As our summer mainstay, Aaron was writing a 370-part series discussing almost every notable player who was -- as of last season -- getting minutes in the NBA. As the summer dies down and the leaves turn, this quixotic quest of a series has happily reached the last third. But it's certainly not done yet! Today we continue with Alan Anderson, Metta World Peace, and Chris Singleton.
Follow Alan Anderson by traveling the world.
Last year, Alan Anderson made an intensely surprising comeback. An undrafted player out of Michigan State (who made the Final Four in his senior season, way back when in 2005), Anderson went undrafted and was picked up on a minimum deal by the Charlotte Bobcats during the 2006 season. They waived him one month into the 2007 season, and after a season of excellent play in the D-League (with a few more Bobcats call-ups tacked on at the end of the year), Anderson went abroad in an effort to get guaranteed money and legitimate playing time. He flipped, over the next 5 years, almost interchangeably between the D-League and Europe -- played for six different European clubs, and three different D-League teams. Finally, last season, he got the second chance he wanted -- the Raptors brought him up, he earned Coach Casey's trust, and was picked up for both the rest of the 2012 season and the 2013 season as well. By the end of last year, he was actually starting over James Johnson. It was pretty wild.
As for his upside? Minimal, but that's A-OK. Turned 30 years old a few weeks ago, actually -- what you see is essentially what you get. But he looked quite good in last year's 17 games. Definitely NBA-caliber, if nothing else; there's a reason they traded James Johnson. Anderson was quite effective from both beyond the arc and the free throw line, canning nearly 40% of his three point shots despite taking only about a third of his shots from the corner. His defense was also very effective -- he's a rugged, in-your-face defender that combines a veteran sensibility borne of his years abroad with NBA-level athleticism and Izzo-developed guile. Sticks to his man well, and while his age may lead to a quicker-than-expected decline on that end, you have to like a player who's as good at cutting off the offensive player's breathing room as Anderson is. He doesn't necessarily disrupt every passing lane, but he does make it virtually impossible for his man to get open enough to receive a pass, which generally leads teams to try and avoid whatever wing option he's guarding when he's on the floor. He certainly has his downsides -- last year he put up one of the highest turnover rates in the year and generally puts up poor rebounding and assist numbers -- but if his role is better-regulated to serve as a defensive asset who keeps to spot-up shots on offense rather than an offensive creator who happens to play defense, he'll be a perfectly fine member of the Toronto rotation.
Off the court, Anderson has some of the most interesting stories in the league. As a veteran of the European circuit, he has a litany of firsthand stories from some of the strangest leagues on Earth. And some of the most violent fans, too. Even though there are metal detectors to make sure European fans can't throw lighters at the players, the fans are resourceful -- according to Anderson, fans would regularly dismantle the arena toilets and throw the toilet's component pieces at the opposing team's players to heckle. Another funny story from that neat article: in China, Anderson felt completely unsafe eating anything but fast food. I also recently had a chance to read a great profile from Eric Koreen, for his "Get to know a Raptor" series. You can find it here. In case you don't get a chance to read it, though, here's my favorite part. Another player I love personally (although his game is significantly more lacking), Landry Fields, comes along in the middle of the interview and completely stops the proceedings to grab Anderson's arm.
(Landry Fields grabs Anderson’s arm when walking by)
AA: What is wrong with you? What are you doing? Who is this guy?
LF: Did you know it’s your birthday tomorrow?
AA: Ahhh. Is it?
LF: Shut up.
AA: Is it? It’s my birthday?
AA [lying]: No it’s not. My birthday is next month.
LF: I have it marked on my calendar with a heart.
Me too, Landry. Gonna circle October 16th in a heart going forward. Aw yeah.
Also, speaking of... Alberto? 223 days left.
NOTE: I have trouble referring to him as "Metta World Peace", so I think I'll just call him Ron Artest in this post. Sorry, Metta.
By the end of the 2011 season, Ron Artest was on top of the world. He'd posted -- by all accounts -- one of the best off-court years of his life. He'd won a title, which had quelled a great number of his haters and began to re-write the book on Artest's off-court extracurriculars. He'd raffled his championship ring to raise over half a million dollars for mental health awareness, becoming one of the NBA's most outspoken advocates for the mentally unstable. His rehabilitation was so thorough that he ended up winning the Walter J. Kennedy citizenship award -- the suggestion that he'd eventually win the NBA's prime citizenship award would've gotten you laughed out of a room in the years after the Brawl, and most would've never seen a year like that coming. Then, in 2012? Well... things got a bit weird. His on-court play declined dramatically, as he quickly became the Lakers' 3nd or 4th best option at the wing on a team that was anything but deep. His mental health advocacy became a bit more quiet -- or, perhaps more accurately, it wasn't in quite as press-friendly a presentation. His reputation began a slow crawl back to where it was before the title. And then? Well, then he nearly broke James Harden's neck. That essentially erased the whole slate, and suddenly, Artest was right back where he started. The more things change, the more things stay the same.
