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 Brendan Haywood, Klay Thompson, and Landry Fields.
Follow Brendan Haywood on the road to ChampCats glory.
Of all the pickups the Bobcats made this summer, there were few I liked more than the acquisition of Brendan Haywood. It's not very complicated to see why. The Bobcats managed to ink Haywood -- a league average center -- for just $7.6 million over four years. Read that again. Four years, $7.6 million. Scarce few players in the league are inked to deals that pay as little as that for more than one or two years -- in Haywood's case, the Bobcats picked up an aging body with decent fundamentals for the NBA equivalent of packing peanuts over the remaining duration of his career. The nice thing about a contract like that is that it fits into the books of virtually any contender, which makes Haywood a good bet to be moved around a bit during the duration of the deal. And indeed, that's the main benefit -- Haywood helps the Bobcats in the short-term for reasons I'll get to in a second, but so long as his game stays at replacement level, he's ALSO going to be an important trade chip that could net the Bobcats a pick and a prospect down the line from a team looking to shed a dead-weight salary center but needing to take back a replacement level guy to do it. Haywood's price makes him a perfect trade asset for that sort of a situation, and it demonstrates as well as anything the myriad ways Rich Cho has been playing the long game in his tenure as Bobcats GM to-date.
As for his game? The Bobcats have been surprisingly tolerable this year, and it's not a stretch to give Haywood a great deal of credit for their revival. No, Haywood isn't some great superstar. He's not going to be setting any franchise records or making the Mavericks wish they'd kept him -- he's not worth what he was getting paid in Dallas in any way whatsoever, and he never was going to be. But Haywood isn't below average either. While his offensive game (or more accurately stated, his complete nonexistence thereof) leaves much to be desired, as a general rule, Haywood doesn't go too far over his limits. He takes over 60% of his shots at the rim, "shooting" a roughly-big-man-average 67% from that range. It's good that he takes that much offense from outside that range, because from every other area of the court, Haywood is absurdly bad at scoring -- watching Haywood shoot a jump shot is funny if you don't like his team, but akin to flaying your own flesh if you're not. The man shot 22% on jump shots in 2012, and trust me, it looked worse. He also shot 35% on his awkward-looking poorly balanced hook shots, and perhaps most glaringly, showed a complete lack of an ability to convert tip-in at-rim plays (finishing just 7 of 26 on tip-in shots -- 26%).
Moral of the story: if you give him a layup or a dunk, he'll be alright, provided they don't foul him and send his "40% in the last 3 years" free throw form to the line. Anything else? EXPECT NOTHING. YOU GET NOTHING. GOOD DAY, FANS! Once you get beyond Haywood's offense, though, there's actually a lot to like. His rebounding rate isn't phenomenal in and of itself, with poor defensive rebounding dragging down his excellent offensive rebounding. But the poor defensive rebounding rate ignores several fundamental advantages Haywood brings on that end -- he's good at boxing out opposing centers, so even if he doesn't snag the rebound, the other team's best rebounder tends to have trouble snagging it as well. Not to mention his tap-outs, which he gets many of -- some simply by dint of his 7'0" frame and others simply because he's talented at it and people underestimate it. No, Haywood can't pass, and he's extremely turnover-prone for a player who barely touches the ball. And that kind of sucks. But on defense, he's a solid mainstay, and he rotates relatively well. He wasn't the absolute key of Carlisle's system last year (that was Marion and a blitzing perimeter attack), but his low-post excellence was a huge asset for the Mavericks, and Dunlap has picked up on and managed to effectively incorporate him into the Bobcats' defensive attack. And it's been a great help.
Why's that? Here's the thing. Haywood isn't great. When all you can really do is dunk and lay-up and when you shoot around 40% from the line over extended periods of time, you really aren't going to be lighting the world aflame. But the Bobcats don't need Haywood to be great. They need Haywood to be better than Desagana Diop, a rookie-year Biyombo, and a clearly-out-of-sorts Boris Diaw. And that's about as low a bar as one can possibly set for an NBA player. Bobcats fans didn't just get a below-average performance from the center position last year, they got a cavalcade of horrors not unlike watching war crimes on tape. Haywood -- as not-great as he is -- is so far beyond the level of play the Bobcats got from the center position last season that he dramatically improves the team. Kemba Walker and Ramon Sessions have helped, as has Kidd-Gilchrist. But as of yet, the Bobcats are missing last year's only competent NBA piece (Gerald Henderson) -- without Henderson last season, the Bobcats looked even worse. So it's actually even more impressive than it looks that the Cats have looked so flat-out decent this year. The vast improvements the Bobcats have seen are helmed by Walker, Sessions, and Kidd-Gilchrist at heart, but don't sleep on Haywood's help. He's been engaged, hard-working, and (above all else) average. And sometimes, bridging the gap between the worst team ever and a respectably bad team simply lies in replacing toxic players with average ones. Sometimes that's all it really takes.
