The Rise and Fall of Trouble B-Roy

Posted on Mon 12 December 2011 in 2011 Player Capsules by Aaron McGuire

"I want to thank Paul Allen, Larry Miller, Coach McMillan, the entire Trail Blazers organization and our fans for all of their love and support during my time in Portland. It's been a great ride."

-- Brandon Roy

Lost amidst the turmoil over David Stern's erstwhile turn as owner of the Hornets and the wild free agency period we've been blessed with, Brandon Roy retired this weekend. I've spent a few days grappling with what this means for the league, and for me. To that end, I polled people on twitter today about their five favorite players. Explicitly left out Roy from my own list. Partly out of curiosity, partly to see if anyone would put Roy if I neglected to mention him. Much to my surprise, nobody did -- perhaps because to most people it seems he's been gone a long, long time. No longer Roy, there lies a ghostly crossover and the ever-fading image of the perfect fadeaway, an flickering image of the star once known as Brandon Roy. Maybe the real Brandon Roy died a long time ago. But it doesn't really matter whether you think Roy left his mortality behind long ago, or refused to believe his demise until he uttered the words I started the post with.

Let's take a few moments to reminisce over him, then.

Brandon Roy grew up in an extremely poor six person household. His father worked 12 hours a day, 7 to 7, and his mother worked as a cafeteria lady at his school. His older brothers worked too, though they all loved basketball more than their work. Despite their meager means, the Roy household was very supportive of Brandon's basketball talent. They'd work extra overtime to accure the $200 or so they needed to send their kin to the AAU sponsored trainings where they could one day get picked up by a scout. One of my fondest memories of Roy's is related to this -- I watched an interview (one I can't for the life of me remember the location of) where Roy shared a story about his youth. He described how, like most kids, he didn't quite appreciate the sacrifice his parents made to send him to the AAU training camps -- he used to take them for granted, when he was very young, and essentially treat them as glorified field trips. All until one day, when one of the kids at the training talked about how much money they cost. You could almost see the blood drain from his face all over again as he relived the moment, vowing from then on to make the most of his trips. As he did. Eventually.

You'd never think it from his generally squeaky-clean run as the face of the Blazers franchise (nor, if I'm honest, his somewhat absurd attempts to get Andre Miller traded so he could shoot the ball more), but Roy wasn't always particularly good at expressing himself or being any sort of leader. Nor was he always a lock to be a star at all. Roy and his brother Ed were born with substantial learning disabilities, which made it essentially impossible for the two of them to finish the SAT in the time allotted. I'm not sure how many of you have read Darcy Frey's "The Last Shot." It's a book about Stephon Marbury's legendary Lincoln high school teams, and the varied post-school lives of the members of it. Something you realize when reading the book that may not be immediately obvious is that the SAT can often be an incredibly hard thing to pass for quite a lot of people, especially athletes (who, for whatever reason, seem to lose the genetic lottery for learning disabilities as often as they win it for their athletic mastery).

Brandon Roy included -- it took him four tries to get through, and before his fourth attempt, he'd essentially given up hope that he'd pass it. Enough so that he'd gotten a job as a dock worker doing night shifts at $11 an hour, just in case he never made it to college. Failing the SAT one last time was hardly an idle threat. Marbury's brothers (some more talented than he), his high school team, and Roy's brothers could never quite get past the SAT. And their basketball careers were essentially DOA because of it. You can hardly expect to play basketball professionally if you can't qualify for a scholarship at an NCAA school and you haven't been suckled and raised as one of Dick Vitale's incorrigible "diaper dandies" from birth (a la LeBron James or Kevin Durant). Roy's brother Ed is a sad teaching example of the problem at hand -- unable to pass the SAT, Ed went to junior college and eventually lost interest in athletics after he realized he'd never make it to the NBA, and even if he did, he'd never get drafted and probably never get a guaranteed contract in his life. Such is the life of those who don't make it. As one who did make it, Brandon had an example of what could've been right there at home with him, day in and day out. But he passed that fourth try, and he got his well-deserved scholarship to Washington.

From then on, things were rather grand for the hard-working grinder from the north Pacific. Partly because of the work he put into his game, but partly because he managed to fine tune his game to be about as perfect as it could come. Roy has always been a master of the pass-before-the-pass type of distribution -- he's the setup man who sees plays two players ahead of him, who has always had a better sense than he has any right of which players just know to make the play he's seen. You watch his passes and you think they're nothing particularly special, until you realize the play frees LaMarcus off a screen to slam it home. Or frees Steve Blake from his man with a slip-screen pass just as it opens up the entire court for Roy to drive and rebound the miss. Roy's passing isn't technically advanced in a way that Chris Paul or Steve Nash pass the ball, but it's as quietly effective as a passer can get. His defense, in his heyday, was some of the most tenacious stuff you'd see this side of Manu Ginobili. Who is, by the way, a great comparison point for Roy -- at his peak, Roy was essentially a more athletic, stronger Manu. The same mastery over the Euro-step, the same skill at juking out whatever defenders opposing coaches would throw at him, and the same vocal leadership over his team's offense whenever he stepped on the court.

Not bad for a player who wasn't even a lock to be drafted in the second round his junior year in college, whose entire stock rose solely because of his lights-out senior year where he and his Huskies devoured all comers. And it was all behind Roy's own virtuoso NCAA performance that season, demonstrating for all to see the leadership and confidence he'd slowly developed over the course of his years at Washington. The success continued in the NBA, putting forth a fantastic rookie effort that had him handed one of the most well-deserved Rookie of the Year trophies in recent memory. Then in his sophomore year, Roy was forced to take full ownership over the Blazers upon Z-Bo's departure -- usually something of a challenge for a kid scarcely out of college ball, but not one Roy wasn't suited for. And in 2009? In what seemed like flashes of glory, Roy ascended to his seemingly rightful spot as the second best shooting guard in the league. A strong argument for the best, even. Elite scoring, elite passing, amazing rebounding, vocal leadership, and the best defensive guard this side of Manu Ginobili. A stupefyingly good first step, and the ability to put his team on his back at any time. The man who single-handedly erased the Jailblazer era and returned Portland to its deserved place as an elite team in the meat-grinding Western conference of the 2000s.

And then the degeneration began. Essentially the second he signed his max contract -- one that would have him pull in more money than his family or relatives had ever made in their lives -- Brandon Roy's body decided to betray him. Some incidental injuries to sap his quickness, to slowly remove bits and pieces from his game -- starting his nasty first step, of course. Continuing to his defense. The way he timed his passes. Little, incidental things that alone would mean little, but taken together were signs at a broader collapse that nobody really saw coming. Things came to a head with his torn meniscus about a month before the 2010 playoffs -- he got the surgery immediately, then went against doctor's orders to make sure he could play in the first round. Where, unfortunately, Steve Nash and the nearly finals-bound Suns to-be ran the Blazers to death and dispatched Roy in a depressing six game series that felt like two. Roy couldn't keep up with the Suns, and went home hurting. As someone who broke doctor's orders to help the team would tend to feel. Which led to last season's depressing and ghostly campaign -- Roy was a ghost of his former self. Except for the game against Dallas -- you know the one. Thank God for that, too. Because for one night only, Roy was... well, Roy. He was the star we'd been waiting since 2009 to see again, and he had his entire array on view for the masses gathered at the Rose Garden. His jab-step was rolling, the Mavs were playing off him (expecting him to shank the shot, as he'd done all year), and his offense only got better the more desperate the Mavs got to stop him. We've all seen Space Jam. For one night, Roy's talent was gifted back to him. His knees took the night off from betraying him, his hesitance left and his confidence returned. He was once again the man we knew he'd be.

And now? He's... gone. Just like that.

I've never been the best at dealing with loss. And in this case, there's very little I can think to say. Roy, to me, represents the loss of much more than the man I've spent this post describing -- though even if he just represented the loss of the man, he'd be a tough one to take. I touched on it when I discussed his childhood, but to me, Roy represents the purest form of the reluctant, emergent leader. A man among men emerging in the unlikeliest of straits from a challenged, reluctant youth. One doesn't need to be counterculture like Marbury or embody an otherworldly anger like Iverson to represent the constant struggle in one's soul for success and glory in an unfair and unjust world. But Roy isn't simply Brandon Roy, the NBA superstar struck down by his defective knees. He's much more.

Brandon is also Ed Roy, his talented older sibling who never made it in the NBA. He's Zach Marbury, the older brother who wandered astray and never made it to the league (despite talents arguably greater than those of Stephon's). He's every junior college D-League player or American transplant in the Euroleague, fighting off injury and a coach's lack of faith to try and make it in the world doing something they love with no promise of success and no safety net to catch them if they fall. Roy made it. He made it big. He worked hard, he did everything right, and he had a little bit of luck to help him along the way. But he could've just as easily been yet another cautionary tale, an apocryphal story whispered throughout the courts of Seattle about the high school phenom whose developmental disabilities sabotaged his basketball career before it even began. He could have just as easily been buried in the depth chart his senior year at Washington, a four year player who hadn't shown anything close to star potential and was a fringe NBA prospect at best. But he wasn't.

Roy could have given up at any point, as well. He could have stopped trying so hard to be the leader he felt he couldn't be, and he could've taken the job as a dock worker. But he didn't. Roy's career -- shortened as it may be -- represents, above all else, the triumph of an incredibly strong man. Roy looked the world in the eyes and told him he'd make it, and he did. It's easy to miss, as we mourn the loss of his career, how much he accomplished. Roy's family will never, ever miss a meal. Roy has made enough to send every one of his children to college, and to allow them to be whatever they want to be. He's made enough to bring his hard-working parents out of poverty, and made enough to keep him and his family secure for the rest of his natural life. The loss isn't his, really -- the loss is ours. The loss of a star who brightens the days of those who watch him, and a star who singlehandedly rebuilt a moribund, broken franchise from the depths of scandal. That's our loss. Roy? He shouldn't go out like this. He should be going out in a hall of fame speech, which he'd surely deliver in his own mild-mannered, soft-spoken way. But I think a family man like Roy (a man legendary for eschewing team parties for movies with his kids, or time alone with his loving wife) will appreciate the fact that, for all intents and purposes, his children (and their children) will never have to live through the same struggle that Roy lived through. At this point, though? I don't know what else to say.

Other than all I needed to say in the first place: I'm really, really going to miss Brandon Roy.

We will return to our trade coverage tomorrow. For now, let's just take a little bit of time to appreciate the loss of someone truly special to me and those who watched him. Here's looking at you, Trouble B-Roy. The Blazers should be hanging your jersey from the rafters at the Rose Garden soon enough, and I don't know about you, but I can't wait to cheer you on one last time when they raise it.

This post -- which doubles as Player Capsule #33 -- is dedicated to Caleb, the biggest Roy fan I know. Happy birthday, bud.