There are a few troubling tics that maintain in Artest's public reputation that bug me. Quite a bit. The first is the idea that Artest's mental illness was "cured" by the time he won his title, or that it had been altogether transmuted into some more palatable form. That's... not really how mental illness works, at least not usually. Take it from personal experience. Mental illness is less something you conquer and more something you tame. It doesn't vanish -- it lies in wait, and it enacts a constant struggle inside your subconscious in its attempts to break out from whatever cage you've put it in. The mass public understands that cancer goes into remission. Why don't they understand that mental illness is the same way? You don't just wake up one day without your depression or without your bipolar disorder. You tame your disease with medication, if you can. And you fight to make every day as absent a breakdown as you possibly can. But it never totally vanishes -- it's a disease in remission, not a disease cured. Most of the pop culture coverage of Artest in the aftermath of 2010 focused on Artest as a man forever changed, and a man who'd "conquered" his demons. That's not quite true -- he's a man who fought a courageous fight to get to where he was, but quite a bit more importantly, still fought it daily. There is no tapping out when you're battling a mental illness. And it doesn't stop fighting you, either.
While I suppose I should've expected it, the genuinely off-base positive coverage of Artest's mental disorders during the Lakers' high times led somewhat slowly into the far too negative coverage Artest got last year. People thought Artest had "cured" his disorders, which meant that when he did odd things, people either chalked it up to Artest being a big ol' weirdo or "not taking the team seriously." And then, near the end of the year, the other shoe dropped -- Artest purposefully threw an elbow that (given his strength) could've legitimately broken James Harden's neck. Suddenly, the slow drip of negative coverage turned into a flood. People called to ban him from the league. People wondered how such a threat to society could've possibly made the league in the first place. Et cetera, et cetera. And through it all, I just didn't really know what to say. Sure, Artest shouldn't have done it. It was an awful thing, and I thought he probably should've been suspended a few more games -- ESPECIALLY when he refused to apologize. But instead of screaming bloody murder about the sins of a man who's got a reasonable explanation, why not examine the context that made him such a villain in the first place? It isn't really his fault that the media chose to cover his title as though he'd recovered from all his past sins. It isn't really his fault that he will always battle mental lapses that none of us can fully understand.
Artest does not deserve to be excused of his faults because of his mental illness, at all -- during the rehabilitation stage, there was some element of that, and it wasn't deserved. But he hardly deserves to executed for them either -- he's not a threat to society purely by his own design. His virtues don't exist in the intensity of a black or a white -- he's a monochromatic gray, balancing between two poles but never quite reaching either side. Neither the media nor the general public deals well with shades of gray, but that's exactly how someone like Artest needs to be approached. He's no savior, but he's no criminal either. And treating him like either does a disservice to both Artest as a person and mental health as a broad subject.
As for his game, it's somewhat darkly befitting a player of his mental struggles. Much as with Delonte West, on the defensive end, Artest will have good games and Artest will have bad games. He'll put up fantastic nights of bltizkrieg stopping power that stack up to any defender in the league. He'll then follow that up with tepid, angry, and frustrated performances where he couldn't conceive of stopping a fly. His offense is a bit more consistent, but not in a good way -- he's a consistently abysmal offensive player, far too often taking completely unnecessary isolation possessions and trying to ballhandle when he has no good reason to do so. At this point in his career, Artest has barely got the lift to take a shot at the rim, let alone actually make one. He's not good in structured offense, because he rarely takes the time to really understand the structure he's been placed in... but he's even worse when given enough leeway to really hurt the team. So there's that. Artest should not be taking very many shots this season. He really shouldn't. And I stand by my general assertion from yesterday's riddles -- if by the end of the season Artest is continuing to take the number of nasty 5-10 second isolations that he has in the last two Laker games, that will be some sort of a sign that something will have gone terribly wrong with this Laker team. Terribly, terribly wrong. Just... let Nash handle the ball, Metta. Pretty please?
