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 Corey Maggette, Jonas Jerebko, and Devin Ebanks.
I'm going to try to make this one short, for two reasons. Firstly, I absolutely don't like Corey Maggette. I really, truly don't. Avid readers will know by now that I'm essentially the least-school-spirited Duke student in all of recorded history. I do not like my alma mater and I don't tend to like the players that Coach K's system produces. Corey Maggette completely embodies the Duke style, on defense and offense. Secondly, he's not really a very relevant player. I tend to pride myself in finding at least one or two interesting things to say about each and every NBA player, but when it comes to Maggette, I honestly have trouble figuring out what to say. He's not very engaging, and there aren't a ton of original or interesting observations to be made about his game.
The only observation of particular note with Maggette is that of his somewhat empty style -- Maggette embodies the concept of improving one's stats by playing on awful teams. If his team is atrocious, he'll generally have excellent-to-solid statistics and look like a strong possible option as a first or second string guy on a contending team. If his team is good, those solid statistics dissipate into the wind, and his minutes vanish with them. He's been arguably one of the worst players a franchise could sign. He's overpaid, harms your team's bottom line a bit with his dismal defense, constantly gets taken out for large swatches of the season through injury due to his foul-drawing style, doesn't seem to grasp basketball aesthetics, and completely lacks the personal charm to make up for any of the sins. Not to belabor the aesthetics, but it bears repeating -- his game is centered around a bumbling sort of foul-drawing mastery. In Maggette's career, he's made over 500 more free throws than he has field goals. Which is... not exactly something most people want to watch, efficient though it may be. It's simply not very fun. Maggette is not a very fun experience.
The one other thing I find interesting about Maggette is that of his frame. Many people -- looking at Maggette with no real knowledge about the NBA -- would assume him to be a good defender. He's one of the most muscular NBA players in the league, he's built like an ox, and he just has the feel of a solid defensive player. Well... he's not. He lacks lateral quickness, he backs down out of post position, and he generally just doesn't use his muscles on defense. It's simultaneously hilarious and sad. It's like watching a killer robot whose personality was typed with a Tickle Me Elmo doll. You have this beastly-looking figure on defense who simply cannot guard a fly. He doesn't have the instincts, the know-how, the anything -- oftentimes, it looks like he still feels he's at Duke, overrotating and doing little dirty nudges in hopes the refs won't notice, which they rarely do. Maggette is not the worst player, but by god, he's not very good. He has a laundry list of limitations, the aesthetic allure of a stepped-on anthill, and a decidedly unbecoming disinterest on the defensive end. I just can't really stand watching him, and while I know he was a lot better than this at his prime, I simply can't get over how poor he looks now. Maybe it's injuries, maybe it's karma, maybe it's just the slow march of age. But the man isn't what he used to be, and what he is now isn't very appetizing at all.
Jonas Jerebko is one of those players that genuinely confounds me. His rookie season was promising -- he displayed a solid three point stroke, a knack for rebounding, and a general versatility that made it seem like the sky was the limit for Jerebko's potential as an NBA roleplayer. He even looked to have some defensive potential -- his rookie year, the Pistons were quite a bit of a better team defensively with him on the court, and although he had issues sticking with wings or defending post-ups, most teams didn't rely on that against Jerebko that often and he was able to stick to his shot defense on big men (which is solid) and a general ballhawking, wandering defense to set offensive players off kilter. In short, the stage looked set for a phenomenal career as a super-talented roleplayer. Or better! His sophomore year ended up delayed, as Jerebko strained a tendon in a preseason joust with the Miami Heat and ended his 2011 season before it began.
In the run-up to last season, the Pistons signed Jerebko to a 4-year, $18 million deal -- this seemed a bit high to most, but given his promising rookie year, it wasn't that bad. And then the season started. Jerebko did the same things he did as a rookie, for the most part. He rebounded extremely well. He scored efficiently. He hustled. But there was something distinctly different about Jerebko's play, and with more talent than before in a crowded frontcourt, his minutes suffered. Trying to put a finger on what exactly changed between Jerebko's first and second years is actually pretty difficult. The one thing I definitely noticed was a worse showing on the defensive end -- teams had figured out by the end of his rookie year that they could either post him up with a bigger guy or test his lateral quickness with a smaller guy if they wanted to disrupt his defense, and coming off his injury-lost season, he had serious problems doing either. Even his defensive talents from his rookie year seemed lessened -- his ballhawking was worse, his ability to stick past screens fell to pot, and he generally looked lost on the defensive end.
This isn't to say he wasn't useful, but it is to say that his decrease in minutes didn't come capriciously. There was rhyme and reason to it, even despite his solid offense. Most assume that Jerebko is a good finisher given how often he finishes strong. Turns out that isn't quite the case -- surprisingly, he's marginally below average as a forward at the rim. The key with Jerebko is one of constant usage -- Jerebko takes almost 40% of his shots at the rim, and 54% of his shots within 9 feet of the basket. He's roughly average at both, but he does it so often it seems like he's better than he is. And when it's close-in offense, being average is fine -- the problem most tweeners face is a decided allergy to getting to the rim and finishing strong. To Jerebko's credit, he doesn't share this difficulty. He works hard to get to the rim and draws a lot of free throws to get there. Which, net and net, makes him a positive offensive player even if he hasn't quite extended his range to that of a legitimate three point sniper. Yet. The problem is that without the legitimate three point shot, a player of his defensive caliber is going to have trouble getting big minutes on a team with no frontcourt talent, let alone on a team stacked with some in Monroe and Drummond.
