Archives For #NBArank

Last year, Kevin Love led the NBA in rebounds per game. He was a last-minute All-Star selection and was, deservedly, named the league’s most improved player. He has a World Championship gold medal that he can wear in the bathtub if he feels like it. You might remember that he once scored 31 points and grabbed 30 rebounds in one game. According to #NBARank, he is the 16th-best player in the game. He is, without question, the Timberwolves’ best player since Kevin Garnett.

But beyond these bare facts, it’s difficult to find consensus on Love’s place in the game.  When it comes to the game’s newer school stats, metrics that seek to balance efficiency and volume, Love simply crushes. He finished fourth in the league in PER last year, just behind Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard and King James himself. Oh, but what if you think, “that’s weak, K-Love is better than those chumps”? Well the Wages of Wins has got your back, having ranked our boy first in the whole NBA (!) in Wins Produced. (And please note that, max contracts notwithstanding, the folks at WoW claim that Love is worth no less than $45.6 million. Per year. Pass the hat, y’all.)

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As I write this, the Timberwolves are supposed to be playing the Atlanta Hawks. At this exact moment (I did the math), Ricky Rubio is supposed to be throwing his first behind-the-back pick-and-roll blindfolded alley-oop (on a 13-foot rim) to Derrick Williams. But this is not happening. So for now we’re stuck with the mystery, with the hope and the fear that always attends the beginning of a bright, new NBA career.

When it comes to Williams, that mystery is fairly typical. Even when a player does things in the college game that are generally considered remarkable, it always requires some vision to picture them in an NBA context. There are things about Derrick Williams that we know: there are questions of upside and position; there are issues of size and quickness; these are things we have discussed at some length. But projecting a player into this new basketball world remains an act of generous imagination. This is why the rookies seem so haphazardly dispersed by #NBARank. Derrick Williams is, evidently, the 196th best player in the NBA. Nobody knows what that means. This is how it always is.

But with Ricky Rubio (ranked 204th), that mystery is fraught with even more enigmatic questions. Questions like: is it possible for a person to suddenly forget how to play basketball? And: why does Ricky’s jumper look exactly like my jumper when I’m wearing a tight-fitting jacket and haven’t shot a basketball in three months? I will not even cite Rubio’s stats from Eurobasket. They’ll just make you feel bad. And they won’t even tell you anything about just how bizarrely adrift Rubio looked on the floor. He shrank from the hoop. He refrained from any substantive involvement in the offense. When he slowly and awkwardly gathered himself to shoot, he appeared to be using only deep dread to guide the ball to the rim. Here’s how David Thorpe, a great lover of Rubio, put it in a recent 5-on-5:

2011 has been a nightmare for him. His offensive game has sunk to incredible depths because passing is tough to do when no one needs to guard you. He now reminds me of a major league second baseman who suddenly can’t make routine throws to first base. His shot and his scoring feel are gone. And that has brought his confidence down severely in all areas. I never would have predicted it, but it has happened.

You know things are getting bad when the oblique Chuck Knoblauch references start flying. As recently as June, we were still fairly optimistic that escaping the Euro game’s constraints and entering the point guard heaven that is the NBA–lots of open floor, lots of pick-and-roll, and we didn’t even know yet about Rick Adelman!–would reverse young Ricky’s alarming decline. And there’s still plenty of room for optimism.  But it’s also hard to imagine a player with such frayed confidence, with such timidity suffusing his game,  suddenly blossoming in the world’s most competitive league. Aw, that was kind of a bummer. Maybe this will help you feel better:


Does anyone out there know how good Anthony Randolph is? This is not a rhetorical question; I really want to know.  #NBARank says he’s the league’s 220th best player, a solid 4.18 out of 10. But Randolph somehow both much more magnificent and more underwhelming than that.  Is he the dude who dropped 31 points on the Mavs (on only 14 shots) and who laced the Pistons with a steady stream of melted-butter turnarounds, pivots and spinning jump-hooks? Is he the lost soul with the glazed 12-hours-of-Playstation eyes who narcotically floats through entire quarters, only to come fiercely alive with five minutes left of a 20-point loss? Is he the airborne, rim-attacker that all of his compelling athletic gifts suggest he should be? Or is he the languid jump-shooter, who wanders the perimeter and happily obliges whenever teams beg him to shoot from outside?

