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 Mike Miller, Tony Parker, and Andrew Bynum.
Mike Miller, in recent memory, has not a very productive basketball player. In fact, Miller serves as evidence to an angle that rarely gets much media play. The Miami front office did a picture-perfect job putting their big three together. Obviously one of the greatest offseason coups of all time. But most people don't give much credit to the fact that just about every move they made immediately afterwards has turned out poorly for the franchise. Right after signing their triumverate, the Heat made moves to lock up Joel Anthony, Udonis Haslem, and Mike Miller. Their deals were each for 5 years, meaning that each would still be under contract when their big three reached their ETO decision in year 4. The deals take each player to a state well past their primes -- Anthony to 33, Haslem to 35, and Miller to 35. Haslem's is for $20 million, Anthony's $18 million, and Miller's $30 million. In theory, all are relatively small sums. But when you combine the three contracts, the picture's more grim -- the Heat have three contracts that effectively make up a 5-year $68,000,000 deal. That's almost $13.5 million dollars a year for a group of players that were arguably past their prime when the contracts were signed in the first place. The gravity of this mistake became exceedingly clear in last year's finals, where the $68 million dollar men combined to play just 127 minutes in five games -- or 25 minutes a game across the three of them. Anthony got only two minutes of burn in the entire series and Miller was the only one even remotely resembling a decent NBA player (in his game 5 outburst, of course -- prior to that, he'd played around 5 ineffective minutes a night and missed every single three he took).
What an outburst it was, though. Seven of eight threes, a steal, five rebounds? Insane shooting, by anyone's standards. It was far and away Miller's best game in a Heat jersey, and one of the best of his career even ignoring the added gravity of the Finals. It does need to come with a grain of salt, though -- hard to bury it with praise without noting the inconvenient truth that he was atrocious in the first 120 games of his Heat tenure, prone to over-passing and often actively refusing to shoot when open and passed to. His shooting outside the arc has still been pretty good, but it happens so infrequently it's hard to make much of it. His rebounding has been good, but he brings virtually nothing else to the table. He can't make his own shot particularly well -- 80% of his shots were assisted, and as you watch him, you wonder if that understates it. It's not really his fault that he's fallen so far, mind you. He's been prone to massive back problems in Miami and his game has fallen off considerably, even going back to his fractured thumb and torn ligament he suffered in practice before he first took the court in a Heat jersey at all. His laundry-list of injuries would cause even the most medically inclined to cringe, and watching him labor up and down the court is one of the saddest things in the entire league right now. His injuries have sapped everything. His creativity, his aggression, his overall abilities... everything.
He's still gritty and smart, but that has its limitations as well -- his defense, where his grittiness should help him, is let down by circumstance. He tries the good try at making his rotations, but his lack of speed makes it pretty easy for good offensive teams to exploit his lack of lateral movement. He can still stick to his man pretty well when the Heat face slow-pace halfcourt offense, but good luck defending with Miller when the pace speeds up and he's forced to make quicker decisions. Which is all fine and well, if he wasn't making around $6 million a year during the next three to ply his trade, and in a state where everything's downhill from here. There are three years left, for all of these three guys, with player options and no team-side method of termination. It's true -- the Heat had no way of knowing for sure that Miller and Haslem's injuries were worse than expected, nor did they necessarily have the capacity to predict that Joel Anthony would be rendered utterly obsolete by the Heat's dominant 2012 gameplan. But looking back, the whole thing is retrospectively sad, and something probably worthy of more note. If the Heat find themselves unable to keep either LeBron or Bosh due to either terminating their contract in search of a better situation, the extent to which these three contracts tied the Heat's hands could end up being the straw that broke the camel's back, so to speak. Kept them out of the running for most serious roster upgrades, took up three roster spots, forced each of their stars to play larger-than-necessary minutes in the regular season to compensate for the lacking talent, et cetera. We'll have to see, of course. But right now -- affable and kindly though he may be (and he is; Miller's a great guy) -- Miller is one representative of some of the worst-luck decisions the Heat franchise made in the last decade, and that's not a look that suits him well. Alas.
