Player Capsules 2012, #370+: Matt Bonner, The Author, The End

Posted on Mon 31 December 2012 in 2012 Player Capsules by Aaron McGuire

As our summer mainstay, Aaron was writing a 370-part series discussing almost every notable player who was -- as of last season -- getting minutes in the NBA. As the summer dies down and the leaves turn, this quixotic quest of a series has happily reached the last third. And now, the end. Today we conclude this absurd, unnecessary, slog of a series with Matt Bonner. And me, too.

• • •

Follow Matt Bonner by listening to Arcade Fire and partying with them.

There are a lot of players in the NBA who I love despite their skills. One could make the argument reading my appraisals of NBA players now explicated in triplicate that I love just about everyone in the league, and one wouldn't be that far off. I'm a realist in my personal life and I tend to be a pragmatist in my approach to the world, but I can't lie to you: I'm a starry-eyed optimist when it comes to the humanity of those around me. I may often assume the government's an institution of lies and deceit, but I'm a big tragedy-of-the-commons guy. I can assume a team's horrible without hating the component players. I can assume a company's full of crap without indicting a single member of the company. I can make snide little jokes about how much I hate the Clippers without impugning individuals. And as such, I can recognize a player's limited talents without bearing any ill will to the player for those limits. Call me an optimist, call me foolish, call me wrong. I call it sports, and I'll like who I like.

One of those people, indeed, is Matt Bonner.

I've personally defended Bonner's ill-reputed defense a few times, mostly because I don't feel it's quite as bad as people initially think. Once or twice a Spurs game, when Bonner's on the court, opposing teams run plays specifically meant to attack Bonner's perceived defensive deficiencies. There's a problem with that. As bad as Bonner is at rotating and as immobile as he is on an overall level, he's not atrocious enough as an individual defender to make isolations-against-Bonner a reasonable offensive strategy. Isolation plays are what you go to when a play has failed. They certainly aren't something you should go to as a general rule, and in one of the biggest mysteries of the NBA, teams insist on going to them the minute Matt Bonner comes on the floor. And Bonner -- the cad -- has the audacity to stay on his feet, keep his hands up, and provide reasonable (if not incredible) defense against a stupid post-up or isolation with no outside options that never should've happened. When teams run plays like that, Bonner can hurt them simply by not being a folding lawn chair. He isn't, so he hurts them. But teams keep doing it, and the Spurs keep reaping the rewards. And good on them, I suppose.

The thing where people get tripped up is when they construe my statements about Bonner as a not-team-killing individual defender as some statement of support for the idea that Bonner's a lockdown defender. As good as his Synergy numbers have always been, he's not. He absolutely is not. He's a reasonably solid isolation defender who tries very hard despite not having any great skillset for it. And his offense, good as it may be in the regular season, is far from playoff caliber. Bonner's odd shot mechanics are incredibly fun to watch and impossibly amusing, but they're also mechanics that require about a restraining order's expanse of space between him and the defender for the shot to make it home. That's not space Bonner's ever going to have in a playoff situation, and without it, he's less than useless -- his offensive repertoire beyond "wide-open threes" is about as lengthy as the movie Airplane's pamphlet of Jewish superstar athletes. He's gotten less and less playoff burn as the years go on and Popovich loses his faith that any given year will finally be the year Bonner will quicken his release and adapt it to a playoff scenario. Because each year he tries, and each year he fails. It's like Lucy and the football. Spurs fans and coaches get optimistic, Bonner works on new methods, and every year it ends the same way -- the playoffs come, the kick goes up, and a player who can't really adapt to playoff situations gets badly exposed. An unfortunate fact of life.

All this isn't to say I don't like Bonner, though. Absolutely love the man. Understanding his weaknesses isn't akin to abandoning the guy entirely -- he's good for adding on a regular season win or two, without a doubt, and off the court there are few other guys in the league I'd rather root for. He's one of the few NBA players with legitimate connections in the hoops blogosphere, being somewhat friendly with the Basketball Jones crew. He's also friendly with the blogosphere because he has his own blog. Take that, world! Matt Bonner is one of us! It's a blog about sandwiches that appears on San Antonio's site, called "Matt Bonner's Sandwich Hunter." It's stated mission is to follow Matt Bonner's quest for the Hoagie Grail, the sandwich-to-end-all-sandwiches. Someday, Matt Bonner will succeed in his mission. He'll also succeed in his mission to bring basketball fundamentals to children everywhere, with his 90s style vide--... oh, wait. That's not Matt Bonner. It's "Coach B." Very different beast. Still, quite worth watching. It's the greatest video any NBA player has ever produced. And the sequels, video 2 and video 3, are still amazing acid trips into the world of inspirational basketball videos. I feel like every marginal player in the NBA could eventually be a league MVP, if only they all watched these videos every night before they went to sleep. And this includes Matt Bonner! I don't know why he doesn't listen to Coach B more, frankly. They bear a striking resemblance to each other and he clearly was very helpful to Bonner's younger brother Luke. Come on, Matt. Coach B is all that's separating you from MVP-caliber ball. Listen to him. Let's get this done, MVP-in-waiting. Let's get it done.

• • •


_Follow Aaron McGuire on Twitter at __@docrostov.___

Who is Aaron McGuire? Who's the idiot who actually tried to do this project? I'll scout it out for you -- I have some sources on this guy. Aaron McGuire's about 6'4", 6'5" if he stands up straight. He's a scrawny man, a pickup tweener with a poor outside shot and a worse dribble. He's never played pickup against an NBA player, which is probably for the best, because he'd get dunked on with such obscene force that he'd turn to dust and blow into the wind. One would perhaps say he's a decent defender, but one would be wrong, because he's not. That's just what all white pickup players say when they aren't really good at anything else. "Don't worry, guys, I'm a defensive specialist! I'll lock guys down!" Yeah, no. Fat chance of that. His best quality is simply that he's tall relative to the average pickup player, and he can sometimes -- if he's lucky -- see a pick and roll developing and quash it with a nice twirl. And you know what? That's about it. Because that's about it, he always gets picked last, and it's a reasonable thing for people to do it. He's not very good at basketball, OK?

Off the court, he's a bit of a bore. The man works as a statistician in his day job -- a statistician! -- and devotes an untold number of hours outside of work to the pursuit of writing things about the NBA and contributions to unshared creative writing projects he'll probably never finish. He and one of his favorite professors from back in school have a paper up for publication in the Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports, although he's been lazy about revisions, so it may never see the light of day. He's a family man without a family, a luckless romantic knave without the whole luckless part. Or the romantic part, I suppose. So he is more aptly described as a knave, simply. He likes to think he's funny every now and again, but is consistently dissuaded of those views when realizing how few people actually laugh at his openly horrible jokes. He likes helping people out, even at the detriment to his time and wallet, which can get him into trouble at times. Lots of times. But he tries pretty hard to be a decent person and by and large succeeds, even if it also makes him something of a boring slug that few in the world really want to know. He can't hold his liquor whatsoever, probably on account of the fact he's slightly underweight and has poor circulation for his height. He doesn't have very good NBA prospects. Let's just pretend this didn't happen and move on to someone else.

... wait. There's nobody else to move on to. Well, that's awkward.

• • •


All told, this whole thing has been an undertaking. I'm not going to make any promises about ever doing something like this again, mostly because I'd have to be completely off-my-rocker to promise that after this experience. I'm going to walk you through what my daily schedule has been over the last 5 months. This is partly for your entertainment, and partly for my reference -- when I'm ruminating on whether or not to do it again next year, I'll probably go back and read this post, and I'll probably see this. And I would really like my future self to think hard on whether he actually wants to do this again. So, for one's amusement, here it is. My daily schedule, my kingdom of dust.

  • 6:00 AM: Wake up. Shower. Brush my teeth. Drive to the office. Sometimes earlier, but never later than 6:45.

  • 6:45 AM: Nestle into my desk, spend about 2 hours writing capsules, then start in on the day's work.

  • 9:30 AM: Publish the capsules. Usually. If they needed more editing I did it in off-moments from my job, or my lunch break.

  • 6:00 PM: Begin to pack up my things, drive home. Often later, rarely earlier.

  • 9:00 PM: After a few hours of games with my ex-girlfriend, dinner, and whatever the heck else I had to do, I'd open up my spreadsheet with all the players in the feature. I'd isolate the next 3 and start up Synergy.

  • 12:15 AM: With an hour or three of scouting done, a game or two watched in the background (usually featuring a player or two from the next day's capsules), and some manner of notes made on the players for the next day, I would head to bed, ready to approach the next day's work.

  • 1:30 AM: ... OK, yeah, I usually didn't go to sleep until well after the games were over. Sorry, doctor. (No, seriously. My doctor talked to me about it. Sorry about that.)

Have you ever wondered what sort of psychotic devotion to a project it takes to produce this kind of a steady stream of content over a 5 month span while working a stressful nine to five? There you have it. The project began on July 6th, 2012. The project concluded in full on December 31st, 2012. In that time I wrote 370 player capsules, which (when added up) summed to a ridiculous 373,955 words. Some people have asked me why I didn't edit these down, or try to make them shorter in an effort to ease the burden on myself. Confession: I did! For most of these players, I ended up scratching ideas and rewriting whole sections. But I treated each of these things like a several-draft essay, with each essay usually ending when I'd realize I was crunched for time and needed to slash out paragraphs. Had to get it down to a moderately short and reasonably snappy three-to-four paragraph explication rather than a long, meandering appreciation. Gross! I still meandered, as most would be wont remind me, but trust that there was more editing on my part put into this effort than it may have appeared. I really wanted to do this right.

That's the thing, though. Why did I really want to do it right, though? What made this my goal?

This is a question I've been asking myself. Why was I so intent on proving I could do this with any semblance of quality? It's not like these aren't time-sensitive. If you go back in about a year and read the capsules, I'm sure some of the observations will still be apt. But I'm just as sure others will be about as outdated as year-old milk. There's a certain temporal transience here that makes all basketball writing somewhat ephemeral, and it applies just as well to a series like this. Few people are going to go back and think "wow, I want to read the equivalent of a 1000 page novel about basketball just so I can get the views of a single capricious fan on every player in the league." I'm not trying to get a new job -- I like my current job, thanks. In terms of assessing the project's quality in-the-whole, there aren't ever going to be more than 30-40 people who can do that, and most of them aren't ever going to let me know what they thought of it. So, why? I'm not a person who tends to have a great deal of pride in my work. Ever, really. I certainly put a lot of effort into what I do, but I'm a perfectionist at heart. Never quite happy with things. Always errors, always problems. Some of my best writing has been stuff that I absolutely hated at the time and only grew to like months or years later. It's the nature of the beast. But when I look back on this ridiculously unnecessary project, I get a bit choked up.

Because, simply put? I didn't fail. Certain things are large and ambitious enough that you simply get excited when you reach the finish line. They're things you'll remember for a long time, and you know it when you feel it. For me, this is one of those things. In 5 or 6 years, I'm not going to remember the 10-15 capsules I wish I had back. I'm not going to remember the sleep lost, the struggles getting Synergy to work, the nights when I had to stay up late because I simply didn't have the joy. I'm not going to remember the sad feeling whenever I'd have to cancel a day because I simply had too much work to do. No, I'm simply going to remember this -- I was able to complete a 370-part series of 1000 word essays, and I was able to complete it in a way that made me proud. I'm going to remember how many people the project reached, and remember the fact that even if very few people read all of the capsules, just about everyone in the blogosphere at least read one. I'm going to remember those feelings of accomplishment as I incremented my calendar and watched my progress meter fill. And the satisfaction of putting that last word to the Bonner capsule and smiling to myself. No monetary compensation, no boss to cheer up. Just me. The project was for me, above anyone else. And I succeeded.

This series is full of stories. It's a tapestry of disconnected ideas, concepts, and experiments. Some were good, some were bad, some were flat-out wrong. But I was faithful to the project and I accomplished something I didn't know for sure if I could when I started. I weathered some bad personal moments during the duration of the series -- I got dumped by a girlfriend of two and a half years, I had several immensely stressful work projects, and I dealt with a lot of real life turmoil at times in the project. But I kept at it, I didn't give up, and right before the turn of the year, I finally finished my large and ambitious side-of-the-desk project. I did it in the timeframe I wanted with the detail I needed. I don't like gloating and I don't like pride. I detest arrogance. But I'm proud of myself, for once, and I think that pride is exactly why I put so much into this. I knew in the back of my mind if I finished something like this I'd have to finally admit to myself I did a good job at something. Take a moment to appreciate the work I did, the grind I lived, the time I spent.

Of course, there's one thing I didn't totally consider. Or rather, I did but I didn't want to admit it. That grind, that writer's yen? It goes on. It always does. I've had a small success, here. A moment of personal pride. I'll take a week, catch my breath, and find some new mountain to climb. Because when you feel pride in your work once, you want to feel it again. And that's what writing is, right? An addiction to the best ideas, a constant need for your foremost efforts, and a constant parched thirst for the best you'll ever be. That's what makes a good writer good. Not the words on the page but the yearning that stands behind it. And I'm no excellent writer -- not yet, anyway. But perhaps someday I'll turn the pages of something I wrote and think with pride and love of the individual hammer-strikes to the stone of inspiration that came behind it. The intractable surfeit of effort and toil it took to get a piece I could really love as my own, not in an isolated moment, but deep within my soul and heart.

Perhaps, someday. For a time, I'll stop and enjoy a project completed. Life's good.

And in a week? The work chugs happily onward. And I'll enjoy that, too.

Hope to see you then.

• • •

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Player Capsules 2012, #367-369: Ed Davis, Darrell Arthur, Wilson Chandler

Posted on Mon 31 December 2012 in 2012 Player Capsules by Aaron McGuire

As our summer mainstay, Aaron was writing a 370-part series discussing almost every notable player who was -- as of last season -- getting minutes in the NBA. As the leaves turn frosty, this quixotic quest of a series has happily reached the last full week. Not quite done yet, but close. Today we continue with Ed Davis, Darrell Arthur, Wilson Chandler.

• • •


Follow Ed Davis on Twitter at @eddavis32.

Aha, Ed Davis. Finally. The mainstay of promising young big men everywhere. Davis is as Davis does -- he's a relatively capable defender, a decent rebounder, and (as currently utilized) a poor offensive player. He's not a willing passer, he's not good at controlling the ball, and he's a rather atrocious scorer once you get outside of about 7 feet. That said, he has the tools to be at least somewhat useful on offense -- it's up to Dwane Casey to set him up correctly. He's a quality finisher at the rim (75% last year, which is simply insane) and holds the keys to an excellent 3-9 foot baby hook he tends to rely on from that range. In fact, last season he made his hook shot as far as 11 feet out from the basket. Quite impressive, I think. When it comes to a jump shot, that's certainly nothing to write home about, but he's got a decent short jump shot from about 6 feet in that's effective on the left side of the basket and toothless on the right -- something about the angles or personal comfort, I'm assuming, because even in college he never attacked the basket for jumpers from the right. Looking through the tape, I wasn't sure I saw him make a jump shot in the paint to the immediate right of the basket over his entire career -- sure enough, looking at his shot locations on Basketball Reference, he hasn't. Ed Davis hasn't made a shot from the close-right of the basket since his rookie year, when he made three shots relatively close to the basket to its right. Last year he made zero, and this year he hasn't even attempted any.

