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 Quentin Richardson, Rodney Stuckey, and Larry Sanders.
Quentin Richardson has carved out two unique places in history during his career. The first was through absolutely no fault of his own -- in a downright bizarre period during the summer of 2009, Richardson was moved in the following sequence:
- Traded from the Knicks to the Grizzlies in exchange for Darko Milicic.
- Three weeks later, Richardson was traded to the Clippers in exchange for Zach Randolph.
- Three days later, Richardson was traded to the Timberwolves for Sebastien Telfair, Mark Madsen, and Craig Smith.
- Finally, about three weeks after that, Richardson was traded to the Heat for Mark Blount.
If you're keeping count, that's four different teams in the span of two months. This is -- if not the absolute quickest -- at least among the quickest durations a single player has churned through four teams in the history of the league. To his credit, Richardson stayed grounded -- as he said, at the end of the day, he had a guaranteed contract and he knew he'd be playing basketball. As he put it -- "with the way the economy is, I don't have a ton of problems. If me not knowing what team I'm going to is my biggest problem, that's nothing. A lot of people around the world are much worse off." Always a nice thought, and it's always good to see a guy with legitimate career perspective. The other unique place in history is less based on his game than his off-court pursuits -- for about a year, Richardson made the headlines by being engaged to Brandy. No, not the drink -- the famous singer. That's right, folks -- it was the Humphries/Kardashian engagement before Humphries or Kardashian were more than a glimmer in their parents' eye! (Yes, I'm implying that Humphries and Kardashian are 5 year olds. Watching them interact with other human beings, this may not be a suggestion that's all that out of sorts.)
Otherwise, with this representing the likely end to Richardson's career, what is there to really say about his game? Not a ton. At his best, Richardson was a 3-and-D type player whose defense was never quite at the level it needed to be. His three point marksmanship was solid, early in his career, and a phenomenally effective three point season playing with a prime Steve Nash helped him parlay his shooting talent into a set of reasonably large contracts. Realistically, his defense should've been a tiny bit better -- he's a strong widebody defender with decent fundamentals. But he's also the tiniest bit short for his position, which hurts him, and his large frame (especially during his mid-career fitness swoon in New York off a litany of injuries) has always made it a bit harder for him to cover guys on the move. This hasn't stopped Richardson from having all manner of hilarious NBA moments, like his remarkably silly rivalry with Paul Pierce (clearing the way for DeShawn Stevensons everywhere to attack randomly better players). He also tended to celebrate with funny gestures and reactions when he made threes -- he's clearly a guy that enjoys being on the court, and he (to his credit) doesn't try to do vastly too much on the floor. That's respectable.
No mark Richardson made in history really holds a candle to his sad personal story, though -- it's not rare for NBA players to have been through rough times, but it's rare that they get quite as dire as Richardson suffered. He grew up learning and loving basketball from his mother's prodding, wrought of her inability to work in the aftermath of a stroke and aneurism. His mother -- a former high school player -- taught him the game and shot with him as a kid. But tragedy struck -- his mother never got to see him in the NBA or even in college. She passed away in 1992 after a struggle with breast cancer, only to be immediately followed by Richardson's beloved grandmother and shortly thereafter by his 23-year-old older brother, Bernard. His father reacted sternly, trying to instill an even harsher work ethic into Richardson. It didn't always work -- Richardson had his problems in the NBA, what with his fitness issues in New York, his discipline issues, his inability to stick with any one team, et cetera. But when you look at the things that precipitated that, like losing his younger brother in a senseless shooting in the middle of his New York tenure? You start to gain a lot of perspective and sympathy for the man.
Again, Quentin Richardson is not an amazing player. In his own words: "I'm not a 20-point scorer -- I'm whatever Stan Van Gundy needs me to be. If he wants me to focus on defense, I will." But he has his pride he puts in his work, even if his natural talents betrayed him a bit. On some level, I hope he makes the NBA again -- on another, I think he'd probably be better off in a foreign league or at DePaul finishing his degree. There are young blooded kids who deserve his minutes more right now, and while he was shakily effective last season, he's getting up there in the years and he's a player whose body can abide no real degradation of skill. Still, I have a lot of respect for Richardson, and if this really is the end -- as it appears to be -- I hope he knows that there's at least one fan out there who won't forget the world he came from and the effort he put forth to stay in the league.
Follow Rodney Stuckey to the gates of probabilistic hell and back.