Here’s what I do know. I know that after he joined the Wolves late last season, he was second on the team in usage rate, using a rather astonishing 27.1% of the Wolves’ possessions when he was on the floor. That’s some serious volume. (To put this in further perspective, that number would have put him at 10th in the league had he played the entire season). Now a lot of that is due both to the Wolves’ rash of injuries towards the end of the year and to Randolph’s extreme garbage time voyages. But still: his true shooting rate was a below-average 53.7%; his turnover rate was a very high 14.6%; he showed an alarming affinity for grabbing a rebound, wildly, triumphantly dribbling the length of the floor and booting the ball out of bounds. Something is deeply out of balance here. And his defensive shortcomings at center, where he’s likely to spend the majority of his minutes this year, just about cancel out the advantage his quickness gives him at the offensive end.

It’s hard to tell what will become of this strange dude. But here’s my best guess: with his blank, far-away demeanor, Anthony Randolph falls into that vast category of NBA player with overwhelming talent but a temperament that prevents that talent from ever fully flowering. This is a pretty magical group. They’ve blessed us with some of our most meaningful crossovers; they’ve given Summer League performances of real transcendence; they’ve blown out birthday candles resting on the rim. There’s really no shame in calling yourself a member.

It seems only right that Martell Webster (231, 4.06) and Wesley Johnson (245, 3.91) are paired so closely together on #NBARank. They are, after all, the two Wolves left standing from David Kahn’s Summer 2010 swingman shopping spree. One irony of this fact is that of the three fellas vying last season to be the Wolves’ regular two–all of whom were young, curiously incomplete (as players) and most likely playing out of position–only Corey Brewer, with his dilated, edge-of-panic defense, had that single upper-echelon skill that separated him from the pack. But Wes Johnson and Martell Webster can shoot and Corey Brewer cannot, not even a little. And for this reason, Corey gets to wear a terribly beautiful, diamond-encrusted, bullet-proof SUV on his ring finger while Wes and Martell will still be logging off-guard minutes for the Wolves next year. Yeah, that part is a little confusing.

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Now that the first two weeks of the NBA regular season have been cancelled, we can get back to focusing on what we’re all really here for: videos for black metal bands with only a coincidental relationship to basketball; recaps of ten-year-old playoff games; dispatches from the front lines of Kevin Love’s beach volleyball career. Oh, and obviously updates on the status of our Wolves on #NBARank.

Well, spots 250-300 certainly do make strange bedfellows. And I do appreciate the Mellvillian mental image of Anthony Tolliver (#289, 3.4/10) and Darko Milicic (#256, 3.76/10) sharing a nice wooden bed (in an old Nantucket Inn, while the cold rain beats down outside). Darko does bear a  certain resemblance to old Ishmael: he’s a born ruminator, a fellow who just might find himself  “involuntarily passing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral,” who just might have to restrain himself from “deliberately stepping into the street and methodically knocking people’s hats off,” who is a mystery to himself, who seems permanently lost at sea.

But although Darko’s astonishing natural gifts might seem to have blessed him with some kind of divine chosen-ness, his passion for basketball is no match for Ishmael’s obsession with The Whale. Watching close to 100 of Darko’s games in the past year, both of these qualities have been pretty easy to see. (Take a look at that crew of players between 250 and 300. The only players even approaching Darko’s talent level are Yi Jianlian, Jonny Flynn and Michael Redd. That’s sad company.) He is well over seven feet tall; he has supple feet; he handles the ball with rare ease. Unfortunately, he also seems intimidated by his own gifts and desperately afraid to succeed. We’ve seen too many dunks turned into layups, too many blown three foot jump hooks, too many looks of resigned relief as he settles down own the bench to believe otherwise. I’ve said it before: playing with Rick Adelman, a coach who loves those skilled, finesse Euro big men, seems like Darko’s last chance.

Anthony Tolliver might be the flip side of Darko’s cursed dubloon. Too small to be a four, not quick enough to be a three, he yet managed to score efficiently (58.6% True Shooting) and make the Wolves nearly four points per 100 possession better on defense. He rotates hard; he challenges shooters; he attacks the glass; he’s got a nice little jumper. (He is clearly the harpooner on the Wolves’ doomed vessel–um sorry, are you tired of this yet?) The contrast with Darko could not be more stark: Anthony Tolliver obviously loves to play basketball.