Quite the interesting tic, and probably reflective of one of his playing time issues -- if Davis is playing a big man who knows this and effectively forces him to the right of the basket, he fumbles around a bit and usually ends up turning the ball over. Not too hard to scout when you can only attack one side of the basket with any particular efficiency. To Davis' credit, he never seems to act outside his comfort zone badly -- he doesn't try to do too much, or overpass, or hog the ball without reason to. He doesn't play a ton of minutes, but he's active on defense (sometimes too active -- he really needs to learn to get the feel for those times that help defense is detrimental to the team's overall structure) and his athletic package is excellent. The key's really got to be putting it all together. He's young, so you have to like his chances, but you also have to be a bit skeptical after two seasons of being a relative nonentity that he's ever going to establish himself as a real young star in the league. But stranger things have happened. Perhaps adding some offensive moves to the basket's right could help. And I mean anything. Anything! Just some competent offensive move. Please? Bueller?

A friend of mine once told me that Ed Davis was really cool, and by far the coolest guy on the dismal Carolina team he left behind right before my senior year. I never had much of a reason to believe him, and the rivalry feelings are strong, so I didn't really pay him much heed. This came to mind while looking up today's off-the-court research for Ed Davis, and after reading a few interviews with him, I have to agree. He's accurately describing himself in the following excerpt from this particularly fun interview with Eric Koreen of the National Post:

What’s one thing about you that people don’t know that they should know?
I’m a boss. I’m a boss.

Go on.
I just do boss things, move like a boss, talk like a boss, act like a boss. That’s about it.

Made me smile, if nothing else. Keep bossin', Ed.

Oh, also! Fun fact -- Ed Davis went to high school in the same city I live in now! That's crazy to me. Virtually nobody in the NBA comes from this part of Virginia. Of course, it's not like people around here really remember him -- he went to a private school in Richmond. Still though. This is the sort of thing I go scrabbling for when I've reached players like Ed Davis, who are fundamentally hard to separate out of the rest of the NBA's promising young big men. Sorry, Davis.

• • •


Follow Darrell Arthur and his outsized impact on a great Grizzlies team.

Although the Grizzlies are going through a bit of a rough patch now, let it be stated for the absolute record that the Memphis Grizzlies DID improve this last offseason. People slept on it, didn't really think about it, and continually underrated it. But they did. They really did. Although the core is the same and the upgrades aren't sexy, the Grizzlies got Darrell Arthur back and shored up a bit of their three point shooting problems with a few solid acquisitions straight from the scrap heap. The Grizzlies having a good, semi-elite season was always in the cards, even if it may not have been the easiest thing to see from the outset. The team has been blessed with some rather incredible roster continuity ever since the Randolph acquisition, and they've seen improvement from most if not all of their pieces. Much as I liked to put down Chris Wallace's strategy no less than 3 years ago, time has seen him successful. They're mean, lean, and they aren't leaving for a year or two. And unlike last year's debacle, they now stand a pretty good chance of being better in the playoffs than they've been in the regular season. They aren't going anywhere. The Western top seeds should be quaking, a bit -- they're a challenge, a roadblock, and a grit-and-grind nightmare to any good offense that relies on their execution. Like the Clippers during their current streak, or the Thunder, or the Spurs. Wait. That's all three top seeds. Huh. Fancy that.

Although Darrell Arthur isn't a humongous world-changing part of that Memphis equation, he's certainly not useless. Arthur's an excellent defensive player, to start with -- not exactly Marc Gasol-type world changing, but very good. He does a good job defending the pick and roll, and that was one of his main values in 2011. The Grizzlies were one of the only teams in the NBA that could (at all junctures of the game) put a competent pick-and-roll big man defender on the floor. If you spammed pick and rolls against the 2011 Grizzlies, it didn't really matter how ornate they were or how well-designed they were -- they weren't going to be as effective as they were against virtually any other team in the league. Most teams have one or two good pick and roll defenders. Some teams have zero. The Grizzlies? They had 3 or 4 available in the frontcourt, depending on your view on Zach Randolph's pick and roll defense (I think it's fine, especially next to someone like Gasol or Arthur). When you have a team who can effectively take away the pick and roll and control the game's tempo, it doesn't really matter what adjustments the offensive team makes -- it's going to be impossible to consistently hit 100-110 points against that kind of a defensive unit. That's why this particular Grizzlies team feels so elite, and it's why the 2011 Grizzlies were such a nightmarish matchup for the 2011 Spurs.

Offensively, he's nothing to write home about but he's nothing to scoff at either. Arthur is a decent at-rim big guy, with a few decent moves and a good sense of space on his layup attempts. He's good at the rim, but not so overwhelmingly good that he won't mix it up a bit outside, and that's a good thing, because his best use on this Grizzlies team is to act as a floor-spacing stopgap and can a bunch of long two point baskets. Not bad. Combine the picture and you have exactly what you'd want from a backup big -- a few offensive talents that complement the team well, great defense, and a gritty devotion to the team. "But Aaron," you'd say, quizzically cocking an eyebrow, "That's hardly good enough to greatly improve a team. How does he make the Grizzlies better than last year?" Good question, Time's 2006 Person-of-the-Year! He helps the Grizzlies for exactly the reason San Antonio's regular season depth helps the Spurs. In last year's first round series against the Clippers, Marc Gasol was tired. He was visibly lagging, and dead in the second half of almost every game of the series. Randolph wasn't in great shape, and that was one of the main catalysts of their loss, but to assume it was all on Randolph misunderstands just how important Gasol is to this Grizzlies team.

If Gasol had been a bit less winded from a terribly long season that forced him into far more minutes than he'd ever played in his career, he provides enough defensive resistance to stave off LA's game deciding run in game one. He showed some vintage Gasol brilliance in the fourth quarter of game 6, when the Grizzlies were fighting for their lives -- He proceeded to fall apart in Game 7, an exhausted mess. Arthur's main and primary use for the Grizzlies is simple -- he just needs to help Hollins rest Gasol and Randolph. They don't need to rest much, they simply need to rest. Marc Gasol is not a 36-37 minute-per-game player -- he's a 32-34 minute guy, at least until the playoffs dawn. He simply doesn't have the fitness to play that much more in a single game without balking. Arthur's a better defender than last year's Speights experiment, and he's a better stopgap to fill those minutes without forcing the Grizzlies to change their playbook or give up regular season wins for Gasol's health. So that, in a nutshell, is why Darrell Arthur can help this Grizzlies team. If he can fully return to his 2011 form, he can help Hollins draw Gasol's minutes back as the season goes on, and keep him fresh for the playoffs. And facing down a Memphis team with a fresh Gasol in a playoff situation? That's terrifying. One of the greatest fears of ANY Western contender, for sure.

• • •


_Follow Wilson Chandler on Twitter at __@wilsonchandler.___

Wilson Chandler hasn't been very good lately. In fact, that's probably the nicest way to put it -- in the aftermath of his relatively inauspicious stay across the pond in Hangzhou with the Zhejiang Lions, Chandler has looked about as far from a real NBA talent as he possibly could. Last year he had his surgery-requiring strained hip to contend with. This year? Same problem. During his time battling this injury, how's his game failed him? Let's examine.

  • First, his defense. Chandler was never an excellent defensive presence. He was one of those shot-blocking wings who would sacrifice position and rotation for the good block attempt or the semi-smart steal. But even if you couldn't get behind his exact style, you would never concede him to be a nonentity -- as of late, though? He's been just that. Guys blow by him like he's not even there. Opposing wings salivate, knowing he'll go for the block on nearly every attempt he stays in front of. So if they don't blow by him, it's no real problem -- they just jump into him, throw up a wild shot, and get the call. It's rough to watch.

  • One of Wilson Chandler's primary skills on the court is a solid shooting stroke that had him canning around 35% of his threes in New York and Denver the year of the Carmelo Anthony trade. This is sort of problematic, given that his shot -- outside of that year -- has been relatively shaky. Decent at the long two, awful at the three. But his shot has been absolutely abhorrent ever since he got back from China. Really bad! Just 36.9% from the field, including 5-of-20 from the three point line. Rough times.

  • Finally, the tertiaries -- one of the places Chandler really helped the Knicks in his time with New York was in his assistance on the boards for a team starting Amare Stoudemire and a bunch of scrap metal. He had a relatively low turnover rate his first few seasons and it helped supercharge the Knicks' offense. His rebounding has stayed solid, but his turnover rate has skyrocketed -- he turned it over on almost 20% of his plays last year, and while he settled down a bit in his limited burn this year, it was bad when he first got to Denver too.

"So what's the prognosis, Doc?"

First, James... I'm a statistician, not a doctor. (Even if I play one on Twitter.) Second, nobody really knows. He's been out since mid-November, sidelined with the same hip issue that caused him to get surgery last season. If you erase his anemic play over the past year due to his injury, you've got a mixed picture. He's had one valuable year and a whole lot of flashes outside of that year -- stretches where he looks like an unimpeachable at-rim monster and a lord of dunking artistry, stretches where he looks like a very solid defensive prospect, and stretches where he looks like a pure shooter. His shot-blocking IS very good for a wing, and he's got the sort of athleticism scouts drool over. And that one year he had a three point shot? Gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous combination of skills. But there's an issue. He's 25 years old and he's had one good year -- a year in which he played 33 minutes a night and still had a bit of trouble fitting in after the big trade.

All in all, I'm not 100% sure what everyone sees in him. It's not that he's bad, or that he utterly lacks potential. He certainly doesn't. It's just that he's at an age where he's going to need a relatively big jump and a full recovery from these hip problems to really make it as an impact player in the NBA. His shot looks bad, his defense looks worse, and I'm a bit worried about this sudden spate of turnovers. I'm also a bit worried about the impact his time in China had on his game. In a nice TrueHoop piece, J.A. Adande detailed how the Nuggets felt they were getting an "improved" version of Chandler -- he averaged almost 27 points a night in China, and professed that he learned to be a more vocal teammate. My issue? I'm not sure being a vocal teammate really helps when his overseas tenure seems to have done little more than make him prone to jack up shots with impunity. Indeed, Chandler was "The Guy" in China. He was the one who needed to take all those shots. But he isn't anything remotely close to that in the NBA. If his time in China gave him the idea that he needs to be that kind of a player, he really needs to reevaluate his lessons learned. Or risk a league leaving him behind as his contract grows musty. Off the court, seems like a very nice guy -- I point you directly to the Chandler anecdotes in this great New York Times piece on the NBA's China boondoggle. Taking his team out for kareoke, staying over his winter vacation to keep practicing, et cetera. Lots of great stuff. And I hope he improves such that he can do that all in the NBA too -- just need to see a bit more before I'm all that confident in it, I suppose.

• • •

At the end of each post, I've been scribing riddles for the next group. Whoever gets the most right has gotten a shout out at the end of the next post. On last week's final Friday post, I gave four riddles, representing these three and the player from our next post. They were a bit easier than normal, and as such, more people got them right. This includes: Matt L, Billy Hoyle, wul.f, and Sir Thursday. Good work on the only 4/4 scores ever awarded in this riddle competition, where the prizes were made up and the rules didn't matter.

I'd like to say I've been keeping track of the riddle guesses and that I can now give lifetime scores to those of you who've stuck with me, but that's a level of nerd well beyond even my considerable capabilities. Nevertheless, I'd like to offer some overwhelming thanks to the people who've been guessing for the majority of this feature's duration. I do hope some of you will stick around and keep reading even at the cessation of the capsules, even if we don't have neat guess-worthy features anymore. I might try to implement some sort of ongoing riddle about what I'm writing about next for my next column project, but it'll never be quite the same now, will it?

In any event, thanks to everyone. I get every Gothic Ginobili comment straight to my phone's email inbox, and I can't tell you the number of times I was between meetings at work and started cracking up at a particularly well-humored, ingenious, or off-the-wall guess. Special thanks to a few comment-fiends of explicit notoriety (i.e., those that I can remember off the top of my head at 7:00 AM): Sir Thursday, wul.f, Chilai, Geezer, Matt L, Mike L, the other Matt L, the other Mike L (yes, I looked at the emails, we had 2 of each), Adam Johnson, Dr. No, Mike Munday, Luke, Ian, Atori, Chris, Corn, Brian, Krishnan, Zero20, Der_K, BaronZbimg (I PROMISE I WILL REPLY TO THAT EMAIL SOON), Steven S (I PROMISE I WILL REPLY TO YOURS TOO), and soconnor.

And, finally, inestimable thanks commenter J, whose riddle jokes were often my favorite emails of the day.

Thanks for sticking along with the ride, friends. Appreciate it more than you'll know.

Final capsule drops in about an hour.

• • •

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Player Capsules 2012, #364-366: Tyrus Thomas, Rashard Lewis, D.J. White

Posted on Fri 28 December 2012 in 2012 Player Capsules by Aaron McGuire

As our summer mainstay, Aaron was writing a 370-part series discussing almost every notable player who was -- as of last season -- getting minutes in the NBA. _As the leaves turn frosty, this quixotic quest of a series has happily reached the last full week. Not quite done yet, but close. Today we continue with Tyrus Thomas, Rashard Lewis, and D.J. White._

• • •

Follow Tyrus "T-Time" Thomas on Twitter at @TyrusThomas.

Would you care to sit with me
For a cup of English tea?
Very twee, very me
Any sunny morning

What a pleasure it will be
Chatting so delightfully
Nanny bakes fairy cakes
Every Sunday morning

Miles and miles of English garden, stretching past the willow tree
Lines of hollyhocks and roses listen most attentiv--

OK, OK, I'll stop. I just saw the "T-Time" nickname and frankly couldn't help myself. I'm a fan of tea as a drink, although I haven't had any of late in a late-year push to eradicate caffeine and soda from my diet and get a tad healthier about the chemicals I ingest. Still, I tend to enjoy tea of any type -- green, black, chai, jasmine, whatever. Whenever I see a name like that, I tend to get caught up with myself and start reciting Paul McCartney lyrics. Or, alternatively, I start reciting Ray Davies lyrics. There are so many excellent songs about tea in my record collection, it's really wonderful. Tea works in mysterious ways. So pull up a cup and let's speak a few words about Tyrus "T-Time" Thomas.

Only a few, though. Let's be clear. Anyone here remember when Tyrus Thomas was better than LaMarcus Aldridge? It wasn't all that long ago when the Bulls chose Aldridge second overall and decided to inexplicably flip him for Thomas, making a judgment that Aldridge and Thomas weren't really that far separated. The only other pieces moved in the deal were a 2007 2nd round draft pick and Viktor Khryapa, a player who'd played atrocious basketball in the two seasons prior. It's a rare feat to move down in the draft and extract no other objects of value from the opposing team, one that's actually historically rare -- the only other instance I can think of where a team moved down in the draft without actually acquiring value was in Sacramento's aggressively poor trade to acquire John Salmons and Jimmer Fredette at the expense of a higher draft pick and a valuable backup point guard. Quite uncommon, though. And it made certain that Thomas and Aldridge would be measured against each other, as a team had actively and determinedly made a binary decision between the two. Their fates are intertwined, in that way. Obviously, Aldridge very clearly "won" the contest. And the Bulls lost it, I suppose, when you consider the fact that having Aldridge around would've probably kept them from signing Carlos Boozer in 2010. Live and learn.

