and have never been able to develop solid defensive instincts, it's an easy move to learn and a way to add a lot of extra defensive value. At least until teams start scouting it and warning their post players. Still, Harrington improved on defense this last season, and that (combined with a possibly-fluky good year offensively) made him a "valuable" enough trade asset that the Orlando Magic preferred Harrington's deadweight contract to that of Jason Richardson.
Offensively, while he was somewhat of a minor asset in 2012, I prefer to think of his offense in the context of his whole career. Knickerblogger's Mike Kurylo once described him with one of the most memorable and effective analogies I've ever heard -- to him, Harrington is essentially cheap beer. As he said: "it's not what you want when things are going well, but when you're desperate to keep the buzz going it's what you'll accept." You don't want Harrington when your team is in a good situation, and everything is going well. You'll sometimes want Harrington when you can't buy a bucket -- you'll also, usually, regret it. The party was over, you didn't really need that few more hours of buzz just to get a worse hangover in the morning. That's Harrington for you. He got you the basket, but he also chucked up 3 or 4 completely unnecessary shots to get it, turned it over once, and froze out two or three completely open shots in pursuit of his points. Harrington tends to shoot a bunch of long jumpers, ostensibly trying to space the floor for his superior driving ability. In practice, this doesn't actually matter much -- defenses long-ago realized that this was exactly what Harrington was trying to do, and responded by shrugging it off and just letting him do it. "Shoot all the long-balls you want, Al. Nobody's falling for this trick again."
Overall, he wasn't a supremely useful player, but at least he was situationally decent. Here's the thing, though -- when a player on this side of 30 has his best season as a pro, chances are EXTREMELY high the player relapses into relative uselessness. So while the Magic were relatively convinced Harrington was a more valuable contract to take back than Richardson's, I have to call foul. His next two years (after this one) are only 50% guaranteed, which is a nice wrinkle if Harrington is god-awful this year (as I kind of expect him to be), but it's going to be pretty hard to find a willing trade partner to offload his contract. Not unless they use Harrington as salary fodder in a Redick trade, or something like that. In the end, he's a below average defender, passer, and rebounder who scores inefficiently. Not great. He's got his value as he's begun to figure out his place in the league in his wizened age, but not a ton -- just a bit too late to put it together, I'm afraid. One fun fact about Al Harrington -- he's responsible for what should probably be the most-remembered quotes of the 2010 offseason, back when he was figuring out which team he'd sign with. I can't find the source, but I promise this happened. Harrington had two big options that offseason -- the Dallas Mavericks or the Denver Nuggets. He chose the Nuggets, and had a press conference where he stated outright that the Nuggets were "far closer" than the Mavericks to an NBA title, and had "way more potential" going forward. He also said, if I remember right, that he was pretty sure the Mavs would have a worse record than the Nuggets for the next 3 or 4 years, at least. Do I even need to say it? The Nuggets were ousted in an inglorious 5 game gentleman's sweep, while the Mavericks went on to win the 2011 title. Al Harrington: prediction wizard.
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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. I should probably make this a bit easier, as J and Peter Stuyvesant of New Amsterdam were the only ones to get any of yesterday's riddles (by both correctly isolating Raymond Felton). Let's see...
- This center hasn't quite shown he has the Wright stuff, yet. But he's getting there. Good prospect.
- On the other hand, this Frenchman hasn't quite shown much. Looked promising to close 2010, but since then? Nothing. This season, he REALLY needs to show us something, or his team may officially give up on him.
- Early in the 2012 season, I declared that we were on-notice for a Player #222 "triple-double-average season." One of my grandest goals was to watch as this player actually managed to average a 10-10-10 triple double despite never actually getting a triple double over the course of the season. This... this didn't happen. It emphatically didn't happen. He got waived. But I wish it had, and next season, I will continue quixotically desiring it.
Those feel "easier" than yesterday's. Let me know, heh.
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