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 Elliot Williams, Andris Biedrins, and Kenneth Faried.
Elliot Williams looked pretty good last season. He didn't play an incredible amount of minutes, mind you -- he only played 24 games, and in those 24 games, he played only 6.2 minutes a night. And given that the game was virtually always decided when he stepped on the court, the defensive intensity Williams found himself faced with was regularly atrocious. But even given all those caveats? The man shot at an above-position-average percentage for every range but three, and shot an extremely efficient distribution besides, with almost 50% of his field goal attempts coming at the rim. Given what I saw of him in college and his general skillset, I think there's a lot of promise in his game, even if you try to extrapolate beyond the garbage time. He's never going to be a great three point shooter, no. At the NBA level, that hurts. But Williams has serious NBA athleticism, and above-average height from the guard position -- 6'5" is a bit under what he seemed the handful of times I met him at Duke. (The only reason I say this is because I'm 6'4" -- relative to my height, he seemed more like two inches taller than one.) To be fair, though, we were both in shoes and it's not like I've ever had my height accurately measured by the draftnik doctors. So, whatever. Even then, 6'5" is a solid height for a guard -- especially one who's viciously athletic, with a solid at-rim game and a decent midrange shot. His free throw form is good enough that I'd assess 75-80% to be closer to his true free throw mean than the 33% performance he put up last season.
Unfortunately, Williams has suffered greatly from a wealth of freak injuries. Out of seemingly nowhere, he's battled a range of problems that could end his career before it really began. His knees basically exploded prior to the 2011 season in a contact practice with the Blazers, requiring surgery on both kneecaps before he could see the court again. After a long period of rehabilitation, he re-entered the game late last season, and Williams' low minutes total was mostly attributed (reasonably) to the Blazers wanting to let him get gradually back into the game. Then, in a rough late March practice, ill omens struck again and Williams found himself sidelined with a dislocated shoulder. Quite gross. He missed the rest of the season, rehabilitated over the summer, and finally looked ready to play in the NBA... only to completely rupture his Achilles tendon in a workout right before the start of training camp. I mean, Christ. Really? He got surgery, and most likely, he'll be out the entire season. The whole thing is incredibly sad. These season-ending injuries have somehow all occurred to different body parts, indicating a player who lacks the sorts of foundational problems that tend to indicate an injury-prone player. He's like someone who won the worst lottery in the world, 3 years in a row. My heart goes out to Elliot.
Not just because of his skills, either. As for personally, Williams has always had my utmost respect. While he was beloved at Duke to a level incoherently high relative to his play, he left that and the university behind his last two seasons in order to transfer to Memphis in order to be closer to his cancer-stricken mother. Which I thought was pretty great of him -- he sacrificed few spots in his draft status, most likely, and he risked (at the time) having to redshirt a season before the NCAA approved a special waiver of the redshirt restriction on account of his mother's condition. Which would be heartwarming if it wasn't absolutely ridiculous that players need to redshirt a season in the first place. Not only do college athletes have no control over any portion of the money they generate for the school, nor any licensing rights over their own brands... there are also arbitrary restrictions in how they can move from team to team. Love the NCAA. Heck of a sports league, Brownie. In any event, his mother's breast cancer is in remission, which is absolutely wonderful. Here's hoping the cancer stays away and that Elliot gets another chance in the league -- you have to think he'd be a better backup than most of the awful wings the Blazers have stockpiled behind Matthews and Batum, right?
Follow Andris Biedrins by -- ... you know what, actually, just don't.
Anyone remember how good Andris Biedrins was a few years back? Let me remind you.
- In 2008, Andris Biedrins led the league in field goal percentage. But that's just one year. Try three -- from 2007-2009, Biedrins had one of the top 3 field goal percentages in the league each year.
- In the 2009 season, Biedrins put up per-36 averages of 14-13 with 2 assists, 2 blocks, and 2 steals a night. You can't make this stuff up.
- Andris Biedrins posted a career high free throw percentage of 62% in the 2008 season -- not great, but would've been average for an NBA center last season.
Yeah. Well, good thing he put up those excellent stats to remember him by. Because that's all we're doing now. Remembering, that is. In the past few seasons, Biedrins has fallen off the cliff-to-end-all-cliffs, and done so fast enough that we're still left wondering what the hell happened. It all started in 2010, when Biedrins had one of the worst starts to a season he could've possibly had -- it literally took a month for Biedrins to make his first free throw of the year, and by the all-star break, he'd gone an inconceivable 3-23 from the free throw line. This didn't hurt his broader offense... at first. It mostly was a source of amusement, as Biedrins continued to score efficiently. As he was coming off of injuries and not in the best of sorts, he took fewer field goals a night and his rebounding fell off from being among the best in the league to being a relatively average. But he didn't look like a bad player by any means, and he still looked like one that was genuinely worth his contract.
