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! This afternoon we continue with Mickael Pietrus, Andre Iguodala, and Earl Boykins.
It's something of a pity that Mickael Pietrus has struggled over the last few years with freak injuries and game-sapping accidents. While he's never been a star-type player, or even a reliable roleplayer, he had promising seasons early in his career that made one think he had a shot to be something pretty good in the NBA. His sophomore season, Pietrus averaged 10-3-1 on just 20 minutes a game, which would translate to decent roleplayer status if he improved even the tiniest bit since then. His fourth year, he did a bit better and produced 11-5-1-1-1 averages on just 8 shots a game and 27 minutes a contest. Nothing world beating, of course -- he combined solid (although non-exceptional) perimeter defense with decent marksmanship from three and a nice knack for taking care of the ball in the few and far between times he handled it. But he's been extremely injured the last few years, which has detracted from his value quite a lot -- in the long view, he's a 36% three point shooter who's been money from the corners in his career. In the short view of last season, he was a slightly-above-average three point shooter on extremely low usage who takes 70% of his shots from three point range and provides little else of serious value. His defense has been touch-and-go since 2010, and his lingering knee problem last season dramatically harmed his defensive efficacy. The effort was still there, and he was still as intense as always -- he just wasn't getting nearly as much as he or the Celtics wanted out of his efforts.
As of yet, Pietrus remains unsigned. It's a little bit of an open question as to why, but not that much. There are two main teams that could clearly use him, right now -- the Lakers (who could use another body at the three to compensate for Artest's drop) or the Spurs (who currently have zero legitimate NBA small forwards on their roster while Leonard and Jackson recover from injuries). The big problem Pietrus faces is that of his previously-stated demands; his agent has stated outright that Pietrus is highly unlikely to accept any veteran's minimum contract for his efforts, and neither of the teams that need him really are in a position to offer him much more. Which leaves him in a bit of a jam. If he's healthy (as he's stated multiple times he is), he probably could be a helpful piece in the NBA. But he's only helpful on a team that could legitimately use a 3-and-D swingman with few tertiary skills and little room to improve -- IE, a veteran team that doesn't have the cap space to offer much beyond a minimum deal! So he sits in wait for a team to pick up his option, and hopes that by the time it happens he isn't too out of shape and out of practice to really contribute. It's rough, but he's been waived before and he's gone through the wringer. Can't imagine he'll get too bent out of shape about it. Good guy, from all accounts, and I think this video of him saying he loves the viewer in a terrifying voice will confuse and befuddle me always. Also, it's kind of a wonder more guys don't do this. Duncan and Pietrus seem to be the only two to do it with any regularity. Step up your broadcast mischief game, NBA.
Many people don't really seem to gather exactly how good Andre Iguodala has been the last few years. Specifically, weirdly enough, the vast majority of Sixers fans I'm friends with. Evident example -- I remember talking with a friend of mine. Huge Sixers fan. It was back in the run-up to the 2011 season, during the summer doldrums. While I insisted that Iguodala was a high-quality player, he was having none of it. "He cannot score" said he. "His defense is not up to snuff" said he. "He's a ruthless, overpaid stat-padder who could be replaced by Evan Turner for less money" said he. And I shook my head, but reluctantly left the table to finish the conversation and get back to my job. As time went on, I felt that I both better understood and less agreed with his position, and a position I find relatively common among Philadelphia fans. There are three big table-legs that make Iguodala a fantastic NBA player. They are as follows:
- Andre Iguodala is the best perimeter defender in the NBA. Really. Few others are consistently anywhere close, in fact -- over the last two years, LeBron has been the only perimeter defender whose advanced metrics have touched Iggy's (although both Tony Allen and Avery Bradley at their best give them a run for their money), and LeBron has struggled with some element of disinterest in the regular season. Few seem to believe me on this, but it's a serious thing -- LeBron James is a phenomenal playoff defender and a best-in-class defensive talent due partly to his versatility and partly to his inherently smart approach he takes to defense. But he doesn't play out every possession at a breakneck pace, for good reason. He used to, when he was a younger man -- but last season LeBron seemed to come to the realization that it's exhausting and unnecessary to go as hard for a random November regular season game as one would for a playoff game in the eastern conference finals. Iguodala? At least in Philadelphia, he hardly had a possession all season he "took off". And he was the leading cog in one of the best defenses in the NBA, an all-engulfing talent that destroyed and obliterated star wing players every single night. It was uncanny. He defended the opposing team's best wing, helped on bigs, shaded rotations, and destroyed driving angles. I have no idea how he did it all and stayed healthy and engaged for the entirety of the 2012 season. It was a miracle of defensive accomplishment for Iguodala, and he should've gotten a lot more credit for it.
