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 leaves turn frosty, this quixotic quest of a series has happily reached the last full week. Not quite done yet, but close. Today we continue with Alonzo Gee, Anderson Varejao, and James Jones.
Alonzo Gee wasn't an excellent player last year, but he was definitively a rotation guy -- that means a lot, when you're coming from his league background. He went undrafted in his would-be draft (2009's), despite a relatively dismal state of second-round talent and a decently promising stretch played at the University of Alabama. He was picked up as an undrafted free agent by the San Antonio Spurs, who relegated him to their D-League unit (the Austin Toros). Gee acquitted himself well in the minor leagues, averaging 21-7 in 36 games, eventually earning himself a 2010 call-up to the Wizards, followed by a 2011 call-up to the Spurs and a later call-up to the Cavaliers. The main problem with Gee, in his first few stabs at NBA relevance, was a relatively bare skillset. He had decent if not a bit fledgling defense, an exceedingly shaky three point shot, and poor rebounding. That was about it. Until he got the defense ironed out, he didn't really have much of an upside in the league as anything at all -- in the same way any piece of new technology needs a killer app, if Gee hoped to have any staying power, he was going to need to have a skill that really cooked. Finally, after a few years of wandering, he seems to have found that.
For him, it's his defense -- his offense is still relatively dismal, as he's one of the worst finishers in the league among all wing players (a fact that surprises many Cleveland fans, but it's true -- Gee is simply awful at the rim compared to most of the league, finishing on 58% of his at-rim plays, well within the bottom 25% of all wing players) and his long range shot is charitably described as "average at best" (32% from 10-23 feet, 29% from three). His only real offensive skill is that he's a good free throw shooter and he's good at drawing them -- that's legitimately it. He's not a high usage offensive player, and his tertiary stats have never been particularly compelling -- subpar rebounder, atrocious passer (resulting in a sky-high turnover rate given his usage), and few other talents. But his defense is quite decent. Versatile, with the ability to guard players from large point guards to small big men, and a decent sense of spot-up spacing and a general insistence on picking smaller players up full-court. Draws a lot of good steals that way, and puts applies some nice pressure that the player generally doesn't expect. This isn't to say he's a starter in the league, even if he plays one for the Cavaliers -- you didn't really need to be an NBA-level starter to start as a large wing for last year's Cavs, you simply needed to have a pulse. But he's definitely a rotation guy as long as he sticks to his defense, albeit best suited for a role as a bench stopper.
As a somewhat unnecessary aside, I really enjoy how his Twitter handle (@GeeAlonzo) can be read like this colloquial hard luck statement. "Gee, Alonzo, you really messed it up this time!" It's sort of like that one kid from the Magic School Bus who always used to mess everything up (Carlos, for those wondering), except it's actually his name. Just a huge plot twist. If there was an NBA-themed Magic School Bus, Alonzo would necessarily be the Ralphie character. I think Doris Burke would be Ms. Frizzle -- not just because Burke is a wonderful woman, but because her lectures on basketball are by and large the most entertaining and magical of the national announcing crew. She's great. Danny Green would be Ralphie, I think. As for Arnold, who else but JaVale McGee? I was just about to ask why nobody else has ever thought of this before, and then I realized that the venn diagram for people who were both "interested in the Magic School Bus" and "big fans of the NBA" intersects for exactly one individual on the face of the earth: me. Whoops. This still amuses me greatly. "Gee, Alonzo!"
I was completely stuck on this one until about 10:30 PM last night. Skip to the capsule if you don't want the backstory -- I think it's kind of funny, so I'm going to share it anyway. I was going to go on a nice date today, and I was quite looking forward to it! But the date got cancelled due to pesky snowstorms happening in and around Maryland and awful driving conditions in her hometown. I was sad last night for two reasons. First, there was the whole "cancellation of the date" thing. I like spending time with her, and that makes my week significantly more boring. I really wasn't THAT sad about it, because we'll obviously see each other eventually, but it was kind of a bummer. The far more pressing sadness came from the fact that I had no idea whatsoever what to write about Anderson Varejao, and I was running out of time. He's absolutely one of my favorite players in the league, and I wanted to write a good paean to his game and style. He's an extended essay kind of player. But I wasn't getting that succinct summary of the way Varejao's game "feels" that's so important to the longform versions of these capsules.
Then I happened to get a message from my date regarding nothing in particular, and I simply couldn't stop smiling. Trust me, I tried. It wasn't a long message, it wasn't super-heartfelt, it was just really adorable for some reason. I try my best to be even keel about everything, but I found myself overcome with this odd giddiness. It was excessive, childish, and absurd. So much so, in fact, that it made me wonder if my mind was trying to tell me something. Sometimes, when I find myself excessively emotional about something completely casual, there's some implicit effort on the part of my head to get me to come to a realization. And then it hit me -- THAT'S the feeling was what I was looking for! That's the hallmark of Anderson Varejao's game. Not the flopping, not the energy, not the freneticism. It's the joy. The unfettered, unadulterated joy with which Anderson Varejao plies his trade.
Today, I try to describe that.
