Archive for the ‘Playoff Player Profile’ Category


Back before all that other crazy stuff happened in the fourth quarter and overtime, there was like a 30 percent chance that last night’s opener of the Pacers-Heat series was going to be known as “The Tyler Hansbrough Game.” Nah, he didn’t go full-on Nate Robinson or anything, but he did have a stretch where he hit four buckets in about a five minute stretch, keeping Indiana’s head above water during the Heat’s characteristic third-quarter surge and killing valuable time for David West on the bench. His name trended on Twitter. Reggie Miller made a reference to him being the MVP or some such. Then a couple crazy shots, a couple crazy fouls, a couple crazy defensive breakdowns, and now Tyler Hansbrough’s breakout is kinda whatever. Oh well.

I’ve long been infatuated with Tyler Hansbrough’s role on the Indiana Pacers, because I can’t remember another player in the league in a position quite like it. Usually, nominal sixth men/first men off the bench types are shooting/playmaking guards, or at the very least, big men with impressive post games like Carl Landry or Paul Millsap a couple years ago. Tyler Hansbrough is basically the Pacers’ sixth man by default, because they have no other good bench players (or even competent ones, really — would any of DJ Augustin, Orlando Johnson, Ian Mahinmi, Sam Young or Gerald Green get even spot minutes on the Heat?), but he’s definitely not a shooter or a playmaker, and his post moves are pretty pedestrian, if even that.

Still, he gets results, sort of. Taking a cursory look at Hansbrough’s per-game averages on the season, they certainly won’t blow you away — seven points, about five rebounds, 43 percent shooting and one turnover per game is pretty unremarkable stuff. Look a little deeper, though, and he starts to look decently effective. First and foremost, despite only playing the seventh-most minutes per game on the team — yes, even Gerald Green played more — he drew the second-most free throws on the team, shooting nearly four a game in his 17 minutes, good for a per-36 average of nearly eight a contest. He was one of only 38 players to shoot 300 free throws this year, and he played by far the fewest minutes of anyone on that list.  And while he’s not quite a Reggie Evans-sized monster on the glass, he certainly crashes it with abandon, grabbing the second-most offensive boards on the team. Again, he was one of only 41 players to grab 160 offensive rebounds this year, and of those 41, only the prodigious Andre Drummond played fewer minutes.

To paraphrase Trey on a recent podcast, this is basically the entirety of the Pacers’ second unit offensive strategy: Tyler Hansbrough goes running around and hopes to draw a foul. The net results of that being your entire offensive strategy for stretches of the game at a time is obviously disastrous, as is reflected by Hansbrough’s unflattering on-court/off-court plus-minus numbers. But hell, if Hansbrough’s knees-and-elbows efficiency doesn’t do its damnedest to make it slightly redeemable. In the end, he posted an above-average PER for the season (15.3) and was worth a very respectable 4.4 Win Shares on the season, with his .154 WS/48 being the third-highest on the Pacers, higher than even All-Star and budding superstar Paul George. It’s not pretty, and Tyler doesn’t do anything to make it pretty. In fact, he makes it as brutal-looking as possible.

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Did you remember that James Jones still played for the Heat?

Maybe you didn’t before the 8:28 he played in garbage time of Wednesday’s Bulls blowout, easily the most playing time he’s seen in this postseason, and more than he got than in all but six games this entire season. (So dire has Jones’ playing situation been that he needed to use valuable team karaoke time to passive-aggressively plead with his boss for more minutes.) And maybe you didn’t even notice that he was in there for those eight-and-a-half minutes, since he went 0-1 with two rebounds and a turnover. But oh yeah, he was out there, earning the $1.5 million he’ll be receiving from Miami this season. And if we see him again for nearly as long this postseason, we’ll know that things either went horribly wrong or horribly right for Miami.