- Andre Iguodala is one of the best passing wings in basketball. This one is something most of his harshest critics will still begrudgingly admit, but I have an inkling that few people are aware of just how creative Iguodala is with his passing. He doesn't always break out the incredibly creative moves, and he's no savant a la Manu Ginobili. But he's EXTREMELY good. Not top-of-the-class, a la his perimeter defense. He's not the best passing wing -- I would say off the top of my head that Kirilenko, LeBron, and Kobe Bryant are inherently "better" passing talents than Iguodala (although Bryant doesn't use his talents nearly as much as the other three). But Iguodala has a creative spark that comes out every now and again, leading to beautiful plays like this phenomenal between the legs pass, this soft no-look behind the shoulder pass, or this quintessential use of a blown Thunder rotation to pass to himself for a pretty dunk. He isn't Steve Nash, but he's no Ramon Sessions either -- there's a hell of a lot of creativity behind his passing, something for which Iguodala rarely gets quite as much credit as he should.
- Andre Iguodala is one of the best finishers in the NBA. A lot of people understand that Iguodala is good at dunking. And he is -- consider last year, where Iguodala slammed in 89 dunks on 91 attempts, missing just two dunks in an entire season of action (ironically, both misses came against Boston in the playoffs, and both came in the last four games of Philadelphia's season -- he came remarkably close to going 100% on all dunk attempts in the 2012 season). He shot 48% on tip-ins, layups, and hook shots in the 2012 season, and did so despite grabbing his own offensive rebound with startling regularity. Last season, Iguodala's overall mark at the rim -- 75.2% -- was 7th overall in the entire league. If he actually would use his ability to get to the rim more often, Iguodala has the potential to be a startlingly effective scorer at this stage of his career.
As you might have realized while reading that last bulletpoint, though, there's something of a hollow problem in his offensive game. Simply put? For all the grief we give players like Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James for not going in the post and playing to their strength, we seem to fully exonerate Iguodala for -- quite literally -- having one of the worst efficiency-to-locale shot distributions in the entire league. You know how we get on J.R. Smith for shooting a lot of jumpers? Iguodala, last season, was far worse. Despite shooting 75% at the rim, only 25% of Iguodala's offense came there -- the average wing shot around 34% of their shots at the rim, for good reason. It's really efficient to do that. Iguodala preferred to coast outside the arc, shooting an absurd 64% of his shots from beyond 15 feet, something that would be quite nice if he was Ray Allen, but turned out to be somewhat of a waste given that he's not. He shot just 31% from the long two, and while he had a flukishly-good showing from the three point arc, it really remains to be seen if Iguodala can stay around 40% from three on a regular basis. Watching him do this -- game in and game out -- can be infuriating. And it can cause a lot of grief to fans that are forced to watch his semi-regular dismal offensive nights where he acts allergic to cutting, driving, or the concept of at-rim play.
The problem that most Philadelphia fans have with Iguodala -- it seems to me -- is that of poor timing and poor decisions. Sure, he's the greatest large forward passing talent the Sixers have had in the last decade. But why does he defer at every possible opportunity? Sure, he's a great perimeter defender. But why was he so fruitless at it while Iverson was at his best, and why did he only develop into a perfect complementary piece after Iverson had departed? Most of the Philadelphia fans I've met love Iverson, and for relatively good reason. But acting as Iverson's follow-up act has not suited Iguodala well, given his propensity for poor offensive decisions erring on the side of minimal usage and his generally low-key game. For every aspect of his game that Iverson imposes on his viewer, Iguodala ruminates and produces rumblings of tempered brilliance. He's a thinking fan's player who suited up to follow a player of visceral passions, and that (above all else) explains to me why Philadelphia never really caught on to Iguodala. It's like going to a wine tasting after pigging out at Taco Bell. Your crunchwrap supreme might have been delicious, but good luck appreciating a good Bordeaux while you try to get that volcano sauce aftertaste out of your craw. The tastes simply don't fit.
So, no. Really, I'm not that surprised that Iguodala got booed, and I'm not really mad at Philadelphia for booing him -- even if I think (as I do) that Iguodala is a fantastic player and one of the most underrated swingmen in the league. He's a sophisticated player with sophisticated flaws, and attempting to stomach Iguodala's complex game after Iverson's simple passions -- especially without the winning that Philadelphia fans have become accustomed to through osmosis from the Phillies and the Eagles -- was probably a bridge too far for Philadelphia. Here's hoping he finds a better role in Denver, exacts the same dominant defensive stylings elsewhere, and (of course) the obvious: finally stops shooting so many long twos. Dear God, man.
