At the end of last season, every Wednesday I would put together one of those anonymous statistical comparisons, of the Jayson Stark ilk. That is, I would compare two players and show how they are related statistically, then delve into how they were either similar or different in their ways.
For the purposes of this Christmas present, I’m doing another one, just using back stats to start.
Player A: 26 MIN, 54.1% FG, 70.7% FT, 12.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 1.1 STL, 1.0 AST per game
Player B: 21 MIN, 53.9% FG, 73.8% FT, 8.2 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 1.0 STL, 0.8 AST per game
I’m sure you can guess one of them is Thaddeus Young. Yes, Player A was Thaddeus Young in 2010-11. But who was Player B?
Player B was also Thaddeus Young, but from his rookie season. His stats from last year, when he “broke out”, are nearly identical to those when he first started in the league, if scaled to 36 minutes – seriously, check his Basketball-Reference page out. Offensively, he hasn’t made much progress since his debut.
The truth is that Young regressed in his second and third NBA seasons – while he learned how to shoot the ball more effectively, he did so at the cost of the things he did so well as a rookie, such as driving to the rim or picking up the pieces of a broken offense. He tried to stretch the floor for teammates, but in doing so he became a much less effective player himself. He scored more points, but gave up just as many (if not more). If anything, the loss of his jumper helped him recover- Thad was forced to resort to what he did well. How he resorted, however, is what made him most effective
First, give credit Doug Collins for putting him in position to succeed. Throughout training camp, Doug told reporters that his plan was to place Thad exclusively at the “3” position. But for his skills and the roster, this couldn’t work. Eventually, he quit putting Thad on the perimeter and almost exclusively used him at the 4 as the season progressed. This allowed Thaddeus to focus on finishing near the rim and exploiting his quickness around slower, larger defenders.
And second, give credit to Thad for stepping up to combat his biggest weakness – defending the bigger players he could easily abuse on the other end of the court. While much of his progression had to do with effort (seriously, aside from the scrubs no one tried on defense and no one was held accountable for it under Eddie Jordan), he did bulk up and was a much tougher cover against bigs – while his opponent’s PER was relatively high, the Sixers only gave up 92.4 points per possession when he played the four instead of the three, according to 82games.com*. Which likely means that teams attacked Thad individually and did their best to exploit, but in doing so hurt other parts of their offense (to where it came out as a net-plus for the Sixers).
*82games.com lists Thad as the SF in lineups with both he and Andres Nocioni even though he clearly played the PF and Noce was positioned at the SF, so these may be a bit off reality. Opponent’s points would likely be higher, for instance, because every lineup with Nocioni was flat-out awful.
Now that Thad has a nice, big contract (4 years and a player option which I don’t entirely understand) he will obviously be under pressure to take his game “to the next level”. But what concerns me is that the last time expectations were really raised, he regressed into an inaccurate jump shooter. He needs to be aware of what got him to the party – the fantastic game near the rim, using his quickness to breeze by opponents, exploiting his left-handedness to fool unsuspecting defenders. He then needs to expand from there, not re-making his offensive game, to become great. He needs to know and remember who is is, what he does, and what he can improve upon.