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 Mike Dunleavy, Rip Hamilton, and Kobe Bryant.
Follow Mike Dunleavy by going to Duke. ... Actually, don't.
Mike Dunleavy is one of the quietly effective NBA players you might miss if you aren't paying attention. You might be shocked to know that with the sole exception of his 3-9 foot floater (in roughly the 60th percentile), Dunleavy shoots in the top 25% of wing players from every single range on the floor. He converted 67% at the rim, 46% from midrange, 44% from the long two, and an absolutely blistering 40% from three last season. All extremely good. He compounded that by making over 80% of his free throws and getting to the line 2.6 times a game, slightly above the average for wing players. He produced 1.08 points per possession for last year's Bucks, and despite the Bucks' relatively shaky offense for much of the year, ended up with efficiency numbers that would indicate he's one of the top offensive players in the game. Unfortunately, that isn't quite accurate -- late-career Dunleavy's always been a bit too passive of a player on offense, and that was true again last season as he posted a usage percentage of just 19%, well below average. He also was a well-below-average rebounder, hurting his team on the glass without providing the extra box-out advantages you'd get from a player like Epke Udoh.
Still, the man's effective. He gets most of his offense as a catch-and-shoot option, floating around the court on offense in an effort to space the floor as a threat. The vast majority of Dunleavy's shots are assisted -- last year, for instance, he was assisted on a startlingly high 83% of his shots taken. But that's by design. Few plays are ran specifically for Dunleavy, he's just employed as a useful and efficient option that can get his shot off despite a strong close-out and makes any open shot the opposing defense gives him from virtually anywhere. I'm rather undecided as to whether Skiles has been using him entirely correctly or not -- while he's been better with Skiles than he was in his last few seasons with Indiana, when a player is as efficient and effective as Dunleavy was last season for an offense that (prior to the Ellis trade) was about as dismal and low-down as you can get, I think it's generally a coach's responsibility to run more plays for the one efficient mainstay. You may harm the player's overall efficiency, but a slightly less efficient Dunleavy shot was a lot better than yet another awful Drew Gooden 20 foot brick, right? I also understand that Dunleavy isn't a good defender (he's pretty awful), but it's not like you're subbing him out with Mbah a Moute -- Dunleavy and Delfino tended to play the large wing spot in Milwaukee last year, and Delfino was just about as awful defensively as Dunleavy is, if not a slight bit worse. But when your offense is your main problem, getting minutes for guys like Dunleavy becomes key.
As for aesthetics, I can't really speak to ever waking up in the morning and really feeling like I needed to watch Mike Dunleavy. I can't exactly speak to assertions of creative brilliance on Dunleavy's part -- he's not some modernized basketball Picasso. He's the efficient, tedious, and not particularly groundbreaking. An efficient shooter with a nice catch-and-shoot game who defends sparingly and has a famous dad. Maybe I've just written too much of these by now, but it's hard to get too excited about that, although I certainly see his value in the league. The last notable thing that comes to mind, to me, is his face -- I can't be the only person who's spent much of Dunleavy's career having nightmares about his strangely proportioned, oddly structured face... right? Once, when I was a wee lad (read: 21 years old, less than a year ago) I had a dream where I woke up with Mike Dunleavy's face. No, I'm serious, stop laughing at me. It was like Face-Off, except terrifying and all-too-real. I got fired from my job and had to get a job in a traveling circus. I became a supervillain, intent on exacting revenge on Mike Dunleavy (senior) for bringing into this world such a cursed face. I woke up before I could do that, but trust me, it was going to happen. It's not even like Dunleavy's really ugly -- I'm sure there are people out there who find him quite attractive. There's just some aspect about his face that seriously upsets my sensibilities. Any thoughts on what it might be? (Not a rhetorical question. Legitimately curious.)
I understand why a lot of people saw Richard Hamilton as a disappointment last season. Really. The old hand was relatively productive when he played, but it was rare he saw the court -- injuries limited him to just 25 minutes per game (in only 28 uninjured games), and unfortunately for Hamilton, the time he spent on the court didn't often overlap with the time Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah saw the court. Per our friends at Basketball Prospectus, in games where the Bulls played their full starting lineup (Rose-Hamilton-Deng-Boozer-Noah), the Bulls went 14-2. Hamilton helped open the floor and take some of the pressure off Rose (as expected) and was slightly more efficient as a shooter than he'd recently been in Detroit (as expected). Unexpectedly, his free throw rate tanked into absolute nothingness and his defense (which was good enough in Detroit alongside middling-to-poor defenders at every surrounding position) became a slight problem-spot on a team that was backing him up with crack defenders like Butler, Brewer, and Watson. Guard-heavy teams tried to abuse Hamilton, as he was regularly the worst defender on the court. For the most part, they succeeded. Which helped keep his minutes down as well.
