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 Marquis Daniels, O.J. Mayo, and Delonte West.
The story of Marquis Daniels is something of a sad one. It's not that he's a bad player -- he really isn't, when healthy, despite most people thinking that he is after a few years of injury-tarred uselessness. Sure, he's not exactly brilliant -- he's a hustle defender who doesn't really have strong shut-down capabilities, and he floats in-between positions with the muscle (and, unfortuantely, the lessened quickness that often comes with it) of a larger man and the height of a smallish wing. He'll get you hustle rebounds, he'll draw charges if he's healthy (so, uh, he won't draw charges...), and he'll put his best effort into throwing off whatever offensive player his coach dogs him into guarding. Won't always do a fundamentally good job, but he tries his best and doesn't ever make a ton of obvious mistakes. He passes relatively well, too, which is a nice little addition. The main issue with Marquis is that his offensive game has declined to the point where he's among the worst offensive players the game's ever seen -- last season, for instance, Daniels shot 56% at the rim despite taking almost half his shots there, shot 22% from 3-9 feet, and 18% from the long two. He made zero threes. He drew free throws about as scarcely as Stan Van Gundy did last year, and he turned the ball over on a simply startling 16% of his possessions. Despite all that? Usage rate of 18%. That's rough. And shouldn't really happen. His defense is solid, but lord, he needs to learn to defer on offense.
The big knock on Marquis, NBA-wise, is the fact that his main NBA talent over his career has seemed to be "getting ridiculously injured." Suffice to say, that's not an NBA talent most teams aim to optimize. Many injuries stand out in a career as riddled with them as his, but few are as disturbing as the simply too-grisly-to-link injury that prematurely ended his promising 2011 season. At the time, he'd played 41 consecutive games without missing a single one to injury, which was (believe it or not) by far the best stretch in his career to that point. He then proceeded to fall badly after Gilbert Arenas got under him on a shot attempt, slipping off Gil's back and slamming his spine into the garden floor. Daniels was paralyzed on-the-court, with emergency personnel and teammates (Paul Pierce excepted, for some completely unknown reason that has always confused me deeply) surrounding him in this horrified silence that was palpable even in the broadcast. Nobody really knew what was going on. I absolutely refuse to watch this again, and thus, I refuse to get you a video of it -- if you know what game I'm talking about, you know why. And if you don't, just trust me -- you really, REALLY don't want to see it. Simply don't. Final prognosis was a bruised spinal cord that ended his 2011 season and threatened to end his career -- he came back fine from it, but lord, it could've been so much worse.
Off the court, Daniels seems like an excellent guy in interviews and subjective assessment of his off-court pursuits, which makes the injury problems all the more heartbreaking. People forget this, but for 3 years, Daniels was a really good bench player for a really good Mavs team. He was an important cog on the also-ran 2006 Mavericks, and while he's never really approached the levels of quality play he showed under Don Nelson his rookie year, he's never really been healthy enough to assess what he could've really brought the league. He founded the Q6 Foundation early in his career, a charitable foundation focused on fighting sickle cell anemia and helping underprivileged youth. The reason I bring this up is because during the lockout, I distinctly remember wanting to either cover live or get footage from this event from his foundation, primarily because it included a celebrity kickball game that would've included Rajon Rondo, Tony Allen, Marquis Daniels, Vince Carter, and Tracy McGrady. Like, can you imagine that? Best kickball roster ever. Seriously need a box score or some highlights or something. Anyway. Support his foundation. When he's not standing up for underprivileged youths, he's ordering black diamond Jesus head necklaces and dr--... wait, wait, hold up. Really? Am I being serious?
