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 Tyrus Thomas, Rashard Lewis, and D.J. White.
Would you care to sit with me
For a cup of English tea?
Very twee, very me
Any sunny morning
What a pleasure it will be
Chatting so delightfully
Nanny bakes fairy cakes
Every Sunday morning
Miles and miles of English garden, stretching past the willow tree
Lines of hollyhocks and roses listen most attentiv--
OK, OK, I'll stop. I just saw the "T-Time" nickname and frankly couldn't help myself. I'm a fan of tea as a drink, although I haven't had any of late in a late-year push to eradicate caffeine and soda from my diet and get a tad healthier about the chemicals I ingest. Still, I tend to enjoy tea of any type -- green, black, chai, jasmine, whatever. Whenever I see a name like that, I tend to get caught up with myself and start reciting Paul McCartney lyrics. Or, alternatively, I start reciting Ray Davies lyrics. There are so many excellent songs about tea in my record collection, it's really wonderful. Tea works in mysterious ways. So pull up a cup and let's speak a few words about Tyrus "T-Time" Thomas.
Only a few, though. Let's be clear. Anyone here remember when Tyrus Thomas was better than LaMarcus Aldridge? It wasn't all that long ago when the Bulls chose Aldridge second overall and decided to inexplicably flip him for Thomas, making a judgment that Aldridge and Thomas weren't really that far separated. The only other pieces moved in the deal were a 2007 2nd round draft pick and Viktor Khryapa, a player who'd played atrocious basketball in the two seasons prior. It's a rare feat to move down in the draft and extract no other objects of value from the opposing team, one that's actually historically rare -- the only other instance I can think of where a team moved down in the draft without actually acquiring value was in Sacramento's aggressively poor trade to acquire John Salmons and Jimmer Fredette at the expense of a higher draft pick and a valuable backup point guard. Quite uncommon, though. And it made certain that Thomas and Aldridge would be measured against each other, as a team had actively and determinedly made a binary decision between the two. Their fates are intertwined, in that way. Obviously, Aldridge very clearly "won" the contest. And the Bulls lost it, I suppose, when you consider the fact that having Aldridge around would've probably kept them from signing Carlos Boozer in 2010. Live and learn.
As for Thomas... the downward spiral of Thomas' career has been sad to watch, and at this point, even an NBA optimist like myself has to cede that it's rather unlikely he'll ever entirely pull it together. He's simply not a very good NBA player, despite his innumerable physical gifts. His offense is bad, both in the decisions he makes and the base skillset that guides him. He shot a beyond-reason 33% on 15-23 foot long two point shots last year, and somehow took that incomprehensibly low number as carte blanche to put up over half his shots from that range. He doesn't take it to the rim very much, which is probably good, because the results are so often cringe-worthy when he does -- he's notorious for his missed dunks, completely botched layups, and (essentially) hands of stone. If you shoot under 50% at the rim as a big man, you're in a bit of trouble. He's had more turnovers than assists in all but one season in the league, he's one of the worst rebounding big men I've ever seen go to work on the block, and he doesn't even draw free throws to make up for his awful shot selection. Gross. Defensively, he's a bit more useful -- he's an adequate shot blocker and accumulates steals with some level of acuity, and while he floats a bit and doesn't always stick to the scheme, he's certainly not the worst you can do. Still, so long as he's making poor decisions and playing like the worst offensive player in the league, he's not going to be so good on defense that it merits NBA minutes. If Thomas wants to become a legitimate asset on the court, he's going to have to show some manner of restraint on the offensive end going forward, and key improvements in several areas of his game. I'm dubious of his prospects. While he's only 26 years old, the man's been in the league six years now -- he may eventually rediscover his early-career high water marks, but betting on any substantial improvement is a shaky prospect.
Follow Rashard Lewis by doing completely unnecessary steroids and getting "caught" in the act
I kind of wish this capsule had come a bit earlier. When the Heat signed Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, the general response was that the Heat had improved to nigh-impossibly high levels, and that the Miami offense would improve by leaps and bounds while the defense would stay at top-of-the-league levels with the additions. After all, while Allen certainly isn't in his prime, he was a solid defender just 2 years prior! And Lewis was an important part on a Stan Van Gundy led Orlando defense that made two consecutive conference finals! The positionless revolution was here, the Heat had solved the equation, yadda yadda yadda. So everyone bleated and honked and ranted and raved. How many consecutive titles would the Heat win? Would they score on 9 of every 10 possessions or 8 of every 10 possessions? How could any team cope?
