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Marbury: The Great Unknown

 

There are so many questions about Stephon Marbury (Is he insane? Why is he chilling out at bus stops in LA?) that I’m finding it difficult to form a solid opinion on his possible/probable signing with the Celtics. But I’ll boil my concerns down to two questions:

1) Can Marbury be even a serviceable defensive player anymore?

2) How does Doc Rivers plan to use him?

Let’s start with the second question. The idea behind signing Marbury, I assume, is to have more offensive firepower on the bench. But where, exactly, does Marbury fit in with the second unit? If Doc sticks to the way he’s been constructing line-ups so far this season, what you’re really asking in the second question is this: Do you think Marbury is a better player than Eddie House? I say that because Doc essentially never plays a three-guard lineup or even a line-up with two small guards; Rondo and House, for instance, have been on the floor together for just 145 minutes this season.

So I don’t think you can say, “This is great, playing Stephon with the second unit frees up House to play shooting guard.” Because Doc has shown no indication he’s willing to play two guys 6’2” or under at the same time, and I’m not sure he’s willing to play a House-Marbury-Pierce/Ray combo during meaningful minutes.

It hurts the defense too much, especially against Cleveland, which rarely plays a small line-up. You can’t just slide Marbury in for Tony Allen (who is 6’4” and a solid defender).

I just don’t see how Marbury fits into the team — given the coaching staff’s apparent preference for bigger guards — without severely cutting into House’s minutes. Maybe Doc is willing to experiment with smaller line-ups or even play Marbury for Rondo alongside the other four starters in short stints. I ask you: Are you ready for that? Because I honestly don’t know if I am.

Marbury can certainly create off the dribble in ways House will never be able to, and that could ease the burden on Pierce and Ray Allen to carry the offense with four bench players. He could set up some easy inside buckets for Baby and Powe.

He can score more than House, though Marbury’s FG percentage is under 42 percent since the ’06-07 season, and he’s a career 32.6 percent shooter from three-point range. House, in other words, is a better shooter. But perhaps not a better scorer, to use a cliched hoops distinction.

This is where question one comes in: Can Stephon Marbury play defense? The numbers suggest that Marbury has been a pretty bad defender since sometime in 2005. (Seriously. Last season, the Knicks defense gave up seven more points per 100 possessions was slightly worse with Marbury on the court (ed note: Thanks to reader for pointing out my mistake). The year before, the difference was about five points per 100 possessions.

It’s right about now that you’ll hear about how KG and the team’s championship mentality will energize Marbury on the defensive end, and that perhaps he wasn’t giving his best effort with the Knicks. Maybe this is true. I don’t know. I mean, have you seen this dialogue between Marbury and a reporter? How can we even begin to analyze this person’s internal motives?

If Marbury has lost a step on defense or isn’t ready to buy in, he shouldn’t be playing 15 minutes against Cleveland in a playoff game. Between now and then, of course, there are games against the Wizards where the Celtics can find out what they need to know, and I suppose it’s worth paying the pro-rated veteran’s minimum to do that research and prevent Marbury from signing with Cleveland or something. So maybe that’s the answer.

Maybe this is a cheap fishing expedition the team would be dumb not to go on. And I’m fine with that as long as the team treats Marbury like any anonymous rookie gunning for a 10-day contract. He shouldn’t be playing June minutes just because of his name.

  • Rustjive

    I don't see how you can write this entire post and not mention Pruitt at least once. You've built this rant off of the (flawed) premise that Marbury directly takes minutes from Eddie House. Although that may be partially true, in fact, Marbury is going to make Pruitt's minutes vanish.

    I can see your counter-argument: "Well, Pruitt doesn't play in the playoffs!" In that case, then Pruitt illustrates the point that Doc does play 2 small guards together (385 minutes with the House/Rondo/Pruitt player pairs). You might then say "but Pruitt is 6'4!" Well, in that case, the height argument is just a function of the players on the team. When you only have 2 players shorter than 6'2", and one of them is specifically the backup for the other, there aren't that many opportunities that would call for them to be played together. It's like looking at Derek Fisher and Jordan Farmar, except in our case Farmar can shoot.

    Now, of course, this is just in the regular season. No one is expecting Pruitt to play at all against Cleveland, but Marbury does do a few things a lot better than Eddie House does – in fact their skill sets (Marbury: create own offense, ball-handling, House: shooting) are non-overlapping. Obviously in this case he'll be taking House's minutes, but Marbury doesn't need to be better than House all the time to make him a worthwhile pickup, he just needs to be better than House in the situations that call for his skills.

    As for the idea that Marbury is awful on defense – that may be the case, but everything is relative here. What is Eddie House's defensive value? Well, the year before he joined the Celtics, House's DRtg:

    Defense: Pts per 100 Poss.

    ON COURT: 112.1

    OFF COURT: 105.6

    And Starbury's DRtg from 07-08:

    ON COURT: 112.9

    OFF COURT: 113.2

    To conclude: even if Marbury directly takes House's minutes, so what? What do we lose? 3 point shooting. What do we gain? A point guard comfortable with the ball in his hands, capable of creating his own offense. Different skills for different situations.

  • http://www.celticshub.com Zach Lowe

    Great points, man. This is why having a blog is fun. And thanks for correcting my mistake on his DRTG from last year–I mis-read the chart (this can happen late at night after a long day at the office). The post has been corrected.

    As for Pruitt, you're right that I didn't include him because he'll never see time in an important moment.

  • FezHenry

    I agree with Rustjive. I'd also like to add that Doc has been playing House and Rondo a lot together (both sub-6'1") over the past 5 weeks, and it has coincided with House having huge scoring bursts, along with overall improvement from the bench in general. I also don't think it has hurt the defense all that much either, although I don't have any statistics to prove that other than watching all of the games. The Celtics overall defensive schemes and defensive rotation has been able to cover up any deficiencies they may have experienced so far. Marbury will probably eat unto House's minutes a little bit, but as Rustjive said, Pruitt's minutes will be taken away completely.

  • BigDev

    I understand the concern with the division of minutes and overlapping skill sets, and must admit that I have the same fears. Consider this however. Polls have shown that a majority of Celtics fans felt "more uneasy" after the trading deadline than they did before it. While I don't think Danny and Doc put too much credence in fan polls, it would seem that many people of like-mind might be on to something.

    So if we presuppose that the fans and the management both realize the need to make additions, with the current financial status of the C's, who else fills the bill? What other guard is out there that fills the C's needs for a strong Rondo backup who costs as little and is basically as expendable as Cassell was last year should things turn south. That being said, if this deal happens, I'm gonna be holding my breath.

  • joe

    You are going to need a hell of a lot more than marbury to not get worked by the Lakers in June.

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  • michael smith

    hope he does not play head games with Rondo – he better just accept his job as a role player of the bench.

    not sure if he is capable of that – the bad D can live with for few minutes at a time.

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  • Rustjive

    I think I'm just going to pat myself on the back and call it a season.

  • http://www.celticshub.com Zach Lowe

    @Rust: Good calls on Marbury so far. How did you think he looked last night? I'm still nervous…but that's the way I am.

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