We’re kicking off our offseason coverage here at A Wolf Among Wolves with a comprehensive roster review of the team from this past season, looking at how each player’s 2012-13 went and what we see for them going forward. One player a day for the next couple weeks, starting with the bench and rolling up to the starters.
One of the more puzzling strands of the Wolves’ season was Rick Adelman’s routine postgame praising of Mickael Gelabale. ‘Geli’ (or ‘Jelly‘?) often received kind words for his defensive energy or his corner three shooting or even, it seemed, his mere presence. I say ‘puzzling’ because to the naked eye Gelabale seemed to be only a moderately interested bystander on the court. With the exception of the Great Ten Day Contract Miracle of January 19th, in which he and Chris Johnson combined to score 23 of the victorious Wolves’ 29 fourth-quarter points, he never had much of an impact on the game’s outcome. He has a sleepy, uninflected face and a loping stride, both of which express less “playoff intensity” than “mildly hungover Sunday afternoon softball game.” Rather than providing “good energy” or whatever, he seemed instead to be a kind of null presence, just a blurry outline of a not-quite replacement level NBA player.
In general, the stats seem to bear out the “null presence” hypothesis. According to 82games, the Wolves were just slightly worse than average both offensively and defensively when he was on the court. His own PER is a bit less than average, his opponents’ a bit better. He had a great true-shooting percentage for his position (.605), but that was mostly the result of not shooting unless he was either spoonfed at the rim or found himself with a wide-open three. As for those threes, he shot 30.8% from distance–which is only fractionally less dismal than the Wolves’ own, nearly record-breakingly low number.
A quick Synergy viewing actually does Gelabale’s defense a bit more credit than did my memory. He’s not terribly quick in isolation situations, but he recovers well and is able to use his length to bother shooters at the rim. He tends to get lost going around screens–and even occasionally interprets “going under the screen” as “allow yourself to get completely wiped out by the screener, drift toward the paint a bit and watch your guy take a wide-open jumper”–but also, when the spirit moves him, does a nice job closing out on jump-shooters.
Looking back on things, I think we’ve already obliquely solved the mystery of Adelman’s overpraising. Especially later in the season, after the sidelining of Josh Howard and Malcolm Lee, after Alexey Shved withered away, it must have been an exceptional relief for Rick Adelman to call on a player with some length to guard the perimeter. Especially when, unlike Shved, that player showed even a shred of enthusiasm for the task of defending. Especially when said player never stopped the ball in the half court, never took contested early-clock, off-the-dribble threes, took only the shots that flowed his way.
This is how a tall, long-limbed slightly less-than-average NBA player, without a defining skill manages to find his way into his coach’s good graces. Seen in another light, its also an object lesson in the way that miserable seasons can cause fans and coaches alike to have warm feelings for a player who really should be plying his trade in Spain or Turkey. I’d imagine that if the Wolves manage to run into anyone with even a slightly better outside shot, or just a bit more defensive exuberance, Gelabale will find himself doing just that.