He played for long enough to remind me how much I still hate James Jones. If I was to do a power rankings of the players I hate the most on the Heat, my most-hated professional sports team of my adult life, first would be LeBron (obviously), second would probably be Dwyane Wade, third would be PA announcer Michael Baiamonte, and fourth would probably be James Jones. I don’t think I’m alone in this, either — I feel like most other Heat haters I’ve talked to also reserve a particular rage for James Jones, disproportionate to his actual relevance as a player. My friend who I watched Wednesday’s game with was confused as to the degree of my ranting, but even he agreed that “generally, f— James Jones.” It’s not an uncommon sentiment.

Why the James Jones hate? Hard to say, except that he has a gigantic forehead, is perpetually sneering, and has/had a tendency to hit shots that made you say “Really? James f—ing Jones?” Maybe it’s his name — my 425th ranked of 425 NBA names – so ridiculously innocuous without even being memorably or tellingly so. Maybe it goes back to the second game of the Big Three era — their first win — when he hit six of nine threes in Philadelphia to help drub my Sixers in their season opener, scoring more points than LeBron or Bosh. Maybe it was that time he nearly got into a fight with Evan Turner during the playoffs that year, shoving him during an out-of-bounds play stoppage. I have no shortage of bulls— reasons to hate on James Jones.

But of course, the real reason was probably just this: He was better than any player not named Bosh, Wade or James (well, last-name-named) should have been for that first post-Decision Miami Heat team. Not to say he was all that great — they won’t be retiring his number next to Dan Marino and Michael Jordan at the Triple A anytime soon — but he had a very respectable season for the Heat that year. making 123 of 287 threes (42 percent), even winning the three-point shootout that All-Star Weekend, and leading the league in lowest turnover rate (for the second time in his career, hilariously — guess it’s easy to not turn the ball over when the only reason it ever leaves your hands is to go up as a three). The one comfort I kept for myself amidst the SuperFriends’ assemblage was that they at least wouldn’t have many (or any) half-decent teammates, but James Jones seemed to be evidence that just about any player could reach maximum efficacy, and acceptable role player status, playing next to those three guys.

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A Nets fan friend of mine asked if I wanted to go to Game 5 of Nets-Bulls at Barclays Center. I was hesitant — the price was decent by playoff standards but still pricey by normal Monday night activity standards, and I knew I could only root for the Bulls if I went. But I had fallen so hard for this Chicago team throughout the series, particularly in that legendary Game 4, that I decided to give it a go anyway, to root them on as they hopefully closed out the Nets on the road. Then on Monday afternoon, four or five hours before the game, I saw something that instantly made me regret that decision: Kirk Hinrich was out for the game with a calf bruise, and I knew that the Bulls would lose.

Derrick Rose is obviously the best player on the Bulls, but Kirk Hinrich is clearly the Truest Bull. Actually, that’s not true at all. Hinrich’s up there, but equal claims could be made for Truest Bull status by Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, even Rose himself when healthy. (This is a pretty true Bulls team.) Nonetheless, there’s something undeniably Bullsian about Hinrich’s hard-nosed, defensive-minded, solid-but-unspectacular style of play. He always seems to know the right play to make for this team, even if he’s not quite capable of making it some of the time. He’s about as good a single-player encapsulation of the 2012-13 Bulls as you could ask for.

Captain Kirk seems so natural an on-court extension of the Tom Thibodeau ethos that it’s absolutely crazy to think that this is actually his first season playing for Thibs, since it already seems like he’s been doing so his whole career. What’s more, a couple months into his second stint with the Bulls — he initially served from 2003 to 2010, before his contract was jettisoned to Washington to help clear cap space for what they hoped would be LeBron James or Dwyane Wade and ended up being Carlos Boozer, Hinrich was then re-routed to Atlanta to take the reins from a decrepit Mike Bibby — and you completely forgot the two seasons he spent apart from the team. It’s natural he’s back in Chicago. It’s right. Can you even imagine what he even looked like in a Wizards uniform?