For today's Tony Parker capsule, it took me a while to figure out how to say exactly what I was looking for. Full disclosure: I'm not Parker's biggest fan. I wouldn't exactly say I'm a card-carrying member of the "TRADE TONY PARKER!" brigade, but I will say that I definitely don't appreciate Parker as much as I do a player like Tim Duncan or Manu Ginobili. On a personal level, I don't think it's at all unusual to prefer both of them to Parker -- but on both an aesthetic and a productive level I prefer their play to his as well. Manu plays with this breakneck energy that Parker never has quite embodied, and Duncan's defense is (probably) my favorite thing to watch in the entire league. Parker is simply there, and although he certainly works his heart out against certain matchups, there's no sense with Parker that he's really laying bare the contents of his soul in order to win the game. And he's not THAT productive, statistically. But for the capsule I watched Parker more closely than I've ever watched him before, and watched a ton of backdated Spurs tapes in an effort to expand my frame of reference. And, as tends to happen with these larger capsules, I felt I gained a far greater appreciation for Parker's game than I had before I started. Perhaps that's all that Tony's critics need to do. Perhaps a lot of game tape and a more understanding eye is all a Parker-loving individual need prescribe for the hater in all our souls.
... or maybe he's just kind of a douchey French guy. I dunno, could be either.
Isn't it kind of funny that a point guard with such a conventional toolbox forms the basis of the Spurs' current offense? This isn't an insult -- just consider Tony Parker. No, he doesn't have a three point shot. Yet. But Parker is, at his core, a pick and roll point guard with a strong slashing ability, an excellent floater, and a decent midrange shot to keep defenders honest. Parker's archetype is hardly one without compare in the league's annals -- look at Andre Miller for a modern example. It's a well-worn, conventional toolbox. Parker puts it in a blender with his unique blend of speed and control, it's true, and Parker's finishing may be among the best in the history of the game from the guard position. Which is what makes the trade-bait stuff a bit too wild for my tastes. But nobody is going to argue that Parker plies his trade with a surfeit of insane athleticism or game-breaking shooting talent. We've come to expect this in this generation of point guards, and Parker subsists without.
One of the more interesting questions of the season -- and one that looks to be regrettably delayed -- is the simple question of whether Andrew Bynum is going to be better or worse in Philadelphia. It's not as easy to answer as one would think. There's a natural inclination to assume that Bynum, a highly efficient offensive center who played a tiny bit better with Kobe off the court, will be better in a starring role. Perhaps a bit more inefficient, as per the usage-efficiency tradeoff, but a more prolific scorer with his customarily dominant rebounding. Theoretically. But the Bynum question is more complex than that. Bynum was great with Kobe off the court in Los Angeles, but the majority of Bynum's non-Kobe minutes came with Gasol on the court. This helped grease along the ongoing development of their pet two-man passing game, one of the more enjoyable Laker hook-ups of recent memory. Of Bynum's 103 assists last season, 35% of them went to Pau Gasol buckets -- similarly, of Gasol's 279 assists, 25% of them went to Bynum buckets! They passed to each other beautifully, and Gasol's expert passing helped Bynum flash past pesky double-teams and convert a heck of a lot more wide open baskets than a man his size had any reason to get.