You can isolate the brunt of my thoughts in the Ray Allen capsule, but suffice to say, I wasn't convinced. There were two reasons. One, as outlined in the Allen capsule, was simply age concerns -- Allen is old and balky, and while he's still obviously immensely talented, I was worried he wouldn't come back in quite the form people were expecting, or suffer minor injuries over the course of the season that lessened his contributions dramatically. That hasn't happened yet. But the second reason I was a bit dubious has, and it's the one I was going to focus on in this capsule -- the idea that people were drastically underrating the defensive dropoff from any-other-big-on-the-roster to current-career Rashard Lewis and that even if Allen's offense came around and he rained threes like he was 25 again his defense would remain porous. Up to this point, that view has been justified. The Heat have hardly been the world-beating monstrosity the world's expected, but it hasn't been due to any problems whatsoever of offensive fit -- both Lewis and Allen are having their best offensive seasons in years, and despite the Heat's "struggles" to date, this incarnation of the Miami Heat has been rating out as the best offensive team in franchise history. Really! In fact, Zach Lowe made a prediction before the season that even I thought was ridiculous. He predicted the Heat would have the best offense in the league. They haven't, yet, but they've been #2 with a bullet for most of the season and stand a pretty good chance of improving that number as the year goes on. The Heat offense has actually overperformed my expectations.
But the defense? That's been as bad as I'd expected and worse, and for that, a lot of the blame has to fall squarely on the shoulders of their two big acquisitions, Rashard Lewis and Ray Allen. They simply aren't good defenders at this point in their careers, and with Lewis, you have the concurrent issue that he's completely lost the always-slim rebounding talents he used to have (which gives the opposing team extra possessions to take advantage of Lewis' defense). The Heat defense relies heavily on each player having a good understanding of space and the natural switches the team needs to use in order to make up for the fact that they've never had a strict "rim protecting" big guy. Lewis doesn't really have the athleticism or the defensive instincts to do it. Worse yet, he doesn't seem to care. The Heat's defense becomes a virtual layup line with Lewis in the game, with opposing teams having carte blanche to attack the rim with impunity. Lewis has been a mildly helpful offensive player when he's on the court, but it hasn't mattered in the overall picture -- he's been such an incredible drag on the defensive end (the Heat are 15 points per 100 possessions worse on defense with Lewis on the court) that the Heat would've been better off not signing him at all. It wasn't impossible to see this coming after his dismal defensive years in Washington, but most people simply didn't think about it. Now it's hard to think about all that much else, and Lewis is quickly losing his spot in Spolestra's rotations.
Outside of all that, it's worth noting that I like Rashard Lewis a lot. Every interview I've seen with him implies a very soft-spoken and intelligent NBA player. He's a smart guy with a good attitude on life. I've always enjoyed watching his somewhat awkward-looking shot, and while his defense has frustrated me even since his days in Seattle, the smooth flow to his offensive game has always interested me. He probably should never have gotten a max contract offer from Orlando but given what they got out of it (two conference final appearances, their first win in the finals in franchise history, some fleeting legitimacy) I'm not sure anyone can rag on them too much. He was involved the single most hilarious steroid scandal ever, where he was caught using a steroid he didn't realize was a steroid and wasn't actually giving him any competitive advantage whatsoever. He was also involved in Nike's short lived "Hyperize" ad campaign, a short video where four completely and utterly unrelated players (Mo Williams, Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, and Rashard Lewis) came together to put up one of the most inexplicably entertaining music videos ever. Look at it. I'm of the view that Lewis crushes his verse, here, even though it's against some admittedly weak competition. The special effects are hilarious, even if they went overboard on it, and the whole thing is definitely worth a watch. Wish Rashard Lewis wasn't so poor on the basketball end of the spectrum at this end of the career, but honestly? He's played for 14 years. At this point, most players aren't in the league at all -- it shouldn't really be much of a shock that he's not the man he used to be.
