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Jordan, Rookies and G.T. Green

This post sprung from the comments section yesterday. Coach Jordan's comments about Jrue and Willie sparked a lively debate, and I wanted to take a more thorough look at how he's handled playing time for rookies in the past. We'll also pick up our Willie Green discussion, and take a look at a chart.

Here are the rookies, by year, in parens you'll see what number they were picked, overall.

1997-98 Sacramento Kings

  • Tariq Abdul-Wahad (11th) - 959 minutes as a rookie. Played 6 unremarkable seasons in the NBA.
  • Lawrence Funderburke (51st in 1994) - 1,094 minutes as a rookie. Played 7 unremarkable seasons in the NBA. 27 year-old rookie
  • Derek Grimm (undrafted) - 34 minutes. This was his only season in the NBA
  • Anthony Johnson (39th) - 2,266 minutes as a rookie. Has played 10 seasons since, but this was his highest minute total.
  • Michael Stewart (undrafted) - 1,761 minutes as a rookie. Played 7 additional seasons in the NBA, his total for those other 7 seasons was less than the minutes Jordan played him as a rookie.
Thoughts: Jordan's first full season as a head coach was an unmitigated disaster. He led the Kings to a 27-55 record, relying on rookies for 6,114 minutes, an astonishing 31% of the team's total minutes.

2003-04 Washington Wizards

  • Steve Blake (38th) - 1,392 minutes as a rookie. 6 seasons and counting for Blake, who never excelled under Jordan, but has found a nice niche as a starting PG in Portland.
  • Torraye Braggs (57th in 1998) - 22 minutes for the Wizards. Played in one other season in limited action.
  • Jarvis Hayes (10th) - 2,044 minutes as a rookie. Still in the league, but his rookie year was his highest minute total.

Thoughts: Jordan's first year with the Wizards saw him rely on Hayes in the middle, a bad decision in hindsight. The team was horrendous, finishing 25-57. Rooks played 17% of all minutes.

2004-05 Washington Wizards

  • Peter John Ramos (32nd) - Ramos played 20 minutes as a rookie, the only 20 minutes of his career.

Thoughts: Ramos was the only rookie on the roster. Hayes and Blake saw their minutes decline greatly in their second seasons. The Wizards made the playoffs this season.

2005-06 Washington Wizards

  • Andray Blatche (49th) - 175 minutes as a rookie. Blatche has seen his minutes, and production, grow every year since.
  • Donell Taylor (undrafted) - 465 minutes as a rookie. 369 minutes the following season, then out of the league.

Thoughts: Only two rooks on the roster. 3% of minutes to the rookies.

2006-07 Washington Wizards

  • Mike Hall (undrafted) - 13 minutes as a rookie, 13 minutes for his career.
  • James Lang (undrafted) - 55 minutes as a rookie, 55 minutes for his career.

Thoughts: Two rooks on the roster, totaling 68 minutes. Blatche saw a jump in his minutes in his sophomore season, but only to 682.

2007-08 Washington Wizards

  • Dominic McGuire (47th) - 695 minutes as a rookie. Huge bump in minutes in his sophomore season, although he really wasn't productive (Jordan was fired after 11 games of his 2nd year).
  • Nick Young (16th) - 1,158 minutes as a rookie. Minutes jumped significantly in his second season, although again, his production didn't warrant them.
  • Oleksiy Pecherov (18th) - 319 minutes as a rookie. 277 minutes the following season.

Thoughts: The Wizards were ravaged by injury this season. Jordan did a great job of shifting the focus of the team and keeping them in the playoff picture despite limited talent. He did not, however, give a whole lot of the unexpected available minutes to the Wizards two first-round picks. Rookies played 10.9% of the total team minutes.

When I look back at this history with rookies two thoughts strike me. One, Eddie Jordan hasn't had a talented rookie to work with in his entire 6+ years as a head coach. Check that, he hasn't had a rookie who has turned into a productive NBA player. Now, is this because the players were not talented when they came to him, or was it because he could not, or did not, properly develop their talent? That's the million dollar question.

Early in his career, Jordan leaned heavily on rookies, who unquestionably let him down. He was coaching bad teams at the time, but did those seasons erode his trust in rooks? Has that experienced influenced his handling of rookies ever since?

Another discussion in the same thread was about Willie's value to the team. My argument was that he's a useless player who should be stuck at the end of the bench since there are much better options on the roster. Others argued that he's not that bad. I had been using a potentially flawed argument when crucifying Willie, essentially comparing him to other starting SGs in the league, or at least guys who played starter's minutes, instead of comparing him to reserve guards. Tonight, I decided to take a look at how he measured up against those guys. Click on the image below to see the full-size chart:

willievstheworldimages.gifI randomly picked these names, mainly I was looking for shooting guards off the bench. Some of these guys could be considered the 3rd guard in his team's rotation, but most of them fall lower on the depth chart. If you take a look at the chart and think, "Hey, Willie doesn't look that bad," you should really take a closer look. The only meaningful stats for a guard that Willie is even in the top half for are assists/36 minutes and overall FG%, and he's barely in the top half. He's either 9th or 10th in all the advanced categories, save usage. It's really a shame that his usage wasn't lower, because he'd be doing much less damage. His points-per-shot is just pitifully low.

Of this group, the only player who is even nearly as bad overall as Willie is Daequan Cook. The difference between Cook and Willie, though, is that Cook has a specialty. He's an excellent three-point shooter. He can stretch the floor. Willie's only significant strength, if you can call it that, is his decent percentage on 2-point jumpers (I didn't include this stat, because he was the only one with enough shots to qualify to be on the list at 82games.com).

As far as strengths go, that may be the least-valuable. Think about it for a second: An offense should basically average at least one point per possession. So, to take it down to its purest form, a guy who shoots 33% from three is doing his job on his threes. Anything above 33% is gravy, you get to 40% and he's really doing some damage. If you can't shoot from downtown, the next best way to up your points-per-possession is to get to the line. And-ones are obviously the best-case scenario here, but when you aggressively attack the basket there are a number of ways you can do better than the 1 point per possession threshold. You're taking a high-percentage shot, you're putting yourself in a position to get to the line, etc.

Let's think about the two-point jumper for a second. Ten years ago, it was common to hear announcers marvel at Grant Hill and talk about how his mid-range game was what really set him apart. All you heard was how mid-range jumpers were a lost art, and how the intermediate game was vital. Now, the trend has completely reversed. In fact, a deep two is considered by a lot of people to be the worst shot in basketball. It makes sense, the percentage isn't going to be much higher than a three, but the reward is 50% less for a make. Compare it to a drive to the hoop where not only is the percentage on the shot much higher than a mid-range jumper, but you also factor in the odds of getting fouled.

Essentially, Willie's only skill of note is that he scores .84 points per two-point jumper he attempts. The Sixers would be better off letting Iguodala jack threes all day long at his .307 clip from last season, that would result in .921 points-per-possession.

Obviously, there's more to making two-point jumpers, in the PO, the ability to make those jumpers should lead to open backdoor looks for Willie, which he is adept at running and converting (or at least he was when Andre Miller was drilling him with bullet passes under the hoop). Still, it's just not enough. That one skill is not nearly enough to offset the damage he does in nearly every other area of the game.
by Brian on Oct 2 2009
Tags: Basketball | Eddie Jordan | Offseason | Sixers | Willie Green |