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Player Capsules #30-32: Armon Johnson, Marc Gasol, Peja Stojakovic

Posted on Sun 27 November 2011 in 2011 Player Capsules by Aaron McGuire

As one of our mainstay features, Aaron is writing posts highlighting every single player in the NBA. Role players, superstars, key cogs, or players who are barely as useful as ballboys -- none are exempt from the prying eyes of our readers. Check the index for a lowdown on order, intent, and all that jazz. Today's trio includes Armon Johnson, Marc Gasol, and Peja Stojakovic.

• • •

[030] Johnson, Armon

My most pertinent Armon Johnson memory was when I was talking about the Blazers on draft day with Alex and I kept calling him "Armond", truly expressing the deep well of knowledge I carry with me about the University of Nevada's basketball program. I think I like the name "Armon" better, though, so there's that. As an NBA player, Armon wasn't all that much more than a benchwarmer his rookie year, which is sad, but not altogether unexpected for a pick made in the middle of the second round. Johnson played well in summer league, showing off some decent floor-leadership skills and some tenacious defense for his size. He even went into the season as the #1 backup for Andre Miller. Unfortunately, Armon quickly lost that role to Patty Mills as the season went along. Pretty sad for Armon: I love Patty as an off-the-court personality, but if you're getting beaten by a rookie Patty Mills for rotation minutes, there are some issues with your game at an NBA level. Not to say there aren't things to like about Armon: Defensively, he's a top tier PG defender -- terrific on-the-ball pressure defense, good on help, great sense of the court. He's got a decent grasp of how to use his left hand for lefty layups and left-facing drives, too. Just a net positive all around.

Sadly, though, as soon as teams scouted his left hook (around Game 10), he became increasingly hard to justify playing time for. They found that if you cut off his left side options at any given moment, his offensive game is limited enough that he really can't do much to hurt you. And in a slow-down system like Nate McMillan's, a player who makes it four on five on offense is a major detriment -- especially at the point. If Armon can work on his outside shot, cut his turnovers, and develop some degree of ambidextrosity in his passing and driving, he'll probably project out as a decent backup-tier guard in the NBA. Players with the defensive acumen Armon shows combined with his rebounding and generally solid passing ability aren't exactly rare in the NBA, but they're valuable, and he could carve out a decently long career if he just makes some spot changes to clean up his game and make him less easy to guard. He certainly seems like a good dude -- check his twitter, where the good man has (as the Portland Roundball Society put it) definitely mastered the craft. He's learned that it is never a mistake to type in all-caps, he clearly aspires to be like Jeanie, and lightly admonishes LeBron James for even considering football over basketball. My kind of guy, that Armon Johnson. Hope he cleans up his right-facing game and carves out a bigger role with the Blazers next season.

• • •

[031] Gasol, Marc

Marc Gasol entered this year's playoffs as a relatively underrated two-way threat of a big man. He's a solid widebody defender and a solid offensive contributor. His help defense isn't quite up to snuff due to his weight and his general lack of mobility, a weakness that becomes ever-more apparent the faster your opposing big man is. As a teaching example: compare him versus an old Tim Duncan in the first round and him versus Collison or Ibaka in the second round. Still, Gasol represents one of the better two-way bigs in the league. A solid defender in isolation, a good paint bodyguard, and a solid (if not multifaceted) offensive contributor. I get the feeling, though, that his matchups in the 2011 playoffs drastically overrate him both as a defender and as an offensive player. Tim Duncan's bank shot has decreased in accuracy with age, and a lot of Gasol's dap for shutting him down was based solely on the fact that Tim's offense was pretty substandard this year to begin with. Gasol did shut down the paint very well in that series, better than he usually does, but his offense was composed (as usual) with primarily drop downs and pocket passes that worked especially well on the Spurs due to the decreased mobility of our two primary centers. Spurs backup Tiago Splitter did a better job of keeping Gasol in check, when he was playing, and if the Spurs in general had played better overall team defense against the Grizzlies it would've been a lot harder to get Gasol those kinds of shots.

Now, don't get me wrong: Gasol was the 2nd best player on the Grizzlies and incredible in a lot of ways. He shut down the paint rather expertly. But in terms of one-on-one D and offense, last year's playoffs definitely overrate him (as seen in the constant drumbeat of commentators who are now proclaiming that he's better than his brother). While he surely had a better 2011 playoffs than his brother (almost infinitely so), Pau is still the better NBA player and probably will be for at least one or two more years, before Pau begins to fall off from age. No, Pau isn't the shutdown paint guy that Marc is, but he's more mobile, and he does a better job defending big men that can step out and bury long shots like Dirk, Durant, or Brook Lopez. And Pau's offense isn't even in the same realm of comparison -- Pau is arguably the second-best offensive big man in the game, behind only Dirk. Marc is a "set him up, maybe it'll be okay" kind of player. No comparison. You can do a small debate as to whether Marc is more useful than Pau in a general sense, given that the number of paint-patrolling big men of any quality in the league today is one half or one third the number of solid four-men, but that would be a bit ridiculous given the gap between the two players on offense and the relative lack of a gap between their one on one defense if you account for their different skillsets. You can't really make a good argument that Marc is the better Gasol yet. Not yet, anyway.

• • •

[032] Stojakovic, Peja

Peja Stojakovic is notable to young fans for winning a ring with the Mavs last year, but to me, he's most notable as one of the lovable miscreants on the early 2000s contending Sacramento Kings teams. His skills have deteriorated in recent years, and though he's prone to a decent percentage on his threes (he shot 42% on them in 2011), Peja's a rhythm shooter who's prone to games of 3-3 or 6-7 from three on good days and 0-8 or 0-9 on bad days. And his defense? Slow footed and prone to injury, he's never been a good defender, but his defense has atrophied even further in old age, leaving him with net-negative defense. Still, he doesn't turn the ball over and he shoots the three very well even at his advanced age, possibly giving him one more viable year. Just one, though, because while he was marginally useful for the Mavs, the second his shooting stroke leaves him is the second he becomes a 100% useless NBA player. Most likely, the burn he gets from here on forward is going to be based on totally unreasonable expectations of his play. Unfortunate for Peja fans.

    Player           Age  Tm   MVP Pts   MP     PTS    TRB    AST   WS/48
1   Kevin Garnett    27   MIN  1219.0    39.4   24.2   13.9   5.0   0.272
2   Tim Duncan       27   SAS   716.0    36.6   22.3   12.4   3.1   0.249
3   Jermaine O'Neal  25   IND   523.0    35.7   20.1   10.0   2.1   0.155
4   Peja Stojakovic  26   SAC   281.0    40.3   24.2    6.3   2.1   0.198
5   Kobe Bryant      25   LAL   212.0    37.6   24.0    5.5   5.1   0.210
6   Shaquille O'Neal 31   LAL   178.0    36.8   21.5   11.5   2.9   0.192
7   Ben Wallace      29   DET    24.0    37.7    9.5   12.4   1.7   0.160
8   Jason Kidd       30   NJN    17.0    36.6   15.5    6.4   9.2   0.141
9   LeBron James     19   CLE    11.0    39.5   20.9    5.5   5.9   0.078

The most notable thing about Peja to me has always been his lofty place in the 2004 MVP vote, where he placed a strong fourth. Ahead of both Kobe and Shaq. In a year where the Lakers would make the finals. Really, the whole MVP vote that year was amazing. Look at this table. Jermaine O'Neal placing above Shaq, despite shooting at Brandon Jennings levels for a big man and contributing little defensively? LeBron James actually getting MVP dap his rookie year? Peja Stojakovic suddenly being considered an MVP-level player despite his complete lack of defensive ability and his stats being inflated by his minutes total? Ben Wallace getting votes for the actual MVP but somehow being left off finals MVP ballots when his team WON THE FINALS? No, it's clear to me. The 2004 MVP vote, despite Garnett correctly winning it and Duncan correctly placing second, may be the most hilarious MVP vote beyond the top two of all time. And before I get angry letters from Kings fans: yes, I know Webber was out most of the year, and Peja was their only star. But they were a weak western four-seed, guys. He got more votes than Kobe or Shaq. I mean, come on. Really, guys?

• • •

As is obvious, I'm still going to be doing the player capsules despite the fact that there will be a season. Most likely, I'll stretch it into the season. I still should be done by All-Star weekend. Given that we're starting to get into the 30s, I'll create a better index for these capsules soon -- probably a sortable team-by-team index, so you can keep track of who I've done off your favorite team. We'll see. Have a good Sunday, everyone. See you tomorrow.

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Player Capsules #27-29: Elliot Williams, Delonte West, Ben Wallace

Posted on Wed 23 November 2011 in 2011 Player Capsules by Aaron McGuire

As one of our mainstay features, Aaron is writing posts highlighting every single player in the NBA. Role players, superstars, key cogs, or players who are barely as useful as ballboys -- none are exempt from the prying eyes of our readers. Check the index for a lowdown on order, intent, and all that jazz. Today's trio includes Elliot Williams, Delonte West, and Ben Wallace.

• • •

[027] Williams, Elliot

Elliot is the first Duke player on this list I actually went to school with, though calling him a Duke player is slightly disingenuous. He transferred to Memphis for his sophomore year, so he was drafted as a Memphis player rather than a Duke player. It's become almost a little-known fact he went to Duke, which suits me fine, since I'm guessing fewer people will judge him before they see him if they think he's a Memphis player rather than a Duke player. Nonetheless. Back when he was at Duke, he was a pretty stand-up guy. Very laid back, very down to earth, very quiet. I don't know if he's still dating the girl he was my freshman year, but seemingly everyone in my dorm was obsessed with how cute they were together and how nice they were with each other. Doubt he's still dating her, but a man who treats women right is always a plus in my book.

From the basketball side of the universe? I thought this was a pretty nice pickup for the Blazers. He hasn't played a single minute in the NBA yet, as he blew up his leg last year. Out of the 2009 Duke team, though? Elliot and Henderson are easily the two most NBA-quality players from that lineup. Elliot was a tenacious defender at Duke, and his shooting was reasonably solid. I didn't get to watch him much at Memphis, but in the games I saw? NBA-quality shooting, decent speed, and NBA athleticism. Penetrates like a pro (stop thinking dirty thoughts), slashes amazingly, etc. With the defensive talent he showed at Duke combined with his shooting talent and general work ethic, I think he's going to be a great NBA prospect if he puts everything together. And he's a nice guy. So, overall? I really hope he succeeds in the NBA. Go Elliot.