D.J. White is sort of underwhelming. Not on a purely objective level, obviously -- he's an NBA-caliber tweener, which means he'd destroy 99.9% of everyone on the face of the earth in a 1-on-1 matchup. That's sort of the understated subtext to everything I (or, frankly, anyone else) writes about the NBA -- yes, we can profess to analyze their games til the cow's come home, but they're still quite a bit better than us. For all the "lord almighty, ____ can't do _____" we're necessarily leaving out the " ... but he CAN do it better than I can" subtext. It's sort of implied. And it's not really necessary -- other than a few internet trolls who love to bring it up at every plausible juncture, most of the people who read articles about basketball understand on a fundamental level that we're talking about the best 0.1% of players in the world. When we say that X or Y is "bad", we aren't saying that on an objective sense, just against the reflection of their peers. I'm mostly just mentioning this because I hate to get overly negative with players who have reached a level of play that's so tantalizingly close to that of the best league in the world, but that particular accomplishment is doomed to be slept on due to the fact that they're still underwhelming from an NBA perspective.
Don't get me wrong, I don't dislike his game on the whole. Especially his scoring game. He's a fantastic finisher at the rim, albeit on limited attempts, and he's one of the better long-range shooting bigs around. Remember in the Channing Frye capsule how I mentioned long range shooters? White doesn't have a three, but he still fits the long-range stereotype to a T. Takes 65% of his shots from beyond 10 feet, and does a very good job of it -- he shot 42% from 10-15 feet last season and 43% from 15-23 feet, which both ranked in the top 25% of all large forwards despite his high usage on those types of shots. It's an inefficient shot, so the numbers look middling-tier, but being able to consistently hit the low 40s on those types of shots as a big guy is great. So that's nice. Unfortunately for White, what makes him underwhelming is every other aspect of his game. His rebounding is anemic, his defense is pitiful, and his passing is gross. He's a player with a clear offensive role, but without the rebounding to back it up, he's a positionless tweener. Indeed, that's his big problem. He plays like a poor-rebounding power forward but he's just far too small for that. He can't make threes, so he's not a good wing player, and his defense is bollocks from any position. Too slow to guard wings, too small to guard bigs. Tweening can be acceptable if you're a good pound-for-pound rebounder, but he's not.
Regardless of his value as a legitimate long-two threat, if he can't produce on defense or find a way to increase his output on the boards, he's going to have trouble sticking in the NBA. White appears to have realized that, and he's gone overseas to play for the Shanghai Sharks until his NBA prospects look a little better. Not sure if he'll be back barring a rebounding vision quest on his overseas tour, but he should be good enough to make a decent chunk of change overseas and stick in their pro leagues for a spell. Fun fact -- the Shanghai Sharks actually have three American players, rolling with Gilbert Arenas, D.J. White, and Elijah Millsap as their three foreign-born friendly-friends. It's also the team Yao owns, which is sort of cool in and of itself. Still. Despite their three NBA-ish talents, the Sharks aren't a very good team -- they're currently 4-10, which has them placed 15th out of the 17 teams in the CBA. They're better than T-Mac's team, but that's about it. The problem is less on White's shoulders than Gilbert's knees -- Arenas was injured less than 6 minutes into his Sharks debut, and as lingering injury troubles sapped his game, he was temporarily deselected from the Sharks' roster to make room for someone who could actually play. White has been putting up absolutely monstrous numbers for the Sharks (21-10 a night in 31 minutes a contest and 56% shooting), but they've just kept losing. Poor D.J.
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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. Realized after the fact that I'd totally flubbed riddle #366 -- D.J. White didn't play one bit for the Spurs in preseason, that was Derrick Brown, who I regularly get confused with White. Alas. Sorry about the flubbed riddle. A few people guessed D.J. for player #1, so I'm going to count that and say that Mike L, wul.f, and Alex got 2/3. Should've known I'd totally mess up a riddle eventually. Today's four (!) riddles, covering Monday's four players.
- Player #367 has been guessed for something like 10 different riddles. The big guy had to come up eventually, right?
- Player #368 was the quietest off-season addition by a contender. This is primarily because he was already on the team, and everyone simply forgot he existed.
- Player #369's career spiral has been tough to watch. He's still in the league, but only nominally -- if he doesn't recoup soon, nobody's going to be shocked if he gets cut back to China.
- Player #370 is the greatest power forward his franchise has ever known. At least when it comes to hoagies.
Until next time, gents and lasses. It's the end of the capsules as we know it, and I feel fine.
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