As a statistician, watching a shooter mired in a bad shooting slump is (strangely) more compelling to me than watching a ridiculous hot streak. The same goes for other sports -- a hitter's slump in baseball, a quarterback's slump in football, a goalie whose defense suddenly leaves them -- these are the sports phenomenons that interest me most. There's a reason for that, and it has to do with a statistical assumption many sports statisticians and professional analysts make without much regard to introspection and adjustment. That is, the assumption of absolute event independence. I'm not a strong proponent of the hot-hand theory, no. I think it's certainly plausible, although most of the research makes me think it's a bit of a prancing unicorn. And in ALMOST all sports cases, I think semi-absolute independence is a reasonable assumption, with a large enough sample size. But I actually am a proponent of a watered down version of the cold-hand theory. That's the idea that shooting slumps, unlike hot streaks, have a non-negligible chance of breaking the traditional assumptions of independence that underlie most sports statistics, thereby engendering a short buffer of an adjustment period as the player sheds their personal attempts to "fix" their shot and return to the fundamentally decent shot that got them to their pre-slump high in the first place.
There are three reasons for this. First, a shooting slump is far more dire than a hot streak -- in terms of psychological importance, a slump is something that vastly endangers the average NBA player's ability to receive minutes commensurate with their self-perceived talent level, and as thus, it's more of a threat to be taken seriously. Second, there are far more ways to change a shot that isn't going well than there are to improve a shot that's on a hot streak -- there are all manner of things to tinker with when things are going poorly, ranging from off-hand position to jump height to release angle. It's like playing with a control panel with 20 various sliders and having all of them available to you -- you can tinker and toy with it until you find something better, and as you do so, that changes the overall complexion of your shot and potential. And finally, there's the last key -- nerves. When I get nervous about things, I get a bit shaky, a bit less sure of myself, a bit less confident in my ability to perform the task. Shooting slumps harm a shooter's confidence, which in turn could lengthen the slump and mire the player in a muck they can't escape.
In the long run, the use of independence assumptions and slump-gathered statistics used in overall valuation metrics isn't a bad thing. Never will be. Law of large numbers does dictate that things like this tend to even out over time, and the sheer number of players and events occurring at any one time make occasional slumps like the one Rodney Stuckey has started the year on (through 5 games, Stuckey was shooting 8-of-46 from the field and trying all manner of different contortions in an effort to shoot himself out of it). If you're wondering how something like that could happen at all, I'd entreat you to look at this useful applet. It's a coin flip engine, so essentially, it's the equivalent to a 50% shooter shooting shots into the infinite. Watch the "longest streak" metric. You might be surprised to find that the "longest streak" ends up being far longer than you'd expect -- in Stuckey's worst part of the slump, he missed 18 shots in a row. How likely is it that a career 42% shooter misses 18 shots in a row, given that he's shot 3956 shots in his career? You can calculate that exact probability with the Bernoulli distribution -- if you assume independence, the probability isn't nearly as low as most people would expect. You'd see a streak of 18 or more misses 8% of the time.
Which sort of goes back to my point -- while I think that probability is probably marginally higher, accounting for the impact that 5 to 10 misses may make it marginally more likely for a shooter to miss a slightly higher percentage than usual for the next 10 to 20 shots before they revert to their usual form, that probability is actually reasonably high. The amusing reaction to a player's slump tends to be far more dire and bloviating than reason would assess. A slump does not a poor player make -- we live in a world where rare events aren't impossible events, they're just rare. And when people watch slumps and revel in what it really reflects about the player, I get a bit amused. Far more interesting is to watch how the player reacts, and see if you can isolate the things they alter or the tendencies they adjust in an effort to get back on track -- that's where I find slumps to be the most interesting, and why I had an odd fascination with watching almost every moment of Stuckey's hilariously dire season-opening slump.
Having said all that, I don't really know what to say about Stuckey's game. Is he as bad as the slump would tend to indicate? No, not really. Is he good? Again -- no, not really. Years ago, Stuckey was seen as a relative savior to some of my Detroit-hailing friends, the man who would take the reins from Billups and cash in on an excess of talent. That never really happened. Although Stuckey has a promising frame for a defensive player, he's never put in an exceedingly high amount of effort on that end, and his positive adjusted plus/minus last season struck me as an outlier. His effort level has seemed consistently low to me on a fundamentally flawed level over the course of his career, although I'll be the first to admit that Synergy is down right now and I don't really have the ability to back up my memories with my usual scouting at the present moment. He just doesn't seem to have a smart grasp on when to rotate and when to stay at home, choosing to straddle the line and get burned all too often.
On offense, Stuckey's big talent is that he understands the importance of at-rim scoring to a balanced offensive attack -- Stuckey converted only 53% at the rim (in the bottom 25% of all SGs), but he took 41% of his shots there, which helped him maintain an overall moderately decent field goal percentage. Which does tend to brush some of his problems under the rug -- namely, the fact that he absolutely can't shoot beyond the midrange. He can make a few midrange shots a game, if you need it, but he's absolutely dismal at long twos and three pointers, shooting 31% last year on all shots beyond 15 feet. That's not very good. The one thing he was good at is the one thing I hate watching most -- he was great-to-excellent at drawing free throws and good at converting when he got to the line (83% is a good rate, for anyone). Which tends to be a way to get me to hate watching you. Until you slump and my fascination overrides all aesthetics concerns. Note to all shooters: if you want me to become interested in you, apparently all you need to do is go on a prolonged shooting slump. Sounds like a plan, right?