• • •

[028] West, Delonte

My favorite player I've examined yet, without question. Look, he's bit of a redneck-type. To put it lightly. He's among the strongest "southern white" type of guy in the NBA, even moreso than Jason Kidd. He's suffered from bipolar disorder for the majority of his life, with a nasty side of depression (something I understand and sympathize with via depression of my own). When he's on your team, his mental state has slowly left him to the point where you can't count on him. He plays like, well, someone who's bipolar could be expected to play. Some days he's there, some days he's not. Honestly, though? Despite his lows, I love the guy. He's hilarious, his game is nasty, and he's got serious gravitas. When his head's on straight he's absolutely the most tenacious guard defender in the league -- up in your grill, won't let you take a shot without his contest. Strong three point range, crazy hustle. Prone to turnovers if you force him to over-handle the ball, but if you utilize him correctly (i.e., not as the primary ball handler, as the Celtics often have him when he comes off the bench) he's the perfect complementary two guard on a contender. That is, when his head's on straight. When it isn't? Different story. He's passive, poor on the defensive end (he's undersized, so unless he's completely mentally dialed in, players can outmuscle him -- he is not a player who can get by on cruise control), and guns poor long twos that you know full well aren't going in. He can't defend anyone halfway passably when his mind isn't dead set on the court. Which is an incredible shame.

Does that all make him frustrating? Very. In that sense, he's like J.R. Smith. Never really know what you're going to get. Whether it'll be the good Delonte or the bad Delonte. Unlike J.R., though, his good includes great defense and doesn't include an overinflated sense of self. And comedy. Well, J.R. brings that too, but it's not as stirring. His style of play is of the hard-nosed sort, the kind of play rooted not in finesse or technique but in the immutable spirit and vigor of a guy who won't back down. It's almost like, when he's having his good days, he lays his mental health issues and the hardships of his upbringing out on the court. As the player he's guarding, of course. Because he gets chippy, he gets angry, and he sticks to them like their attempts to make a shot on him are a personal affront to his existential soul. And as someone who's battled with issues of my own, I appreciate that mindset. While I was going through my "use the NBA to escape from my head" phase of my life, the inflexible grit and anger in Delonte's defensive game (fairly or not) reminded me of my own daily struggles and my angry attempts to force myself out of it. And it made him that much more dear to me.

I have to add -- big ups to the Cavaliers for everything they (reportedly) did in the 2010 season to try and accomodate Delonte's illness. That was a completely underreported story, to me. For about half the season, I was reading stories about how they didn't make Delonte travel with the team, didn't require practice for him, etc. They still allowed him to go to home games and play when his head was on straight. I've been told (not confirmed, but I've been told) the Cavs provided him a team psychiatrist specially suited to work with his case (a service I'm positive not every team offers) and made sure Delonte was about as comfortable as a man can be after going through a heart wrenching destructive breakup of the type he suffered and his general meltdown from his legal troubles and his bipolar disorder. And then, all that said, big downs for whoever the fuck in the Cavs organization started the pathetic rumor that Delonte was doinking LeBron's mom. There's evidence from some sources (namely Scott Raab, someone who I'd expect to get some sort of sick fetishized glee at the rumor and wouldn't want to disprove it so quickly) that whoever "leaked" the rumor originally was a member of LeBron's team, attempting to pre-empt the incoming wave of "dear god, what happened to LeBron" coverage. I didn't believe Raab, at first, but after the "Rashard Lewis is having an affair with LeBron's girlfriend" rumors leaked by "anonymous sources" close to the situation in the finals this year, I'm a bit more inclined to think Raab may have a lead. LeBron has never surrounded himself with the best people, and Delonte's visceral annoyance with the rumor makes me hesitant to believe it all.

In the end? I love Delonte. And I really, really hope he gets his head straight. One of my favorite NBA players.

• • •

[029] Wallace, Ben

This is easily the most liked-by-me triad of players in the 10 posts I've gotten through in this series. Elliot from being in school with him, Delonte from being my depression-fighting muse, and Big Ben for being... well, Big Ben. You may have noticed I'm irrationally up on some players. Big Ben is one of those. He's scary, ripped, and ballin'. I'm of the opinion he should've gotten the finals MVP in 2004. He didn't exactly shut down Shaq, but he completely gummed up the Lakers' offense and kept Shaq from being a defensive force in the paint by making his offensive goal to keep Shaq from shutting down the Pistons guards. One of the all-time underrated Finals performances, and in my view, quite a bit more valuable than Chauncey was then. Regardless. Ben has been underrated for most of the last decade, primarily because he spent that decade locked in a cell with his "never-make-a-shot" offensive stylings. He's been among the best big man defenders in the league since the turn of the century, and he's been one of the most impact-heavy paint patrollers in that duration as well. If you were a guard, and you saw Big Ben was going to be facing you in the paint, you'd have some second thoughts about making a foray down there. To put it lightly.

He's an absolutely vicious rebounder. Shuts down the paint, and any player he wants to. His offense isn't underrated (it's properly rated as "god awful and cringe inducing"), but with a player he has chemistry with, you can occasionally set him up with a basket or two. I'm of the view that Wallace is the main agent responsible for the Pistons' early decade success, and that the Pistons trading him away is the main reason the Cavs were able to beat them in 2007. Under his tenure, though, the Pistons had a hell of a lot of success -- the Pistons were the Eastern dynasty of the 2000s, rather underratedly. Under Ben's tenure they made the conference finals from 2003 to 2006, won a ring over a stacked (though flawed) Laker team, and were without question the class of the eastern conference. Funny thing about Wallace? First big contract wasn't with the Pistons, the team he came to define -- it was with the Bulls, where he proceeded to drastically underperform expectations due to the strange insistance the Bulls had with trying him to provide offense. Doomed to fail, no matter how much money you give him. His 2009, though? Traded to the Cavs, and tore the world asunder. At least until his injury. Ben was lights out for the Cavs early in the year, and was essentially the perfect roleplayer. I'm of the opinion, and have been for quite some time, that his injury was stealthily the most important reason the Cavs didn't make the finals that year. Sure, we had a zombie Wallace playing in the conference finals, but the Wallace the team had for the first few months of the season pre-injury was the same havoc-wrecking terror that haunts all the slashing guards in the league every night.

A healthy Wallace could've slowed Dwight down, even if he was too old to truly shut him down. But in the series, Wallace was absolutely awful when he played -- he was hobbling on both ends, a liability even on defense, and easy for any of the Magic's players to take advantage of. He wasn't the Wallace that we'd had during our amazing season. Which was a damn shame. We then traded him for Shaq, proceeding to get his contract waived by Phoenix so he could resign in Detroit. Which was absolutely the right move for him -- Big Ben should retire a Piston, and I'm glad he gets to do that. Wasn't expected to be a big difference-maker, but he's actually been rather successful. Easily their best and most consistent player over the last two seasons, only falling off from that role as Greg Monroe rose from the ashes of the 2011 Detroit Pistons season. It's really great that they've got him as a locker room presence, I think -- if Monroe can learn some of Ben's tricks, the Pistons are basically set. They'll rise again. Monroe's too good for them not to. Now, a fun Ben Wallace fact: did you know he literally wants to be a lawyer after he leaves the league? He plans to use the money from his latest contract to go to law school and become a Detroit area lawyer. Really, this is a thing. And it's amazing. It honestly makes me want to go to Detroit and get accused of a crime, solely so I can get represented in court by Ben Wallace. I heard his defense is impeccable.

Ed. note: That may be the worst joke I've ever told. Kill me now.

• • •

Thanksgiving's tomorrow! I will be celebrating by eating food, rooting for the Lions for no reason whatsoever, and probably editing more of these to post tomorrow night. No real content schedule right now, just going on the fly. Still. Keep it real, folksom. Here's hoping you have more to be thankful for than the average NBA fan does.

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Player Capsules #24-26: Ronny Turiaf, Trevor Booker, Pooh Jeter

Posted on Sun 20 November 2011 in 2011 Player Capsules by Aaron McGuire

As one of our mainstay features, Aaron is writing posts highlighting every single player in the NBA. Role players, superstars, key cogs, or players who are barely as useful as ballboys -- none are exempt from the prying eyes of our readers. Check the index for a lowdown on order, intent, and all that jazz. Today's trio includes Ronny Turiaf, Trevor Booker, and Pooh Jeter.

• • •

[024] Turiaf, Ronny

Ronny Turiaf is pretty awesome. For a shiftless, wandering hobo of a player whose career season thus far has been averaging 7 points and 4 rebounds as a nonessential bit player for the 2008 Lakers, Turiaf can say one thing. He's memorable. From his generally solid one-on-one defensive presence to the greatest reactions in all of basketball (see: examples 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10), Turiaf is the kind of player everyone wants to have on their team. He's even got a really poignant story, having battled through heart problems and undergoing open heart surgery just to enter the league. Also? He's literally obsessed with anime. Which is rather rare for an NBA player, but then again, so is Turiaf. About as rare as you can get.

In terms of tangible value as a basketball player? Limited, but interesting. Turiaf's offense is extremely poor, based solely on being set up for dunks. But his defense? Fun to watch, and effective. He sets legal screens stronger than virtually anyone in the league, and has a far better sense of the floor on defense than anyone else currently on the Knicks roster. Extreme hustle guy, though he's not a lockdown rebounder (like many hustle guys). He's not a great shut-down-the-paint kind of player, but in terms of rotations he really makes the Knicks tick. When he's on the floor and healthy (admittedly an uncommon thing, with him) the Knicks are a halfway competent defensive team. Not a joke. Unfortunately for the Knicks, Turiaf gets injured a lot, and they don't really have the depth behind him to make up for it. Realistically, in whatever new CBA we get from the lockout, Turiaf is going to be a really important player for the Knicks. They need him to be healthy if they ever want the defense needed to make a serious championship run, because they're never really going to have the money to chase any other big guy that changes the scheme of their defense like Turiaf does. Perhaps they can just hire Phoenix's training staff. Then Turiaf will never, ever get injured. Anyway. Love Turiaf. Only former Laker I can say I love.

Great guy, decent player, fun to watch. What's not to like?

• • •

[025] Booker, Trevor

So, Trevor Booker. He was recently named one of the 25 best players ever to attend Clemson College. Which sounds good, until you realize Horace Grant, Tree Rollins, and Larry Nance are the top three. Which isn't exactly amazing company. Still, his name is one that NBA buffs would do well to remember. He's not going to be a star, but I'd say he was one of the 10 most effective rookies from the 2011 class, and he's got a fair amount of potential to be one of the elusive "glue guys" on a future champion, someday. He plays a confused position -- his size has him regrettably playing at a defensive disadvantage whenever he matches up at power forward or small forward, being too big to tamp down wings and too small to tamp down forwards. He puts in the good college try, though, and for my money was one of the hardest defenders on the Wizards last year. Not a great defender, for sure, but he played hardest on that end of anyone on the team outside of Hinrich. He was also for my money the only player on the 2011 Washington Wizards that knew how to set a proper screen. Skills!

