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Erden: A Semi-Baked Analysis

 

Is Semih Erden an NBA player?

Admit it. He kinda looks cool in this picture.

I don’t know.

None of us do, yet.

And by framing the question that way, rather than asking, say – should the Celtics be giving Erden the chance to prove he can play rotation minutes in this league – we poison the well from the outset. Plus, by engaging the question this early in Erden’s career, as he battles a shoulder injury and plays minutes he’d never even sniff if the Celtics’ bigs were healthy, we risk making fools of ourselves.

Or I do, anyway.

But Erden has a 6.88 PER so far this season. By that measure, he’s one of the worst players in the NBA. And who besides the Celtics’ brass thought we’d ever see this guy come across the pond and suit up, much less play meaningful minutes?

Erden, selected with the final pick in the 2008 NBA draft, may have benefited from the Celtics’ game 7 loss in the finals and Ainge’s summer mandate to track down more length to match up with the Lakers, and to exploit the Heat’s interior weaknesses. A young, mobile seven-footer must have seemed like the perfect occupant for the end of the bench. The Celtics could bring him along slowly and he could provide some resistance in practice for the rotation players.

Erden may have moved a notch up the depth chart with his performance at the World’s this summer. In September, Chris Forsberg of ESPN Boston checked in with Danny Ainge on that topic:

Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said he watched every Turkey game on TV, while also dispatching director of player personnel Ryan McDonough overseas to report back on Erden’s exploits. The 6-foot-11 rookie center averaged 9.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 1.2 assists per game in nine appearances, while helping the hosts earn silver.

“I really liked what I saw,” said Ainge. “I thought Semih played with great energy and confidence.”

While Erden wasn’t overly dominant on the glass and struggled at the free-throw line, he did show a nice ability to finish around the basket and, maybe most notably, displayed good passing skills when defenses committed double teams.

“Semih’s a player,” said Ainge. “He plays hard, he plays with energy. He definitely made a handful of nice passes.”

Eleven games into his career, Ainge’s observations feel accurate. Erden has good hands, and touch around the basket. He runs the floor well and plays with good energy. He has the potential to be a strong pick and roll defender.

But right now he’s part of the problem with the Celtics’ underachieving bench.

Semih SMASH!

Over the last few days, I’ve gone back and rewatched the bulk of Erden’s minutes as a Celtic. A few observations mixed in with some number crunching:

  • He is raw like sushi on the offensive end. Most of his baskets (83.3% assisted) have come as a result of rolling to the basket and finishing off someone else’s creation. Or in transition.
  • He eschews the traditional perimeter-based, face-up European offensive game by staying in the paint area. This is encouraging. Erden doesn’t take shots outside of ten feet. Essentially 75% of the shots he takes are from point blank range and the other 25% are from 10 feet and closer. To develop an offensive game that moves his PER from atrocious to passable, he’ll have to refine a couple post-moves and a face-up jumper. That may not be feasible in the 2010-11 season.
  • He’s a turnover machine. Erden turns the ball over on 21.84% of his possessions (9th worst in the league). Many of these have come on back-to-the-basket attempts, as he goes into a post-move. Doubling Erden in those circumstances is pretty much a guaranteed T/O. Soft hands, yes. Sticky hands – not yet. This has to improve.
  • He is active on the defense end, but often ineffective. This is a subjective assessment, but Erden seems always a step behind on rotations. And insufficiently physical in his man-to-man defense. Part of that seems to be tied into learning the Celtics defensive system (it’s not like he’s logging heavy game minutes – it’s gonna take time) and part of it may be tied into his shoulder injury. Erden has real height, length and weight – he should be throwing it around. But the prognosis on his shoulder suggests we may not see that before next year.
  • He has potential as a rebounder. His 11.6 rebound rate is in the top 40% of the league – not a terrible figure for a hobbled first year player from a foreign country. With his size and mobility, and facing bench-level competition more often than not, Erden could make himself into a plus on the boards for the second unit. Again – full health would go a long way towards improving this figure. Erden could use his size to move people out of the way, if he trusted his body.

What we have right now is a 7-foot center, who provides little on offense, without a great prospect of becoming fluid on that side of the ball until his body heals. Which won’t be until the summer. Erden’s offensive struggles alone would be reason to relegate him to the bench – except the alternative is Luke Harangody, who may actually give them less. Still, it might be worth looking at Harangody at some point in the near future, if you can stomach the thought of he and Glen Davis at the 4 and 5.

And here’s where I get a bit mushy-headed on this topic. Erden, by all accounts, is a good worker in practice, and has fit in well with his teammates. He is laboring under difficult circumstances. He is surrounded by great teachers. Can the Celtics live with him until Jermaine O’Neal and Kendrick Perkins are able to return to their spots in the rotation? Probably.

In the meantime – the Celtics will struggle with his contributions to the bench. That’s where the problem lies. In the bench’s overall ineffectiveness. And how to deal with it. The regular season is one thing but it’s hard for me to imagine the Celtics heading into the playoffs with Erden as a rotation player. If some combo of JO/Perk/Shaq aren’t able to contribute during the second half of the season, it may be time for another Ainge waiver wire special.

Because whatever you think of Erden’s long term potential, right now he’s struggling. And the dim spotlight of fall is only going to gather intensity as winter gives way to spring.

