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 Ramon Sessions, DeSagana Diop, and Kenyon Martin.
Follow Ramon Sessions by driving into a tree.
I've had an inordinately large appreciation for Ramon Sessions for quite some time -- he's no fantastic, amazing player... but he's really quite a bit better than most people think, and he's fun to watch offensively. He's a guard who tends to play the percentages. One of the most efficient ways to run an offense on a team with is to drive into the teeth of the defense, pass out for (hopefully) a shot, get the ball back, and continue to do that until a crease shows up. It's not necessarily incredibly effective, but if you don't have next-level court vision (which Sessions does not) it helps build plays and find the defensive creases, and virtually every night he gets it going, a team is going to need to make some adjustments. To many of his detractors, Sessions' seemingly senseless drives represent the creatively challenged scrapings of a guard with no real goal. To me, they represent the opposite -- a pick and roll point guard who's figured out a way to draw the defense in and decode its problems, who uses the driving as a manner to get his own points too. He had a career year from the three point line, but he's never going to be a very good three point shooter -- it was a Trevor Ariza-type year from three point range for poor Sessions, and expecting him to do it regularly will never end well.
As for his prospects going forward, I don't love Charlotte for him, but I don't hate it either. I don't love the fact that he's likely to spend most of his prime backing up Kemba Walker, nor do I think he'll really thrive with the "offensive options" of the Bobcats surrounding him. The only thing "offensive" about Charlotte's options is that they're pretending to be NBA-level offensive options. (Yuk, yuk, yuk.) On the other hand, that does have a positive side for Sessions -- as I said before, he's no next-level passer, and if at all possible he prefers simplicity -- and the simplest outcome of a drive is to just get to the rim and score it as opposed to any pass out. On Charlotte, he won't just be able to do that, he'll be asked to do that. On a team bereft of options, a wild Sessions drive to the rim becomes an exceedingly efficient offensive choice. Now, the problem of losing the offensive options that surrounded him in Los Angeles should hurt. His lanes certainly won't be quite as open. But it's not like Sessions is customarily used to being surrounded by fantastic offensive players. His best season came as the first option for one of the worst teams of all time, and he'd never been on a team that was anywhere close to serious playoff contention until his 2012 trip with the Lakers. Sessions is, for better or worse, used to playing on teams with scant talent. He's used to playing no defense and playing his brand of constant-drive pick and roll. It works decently well, and he racks up stats admirably.
He's a nice, humble, likeable guy on the side -- nothing incredibly dramatic with Sessions, as the L.A. media discovered last year. Me, personally? As I noted, I've always had a soft spot for him, and I hope he does well in Charlotte. Most Cavs fans hate him, but I find that rather misguided and a bit ridiculous. What else was he supposed to do, exactly, with the offensive options the Cavaliers gave him? So he can't thrive at the off-guard -- neither can Kyrie Irving, or most NBA point guards. Point guards like having the ball and they like controlling the floor. Kyrie does it, Sessions does it, and even Boobie Gibson does it. It was less on Sessions for vastly failing Cleveland than it was on Byron Scott for putting him in lineups where neither he nor Kyrie had the ability to really operate. He can't defend whatsoever, but neither can most NBA point guards. And he puts in his effort, night-in and night-out. Nobody's saying he's one of the five best point guards in the NBA, but he's an above average option with his own varied set of positives and negatives. I suppose it's just me, but I simply don't get the hate.
"I did good in classes, but I am still not so sure about Hamlet." -- DeSagana Diop, 2002 interview.
The story of Gana Diop isn't quite finished yet, but it may as well be -- Diop hasn't been a productive NBA player in 2 or 3 years now, and the scale of what he provides on the court has been dramatically lessened. In his prime, he was a decent defensive player, if nothing special -- he's a huge player who moves naturally in a large frame, with a certain fluidity that lent itself well for screening and hardline post defense in his prime. His career highlight, when all's said and done, is probably from Game 7 of the 2006 Mavericks' second round deathmatch with the San Antonio Spurs. He broke his nose in the first play of overtime, battling through it and playing excellent defense throughout the final frame to shut down Tim Duncan and win the Mavericks the series. Beyond that? Not a huge number of career-highlight moments. Especially not last year, where he shot 35% (not a joke, seriously) and averaged more turnovers than the average center despite a usage rate under 10%. Yikes. With his play falling off and his general abilities lagging, there won't be many more opportunities to use this fun fact. So I'll share it one last time. The absolute best fact about Diop (and one that, regrettably, is likely to change in the next few seasons) lies in his time with the Mavericks -- Diop has only played in the playoffs twice, and his usefulness was situational at best for a generally poor defensive team. But in that time, he had the good fortune to start six games in the NBA Finals. Thing is? Dwight Howard started five, in 2009. So, yep. As of this moment in time, DeSagana Diop has started more games in the NBA Finals than Dwight Howard. Charlotte: land of the tenured!