O.J. Mayo is going to be a starter in the NBA for quite some time, and this year serves as an excellent example of why. While Memphis couldn't really be happier to get rid of him, there was always a lot of promise in Mayo's game -- he's proven over his career to be about as good at three point shooting as any specialist has ever been. The issue in Memphis, as far as I could figure, was the same issue that dogs good shooters on poor-shooting teams -- they simply attract an inordinate amount of attention from behind the arc, being that they're the only real threats to hurt you from that range. Teams throw perimeter stoppers at them willy nilly, and without shooters besides him, there's no real incentive for their man to play off them. Ever. This year, in Dallas, he's been blessed with several decent three point shooters around him and a coach who's good at running get-the-man-open plays -- Carter's had a good start from range, Marion's always an asset, and the Mavs spent some time running sets with Troy Murphy filling the role of quasi-Dirk that have been keeping opposing teams defending the Mavs with the same gameplan they used to use when Dirk was on the floor. (NOTE: Murphy was cut. This is not happening anymore. I should stop doing scouting/notes for these things at midnight.) It worked out relatively well for Mayo, and with a slightly more open shot to subsist on, Mayo's been brilliant -- 52% from beyond the arc to date, and that's not a typo. Not much else there -- high turnover rate, low assist rate, middling rebound rate. But when you shoot the three THAT well, you'll find NBA minutes.
Still, despite his three point marksmanship, there are some flaws that somewhat doom his ability to become more than a decent starter. Chief among them is Mayo's general fear of the rim -- on his career, he takes a well-below-average percent of his shots at the rim. This made some sense when he was on a Memphis team that pounded the ball down low with Gasol and Randolph so often he was rarely able to get daylight. It makes significantly less sense on a Dallas team whose best low post threat is Christopher Zane Kaman. Then again, maybe it does make sense -- over his career, he's also been among the worst at-rim finishers in the entire game, well within the bottom 25% of guards in at-rim percentage in each year he's been on the court (which does extend to this year -- even with his torrid start). His turnover rate has always been high, and perhaps worse, he's been cursed with extremely poorly timed turnovers at every stage of his career -- just ask Grizzlies fans, because most can name a turnover or two that Mayo coughed up at extraordinarily poor momentum-changing moments. In 2012 over 33% of his turnovers came in the 4th quarter, and it just seemed like he was constantly quashing Memphis momentum with a stupid travel or a lazy pass attempt. It wasn't great. Compound this with his often lazy defense (high upside though it may be, as his quality playoff defense demonstrated) and his aforementioned troubles at-the-rim (which extend to trouble drawing fouls -- he's been around league average at foul-drawing his entire career despite being good at throwing his body into defenders on jump shots, and that's primarily because he's so bad at driving to the rim and getting calls under the basket), and you can put together a decent case why he'll never be much of a star and probably won't fully live up to whatever large contract he gets from his Dallas successes.
That said, this is all to ignore perhaps Mayo's biggest asset -- his nigh-superhuman durability. He's missed just a single game to injury over his entire career, with his only other absence coming in a 10 game suspension during the 2011 season. And that durability has him in a relatively neat position -- with 535 threes through 321 games, Mayo stands an outside chance of pole-vaulting Ray Allen on the three-point-makes leaderboard later in his career. It would require him eventually building up a few tertiary skills to go alongside his three-point talents, and he's yet to get the green light to shoot quite as many threes as Allen had in his early career. But it's certainly not outside the realm of possibility -- Mayo is currently running a bit off Allen's pace, but it's only 50 or so three point makes outside of Allen's and Allen had a few injury-hobbled years in his late 20s. Part of the reason Allen has made so many threes over his career is that he's been relatively durable, long-lasting, and minutes-sopping -- it remains to be seen if Mayo can last quite as long as Allen has, or if he can (in his prime) soak up quite as many minutes. But it's certainly within the realm of possibility, given his ridiculous injury history and his absurd ability to play through minor scrapes, and it's one of the few storylines around Mayo's career that's still somewhat interesting to follow.
Delonte West was a really good NBA player, once upon a time. Let me take you back to 2009, when West was one of the best players on one of the best teams in the entire league -- West's perimeter defense was crucial to Mike Brown's schemes, and his general ability to bother and pester the best perimeter player on every other team in the league was one of the primary cogs in the Cleveland defense. West is one of the rare defenders who actually uses a smaller frame to his advantage -- he's small but sinewy, and his size helps him gets over and around screens better than many larger defenders. Combine that with his decent lateral quickness, and you end up with a beastly difficult player for a perimeter offensive guy to lose. It's one of the reasons the 2009 Cavaliers were a legitimate title favorite at many points of the season. Virtually every contender featured a star perimeter player -- Kobe, Pierce, Parker, Melo -- who Delonte could bother and frustrate. And with those players out of sync, none of those teams were quite as good as they would normally be. This, unfortunately, did not apply to the 2009 Magic. None of their perimeter players were of any particular quality, they were all just "very good" and reliant on a lot of three point shooting. Which made Delonte's role as a stopper somewhat ambiguous, and helped cause a lot of confusion on the part of the traditional Cavalier defensive schemes.