As for Thomas... the downward spiral of Thomas' career has been sad to watch, and at this point, even an NBA optimist like myself has to cede that it's rather unlikely he'll ever entirely pull it together. He's simply not a very good NBA player, despite his innumerable physical gifts. His offense is bad, both in the decisions he makes and the base skillset that guides him. He shot a beyond-reason 33% on 15-23 foot long two point shots last year, and somehow took that incomprehensibly low number as carte blanche to put up over half his shots from that range. He doesn't take it to the rim very much, which is probably good, because the results are so often cringe-worthy when he does -- he's notorious for his missed dunks, completely botched layups, and (essentially) hands of stone. If you shoot under 50% at the rim as a big man, you're in a bit of trouble. He's had more turnovers than assists in all but one season in the league, he's one of the worst rebounding big men I've ever seen go to work on the block, and he doesn't even draw free throws to make up for his awful shot selection. Gross. Defensively, he's a bit more useful -- he's an adequate shot blocker and accumulates steals with some level of acuity, and while he floats a bit and doesn't always stick to the scheme, he's certainly not the worst you can do. Still, so long as he's making poor decisions and playing like the worst offensive player in the league, he's not going to be so good on defense that it merits NBA minutes. If Thomas wants to become a legitimate asset on the court, he's going to have to show some manner of restraint on the offensive end going forward, and key improvements in several areas of his game. I'm dubious of his prospects. While he's only 26 years old, the man's been in the league six years now -- he may eventually rediscover his early-career high water marks, but betting on any substantial improvement is a shaky prospect.

• • •

Follow Rashard Lewis by doing completely unnecessary steroids and getting "caught" in the act

I kind of wish this capsule had come a bit earlier. When the Heat signed Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, the general response was that the Heat had improved to nigh-impossibly high levels, and that the Miami offense would improve by leaps and bounds while the defense would stay at top-of-the-league levels with the additions. After all, while Allen certainly isn't in his prime, he was a solid defender just 2 years prior! And Lewis was an important part on a Stan Van Gundy led Orlando defense that made two consecutive conference finals! The positionless revolution was here, the Heat had solved the equation, yadda yadda yadda. So everyone bleated and honked and ranted and raved. How many consecutive titles would the Heat win? Would they score on 9 of every 10 possessions or 8 of every 10 possessions? How could any team cope?

You can isolate the brunt of my thoughts in the Ray Allen capsule, but suffice to say, I wasn't convinced. There were two reasons. One, as outlined in the Allen capsule, was simply age concerns -- Allen is old and balky, and while he's still obviously immensely talented, I was worried he wouldn't come back in quite the form people were expecting, or suffer minor injuries over the course of the season that lessened his contributions dramatically. That hasn't happened yet. But the second reason I was a bit dubious has, and it's the one I was going to focus on in this capsule -- the idea that people were drastically underrating the defensive dropoff from any-other-big-on-the-roster to current-career Rashard Lewis and that even if Allen's offense came around and he rained threes like he was 25 again his defense would remain porous. Up to this point, that view has been justified. The Heat have hardly been the world-beating monstrosity the world's expected, but it hasn't been due to any problems whatsoever of offensive fit -- both Lewis and Allen are having their best offensive seasons in years, and despite the Heat's "struggles" to date, this incarnation of the Miami Heat has been rating out as the best offensive team in franchise history. Really! In fact, Zach Lowe made a prediction before the season that even I thought was ridiculous. He predicted the Heat would have the best offense in the league. They haven't, yet, but they've been #2 with a bullet for most of the season and stand a pretty good chance of improving that number as the year goes on. The Heat offense has actually overperformed my expectations.

But the defense? That's been as bad as I'd expected and worse, and for that, a lot of the blame has to fall squarely on the shoulders of their two big acquisitions, Rashard Lewis and Ray Allen. They simply aren't good defenders at this point in their careers, and with Lewis, you have the concurrent issue that he's completely lost the always-slim rebounding talents he used to have (which gives the opposing team extra possessions to take advantage of Lewis' defense). The Heat defense relies heavily on each player having a good understanding of space and the natural switches the team needs to use in order to make up for the fact that they've never had a strict "rim protecting" big guy. Lewis doesn't really have the athleticism or the defensive instincts to do it. Worse yet, he doesn't seem to care. The Heat's defense becomes a virtual layup line with Lewis in the game, with opposing teams having carte blanche to attack the rim with impunity. Lewis has been a mildly helpful offensive player when he's on the court, but it hasn't mattered in the overall picture -- he's been such an incredible drag on the defensive end (the Heat are 15 points per 100 possessions worse on defense with Lewis on the court) that the Heat would've been better off not signing him at all. It wasn't impossible to see this coming after his dismal defensive years in Washington, but most people simply didn't think about it. Now it's hard to think about all that much else, and Lewis is quickly losing his spot in Spolestra's rotations.

Outside of all that, it's worth noting that I like Rashard Lewis a lot. Every interview I've seen with him implies a very soft-spoken and intelligent NBA player. He's a smart guy with a good attitude on life. I've always enjoyed watching his somewhat awkward-looking shot, and while his defense has frustrated me even since his days in Seattle, the smooth flow to his offensive game has always interested me. He probably should never have gotten a max contract offer from Orlando but given what they got out of it (two conference final appearances, their first win in the finals in franchise history, some fleeting legitimacy) I'm not sure anyone can rag on them too much. He was involved the single most hilarious steroid scandal ever, where he was caught using a steroid he didn't realize was a steroid and wasn't actually giving him any competitive advantage whatsoever. He was also involved in Nike's short lived "Hyperize" ad campaign, a short video where four completely and utterly unrelated players (Mo Williams, Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, and Rashard Lewis) came together to put up one of the most inexplicably entertaining music videos ever. Look at it. I'm of the view that Lewis crushes his verse, here, even though it's against some admittedly weak competition. The special effects are hilarious, even if they went overboard on it, and the whole thing is definitely worth a watch. Wish Rashard Lewis wasn't so poor on the basketball end of the spectrum at this end of the career, but honestly? He's played for 14 years. At this point, most players aren't in the league at all -- it shouldn't really be much of a shock that he's not the man he used to be.

• • •

_Follow D.J. White on Twitter at __@dj_white3.___

D.J. White is sort of underwhelming. Not on a purely objective level, obviously -- he's an NBA-caliber tweener, which means he'd destroy 99.9% of everyone on the face of the earth in a 1-on-1 matchup. That's sort of the understated subtext to everything I (or, frankly, anyone else) writes about the NBA -- yes, we can profess to analyze their games til the cow's come home, but they're still quite a bit better than us. For all the "lord almighty, ____ can't do _____" we're necessarily leaving out the " ... but he CAN do it better than I can" subtext. It's sort of implied. And it's not really necessary -- other than a few internet trolls who love to bring it up at every plausible juncture, most of the people who read articles about basketball understand on a fundamental level that we're talking about the best 0.1% of players in the world. When we say that X or Y is "bad", we aren't saying that on an objective sense, just against the reflection of their peers. I'm mostly just mentioning this because I hate to get overly negative with players who have reached a level of play that's so tantalizingly close to that of the best league in the world, but that particular accomplishment is doomed to be slept on due to the fact that they're still underwhelming from an NBA perspective.

Don't get me wrong, I don't dislike his game on the whole. Especially his scoring game. He's a fantastic finisher at the rim, albeit on limited attempts, and he's one of the better long-range shooting bigs around. Remember in the Channing Frye capsule how I mentioned long range shooters? White doesn't have a three, but he still fits the long-range stereotype to a T. Takes 65% of his shots from beyond 10 feet, and does a very good job of it -- he shot 42% from 10-15 feet last season and 43% from 15-23 feet, which both ranked in the top 25% of all large forwards despite his high usage on those types of shots. It's an inefficient shot, so the numbers look middling-tier, but being able to consistently hit the low 40s on those types of shots as a big guy is great. So that's nice. Unfortunately for White, what makes him underwhelming is every other aspect of his game. His rebounding is anemic, his defense is pitiful, and his passing is gross. He's a player with a clear offensive role, but without the rebounding to back it up, he's a positionless tweener. Indeed, that's his big problem. He plays like a poor-rebounding power forward but he's just far too small for that. He can't make threes, so he's not a good wing player, and his defense is bollocks from any position. Too slow to guard wings, too small to guard bigs. Tweening can be acceptable if you're a good pound-for-pound rebounder, but he's not.

Regardless of his value as a legitimate long-two threat, if he can't produce on defense or find a way to increase his output on the boards, he's going to have trouble sticking in the NBA. White appears to have realized that, and he's gone overseas to play for the Shanghai Sharks until his NBA prospects look a little better. Not sure if he'll be back barring a rebounding vision quest on his overseas tour, but he should be good enough to make a decent chunk of change overseas and stick in their pro leagues for a spell. Fun fact -- the Shanghai Sharks actually have three American players, rolling with Gilbert Arenas, D.J. White, and Elijah Millsap as their three foreign-born friendly-friends. It's also the team Yao owns, which is sort of cool in and of itself. Still. Despite their three NBA-ish talents, the Sharks aren't a very good team -- they're currently 4-10, which has them placed 15th out of the 17 teams in the CBA. They're better than T-Mac's team, but that's about it. The problem is less on White's shoulders than Gilbert's knees -- Arenas was injured less than 6 minutes into his Sharks debut, and as lingering injury troubles sapped his game, he was temporarily deselected from the Sharks' roster to make room for someone who could actually play. White has been putting up absolutely monstrous numbers for the Sharks (21-10 a night in 31 minutes a contest and 56% shooting), but they've just kept losing. Poor D.J.

• • •

At the end of each post, I'll be scribing riddles for the next group. Whoever gets the most right will get a shout out at the end of the next post. Tweet me your answers at @docrostov, or post them in the comments. Realized after the fact that I'd totally flubbed riddle #366 -- D.J. White didn't play one bit for the Spurs in preseason, that was Derrick Brown, who I regularly get confused with White. Alas. Sorry about the flubbed riddle. A few people guessed D.J. for player #1, so I'm going to count that and say that Mike L, wul.f, and Alex got 2/3. Should've known I'd totally mess up a riddle eventually. Today's four (!) riddles, covering Monday's four players.

  • Player #367 has been guessed for something like 10 different riddles. The big guy had to come up eventually, right?

  • Player #368 was the quietest off-season addition by a contender. This is primarily because he was already on the team, and everyone simply forgot he existed.

  • Player #369's career spiral has been tough to watch. He's still in the league, but only nominally -- if he doesn't recoup soon, nobody's going to be shocked if he gets cut back to China.

  • Player #370 is the greatest power forward his franchise has ever known. At least when it comes to hoagies.

Until next time, gents and lasses. It's the end of the capsules as we know it, and I feel fine.

• • •

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Player Capsules 2012, #361-363: Channing Frye, Richard Jefferson, Timofey Mozgov

Posted on Fri 28 December 2012 in 2012 Player Capsules by Aaron McGuire

As our summer mainstay, Aaron was writing a 370-part series discussing almost every notable player who was -- as of last season -- getting minutes in the NBA. __As the leaves turn frosty, this quixotic quest of a series has happily reached the last full week. Not quite done yet, but close. Today we continue with Channing Frye, Richard Jefferson, and Timofey Mozgov.

• • •

Follow Channing Frye on Twitter at @Channing_Frye.

As an NBA center, there tend to be two general offensive paths any individual player can adopt. You can either:

  • Become a post-up monster, demanding all your offense on-the-block or on smart cuts to the rim. Alternatively...

  • Become a "long range" shooter who can make a jump shot from 15-20 feet pull the opposing C out of the paint to free up lanes.

It's quite rare to find a center who effectively does both. Centers who can make long shots tend to get pigeonholed into the type and called on to do it all the time. Centers who can post up with monstrous results don't tend to work their outside game to an extent that it's game-ready. The general reason is rather simple -- the skillsets are quite different, and players who excel at one end of the spectrum very rarely excel on the other end. Posting up well requires skills that disagree with those required for shooting pure jumpshots. With post-ups, you need a fundamental sense of how to contort and alter the minutiae of movement and angle to squeeze in a skin-of-your-teeth roll. With jump shots, you need to do the same thing thousands of times, a developed devotion to muscle memory and an understanding of the different shot you take at each differing angle. They aren't mutually exclusive, but they're close.

Still, of those two general paths, I don't know if I even need to tell you which one Frye embodies. He's the second, and even by the standards of most centers, he's an odd variation on the form. See, centers simply don't make three pointers. Even noted long-range centers -- like Kevin Garnett or Tim Duncan -- tend to be toothless beyond the arc, Duncan's famous make notwithstanding. To shoot an above average percentage from beyond the arc, as a center, you need to shoot 15% from three point territory. That's it. Only three center-designated players shot over 30% from three last season -- Channing Frye, Josh Harrellson, and Boris Diaw. The fact that Frye actually managed to put up not only an above 30% performance but a positively solid one (his EFG% on three point shots was 52%, a brilliant number) was exceedingly impressive. It also begged the question, as Frye's game has begged the question for almost his entire Phoenix tenure -- why don't more teams sign three point shooting centers? Sure, some centers have a long range game, but virtually nobody plays centers who actually make three point shots. Why not?

I've wondered about this for a while, and while watching tape of Frye, I think I figured it out. The offensive style -- while original -- is little more than a poor gimmick when it's applied in an actualized in-game situation, even if the theoretical basis is solid. The reason? First, if you're slender enough to get off a three point shot under any pressure whatsoever without the help of a transcendent offensive structure to get you open (see: Boris Diaw), you probably aren't going to be able to bang in the post with the post-up threats of the league. More importantly, though, players that act as legitimate three point threats from the center position leave themselves almost completely out of the equation for offensive rebounds, and often float too far out on the defensive end as well in hopes of leaking out for a transition three. Offensive rebounds aren't incredibly important to a functioning offense, but you need to at least have the threat of the rebound -- if not, the opposing team tends to find it easier to game plan the boards and increase their defensive rebounding totals. Which puts a rather large burden on the Phoenix offense -- it's as though you know for a fact you're only going to get one shot, so you darn well better make it a good one. The rebounding problems (coupled with the issues when skinny, slender, lanky centers when faced against centers of the first type) make Frye's contributions less than the sum of their parts. Interesting contributions, but less all the same.

As for those contributions on their face? His defense is rather awful, and his offense is a bit one-dimensional -- he can shoot threes and finish off loopy cuts but he can't really do all that much else. No good post moves, startlingly bad at lay-ups, et cetera. A pure jump shooter if there ever was one. And a phenomenally poor rebounding talent, for what it's worth -- among the worst of any big man. On the plus side, he doesn't try to act outside his role all that often, which is good. And as a change-of-pace big guy off the bench, he's got a limited amount of value. A poor man's 2009 Rashard Lewis, if you will. Off the court, he's a nice dude -- he's one of the few players on Tumblr, and while his isn't especially interesting I've grown to like the way he engages with fans on it and humanizes his road back from his heart condition. I really do hope he comes back strong next season -- Frye has never been one of my favorite players, but at some point, you do simply become interested in the whole "three point shooting center" thing. It's original, it's weird, and it's a fun style to watch. As long as you blind yourself to the subpar defense and the rebounding for a little bit. Here's hoping he recoups.

• • •

_Follow Richard Jefferson on Twitter at __@DewNO.___

I'll try to focus this capsule more on the personal side of the ledger than the basketball side, but for the sake of completeness, I'll start with the essence of Jefferson's game. He's the prototypical player whose game looks better the worse his team is. His defense isn't very good (nor has it ever been), but he does put a semblance of effort in. That makes him stand out among players on a poor defensive team only to look increasingly incompetent when put in a situation with good defensive players around him. His offense takes this concept to a whole other level -- Jefferson is one of the rare players whose shooting percentages never got that much worse when you incrementally increased his usage rate, which made him shoot somewhere around the same 45-36-75 range no matter if he was taking 5 shots a night or 20. This tends to lead smart people to assume (as the Spurs did when they first traded for him in 2009) that on decreased usage he'd post markedly more efficient numbers. That wasn't the case, nor has ever really been the case. His primary value as a scorer is in his ability to put up those extra shots without losing much efficiency -- it's hard to really get much added efficiency from Jefferson's game, even when he lowers his usage. Which is why he's currently out of the Warriors rotation not one year removed from starting for a 60 win team. He's relatively durable, but even that comes with some hilarious foibles -- in 2008, during the best season of his career, he ended up missing games because he thumped his chest too hard and tore something. I can't bear to quit you, RJ.