Anderson Varejao embodies many things. Effort and energy, heart and hustle, grit and grind. He's traditionally been described as something of a dirty tertiary player -- the most common depiction of Varejao is that of a feckless flopping savant, a play-actor miscast in the sport of basketball. The spitting image of the "European" big man -- floppy, long haired, and oh-so-annoying. Cavaliers fans have traditionally balked at this -- or at least, from personal experience, I have. There's so much more to Varejao than just a few flops. Summarizing his game as such made sense years ago, but things are different -- players change, and Varejao is no exception. The man has completely revolutionized his game over the last few years. The problem I've always had arguing against the idea that he's simply a flopper is that the image is simply very enduring. Fans of opposing teams have certainly seen Varejao flop on a dime before -- everyone has, even his own fans.
It's not that it never happened, it's that he's developed new facets to his game that have eliminated entirely his absolute dependence on the act. He still flops, from time to time, but it's more spice than main course. The garnish atop a multifaceted game, not the game itself. But people's minds are hard to change. Few things are more intransigent than a once-true impression. It's why people maintain friendships with childhood friends they can hardly stand. It's why repenting felons can't get jobs. It's why everyone cautions to make a good first impression. It takes a particularly enduring new image to make wholescale alterations to a now-false impression that was once gospel. And although I've tried for years to come up with a better impression, only yesterday did I finally think of one that's flexible enough to really describe and embody the talents of the big Brazilian.
Anderson Varejao is, above all things, the NBA's smile.
Follow James Jones by becoming a terminating 3-point gunning robot
James Jones was born in rural Mississippi, forced adrift on the mean streets of Kosciusko. Life was hard, back in the day -- Jones had a single mother, money was tight, and Jones often had to wear dresses made of potato sacks. Children were ruthless, and made fun relentlessly. But Jones persevered. Through the struggles of moving north to Milwaukee, Jones eventually chose to run away from home at the age of 13, living with the biological father who focused Jones' life on education. At the age of 17, Jones attracted the attention of a local radio station, one that eventually offered up a spot doing the news part time. James Jones accepted, which was a sign of the path his life would eventually take. Jones became an anchor, eventually rising to significant popularity and moving upwards from Nashville to Baltimore to Chicago. In Chicago, James Jones developed a productive friendship with Robert Ebert, which eventually blossomed into a contract that produced The James Jones Show. Amazing! From then on, it was money for miles -- Jones' sense of empathy, understanding, and plainspoken folksiness enthralled millions. While the show recently ended (nearly 20 years after it began!), Jones now owns J: The James Jones Network. James Jones is one of the richest people in the world, a billionaire of billionaires, and an inspiring story for all to cling to. You may not like the show, but you can't knock the talent.
Alright, hold up. In case you haven't realized -- yes, I was trying to write a capsule about Oprah. The probably-forgotten reason:
Look, you guys weren't careful. Simple as that. This all could've been avoided.
As for writing about Jones' actual game... because I just spent an obscene amount of time trying to write a capsule about Oprah's actually-absurdly-inspirational life, I'll make this as short as the comprehensive list of James Jones' NBA-caliber skills. Which is pretty short, since that list is exactly one item long. He's a three-point gunning robot. That's the long and short of it. Last year, Jones took 76% of his field goal attempts from three point range. That ranks as the 14th most lopsided 3PA/FGA season of all time, which is relatively absurd. Funny enough, though, he wasn't even top three in the league last year -- of that list's top 15, a startling 10 of them came within the last two years, including four from last year. The list, for the curious:
Note that James Jones' last three seasons all make the top-15 all-time leaderboard, here. He's the specialist to end all specialists. His defense is crummy, his passing is laughable, and he can't finish at the rim to save his life. But he can make threes. Actually, that last fact leads me to another fun James Jones tidbit -- he didn't make an at-rim shot last season. Or this season. Or the season before. In fact, he hasn't made a shot at the rim since the 2009 playoffs. James Jones made a shot at the rim with 3:00 to go in the 3rd quarter of this atrocious game from the worst playoff series in the history of the human race. It may very well end up being the last shot he makes at the rim in his entire NBA career. But let's consider this. When James Jones last made a shot at the rim, Mike Brown was coaching the Cleveland Cavaliers, Obama had been inaugurated exactly 3 months prior, and I was 18 years old. That's... pretty phenomenal, given that he's played 3386 minutes since that basket. James Jones may not have many uses as an NBA player, but let's be fair -- first, he's a really good three point shooter, and at least he doesn't try to go outside his talent. Second? He's apparently an endless well of hilarious NBA trivia. All in all? Thanks, James. Have to honestly say I enjoyed writing this one.
(You too, Oprah.)
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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. Good work to wul.f, for his 2/3 guess. Down to the final 10. Times they are a'changing.
- Player #361 is one of the few players with an actively updated Tumblr page. This may be because he's out injured for the year, tho.
- Player #362 is Alex Dewey's muse. Avid Gothic Ginobili readers should have no trouble figuring this one out.
- Player #363 is Russia's most terrifyi--... OK, no, he's not terrifying. He's adorable and confusing. Love you, Player #363.
Happy Thursday, everyone.
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