Blogcat’s Take, 2/22
The Bobcats’ trade for Luke Ridnour and Gary Neal at the Thursday deadline was certainly not earth-shattering. Actually, it wasn’t even glass-shattering. In fact, if you had a Shattering Scale that ranged from porcelain china to Play-Doh, this one would rank a Nerf. But it might end up being a tiny bit useful, and it at least had a discernable point. Critically, it didn’t involve giving up 1st round draft picks or taking on enormously salaries. Thus it wasn’t obviously bad, which for Bobcats fans is the equivalent of trading Joe Barry Carroll for Robert Parish and Kevin McHale.
Let’s start with pouring out some “Mohawk” Valley Bourbon for Jeff Adrien. Criminally underplayed in my opinion, Adrien actually had the 5th best net-rating on the team. He had a 14.9 PER, was a reboundin’ fool (leading the team with a 19.2% rebounding rate), drew fouls like they were hearts in a teeny-bopper’s diary (.625 FTr), and was totally competent—in other words he was everything Cody Zeller fails to be. And because he was capable playing almost a PF-C role, he also was a nice insurance policy in case Al Jefferson gets injured…to which management must have thought: Sure, but what are the chances of that happening? Anyway, he was an energetic, happy-go-lucky favorite of mine, and I’m sad to see him go.
I’m probably not as sad as Ramon Sessions, though, who continues his disaster tour through some of the NBA’s worst teams. He returns now to Milwaukee, the city that drafted him, after what’s been a slightly down season for him so far. He’s still fantastic at getting to the line (.503 FTr), but his shooting otherwise is just malevolently bad. Check out his shot chart; it looks like the used toilet paper of someone with bad hemorrhoids. Still, he worked well with Kemba Walker (+8.7 net-rating) and—believe it or not—the team was actually slightly stingier defensively with Sessions on the court (100.3 vs. 101.5 points allowed/100 possessions). But that was where his potency peaked, and Sessions without Walker was Riggs without Murtaugh. Playing without Walker, Sessions was a net -8.1. Thus the Bobcats sought out a more traditional point guard to sub-in for Walker.
Enter Ridnour, a classic backup 1. Unfortunately, his ability to improve upon Sessions is actually hard to argue when you look at the numbers this year. Sessions’ and Ridnour’s assist rates are roughly the same (26.7% for Sesh, compared to 26.3% to Ridnour), but Ridnour turns the ball over appreciably more (16.8% to 14.1%). The Bucks were even more terrible with Ridnour on the court (-12.0 net-points) than they were with him off of it (-9.1), and he held down opposing PGs about as potently as edible underwear (his opposing PG PER was even worse than Sessons’: 15.8 to 15.0). Still, we’re not exactly comparing these players in a vacuum. From a surrounding talent perspective, Sessions was playing in a Jacuzzi and Ridnour was playing in a chamber pot.
A similar leap of faith explains the acquisition of Gary Neal, who theoretically provides the shooting threat that Sessions never could. At his absolute zenith with the 2011-12 Spurs, Neal shot 41.9% from 3-point range. He also demonstrated his effectiveness with a great center (*cough*, Al Jefferson, *cough*), as he and Tim Duncan netted out at +7.1 together and made for one of the better two-man combos on the team. Granted, Duncan is a first-ballot hall-of-famer, so their production was most likely primarily the Big Fundamental’s doing (if they were the cheese drug cocktail, I’m pretty certain that Neal was the Tylenol PM and Duncan was the heroin). In fact, that became painfully obvious when Neal took his talents to Milwaukee, where center Zaza Pachulia’s most effective move this year was arguably breaking his foot. This year Neal’s been shooting just 36% from distance…and yet, that’s still WAY better than Sessions’ 22.1%. The rest of Neal’s numbers, though, are so menacingly bad and foreboding that whenever I pull them up my laptop spontaneously bursts into the theme to Dead Presidents. He was dead last on the Bucks in net-rating, he had the worst defensive advanced plus-minus on the team (3.75, nearly double that of the next guy, OJ Mayo), and he was last in VORP. Basically, if sucking were a Mohican tribe, Neal would be Chingachgook.
So it’s not entirely clear that Ridnour’s playmaking + Neal’s shooting > Sessions’ Session-ness, but it’s probably at least ?. And there was a giant elephant in the room with Sessions in the shape of a giant black man named Al Jefferson, which is what this is really all about. Because when you talk about how players fit in with the Bobcats’ “scheme,” “scheme” really just means “Jefferson.” When paired with Al Jefferson, Sessions was only good for a relatively flaccid 0.7 net-rating. Because he’s not much of a distributor and even less of a distance shooter, Sessions failed to space the floor for Big Al. Though Ridnour barely ever gets fouled, his 36.8 3PT% crushes Sessions’ 22.1%, and he at least has pockets of mid-range effectiveness on the court. Thus his compatibility with Jefferson should be greater than Sessions’. The same case can be made for Neal, whose 3-pt prowess can potentially replicate the “Jeffersynergy” that Anthony Tolliver supplies (among Charlotte’s 2-man pairings with at least 500 minutes together, the Jefferson-Tolliver combo is the 3rd most effective). I think the two of them have a chance to be good in the context of Al Jefferson, or at least not noticeably worse. And again, for Bobcats fans, “not noticeably worse” is a deal you’ll take every time.
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