As for the personal sphere, that's where things get sort of interesting. At least to anyone who's talked to Dewey about him. See, Jefferson may not be Alex Dewey's favorite player, but he's Dewey's focus player. He's the case study for nearly everything Dewey writes or thinks about. Most people don't understand why that is, and I've decided to spend this capsule attempting to explain it. The key with understanding Richard Jefferson, for me, is to grasp the fact that he's a fundamentally regular person. He's simply normal. Average. He's a relatively smart guy who isn't too smart, a relatively lucky guy who isn't too lucky, a relatively boring man who isn't too boring. I feel like I've watched billions of hours of Jefferson interviews over the years due to the frequency Dewey and I talk about him -- I haven't, but it certainly feels that way. One ACTUAL interview stands out above the rest. In 2009, Jefferson went on -- of all things! -- the Howard Stern show to explain why exactly he left his fiancee at the alter and backed out on their marriage. I doubt you'll have the time to watch it, simply because it's obscenely long -- it appears as a three part series (1, 2, 3) on YouTube and the combined run time is somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 minutes. Quite a slog. But if you're ever in the market for a single interview that encapsulates the kind of person Jefferson appears to be, you can't do a single one better than the Howard Stern tape.

In the tape, Jefferson explains why it was a poor personal decision to get into the marriage, and explained his thought process behind leaving her at the alter instead of going through with a marriage he wasn't sure about. And you know what? It was compelling, well thought out, and overall wholly reasonable -- most people instinctively balk at the motives and thought process of those who break engagements at the last minute, including me. But he'd clearly thought it through and done his best and made the most of a bad situation. By the end of the interview I'd essentially come to his view on the marriage, despite being ready to tear him apart at the slightest misstep. It was sort of shocking to listen to, given that my only real experience with Jefferson before that interview was from afar. I thought him something of an overrated fraud-star, and by extension I'd assumed him to be a relatively feckless, boring, and unreasonable jerk. Jefferson is none of those things. He's a soft-spoken man with a good head on his shoulders and a strangely advanced sense of context and his place in the world. He's not perfect, and he knows that. He's not some kind of MVP-caliber player, and he knows that too. He's simply Richard Jefferson, and he's come to terms with who he is and found personal happiness. That's beautiful, in some ways -- achieving actualization of the self by setting reasonable personal goals is an ideal we don't tend to get exposed to very often, even though it's by far the most reasonable way to achieve personal happiness.

To summarize, I think it's worth your time to bring up one of the more apt conversations I've had with Dewey regarding RJ. It occurred after the Lakers' tight win over Golden State a few days ago. Unedited:

Alex: so, RJ didn't play a single minute against the lakers
Aaron: welp
Alex: he only played the game before because stephen curry literally fouled out
Alex: the worst part is... he looks really decent whenever he's played. but the warriors are rolling and even if they weren't mark jackson has to develop draymond green and harrison barnes, so RJ has no place in the lineup
Alex: it's like... noooooo
Alex: also he can't be traded
Alex: he is a living contract albatross at this point
Aaron: yeah, that's awful, but it's awful in this very blessed way
Aaron: which is the essence of rj to me. every negative aspect is the result of a better and equal positive aspect
Alex: awesome
Alex: it's awful, and it's also absolutely hilarious for exactly the same reasons.
Alex: "oh, yeah, the warriors are rolling. they're great. the spurs have stephen jackson and kawhi leonard. the bucks are doing well too. even the nets are good for god's sake. arizona's #4, just beat duke a couple years ago. only... RJ can't play. oh, he's not injured, not really. just everything around him got so much better that he's not good enough to play anymore. also he can't complain because that would be a jerk thing to do."
Aaron: "but he's making too much money to be traded, which means his family has too much security for him to waive his contract. "
Alex: yeah, that's the best part. rj could opt-out theoretically. it just makes no sense for him financially

In a nutshell, that's what RJ's made of. Some sad parts, some awful parts, but always in this weirdly blessed way.

Acceptable, regular, decent. Richard Jefferson, everyone. Give him a hand.

• • •

_Follow Timofey Mozgov on Twitter at __@TimofeyMozgov.___

Unfortunately, Timofey Mozgov is not very good. He's not very good in exactly the opposite way most people would expect him to not be good -- most instinctively expect white foreign players to be stiffs on defense and rangy knobs on offense. A proclivity for midrange shots, allergic to the rim, et cetera. Mozgov? He's an at-rim player at the core, taking almost 60% of his shots in the immediate basket area over his entire career. Unfortunately for his teams, he's not very good at those -- his mark of 56% ranks among the lowest-of-the-low for big men, and he's cursed with particularly poor form on his dunks. Most players make 95-100% of their dunk attempts -- over his career, Mozgov's only made about 85%. Rough news. He also has a terrible hook shot that's funny to watch but depressing to contemplate, and he tends to miss about 50% of his layup attempts. Compound all that with his awful jump shot and his completely nonexistent handle (his turnover rate of 20% sounds bad, but it looks even worse when you watch him a bunch) and you have an offensive skillset that's about as far from NBA-ready as you can get.

This isn't to say he's useless, though -- he's stuck around for a reason. Mozgov is a mammoth of a man, and mammoths are useful on defense. He's a solid post defender, with a knack for using his size to keep big guys out of position. Not the BEST pick and roll recovery guy around, but he's not awful and he'll always challenge the shot. Very rare to see Mozgov actively take off a possession, defensively -- this can work to his disadvantage at times because it leads him to appear on the receiving end of quite a few highlight reel dunks, but you should remember that the only reason he's around to get dunked on is that he's trying to provide the most resistance he can. His rebounding isn't very good, but he has one skill beyond his defense that's obscenely useful when correctly utilized. I refer to his off-ball screens, of course! Dear lord, the screens. Mozgov's enormity isn't always helpful, like on times he's slow to get to spot-up shooters or slow to get up and down the court. But when you ask him to stand in the way of a tiny guard or provide the screen to slip up the other team's defensive assignments? The man stands. He's bulky, immobile, and surprisingly dedicated -- often, if you watch his minutes closely, you'll see him set 2-3 successful screens in a single possession.

Given his screen-setting and his general defensive prowess, I'd expect him to stick around a while. His offense is so bad he'll never play more than 15-20 minutes a night, even for a dismal team, but the life of a tertiary player isn't that bad. His ceiling is low and his prospects for serious career enhancement slim, but the D and the screens will be enough to keep him on the minimum. Off the court, the man's pretty funny. I highly recommend checking out some of his quotes from this article. My favorite is the exchange in the end, where he admits he's never heard of Wilt Chamberlain and expresses shock at the idea that Wilt was able to score 100 points, noting that Wilt would've needed "at least" 50 shots to make it happen prior to the three point era. He isn't the greatest English speaker ever, but he's got a touch of that Fesenko English-as-a-second-language charm. It's colloquial and fun. I highly recommend this classic Mozgov blog post, which happened after his semi-famous 23-14 game against Detroit where he busted out and looked (for one night only) like a phenomenal NBA center, on both ends of the court. Nice guy. I certainly hope he sticks around, if only for us to keep getting posts like those two. Or this one, where he discussed who pays when the Nuggets go out to dinner. Can't read enough of the guy's journal. Too much fun. (And special thanks to Alexander Chernykh, the intrepid Russian hoopster who translates his blog posts for the people like me whose Russian is rusty. Fun fact: I used to actually know Russian. I took two years of it in college. Just don't remember enough to read Mozgov's journal entries, evidently.)

• • •

At the end of each post, I'll be scribing riddles for the next group. Whoever gets the most right will get a shout out at the end of the next post. Tweet me your answers at @docrostov, or post them in the comments. Props to Dr. No, our first 3/3 in a while. Come to think of it, he could be the last -- there are only two more chances for readers to register 3/3 guesses. Come one, come all! Guess like your lives depend on it!

  • Player #364 was once compared to LaMarcus Aldridge. Favorably. Times have changed since then, and now he's almost out of the league.

  • Player #365 starred in one of the most inexplicable and hilarious steroid scandals in the history of the league. Also: threes!

  • Player #366 couldn't stick with the Spurs, but he showed some good stuff in the preseason. Here's hoping he makes it back up to the big leagues soon.

Join me later today for a second set. Shocking!

• • •

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Player Capsule (Plus): Anderson Varejao and Smile that Wins

Posted on Thu 27 December 2012 in 2012 Player Capsules by Aaron McGuire

It was as if Nature, planning an Andy, had said to itself: "We will do this thing well. We will not skimp."

Anderson Varejao embodies many things. Effort and energy, heart and hustle, grit and grind. He's traditionally been described as something of a dirty tertiary player -- the most common depiction of Varejao is that of a feckless flopping savant, a play-actor miscast in the sport of basketball. The spitting image of the "European" big man -- floppy, long haired, and oh-so-annoying. Cavaliers fans have traditionally balked at this -- or at least, from personal experience, I have. There's so much more to Varejao than just a few flops. Summarizing his game as such made sense years ago, but things are different -- players change, and Varejao is no exception. The man has completely revolutionized his game over the last few years. The problem I've always had arguing against the idea that he's simply a flopper is that the image is simply very enduring. Fans of opposing teams have certainly seen Varejao flop on a dime before -- everyone has, even his own fans.

It's not that it never happened, it's that he's developed new facets to his game that have eliminated entirely his absolute dependence on the act. He still flops, from time to time, but it's more spice than main course. The garnish atop a multifaceted game, not the game itself. But people's minds are hard to change. Few things are more intransigent than a once-true impression. It's why people maintain friendships with childhood friends they can hardly stand. It's why repenting felons can't get jobs. It's why everyone cautions to make a good first impression. It takes a particularly enduring new image to make wholescale alterations to a now-false impression that was once gospel. And although I've tried for years to come up with a better impression, only yesterday did I finally think of one that's flexible enough to really describe and embody the talents of the big Brazilian.

Anderson Varejao is, above all things, the NBA's smile.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

• • •

As one gets older, they start to lose a bit of connection with their roots. I'm still young -- very young, in fact -- but I've already started to feel some of the inevitable drift of time. Years ago, I could flip through bundles of old drawings and remember exactly where I was when I drew a thing, no matter how droll or meaningless. I could recall exactly what I was feeling, thinking, experiencing. I can't really do that anymore. I can only remember impressions and colors, the broad strokes of life as-it-was. Life's funny that way -- as we remove ourselves more and more from the context that only we knew in the first place, we lose sight of these facts that not a single other being knew with our intimacy. Our personal secrets fade and our connection with our past becomes an echo, a reminder of the booming closeness that we once knew and loved. But there's one thing in life that transcends this. A single action that in one fell swoop brings us back to the best moments of our roots and our fledgling moments.

That single thing, above all else, is the unfettered joy of an uncontrollable grin.

The shortest distance from the cradle to an elder is the involuntary smile. We're trained, in some ways, not to give in -- we try so hard not to! We're too old for that, too serious. We try to quash it. Nope, nope. Not today. Can't be childish, can't experience that sort of incessant and inexplicable giddiness that befits a much younger soul. But the bad joke is just too awful. The coincidence is too funny. The moment is too perfect. And we have to smile. The dread grin spreads across one's face, and in that moment of beaming elation, the mind empties of all its worry and woe. The concerns of the old fade for that single childlike moment, before we counteract the grin and terminate the feeling. We are young again. The connections to our younger selves reemerge, for a fleeting moment, and we're as we once were. A laughing child, unaware of what exactly we're laughing at. Unaware of anything but the fact of the happiness itself.

We naturally stifle the involuntary smiles, the laughter, the joy. Internally deem the acts childish and unbecoming. And I suppose, when you get down to brass tacks, it usually is. But I reject the idea that "childish" is always a bad thing, especially when it comes to this. This hearkens back to one's best moments, the effortless happiness of the young and the innocent. These aren't moments to quash. They're moments to treasure.

• • •

Anderson Varejao plays basketball, but he plays it like a child's game. We tend to call out basketball as a "man's game" -- the phrase being rather inextricably tied to notions of sports as man's ultimate domain. It often has sexist implications, implications that tend to be the only problematic undertone that bear notice. But it also implies something else that's a bit problematic -- the idea that basketball is a grown-up game, far removed from a child's sport. True at times, but I'd argue it isn't necessary. Basketball doesn't need to be an adult's game any more than it needs to be a boy's only club, or any more than golf needs to be a white's only club. A "man's game" is a playstyle, but it's never been_ the only way to play the game. That's an invention. It's like our aversion to uncontrollable laughter or our inherent desire to stifle an involuntary smile -- we don't _need to stifle ourselves, we just feel an obligation to.

We don't need to play basketball like adults, we just feel an obligation to.

Thankfully, Varejao doesn't feel that obligation. His personal filters, insofar as they ever existed at all, are gone. His game embodies a sort of childlike wonder. Most of Varejao's havoc is wrecked on plays that he never was supposed to be involved with in the first place, lunging in from halfcourt to slip between two players and ace a tip-in nobody realized he was looking for. Jumping a passing lane to gum up a possession nobody realized he was paying attention to. Taking a flat-footed 20 foot jump shot that nobody realized he had in his arsenal, then punching himself repeatedly in the head to emphasize how little he thought about it. It's the off-ball movement, the breakneck defense, the floppy hair. And it's almost all done with a smile -- when things are going well, few NBA players spend as much time on the court with a vacant grin as Varejao.

There is little grace in joy alone, but that's partly the point. Anderson Varejao's game is hardly graceful. It's blocky and tentative, flopsy and energetic. But everything he does is wreathed in drops of happiness. There's that ADD tendency of a small child -- he flits from play to play, doing tons of different little things on every other possession. He does it all well, too, regardless of the happiness -- even though he rarely flops anymore, he's still got that actor's joy when he does it. When he shuts down a big man in the post with his pesky in-your-face stylings, he's doing it with a smile and a wink. When he grabs 20 rebounds in a game, he grabs every one of them with this infectious and indescribable enthusiasm. It's hard to be down in the dumps when you watch a good Anderson Varejao game -- the enthusiasm creeps upon you, and shakes you by your scruff with the vigor of a younger man. "Hey! Don't worry!" it says, scuffing your hair. "Life's cool! Things are rad! Now let's play a game, OK?"

Joy is essential. Life's too short for it not to be. Anderson Varejao's game reflects an advanced understanding of that. It's a game above all else -- a serious game, a "man's game", a game with breaks -- but it's a game all the same. And for that, I will never cease to love and enjoy his game. It makes me smile. It makes him smile. He is a smile, personified. And as he gushes with his graceless artistry, I come around. Anderson Varejao isn't a player to quash, flopsy though he may be. Varejao doesn't need to be young to live young. He's a cracker-jack treasure, his style an unyielding echo of youth, bellowed from a canyon and left to peter out in perpetuity as a happy reminder of the days we've left behind.

• • •

• • •

For more capsules on members of the Cleveland Cavaliers, visit the Cavalier Capsule Directory

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Player Capsules 2012, #358-360: Alonzo Gee, Anderson Varejao, James Jones

Posted on Thu 27 December 2012 in 2012 Player Capsules by Aaron McGuire

As our summer mainstay, Aaron was writing a 370-part series discussing almost every notable player who was -- as of last season -- getting minutes in the NBA. As the leaves turn frosty, this quixotic quest of a series has happily reached the last full week. Not quite done yet, but close. Today we continue with Alonzo Gee, Anderson Varejao, and James Jones.

• • •

Follow Alonzo Gee on Twitter at @GeeAlonzo.