On offense? Not a wing skillset befitting his wing size (he's 6'8" and 240 lbs), but a surprisingly effective post game. He's got a very good hook shot, and in general, he's relatively excellent at juking his man out and getting his when you feed him in the post. He shot 70% at the rim this season, and while that's partly an artifact of his low usage and his poor competition faced due to the fact that he only played 16 minutes per game (yet another casualty of Andray Blatche's game), it is reflective of the eye test -- solid post moves, and you get the sense he could be a real offensive weapon if used correctly. Overall? Probably needs to develop a jumper, but Booker is a solid rebounder for his size with a distinct talent for scoring if you dump to him down low. I don't know what his ceiling is -- an effective version of Sheldon Williams, perhaps -- but he was a relatively impressive rook given his low expectations and I'm expecting he takes a jump next season. Seems like a good guy, too. Trevor Booker's favorite Christmas gift ever? A big wheel. Who can hate someone who loves big wheels? If you remember one arbitrary fact about Trevor Booker, make it this one.

EDIT: A few additions, gleaned from a chance twitter mention from the great Adam McGinnis of Truth About It (for my money one of the best team blogs in the biz). I didn't know this , but Trevor Booker's main nickname is "Cook Book", coming from a monster game he had against the Grizzlies around midseason where he dropped a 21-12 night, prompting Cartier Martin to keep yelling at him to "marinate 'em, grill 'em, put 'em in the oven. Cook 'em Book." The nickname stuck. McGinnis himself tends to call him Booker T, which is beyond awesome, and also added that Booker's got monster bounce -- a truth I don't know how I neglected to mention, especially given the picture I chose to use for this one. Still. Along with his post moves, Booker T is definitely a player that can get up with the best of them. Which helps on entertainment value. I really hope he gets more playing time next season, Blatche isn't the future and Leonsis needs to stop thinking he ever will be.

• • •

[026] Jeter, Pooh

When I was one, I had just begun.
When I was two, I was nearly new.
When I was three, I was hardly me.
When I was four, I was not much more.
When I was five, I was just alive.
But now I am six, I'm as clever as clever.
So I think I'll be six now and forever.

-- A.A. Milne, Now I Am Six

Pooh Jeter was a member of the Cavs' summer league team back in 2010, a summer where my research assistant job gave me enough time to watch most of their summer league games. I remember him being really impressive, at least against lesser competition, and I really wanted us to sign him. We didn't, which was sad, but the Kings did and he fulfilled his dream of becoming an actual honest-to-god NBA player. I saw a few of his Kings games. Really, he wasn't bad -- for a third string guard, he was very solid. Despite his diminutive size he had some limited success on defense against larger points, and his lightning speed makes him valuable solely for his change-of-pace potential. He's a baller. And while his height makes him barely an NBA player, I have no doubt whatsoever that had fate intervened to give him an extra 3-4 inches and make him actual NBA size, he'd be a lifer in the league. May still be a lifer, due to his knock-em-out work ethic and his amazing name.

Alright, that's sort of rude. I'm not implying that his name is the reason he'll stick in this league. The real reason he'll stick in the league is because he's simply a good player, an Earl Boykins type who will refuse to back down and will continue to chomp at the bit for a role in the league as long as there's one for him to take. But let's take a minute to talk about his name, which is one of my favorites. One of the best names in the league. Eugene Jeter III (THERE WERE TWO EUGENE JETERS BEFORE HIM) is already a pretty awesome name, but it's the "Pooh" that really takes it over the top. Like, really... how the hell did he get that nickname? How does a baller like him take it in stride that his nickname comes from the same person who wrote the poem I started this capsule with? And what's more, what's up with the last name? Is he Derek Jeter's long lost lovechild? DOES HE HAVE A BROTHER... named Piglet?

All these questions and more will be answered on the next episode of "a show that only exists in my mind."

• • •

I liked writing these. Always good to get a light load of players every once in a while to break up the heavies. I know I said I MIGHT get to two capsule posts today, but the Walking Dead is almost on, and I have to go watch. I'm simply addicted to disappointment. After all, how the hell else could I be keeping close tabs on the lockout? Until next time, laddies.

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Player Capsules #21-23: Luis Scola, Corey Maggette, Shane Battier

Posted on Sat 19 November 2011 in 2011 Player Capsules by Aaron McGuire

As one of our mainstay features, Aaron is writing posts highlighting every si__ngle player in the NBA. Role players, superstars, key cogs, or players who are barely as useful as ballboys -- none are exempt from the prying eyes of our readers. Check the index for a lowdown on order, intent, and all that jazz. Today's trio includes Luis Scola, Corey Maggette, and Shane Battier.

• • •

[021] Scola, Luis

My opinions on Luis Scola are rather two-tiered. On one hand, I have a ton of respect for him -- offensively, he's one of the top tier bigs in the league in terms of giving your team an overall package of efficiency and consistency. With the exception of an injured spell near the end of last season, Scola was one of the few bright spots for a scrappy but overmatched Rockets team that would've easily been a top 5 seed in the east but barely sniffed the playoffs in a stacked west. Something that happens to the Rockets so often that the situation should be named after them. Maybe they can join the Astros and muddle up Houston sports entirely by transplanting to the eastern conference, I.E., the NBA's AL. This isn't very relevant to the post, though. Scola is often an offensive superstar, and of all the bigs in the league over the last few seasons, there are few I'd be more happy about having on my team. On the magical 2008 Rockets team that won 22 straight games, he was the cog that really made everything click. He's been the Rockets main star the last two years -- two quality, scrappy teams, even if they weren't playoff teams. And most importantly, he was essentially on god-mode during the FIBA World Championships in 2010, too -- my opinion of his offensive NBA game may actually be sort of biased due to how ridiculously impressed I was with his performance in that tournament. Kevin Durant was the best player in that tournament, but Scola was easily the second best and probably would've been considered the best if Argentina had gotten a bit farther. He's got an absolutely nasty offensive game and he dominated all comers.

The thing with Scola is that his success in FIBA in many ways exemplifies his flaws as a legitimate second option on a contender. Sure, he was amazing in FIBA play. But why was he so good? Mostly because nobody could guard him. And that's something you see with some regularity when you pay attention to Scola. When he's faced up with good NBA defenders, he's not nearly as consistently impressive -- he has his games where he dominates, of course, but he generally operates better the less defensive pressure he demands, or the worse his defenders. Which is a usual trait for ANY player, but for a player like Scola that relies so much on his footwork, defensive pressure can really That's a big part of why he was so good when Yao was in his prime -- if you have to choose between covering Yao or covering Scola, the defenders would more often than not sag onto Yao, giving Scola enough room to operate freely offensively. And all this talk about his offense getting worse against better competition ignores his defense, which is generally not incredibly positive. It isn't absolutely atrocious, mind you -- he's OK at bodying his man and he defends long-range shooting bigs passably -- but he's poor on help and generally puts in a relatively lacking performance. He bites on basically any fake you put in front of him -- he doesn't learn, really, and it hurts his value a lot. Because you really need to place him next to a strong defensive big who can put an entire team's defense on his back. For instance, Bogut, Howard, or Garnett/Duncan/Yao in their primes. Without that? He's not really being used effectively, and his defensive struggles are going to harm his value quite a lot.

LScola4 Luis Scola

At this point I believe that all the players should vote. not only the 30 reps. 7 minutes ago

Still. Doesn't mean I don't have regrets related to Scola. After all, he was actually drafted by the Spurs -- they just traded him on draft day for Ian Maihinmi. Had the Spurs not shanked that draft day trade? It's quite possible the Spurs would have gotten a title sometime in the last few years. Duncan has been slowly degrading on offense, but his defense is still very good, and he's still a top five big man defender in the Western Conference (with Aldridge, Bynum, Chandler, and Gasol rounding out the top five). Put an offensively talented big man like Scola next to 2008-2011 Duncan, and suddenly you have a roster that could easily push the Lakers and the Celtics in 2008, possibly make a conference finals in 2009, and have a fighting shot against the Suns in 2010. Don't think I haven't thought about this before. Like, two hundred times before. Also, Manu and Scola have amazing chemistry. Augh. I can't keep thinking about this. Beyond all this, he's a stand-up guy. Great sense of humor, loves the game, great personality. And -- of particular interest for me -- he's one of the players most aching to get back on the court. Which I respect, though the more that comes out about the disclaimer movement the less I believe that a vote would've ended in a season. Regardless, losing a season (which is essentially what the union chose to do) is the equivalent of losing 10 years of wages for many NBA players, as I noted in my last lockout article. Given that? They probably should've engaged their membership more before they went through with it, and Scola's tweet and general attitude towards the disclaimer reflects that, I think. Much respect, Scola. And condolences, too.

• • •

[022] Maggette, Corey

Hey, look. It's Corey Maggette. Mags redefines the general concept of a stats-first kind of player. His stats have an almost disturbingly inverse relationship to his teams' performances. If his team is crap, he'll have the stats of a minor star. If his team is good, he'll be playing rarely or poorly when he does. He's the epitome of a team-harming contributor, one whose defense is worse than it looks (which is especially bad given how bad his defense LOOKS) and who fights his teammates for stats. Like rebounds -- if you watch him on the defensive end, his rebounding is mostly notable in how surreptitiously he pulls the Javale/Blatche kinds of "Hey, screw you, teammate! Give me that rebound!" plays. Regardless. His stats are always better than his contributions. And he's consistently overpaid, making him the worst kind of players. Overpaid, harms your team, and lacks the personal charm/brand to make up for his flaws. Not to mention his offensive game is based primarily on drawing free throws (hence his efficiency), so you can't even enjoy him for his volume scoring.

One of the underrated results of the awful trade that brought John Salmons back to the Kings was that Maggette went to the Bobcats, thus ensuring that the Maggette-less Bucks will be a decent team next season (WHENEVER THAT ENDS UP BEING) and the Bobcats will be doomed from day one. Theoretically, the Bobcats got the better end of the deal, since Maggette is better by most statistical metrics to an aging wheels-falling-off Stephen Jackson. They didn't really, though, because even at his age Jackson is one of the top shooting guard defenders in the league and adding him to the Bogut/Mbah a Moute defensive tandem is going to make the Bucks even more absurdly good on the defensive side of the court. And while S-Jax's tendency to go it alone on offense is often bad news, the Bucks need someone who finishes possessions in a way that works within any competent offense. Mags isn't it. Maybe S-Jax will be. Not much else to say. I really don't like him much, as I venture is obvious. Bye, Mags.

