Four that know their role
This is the article that nearly broke Not the Face of the Franchise.
It was not the dramatic fiery result of scorching hot-takes. Nor was it victim to the mundane chokehold of crippling writer’s block. Timing was the enemy of this piece. The timing just never seemed right.
Initially conceived on the eve of the All Star break the central and binding theme was to be four NBA players — with differing yet defined roles —who were all acquired at the commencement of this season. Could we look back and judge their impact on their relatively new team’s level of success ? Could we see something bigger ? Would these players offer a more substantial and insightful representation of the team itself ?
But the NBA landscape is one built on shifting sands. Narratives emerge on a nightly basis. Player involvement can ebb and flow. The original foursome is not the one depicted in this version of the piece.
And now, after the Golden State Warriors emerged victorious we can look back at the full season. The 2016/17 NBA season is over. We are now armed with the full benefit of hindsight.
This week has seen significant player movement in the form of trades. The deals have mostly included draft picks that are to be utilized later today. Teams are looking to the future. They are looking to develop and improve. They are looking forward.
Not the Face of the Franchise likes to zig where others zag.
The players in this piece have already played their part. It was a long, grueling and eventful season of high caliber basketball.
Perhaps this is the right time for their story.
Forward, Houston Rockets
2016/17 Salary - $ 18,735,364
The Houston Rockets are James Harden’s team. He is the primary ball handler and the focal point of their attack. Coach Mike D’Antoni — the architect of Houston’s play — quickly installed him in the point guard role and has effectively given the reins to Harden. No team in the NBA — with the notable exception of Russell Westbrook’s OKC Thunder — is more reliant on a single superstar. The fact that Harden, like Westbrook, is undeniably one of the top seven players in the league goes a long way to justify such a strategy.
Players on the Rockets not named James Harden are effectively reduced to the role of the complimentary piece. Harden needs team-mates. He cannot win games by himself.
Enter Ryan Anderson.
Anderson is a very good NBA player. He is dependable. He is professional. He is not a superstar. But when the Houston Rockets became aware of Anderson’s availability via free agency they made moves to secure his services. The team, fresh from cutting ties with the household-name-turned-perennial-malcontent Dwight Howard, saw beyond Anderson’s level of competence. The player represented an asset they were comfortable committing to pay an annual salary close to 20 million dollars.
Anderson, as expected, has cemented himself within the starting rotation at the forward position. He throughout his NBA career has developed a formidable reputation as a player who can shoot the ball. What distinguishes Anderson from other talented shooters is the additional skill set he brings to the court. He is fundamentally a good basketball player with admirable mobility and length. He can therefore be effective in the paint and demands defensive attention all over the court. He is not just a pure shooter and cannot be treated as such.
Such attributes would be greatly appreciated on most teams but his value to Houston intensifies when you factor in James Harden. Anderson has the necessary basketball IQ to work with Harden in the passing game. He also provides the court spacing in which Harden can thrive. Teams cannot crowd the scoring lanes in an effort to nullify Harden without giving Anderson uncontested shots from distance. Giving Ryan Anderson minimal defensive respect is an easy way to lose basketball games. He has very dependable perimeter shooting and the skill to out maneuver poor defenders for easy lay-ups.
He, in essence, is a tremendous decoy for Harden who can also be a spectacularly effective outlet. Anderson is a ‘no nonsense’ type of player who’s greatest strength, out-with his own honed skill-level, is that he makes an elite player even better.
Guard, Milwaukee Bucks
2016/17 Salary - $ 980, 431
The future of the Milwaukee Bucks and NBA Basketball itself is Giannis Antetokunmpo.
Hyperbolic ? Maybe …
But can we truly claim any player in the current era is a more un-tradeable asset ? There are more dominant players. There are bigger household names. But there is nobody close to matching the combination of his positional flexibility, youthful promise, incredible skill and imposing size. His arrow is not just pointing upward. It is poised for stratospheric heights.
The Bucks are clearly aware of this. It guides their franchise. Talent like Greg Monroe, Jabari Parker and Khris Middleton provides suitable assistance. The emergence of rookie shooting guard Malcolm Brogdon and the giant Thon Maker give Milwaukee fans cause for real optimism. There is a long-term sustainability to the roster.
But prior to the commencement of the 2016/17 season coach Jason Kidd saw fit to offer a contract to 39 year old Jason Terry.
Because Jason Terry is a professional.
Last year was Terry’s eighteenth season in the NBA. This former Sixth Man of the Year has been there and done it. One senses that Coach Kidd was looking for more than the reliable three point shooting Terry has brought to each one of the six teams who have employed him. Terry is a bubbly, infectious character who, surely proven by his endurance and commitment, clearly loves the game.
But his influence on the Bucks wasn’t restricted to merely practice and locker rooms. Terry averaged almost nineteen minutes per game last year. Predictably he wasn’t amongst the leading scorers on a team of offensive talent but his average of almost five points per game shouldn’t be overlooked. It could be suggested any scoring a player offers at almost forty years of age in an arena of the young and hyper-athletic is commendable.
Bringing Jason Terry to the Milwaukee Bucks didn’t stop progress. He wasn’t a financial burden or drain on limited playing time. He wasn’t acquired to necessarily push their franchise forward. But the careers of Brogdon, Maker — and perhaps even Antetokunmpo — may be all the richer for being his team-mate.