I can't say I'm in love with Klay Thompson's game, but I can say that I'm very impressed with the Warriors' general approach to his handling. To me, the Monta Ellis trade was notable primarily because it indicated the organization's supreme confidence in Thompson going forward. That confidence was emphasized in triplicate this offseason, when the Warriors made absolutely no moves to supplement a shaky shooting guard rotation and essentially set Thompson up to play 35+ minutes a night. It's not exactly common that a team will look at a 24 minute-per-night rookie that didn't blow the doors off the league in his first year and go "hey, sure, we'll put a lot of faith in you." But for a rookie to actually blossom into the tops-in-the-league talent a team theoretically sees in him, a rookie needs to eventually take a key role in the rotation. Most teams dilly dally with this, playing games and wrenching minutes around. Just look at Isaiah Thomas this season. (Actually, don't. It's acutely depressing.)
But regardless -- most teams just wait it out, letting situations force their hands before actually giving their young bucks a key role on the team. Marc Jackson and the Warriors chose instead to go all-in on their young talent and let him play through it as a learning experience. Whether he succeeds or fails in his efforts, I don't think anyone can really impugn the Warriors for this -- they made a tough (but correct) call that doesn't get made often in the modern league. Putting faith in their high lottery pick to figure it out and produce to their expected draft-day levels is exactly what more teams need to get comfortable with, and for all the errors and follies the Warriors have had in the last few years managing players, people are sleeping on the value and importance of this recent move, and I'd beg you to note and appreciate it, whether you're a Warriors fan or a fan of any other team around the league. Showing confidence and investment in their talents and development is how teams should be developing players on a rising team, not just showing some absurd devotion to playing half your roster 20 minutes per game and unpredictably yanking everyone's minutes around without rhyme or reason.
Somewhat ironically after all of the praise I just heaped on the Warriors for playing him a lot, I can't say I'm huge on Klay Thompson's game yet. There are a lot of positives -- last season, Thompson rated out as one of the best pure shooters in the game, converting a patently absurd 40% on jump shots (including 41% from three!). He also shot 86% from the line (!!) and used almost 25% of Golden State's possessions when he was on the floor, in the top 25% of all NBA guards last season. But my issue was less with his efficiency (great from every vantage point) and more with how he got his offense. There were serious issues in how Thompson distributed his shots -- Klay Thompson took 244 16-23 foot two point shots last season, which rated out as 31st most in the entire league -- this is somewhat remarkable, as only two players in the top 50 (Drew Gooden and Ben Gordon) played fewer minutes than Thompson. Thompson also was a bit suspect at the rim, only getting to the rim around twice a game despite very good conversion rates when he got there. He correctly eschewed the midrange and the tricky 3-9 foot shot, refusing to get suckered into taking the inefficient shots there, but his incredible reliance on a only slightly-above-average long two made his scoring far less efficient than it has the potential to be at his peak.
As well, there's the issue of fouls. Thompson finally was able to get to the line a bit in the Warriors' late season tank-a-palooza, but don't let that completely override the first half of the season, where Thompson's aversion to free-throws had him on pace for an almost legendary lack of them. For a man with a shot as pure as Thompson's (and a free throw percentage in the mid-to-high 80s), that's unacceptable -- Thompson's easiest road to elite is to simply draw more fouls and get to the line more, a la James Harden. In fact, fun little thought experiment. How many points would Thompson score if you simply gave him James Harden's shot distribution? Adjusting for minutes, if you simply made Thompson take the same shots Harden did (IE, more threes, fewer long twos, more FTs), Thompson would've scored -- this is not a typo -- 16.8 points per game in just 24 minutes per game. That rates out to a per-36 minute scoring total of 25.2 points per contest. Absurd stuff. If Thompson would clean up his shot distribution a bit -- and actually start to use his large frame a bit smarter on the defensive end -- he could be a two-way scoring superstar, and one of the best scorers in the game. Until then, he'll be an intriguing piece with a hell of a lot of promise, if Jackson and the Warriors develop him correctly. And in promising news to Warriors fans, so far it looks as though they're doing just that.