• • •

[023] Battier, Shane

Let's start out with this -- Battier is hilarious. See: his twitter at the beginning of the lockout. Or his twitter feed from when he got trapped in an elevator before game 3 of the WCSF. Or his very old website from when he played at Duke, back from when being 'proficient with the Yahoo! search engine' was impressive to anyone outside of his grandmother. Battier is an intelligent, humorous man who is relatively good at the game of basketball. He's a cerebral player who is both a good defender and a disappointing one, depending on where you get your expectations from. He's a player known by most as one of the better defenders in the NBA, but that's not quite true. Battier is great at reading an offense and figuring out where to be on help. Absolutely one of the best in the league at it. But in one-on-one defense? This New York Times article essentially misses the point when it comes to Battier's defense (though, to be fair, it's spot on with basically everything else -- recommended read, especially for the biographical part). His real mastery of the defensive end comes in his incessant switches and his contagious knack for filling his team's defensive holes. One-on-one, Battier doesn't really do anything special -- he scouts the players he defends and he tries to work them out of rhythm, but that's essentially what any good defensive wing does. That isn't what makes Battier special.

What makes him special is his ability to do all this with lacking athleticism, so-so dribbling ability, and generally a lack of conventional basketball talent. Which isn't to say he's bad -- he's not, at all. He's a straight decent player, primarily because he's a good one-on-one defender and an excellent help defender, and the number of excellent help defenders that play the wing position in the NBA is essentially one. Battier. The vast majority of Battier's value comes in his ability to substantially impact your team defense through his switches, his reading the passing lanes, and his weakside blocks rather than his ability to act as a stopper. Andre Iguodala, Tony Allen, and Bruce Bowen all were far better at that than Battier, and Battier's athleticism will always be a limiting factor for him on one-on-one defense. Still, none of those three players have ever had quite the effect on a team's overall defense as Battier has had, due to none of them having quite the ability to read the overall opposing offense schemes like Battier can. He's a wing who, defensively, plays like a center. That's absurd. And it's a major part of why I consider him such a cerebral player -- Battier gets over his inability to contribute statistically by using his mental understanding of the game to contribute in a way nobody else in the game really does. On offense, he's relatively forgettable and essentially naught more than a finisher for the plays others create for him. But his defensive impact -- both in stifling the opposing team's offense and making more difficult an opposing team's rebounding -- is what really makes him who he is.

Now, I've gone over how he's a funny guy, but I'd like to finish this capsule with my absolute favorite Shane Battier story. It happened at Duke. In 2010, I was at Cameron Indoor Stadium to watch on the big screen as Duke played West Virginia in the final four. I didn't like that game much because of Da'Sean Butler's ACL tear, one of the saddest things I've watched in college basketball and one of the most despicable moments I witnessed while being a Duke student (not for our team, which was respectful about it -- it was the fans at Cameron indoor, which were generally boisterous and ecstatic about the terrible stroke of luck despite the fact that Butler's career was irreparably ruined by the injury). But there was a great moment, there. There was a commercial break, and the audience was talking amongst ourselves. Cue the drunk frat bro in front of me, talking to his respectively drunk polo-wearing friend.

"Man, look, there's Shane's jersey!"
"Oh, legit dude. He's my favorite player of all time."
"...wait what? What about Jordan?"
"He's literally inferior."
"Haha, dude, that's crazy."
"My bro Shane is mad underrated son, are you one of those fags who doesn't know the score?"
"Uh I guess so, I think he's pretty average overall."
"No dude, you're a fag. Shane Battier is a top ten player in the nba."
"The only players better are Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer, and Kobe Bryant."

The game came back on, and they stopped talking about it. They never returned to the subject, either because the guy thought he'd made his point or his friend thought there was no use continuing the discussion. They were both right. And it remains, to this day, one of the most absurd serious beliefs I've ever heard about the game of basketball. Right up there with "Corey Maggette is a passable basketball player."

• • •

Apologies for the relative lack of updates to the player capsules this week. I realize this is one of the more popular features on this site, I just felt the need to go in depth on the lockout stuff and quite frankly didn't feel like editing the capsule drafts into a finished product after the legal morass I had to sift through. And that CBA proposal. Hope you enjoyed this installment. I may try to post two of these tomorrow, as we have some pretty short players coming up.

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Player Capsules #18-20: Ryan Anderson, Lamar Odom, Samardo Samuels

Posted on Sat 12 November 2011 in 2011 Player Capsules by Aaron McGuire

As one of our mainstay features, Aaron is writing posts highlighting every single player in the NBA. Role players, superstars, key cogs, or players who are barely as useful as ballboys -- none are exempt from the prying eyes of our readers. Check the index for a lowdown on order, intent, and all that jazz. Today's trio includes Ryan Anderson, Lamar Odom, and Samardo Samuels.

• • •

[018] Anderson, Ryan

Ryan Anderson is a pretty bro-ish player. He's a poor man's Rashard Lewis, though at this stage of Rashard's career, he's arguably better. Statheads tend to love him -- Kevin Pelton and John Hollinger are especially adamant about his value, Pelton comparing him to a young Dirk Nowitzki and Hollinger named him a Kevin Love all-star early last season. I don't quite disagree with the Dirk comparison, but I would add about twenty individual grains of salt to it. The thing you need to understand with Anderson is that he's underrated. The thing you need to then understand is that, despite being underrated, he's a relatively limited player. He shoots very well and has an underutilized post game, but up til now he's shown no ability to take up the possessions he'd need to eat to be a legitimate second option on a championship squad (which, if I'm honest, is exactly what he is on the Magic right now). His defense is poor. Not as bad as some no-D forwards, as he does put a bit of effort in on that end, but it's not good. His post game is underrated, and he's a decent rebounder on the offensive end (though that tends to cover up how poor he is on the defensive boards, and why he's only going to look particularly passable as a rebounder if he's placed next to a Dwight Howard or Andrew Bogut type).

I'm very hesitant to go with Pelton's per-36 stretch that Anderson is prime to be a new Nowitzki-lite, though, with reason #1 being Anderson's positively anemic career playoff averages. To wit, he averages 3.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 0.4 assists on 28% shooting (29% from three) in about 16 minutes per game. That's pretty awful. To the point that I can't accept any Nowitzki comparison on its face -- part of what makes Dirk great is that he's never really had an awful postseason. The closest thing to it was 2007, where he averaged 20-11 on poor 38% shooting. His first postseason? 23-8, on 42% shooting with a poor 28% from three. Anderson's game can be compared cerebrally to Dirk's. But until Anderson shows himself to have Dirk's sense of how to score on a competent defense, it's tough to really call him a potential franchise guy. Not to mention that he's got poor defensive fundamentals, much like young Dirk without his ability to score on strong defenses. Still. He's a promising young piece, don't get me wrong, I just don't see his ceiling in the same way Pelton does -- Pelton makes sure to caveat his piece by saying he doesn't see Anderson as an MVP-type player, but I disagree with the fundamental conclusion that Anderson can thrive in a larger role. His playoff performance seems to counter that.

As well as the fact that his game is predicated on the pass -- last season, for instance, Anderson was assisted on 98% of his threes, 66% of his long twos, and 100% of his shots from the true midrange. The only area of the court he wasn't assisted over 50% of the time was the post, where he was only assisted a respectable 38% of the time though he converted 60% of his shots there. Dirk has a better ability to create his own shot, which is why the offense runs through him more. Until Anderson learns how to create a shot outside the basket, he's going to continue to be the player he is today. That is, a no-D finisher who plays efficiently but needs quite a bit of work before he can work outside of his role. Off the court? Don't know much about him. He looks like a bro, though. Probably goes to frat parties with J.J. Redick and tries to get Dwight to toke up. ... Maybe not that last one. Definitely see frat parties in his past, present, and future, though.

• • •

[019] Odom, Lamar

Lamar Odom is a bit more well traveled as a dude than as a basketball player. At his core, he's a manchild -- completely addicted to candy, married to the generally uninteresting heiress Khloe Kardashian, has his own fragrance of perfume, and has appeared in a video with Linkin Park that I philosophically refuse to watch. The last one is true, by the way. Look it up if you doubt me, because I refuse to link to it. Absolutely, 100% refuse. No deal. As for his game? He's a stretch three/four depending on the matchup. Phil got a pretty good amount out of him at the three, though he can't stay there for a whole season. Very multifaceted game, honestly. Doesn't have good three point range, but he shoots the long jumper decently well and defends the power forward position about as well as he defends the small forward if he's matched there in small stretches. He's a very good weakside rebounder.

If I'm honest, there aren't many flaws in his game outside of his effort. Because no matter how nigh flawless he is when he's on... when he's off, Odom can be a player with absolutely no positive impact on the outcome of a game. Which is absolutely befuddling given his talent. It's almost like his sweet tooth infects his play -- this is patently absurd, but it's a decent metaphor. He plays as though he's consistently facing a crazy sugar rush. He unpredictably oscillates from amazing all-star level 20-15 kinds of dominant games to these nights peppered with atrocious 1-6 shooting with 3 rebounds in 37 minutes of underwhelming defense. It's like he has no control whatsoever as to his play, and you get the sense that while he could put in a lot more effort on his bad nights, his game is fundamentally broken when he has an off night. He comes and goes. Superstar to shitshow. Constantly.

To stick with the terrible metaphor I've been pushing this entire post, Lamar Odom is like sticking your hand in a candy jar on Halloween night. You can be the cool kid and pull out a full-on snickers bar that they didn't mean to put in the candy jar and hop away as the housewife stares longingly at the Snickers bar she did not mean to put there. Or, you know. You can grab one of those small packets of M&Ms with, like, one friggin M&M in it. And it's not even a cool color, it's just yellow or something. How do they get away with that? I bet David Stern owns Mars Candy.

Mars? More like Mar$$$.

• • •

[020] Samuels, Samardo

I think this is the first "wow, I really have to write about him?" player on my list. Samardo Samuels is the backup's backup's backup big man for the Cleveland Cavaliers. His game isn't particularly complicated. He's not a good scorer at the NBA level unless his man completely lays off him (something that happened relatively often, as he got to enter the league playing on a team nobody got up for in one of the worst teams in the last decade) and he's a pretty terrible defender. His only particularly useful trait is that he's a bulldog rebounder, which is a pretty decent trait to have, though not one that's going to make him an NBA starter anytime soon. He hustles, too, so that's worth something.

Still. He's undersized and unathletic. He tends to try and get his defender by doing an endless array of poor countermoves and bad footwork in a almost-always-unsuccessful attempt to make his defender forget that he's taller than Samardo. Which is depressing, as a Cavs fan. Possessions that end in Samardo taking a bad shot in the post are some of the worst moments of my life. Then again. He was responsible for one of my favorite moments of the 2011 Cavs season, where the Cavs beat the Knicks and Melo had no idea who Samardo was. That was probably his best game of the year. And probably the "this is the pinnacle of my talent" moment for Samardo's career. I feel like I'm being kind of harsh on him, honestly. He was an undrafted rookie last season. Like Manny Harris, he at least occasionally contributed. That's better than you'd expect, and should have him in the league for at least 3 or 4 years, if not more. True, he probably will never be a starter. But he hustled and when he succeeded it was fun to see him succeed. Can't ask for much more in an overutilized bench player.