 

ESPN’s #NBARank (to which, full disclosure, I was a contributor) is approaching its zenith; we’re in Steph Curry/Tyson Chandler territory at the moment which, for me, is probably the most interesting and edifying swath of the NBA (sure hope I get to see them play sometime soon). If you ask me, the whole enterprise is pretty fascinating, not least for the pure chutzpah of assigning a comprehensive rating, down to the hundredth of a point, to 500 NBA players. (I mean, we all know that Pooh Jeter is precisely .01 better than Alonzo Gee–and just exactly as good as Eduardo Najera–but, like many true things, it does take some courage to come out and say it, you know?) It also draws heavily on the deep reservoir of compulsive list-making, stat-memorizing, Simpsons-quoting, no-girlfriend-having 16-year-old boy that lies just under the surface of almost all sportswriters.

We’ve already made note of Nikola Pekovic’s and Lazar Hayward’s presence in the top 500 (and should also point out that Malcolm Lee sneaks in at number 429, just ahead of Jeremy Evans). The next Wolves up the ladder are Wayne Ellington at 364 and Sebastian Telfair at 322.  For the dynamic bounce he injected into the Wolves blood whenever he was on the floor (particularly during that dark time after Al Jefferson’s knee injury) Bassy is pretty close to my heart. But I think we all know by now that he is one of those phenomenally gifted but fatally flawed players that are such staples of the NBA’s lower echelons. What’s more, there’s very little chance that he’ll be re-signed by the Wolves for what remains of the ’11/’12 season.

But the jury is still out on Wayne Ellington. If you consider only the fact that Ellington is a two-guard who hits nearly 40% of his threes it can be hard to imagine why his future in the league is in doubt. After all, every team needs a spot-up shooter. But while 40% from three is pretty good, it’s not quite good enough to make up for everything else. Ellington is a touch un-athletic and a touch undersized for a two and so has a tough time both guarding the NBA’s many dynamic scoring guards and finishing inside of 20 feet (last year he hit only 40.9% of his twos–not so great). And these lacks seem to cause him to play a touch too fast, exacerbating his already below average ballhandling and causing him to make hurried decisions. So we’ve got an undersized, turnover-prone two-guard with a career true shooting percentage of .509. Wayne’s got some work to do.

With the burning cities, murderous dictators and wild economic instability currently haunting our world, I think its only right that we focus a little on Nikola Pekovic amiright? Firstly, a panel of 91 ESPN experts (of which I am one–hope its not the last time I team up with Bruce Bowen on a journalistic assignment) rated Big Pek a 2.38 out of 10, good enough for 395th best in the league. This means that he bested 105 other players, including luminous gents like Samardo Samuels and Pape Sy. Unfortunately, now that I’m looking at the bottom of that list, its unclear if anybody ranked between 400-500 actually played a minute in the league last year. Oh wait, there’s Lazar Hayward at 409, I know he definitely played. (As did Sasha Pavlovic at 423, which is totally amazing.)

Although the homer in me wants to protest that some great injustice has been done, 2.38 out of 10 actually seems about right. The only thing I’d add is that I see Solomon Jones up there at 389 (2.44 out of 10) and I have a distinct memory of Pek giving him an ungodly pounding during a pre-season game (and then promptly fouling out after 12 minutes of floor time.) You could almost see the exact moment Solomon Jones stopped enjoying basketball. This doesn’t mean that Pekovic should have been ranked higher; I’m just saying is all.

In other Nikola Pekovic news, it seems that the big boy is the first T-Wolf to cast his hat into the European ring during the lockout, (although it would surely not be surprising to see Ricky Rubio add his name to the list). Word is that Pek has signed to play with Partizan Belgrade so long as the NBA has its doors shuttered. Which is great; goodness knows he could use all the floor time he can get. But one gets the distinct feeling that if he’s really ever going to be better than 395th best, what he really needs are NBA minutes, at NBA speed, against NBA players. Come to think of it, there are probably a lot of guys in that same boat.