There was a good debate going on in the comments section on Friday concerning the leaders of the 76ers bench brigade, Thaddeus Young and Lou Williams. With Thad's free agency around the corner, however far away that corner may be, many are still speculating to what the number will (and more importantly, should) be to keep Thad in Philly.
GoSixers brought up the idea that Thad may not more valuable than Lou, and that really got me thinking. Throughout different points of last year, I paid pretty close attention when different national outlets came out with lists ranking the league's top sixth men. Thad was getting votes because he was simply having a renaissance under new head coach Doug Collins, and the difference was apparent to anyone who looked at the box scores. For those who watched the games, the change and quality of Thad's offense was even more noticeable. Every once in awhile, those 6th Man lists (usually about three guys) included another Sixers bench player, Lou Williams. I thought, "They have the wrong guy" and dismissed them.
The thing is, Lou was very valuable for the Sixers last year with his ability to carry the offense from time to time. Not a lot of teams have a guy with that kind of offensive firepower coming off the bench, and at least that part provides a unique luxury.
I have a feeling that many fans feel (that's a key word in all of this) the same way I do about Thad and Lou, and they typically fall on opposite ends of the spectrum. Specifically, I viewed Thad in a very positive light this season where Lou's play to me is at its very core, maddening. Still, as GoSixers pointed out (not exactly an earth-shattering development, but to give credit for coming out ad saying it) both are very similar players when you think about what they contribute. Although they play different positions (This is actually probably a misnomer, they are both tweeners without "true" positions. Lou's position being the 1.5 and Thad the 3.5), they both are NBA players because they have the skill set of being able to score at a fairly high level. Additionally, they are thought of as average to below average everywhere else. My question is, "Why do I think of them so differently?" Here are a few reasons that I came up with, based on basic features of the NBA game:
Lou's size and position draws more criticism: Namely, if you are an undersized guard who doesn't get your teammates involved, that often sticks out more than a forward who doesn't rebound. There are numerous reasons for this, the first being that guards initiate the offense and if they are shot-happy (this descripition fits Lou to a tee), nobody else is touching the ball. People might wonder what the difference between Lou and Allen Iverson is, and really it wouldn't be a Lou Williams post with some reference to A.I. For most of his prime, Iverson specifically played the shooting guard on offense and was off the ball initially while Eric Snow brought it up. For most of his minutes, Lou is bringing the ball up the court, and that distinction makes him the de facto point guard because he makes the offense's first decision. I wonder how Iverson would be remembered if he had the exact same production, but Larry Brown used him in a way where he was bringing up the ball every possession. Would he be viewed more negatively because he would be more closely associated with point guards? The fact that he was off the ball running off screens made it clear that he wasn't the point guard, though the offense was still running through him every single play.
Also, don't discount the fact that Lou was the only player on the team that fit perfectly in Eddie Jordan's asinine system, while Thad may have been the worst fit. I know that I cared about that.
Thad's weakness can be covered up more easily by his teammates: In recent history, Lou has been paired with a very good playmaker that doesn't play the point (until this year), Andre Iguodala. Sometimes he's paired in the backcourt with the team's point guard of the future, Jrue Holiday. In one of Collins' most indefensible moves (He made a few head-scratching ones along the way of his mostly great job), Lou was the one who often initiated the offense while Jrue played off the ball. The point is that Jrue or Iguodala will have a hard time helping Lou distribute the ball if he's dribbling the air out of the ball for the first 16 seconds of a possession.
Thad on the other hand could have played between Dalembert and Iguodala, who could help cover up for his weak defensive rebounding for a 4. Who Thad is playing alongside must be taken into account though, because Iguodala could be gone soon and then the frontcourt rotation of Hawes, Brand, and Young will have some major problems on that end of the floor. Thad's teammates can cover for him, but they have to be the right teammates.
Thad's positional problems are physical, while Lou's are more in his "Basketball DNA": This gets back to my first point. Thad doesn't have the lateral quickness to keep up with most of NBA small forwards defensively, but he's not big or strong enough to defend and rebound against power forwards. That's just the way he is built, and is precisely the reason why he's a nightmare to guard offensively (Too big for threes, way too quick for fours) so at least he uses his size as an advantage on that end.
Lou has the athleticism, quickness, speed, etc. to be a starting point guard in this league. Really, I would say that he's even a plus athlete of all the starters at a position that is starting to get more and more athletic. He just isn't wired that way though, and fair or not, it seems like his problems are more his fault than Thad's because they aren't physical.
Thad seems like he at least cares about defense: A big point that definitely has made Thad a more likeable player at least in my mind. Let's get this out of the way: Thad is not a good defender. Still, many problems over his career have had to do with poor coaching and his not being able to grasp a defensive system. Specifically, Thad is an overhelper, and I still chuckle (because if I don't, then I'd have to cry) at him sprinting all over the floor trying fruitlessly to contest wide open three point shots that Jordan's scheme allowed. Was he doing a good job? Hell no. Was he giving effort? Of course.
On the other hand, Lou is one of the laziest defenders in the league, continually playing five feet off players on whom he holds a huge quickness advantage (I'm still looking for the nickname "Lazy Lou" to catch on. Anybody?). I don't want to talk about his defense, because it will just get me madder.