Alonzo Gee wasn't an excellent player last year, but he was definitively a rotation guy -- that means a lot, when you're coming from his league background. He went undrafted in his would-be draft (2009's), despite a relatively dismal state of second-round talent and a decently promising stretch played at the University of Alabama. He was picked up as an undrafted free agent by the San Antonio Spurs, who relegated him to their D-League unit (the Austin Toros). Gee acquitted himself well in the minor leagues, averaging 21-7 in 36 games, eventually earning himself a 2010 call-up to the Wizards, followed by a 2011 call-up to the Spurs and a later call-up to the Cavaliers. The main problem with Gee, in his first few stabs at NBA relevance, was a relatively bare skillset. He had decent if not a bit fledgling defense, an exceedingly shaky three point shot, and poor rebounding. That was about it. Until he got the defense ironed out, he didn't really have much of an upside in the league as anything at all -- in the same way any piece of new technology needs a killer app, if Gee hoped to have any staying power, he was going to need to have a skill that really cooked. Finally, after a few years of wandering, he seems to have found that.

For him, it's his defense -- his offense is still relatively dismal, as he's one of the worst finishers in the league among all wing players (a fact that surprises many Cleveland fans, but it's true -- Gee is simply awful at the rim compared to most of the league, finishing on 58% of his at-rim plays, well within the bottom 25% of all wing players) and his long range shot is charitably described as "average at best" (32% from 10-23 feet, 29% from three). His only real offensive skill is that he's a good free throw shooter and he's good at drawing them -- that's legitimately it. He's not a high usage offensive player, and his tertiary stats have never been particularly compelling -- subpar rebounder, atrocious passer (resulting in a sky-high turnover rate given his usage), and few other talents. But his defense is quite decent. Versatile, with the ability to guard players from large point guards to small big men, and a decent sense of spot-up spacing and a general insistence on picking smaller players up full-court. Draws a lot of good steals that way, and puts applies some nice pressure that the player generally doesn't expect. This isn't to say he's a starter in the league, even if he plays one for the Cavaliers -- you didn't really need to be an NBA-level starter to start as a large wing for last year's Cavs, you simply needed to have a pulse. But he's definitely a rotation guy as long as he sticks to his defense, albeit best suited for a role as a bench stopper.

As a somewhat unnecessary aside, I really enjoy how his Twitter handle (@GeeAlonzo) can be read like this colloquial hard luck statement. "Gee, Alonzo, you really messed it up this time!" It's sort of like that one kid from the Magic School Bus who always used to mess everything up (Carlos, for those wondering), except it's actually his name. Just a huge plot twist. If there was an NBA-themed Magic School Bus, Alonzo would necessarily be the Ralphie character. I think Doris Burke would be Ms. Frizzle -- not just because Burke is a wonderful woman, but because her lectures on basketball are by and large the most entertaining and magical of the national announcing crew. She's great. Danny Green would be Ralphie, I think. As for Arnold, who else but JaVale McGee? I was just about to ask why nobody else has ever thought of this before, and then I realized that the venn diagram for people who were both "interested in the Magic School Bus" and "big fans of the NBA" intersects for exactly one individual on the face of the earth: me. Whoops. This still amuses me greatly. "Gee, Alonzo!"

• • •

_Follow Anderson Varejao on Twitter at __@VAREJAOANDERSON.___

I was completely stuck on this one until about 10:30 PM last night. Skip to the capsule if you don't want the backstory -- I think it's kind of funny, so I'm going to share it anyway. I was going to go on a nice date today, and I was quite looking forward to it! But the date got cancelled due to pesky snowstorms happening in and around Maryland and awful driving conditions in her hometown. I was sad last night for two reasons. First, there was the whole "cancellation of the date" thing. I like spending time with her, and that makes my week significantly more boring. I really wasn't THAT sad about it, because we'll obviously see each other eventually, but it was kind of a bummer. The far more pressing sadness came from the fact that I had no idea whatsoever what to write about Anderson Varejao, and I was running out of time. He's absolutely one of my favorite players in the league, and I wanted to write a good paean to his game and style. He's an extended essay kind of player. But I wasn't getting that succinct summary of the way Varejao's game "feels" that's so important to the longform versions of these capsules.

Then I happened to get a message from my date regarding nothing in particular, and I simply couldn't stop smiling. Trust me, I tried. It wasn't a long message, it wasn't super-heartfelt, it was just really adorable for some reason. I try my best to be even keel about everything, but I found myself overcome with this odd giddiness. It was excessive, childish, and absurd. So much so, in fact, that it made me wonder if my mind was trying to tell me something. Sometimes, when I find myself excessively emotional about something completely casual, there's some implicit effort on the part of my head to get me to come to a realization. And then it hit me -- THAT'S the feeling was what I was looking for! That's the hallmark of Anderson Varejao's game. Not the flopping, not the energy, not the freneticism. It's the joy. The unfettered, unadulterated joy with which Anderson Varejao plies his trade.

Today, I try to describe that.

Anderson Varejao embodies many things. Effort and energy, heart and hustle, grit and grind. He's traditionally been described as something of a dirty tertiary player -- the most common depiction of Varejao is that of a feckless flopping savant, a play-actor miscast in the sport of basketball. The spitting image of the "European" big man -- floppy, long haired, and oh-so-annoying. Cavaliers fans have traditionally balked at this -- or at least, from personal experience, I have. There's so much more to Varejao than just a few flops. Summarizing his game as such made sense years ago, but things are different -- players change, and Varejao is no exception. The man has completely revolutionized his game over the last few years. The problem I've always had arguing against the idea that he's simply a flopper is that the image is simply very enduring. Fans of opposing teams have certainly seen Varejao flop on a dime before -- everyone has, even his own fans.

It's not that it never happened, it's that he's developed new facets to his game that have eliminated entirely his absolute dependence on the act. He still flops, from time to time, but it's more spice than main course. The garnish atop a multifaceted game, not the game itself. But people's minds are hard to change. Few things are more intransigent than a once-true impression. It's why people maintain friendships with childhood friends they can hardly stand. It's why repenting felons can't get jobs. It's why everyone cautions to make a good first impression. It takes a particularly enduring new image to make wholescale alterations to a now-false impression that was once gospel. And although I've tried for years to come up with a better impression, only yesterday did I finally think of one that's flexible enough to really describe and embody the talents of the big Brazilian.

Anderson Varejao is, above all things, the NBA's smile.

For more on Anderson Varejao, please visit today's Player Capsule (Plus).

• • •

Follow James Jones by becoming a terminating 3-point gunning robot

James Jones was born in rural Mississippi, forced adrift on the mean streets of Kosciusko. Life was hard, back in the day -- Jones had a single mother, money was tight, and Jones often had to wear dresses made of potato sacks. Children were ruthless, and made fun relentlessly. But Jones persevered. Through the struggles of moving north to Milwaukee, Jones eventually chose to run away from home at the age of 13, living with the biological father who focused Jones' life on education. At the age of 17, Jones attracted the attention of a local radio station, one that eventually offered up a spot doing the news part time. James Jones accepted, which was a sign of the path his life would eventually take. Jones became an anchor, eventually rising to significant popularity and moving upwards from Nashville to Baltimore to Chicago. In Chicago, James Jones developed a productive friendship with Robert Ebert, which eventually blossomed into a contract that produced The James Jones Show. Amazing! From then on, it was money for miles -- Jones' sense of empathy, understanding, and plainspoken folksiness enthralled millions. While the show recently ended (nearly 20 years after it began!), Jones now owns J: The James Jones Network. James Jones is one of the richest people in the world, a billionaire of billionaires, and an inspiring story for all to cling to. You may not like the show, but you can't knock the talent.


Alright, hold up. In case you haven't realized -- yes, I was trying to write a capsule about Oprah. The probably-forgotten reason:

Look, you guys weren't careful. Simple as that. This all could've been avoided.

As for writing about Jones' actual game... because I just spent an obscene amount of time trying to write a capsule about Oprah's actually-absurdly-inspirational life, I'll make this as short as the comprehensive list of James Jones' NBA-caliber skills. Which is pretty short, since that list is exactly one item long. He's a three-point gunning robot. That's the long and short of it. Last year, Jones took 76% of his field goal attempts from three point range. That ranks as the 14th most lopsided 3PA/FGA season of all time, which is relatively absurd. Funny enough, though, he wasn't even top three in the league last year -- of that list's top 15, a startling 10 of them came within the last two years, including four from last year. The list, for the curious:

Note that James Jones' last three seasons all make the top-15 all-time leaderboard, here. He's the specialist to end all specialists. His defense is crummy, his passing is laughable, and he can't finish at the rim to save his life. But he can make threes. Actually, that last fact leads me to another fun James Jones tidbit -- he didn't make an at-rim shot last season. Or this season. Or the season before. In fact, he hasn't made a shot at the rim since the 2009 playoffs. James Jones made a shot at the rim with 3:00 to go in the 3rd quarter of this atrocious game from the worst playoff series in the history of the human race. It may very well end up being the last shot he makes at the rim in his entire NBA career. But let's consider this. When James Jones last made a shot at the rim, Mike Brown was coaching the Cleveland Cavaliers, Obama had been inaugurated exactly 3 months prior, and I was 18 years old. That's... pretty phenomenal, given that he's played 3386 minutes since that basket. James Jones may not have many uses as an NBA player, but let's be fair -- first, he's a really good three point shooter, and at least he doesn't try to go outside his talent. Second? He's apparently an endless well of hilarious NBA trivia. All in all? Thanks, James. Have to honestly say I enjoyed writing this one.

(You too, Oprah.)

• • •

At the end of each post, I'll be scribing riddles for the next group. Whoever gets the most right will get a shout out at the end of the next post. Tweet me your answers at @docrostov, or post them in the comments. Good work to wul.f, for his 2/3 guess. Down to the final 10. Times they are a'changing.

  • Player #361 is one of the few players with an actively updated Tumblr page. This may be because he's out injured for the year, tho.

  • Player #362 is Alex Dewey's muse. Avid Gothic Ginobili readers should have no trouble figuring this one out.

  • Player #363 is Russia's most terrifyi--... OK, no, he's not terrifying. He's adorable and confusing. Love you, Player #363.

Happy Thursday, everyone.

• • •

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Player Capsules 2012, #355-357: Rasheed Wallace, Zach Randolph, Marcin Gortat

Posted on Wed 26 December 2012 in 2012 Player Capsules by Aaron McGuire

As our summer mainstay, Aaron was writing a 370-part series discussing almost every notable player who was -- as of last season -- getting minutes in the NBA. As the leaves turn frosty, this quixotic quest of a series has happily reached the last full week. Not quite done yet, but close. Today we continue with Rasheed Wallace, Zach Randolph, and Marcin Gortat.

• • •

Follow Rasheed Wallace by yelling "BALL DON'T LIE!" at your next office potluck.

“You know, I say what’s on my mind, speaking my freedom, and I get fined for it. It’s a catch-22 with that (expletive), man. See, they think they can control people with money. Everybody don’t live like that.”

Did Rasheed Wallace care?

When you examine Wallace's game, you find a man whose talents were generational. He had the opportunity at several junctures to be one of the greatest to ever play the game. And don't scoff -- it's true. Rasheed's combination of post dominance, defensive acuity, and outside game were absolutely unfair. He was one of about 3 post defenders in the past decade who could cover Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan one-on-one. When he locked in, he was an excellent rotating defender. He could reign in his errant shooting in a tense playoff situation, and when he actually focused on taking it down low, he was excellent. His only flaws were those of effort -- he never quite seemed to care exactly as much in the regular season as he did in the playoffs, and even in the playoffs, there was a certain devil-may-care attitude that permeated his game and demeanor to the point of sabotaging his public persona. At least to some extent.

There's a reason fans of Portland's Jail Blazer era generally don't love Rasheed as much as everyone else does, and it's certainly not baseless racism. As good as Rasheed Wallace was in his prime, there's this lingering sense that he could've been quite a bit better. It's the same sense people get when they look at Shaquille O'Neal and wonder on how good he could've been if he hadn't eschewed practice and come in out-of-shape every other season, or the same sense people in Toronto get when they look at a player like Hedo Turkoglu or Vince Carter. The allure of unearthed brilliance is great -- there's a deep disappointment to be had when you see a level of play within a player's grasp that they never cared to reach. There's a sad, hollow death knell to a career riddled with those kinds of questions. All careers have a few things the player never finished -- few careers have quite as many unanswered questions as Rasheed or Shaq, and as such, they inspire our lament. But it's a compelling lament. It's one that makes you think, and makes you wonder why exactly he turned out that way. Did he simply not care?

When I examine his personal bent, though, I come to a different conclusion. He cared. Rasheed Wallace is a cult phenomenon for a reason, and it isn't his dominant generational talents. It's the way he composed himself, and specifically, the philosophy behind it. The classic conception is that Rasheed Wallace never cared what you or anyone else thought of him -- on the contrary, I propose he cared a lot. He simply didn't care how you thought of him. He simply cared that he was thought of at all. He cared that he'd be remembered for his larger-than-life personality, no matter what that meant exactly to his reputation. Rasheed Wallace, when all's said and done, didn't want to be Kevin Garnett. He didn't want to be Tim Duncan, Hakeem Olajuwon, or Moses Malone. He wanted his imprint on the league to be distinctly Rasheed-shaped, Pilsbury style. Yes, he could've worked harder and gotten into shape and demanded the ball more. He could've been a better player, certainly. But Rasheed Wallace got his ring. He was the best (or second best) player on years and years of great teams. And you know what? That's enough.

When you're an enigma, a riddle, and a man who simply wants to be remembered on his own merits, you don't need any other validation from a basketball perspective. You simply need the one thing your basketball skills can't give you -- a platform for ideas. They don't need to be good ones, they don't need to be philosophically consistent, and they don't need to be well presented. You don't need to enact change, either. I profess that Rasheed Wallace -- more than basketball, more than any particular ideology, more than anything -- simply cared about impressions. Not what they were, but simply the object of making them. Everyone has an opinion about Rasheed Wallace, and he's left us reels and reels of cult-strengthening tapes and hilarious truth-to-power antics. He inspires essays in honor of his greatness and essays in honor of his laziness. He's succeeded in the primary thing Rasheed Wallace really wanted to do in the first place -- he's furrowed his way into the NBA's sands of time. Not as a good player, not as a star, not as a generational lightning rod.

He'll be remembered as the very first (and very last) Rasheed Wallace. That's all he ever needed to be.

• • •

_Follow Zach Randolph on Twitter at __@MacBo50.___

"You don't look bad on nobody because somebody went to the penitentiary or somebody did this. You treat everybody the same because everybody's got skeletons. Some people just hide them more. Some don't get brought to the light, but ain't nobody perfect. Nobody." -- Zach Randolph, 2012

Although his numbers last year don't show it due to his injuries, Zach Randolph is a really good player. Reminds me -- in a lot of odd ways -- of Karl Malone. He's an exceedingly good scorer when he has a hot night, with seemingly infinite range and this eldritch sense of inevitability. Of course Randolph would hit that three. Of course he'll can the fadeaway with two men on him. Of course he'll get the key rebound. The same was always true of Malone -- even when he'd take an absolutely terrible shot or try to go one-on-four in the post, it always seemed to work out for the best. He'd make do. There's a reason Malone averaged 22 points a night at the age of 38. You could make him take terrible shots all you wanted -- it didn't matter, he'd still can enough of them to scuttle your team. Ever since his Memphis renaissance, Randolph has had that same sort of feeling -- he may ballhog at times and he may slow down the offense, but in the end, you're usually comfortable with whatever the hell awful shot he puts up. Because by and large, he'll make enough of them to make you feel that way.