Follow Earl Boykins, but don't be surprised if he escapes Tom's clutches into Jerry's lair.
When your claim to fame is that you're the Muggsy Bogues type "ridiculously small player" of your generation, you're going to have a legacy. Whether you like it or not. Look, I'm 6'4". I'm almost one foot taller than Earl Boykins -- an actual NBA player, I may remind you. This never ceases to amaze me. Consider it. He's probably shorter than most of our readers! He's shorter than me, than you, than all manner of individuals... and he not only made the NBA, he prospered in it. He wasn't great last season, and all things considered, he's probably out of the league at this point -- he's 36 years old, now, he cannot get his shot off, and he's having a lot of trouble staying with NBA quickness. I mean, he used to have trouble staying with NBA guards because he was a foot shorter than some of them. I'm pretty sure he still benches as much as he used to -- I distinctly remember seeing a story about how he could bench 300 pounds, which is insane for a guy his size. But strength isn't everything at a certain age. Now that he's gotten to the point where his natural quickness is waning and he can't stick with everyone like he used to, it's becoming more and more difficult to get him minutes. So I'm unsure whether he'll get a callback -- it's possible last season's short jaunt with the Rockets will end the ride, with this guy. But what a ride it's been.
Boykins has been -- if not phenomenal -- an insanely amusing player to watch in his 13 years in the league. Just look at what he did in the 2011 season, with the Milwaukee Bucks. Was there anyone who wasn't watching enraptured as Boykins filleted the Lakers defense in a game where the Bucks -- sans Bogut or Jennings -- demolished the Lakers by 19 points? Is there anyone who can honestly say they weren't completely floored when Boykins led the Bucks to a strong shellacking of the would-be champion Mavericks to open the 2011 calendar year? Boykins has spent his NBA career doing crazy things, and his diminutive size makes him a consistently entertaining presence to watch in a professional basketball game. His defense isn't great, given that almost every player in the league can simply shoot over him, but he's hardly useless -- his low center of gravity makes him quite adept at producing steals, and while he gambles very often, at his size the only real defensive weapon he's got is his ability to nick the ball. So I don't really blame him for gambling nearly as much as I'd blame a larger player. Look at it this way -- gambling makes sense for Boykins, because he has a lot to gain, but only a tiny bit to lose. ... Get it? Because he's tiny? I'm a riot, folks.
Anyway. Fun fact -- Earl Boykins came from the Cleveland area. This may come as something of a shocker, but given that fact, he might actually be one of the 5 or 6 best players to ever hail from that neck of the woods. You've got LeBron James, Charles Oakley, Nate Thurmond, Gus Johnson, and Stephen Curry. Boykins fits in right around those guys. He's right there! It's kind of like a race! LeBron James is driving ahead of Oakley and Thurmond in a Ferrari to their 1980 Oldsmobiles. Behind them, you have Stephen Curry trying to drive a broken-down Jetta with no tires and Gus Johnson screaming at his engine to move faster without realizing his keys aren't in the ignition. But then -- look! Earl Boykins, the boy-kin wonder, rollerskating his way into our hearts and dreams! Just like he did mine.
To conclude, I will now provide a list of every single player who has been blocked by Earl Boykins in their careers.
- Sam Cassell (x3)
- Tyronne Lue (x3)
- Mo Williams (x2)
- Eduardo Najera (x2)
- Damon Stoudemire (x2)
- Brevin Knight (x2)
- Bobby Jackson (x2)
- Dwyane Wade
- Steve Nash
- Jason Terry
- John Stockton
- David Wesley
- Sebastien Telfair
- Dan Dickau
- Earl Watson
- Wally Szczerbiak
- Rafer Alston
- Lionel Chalmers
- Ken McLeod
- Aaron Brooks
- Chauncey Billups
- Ramon Sessions
- Greivis Vasquez
This list is beautiful. It is a treasure. Thank you for sharing it with me.
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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. Geezer, J, and @MillerNBA got 2/3 right. Good work to all three.
- Player #298 played himself in the movie Van Wilder. And that makes about as much sense as getting waived after starting a few games last season for a playoff team.
- Player #299 is on the slump-to-end-all-slumps to start the 2013 season. It took until the eighth game of his season for him to shoot over 50% in a single game. Really. Serious fact.
- Player #300 needs more minutes. And may get a coach fired, through no fault of his own -- his coach has been OK with his current team, but if he keeps burying Player #300, he may end up on the hot seat.
Two sets today? Will wonders ever cease? Join us tomorrow for two sets that will probably be significantly less interesting than today's two sets. Fly with the wind.
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