Irrational Exuberance, in two parts



Part I: Darko Milicic

Now I just want to say at the outset - I don't for one minute think that Darko is going to magically turn some corner and become a guy worthy of the #2 draft spot or any of that nonsense. Furthermore I am not going to argue for anything other than what he already shown he can do. What I am going to attempt to do is show how he can be a useful, contributing component to the Wolves this year by pointing out a few simple things that should make a huge difference in his performance.

First and foremost - he's a 7' center who is average defensively, pretty mobile for his size, and a terrific shot blocker (over the past five seasons Darko's block percentage last year - amongst guys who played 1500 minutes or more - ranked 5th overall. That's the 97th percentile for those wondering.) His steal percentage isn't bad either. On a team most likely playing Kevin Love at center, Darko's particular skillset is actually pretty useful to have in a 15-20 mpg context. To quote Basketball Prospectus' writeup on him:

He is a solid backup center who is exposed in larger minutes...Over the long run, he just doesn't score efficienly enough to justify frequent touches, even factoring in his solid passing from the post. Milicic is better at the defensive end of the floor. Playing with Love helped hide his greatest weakness, which is defensive rebounding. Milicic is stout in the post and a strong shot blocker. He improved his block rate last season...and did so without committing more fouls.

And therein lies the problem with Darko - dude just ain't a good scorer. He takes too many shots and converts them at too low a rate.

All last year I cringed everytime I saw Darko attempt that stupid baby hook. For the first dozen games I thought maybe his confidence would come around and he'd become manna from heaven. Darko got Rambis'd and forced to play a role he's simply not cut out to do. Doesn't mean he can't help a team, just means that a) Rambis is going to continue to look worse and worse as a coach the further away we get for trying to make Darko instead of Love the offensive gate-keeper, and b) Darko needs to go back to what made him most successful, and by most successful I mean his two best seasons ever, one at Orlando and one at Memphis.

If you look at his numbers, specifically TS%, it's not as if he shot it particularly better those years. And it's not as if he rebounded significantly better those two years (although his Oreb and Dreb%'s were slightly better). Offensively the only notable thing that I noticed was that he attempted more FTA's per36 those two years - nearly twice as many compared to last year. Before I get to what I think, offensively, is the biggest thing holding Darko back, I just want to reiterate that his primary value lies as a defensive, 15-20 mpg big man who plays against guys Love simply is too short to handle.

Digging deeper into Darko's offensive contributions over the past years (pun intended), I found a clear 'symptom' of what I think went so wrong under Rambis. Namely, shot attempts from 3-9', aka the dreaded baby hook. According to Hoopdata, Darko's issue isn't lack of shot attempts at the rim (since 2007 per40 minutes his at rim attempts are 5.1, 4.8, 5.2, wasted year between NY/MIN, and 5.1), nor his ability to convert those (lowest FG% was .580). Quite simply Darko set a career high last year in attempts from 3'-9' (per40 minutes) with 7.2 FGAs, or nearly double his two good years (4.0 and 3.9). Those two years where he posted a WS/48 of better than .080 he played offensively within his means - attempts at the rim, limited attempts away from it, good defense, and an elevated free throw rate. Anyone want to hazard a guess as to how Adelman will try to use Darko?:

19 minutes, two FGA's, 3/4 free throws, and 3 blocked shots.

Over the last three years these are the kind of guys who help win games, and this is exactly what is possible for Darko.

Part II: Derrick Williams

Be forewarned - I titled this post irrational exuberance for a reason. The Darko bit is actually quite rational - if the guy focuses on D, doesn't play too much, and shoots within his own abilities, he's a decent player to have on your squad. Derrick Williams? I think I'm going to be throwing gas on the fire here, but the truth is that I'm not satisfied with the comps being thrown out there for him.

I believe that Derrick Williams is a legit efficient offensive scorer. I think his three point range is a strength, and I am impressed with his ability to finish with defenders wrapped around him. Will he be as efficient in college? No way, but he will be a big breath of fresh air around these parts. I for one don't see a problem with playing him in a Beasley/Williams/Love small lineup for significant portions of the game because these guys are all different. There is rightfully going to be a little disagreement about whether that lineup will work, especially defensively, and I cannot wait for the season to start so we can find out.

OK, getting back to the irrational exuberance thing. Here's my deal with the Williams comps - the dude is athletic but burly. He's got long arms but legit three point range. And his primary value lies as a scorer. He's kinda like Beasley, but he's far more efficient. He could be like a Carmelo, but not really - he's not a volume guy and he's a 4/3 at best, not a 3/4. He could be a little like a shorter STAT, perhaps. Somehow I am suspicious of this, but Amare is primarily a scorer, not a very good rebounder, terrific at getting to the line (as Williams was in college). I just don't think Williams will ever be the high usage guy Amare is, nor will he play the 5 at all.

The guy who actually came to mind is one of my favorite past players ever. If this post does nothing else but gets you to watch the following video than it will have been a success in my mind. I had forgotten just how fun he was:

shawn kemp mix (via spyder9669)

This guy was fantastic in his prime. Just amazing. Initially this is what I thought of Derrick Williams as, at his peak potential in the NBA, only with three point range. However, after thinking about it a bit, Williams isn't in Kemp's league athletically. I'd say Blake Griffin is the only guy right now who could do what Kemp did for awhile there, and hopefully now that he's paired with CP3 we'll get to see the rise of the late 90's Sonics South.

You can see for yourself that stylistically and athletically Williams plays a different game than Kemp. He's not quite so agressive, can finish as well in traffic with guys all around him, doesn't jump quite as high, but does have an actual outside shot.

Derrick Williams Official Highlight Video 2010 - 2011 (via Zonahoops)

This got me thinking of other burly PFs who's primary asset was efficient scoring, both at the rim and shooting. That brought me to this guy. Now I want to make clear - I use this player as an archetypal comp for how Williams could grow his game, not that I think Williams is going to even be half the player this guy was.

Karl Malone - BIGGER, STRONGER, FASTER (via lkasprzak)

Karl Malone wasn't as explosive as Kemp, but he was a better shooter. He wasn't the best rebounder, but he got to the line. He is the epitome of a high usage scoring forward, one who could drive to the basket at will or dagger you with a jump shot if you clogged the paint on him. If I had to choose one guy for Williams to study right now it would be Malone. Emphasis on the connection between Williams and Malone being made here right now as one of Williams studying Malone's game. We clear on that? Internet commenters have a habit sometimes of missing these things.

In the end, however, Basketball Prospectus has probably nailed the immediate best comp for Derrick Williams. All things considered, that's not bad.

JJ Hickson 2009 - 2010 Season Highlights (via sreamdevil)

Of course losing Lebron dramatically lowered Hickson's win production despite his numbers improving across the board (suggesting that WS and other metrics aren't as 'objective' as they claim to be, but I digress. Don't want to open yet another can of worms...) But I could live with Williams posting Hickson's career .075 WS/48. That'd be around 2.3 WS for this season, or just below the +2.5 WARP SCHOENE projects him at.

So there you have it - Derrick Williams is...J.J. Hickson with three point range.