While Larry Sanders had an up-and-down experience in his first few years in the league, as with many Bucks, he's been one of Milwaukee's pleasant surprises in their early-season renaissance. Some expected Chicago would run away with the central division. Others expected Indiana would make a strong run at it. Others were on bath salts and ate people's faces off. (They did not have any stated horse in this race.) They were all wrong, at least so far -- Milwaukee has played better than anyone else in the central division, going 7-5 against a schedule ever-so-slightly harder than Chicago's season-opening cupcake parade. Their most impressive performance by far has come in a loss, as well -- they were ousted by the Heat in overtime (in Miami!) despite getting abysmal 13-41 shooting from their Ellis/Jennings pairing and next to nothing from Ersan Ilyasova. The Bucks have surprised many. Myself included.
The Bucks have been good, which is in and of itself rather shocking, but more shocking to me has been exactly how they're doing it. Not Ellis, not Jennings, and not even Dalembert -- the players that are leading the Bucks to respectability are simply the players left over after years and years of what seemed like poor drafting and poor trading decisions. Include Sanders in that mix. If not putting everything together, Sanders has definitely put something together -- starting on the boards. He's been a FAR better rebounder than he used to be, finally having spent a summer studying positioning and figuring out where exactly he needs to be to corral more rebounds and help his team. Whereas before Sanders would consistently find himself boxed out and totally out of the picture when the rebound careened off the board, this year's new-age Sanders has finally realized that in order to ensure any kind of a career in the league, he needs to put his athletically gifted 6'11" frame to work. That realization and an excess of confidence -- never quite there before -- has turbocharged the man's game. He's played great, and he's been one of the Bucks' biggest season-starting shockers. His offense looks good (on, as always, low usage), his passing is fine, and his defense is decent. He's startlingly engaged. He's legitimately becoming an NBA player. A beautiful transformation.
All that said? I'm not sure Skiles is really the right coach for Sanders post-crisis, or if I'm honest, Milwaukee in general. You have to wonder what exactly went through Skiles' head when he refused to give Larry Sanders much time his first two years, even in garbage time -- Sanders played under 900 minutes in each of the previous two seasons, and while he wasn't a phenomenal player, it's extremely hard to really assess how good a young player is when he barely gets minutes even in the face of massive injuries to the frontcourt, as the Bucks have been quite familiar with. His minutes and role were constantly yanked around, and I really have no idea how he got any sort of comfort developed with Skiles leaving him completely in the dark night-in and night-out on what his role was to be the next day. I read a joke on Twitter quipping that Skiles was trying to fulfill the never-before-seen idea of literally giving every single one of his big men 20 minutes per game of burn. If he was just doing that, maybe it'd be fine -- but hes oscillating them between 30-36 minute games and 0-6 minute games. It's too much variance. There's preserving guys to save them from injury and then there's simply being odd and capricious with your lineups. Skiles shuffles around young players without any real rhyme or reason -- sometimes he'll be riding the hot hand, but oftentimes it just seems that he forgets certain players are still on his bench. Look at last week -- Sanders played 21 minutes in a loss to Charlotte, putting up reasonably strong per-minute numbers. He then proceeded to play -- not a typo -- SIX minutes against the Heat. Two days later? 29 minutes against the Bulls, because that makes sense. Then he played 12. Skiles is a good coach, but at some point you need to wonder if his devil-may-care lineup assignments aren't hurting the development of the young players Milwaukee needs to develop.
There are many reasons Skiles rarely lasts long in a new city. The Bucks, even as they surprise and shock in the early going, are providing a perfect example of why Skiles that is. If you can't develop young talent or put young guys on the floor, you aren't going to build a contender in a small market. You simply aren't. And if your "developmental strategy" involves yanking young players around and acting like they don't matter, you're going to encounter a bit of resistance -- both on the player end and the organizational end. Here's hoping Skiles finally learns from his past foibles. And here's assuming he absolutely won't.
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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. Shout-out to Matt L, Rad E Cool, and wul.f for putting together the pieces on 2/3 of these, and I admit this -- the Sanders riddle was legitimately terrible.
- Player #301 draws free throws. He really doesn't do anything else of any perceivable note. Why did he have to attend my alma mater, again?
- Player #302 might be good -- as a rookie, he really surprised me. But as a sophomore (after a year out of the country), he surprised me again... in the opposite direction, a bit. At least the Swede's starting the year decently, and playing well for a team that's rather dismal.
- Player #303 is a massive downgrade from Quentin Richardson. He's young, but he's underutilized and his top-heavy team has to be looking to waive him and sign a better vet... right?
And we've hit the 300s! The end is nigh. Will again try for two today -- can I make it two days in a row? If so, check back around 5-6 ET for today's second installment.
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