The thing Randolph's current incarnation has that Karl never quite embodied? A thirst for the boards unlike few who've ever played the game. In Memphis, Randolph's averaged a rebounding percentage of 19% -- that's obscenely high for a four year average. Consider that in Malone's career, he never had a single year above 17.4%! They filled different roles, but per-possession, it's inarguable that Randolph is a better rebounder than Malone. And it's also inarguable that Randolph's nowhere near as good of a scorer as Malone, even if their scoring feels similar to me -- in his Memphis years, Randolph's put up a usage percentage of 24.3%. Malone posted only two years below that usage percentage -- his rookie year and his final year, the bookends of his career. Malone took a far more active role in the Utah offense than Randolph has ever taken in the Memphis offense, and he maintained higher efficiency. Despite relying heavily on a long range shot that always looked to be teetering on the edge of "completely broken" (especially in his waning years), Malone was one of the most effective scorers of all time. Randolph certainly isn't that. But again -- it's a matter of feeling. It's a matter of reflections and shades. The way Randolph scores elicits shades of Karl Malone. The craftiness, the cheekiness, the smooth and subtle dominance.

The other big differentiator between Malone and Randolph? Prior to Memphis, Randolph was known (perhaps unfairly) as something of a basketball menace -- a ballhogging jerk who'd gun for numbers and mess up locker rooms with the people who'd surround him. He was dumped from Portland to New York for almost nothing, then dumped from New York to Los Angeles and Los Angeles to Memphis for virtually nothing. Nobody wanted him -- they wanted the numbers he'd give, sure. But they didn't want the other stuff. The ties to his spotted past, the disinterest on defense, the ball-dominating and the overshooting. They just wanted him to settle down a bit, get comfortable with the team and the city, and really contribute. Put his heft behind the game. He couldn't ever find that balance in Portland, and he certainly couldn't achieve it in New York or Los Angeles. But in Memphis, he finally did. He reached that internal balance that turned the ballhog into a great. The one that Malone found in Utah, and the one that allowed him to finally free himself and emerge into the player he'd always threatened he could be. A star, if only just.

Zach Randolph is a good player. Maybe he's a good person, too. Or maybe he's a bad person -- he hangs around with the wrong crowd, for sure, and when he was younger he put quite a bit of heft into a lifestyle that he now admits wasn't the best. But it doesn't really matter, in the end -- just look, once again, at good ol' Karl Malone. Malone will always be remembered as one of the best power forwards to ever play the game, regardless of his personal sins. Like abandoning children, impregnating 13-year-olds, or baselessly slamming Magic Johnson for returning to the game with HIV. Just because he was a upstanding Christian soldier doesn't make his sins any less pressing than Randolph's -- we judge his game on its own merits because the game is all we really have to judge him on. We're sports analysts and fans, not person fans. When it all comes down to it, the people Randolph breaks bread with and the past he's begun to abandon means as much as we want it to -- and we shouldn't really want it to mean anything. If we can't bring ourselves to care about Malone's past, there's hardly any reason for us to bother with Randolph's. Malone's a great player because that's how he played the game -- and for Randolph, the sweet embrace of his late career renaissance may be enough for us to view him kindly.

Unless you're a Portland fan. Isn't it funny that he and Sheed were placed beside each other?

• • •

_Follow Marcin Gortat on Twitter at __@MGortat.___

Marcin Gortat's an interesting nut to crack. I'll get to his off-court antics later -- they need further examination. But his on-court ones? He's a really good player, all things considered, and one of the more slept on quasi-stars in the western conference. First, a statement that goes contrary to most people's conventional wisdom -- we don't live in a league with any real dearth of quality big men. Some people highlight Gortat in a fundamentally insulting way, snidely proclaiming him a decent center but noting as well that his quality as a center "doesn't mean much" in the "modern" NBA, given that he's up against such dismal competition. That's not really true. The NBA's quietly underwent something of a renaissance from the frontcourt down, and I'd argue that the league has reached a new state with fewer quality wings than it has quality bigs. Lots of good point guards, lots of good bigs, but an absolute scarcity of good wings. You may not believe me offhand, and that's OK. But let's take a look at the top 10-15 big men in the NBA, in no particular order, separated by their general career status.

  • The Old Standards -- Players who remain phenomenal top-tier big men despite being well past their golden years. (Includes: Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett.)

  • The Prime Ribs -- Players who are top-tier big men in the primes of their career. (Includes: Dwight Howard, Anderson Varejao, Marcin Gortat, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Al Horford, LaMarcus Aldridge, Chris Bosh, Tyson Chandler, Marc Gasol, David West)

  • The Sub-prime Crises -- Players who are top-tier big men but are a bit short of their inevitable primes. (Includes: Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, Brook Lopez, Serge Ibaka, DeAndre Jordan, Omer Asik, Anthony Davis, Roy Hibbert, DeMarcus Cousins, Greg Monroe, Ryan Anderson)

  • The Wildcards -- Players who are top-tier big men when circumstances are right, but who aren't quite there right now due to Reasons. (Includes: Andrew Bogut, Andrew Bynum)

I'll count those up for you. That's three immensely high-quality old standards, eleven extremely solid big men in the prime of their careers, eleven big men who've yet to reach their primes who are already very good, and two injury-related wildcards that are as good as anybody when they're healthy. That's 27 players, enough for almost every team in the league to have an extremely good big man. And this doesn't even get into a few of the fringe cases, like Andrea Bargnani, David Lee, and Pau Gasol. There's hardly a dearth of quality big men in the league, there's simply a dearth of recognition for the big men we have now. These players are good. NBA bigs don't get more than two or three games "off" in any given year -- there are vicious scorers from everywhere, and given hand-check rules, they now have more responsibility to guard pick and roll plays and dives to the rim. It's tough, but these guys persevere and prosper. The NBA's modern big doesn't look exactly like they used to, but that certainly doesn't mean they're bad, or that the league is in some crisis of absent bigs.

As for Gortat? Again, he's really good. He's a solid individual defender who has a talent for showing on the pick and roll and containing the action, and he learned a heck of a lot more from Dwight Howard than most people realize. A bit thin in the post, so post-up centers can spell his demise, but he's not bad. He supplements his decent defense with a highly effective post-up game, with a nice 4-8 foot hook and a knack for creatively getting open for under-the-rim layups. One other huge positive for Gortat that rarely gets mentioned is his aversion to turnovers -- the man posted the 3rd lowest turnover ratio among centers last year, and anyone who watches Dwight Howard in the post would understand how important that is when you're a center who wants to be a primary offensive threat. He supplements all of that with a solid long-shot. No three pointers, mind you, but his range extends to about 20 feet and he's got enough mobility that opposing centers need to come out on him, which helps the Suns put together plays where they draw the defense out effectively even with Nash gone. He's not the best at any of this -- there are better post-up centers, better defensive centers, and better midrange shooters. But he's extremely good at all these things, and as an overall package, Gortat represents one of the best centers the league has to offer.

Off the court, Gortat is hilarious in a lot of ways. He's responsible for the song that's (for my money) the most hilarious NBA-related rap ever, this Polish sojourn to Gortat's "story". He drives the most ostentatiously hilarious car I've ever seen (see above), although I'd also caution that I'm 90% sure that automobile would be against several billion car regulations in the united states. Also, he isn't wearing his seat belt, which is curiously poor conduct as a role model to millions of 7'0" tall Polish children everywhere. Great smile though. He can also sing Bon Jovi, although he probably should stick to basketball. I'd like to see a mix tape with Redick and Gortat -- have a feeling that'd be classic. No, I like Gortat's off-court personal quirks a lot. He's funny and his antics make me smile. But I can't lie and say it's all roses -- I'm starting to get legitimately concerned about Gortat's comically poor grasp of how to compose himself around the media. Our Polish correspondent Adam Koscielak has always pointed out that his devil-may-care media attitude is endemic to the Polish spirit. I'm open to that as a fact, but at some point it's also a bit ridiculous -- there's absolutely no reason for Gortat to be spilling the sorts of comments he did a few weeks back.

Worst part? This isn't anything new for him. Don't call it a comeback -- he's been doing this for years. Proof, in case you've forgotten, lies here. That was soon after he was traded to Phoenix, where he essentially called his teammates lazy slobs and slammed his own team as the "worst defensive team in the league" straight out of nowhere. Hate to break it to Gortat, but teams have bad nights. They weren't a wonderful defensive team, but they certainly weren't as bad as he was saying. Eviscerating your compadres gets old after a while, and I have no idea how his teammates put up with him if this is at all representative of how he acquits himself in the locker room. Polish spirit or not, there's a point where you're simply being an offensive jerk with no regard for the people around you. Gortat clearly has some trouble staying away from that point, and until he deals with it, he's going to have trouble getting the playing time his production implies he deserves. Learning to build working relationships with the people around you is part of any job. If you can't do that without blasting everyone you interact with, you don't really have much of a leg to stand on when you complain about not getting a chance to prove yourself. No matter how good you really are.

• • •

At the end of each post, I'll be scribing riddles for the next group. Whoever gets the most right will get a shout out at the end of the next post. Tweet me your answers at @docrostov, or post them in the comments. Only one guess yesterday, from A. Luckily it was a 2/3 guess. Good work, A.

  • Player #358 is a reclamation project that actually got reclaimed. By a team that isn't in Texas, too! Imagine that. Tomorrow, you won't have to.

  • Player #359 is the most underrated semi-star in the NBA. He's on a brilliant value contract and he's one of the best 3 players at his position. And nobody seems to notice. Player Capsule Plus, maybe.

  • Player #360 took more threes than twos last season. In fact, a LOT more.

Happy boxing day, folks. I'm wearing a bathrobe to work.

• • •

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Player Capsules 2012, #352-354: Hedo Turkoglu, Francisco Garcia, D.J. Augustin

Posted on Tue 25 December 2012 in 2012 Player Capsules by Aaron McGuire

As our summer mainstay, Aaron was writing a 370-part series discussing almost every notable player who was -- as of last season -- getting minutes in the NBA. As the leaves turn frosty, this quixotic quest of a series has happily reached the last full week. Not quite done yet, but close. Today we continue with Hedo Turkoglu, Francisco Garcia, and D.J. Augustin.

• • •

Follow Hedo Turkoglu on Twitter at @TasMelas.

There are many mysteries in the world. For a race that's traversed the moon and sent probes beyond our galactic borders, it's both startling and unnerving that we've fallen so short in investigating the Mariana Trench. We have quite literally no idea what goes on in the absolute depths of the ocean, nor do we have the slightest clue how to model and predict things as close to the grain as the movement of our tectonic plates. We fathom them, but we don't truly understand whether or not tetraquarks and pentaquarks can truly exist. We've built monuments to honor acts of dubious greatness without ever acknowledging the undercurrents that brought together the great men and women to produce the act itself. We do not solve every murder. We do not understand something so fundamental and key to the person as the human brain -- nor do we understand, insofar as we even accept it at all, the concept of a soul. Mysteries, mysteries, mysteries. They challenge and quarrel. They wheeze and they whisper. They flit back and forth in our vision, the answers tantalizingly close but so dreadfully far to task. In the NBA, too, there are mysteries. Confusing idiosyncrasies we'll never quite grasp. One, given today's subject, rings above all others. At least for this guy.

Why on Earth have we all forgiven Hedo Turkoglu?

Perhaps my assessment is wrong on its face. That's quite possible. I don't know a ton of Raptors fans, and the Suns fans I do know don't tend to care much about the little microcosm moves like Turkoglu's acquisition. But for a sport that tends to treat with ill repute players that blow off their franchise and squander their new contract, something about Turkoglu's general avoidance of blame in the mainstream media bugs me. He's Hedo Turkoglu -- the wacky, fun-loving Turkish schlub with a penchant for silly chatter and fun in-game passes. But he's also Hedo Turkoglu -- the complete jerk who completely blew off a Toronto team that broke the bank to sign him, forced a trade out of Toronto, then proceeded to play arguably the worst ball of his life next to Steve Nash eventually necessitating yet another pennies-on-the-dollar trade. To say that he's played poor basketball since signing his $52.8 million dollar contract is to understate it. You know how everyone has that devil-may-care uncle that tells stupid jokes and gets on everyone's good side anyway? Hedo's been compared with that. His play could also be compared with what would happen if you took said uncle -- with no training, preparation, or exercise -- and told him to play in the NBA. It'd be a bloodbath. Much like Hedo's last three years.

And again, I remind you -- this is on a $52.8 million dollar contract! He did a good job with Stan Van Gundy in Orlando, and he was a big asset on those late-aughts Magic teams that were stronger contenders than most people ever accepted. But he's just completely wilted since getting his new contract, and not only has he wilted, he's harmed locker rooms and dismissed team requests and orders like there's no tomorrow. He's taken games off for "illness" and gone clubbing seconds after the game ends. He was brought to Toronto in hopes of inspiring Bosh to stay as a brilliant second banana. He instead was one of the main reasons Bosh simply had to leave. Has he had injury troubles? Sure, a bit. But nothing really excuses his conduct in Toronto, which was unprofessional and tawdry at best. And nothing really excuses the fact that his awful contract messed up Toronto's books and ruined their chances of keeping Bosh, nearly ruined Phoenix (until they were able to snag Gortat out of his wreckage, which was a pretty big coup on their part), and continues to put a stranglehold on Orlando's books.

It'd be one thing if he actually looked like he cared at all. He doesn't. So why exactly do we just give him carte blanche? Is it his love of pizza, a love I admit to sharing? Is it an internal desire to be like Turkoglu -- a millionaire making obscene amounts of money who pays no heed to tact or convention? Do we all just want to be Hedo on the inside, chowing down on pizza and partying for rehab? I don't get it. He's obviously a talented guy, and he's quite a smart player. In his prime, he played a key role on several really good teams. But the way he's conducted his personal affairs in the last three years has been awful to the point of dark comedy, and as a commentariat, we probably shouldn't be quite so willing to look past that just because of a few wacky Youtube clips and a likeable exterior. I'm not, at least.

... also, unrelated note. Why on Earth is Ilyasova doing the same thing?

• • •

_Follow Francisco Garcia on Twitter at __@cisco32.___

Francisco Garcia's game doesn't really deserve a capsule. He's extremely frustrating to watch. Give him his excuses, if you want -- he's still something of a disappointment, even if you accept that his career has probably ended a bit prematurely on account of his exploding exercise ball injury (real thing, please click that, it's hilarious). His shot hasn't been falling in what seems like 4 or 5 years. He's been a three point sniper without a scope. A rudderless assassin that can't bring himself to kill a fly. His only real offensive talent, as of late, has been his free throw shooting -- he's made his free throws, although he virtually never drew them, so the whole ordeal was sort of damning with faint praise. He's still played 16 minutes a night on account of the Kings' horrific depth, but he's been depressingly washed up for a few years now. He looked like he'd be much more early in his career, and it's sad that he never quite made it.

The reason I bring him up at all is that he's simply a really good leader, and there isn't enough around-the-league appreciation for the impact a legitimately good leader can have on an NBA team. As bad as his game's been the last few years, he's been sterling -- he wasn't named Team Captain this year, but if I'm remembering right, he spent 3 years in a row as one of the Sacramento captains despite his flagging play. He's an actual, legitimate locker room leader. He was the first player to return to the Kings' practice facility when the lockout ended. He's been known to give advice to younger players and has been instrumental in pulling Tyreke back from the unnamed problems he dealt with during his dreadful sophomore season. He's made a huge mark on this Kings team, and not in a negative way at all -- he's been arguably the only real light in the darkness on a personal level for a group that's been dismal and out of sorts for far too long. Kings fans will be sad to see him go, regardless of how poorly he's played. Because he's simply valuable.He's a good guy. And he's helped keep a modicum of stability in one of the roughest locker rooms in the league, at least right now.