Also, a few days ago, Samardo was involved in quite possibly the most hilarious out-of-nowhere twitter "scandal" I've seen in a long time. The guys at I Go Hard Now alerted me to it on Twitter. It was basically the best. Essentially, Samardo started ranting about how he was "addicted" to having sex with women and how he didn't hate gay people but he definitely, without question, was not gay. It seemed to come out of nowhere and it was totally worth spending a while on his twitter page trying to figure out what he was talking about. I can't do it justice here. Read up on it. And just remember: Samardo Samuels can't be homophobic. He went to St. Benedicts.

• • •

Sorry for the sparse updates the last few days. The post about depression wore me out, much like this lockout is doing.

Here's hoping it ends soon.

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Player Capsules #15-17: Andray Blatche, Hasheem Thabeet, Kyle Lowry

Posted on Wed 09 November 2011 in 2011 Player Capsules by Aaron McGuire

As one of our mainstay features, Aaron is writing posts highlighting every single player in the NBA. Role players, superstars, key cogs, or players who are barely as useful as ballboys -- none are exempt from the prying eyes of our readers. Check the index for a lowdown on order, intent, and all that jazz. Today's trio includes Andray Blatche, Hasheem Thabeet, and Kyle Lowry.

• • •

[015] Blatche, Andray

I'm going to be honest. I don't like the current Wizards team. John Wall is nice, but Javale McGee is an overrated shot blocker with poor defensive fundamentals and little offensive talent. Nick Young is a chucker with no particularly glaring redeeming factor. I agree with David Thorpe that Yi had some promise when he entered the league, but he's pretty clearly failed to capitalize on it and at this point shows little in the way of signs that he'll ever put it together. Rashard is still a passable 3rd or 4th man on a contender when he's healthy, but honestly, is there any chance he's going to show up properly motivated to play on this terrible Wizards team? No. And don't get me started on Al Thornton. No, the Wizards are a bad team -- overrated as a possible playoff team in the east (which, while true that they could sneak in if EVERYTHING goes right, it's really phenomenally unlikely) and with very little in the way of future prospects outside of the fact that they have a franchise point guard and a never-ending stream of high draft picks to play with. Jan Veasley is a good start -- from the film I've seen, he looks like he's gonna be a stud.

But this all ignores the most unlikable part of the entire Washington Wizards roster -- Andray Blatche, of course. There is no redeeming quality behind Blatche's play for me. Statistically, he's a semi-all-star type player -- 17-8-3 is a pretty solid statline, and he certainly had his share of decent games last year. In fact, I watched two of them. His 34-19 game against Cleveland and his 25-17 game against Charlotte, to be exact. Those are beast games. Star-level numbers, even. But watching his game is just... it's an excruciating experience, to say the least. He took 32 shots in the Cleveland game and would've taken more if his teammates didn't exclude him from possessions occasionally to make sure they got to work with the offense. If he gets the ball, he tries to end the possession. That's his maxim, essentially. There's only one player in the league with a worse tendency to take bad shots than Blatche, that being Demarcus Cousins. There's only one player who fights their teammates for rebounds as much as Blatche does (hint: he also plays for the Wizards). And frankly, there aren't any players who immediately come to mind for more prick-headed and lazy on the court.

His actual skills? Well, if he reined in his shot selection, he'd be a passable shooter for his position. When he stops fighting his teammates and simply shows some grit on the boards he's not all that bad. He has horrible, horrible defense in every conceivable way but has the frame to be an average defender if he puts his mind to it. Unfortunately for the wizards, he won't. And as I said, if he reined in his shot selection, he'd be a passable shooter -- as is, he's the modern day incarnation of Antoine Walker. He takes over 15 shots a game despite shooting under 45%, playing less than 36 minutes a game, and taking only 18 threes on the season -- that's about as bad as you can get, shot selection wise. Two turnovers a game. Enough bad decisions to make everyone watching him unhappy. Why is he considered a franchise cornerstone for the Wizards, again? Just wondering, guys.

• • •

[016] Thabeet, Hasheem

Time for a Controversial Opinion about Hasheem Thabeet. The opinion in question: he's going to have an 8-9 year career in the league at a minimum, and will carve a role as a niche roleplayer near the end of his career. I don't have many reasons to think this, if I'm honest. Thabeet has shown his offensive skills to be utterly nonexistant, and while he's a shot blocker, he's a blocker of more the Manute Bol type than the Alonzo Mourning type -- IE, a blocker who goes for highlight blocks instead of truly getting his man down. He jumps for low difficulty blocks in blatant stat padding. And his offensive skills are minimal at best. To say he's a 7'3" tall bust at the second pick is beyond accurate. At this point in his career, he's played about as much time in the D-League as he has in the big leagues, and it's soon going to be time for him to put up or shut up.

Personally, I don't think he's going to be out of the league that easily. Lost in his complete lack of basketball ability is the fact that he still is 7'3", and the barriers to entry of him being a productive nba player are virtually nil. Whether or not he deserves it, Thabeet is going to be picked up constantly in the next ten years, always by teams who think their big man coaches are going to do what no others have done and make a productive and useful player out of him. They may succeed -- he's tall enough that, if he had any moves whatsoever, he could simply place the ball daintily in the hoop. His rebounding is poor, his post defense is poor... really, at the moment, his only particularly redeeming quality is that he is decent at helping on defense to cover for a poor defensive four. At the moment, that's the sum total of his skills. But Thabeet is probably going to be much like the sirens of Odysseus to a number of NBA teams -- coaches that refuse to take no for an answer, refuse to believe that Thabeet will never put it together, and think that he's one coaching session away from being a competent backup big. But nevertheless. In order to put in context how hilarious Thabeet's draft location is, here are players from his draft class who are better than Hasheem Thabeet despite being drafted below him.

Pick   Player (Team)
3   James Harden (OKC)
4   Tyreke Evans (SAC)
7   Stephen Curry (GSW)
9   DeMar DeRozan (TOR)
10  Brandon Jennings (MIL)
12  Gerald Henderson (CHA)
13  Tyler Hansbrough (IND)
17  Jrue Holiday (PHI)
18  Ty Lawson (DEN)
19  Jeff Teague (ATL)
20  Eric Maynor (UTA)
21  Darren Collison (NOH)
23  Omri Casspi (SAC)
25  Rodrigue Beaubois (DAL)
26  Taj Gibson (CHI)
29  Toney Douglas (NYK)
30  Christian Eyenga (CLE)
36  Sam Young (MEM)
37  DeJuan Blair (SAS)
38  Jon Brockman (SAC)
39  Jonas Jerebko (DET)
41  Jodie Meeks (PHI)
43  Marcus Thornton (NOH)
44  Chase Budinger (HOU)
55  Patty Mills (POR)

Twenty-five players. Yikes, Thabeet. You better hope Odysseus can teach a good jump hook.

• • •

[017] Lowry, Kyle

Kyle Lowry is currently the best player on the Houston Rockets. Rather shocking statement, actually, but it's 100% accurate. At the start of last season I would've said that was Scola, but despite Scola's excellent opening act to the 2010-2011 season, Lowry had his number by the end. In the same way that Manu Ginobili and Amare Stoudamire absolutely destroyed all opposition after the all-star break in 2010, Lowry was quite possibly one of the most valuable players in the league after the all-star break, posting an insane 20-5-8 line in the month of march on 47-43-87 shooting and in a conservative 36 minutes per game. Anyone remember how the Rockets almost snuck into the playoffs despite their god-awful start to the season? That was essentially all on Lowry, who played better than any other point guard in the last two months of the regular season, and spent the season strengthening his vice grip on the title of "best defender at the point guard position."

It has been written that Lowry's breakout may be a case of small sample size bias, and I agree. I don't think Lowry is the kind of player who is going to average 20-5-8 in a full season. But it's worth noting that ending a year with a streak of amazing performance, if consistent enough, doesn't often evaporate. Amare and Manu came off their torrid 2010 closing acts to be strong MVP candidates for the first few months of the 2011 season. And Lowry is younger than either of them, and roughly at the age and minutes threshold where a point guard will start to reach his peak. I don't think a 16-4-7 line is out of line for Lowry, and if you look at NBA point guards, that's a top five line. Especially when you're running a team as efficiently as Lowry, and defending the other team's best perimeter player every possession down the court. And taking charges without flopping, like a boss. He's essentially the worlds most anonymous almost-elite point guard, and could be considered our generation's poor-man version of Jason Kidd. I look forward to seeing if Morey can leverage what he's got to fill this Rockets team in with pieces that let Lowry break out -- in particular, I'd love to see a team with Lowry, Iggy, Scola, and a lockdown defensive big. That wouldn't be a championship contender, but it would be an incredibly fun team to watch.

Anyway, stop underrating Lowry, it's getting aggravating.

• • •

I'm tired, so no daily riddles today. Goodnight, folks.

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Player Capsules #14: Kevin Garnett

Posted on Mon 07 November 2011 in 2011 Player Capsules by Aaron McGuire

As one of our mainstay features, Aaron is writing posts highlighting every single player in the NBA. Role players, superstars, key cogs, or players who are barely as useful as ballboys — none are exempt from the prying eyes of our readers. Check the index for a lowdown on order, intent, and all that jazz. Today's player is KEVIN GARNETT, whose name we will put in all caps to ensure he knows we are giving him the proper respect. Don't kill us, KEVIN.

• • •


Kevin Garnett can't read.

Now that I've started with the most important sentence of the piece (and one that I will explain later), I will try to explain my horrendously complicated feelings on Kevin Garnett. I'm not one of those people who thinks that KG at his prime was really equivalent to Duncan at his prime. I know there are some, and I don't think they are altogether lacking in a point, but I simply don't think that you win four titles with KG in Duncan's place. One, maybe. Two, possibly. Four? No way. There's no way KG dominates New Jersey the way Duncan did in 2003 with the battered and old Spurs team that was behind him, or even simply beats the Lakers. I don't think Garnett leads the Spurs back from being down hard in game seven in 2005. I don't think 1999 Kevin Garnett would stand much of a chance at a title, and while I think he'd still win 2007's title, I wholly admit that 2007 was the only title of Tim's 4 where Tim wasn't the first, second, and third options on his team -- he was merely the first*. Regardless. Perhaps he'd have won 2006 as well, or broken through in 2003 or 2004. Perhaps he'd still have 4 titles. But I sincerely doubt it.