Going to be completely honest with you -- the sudden and nigh-inexplicable decline of Landry Fields has to be among my least favorite stories from last year's NBA action. Mostly because the affirmative and opposite story was obscenely compelling to me. In the aftermath of the 2011 season, it really looked like the Knicks had scored one of the best little draft day coups they'd ever scored. Fields appeared on quite literally nobody's draft board beyond New York's, and ESPN's draft coverage showed mass confusion when he actually got drafted out of a poor Stanford team. Few felt he had serious NBA potential, and few saw him being very good once he got out of a dismal Pac-12. Jokes abounded.
But Fields proved them all wrong (and the Knicks right), at least for a time, demonstrating immensely high basketball IQ and an incredible knack for rebounding that made him among the best pound-for-pound rebounders in the NBA. His defense was -- if not great -- passable for a rookie and his shooting looked decent. He hustled, he scrapped, and he generally looked phenomenal. A bit of a swoon to end the year, but nothing too dramatic. ... Well, never mind that last part. As it turned out, the swoon was much more than a temporary thing. Starting from the game Carmelo Anthony arrived in New York, the honeymoon ended and the Landry Fields Experience turned from a joyous romp into a terrifying hellscape. The numbers are legitimately night-and-day.
Seriously, what? I don't present these in order to make the argument that Carmelo Anthony ruined Landry Fields' game or anything. Really don't mean to imply that -- Melo has little-to-nothing to do with this. In general, I'm skeptical of using these as anything other than an example of a player who's excellent (and perhaps flukier than I'd like to admit) start was undermined by nagging injuries, lacking chemistry, and the transition away from the D'Antoni-fueled offense that put Fields in a position to play the Shawn Marion role and succeed. But lord, that's rough. He went from 10-7 from the guard spot in 33 minutes a contest to 8-4, and his shooting collapsed from "very good to great" levels to "oh my god my eyes" levels. Last season, for instance, Fields shot just 29% on jump shots after converting a solid 35% his rookie season. He finished at a 72% rate at-the-rim as a rookie and just 66% last season. His offense was all-around less valuable, and his defense went from "promising and decent" to "horrifying and ghastly" without even a fledgling stop at mediocre. Nobody was looking at Fields expecting him to be a Bowen-type stopper, but nobody really was thinking he'd collapse to his current "little lost puppy" status on defense after a rookie year like the one he had. And his rebounding -- his best-in-class skill as a rookie -- suddenly became merely above average to decent. Yikes.
And then there's his new contract. The one thing I want to note is that while the contract looks bad (really bad) in retrospect, it's not unfathomable that he'll eventually play up to its level. Look at his pre-Melo numbers -- perhaps they're just an early-career fluke, but I'd deem it a bit more likely that they represent a possible landing point for Fields if the Raptors stumble into a system that fits Landry's skillset. He may not shoot quite that well naturally at the NBA level, but if they set him up with open enough shots and his rebounding acumen returns when his injuries fade, I could see him being a useful 30+ minute a game roleplayer with an outsized impact due to his seriously ridiculous rebounding skills. As well, there's his off-court pursuits of justice and reason, which are great. The man has a great sense of humor, as exemplified by this video. And this quote, back when him and Andy Rautins were the best of friends: "Almost every morning me and Andy Rautins hit up the Atlanta Bread Company for breakfast. Then we shop at Nordstrom Rack — that place is awesome. Brand names at half the price. There's also a Barnes & Noble, just in case we want to get our read on." I love this quote for several reasons.
- Cost-efficient -- the man's saving his dosh and shopping for bargains, always a good call.
- Atlanta Bread Company -- this is where my family used to go for Sunday brunch, decent sandwiches, again... very good call from my boy here.
- "Get our read on" -- gonna be honest, I've used variations of this as a pickup line on girls sufficiently crazy enough to actually find me attractive. And it's worked. Dude's helping my love life, one quote at a time.
In sum, I want more Landry Fields in my life. "Gym, tan, Landry." That's the quote, right?
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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. Sean correctly guessed today's players within minutes of me putting the last post up. Sir Thursday, Matt L, Chilai, and Mike hitched to the right wagon. Okman would've, but deviated just to be different. Good work folks. Also, big ups to @Rumplephorskin, who not only got a 3/3 guess, but reads the capsules while on deployment! Keep rockin' it, man.
- Player #319 was Alex Arnon's pick for MVP before the season started. The Laker drama regarding his father totally unfurled him, though.
- Player #320 was supposed to be a "big" addition to the Bulls last year. Those who had watched him recently in his previous dives knew that probably wasn't to be.
- Player #321 plays through injury. A lot. He's an all-timer. Capsule Plus, wouldn't you know.
See you tomorrow.
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