But alas. West was a phenomenal stopper on those late-aughts Cavaliers teams, and throughout his career, he's almost always been an asset of some sort on the defensive end. And on offense, he's not nearly as bad as most people think -- he's something of a jack-of-all-trades swiss army knife, combining boatloads of passing acumen with decent guard-position rebounding and about as much hustle as you could possibly put in his slight frame. He was a joy to watch, on offense and defense -- there was never a sense West was ballhogging, nor a sense that he needed to shoot more -- there was simply a perfect equilibrium, a sense that he was both as featured as he should've been without a single shot more. I don't think, in West's career, he's ever really reached that equilibrium since -- he's always been either underutilized (2010 Cavs, 2011 Celtics) or overutilized (2012 Mavericks) with scarce distance in-between. His defense has been as fun to watch as ever, although as his personal life has gotten in the way of his career, it's been clear that he's gotten more and more distracted and shiftless on defense. Despite this, he's still probably the best player bumming it without a contract right now -- his defensive intensity has been spotty at times with his personal problems, but it's never been poor, and he's never a huge threat to hog the ball when in a good system.
I like watching Delonte West play ball. His intensity is absolutely wonderful, and there's a certain edge to his game that I don't see in a lot of other players. I also respect the way he's fought through his mental issues, even if it's often been public and terrifying. Would we get along in real life? Highly doubt it. While we've both gone through some of the same mental issues and from his interviews I get the sense that our struggles aren't as far apart as they may seem, they're still relatively far apart -- he's a feisty NBA player who came from a hard past and a rough future, I'm a thrifty Jewish mathematician with self-image problems and an aversion to help. But that doesn't make him any less of a hero to me for his time spent trying to better himself in the NBA, or battling his demons without the anonymity that eases the burden for many. Delonte West is a funny, stand-up, problematic guy. These things are often seen as being mutually exclusive. They aren't -- you can have serious problems and still be funny. You can be a stand-up guy without ruining your sense of humor. You can come from hard times without letting them destroy you. I wish Delonte West was still in the NBA, and even with all his troubles, I really hope some team takes a flyer and brings him back. I think he can still be a productive player, and I think any team with an understanding medical staff and a smart coach could do well with him.
I could be wrong, though. That's kind of the point. Mental health isn't really predictable. Overcoming mental problems isn't an easily pigeonholed condition with a set treatment pattern or a regular recovery pattern. It's a long journey with twists and turns you can never really see in advance, and given the high variance, I can see why teams might be shaky on him. I can see why teams don't want to introduce that kind of a potentially harmful presence on a team if they feel they're good enough to possibly contend without him. But it breaks my heart to see him go unused when the man's such a useful player. He may have trouble practicing, he may not always be there, but when he's on and locked in he's one of the better perimeter defenders in the NBA, a useful offensive filler-piece, and one of the funnier personalities around. He's a high variance bet, and he's getting up there a bit (not 30 yet, but he's not too far out)... but he's a bet I wish someone would make. League's better when my boy Delonte's out there killin' it.
• • •
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. Props to Matt L and Geezer for 2/3 guesses.
- Player #331's season is over. Which sucks, because he was really solid last year and really looked to be turning a corner in a contract year. Hope he comes back strong next year.
- Player #332's still being in the league surprises me. Also confuses me, when I hear my name repeated whenever he comes on the court.
- Player #333 has the Wright stuff. (Yes, this riddle sucks. Sue me, I'm tired.)
Was a struggle to get this set out today. Bad case of the Mondays. Good case of the "giddy over a girl", tho, so I can overlook the Monday blues for now. Au revoir, and #SmallMarketMondays drops later.
• • •