The Bench Scorer
Forward, Boston Celtics
2016/17 Salary - $ 1,410,598
The NBA is perpetually evolving. Current trends see teams prioritizing the three point shot, emphasizing quick ball movement and building the environment where the consistent catch-and-shoot player is highly regarded. Gerald Green is somehow of another time. His natural shot is the pull-up jumper from about seventeen feet. Modern day basketball deems this range to be low value. It has become rare to see a player pull up from his own dribble and take that type of shot.
Gerald Green does. Repeatedly. He elevates and releases. More often than not in recent times he makes the shot.
The Boston Celtics were looking for that type of scoring injection from the thirty-one year old forward. Acquired this summer Green was seen as a proven NBA caliber player that could shore up the bench and go some way to filling the scoring void of the departed Evan Turner. Green averaged just short of twelve minutes per game on an impressive Boston Celtics team.
What is perhaps most striking about Green is just how involved he is with the team beyond the stat line. When key players are unable to take the court on any given night Brad Stevens seems to work him into the rotation early and often. Some nights when the roster is at full strength he doesn’t feature at all. Gerald Green seems to have developed into — despite this being his first year on the team — a ‘glue guy’. He provides a spark from the bench but also a subtle level of assurance
Perhaps the most significant statistic from Gerald Green’s 2016/17 season is that he started zero regular season games. The entire regular season calendar passed without a single Green start. But when injury took its toll of the Celtics in the playoff series with the Chicago Bulls he was thrust into the starting lineup. Boston were behind in the series and Brad Stevens was clearly looking to shake things up. He turned to Gerald Green when other, perhaps more conventional, options were available. Green, unused in the previous matchup, played his part in the Game 3 victory and the eventual progression to the Eastern Finals.
It is common to see point guard Isaiah Thomas gravitate to Green as the team huddles. The closest thing to a franchise star in Boston will actively seek Green’s input. He is always active, always visible, on the sideline.
Since being drafted by Boston in 2005 Green has plied his trade at seven other NBA teams before returning where it all began last summer. It wasn’t a high-profile acquisition, it wasn’t heralded as a jubilant homecoming.
If this version of Gerald Green is your regular starting forward you are simply not a contending basketball team. But if he is a switched-on positive contributor from your bench he may just help you become one.
Guard, Detroit Pistons
2016/17 Salary - $ 6,000,000
The Detroit Pistons are a distinctly average NBA team. Their 37-45 record saw them fail to reach the playoffs and are set to pick 12th in today’s draft.
Coach Stan Van Gundy may struggle to locate reasons for optimism in the current guise of the this once proud franchise. Ultimately, the team is over-reliant on the imposing, yet defensively frail center Andre Drummond. The bulk of the roster is made up of the serviceable more than the spectacular.
The player Detroit were pinning a reasonable amount of hope on was point guard Reggie Jackson. His undoubted talent was nurtured at Oklahoma City and despite eventually securing a starting role in his third season he was never considered — perhaps understandably given their embarrassment of riches — a cornerstone of that franchise. Detroit believed he may find more of an opportunity to thrive in Michigan. He has been considered their primary ball handler since he joined the team in February 2015.
The Pistons picked up Ish Smith to be their backup point guard.
This is his eleventh NBA team. (He has had two spells as a Philadelphia 76er).
The point guard position has evolved as the NBA has went through dramatic change. Once seen as the controller of tempo and architect of the offense we now see teams effectively play through multiple attacking options. We regularly see skilled Big men in the forward and center positions who act as playmakers and shot creators. Basketball has moved on from small guards who facilitate for the hulking behemoth scorers in the paint.
Detroit is seemingly clinging on to a bygone age.
Andre Drummond is undoubtedly a skilled and — at times —dominant 6-foot-11 center. In introducing Reggie Jackson to the mix the Pistons hoped they could, in tandem, ignite offensively.
Last season saw Jackson struggle with both form and injury. When firing on all cylinders Jackson is explosive, energetic player who can attack the rim. He can be flashy. He has tremendous dribbling skill. Jackson has a frenetic, unpredictability to his game. He can be great. He can also struggle.
Ish Smith is his backup. He is paid considerably less. His involvement typically starts when Jackson is not on the court. This could be to allow Jackson rest minutes within games or start in his absence.
Ish Smith started over thirty times for Detroit last year. Reggie Jackson saw his season end through injury. Ish Smith was called upon. And what he offered was a steady presence. There seemed to be minimal disruption or fall-off.
He has considerable skill and operates at a smooth gliding pace. He is perhaps more functional and refined than Jackson. He is an assured, ‘no-frills’ point guard that was comfortable performing the role the team required.
We are currently without NBA games and the focus becomes the draft, repeated trade talk and impending free agency. The whispers centering on the Detroit Pistons suggest that Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson and their huge paychecks may be moved to pastures new.
Changing teams is not new for Ish Smith. But the narrative should not be simply skewed to suggest he fails or is continually deemed surplus to requirement. True, he has of yet, never been the foundational piece on a team but ultimately more than a third of the league were happy to welcome him to their roster. This would suggest reasonable commendation from previous employers,
Perhaps the journeyman Ish Smith will remain in Detroit and claim a more a prominent role. Maybe he will continue to backup the next guy.
Either way he will do what he has always done. His skill-set has seen him all perform all over the NBA map.
Ish Smith has ball … will travel.