* Yes, goddamnit, he deserved that finals MVP. He had more support in 2007 than ever before, but he still wholly deserved that MVP.

No, I'm not particularly conflicted about his basketball talents. Dirty though he may be, KG is a top six power forward in league history. Duncan is first, Malone is second, and KG is in a nice little bubble with Dirk, Barkley, and Kevin McHale. Maybe Elvin Hayes -- I honestly haven't seen much of him, so I don't feel comfortable rating him. The other six, though? They're the class. And KG is among them. Not at the head, as Duncan pretty well laps the crowd, but he's among the stragglers. Not a bad place to be, all things considered. And in all the whining about LeBron's "horrible" Cleveland teams and offhand comparisons to Kevin Garnett's awful Timberwolves teams rather ignores the fact that his Timberwolves teams were roughly 200x as bad as LeBron's Cavs teams.

After Ferry got into town, he got LeBron a great shooting close to all-star point guard who let him run the offense, a close to all-star big man who has and always will be incredibly underrated (Big Z in 2007-2009, until the playoffs), a veteran defensive wizard who still had stuff in the tank (Ben Wallace), the only man in the league fat enough to guard Dwight Howard (Shaquala Williams, clearly), and a competent cast melded around LeBron's skillset, flaws and all, so that LeBron could be the best player he could possibly be. Oh, and he also got the best defensive system coach around to make sure that the team's problems could be hidden. And would always spend on draft picks and refuse to make sure the Cavs had the biggest chance they could have. KG? He had... Sam Cassell. And that was pretty much it. Terrible coaching every year he was there, terrible teammates, an owner that didn't spend a dime to keep KG around, and quite possibly the worst NBA market in the league. Remind me again why people consistently compare the two situations? KG didn't do as well in Minnesota because Minnesota didn't do as well as Cleveland to put a team around him. Not to mention KG in his prime was worse than LeBron in his last few Cleveland years. But that's a whole other turkey.

Regardless, I'm not really conflicted about his basketball talents -- very talented, but I think I have a proper sense of where an all-hustle all-grit defensive savant with a knack for filling the box score belongs. What I'm truly conflicted about is KG as a person. Because there are a lot of times I think about KG and I feel a whole lot of sympathy. And you should too. Did you know that KG lost his closest Timberwolves teammate, best friend, and college idol in a car crash early in his NBA career? Because he did. Malik Sealy, in case you were wondering. There's a relatively well done interview on the subject. KG cries. If you think you know a damn thing about KG and you haven't seen this interview, you're utterly mistaken. And KG, more than most, has a legitimate case for being enormously misunderstood throughout his career. While he has a bully-ish sense of humor, he's a pretty funny guy. No Shaq, no Duncan, but it's a great sense of humor that's fun to watch when he's not being super obnoxious. Like this. Or perhaps this would suit your fancy. Both great examples -- hilarious, classic KG. And the side of KG that has gotten virtually no play in his career in favor of the "KG is literally a crazy person" narrative.

Which brings us to the unfortunate part of this post, and the part where my conflict begins. Ever since KG was traded to Boston, he began a slow descent into proving that pesky narrative right. The playful though intense and colorful KG of Minnesota was replaced by -- frankly -- pure unadulterated lunacy and screaming. When he was with the Wolves, his intensity always struck me as a very real manifestation of a suffering star who really wanted to win, but was simply hamstrung by a terrible situation. And when he first got to Boston, I gave him something of a pass -- he hadn't won a title yet. He'll ramp it down when they win something, and go back to being a KG that a man can root for. Right? Hah. No. I absolutely positively detest the KG I see on the court now. I can't stand Boston games, and it's primarily because of him and Pierce. He has chosen to deal with his body breaking down by transferring what used to be defensive acumen based on athleticism and his crazy lift for "hey, if I stealthily elbow you in the gut, maybe you'll be slower and easier to defend" and general dirty tricks on that end. And, obviously, his intensity has gone from "hah, ringless vet getting at it" to "wow, this guy needs some anger management classes." He has told rookies that wanted his autograph to fuck off. He refuses to pick fights or even react to players who ACTUALLY have the ability to hurt him, and now focuses all his trash talk on undersized bigs and guards -- people who pose no real threat to him.

Which leads me to be about as conflicted as I could possibly be about him, at this point. I remember rooting for KG, back in the day. It was fun. And I wish there was a way to do that now without feeling like I'm rooting for a schoolyard bully. Who can't read. And now that I've used it a second time, I'll explain the line. There was a post on CelticsBlog about two years ago where they were discussing one of Garnett's injuries. It was pretty sad. He was gonna be out for the season. The comments were a bunch of people discussing their issues and things they thought KG needed to do. I don't usually read comment threads, but something compelled me to keep reading. So I did. And there was some joke about how Kevin Garnett couldn't read. I laughed, because it made no sense but seemed like a KG kind of joke. Then I read another. And another. I linked Alex, and we kept scrolling and scrolling, eventually stopping at a count of about 37 comments mentioning in some form or another how Kevin Garnett couldn't read.

Then, just as soon as we finished, I saved the HTML for safekeeping and Alex reloaded to see if there were any more. There weren't! Because, as it turns out, the admins deleted all of the posts and were most likely in the process of deleting them when Alex and I found them. The posts had begun about ten minutes prior, which means for anyone else to have read them, they would've had to have been at the website in that ten minute interval with the two of us. Highly unlikely. So I doubt I'll ever get any kind of confirmation as to what the hell kind of a ridiculous trolling concept that was or where it came from. Which is a shame, because the "Kevin Garnett can't read" meme is probably the most hilarious meme I've ever heard of. Just imagine -- KG at a library, just getting furious because he cannot access any of the information around him. Just, steam billowing out of his head, an insatiable urge to beat a stanchion, etc.

Man, KG is fun to write about.

• • •

And now, the daily riddles.

015: I honestly don't think there's a less entertaining to watch player in the league than this guy.
016: While he is a bust, I think he's gonna get minutes next season. Whenever that may be. He might pull a Kwame surprise.
017: Might be the single most underrated point guard in the NBA, bar none.

Until next time.

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Player Capsules #11-13: Derrick Favors, Andrew Bynum, Jrue Holiday

Posted on Sat 05 November 2011 in 2011 Player Capsules by Aaron McGuire

As one of our mainstay features, Aaron is writing posts highlighting every single player in the NBA. Role players, superstars, key cogs, or players who are barely as useful as ballboys -- none are exempt from the prying eyes of our readers. Check the index for a lowdown on order, intent, and all that jazz. Today's trio includes Derrick Favors, Andrew Bynum, and Jrue Holiday.

• • •

[011] Favors, Derrick

I see a lot of promise in Favors' game. He was a decent defender as a rookie -- not a major plus defender like Ekpe Udoh or Greg Monroe, but a solid defensive player for a rook. He clearly worked hard on that end. In general, his game is fun to watch for someone like me -- it's generally predicated on hard work, even if he doesn't always know exactly what he should be doing. He's always bodying up and trying to establish position underneath the basket, working really hard to get himself in position. It doesn't tend to lead to much of anything, as Devin Harris doesn't really like setting him up (for whatever reason), but his effort at trying to get himself open even in the face of rarely getting the ball is nice. He sets killer picks, too, which is always a great sign for a young player.

And don't beat around the bush -- Favors is YOUNG. He was, in fact, the youngest player in the NBA last year, and has the distinction of being one of only two players currently in the NBA born in 1991. Which is pretty absurd, all things considered. His statistics aren't great, and honestly, watching him you tend to see why -- he fouls out far too soon, doesn't seem to have a great grasp on how to deal with tough defense, and gets somewhat discouraged when he has a bad game. But he's hyper athletic, very talented, and has shown promising signs of someday being a major player for a contender. He has games where you wonder why he's in the NBA at all, then has games like the late season Jazz win against the Lakers last year where he defended Pau very well and showed some signs of someday being a go-to big in the league. As I said, lots of promise.

The one issue I have with him, really, is that he came from an absolutely horrible college coach that developed him poorly and it's essentially going to be up to Ty Corbin to make sure he turns out alright. "Promise" cases don't always turn out happily and there's no particular reason to think Favors is going to make it -- his rookie stats are, again, really terrible. And while I see promise, I could also see him simply remaining one of those Ian Maihinmi-type players who seem to exist solely to be the big men on the recieving end of the star calls that Kobe, Wade, and LeBron get so often. And, again -- Ty Corbin? Color me not-so-confident. I do hope he turns out well, though. As I said before -- hard worker, seems like a good kid. Best case scenario is a poor man's Kevin Garnett. That's not a bad best case at all. It's up to him to make sure it happens, I suppose.

• • •

[012] Bynum, Andrew

I really, really do not like Andrew Bynum. Emphatically so. This isn't because his game is overrated -- it may actually be underrated. I completely agree with the Laker fans who insist that Bynum would be a top three center in the league if he stays healthy. I agree that he often shows more hustle and grit than anyone on the Lakers, and I agree he has that elusive will to win that makes him valuable for a contender. If you ever hear from a Laker fan that there were only two players that even gave a crap in a Laker game, chances are pretty high that Bynum was one of them. And he's not lacking in dominant performances -- see his 42-15 game, or any number of the times he's gotten high 20s in points with high teens in rebounds on 60-70% shooting. When Bynum is on, there are few centers in the league who can match him on offense, or even contain him. And his defense? Extremely good. Never will be league-best -- not while Bogut and Dwight are around -- but Bynum is a major plus defender and a great guy to have in your corner. The Lakers, you may remember, rolled to a 17-1 record straight after the All-Star break -- the primary reason for their insane play was Bynum, whose defense was about as good as it could reasonably be expected to ever be. Shades of Dikembe Mutombo, even.

So, I basically just described a player I should like quite a bit. His style is a nice combination of everything I like watching, in a very generalized sense. Why don't I? Pretty simple. He's an arrogant S.O.B. who thinks his game is essentially perfect as is (given that he's refused repeated offers from Kareem of personal tutoring dozens of times). He spends such an absurd amount of time injured that the Laker fan diatribes about how great he is are generally undermined and worthless. Most of all? Great defender, sure, but he's also an immature and dirty player. The completely terrible bush league hit on J.J. Barea at the end of the Mavs sweep that he felt wasn't all that big of a deal wasn't the only example. Check this hit on Beasley, if you want to see dirty. Perhaps this hit on Gerald Wallace is more to your taste? Keep in mind that these are all from the last few months of this season. It's starting to become a somewhat concerning pattern. And while I'm certainly among those who think that the league might have gotten a bit too soft in its reaction to the 80s and 90s, I don't particularly want to see a league where players are starting Kermit Washington-style deckings on a nightly basis.