On the other hand, I think it's important to emphasize that first thing, because it gets lost in most of the retrospectives on his 2012 season: he was productive when he played. Maybe not in the most efficient ways he possibly could've been, but he certainly wasn't bad. I've heard a lot of frustrated people talk about how Hamilton has been a monumental failure in Chicago, or the worst of all possible players. Hamilton was never going to give Chicago exactly what they needed -- he's always been more of a long-two than a three point guy, and his passing and rebounding were both a bit disappointing relative to what was expected of him with a roster like Chicago's around him. But his shooting was far, far better than Chicago had any reason to expect, and the free throw woes were partly caused by the fact that he simply didn't have as much reason to handle the ball as an injured cog when Rose was on the court and when Noah and Deng were rolling. Hamilton is great at drawing free throws when he drives it and when he creates off the dribble -- he's considerably less great at it when he's primarily being employed as an off-ball catch-and-shoot guy in a motion offense. When a role changes, sometimes you lose the skills that made you a star. It happens. He shot as well as could be expected, he was OK defensively, and he didn't show an incredible amount of falloff despite being a creaky 33 year old. He needs to get healthy, obviously, but he did about as well as could've been expected.
Which is actually exactly the problem. Hamilton represents, in perhaps the most obvious form, the big problem with the last few years of decisions by the Bulls management. The Bulls have taken what looked like a relatively young, vigorous roster around Derrick Rose back in 2010 and turned it into something of a retirement home beyond their core four. Other than Rose, the only three important members of Chicago's cast under the age of 30 are Deng, Noah, and Gibson. Deng is far older than his calendar age in NBA mileage due to the insane amount of minutes and overwork Thibodeau (and Del Negro as well) placed upon his shoulders. Gibson is young in minutes but old in years. Noah's great, and the four of them make a considerably great core when they're all healthy. But when you're looking at a four-man core like that, you don't really want to surround them with brittle old men. But that's exactly what Chicago's done. Kirk Hinrich, Rip Hamilton, Carlos Boozer, Nazr Mohammad -- the Bulls have dropped quality young players (C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer, James Johnson, Omer Asik) in pursuit of these old hands, and the net result are a bunch of moves that have been marginal upgrades at best. At worst, they're overpriced low-level moves that barely move the needle on the Bulls as a title contender, cut off opportunities for the franchise to keep their young talent, and plug in low-upside filler that costs more than they should to replace actual young talent that may someday deserve the money. It's ridiculous. I'm hoping that the Bulls make some serious moves this offseason to vacate the old and overpriced vets in favor of a serious infusion of youth. I'm not positive this is going to happen, and in fact, I'm pretty sure it won't. But we can hope, can't we?
(Also, as an aside: this concludes all of our Chicago Bulls capsules. Adios, Chicago!)
Follow Kobe Bryant into the tides of fate. You're in God's hands now, friend.
Went in an odd direction for this one. Do I ever go in any other, though?
Kobe Bryant elicits fundamentally intense reactions. There's disgust from some -- the echos of scandal and a controversial style loom over his game, and detract from his brilliance among that faction. There's devotion from others -- the style that others so hate endears him to many in such an overwhelming fashion. It's a rare few who watches Kobe Bryant and thinks "oh, that's neat, I can take it or leave it though." There's a core challenge to the fan in Bryant's play. A challenge to accept, to understand, to love despite his faults.
And faults? They're there, whether the devotees like to admit it or not. Becoming a devoted fan of Kobe Bryant necessitates becoming a devoted fan of a man who -- despite being one of the most gifted passers of his generation -- simply doesn't pass very often. Becoming a devoted fan of a player whose defensive effort waxes and wanes from an all-defensive peak production to ridiculously low effort-level performances on 90% of the possessions of a season. Becoming a devoted fan of a player who, inevitably, will make life a bit harder for himself every few possessions solely in the name of style.
In a vacuum, these are all things we learn to hate in other players. We learn to dislike the passers who keep avoiding their talent. We learn to dislike the players whose defense yo-yos through incredible highs and impossible lows. We learn to throw up our hands and yell at the player who takes the awful shot when there's an easy shot seconds away. But there's an element of self-respect and self-awareness in Kobe Bryant, in his most quiet moments. This is a man who rates out as one of the most knowledgable basketball scholars of his generation. He's studied the annals of the game, the breaks of history. He understands that he makes the game a bit harder for himself. Internalizes it. He knows that he often does things inexplicable at best and actively harmful at worst. Things that increase the difficulty of his road, or might make the team worse.
And -- surprise, surprise -- he doesn't care.
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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 last night's set correctly. Time to capriciously up the difficulty again. Jerico, Utsav, Booze_Cruise (sounds like my weekends), J, and Mike L all got it right, although I'm being nice and assuming the first three meant Dunleavy Jr. If they meant Dunleavy Sr., as Mike L aptly pointed out, none of them deserve shout-outs. Technicalities!
- Player #322 broke my heart, once. But it's okay. Now I just hope he stays in the league.
- Player #323 is better than most people think, but not as good as he thinks. And I have trouble seeing him as a star in this league. He could be good, though, if he gets out of that toxic California morass and makes a team that needs his scoring.
- Player #324, on the other hand, was amnestied for a reason. He's fallen off to absurd levels, as of late. But he's somehow putting up halfway decent numbers for his currently dismal team, and if it continues, he may stay in the league a little while longer. Recently lost his car keys and slept in his car for a night, in a nationally reported story that has yet to make sense to me.
Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow.
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