Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Seeing is Believing

I tend to put a lot of stock in numbers when it comes to evaluating NBA players. This is due in part to the fact that box scores are easier to come by than archived game tapes (not to mention more expedient), but also because things like PER and Win Shares have produced such compelling results. In fact, I'm such a "stat guy" that I often disregard what I actually see happening and instead believe what the numbers tell me after the fact.

But last night I got the chance to whip around through eight different NBA games and see some guys making plays that I didn't realize they could make. I watched players bring things to the table that don't really show up on the stat sheet. Guys impacted games even though when I checked the box score later, the line didn't look all that impressive.

Two guys in particular stood out last night as being really good players, even if their stats would indicate otherwise.

The first is Francisco Garcia. I liked him coming out of Louisville, but was already willing to admit that I was way off after his career got off to a slow start. However, this guy can really play. He's a rangy defender than can guard multiple positions and uses his quick hands to deflect a lot of passes and block a high number of shots for a guard. On offense his jumper still needs polish, but he was very impressive handling the ball and making decisions. He also runs the floor well and is athletic enough to rebound outside his area and create plays in chaotic situations. All around, the guy really impressed me.

The second player that really showed something was Al Jefferson. This one might seem a bit obvious, as he was putting up big numbers last year down the stretch for Boston and expected to approach 20/10 territory this year. But what impressed me was the ease with which he gets to his spots on offense and the confidence he has in taking over games down the stretch. He shook off a quiet first three quarters to lead the young Timberwolves on an impressive late charge against Orlando last night and even though Minny couldn't get the W, Big Al was by far the most dominant player on the floor in the fourth quarter (despite Rashard Lewis' 7 threes or Dwight Howard's monster box score). He has a nice jump hook that he kind of just rolls over the defender's shoulder, a variation on the hook where he jump stops in the lane and gets separation before putting up a one-handed shot put of sorts, and then he also has both a turnaround and a standstill jumper that he can make off the post or off the catch and out as far as 15 feet. A lot of really, really good stuff.

Anyway, the lesson here is to try to watch the games from time to time and see some things beyond the stats. In this era of fantasy hoops and John Hollinger (both things I love), sometimes we forget to just watch these guys play and marvel at all their abilities, both obvious and subtle. Last night was a good reminder.

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