After about 1200 words of evaluating my (and hopefully some of your) subconscious, let's examine how the team plays with both players on the floor. I'm not really concerned with their individual stats, because the story is pretty obvious if you follow the team. Lou's field goal percentage will never be good, but the fact that he takes a lot of threes and gets to the line well for anyone (not to mention a small guard) helps his efficiency out a lot. He does have a 2-1 assist to turnover ratio over his career, but he doesn't really make his teammates better the way a penetrator like him should. His lower turnover total compared to say, Jrue Holiday, should be viewed in that some of Jrue's turnovers come from trying to set a guy up for an easy shot. Lou doesn't do that as much as he should.
Thad on the other hand gets most of his points around the rim, with Collins basically cutting the three completely out of his repertoire (the dog and the electric fence analogy). He did an excellent job at the rim last year (73 percent, for reference Dwight Howard was at 75) and really thrived without a consistent midrange jumper. As far as his rebounding, he's proved to be an inadequate defensive rebounder at the four (last year's 4.7 per 36 minutes was a career high).
Onto the team stuff now. I'll start with Brian's pointon how he views the two players:
In the simplest terms, I see Lou as a guy who can keep your offense at least close to average by dominating the ball and scoring somewhat efficiently. I see Thad as a guy who can elevate the offense with more efficient scoring, playing within the offense (which is a big distinction). On the defensive end, neither guy is an asset, but Thad hurts you less, if that makes sense.
Or to put it even more simply, with Lou coming in off the bench, you hope to tread water. With Thad, you look to explode.
Let's look at some numbers from last year, and the reason I am using only last year is that with Doug Collins being brought in, that is the best year to evaluate each player's future with the team. Using Lou's great season under Jordan (and conversely Thad's terrible one) really has little bearing unless Collins decides to take the team uptown and start running some Princeton sets.
I went to Basketball Value to look up how the team does with both Lou and Thad on the floor to test Brian's theory. Hereis how the team performs offensively with and without each player on the floor (the column that says '1 Year Unadjusted Off Rating') and here is how the team does defensively ('1 Year Unadjusted Def Rating'). Besides showing that Antonio Daniels had an EXCELLENT 35 minutes, it shows what Brian is saying to be true, at least last year. They were better offensively with Thad on the floor than Lou by a fair, not huge amount. The big thing this chart shows is that the Sixers were much worse offensively without Thad on the floor than off it, while without Lou they were slightly better. Much of this has to do with how good Jrue was offensively last year, but it is something to look at. Thad is probably more unique in this point guard heavy league, making his scoring more of a commodity (Not to mention, he was more efficient last year as well).
From what I see, Thad does his damage more within the offense because at least the ball (and defense) is being moved before it gets to him, because he isn't the point guard. Also, Thad makes much faster decision than Lou as well. That isn't saying much, but Thad makes up his mind pretty fast (sometimes too fast, resulting in what I like to call the Thad Shuffle when he takes two quick steps before dribbling). He either attacks or moves the ball via the pass or dribble handoff.
The defensive numbers show that the team actually did a very nice job on that end when Thad was on the floor last year. Part of that was Collins' ability to hide him, and part of it was playing against other bench players, but the team was much better defensively on the floor last year with him. Part of that was how ill equipped Spencer Hawes is to play against starting centers, but it is not just a case of being better than Hawes. The team played good defense when Thaddeus Young was on the floor, and the team's defensive rating in those situations (102) bears that out.
Whether that's a one-year anomaly I don't know, but the team wasn't hurt last year when he was on the floor according to these stats. Lou actually had a positive net on that end as well, which I have a hard time explaining, although his net was much smaller than Thad's. The same argument that I made above about the team being good offensively with Jrue running the show doesn't translate to defense. This is because Jrue had his struggles with all of the responsibility (I would even call it a burden) Collins gave him. More than anything, being able to hide Lou is a tribute to Collins.
From those numbers (and you have to remember, they are only one year), I think we can safely say that Thaddeus Young helped the 76ers more last year than Lou Williams, especially because they played many of the same minutes together. How much does that translate into dollars and cents though? You could argue that Lou is just as good of a player and still overpaid, but I think a team like Boston would love him at that price. He literally isn't affected at all by who his teammates are offensively. He'd be just as happy playing with the D-League All-Stars as the NBA All-Stars (an exaggeration, but still). Lou would thrive on a bench that had gritty defenders/limited offense types, because he doesn't need help to get his points. The Sixers look like that at times, but if Turner and Meeks/Voose pan out to go along with Thad, Lou may hold them back. If not, then the team needs him.
As for Thaddeus Young? I bet his agent has made the point time and again to the Sixers that they need to keep him. Lou Williams is more of a luxury for this team at $5 Million backing up Jrue Holiday at a position of strength. Thaddeus Young is essential for the Sixers to remain an "up and coming" team. Whether that path is a prudent one is a good debate, but Thad sure was more vital than Lou for this team last year, and since Lou makes 5 Million a year Thad will want more. As for what I think?
$8 Million sounds good to me. No more though.
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