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.