Then, in 2011, things got markedly worse. He tried to take a more active role in the offense again, but quickly discovered the obvious. If you shoot 16% on free throws in a season, as he did in 2010, you are going to get fouled and you're going to have to make opposing defenses at least pretend to respect your free throw form. So as the season went on and he began to get fouled at a higher rate, he began to go to increasingly absurd lengths to simply not get fouled. I'm talking ballerina twists, contorting his frame in C-shapes to miss the defender, immediately passing out if he had a post-up opportunity (leading to a career high assist rate! YEAH!), et cetera. He posted the worst rebound rates he'd put up since his sophomore season, his field goal percentage was (by far) a career worst, and he genuinely looked awful. Then 2012 happened... and he was even worse. His rebounding fell off a cliff, with Biedrins posting his worst rate ever by a country mile. His defense was abominable. His usage percentage -- never particularly high -- fell to the comically absurd rate of 5%. His free throw shooting actually ended up WORSE than 2010, with Biedrins making only one free throw the entire season for a free throw percentage of 11%. His confidence was shot, he absolutely refused to take shots (and in his off-ball movement, Biedrins actively fled angles he could have snagged a pass from and worked hard to keep himself from ever getting open), and the contorting and terror at the concept of free throws was obvious to anyone who watched him. It was sad. Although he's entering his 9th NBA season, Biedrins is exactly 366 days younger than Gustavo Ayon. He SHOULD be entering the prime of his career. Instead, he's a waiver candidate who looks unlikely to have more than a year or two of burn left in the NBA. A really weird career arc, to date.
Free throws and ruined games aside, Biedrins was responsible for the odd photographs that were -- for my money -- the most hilarious NBA story of the summer. I speak of course of the risque, absolutely not safe for work photos that depict Andris Biedrins both receiving oral sex in a car and watching in a garage as one of his friends receives the same. Don't click those photos if you're at work. Please. This isn't to say that the photos are funny all by themselves -- on their own, they're basically just your garden variety "dear lord, this athlete's 'friends' are terrible at being friends" type photographs. But look further, dear reader. Remember all the talk about his lacking confidence and his too-rapidly exploded game? I do as well, given that I wrote it less than a paragraph ago. Now, in that context, look at those photos. They depict a player on top of the world, probably hopped on something, and completely devoted to the pursuit of happiness. Er, sexually. In public. With his friends. One of whom has a camera. The brazen disregard for logic and reason here in pursuit of a fleeting high is absurd, and when you put it in the context of his disappointing basketball career and his completely broken confidence, is ABSOLUTELY hilarious. Somehow, we have a player who's scared to take a single free throw but not scared to receive oral sex in public and smoke up right next to his friend as he watches the friend receive it. From what looks like the same person.
I... what? For real, what? How can you be confident enough that these photos won't be posted that you do all of this grinning like an idiot but can't find the confidence in your heart to take and make a freaking FREE THROW? Luckily for Golden State, this came up right before the year they'll be trying to really compete. Because now, they actually know what to do with Biedrins! Marc Jackson needs to find out what drugs were in Andris Biedrins' system when these photos were taken. Have a private investigator do it, have Biedrins tell him straight up, whatever. Once he knows, though, he needs to begin enforcing a strict rule where Biedrins cannot step onto the court for the Warriors if he does not takes those same drugs before every game. Sure, having a high-out-of-his-mind Biedrins on the court will probably lead to some miscommunication. He MIGHT start humping the ball, or grinning and smoking in the middle of the stadium, or get Adam Morrison confused with the unknown girl in the pictures and try to solicit him for sex on an off-ball defensive possession. You know what? I don't care, and neither should Jackson! If that's the only way to bring back his confidence, then it's the only way to bring back his confidence. Where there's a will, there's a way! Andris Biedrins: 2013 comeback player of the year? TASTE THE FEVER! (Because you know he did.)