Like few other players in this league, Kirk’s value to the Bulls is one that can’t be captured in numbers. Or at least, Kirk better hope for his sake that his value can’t be captured in numbers, because the numbers say he’s pretty damn un-valuable. He shot 39 percent from deep, which is pretty OK, and he only turned the ball over 1.7 times a game, which is nice for a point guard. But he also shot an exceedingly poor 33 percent from 16 feet to 3-point range, and an unthinkably low 25 percent from three to 10 feet. He hasn’t averaged double-digits in points for a season since 2010, he hasn’t attempted more than two free throws a game since 2007. His PER this season was a barely-Mendoza-Line-clearing 10.9.

There’s only one real statistical category to measure Hinrich’s value: Wins and losses. A cliche, perhaps, but in Kirk’s case, it happens to be true. You might have heard the numbers before, but they’re worth repeating: The Bulls were 38-22 with the Captain in the lineup this regular season, and 7-15 without him. A large part of that is the fact that without Hinrich, Nate Robinson is forced to play starter’s minutes, and even worse, Marquis Teague fills as the backup (or Marco Belinelli slides over to makeshift point), none of which any team could survive in large doses. But it was also Kirk’s carefulness with the ball, his ability to feed Boozer in his sweet spot on the post (or Noah in the pick-and-roll), and of course, his stifling individual defense. The Bulls’ offensive rating was higher when he was on the court than off, and their opponents’ offensive rating was lower. He was valuable, even if he wasn’t good.

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Over the course of the playoffs, Andrew Unterberger will be taking a deeper look at some of the more interesting characters at the center of the drama of the second season. First up: Denver Nuggets point guard Andre Miller.

You’d be forgiven as an NBA fan, especially before this weekend, for not knowing that Andre Miller had never won a playoff series. It’s an 0-fer that hasn’t gotten nearly as much attention as that of, say, Tracy McGrady, or of either Grant Hill or Miller’s old teammate Carmelo Anthony before they finally got to the second round. But indeed, the 37-year-old Denver Nuggets point guard has made it to the postseason eight times before this season, with three different teams (four if you count his two stints in Denver separately), and thusfar he’s 0-8 — though for what it’s worth, he’s been inching ever closer to second-round survival, lasting five games in his first three postseasons, six games in his next four, and seven games in his eighth, last year’s showdown with the Lakers.

This year might very well be his year. Dre himself had a good deal of say in that during the Nuggets’ playoff opener on Saturday, where he scored a season-high 28 points, including the game-winning layup in the final seconds, to propel the Nuggets to a dramatic 97-95 victory over the Golden State Warriors in what was easily the best finish of any game this weekend. The Nuggets now lead 1-0 in a series that they were heavy favorites in even before the Warriors’ lone All-Star, David Lee, was ruled out for the rest of the season with a torn hip flexor. After the game, the veteran point guard called his last-second layup the first game-winner of his career on any level, which while slightly unbelievable (depending on your definition of “game-winner,” anyway), would be sort of fitting for Andre Miller.

Like few other players in the league, Miller has had a standout career of never really standing out. In addition to never winning a playoff series, he’s never made an All-Star team, never received an MVP vote, never been named anything besides an All-Rookie first-teamer. Casual NBA fans might only have passing recognition of his name and face, and if you’re not a fan at all, there’s basically no chance that you’ve even heard of him. If you watched him for a few minutes in an average game, you might be stunned by how unimpressive he looks, with his set-shot jumper, stilted drive to the basket, and ugly overhead release. When he eventually retires in 2029, there’ll be little more than the minimum of discussion about his Hall of Fame chances, and after perhaps a couple of courtesy appearances on the ballot, his name and his game will be lost to the ravages of time.

Yet he’s put together some of the best counting numbers of his generation, currently ranking in the top 10 among active players in assists (3rd), steals (8th) and games played (9th). And even at age 37, he continues to play at a higher level than nearly anyone in his 1999 draft class – especially the seven players who were drafted above him, five of whom were All-Stars, but only three of whom are still playing in the league, and none of whom played more than 22 minutes a game this year. (Miller averaged 26.2.) He’s had the career of one of those guys who, where 15 years from now, people are going to be playing Sporcle quizzes and being stunned when his name keeps coming up as an answer. “Andre Miller’s in the top 10 all-time in assists? He led the whole league one year? And he actually scored 52 points in a game???”

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