There's another reason, too. I've gone over ten Kings players in this series. They've run a wide gamut of quality -- solid players like Cousins, dismal players like Salmons, curious players like Evans. But one of the main goals in this series is to try and find things to appreciate about players and teams that most people don't know about. With the Kings as low-down as they are right now, that's more important than ever, and it certainly applies on a franchise-wide level as well. Francisco Garcia isn't a phenomenal player, and his rampant three-point chucking isn't going to win him any awards for entertainment value. But he's one of the league's biggest examples of the fact that you don't need to be a good player to be a role model. You don't need to be a big name to help calm an errant locker room, nor do you need to do everything right to find your real value. He's found his calling. Not as a player, obviously, but as an assistant coach and a locker room guru? It's hard to do much better. And as incompetent as people think the Kings may be, that doesn't mean everyone in their locker room is incompetent, nor does it mean it couldn't be worse without guys like Garcia to reel in everyone's worst tendencies.

So, yes. Garcia deserves a capsule. He deserves your respect, too. If you can believe it.

• • •

Follow D.J. Augustin's season if you would like to cringe.

You know that one movie? You've seen it, I'm sure. I can't seem to recall the name, but I know you've seen it. It's about this group of unsuspecting poorly-acted teenagers who amble off to do some in-retrospect-stupid but normally innocuous thing together. The group enters into an unwitting bond with some unknown phantasm that proceeds to make their lives -- what's left of them -- alternatingly miserable and horrifying for the duration of the film, culminating in the untimely demise of each and every one of them. There's some weird equivocation about morals that doesn't fit the movie at all and some odd stabs at relevance beyond the grotesque -- it's in your best interest not to heed these. It's a slasher flick. It doesn't do "meaning". Oh, I remember what it's called. I'll go with Any B-List Horror Movie Ever for $1,000, Alex. It's a tried-and-true formula, one that makes a predictable amount of profit on an exceedingly low budget. It's dirty. It's corny. It's unmemorable. But it's entertaining, at least in small doses, and it preys on the bases instincts of the moviegoer to make a quick buck. Quite reflective of the industry that produces them.

The reason I bring it up at all is simple. I've become convinced the only possible way to understand D.J. Augustin's 2013 season is to assume that he's an internalized version of a B-List horror film. Because that's exactly how bad it's been. To frame it in the same way I wrote above: the Augustin Horror Story starts when this collected group of unsuspecting basketball talents amble off to change their scenery and join the Indiana Pacers, with expectations low. In retrospect, maybe he should've stuck in Charlotte. But he didn't know that at the time. But Augustin and his group of merry talents made a mistake. They made a deal with some ghastly off-screen ghoul, somewhere in there -- the second he reaches Indiana, he starts to notice things missing. The handle he once had is shaky and unreliable, found victim of a chance heart attack. His shooting talents are found, but unfortunately, they're dead in a ditch. Shot 20 times and carved in twine. Yikes. His defense was found hanging from a bannister, riddled with stab wounds. And his demeanor? They haven't even found the body for that one yet.

Look, I'm not a huge fan of Augustin's, so the amount I care about his struggles is relatively slim. In a vacuum. But my God has he been bad. The horror movie thing is only the slightest of exaggerations. Augustin has shot -- I kid you not -- 27% from the floor this year. Couple this with 22% from three and you begin to see the outlines of the problem. His assist rate has been middling (and roughly the only part of his game that's even that), but his turnovers are up and his rebounding is down. His defense -- never very good -- is even more obvious in the Indiana scheme when he steps in for George Hill. He's never been a phenomenal player, but he's certainly never been an abysmal one either. Until now. The only way to properly contextualize and understand his season is to understand him as a horror film, because that's frankly the only way I can make any sense whatsoever out of it. It's this bloody, nasty slasher that you can't stop watching because the train wreck simply gets so all-encompassing. You can't bear to look away.

I mean, cripes -- the man's a career 36% three point shooter, and was a career 37% three point shooter until this season. He averaged 41% from the floor and 88% from the line. He simply has completely lost his ability to shoot, and none of his shots look like they'll even hit rim. He can't seem to run any of Vogel's sets successfully, he doesn't seem to have any idea what he's doing out there, and his demeanor is so negative and tawdry you can't imagine ANY team wanting to put up a flyer on him after this pitiful performance. That's the other thing. Augustin is 25 years old this season -- he just turned 25 in November. He's not exactly Jrue Holiday, but the boy's not old -- he's a young player who just signed a one-year contract in an effort to earn a larger extension when he was out of the Charlotte grind. Instead, he may have played his way entirely out of the league -- he's averaging 12 minutes a night and he probably won't get a whole lot more. Over his last 7 games, in fact, he's averaging just 10. I'd like to have some kind of moral or connective close that sheds light on why this happened, or makes some highly insightful comment about Augustin's struggles. But I've got nothing. Because in the end, it's a slasher film with no coherent moral, rhyme, or reason. And pretending it means anything more is a disrespect to the basketball talent lost to the dread seas.

• • •

At the end of each post, I'll be scribing riddles for the next group. Whoever gets the most right will get a shout out at the end of the next post. Tweet me your answers at @docrostov, or post them in the comments. In-deed -- updates on Christmas AND Christmas Eve! Next thing you know, I'll be telling you I might put up another update later! ... Wait, actually, I am planning on doing that. Dunno if I'll succeed, but we'll see.

  • Player #355 has a cult, basically. If you don't like him, most people on Basketball Twitter will despise you. I'm not his biggest fan, but I can appreciate him from time to time.

  • Player #356 has a spotted past, a confusing present, and an uncertain future. But right now he's the 2nd best player on one of the best team's in the league. So I suppose we can ignore it, for a time.

  • Player #357 likes saying stupid things to reporters when he thinks other people aren't listening. News flash, man -- word's global now. Catch up.

Adieu. And have a wonderful Christmas.

• • •

Continue reading

Player Capsules 2012, #349-351: Tiago Splitter, Gerald Wallace, MarShon Brooks

Posted on Mon 24 December 2012 in 2012 Player Capsules by Aaron McGuire

As our summer mainstay, Aaron was writing a 370-part series discussing almost every notable player who was -- as of last season -- getting minutes in the NBA. __As the leaves turn frosty, this quixotic quest of a series has happily reached the last full week. Not quite done yet, but close. Today we continue with Tiago Splitter, Gerald Wallace, and MarShon Brooks.

• • •

Follow Tiago Splitter on Twitter at @tiagosplitter .

Tiago Splitter isn't what he was supposed to be.

I know, I know. Not really fair to burden a player with expectations they neither asked for or sought out. This isn't some LeBron-level "Decision" scenario, here. Splitter barely even hyped himself up at all -- he was (and to some extent remains) a young, wide-eyed kid who's been utterly elated to learn the NBA ropes from Tim Duncan and elated to help his team. But on some level, what really is fandom beyond unreasonable expectations for people you don't really know to accomplish things they never really could? The Bobcats fan who's disappointed that the Bobcats aren't making the playoffs. The Mavericks fan who's disappointed the Mavs couldn't repeat as champions. The Lakers fan who's annoyed that Kobe hasn't passed Jordan yet. It's the connections you build, sure. But it's also the unreasonable expectations you levy on those you profess to root for. The slow-drip dissatisfaction as you seethe over players who've never quite panned out the way you hoped. That's an important and often understated part of being a fan. He was to be the next-generation Duncan, the next star big man in the San Antonio legend. He hasn't been. Why?

Main problem is this -- while he's not soft, he simply isn't a great defender on an NBA level. His first season showed flashes of defensive promise, but he hasn't totally lived up to that. Yet. Splitter has decent instincts, but he's never been able to put on the strength to body-up big men in the post to any real success. His height should make him decent at guarding shooters (in theory) but his lack of speed makes him slow to recover onto the long shots he tries to guard, which makes centers like Pau Gasol quite deadly whenever Tiago has to cover them. His mobility on the pick and roll is atrocious -- he simply doesn't have the lateral mobility to make the decision fast enough, and usually just ends up half-lunging for the roll man without really putting up any resistance to the shot attempt, but putting himself just close enough for the player to jump into him and draw a ticky-tack foul. It's excruciating to watch, and by far one of the most annoying tics that this current Spurs team has to rely on. Tiago Splitter isn't an awful defender -- as I said, he has decent instincts and he can make some good plays on switches, if you give him the chance. He also doesn't go for superfluous blocks, which will help him later in his career if he ever gets any actual respect from the NBA officials, as he'll avoid the sorts of dumb fouls that take most players out of the game. And if he could move just a tiny bit quicker on defense, you get the sense he'd be beastly -- he was an excellent defender in the Euroleague, where you didn't need to have that extra half-step to close space against the faster, more athletic beasts that call the NBA home. Unfortunately, you need that half-step in the NBA. And Splitter doesn't really have it.

As for his offense, that's not really the problem. Although there are a few issues. On a personal level, exogenous to his fit on the team, he's a phenomenal offensive player. He has an excellent nose for the rim, sneaking within holes in the defense I can barely comprehend to get easy at-rim layups most players wouldn't realize they had. His two-man roll game with Manu Ginobili has always been phenomenal, and out of all the offensive talents of any Spurs players on the bench, none are quite as dependable as Splitter's ability to create relatively open shots on-the-move at the rim. One wonders if Memphis will defend it quite as well as they did in 2011 if they meet up again in the playoffs -- Splitter is older, and the majority of his NBA driving game seems to have emerged in the last year or so. He has a decent-if-not-spectacular hook shot, as well, which he uses to post-up guys underneath the basket when he gets a favorable matchup. It's not a wonderful shot, but to his credit, it's one of the more effective hook shots in the league. He compounds all of that with both a talent at drawing free throws and a substantially above-average knack for making them -- teams fouled Splitter intentionally in last year's playoffs, which has led to the common misconception that he's bad at them. News flash -- Splitter broke his off-hand in the 2nd game of the playoffs, which messed up his genuinely solid form (he's been around a 70% free throw shooter these last few years). His percentage absolutely tanked for the duration of the playoffs, leading teams to intentionally foul him. It wasn't yips. It wasn't jitters. It was an ill-timed broken hand that betrayed his general free throw form, to these eyes. And barring another broken hand, it probably won't happen again.

The only real issue with Splitter's offensive game is simply a lack of versatility. He finishes at the rim, posts-up with his hook shot, and draws fouls. That's really it. He's a good passer, which helps, but he has absolutely no outside shot. The Spurs understand that and don't force him to chuck from distance, which is good, but one really wishes he could -- the primary reason Duncan/Splitter is such a difficult lineup to play is Splitter's inability to do anything outside 6 or 7 feet. He can't make a jump shot to save his life, no matter how good he is at his flat-footed free throws. In any Duncan/Splitter lineup, Splitter is necessarily forcing Duncan to play the role of outside-shooting-specialist and generally taking Duncan out of the at-rim area, where he's best at corralling offensive boards and defending the point of attack. Duncan/Splitter lineups -- in theory -- should be amazing. But Splitter's game detracts from Duncan's and makes those lineups a struggling proposition on offense, requiring the 3-man guard unit to take up the bulk of the team's offensive responsibilities while Splitter and Duncan try to cram two generally ill-fitting skillsets together into a working mesh. It makes the Spurs a bit easier to defend, and a bit less dynamic -- even if it improves the Spurs' defense a touch and makes Spurs fans long for the day it'll actually work as it's supposed to.

So, I repeat -- Tiago Splitter isn't quite what he was supposed to be. Is it because he's a bad player? Hardly! Players who have roll games like Splitter don't grow on trees, and while his rebounding is a bit lacking and his defense a tad slow, he's a solid starting center in the NBA. John Hollinger noted in his profiles that once his Spurs contract runs its course this offseason, Splitter is likely to garner some high contract numbers on the open market. San Antonio fans may be shocked, but the man was absolutely right. Splitter's put up monstrous efficiency numbers for the past 88 games now, and on a team with a better spread-option besides him, he could get even better! He just isn't quite what Spurs fans hoped for when they saw the Spanish League MVP coming over off being a a 3x champion of his own league, with visions of a Duncan successor dancing through everyone's head. It's not fair, it's not entirely reasonable, and it's not an accurate reflection of how Splitter was ever likely to turn out. But it's sports fandom. Which makes it patently reasonable, whether or not it's strictly fair.

• • •

_Follow Gerald Wallace and go fishing. No, not figuratively. In his backyard.__

Full disclosure -- I love Gerald Wallace. Not in a romantic sense, obviously. But I adore his game. Wallace embodies just about everything I love to see in an NBA wing player. Gritty devotion to the game, emphatic rebounding, intensely physical defensive dominance. Some people like to see sweet-shooting Jordanesque guards or dominant Shaq/Howard style centers. I've never been one of those people. Give me a defensively dominant big a la Duncan or Bogut any day, but if you can't give me one of those, I'll take the "gritty star wing with a chip on his shoulder and a knack for the boards" any day. Love watching the energy, the hustle, the vicious challenge they pose to the man tasked with scoring on them. Simply can't get enough of it. Wallace -- to me -- is the best reason to watch the Nets.

How does he play the game, on the offensive end? Not amazingly well, but not horrifyingly poorly either. He posted one of the lowest at-rim percentages among all wings in the NBA last year, which was partly a problem of volume -- very few players took more than 100 shots at the rim last year, but Wallace took an outright astonishing 312. His layup conversion skills were solid, if not phenomenal -- his problem was simply that he doesn't have the ability to get up and dunk 2 or 3 times a game anymore, and his finishing (while, again, solid) balks a bit when called on 5-6 times a game. Anything does. It's the same principle with decent long-range shooters -- very few players take 5-6 threes a game, because eventually they stop leaving you open. Teams know Wallace is going to the rim and they do their best to cut him off at the pass or bother his rise. He's done his best over his whole career with dunks and strong finishes -- in his all-star 2010 season, he had 71 dunk attempts! Last season he had 16. Which sort of gets to the unfortunate heart of the matter. As he gets older and loses his legs, his offensive game will continue its gradual falloff. Which is a shame.

What's really impressive about Wallace -- and what makes him a semi-star, even despite his flagging offensive skillset -- is his defense and rebounding. The man's defense is simply wonderful -- contained drops of aggression in what generally amounts to a constant onslaught to the opposing team's offensive system. He's at his best against teams with a scout-able system and a great deal of tape to sift through. He watches the tape, finds the point of least protection, and anchors his defense to the sole purpose of eviscerating the opposing offense whenever they reach that point of attack. This does lead to a few unfortunate downsides -- he's never been a phenomenal man-to-man defender, focusing his talents on defending a full team or a full possession rather than focusing on a single player. It's not that he can't do man-to-man defense -- he can, it just isn't his strongest suit. This leads to the second, perhaps more important downside: he gets injured a lot. The man lunges with abandon over the court, disrupting set plays and blowing up the other team's comfort zone -- this leads to a lot of short-cuts around possible ankles to trip on, and occasional moments where he's completely off balance. Which generally ends in either an injury that takes him out a few games or a lingering malady that detracts from his game while he plays through it. He puts it all on the floor for his guys, and while this is utterly respectable, it does lead to some occasionally ill-timed periods where he's simply something of a nonentity, whether literally due to injury absence or figuratively due to lingering injuries sapping his play.