Off the court, he represents one of your average everyday NBA stories with Diop, although it's worth pointing out that it's a nice thing that it's average at all. Came from a relatively poor area in Senegal, and grew up playing soccer. When he grew to be enormous, at the age of 15, he was told to try basketball -- he's always said that he had trouble learning how to dribble at his size, which I suppose makes sense. One of the nice things that American-born NBA players tend to get that foreign-born NBA players don't necessarily get is younger coaching. It's easier to learn how to dribble when you aren't already 7'0", you know? This extends to his hands, which are some of the clumsiest in the league. Finds it difficult to catch passes of any type, whether good or bad, and his finishing is a comedy of errors. But again, that's not necessarily his fault -- the man started playing at the age of 15, and people really tend to underrate how difficult it is to properly learn how to catch and dribble when you're already that kind of a size. Food for thought. Best thing about Diop, though? This lost piece of internet lore drummed from the murky depths by the siren sing-song typing of Hardwood Paroxysm writer Sean Highkin. It's a two-fan take on Kriss Kross' "Jump" that's based around the soothing defensive talents of DeSagana Diop. I'll leave the explication to Highkin, as he does a great job of it there. But go read his piece and listen to the song. It's phenomenal.
Kenyon Martin is not in the NBA right now. This isn't by his own design, or a forced retirement -- he's just remained unsigned, and if he wants to know why, he should probably start by talking to his agent. In a recent interview, Martin expressed dismay that he had remained unsigned, saying that he'd once hoped to latch on to a title contender but would now accept a role on any team that wanted him. The thing that confused me about his dismay wasn't necessarily that it existed at all -- of course he wants to play! -- but that it runs so counter to the reports that were coming out earlier this summer. Just about every contender had an interest in Martin. The Heat, the Lakers, the Spurs, the Celtic... basically everyone but the Thunder. The issue? Martin was demanding (per reports) the mini-midlevel, or at least an optioned multiyear deal. These teams balked at that -- they either didn't have the money or didn't want him that much. The story goes that they sent him proposals of a veteran's minimum offer, his agent rejected them, and he's left where he is now -- stating publicly that he'll accept the minimum as long as a team sends him the offer.
What does he offer a team, at this point? Some value, but not a ton. His defense is still solid, although significantly less so than it used to be. He's never been the greatest help defender, but his help defense has fallen off to replacement-level or worse last year. He's far better working one-on-one in the post, with similarly sized power forwards. That's a very situational role to play in the modern league, with few post-up forwards remaining and most forwards moving outside the basket and working as floor spacers -- Martin's perimeter defense isn't bad, but his primary defensive role is definitively that of a bulldog post defender. On offense, he's a pick-your-poison type. For his own team, that is -- he tends to hog the ball a bit more than his efficiency would demand, although he showed an admirable amount of offensive restraint in his limited burn with the Clippers last year. His main issue has been the gradual loss of his former rebounding talent -- he was never a phenomenal rebounder, but at this point, he's embarrassingly bad. Barely scraped a rebounding rate of 10% despite the Clippers insisting on playing him as a small center for over half his minutes. Rough times. Going forward, he'll be a situational player, but as a one-on-one post guy he could derive a decent amount of additional value. I'd expect he'll get signed by a very good team, if he lowers his expectations fully and accepts a minimum deal.
A lot of people think Kenyon Martin is a bad person. It's not difficult to see why -- his on-court defensive style is a bit dirty, and he's known for getting into scrapes with other teams and having some manner of tantrums off the court. Although his off-court tantrums are usually a bit much, they're hardly coming from nowhere -- this particular tweet arose from a ton of personal attacks on Twitter. And when he got enraged over a former friend and Nuggets employee filling his car with popcorn as a practical joke, most people didn't mention the fact that the butter probably ruined the finishing of the inside of the car and would lead to a several thousand dollar repair job. (Although his getting the employee fired doesn't get reported much either, so perhaps it evens out.) He had a highly publicized spat with Mark Cuban and has previously been suspended from his team for screaming at his coach. He still blows up at opposing players from time to time, and has been occasionally known to call fans who needle him "fat stupid white boys." In short -- he gets mad.
I don't love Kenyon Martin, and I don't love the way he plays. I often read interviews with him and shake my head. But he isn't THAT bad. I didn't realize this until recently, but Martin is one of the most charity-driven guys in the league. Consider -- he's on the board of directors for the American Institute of Stuttering. The Karl blow-up was so long ago it's hard to really use it as evidence of anything -- since that happened, he's started his own foundation for underprivileged youth and he's donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to charity. And he's spilled a bit on a few things that recontextualize his temper, at least for me. It's hard to avoid feeling awful for Martin as a kid who stuttered -- because, little known fact, he did! I had a slight stuttering problem as a child that was connected with my lowest moments. It still comes up when I'm exceedingly nervous. It's absolutely a tough thing to get through, and even the toughest kids get teased for it if they do it. I dealt with getting teased differently than Martin, but I can't really blame him much for responding to the teasing by getting tougher and acting rougher. Some people ride with it, some people build shells -- Martin built a shell, and while it's a bit abrasive and a bit mad... life's tough, and I can't begrudge a man for dealing with it differently than I do. Good on him for dealing with it at all.
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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. Just about everyone got 3/3 yesterday -- @MillerNBA (once again), Itachill, Der-K, and Chilai. Let's see if these are quite as easy.
- Player #268 is a player who teams should probably give up on at this point. They won't, but they probably should. Per-minute stats do not a rotation player make, not in the way he's gotten his.
- Player #269 has, in my opinion, the fastest shot release in the NBA. Steve Novak's close, but this guy releases the ball SO fast.
- Player #270 serves decently well as an energetic backup center on a not-very-good-team, although he's doubtful to ever be much more than that. Was pretty awful last year, even though he was part of a mistakenly praised bench unit for a not-particularly-deep team.
Sorry for the late-ish capsules -- internet was down at work. Have a good weekend.
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