This isn't to say that he didn't face doubles -- for large stretches of Bynum's tenure as a Laker, Bynum faced more doubles than Kobe Bryant did. He was the Lakers' most efficient and most effective option, which led many of the smarter teams to double him viciously. Unfortunately for his new team, when Bynum was doubled in Los Angeles, it tended to work. Last season, Andrew Bynum was faced with 250 double teams in the post. He turned the ball over on 62 of them; 25% of the time. To contextualize how bad this is relative to Bynum's norm, realize that among all possessions where Bynum wasn't double teamed in the post, he turned the ball over only 10% of the time. Huuuge gap. Bynum was doubled quite a lot in Los Angeles, and it's a testament to his efficiency elsewhere on the court that he was still such an incredible offensive big man. The big problem lies in the fact that Bynum, despite his many skills, is one of the worst ballhandlers in the league. Whenever Bynum needs to take more than 2 or 3 dribbles in the post, awful things happen. He's lumbering, and he telegraphs his motions far too much -- with even the most cursory of scouting, it's relatively easy to tell what Bynum's going to do when he has to make a move in the post. Beckley Mason went over it aptly: a banging shuffle baseline, totally overlook the incoming double, spin to the middle, and... turn the ball over. A lot, as the tape indicates.
So, how is Andrew Bynum going to acquit himself in Philadelphia? I'm not entirely sure. His rebounding should be welcome addition to this Sixers team -- he's been among the best rebounders in the entire league over the last two seasons, and last year's Philadelphia team was already excellent on the boards. With Bynum improving their team rebounding, they could very well be best-in-class at rebounding other team's misses and keeping the opposing offense to a single possession. Which should in turn help their defense set. He draws a ton of free throws, which should help the Sixers generate more points from the line than they used to. But he's going to find himself doubled quite a bit more in Philadelphia than he did in Los Angeles, which is a pretty bad state of affairs for the efficiency of his offense -- he may still put up misleadingly high field goal percentages, but with a menu of more double teams, expect his turnover rate to skyrocket and provide harm the Sixers' league-best turnover rate from last season. And then there's the defense. One of the staples of Philadelphia's defensive attack last season was the infectious effort Collins got from all his players. Bynum isn't a bad defender, but his effort level on the defensive end is consistently pretty poor, and while he tends to be a decent defender despite that, it's an open question to wonder whether Bynum's laissez-faire paint protection isn't going to clash a bit with Collins' high intensity style.
Still, all of this is pretty theoretical. We don't know exactly how this is going to play out, and I for one can't want to see how it turns out -- Bynum is a relatively excellent player despite his myriad flaws, and while the pressure of starring for a team may exacerbate many of them, figuring out what of his skillset properly translates and what doesn't is going to be about as interesting an experiment as the Harden-to-Houston shocker. None of this is to say that I like Andrew Bynum. I don't. To me, Bynum is more defined by his bush-league hits (see: this, this, or this!) than his quality play. He doesn't seem to care about that, either -- he personally thought the Barea hit "wasn't a big deal." Compound that with his outward refusal to work on his game (and his general disinterest in the game of basketball in general), and you don't really have the blueprint for a player I like on a personal level. I do admit -- his off-court focus on tinkering and electronics is absolutely wonderful, and if you've never read about it, you need to click this right now. One of the coolest little sub-stories of any NBA star. If he was a bit less focused on murdering the opposing team's players I'd probably like him a lot more. Then again... the dude builds state-of-the art computers, gets paid tens of millions of dollars to play a game he doesn't care deeply about, and parties at playboy mansion. Sincerely doubt Bynum gives a crap about what you or I think of him. Just a hunch.
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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 Greg for being the first to figure out Miller to complete the trio, and props as well to Der_K, Jacob Harmon, Geezer, and Okman for hitching to the right bandwagon (albeit lesser props.)
- Player #256's team has one of the deepest big man rotations in the league, but he's the starter for now. Kind of funny, because most people could pick him up in the last round of fantasy -- essentially nobody wanted to draft him.
- Player #257 is the best player on his team right now. His team is much-discussed. I've seen -- quite literally -- ZERO articles about him at this point. Only best-player-on-his-team who never gets discussed? Perhaps.
- Player #258 has swag. Unfortunately, he has very little else. At least he can shoot threes. Honestly can't believe his team let his predecessor go only to pay this guy the same amount.
Hope you enjoyed today's capsules. This Wednesday, I'll be attempting to post up two sets of these things. Need to get ahead if I want to keep to my Christmas Eve schedule. Fingers crossed.
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