Net and net, the guy is a wonder. His rebounding is viciously effective, and he's been one of the best pound-for-pound rebounders in the NBA for the last 7 years running. He's the best player in the Bobcats' franchise history, and while some would scoff and use that as a put-down for a dismal franchise, I'd tell them to kindly stuff it and appreciate a player who's been way better than most think over his career. He's one of 30 "best players in franchise history" in the history of the league. Appreciate that. He's getting older, now, and his game is falling a bit. Some effort-lapses on the defensive end, some lost mobility, his somewhat shiftless at-rim game. Et cetera. Off the court, Wallace is a soft-spoken family man with the best voice in the NBA. Well, that's what Holly MacKenzie says. I think it's a toss-up between Wallace and Patty Mills, but he's definitely up there. Fun fact: his favorite show is Popeye the Sailor Man. He's a country guy at heart, one who had a 2.5 acre lake built in his Alabama backyard so he could relax and fish during the offseason. Wonderful stuff. I wish I had more to say about a player I've adored for so long, but I consistently miss the mark on how exactly to approach presenting Wallace to others. He's not a superstar, which may be the unfortunate depiction that my enthusiasm has given you -- he's certainly not a top-50 player at this point in his career, and he's falling off quickly as his athleticism wanes. But he's still a joy to watch, and he's still a wonderful player. Next time you turn on a Nets game, focus in on the little things Wallace does.

It's so fun. So much joy. I guarantee you won't be disappointed.

• • •

_Follow MarShon Brooks on Twitter at __@Marshon2.___

What's happened to poor MarShon? The kid started off his rookie year scoring in gangbusters, averaging 15 points a contest over his first 16 along with a nice string of 11-straight double-digit scoring outbursts. He combined that with about 5 rebounds a night, an excellent total that underlined a player with a heck of a lot of potential. He played almost 30 minutes per game as a rookie, averaging 12 points per contest -- he's one of only 196 rookies in the history of the league to reach 12 points a night and 29 minutes a contest, which translates to about 3 or 4 rookies a season. Impressive stuff from a 25th pick out of Providence that nobody really expected anything out of. Entering 2013, this was as close to a no-trade player as Brooklyn had on its supporting cast -- he was the only real promising young player Brooklyn had to offer, and Brooks was one of the main pieces in any theoretical Howard trade.

So much for that. He's averaged just 11 minutes per game this season, and while it's partly due to the tendinitis he suffered in preseason and an ankle sprain he suffered in mid-November, his playing time has vanished even considering that. In his rookie year, he had zero games of <8 minutes played -- this year, he has seven, and that's not even counting games missed to injury or DNP-CDs. The reason is simple. With the new Nets roster, Brooks is a man without a position. He can't really play the three, despite having ample length to -- he doesn't have the strength yet and he doesn't really have the ability to comfortably stick with the stronger players he faces when he's tasked with guarding large wings. But he's not what the Nets really need at the two, either -- the Nets offense relies on spot-up shooters and catch-and-shoot players to augment the passing brilliance of Deron Williams and the passing decent-ness of Joe Johnson -- for now, Jerry Stackhouse has utterly obliterated Brooks in the realm of spot-up shooting, which has made him the far more reasonable play for a team that's trying to win now. While nobody disagrees that Brooks will be better than Stackhouse in a year or two, Stackhouse fits better now.

That really isn't a good omen for Brooks' future. It belies a big problem with his game that he needs to figure out -- namely, his personal inability to score efficiently off the catch-and-shoot. He's a positively dismal catch-and-shoot scorer, and if he needs to have the ball in his hands and time to operate to get a decent shot off, he's not going to be very long for the league. There aren't going to be many teams in his career where Brooks will get to be the primary scorer, or a superstar-tier possession-eating gunner. Essentially, he's at a crossroads. As a player, Brooks does nothing particularly well other than score -- his rebounding floats around position average, but otherwise he's a decidedly poor passer, an awful defender, and a turnover-prone fiend. If he combines that heretofore lacking tertiary skillset with a scoring game that simply doesn't fit on good teams, it's hard to really see a way forward. He was a promising scorer as a rookie, at least to begin the season (he had a relatively underheralded swan dive after he broke his toe in late January, and played 3 months of terrible, sub-replacement-level ball after the hypetrain left the station). But if Brooks can't either develop some off-the-ball skills or restructure his scoring game to be a better fit to a less self-centered offense, he's not going to last very long as a scoring talent. Just about everyone in the NBA can score if you give them carte blanche and tell them they can make as many mistakes as they want -- it's the guys who can fit into varied systems and don't make common mistakes that write their own check in this league. Brooks is a promising guy, but he isn't that kind of a player yet. It's incumbent on him to become one, if he'd like to stick around.

• • •

At the end of each post, I'll be scribing riddles for the next group. Whoever gets the most right will get a shout out at the end of the next post. Tweet me your answers at @docrostov, or post them in the comments. Nobody did better than 1/3, indicating I did a rather poor job of composing the prior riddles. Alas. Props to our several 1/3 guessers -- Sir Thursday and Chilai, namely.

  • Player #352 is a lazy pizza fiend who inspired the only drunk capsule of last year's series. Screw this guy.

  • Player #353 is a locker-room leader in the most dysfunctional locker room in the league. Damning with faint praise, perhaps, but he's a good guy.


Welcome to the last full week of capsules. I hope you've enjoyed your stay.

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Player Capsules 2012, #346-348: Josh McRoberts, Aaron Gray, Spencer Hawes

Posted on Fri 21 December 2012 in 2012 Player Capsules by Aaron McGuire

As our summer mainstay, Aaron was writing a 370-part series discussing almost every notable player who was -- as of last season -- getting minutes in the NBA. As the summer dies down and the leaves turn, this quixotic quest of a series has happily reached the last third. But it's certainly not done yet! Today we continue with Josh McRoberts, Aaron Gray, and Spencer Hawes.

• • •

Follow Josh McRoberts by eating big macs and grinning like a bro.

I feel like I've said this hundreds of times -- I'm not Duke's biggest fan. By extension, I tend to be quite low on Duke players in the NBA. Other than Kyrie Irving and Grant Hill (both of whom I consider myself a big fan of) it's hard to think of more than a handful of Duke guys in the NBA I enjoy watching at all. J.J. Redick is okay now that he's finally dropped most of his Duke persona and become more of a 3-and-D guy, as he always should've always been. Gerald Henderson's defense has always impressed me and his old school game is somewhat interesting. Luol Deng is a phenomenal person and a true baller. But what about anyone else? I've never loved watching Elton Brand (even though I appreciate him), Shelden Williams is skin-crawling, Mike Dunleavy bores me, Chris Duhon is infuriating, Carlos Boozer is Carlos Boozer, I'm the only person on earth who doesn't love Shane Battier, and Austin Rivers is possibly one of my least favorite players in the history of the league. Dear lord.

Despite all that, there's still something special about Josh McRoberts. I just viscerally can't stand watching him. It's probably the fact that, translated to an NBA level, he's an exact carbon copy of the classic Duke fratty pickup lemon. Let me explain. I played pickup ball occasionally at Duke, and there was this classic frat boy archetype that'd often enter the games. Different people, but they could all be described as gym rats -- in phenomenal shape, and by the looks of it, they were going to be great. So you'd always want him on your team... until the game actually started. You'd immediately be dissuaded of your previous view, owing to several things. Lots of blown layups, even really easy ones they shouldn't be missing. Absolutely no outside shot to speak of, not that it stops them from jacking threes every now and again or taking a lot of long two pointers. Remarkably bad grasp of the game's fundamentals, with absolutely no acumen at free throws and substandard rebounding despite being stronger than the guys he was boxing out. Worst of all? Lots of weird bro-talk "communication" on defense that never made any sense and often actively confused the entire team. Ugh.

It's phenomenally unfair that I can't really separate Josh McRoberts and his NBA game from these idiots who used to ruin pickup games. But I can't. At an NBA level, he's kind of their equivalent. Ton of blown layups -- especially last year, where he had one of his worst career years at the rim. He's great at dunking and all, but once you remove his dunks from the equation, McRoberts has a relatively slim set of skills -- he can shoot a three, if you get him open enough (which ironically would've made him pretty useful next to Dwight for the Lakers in the D'Antoni system), but he's bollocks between the paint and the three point line. His free throw form has always been really bad, and his rebounding has been substandard for a big over his entire career. As for the defense, characterizing him like the lemons is totally within my imagination -- I've read and heard absolutely nothing implying that he communicates poorly on defense whatsoever. He just kind of looks like one of those guys, so it makes it easy for me to imagine it. See? Really unfair. In an attempt to be less unfair, I'll state that he really isn't that bad. Seriously. He's young and he's had a bad season-and-a-quarter over the last 12 months -- if he can recoup over the next few months and land on a decent fit team next offseason, he could turn things around a bit and become the talented second-off-the-bench big man for a decent playoff team he's always been hinting he'll be someday. After he finishes extolling the virtues of Slug and Atmosphere, of course. Or talking about that ridiculous rager he had last weekend.

... yeah, I'm physically incapable of being fair to Josh McRoberts. Let's move on.

• • •

Follow Aaron Gray by being Graydon Gordian.

Here's a semi-comprehensive list of things Aaron Gray is very good at.

  • Aaron Gray is very good at lay-ups. He converted 63% of them last season.

  • Aaron Gray is an excellent rebounder. His per-minute rebounding numbers were crazy last year.

  • Aaron Gray is very good at having the correct spelling of "Aaron" as his first name.

  • Aaron Gray is very good at being the next Brad Miller.

Here's a semi-comprehensive list of things Aaron Gray is not very good at.

  • Aaron Gray is not very good at defense. Really -- the Raptors were a decent defensive team last year, for the most part. Not world-beaters, but reasonably solid. This didn't apply when Gray was on the court. Looking at the tape, it's kind of easy to see why. Gray is a poor cover for centers despite being 7'0" -- far too easy to outwit in the post, quite frankly, and he's just too lumbering to really impact the game. He's a willing help defender and he clearly was trying to enact Casey's schemes, but he just doesn't have the mobility or the intuition to crack it.

  • Aaron Gray is not very good at controlling the ball. A lot of Lakers fans I know complain incessantly about Dwight Howard's inexplicably bad habit of turning the ball over every time he has to do a serious post move. I don't disagree that Dwight's turnover problem is bad, but I entreat you to take a look at Gray in the post before you kill Dwight for his flaws -- Dwight's bad, but at least he isn't quite as bad as Gray.

  • Aaron Gray is not very good at anything offensively beyond layups. He doesn't get many dunks (despite being 7'0", which will continue to confuse me greatly), and the entire rest of his offensive repertoire is underwhelming. Pretty awful at hook shots, no real jump shot to speak of, and his free throws are gross. 53%? Really, man? Not cool.

  • Aaron Gray is not very good at the color spectrum. This is because he's Gray. (This is a strong, strong contender for the worst joke I've ever told in my life. I would like to thank everyone who made this moment possible.)

Any questions?

• • •

_Follow Spencer Hawes on Twitter at __@spencerhawes00.___

This is probably going to sound weird, but Spencer Hawes represents one of the main reasons Bynum's absence frustrates me. On one hand, I don't like seeing Bynum out because he's a good player who's always worth a watch. On the other, I don't like seeing Bynum out because Spencer Hawes is so much less interesting without Bynum there. Really! Before the season, I was looking forward to watching how in the world Doug Collins was intending to make his preferred Hawes/Bynum lineup work. The basic understanding I had was that Hawes would act in the Pau Gasol role, playing the outsized C-as-PF role while Bynum played his Los Angeles role with significantly higher usage. They'd take advantage of Hawes' passing to form a good two-man game and take advantage of Hawes' surprisingly solid jump shot (note the high percentage from the midrange and the long two) to space the floor and give Bynum room to operate. I don't know if this configuration was fated to work very well. Defensively, Hawes has limited mobility and the Sixers were going to have to lean heavily on Bynum to help on defense and keep their schemes from falling apart without the luxury of letting Hawes float in the post/paint as a defensive C. Relying on Bynum to put up strong help is a tough thing to rely on.

And although Hawes is a decent jump shooter, he's like almost any big man -- he's better if you let him use his decent hook shot and take shots in close. And his jump shot numbers are a bit misleading, too -- they mostly came during an insane early-season stretch where Hawes looked like the league MVP for a few weeks. Hawes shot markedly worse after the all-star break, although to be completely fair, he shot just as well on jump shots in the playoffs as he did during the season, which tends to indicate he HAS actually made a decent hop forward as a jump shooter. One might note that his shooting percentage declined in the playoffs, but that ignores the fact that his percentage on-jumpers stayed even. The main problem he faced was that his shot distribution changed in the playoffs -- the Bulls and the Celtics were eager to let Hawes shoot outside jumpers and forced him to make them the majority of his offense, even if it meant giving up a few slightly open ones. He did an admirable job on them, especially from the midrange, but they never gave enough respect for the other Sixers to get open at the rim or from three. Which stifled Hawes' passing game and generally stifled a not-very-complicated Sixers offense.

Anyway. Bynum/Hawes is interesting primarily because, theoretically, it could work pretty well. A nice jump-shooting big man with some playmaking talent and a 7'0" frame next to a ball-dominant 7'0" center? Sounds like "exactly what the Lakers did", except in the Eastern Conference, where you don't actually need to add Kobe Bryant to make that a contending team. But I'm afraid it doesn't really matter to me if it works well or not, it just seemed interesting. Hawes trying to be a four is a fun thing to watch no matter who's next to him, but if you put him next to a quality player like Bynum, I have a lot of interest in seeing how that could work out, whether it succeeds or fails. This also ignores the main reason everyone should want to see it -- I refer of course to how we're all looking forward to the two of them combining to make the NBA look like the 70s again. By resembling, uh, "adult film" stars. Taste the 70s! ... no, not literally, oh God, you're gross.

Off the court, Spencer Hawes is a card-carrying Republican whose pre-draft interviews indicate a man thoroughly unconvinced by An Inconvenient Truth. He IS convinced that the entire media is an overexaggerating liberal mess that overstates everything, though. He's at least half-right about the exaggeration, at least when it comes to political media and sports media. Not quite sure about the liberal thing. He has a "God Bless George W. Bush" bumper sticker, and he often goes on hilarious rambling twitter rants that imitate those of the ubiquitous uncomfortably vocal grandparent we all seem to have. He also might pull a Chris Dudley and run for office someday! Maybe Romney will throw him a thank-you endorsement. Beyond his politics, there isn't a ton to point out -- he, like Aaron Gray, is the most-likely-answer for the question of who exactly is going to take up the mantle as the NBA's next Brad Miller. Some would say Chris Kaman, but I'm with Trey Kerby -- Chris Kaman is the first Chris Kaman, which is a lesser Brad Miller, but distinct enough to be his own person. Hawes and Gray are more "Milleresque", so to speak. But Hawes has a ways to go before he truly proves his worth as the NBA's next Brad Miller.

Also: his nickname is "Ball-Friendly." Never forget that, folks.

• • •

At the end of each post, I'll be scribing riddles for the next group. Whoever gets the most right will get a shout out at the end of the next post. Tweet me your answers at @docrostov, or post them in the comments. Nobody got 3/3 yesterday, mostly because of my Colbert-themed shout-out for Spencer Hawes. But alas. Dr. No got a 2/3, so I suppose he gets to be Dr. Yes for a day.

  • Player #349 is exactly as effective this year as he was last year. And just like last year, he's not quite what his team needs. Almost, but not enough. Needs more D, more rebounding, more versatility. Could be a shockingly good piece in the right situation, though.

  • Player #350 is one of my favorite non-stars. Nobody's ever going to confuse him for one of the greats, but he's been a defensive joy ever since he crashed on stage years ago. And that rebounding, my god.

  • Player #351 looked like a promising scorer to start his rookie campaign, but he's been absolutely brutal ever since. His rotation spot just got stolen by what essentially amounts to a literal zombie. He's having a rough year, OK?

Until next week, weary travelers.

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