Which leaves the Pistons where they are now -- with a player who is obviously quite talented and quite offensively useful, but who can't play the 3 (until he gets faster) or the 4 (until he gets more muscle) on defense. It's difficult to figure out where Jerebko fits in the Pistons' future -- he's much like DeJuan Blair with the Spurs, in that they're players who played lights-out rookie seasons who are just about as good as they were during those seasons... but no better. To the extent that one starts to wonder at some point if the rookie season was more of a best case scenario than a sign of things to come. Jerebko's still young, and there's still plenty of time for him to get in better NBA shape and turn the league upside down. But whereas I used to think it was an inevitability, I'm now relatively convinced it's merely a possibility. Wish him well regardless, though -- the guy is very fun to watch.
Although Devin Ebanks found himself shackled to Mike Brown's doghouse last season, I never thought it was all that big of a deal. I know there are a lot of Laker fans who like Ebanks -- he's the spitting image of Trevor Ariza, right down to the curves of his jawline. There's a desire, internally, to project Ariza's best traits onto Ebanks and assume them the same player. If not the same, at least similar. But there's a problem with that. Ebanks has played really, really poorly as a Laker, despite playing the vast majority of his minutes against remarkably awful competition in garbage time blowout lineups. Ebanks features an utterly broken shot (he didn't make a single three, converted just 58% at the rim, and barely shot 26% from 3-15 feet last season), a propensity for turning the ball over (an absurd 15% of all his possessions, in fact), and provided no other offensive talents on the floor. Ebanks is not a willing passer in a play-call offense, he isn't a good rebounder, and his steal/block totals are pathetic for a guy as athletic as he is. His defense was solid but unspectacular, with his relatively solid man-up perimeter defense usually easily thwarted by simply running him off a weak screen -- Ebanks did a terrible job negotiating screens in his tenure last year.
This year, despite the Lakers' depth problems, Ebanks still hasn't seen much time. There are many possible reasons for this, but my theory now is that the Lakers simply want to wait and see the results of Ebanks' early season drunk driving arrest before they try him out as a valuable member of their rotation. The court case is in a little over a week, now -- may as well wait and see. They don't want to risk potentially giving Ebanks an important role on the team before a drunk driving suspension is brought down by the league. The Lakers are having enough trouble with chemistry already -- no reason to put a huge investment on a guy who could be out 5-10 games with additional media headaches to boot. So far as I see it. This doesn't totally explain why Ebanks saw very little time under Brown, but I think that's pretty easily chalked up to the fact that he simply never made it into Brown's good graces and Brown was never really confident enough in Ebanks to give him a fair shot anyway. Although, again -- I'm not sure he got all that unfair of a shot. The man shot 26% from 3-15 feet. For such an athletic guy, Ebanks converted less of the time at the rim than 75% of all NBA small forwards. He turns the ball over like it's his job. He didn't draw charges. He didn't have legitimate range to his jump shot. Perhaps he'll be decent someday, but he has yet to prove he's a rotation player in the NBA. Which, once again, goes back to the Lakers' depth problems. The fact that so many fans are convinced that Devin Ebanks -- a player who by former performance would be out of the rotation entirely on 27 of 30 NBA teams -- will vastly improve the quality of their bench is a speaks loudly to the type of depth Los Angeles is carrying right now.
Namely, none. I consider it a complete shock that the Lakers chose to stay put with Duhon/Blake/Morris instead of picking up Shaun Livingston for the minimum -- while Livingston is hardly a lights-out player anymore, Nash's injury has made all-the-more-obvious the Lakers' unenviable position at the point. The same applies to the Lakers' wing rotation, where Jodie Meeks has dramatically disappointed and even D'Antoni has seen fit to use two-point lineups in an effort to minimize the damage caused by playing Darius Johnson-Odom and Meeks large minutes. Artest has played like a shattered record for virtually the entire season, but his starting role is in absolutely no danger -- no matter how poorly he plays, he's not in any danger whatsoever of getting leapfrogged by any of the Lakers' pathetic options behind him. The big man rotation is a mess of ill-fitting parts right now, but at least there are four legitimate players there -- that's more than they can say on the wings and point, and speaks to the general challenge that continue to make the Lakers one of the more interesting teams to handicap and examine in the entire league. D'Antoni has a beast of a task ahead of him to synthesize these pieces into a dangerous playoff monster -- I have a lot of confidence in his ability to do so, but to act like he's not working with a tough roster to mold would be a mistake.
Perhaps Ebanks can break out and surprise. Perhaps he won't. We'll see, I suppose.
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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. Mike L got a 3/3. Good work with some intractable riddles, there.
- Player #304 is one of the most valuable point guards in the league. He's also not a top-5 point guard, and he rarely makes top-10 lists because everyone simply forgets he exists.
- Player #305 popularized the trend of wasting a 3-on-2 transition break with a random pull-up three that none of his teammates were in position to rebound. Everyone does it now. I'm mad.
- Player #306 throws it down, [his name]. Also plays above his head for a contract, seemingly every time!
And that does it for today's second set. Join us tomorrow when -- again -- I will try to do two sets of these blasted things. This certainly isn't going to last forever, given that writing 6000 words per day feels about as insane and unreasonable as it sounds... but so long as I'm on vacation, I figure giving myself a bit of wiggle room to get the project done by year's end is always a good idea. Until then, gents and lasses.
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