Andrew Bynum, for better or for worse (and in my view, strongly worse), is the highest profile player with any chance of doing that. More than KG, who shirks from actual bodily harm. More than Charlie Villanueva, who probably just needs to go to therapy. Like, a lot. Andrew Bynum has the requisite combination of rage, heft, and immaturity to physically harm another player -- on purpose. I don't like that. I root for the Cleveland Indians, after all -- I'm more than familiar with the story of Ray Chapman's untimely death at the hands of Carl Mays. If there's any NBA player who fits the dossier of a modern day Mays, it'd probably be Bynum with his inability to take responsibility for his actions and his rampant disregard for the amount of damage he could do to another player. I'd like to think that won't happen, though. I hope.

Anyhow. One of my Laker fan friends, Cesar, started a religion. The Disciples of Bynum-Jesus, I think they're called -- a reference to the now-defunct demo of NBA Elite 2k11 where Bynum "stands in the middle of the court like Jesus or something" due to a hilarious clipping error. For Cesar's Bynum-Bible, I contributed a Psalm. I guess I'll end this capsule with it?

53 They met at the foot of a great mountain, Jesus and Phil
54 " I need to go smoke some peyote, have fun with mike brown"
55 And the Bynum Jesus stared sadly into the sunset as Phil vanished
56 To calm his nerves, he punched a Puerto Rican midget
57 And it was good

• • •

[013] Holiday, Jrue

Man, I really like Jrue. I'm no big UCLA guy, but I can't deny that Howland does a pretty good job preparing his boys for the NBA. Jrue was incredibly underrated his rookie year, due to the glut of flashy and quality point guards that were around his freshman year. Steph Curry, Brandon Jennings, Tyreke Evans, etc. For my money, he's always been a better defensive point than any of them -- and while point guard defense isn't a humongously valuable asset due to the minor role they play in a team's defensive structure, having a point guard who can switch out and defend the better of the opposing team's two guards is an underrated asset to having a solid defender as your floor general. As for offense, while I think he was clearly worse than all three of those guys his freshman year on that end of the floor, he's recouped his sophomore year and added a few more moves and became a better pick and roll passer.

Jrue couldn't really be more dissimilar to Brandon Jennings in style and general swag, but as a scorer, their skillsets are actually extremely comparable. Both of them have decent (not great, but decent) outside shots. Jennings takes a few more shots, but their games both fall apart at the rim, where neither of them have very advanced finishing talent. Decent shooters, both, but poor at drawing contact -- both of them incidentally have the strong potential to improve on that front, much like Iverson and Rose did later in their careers. They're both very good floor generals, and they run their teams well. The Sixers have more offensive options than the Bucks (depressing, but true) and Jrue gives the ball up more than Brandon does because of that, but with the exception of the number of shots they feel they need to take, there's not much differentiating the two.

Except age, which is really the avenue where Jrue's most underrated -- like Favors above, Jrue is incredibly young. He was born in 1990, in fact, and was the first player to play a game in the NBA born in the 1990s. He's already a decent floor general, and the potential to improve from his current state (good point guard who could definitely start for a contender) to a key franchise guard is clearly there. Long story short, there's a lot of potential with Jrue. And unlike Favors, he's already made good on a lot of it, enough so that if he never improves he'll still be a very valuable, worthy player in the league. Not too bad for a guy who played his first crunch time minutes in a playoff win months before his 21st birthday.

• • •

Here's your daily riddle. Only one player tomorrow, but he's a long one.


Until next time.

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Player Capsules #8-10: Danny Granger, J.R. Smith, Nate Robinson

Posted on Fri 04 November 2011 in 2011 Player Capsules by Aaron McGuire

As one of our mainstay features, Aaron is writing posts highlighting every single player in the NBA. Role players, superstars, key cogs, or players who are barely as useful as ballboys -- none are exempt from the prying eyes of our readers. Check the index for a lowdown on order, intent, and all that jazz. Today's trio includes Danny Granger, J.R. Smith, and Nate Robinson.

• • •

[008] Granger, Danny

Danny Granger, the starting small forward and resident low-tier star of the Indiana Pacers. If I'm honest, Granger is pretty frustrating. He goes from nights where he looks like a legit second option for a championship contender to nights where he looks like he barely belongs in the NBA -- he's a high variance player, as one would say. If you catch the wrong/right games, you'd be perfectly justified in thinking he's anything from a D-League washout to a superstar.

Regardless of his variance, his game is pretty damn slick. A few year's back, before he had a few nasty little injuries, he more often than not looked like a future superstar. Impossibly smooth midrange J, more than passable defense, and a ton of swagger that nobody notices because he plays on an awful team. His defense is rather underrated even considering the rest of his gifts -- outside of Iggy, he's one of the better post defenders among wings in the league, and he's decent on help defense (if a bit lazy on his man on the perimeter). Now, though, he's widely considered a middling-tier option that the Pacers actually shopped at the deadline, trying to trade him for little more than picks and young talent.What happened? Honestly, if there was ever a case of a coach single-handedly producing major harm to a very good player's career, this is probably it. Granger came into the 2010 season dealing with nagging injuries -- instead of letting him rest and get into game shape gradually, O'Brien threw him in and played him roughly 40 minutes per game until he predictably tore his plantar fascia. Playing injured is never a good idea.

He hasn't been consistently dominant since, his lift that was once one of his primiere attributes is essentially evaporated, and it's sort of up in the air whether he's ever going to fully heal from his nagging leg injuries. Which is a shame, because he's actually very fun to watch when he's got it going. He has a smoother jumpshot than virtually anyone in the league, and while he's not a ballhandling wing like LeBron or Iggy, he's got enough hops to rebound passably and his defense is very solid. Which all overlooks the fact that he's also a ridiculously nice guy. Granger was the first NBA player to even consider doing anything for the arena workers who are all losing jobs to the lockout -- specifically, he proposed taking all the Conesco Fieldhouse workers out to dinner, and was the first player to suggest playing regular season games with semi-full rosters in abandoned arenas for charity. It isn't mentioned in that article, but he's also throwing a raffle to raise money for the laid off Conesco Fieldhouse workers. Some serious player-of-the-people stuff, that. By all accounts he's a stand-up guy, and I really do hope he recovers from his injury woes. The NBA would be better with him in superstar form, I think.

• • •

[009] Smith, J.R.

My feelings about J.R. Smith are essentially schizophrenic, and I don't think I'm alone on this. Half the time I watch him, I'm utterly and completely enthralled. The other half I simply can't stop cringing. I don't really think he has a fraction of a chance of ever putting it together at this point. He's got arguably the greatest athletic gifts in the league, and a boatload of talent -- when J.R. is on, the sorts of absurd pocket passes he'll complete and the crazy shots he'll make are matched only by the league's superstars. When J.R. is off, there's not a single player in the league who can be more harmful to their team -- he will make the single most horrible decisions of any player in the league, he'll gun the ball every time he touches it no matter his coverage and no matter how much of a zone he's in, and he'll up his showboating to compensate for his otherwise hemorrhaging game whenever he gets the slightest change.

On defense, he's about what you'd expect for a player as prone to massive fluctuations in his production as J.R. -- incredibly up and down. When on, he can make these occasional miracle defensive plays where he does something absolutely crazy and groundbreaking only to immediately forget how he did that and immediately make the most boneheaded defensive plays you can imagine a player making. It can actually be hilarious to watch. Once, I remember, he was lazily batting at the ball while guarding someone, then perfectly timed his jump to elbow-tapped the players' pass, grab it in the other hand, and start furiously driving across the court. He literally looked surprised the entire fast break. I don't remember the outcome of the dunk, though I do remember he gave up easy open shots as he tried in vain to replicate the feat for the next few possessions. As for the finisher on the fast break? I don't remember if he made the dunk or not, but it would be very J.R. Smith of him to completely shank the dunk after trying to do some ridiculous 720 windmill two handed jam or something.

Long story short, if real life was NBA Jam, J.R. would be a superstar. But it's not, and he's terrible. Next.

• • •

[010] Robinson, Nate

Oh, Nate. The super-short chucking point guard for the Oklahoma City Thunder. After Nate got traded from the Celtics to the Thunder, I remember reading someone on CelticsBlog, I think, writing a semi-obit to Nate's "career" with the Celtics. I can't remember exactly what he said, but the gist was basically that Nate's real value to a team is in his attitude. He treats every minute he spends in the game like the last minutes of a blowout win, for better or for worse. Does that make him entertaining? Yes. Most of the time. Does that make him a good player? Not particularly -- I get the sense that he spent too long with the rudderless sideshow that was the Isiah Knicks in the mid 2000s, as he has the same devil-may-care attitude towards the outcome on the court that comes with growing as a player on a team as awful as those Knicks teams. It often seems like Nate mostly just worries himself with making sure that he's entertaining doing whatever he does. Which, given how limited his skillset is, may not be the worst thing in the world.

He has boundless energy and confidence and will take shots without setting up his teammates, chuck it as though he's trying to break a record, and mug the crowd every minute he's out there. You don't win too many games because of Nate Robinson, but you win many in spite of him, and every once in a while he'll have a night where he's so on you feel like he could actually be a starting quality guard someday. (Hint: NO.) But those nights combined with Nate's general demeanor can paint fans a decent picture of how to really root for Nate. You can get over his chucking, his inability to play any defense whatsoever, his boneheaded moments. That's all rather tertiary. Because frankly, the amount of entertainment you get at watching someone as good-natured and fan-friendly as Robinson on your favorite team is probably worth the severe lack of polish and his bonehead transgressions.

His dunk contest wins may have been travesty (hint: 'may have been' my ass, they were a travesty then and they're a travesty now) but he's a nice guy whose energy is infectious. He's the guy that makes blowouts fun, not because he's bad, but because he's just so goddamn excited about every stupid little thing that happens. Yes, he's a poor basketball player who isn't even replacement level. No, I don't care. I'm still going to be amused watching him do his thing, and so will most fans of his teams. Off the court, he's similarly amusing -- check out his lockout video blog where he does menial tasks as he tries to while away his time until the lockout finally ends. Or check out the police reports where he got charged with public urinatio--wait, what? Nate, seriously? I just spent like three paragraphs painting a positive picture of a terrible player. Nate, I am disappointed. Not because I care that you urinated somewhere. Mostly just because I'm not even sure how I was supposed to respond to that being the first news article that came up when I was looking for what you've been up to recently.

Goodbye, Nate Robinson. Please don't urinate on my car.

• • •

I originally had riddles at the end of each set about the next few, for people who wanted to guess who the random number generator had designated would come next. Might as well bring that back. Today's riddles for your next three players:

011: Decent rookie big man. Promising future, though like Durant, hasn't shown us much yet.
012: Suffers daily through a seething hatred for people smaller than him. Probably.
013: I'm very up on his game. A super-young point guard with an absurd amount of upside.

Until next time.

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