Last season's League Pass darling, Kenneth Faried is an interesting player with a lot of talent. Faried made a big impact last season -- he didn't play quite enough minutes to make leaderboard criteria, but Faried's overall rebounding percentage around 20% would've been top-3 in the entire league. His field goal percentage of 58.6% does sort of hide his offensive limitations -- namely, he can't buy a shot outside of 9 feet and every team in the NBA knows it -- but he actively avoided taking shots outside his range, and in doing that, Faried showed a lot more self-awareness and general knowledge of what worked for his game than many players ever realize in their careers. He took almost 90% of his shots from within 9 feet, which is exactly what you should be doing early in your career when you're a high energy finisher like Faried -- you don't mess with adding a long shot or developing a mid-range jumper. That's for practice, at least in your first year or two. Not competitive games. Outside his rebounding and his scoring, Faried isn't a hugely productive player -- he had an above average block/steal rate that hid a lot of his defensive problems, and an above average turnover rate for his position. His high-energy offense helped take Denver's already potent potables to an even higher level -- the Nuggets scored almost 108 points per 100 possessions with Faried on the court, which is legitimately insane, and almost 3 points above their average with Faried off the court.
Unfortunately, there's a dark side to that -- while their offense was completely off-the-chain with Faried on the floor, their defense was utterly abysmal. The Nuggets may have scored 107.5 points per 100 possessions with Faried on the floor, but they were also making opposing offenses look like Gods -- with Faried on the floor, they also allowed 107.1 points per 100. Which amounts to a barely-above-0.500 differential and a nagging problem to those who'd love to see Faried get more minutes. I'm sure Karl would like the same -- Karl's a fan of high-energy sparkplug-type players, as evinced by Chris Andersen's long tenure in Denver. The problem is, so long as Faried's defense is that bad, it's hard to really carve out more than 25-30 minutes a night for him. And this isn't a fundamentally trivial problem, either -- the reasons Faried is poor defensively (lacking height, lacking core strength, poor instincts) aren't just going to go away with practice. He can work on his strength, and that will come around, but the height trouble and his actively wrong instincts defending the pick and roll simply aren't going to vanish into the vastness of space. And even if he works on his strength -- high energy players like Faried do tend to have high foul rates. When you go for the ball with reckless abandon and produce incidental contact solely through your playing style, you're probably going to get called on it. That may serve to artificially compress his minutes in the future, as well.
This isn't to say he's a bad player, at all. He's really talented, and while his defense is pretty abysmal, he has some talents as a weakside shot-blocker (although, again, he took too many chances and was about as bad at holding position as I'd be at holding these capsules to 500 words apiece). His phenomenal talent for gobbling up boards -- especially offensively -- is going to be useful on a Denver team who may experience trouble stopping opposing possessions. His offense is strong, if a bit limited, and while teams may be able to scout his offense and decrease the general efficacy (see: his 53% shooting against Los Angeles in the playoffs), as long as he remains this active, he'll be a huge asset on that end. You know who Faried reminds me of, in a somewhat odd way? DeJuan Blair. People scoff at the comparison given how good Faried seems right now, but it's a lot more apt than many would like to admit. To compare them on the same baseline... per 36 minutes, Faried averaged 16-12-1-1-2 on 59% shooting. Blair averaged 15-13-2-1-1 on 56% shooting his rookie year -- he was a slightly more effective rebounder, a slightly worse scorer, and just about as shiftless and difficult-to-play defensively as Faried. He had his dominant nights -- and still does -- but Blair's height and talents are fundamentally not well-suited to the defensive end, and until he figures out a way to operate within a real defensive scheme, his flaws on that end going to continue to chip away at his minutes and keep him off the court. Even with excellent per-minute productivity, as Blair has maintained throughout his career. While I think Faried's future should be better than Blair's present, I think it's worth noting that Blair represents a very possible future if Faried's defense doesn't get in order quickly. He has a shot to be something special. He also has a shot to be DeJuan Blair v2.0 -- an above average offensive player whose sieve-like defense and relatively constrained role keep him from playing up to his per-36 averages. We'll have to wait and see to figure out exactly which end of the spectrum he lands on.
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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. JKim got an excellent 3/3 last Friday, amidst a few good guesses. Good work, mate.
- Player #244 is one of those small-name players who is excellent for a fantasy basketball team. Really gets you value in almost every stat category. In terms of actual NBA player value? Significantly less value.
- Player #245 is probably the single most despised player in the NBA by fans of the San Antonio Spurs. I've grown to not care about him, but rest assured, I once completely hated his guts.
- Player #246 played rather well at the point for a good team last year, but his minutes were scant and his promise for future playing time slim. Still, could be a decent player someday.
Hope everyone had a good weekend. If you missed all our great Friday content, go back and check it out! We had a lot of stuff celebrating our 1st birthday. Here's hoping Sandy doesn't threaten any of your livelihoods -- please be safe. Batten down the hatches, secure everything you can, and get to higher ground. The season starts tomorrow, folks -- stay safe, so you can start it with us.
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