The story is relatively simple for Singleton. For him to stick around in the league, he has to become a better offensive player. Simply has to. Last year's Wizards were not renown for offensive wizardry -- they were the 25th ranked offense in the league, and the reality was even uglier than it looked. No cohesion whatsoever, poor ball movement, poor sets. Most of the players on the team were inefficient in at least one sense. But very, very few were inefficient in as many ways as Chris Singleton. Singleton's field goal percentage was in the bottom 25% among all small forwards for every range of the court but three, where he barely passed the 50th percentile. To be explicit about it, I'll list them -- his rookie season, Chris Singleton shot 59% at the rim (average: 63%), 24% from 3-9 feet (34%), 26% from 10-15 feet (36%), and 31% from 16-23 feet (35%). He made up for some of that by shooting 34% from three, which was 5th on the Wizards. Still not GOOD, but he had some value that way. Make no mistake, though: Singleton was brutal on offense. Just about the only real skill he offered was the ability to make the corner three, but problematically, nobody on the Wizards roster seemed to be able to set him up from that range. He took just 40 corner threes to 87 above-the-break threes, despite shooting 38% from the corner but 33% outside of it. Net and net, though, Singleton's not a scorer nor is he expected to be. He's a defensive-minded guard with good fundamentals and a strong frame -- strong enough, in fact, that it has some wondering if he'd fit better in the frontcourt than the wings.
Count me as one who's not sure about that one, although there are some issues with him on the wing right now. Watching him, you can definitely see times when the offensive player got ahead of him at small forward. Too quick. He wasn't great at covering the quickest of the quick -- he struggled mightily trying to match the quickness and core strength of players like LeBron, Iguodala, and Carmelo. A lot of that can be chalked up to conditioning, though, especially in the context of the shortened lockout season and the subsequent lack of practice and training camp exposure to the NBA fitness grind. And while big men would be somewhat less quick, they'd be quite a bit stronger. The strength gap would be even worse. And Singleton was an actively poor rebounder as a wing, posting a well-below-average overall rebounding percentage for the position. He would need to work on that quite a lot to be anywhere close to an asset as a big man. Big men who can't rebound don't last long in this league. Questions of his true position notwithstanding, there were some fundamentally good signs for Mr. Singleton. By the numbers, the Wizards defended significantly better with Singleton on the court -- they gave up a lower field goal percentage, and allowed 6 points less per 100 possessions. He wasn't quite the stopper of an Iman Shumpert level, but he was more effective than he looked and was clearly not in the peak conditioning he'd show in the NBA. I'd like to see him defending after a summer filled with an NBA weight room -- I have a good feeling he's going to defend better this year, even if his offense continues to torpedo his playing time.
As for his off-court ventures? I liked Singleton at Florida State and I like Singleton now. A few fun facts about the promising defensive baller include the following: he's evidently quite a bit more honest about his performance with the media than many others, as when asked to self-grade his rookie season, Singleton didn't pull punches, grading himself a D for inconsistent play and promising he'd come back better. According to the awesome team at Truth About It, Singleton was engaging all year with the fans and seemed to legitimately enjoy it -- he signed autographs before almost every game, gave away game-worn shoes to Facebook fans, and never once turned down a picture request. He seems to get into his city, at least to some degree --when asked in the doldrums of the lockout about something that made him sad, he mentioned that the Cowboys had recently beaten the Redskins, and that he didn't like that because they "need more winning teams in D.C.", his Wizards included. Pretty dope line, especially given this answer from a personal Q&A session he did with his fans.
What is the reason behind wearing the number 31?
Both my grandfathers and my father (3) have passed away and I’m the only (1) left.
So, you try rooting against him. I sure as hell can't. Hope you feel better about this year's play, Chris.
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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. Props to Geezer and @MillerNBA for yet another 3/3. Really need to up the difficulty, although I have a feeling today's are easier than I intended.
- Player #253 is dealing with back problems that I can barely even fathom. Kind of shocked he hasn't retired, although he's making so much money he probably couldn't rationalize it.
- Player #254 is average-or-below in just about everything but speed. In theory. In practice, though, he's maximized every iota of potential and become a full realization of all his highest hopes. Which is pretty phenomenal. #TeamDrake. Will be a Player Capsule (Plus).
- Player #255 is kind of capricious, sort of a jerk, and a bit socially awkward. But he loves building computers, and for that, I can't completely hate the foul-less wonder.
Long week. It's possible I actually don't get the Capsule (Plus) version of #254 out until next week, but we'll see. Hopefully I can power through my rough draft tonight before all of the night's action. Au revoir for now.
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