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Notebook: The Tragedy of Toine and Maybe the Best Story of the NBA Off-Season So Far

 

antoine_walkerSome interesting things I’ve seen around the Interwebs the past few days:

• Neil Paine at Basketball Reference plays with one way to measure the most overrated and underrated player seasons in league history, and there are Celtics aplenty on both lists. He defines overrated players as those whose Win Share totals (derived from Dean Oliver’s offensive and defensive rating systems, plus some other stats) far exceed their conventional stats (making them under-rated) or fall far short of their points-rebounds-assists (making them over-rated).

The whole post is worth a read. On the under-rated list we’ve got James Posey in 2008 and Eddie House in 2009. This fits within Paine’s general findings: Good defensive players and guys who shoot a high percentage in limited minutes tend to be under-valued, while those who take a ton of shots and pile up conventional stats in heavy (but inefficient) tend to be over-rated by fans still paying attention to the traditional stats.

In that vein, Antoine Walker has the single most “overrated” season in league history (his 2005 campaign, according to Paine’s system) plus one other season on the list of the 40 most overrated single years.

I will never get over ‘Toine’s failure to become a truly elite player. I still have a plaque with an Antoine Walker card mounted on it that I bought at the Fleet Center (undoubtedly for far too much money) when I was in college (the late 1990s). Even then, you could tell that ‘Toine was not going to harness his incredibly unique skill set and achieve true greatness. That’s part of the reason I liked ‘Toine and still do. I have a soft spot for athletes with overwhelming imperfections, especially if they are mental, rather than physical, imperfections. (Chris Webber’s absolute terror in the last minutes of a close playoff game was oddly humanizing that way). ‘Toine had more natural talent than any player the C’s had since Bird, and certainly more than Pierce. You’d watch him grab a rebound, high-speed dribble the length of the floor and dish a no-look assist to a teammate and think, “This guy could revolutionize the power forward position. Revo-freaking-lutionize it.”

And he could bang, too, when he wanted to and against the right players. He just never wanted to, and he never got into the best shape he could, and he fell into the temptation of the spectacular three instead of the efficient two.

Antoine Walker should have been a Hall of Famer. Instead, he’s the star of Neil Paine’s overrated list.

• Let’s clean up the C’s front court signings. First, as Red’s Army makes clear today, all of us (mainstream media included) erred in projecting a $1.3 million salary for Shelden Williams, and all of us (bloggers included) were irresponsibly sloppy in doing so. That $1.3 million figure is the vet’s minimum for players with tenures far longer than Williams; he’ll actually make about $856,000.

As for Baby, the number everyone keeps throwing around is $6.3 million over two years. That’s basically right, but with a wrinkle that Woj points out today (hat tip: CelticsBlog): About $500,000 of Davis’ projected salary is tied to weight-related bonuses. So, Glen, stick to the wraps and Diet Cokes if you really want to cash in.

• After the jump, we get to maybe my favorite piece of NBA off-season journalism so far.There’s nothing flashy or writerly about Johnny Ludden’s piece on the Spurs off-season moves for Yahoo!. (Massive hat tip: The great 48 Minutes of Hell). It’s just solid reporting, aided in part by the trust Ludden gained with people in the Spurs organization during his years covering the team for the San Antonio Express-News. Not that many reporters could get Gregg Popovich to say this about the 2009 Spurs: “We weren’t beating the Lakers, even if we were whole. If you really wanted to be honest with yourself, you had to think that.”

Ludden also reports a ton of interesting financial information, some relevant just to the Spurs and some that goes to the state of the league. Spurs chair Peter Holt admits that season-ticket renewals “just died” after the Mavs defeated the Spurs in the first round, and Ludden got his hands on an internal league document showing Spurs renewals dropped 11 percent from 2008 as of July 6. Great stuff.

But this sentence is even more interesting:  According to the NBA document, the Spurs had pulled in $33.3 million in revenue by July 6, down from $36.4 million a year ago – a modest 8.7 percent drop compared to the 20 teams with larger decreases.

Again: Twenty teams have seen 2009 revenues drop by more than 8.7 percent. Is it news that revenues have slowed? No. But it’s sort of jarring to see how much sharply it has dropped for so many teams.

There’s a lot more in there, including why the Spurs decided to scrap 2010 plans in favor of dealing for Richard Jefferson now (and signing Antonio McDyess), and some wonderful stuff about Tim Duncan which only cements his status as my favorite non-Celtic in the league. (A controversial and unexpected choice, I know).

I read Ludden’s piece over the weekend, but I thought about it again today when I read Henry Abbott’s post on TrueHoop about how Jack Ramsay essentially made the 1970s and early 1980s Blazers an open book for beat reporters covering the team. Ramsay wanted the reporters to understand the game, so he gave them total access to team practices.

That sort of access is gone, and that’s OK. And we certainly would never expect Popovich to say what he said about the Lakers during the season, because that would be a self-destructive, morale-killing admission of weakness. But give the Spurs–not exactly known for their openness–credit for discussing their off-season strategy, the state of their team, the off-season plans for their franchise cornerstone and even (in general terms) their financial situation. That kind of stuff creates good will with hard core fans and makes the portion of the fan base that cares to read a bit more well-educated about how the league works.

  • http://politicaldeathmatch.org Harrison_Bergeron

    I never shared most C’s fans’ hatred for ‘Toine. True, he never DID develop his talent the way he should have, the truth is he just wasn’t smart enough. He didn’t have a great basketball mind.

    But the guy was a competitor, and despite his penchant for jacking up ill-advised threes, a good team player. Or at least a willing one, which is more than can be said for many “stars” of his era. I’ll always remember how well he accepted going from franchise cornerstone to second banana when Pierce was drafted. I’ll always remember him getting in Pierce’s face before that amazing fourth quarter comeback against NJ. And, as much as I hated the Heat, Shaq, and Zo, I’ll always be glad he got to win a title somewhere. Too bad he didn’t have the brainpower to match his natural abilities…

    Oh, and I will NEVER forgive Chris Wallace for trading away Kenny Anderson and Vitaly Potopenko just when things were finally starting to come together. For Vin Baker, no less.

  • Arvin

    I still have a 'Toine autographed basketball in my room from his rookie season. Loved him as a Celtic, infuriated me with his lack of devotion to becoming more physical and for falling in love with the 3 points shot. I remember he was asked if he wanted to become Karl Malone or Scottie Pippen (inside vs. outside player). He picked Pippen. If he had picked Malone, he would still be playing in the NBA today.

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