Category Archives: Player Audit
First of all, I’m an unabashed Gilbert fan; I’ve always found him to be one of the NBA’s most interesting people, in addition to one of its most gifted players. And after everything that’s happened over the past few years, I’m glad he finally has an opportunity to make a fresh start in Orlando.
That said, I’m not sure he can help the Magic very much at this stage of his career.
As his prize for winning the 2010 Basketball-Reference NCAA Tournament Pool contest, reader Ian was able to request a post on a basketball-related subject of his choosing. The topic he went with:
“As for a subject of the blog, I’ll go with my childhood hero, who I feel has long been unheralded by the masses, although I’ll admit my bias. I’d love to see a blog dedicated to one Adrian Delano Dantley.”
Great choice, Ian! Let’s get our Player Audit on…
When I made a post about young stars last week, reader Johnny commented that he didn’t know Anfernee Hardaway was as good as his Win Shares make him look. Like Johnny, I also had largely written off Penny as a relic of a bygone era, one of those early “Next Jordan” wannabes (see the image to the left) who were obliterated when the real “Next Jordan” came along a decade later… But you might be surprised to see that for a brief time, Hardaway was truly one of the game’s top players, and not just an over-hyped, oft-injured product of the Nike advertising machine.
Dallas Mavericks newcomer Tim Thomas had arthroscopic surgery on his knee this week, and apparently it went well, which means he will be back on the court in no time. That’s good news for Thomas and the Mavs, who spent about $1.3 million to acquire the forward this offseason, but I don’t really want to talk about Thomas’ present condition as much as I want to focus on his past, and a future that once seemed certain but never quite materialized…
You see, Thomas was a superstar prep player for New Jersey’s Paterson Catholic back in the day, a two-time Parade All-American who averaged 29 PPG & 12 RPG (and dueled Kobe Bryant in dunk contests) as a senior in 1995-96. While he didn’t exactly challenge Kobe in that contest (or Corey Benjamin, for that matter), more than a few observers felt that Thomas was a better prospect than either Bryant or Jermaine O’Neal when it came time for their graduating class to choose between college and the pros. Longtime NBA Director of Scouting Marty Blake had this to say about Thomas back in 1996: “Let me say this, there are some people who felt [Thomas] was the best high school player in the country. The kid Bryant came out because he had a big-time deal with adidas. O’Neal came out because he didn’t get the SAT. We had three high school kids come out [in the 1996 Draft]. Thomas was probably better than all of them.”
Go ahead, admit it. The sight of Stephon Marbury in a #8 Celtics jersey getting picked by Will Bynum at midcourt and missing 3 shots against Detroit Sunday brought back some bittersweet memories of another Employee No. 8, right? No, no, I’m not talking about Scott Wedman; I’m referring to the unforgettable, roller-coaster ride that was the Antoine Walker era in Boston.
If the NBA season ended today, the Atlanta Hawks (18-21) would make the playoffs for the first time since the 1998-99 season. Now, obviously, this speaks more to the inadequacy of the Eastern Conference beyond its top 2-3 teams than anything else, but the Hawks still deserve credit for at least partially emerging from the hole they’ve dug for themselves ever since trading Steve Smith to Portland for Isaiah Rider way back in 1999. One of the biggest reasons for Atlanta’s improvement has been the emergence of third-year forward Marvin Williams, who is finally cashing in on the promise he showed when Atlanta drafted him 2nd overall in the 2005 NBA Draft. Last night, Williams scored a career-high 33 points in a win over Seattle, and he has been one of the Hawks’ catalysts all season long. Today we’re going to look at Williams game, and highlight the improvements Williams has made to turn from a draft bust to one of the better young forwards in the game.
Physical Tools: Williams has never lacked in this area — he’s 6-9 with good quickness and leaping ability. If anything, the knock on him has been that he lacks strength, but he’s improved that in recent years, and the Hawks have also been masking this problem by having him check fewer power forwards than they did a year ago.
Offense: This is where Williams has improved markedly in 2007-08. First, the stats: (glossary)
Season Age Tm ORtg %Pos DRtg ------------------------------------------------------ 2005-06 19 ATL 108.5 16.5 111.7 2006-07 20 ATL 101.3 19.5 109.5 2007-08 21 ATL 113.1 20.4 106.0
In his rookie year, Williams was not asked to take a big role in the offense and responded with a decent level of efficiency, but when forced to make more plays in his second year, he looked pretty lost out there. This year, though, Williams has made a quantum leap, increasing his offensive role and posting a big leap in efficiency, making him one of the most improved players in the league so far this season.
How has he done it? Well, mainly he’s been more assertive in going to the basket. He’s settling for fewer jumpers, attacking the rim more (his dunks are up as well), and finishing much better inside. Williams’ ballhandling has never been a major strength, but he’s turning the ball over much less despite having the ball in his hands more frequently. He’s also gotten a lot better at taking guys off the dribble, especially when going to his left. As a result, Williams has been drawing fouls at a very high rate and generally feasting at the free throw line, where he’s a career 79% shooter. Any time you can attack the basket and either finish strong or draw a foul, you’re going to be successful on offense, and that’s exactly what Williams is doing more often this year.
Defense: Despite his length and athleticism, defense has never been a particular strength for Williams, but you can see his improvement this season when you look at the Hawks’ overall defensive performance, as well as how their defense changes when he’s off the floor. A few years ago, Atlanta was a laughingstock at that end, but they’ve quietly become one of the 10 best defenses in the league so far this year. Williams’ individual improvement may not be apparent from the raw numbers — aside from a slight increase in his steal rate, his box score defensive stats look identical to that of past seasons — but he’s making his biggest impact in ways the box score can’t measure. In the past, Williams’ presence on the floor made a bad defensive team even worse, but this year a decent Atlanta D has been even better with Williams in the game. Now, many of his minutes have come alongside defensive standout Josh Smith and solid rookie Al Horford, but you can’t discount the effect of Williams’ defensive improvement on the Hawks, either. He’s tall and quick enough to guard multiple positions, and his improved understanding of team defensive concepts has really helped the Hawks become a solid defensive team. Remember, Williams would be a senior in college if he had stayed in school, so it’s no surprise that he’s just now coming into his own as a player, especially when it comes to the mental aspects of the game.
Williams may never escape the shadow of the man he was drafted over, Chris Paul — especially since Paul is having an MVP-caliber season in 2007-08 — but he has done a good job of adapting to the NBA game in his third year, and is finally on his way to proving worthy of the hype that surrounded him coming out of North Carolina. If the Hawks do end up stopping their playoff drought this year, it will be because Williams has improved so dramatically over the form he showed in his first two seasons.