  • LStrike

    An insightful analysis, enjoyable read Ryan.

  • What More Can I Say?

    Solid article. When everyone is healthy…this guy is Brian Scalabrine. And I say that meaning that the only time the guy sees the court is when Gino see the jumbotron. Unfortunately, he isn't as effective as Scal WHEN he plays. The dude is a decent finisher. I'd like to see him dunk more around the rim…but it is what it is. He is going to play until JO or Perk comes back. Let's just hope KG, Shaq, & Baby can hold it down.

  • Sam from San Diego

    Great article Ryan, these are the kind that keep me coming back to the Hub. Information broken down for us to see more clearly and precisely.

  • zebulon

    Semih played great last game on both ends of the floor (except for the lack of rebounding), which was an awesome sight after his visible freakout and subsequent benching the game before.

    In my mind, his rotations on defense have been solid. He is a big, mobile body, and hedges on the pick and roll extremely well already. He just fouls way, way too much. It's like he doesn't understand that simply by being next to a player with his arms up, his length makes their shot much more difficult to hit. Last game, he showed the ability to jump backwards as a player drove at him and tried to make contact, contesting their shot without fouling. If he can build on that, with his size, athleticism, and ability to hit free-throws, he could be a real asset to this team down the road.

    • Ryan DeGama

      Yeah, the Raptors were exactly the right tonic for Semih's rough last couple of games. Of course, it was the Raptors, so it may not be the beginning of any trend.

      I'm with you on the pnr defense (KG's influence perhaps), less so on weakside rotations under the basket – where he does seem to hack far too often rather than putting up a solid contest.

      As far as whether he's a real asset goes, I'm much more dubious than you. I hope you're right.

  • NHBluesMan

    he's got great potential yes, and i think we'll be fine once JO and Perk get healthy. I could see Erden eventually working his game into something similar to Gasol, and the chance to learn from one of the best centers of all time, and one of the best defensive centers in the league (once he gets healthy, come back soon Perk!) will help him develop. I also agree that i think his shoulder is holding him back abit, but he's shown flashes of brilliance, now lets just hope he continues to grow over the season

  • CG12

    With a player who you are just getting to know, you learn the most by simply watching him. From watching Semih, I think the observations in the initial post are right on. He needs to develop his offense and, especially, improve his team defense. But he shows a good feel for the game and looks strong and active out there. It is nice to see a big guy roll hard to the hole, something no else on the team does all that often or well. He has looked good on the offensive glass, often staying in there to battle with 3 or 4 guys for the ball, with some success. He is an adept and willing passer.

    Semih is by no means a finished product and will presumably play very little when Perk comes back, at the latest, but I don't mind seeing him play those minutes for now. He could definitely evolve into a plus as a second team center for this team in the next few years. Count me a Semih fan.

  • CelticsRock

    Semih is A LOT better than Sheldon Williams!

  • Fafnir

    Top 40% of the league in rebounding rate? That's an incredibly misleading statement. 60% of the minutes in this league are played at the PG/SG/SF positions.

    His rebounding rate is tied for 51st in the league out of 58 qualifying centers. Throw in the 70 qualifying PFs in the league and out of the 128 PF/Cs in the league he ranks 117th.

    His rebounding doesn't show potential, its just awful.

    • Fafnir

      Oops he's 109th

      • Ryan DeGama

        Fafnir – you make a very good point re: qualifying only big men in that stat-(even more nuanced would be a look at second unit big men only, where he'd fare better). With his size, length and activity, and accounting for his injury, there's some potential for rebounding proficiency there. Whether or not we ever see it? Hard to say. Not convinced this is a long term commitment (at all) on the C's part.

  • TMC

    want to know what else is limiting his development…his English is equivalent to Schwarzenegger's lines in Conan the Barbarian. Try to learn a complex defensive scheme like Boston's while still learning how to complete a grammatically correct sentence. I have lived abroad a bit and it takes at least a year to fully understand a foreign language.

    Give him one year. he'll understand the system better, and he'll have a year of tutelage under two hall of fame front court players, JO, and Perk. If he is still struggling this time next year, then maybe we look elsewhere, but unless another big goes down soon then I think we can afford to let him develop.

  • micskeeds

    I too think that his english is definately part of the problem, as are the injuries. I've said before about Erden. He has skill. A lot of it. He handles the ball well, shoots well, has a quick first step, has the post moves, can block, can take position for rebound and box out larger opponents. Don't forget he was one of Turkey's go-to offensive guys in the World's. These are skills that many centers lack, and that cannot be taught in the NBA, the fundamentals, that European-bred post guys seem to get right, even if they're late bloomers. (Marc Gasol).

    So am I concerned that a very young rookie with a sore shoulder, who can't speak english is not playing well, while he's logging in more minutes than he should, not being left the time to ease into the league, in one of the most tight and demanding coaching systems in the NBA? Hell no. I say put him under guidance and let him bloom. He's a hard worker, and a smart player. He will. Even Big Baby and Robinson did, and they weren't exactly mature characters. And under KG, Shaq, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, there's no chance we won't get better, not if he keeps working like he is right now.

    • rav

      Right on. To be honest, he played very well the first few games. He's only dropped off in the last 4/5/6 games or so, after Doc revealed he had an injury and Semih started wearing that thing on his shoulder. One plus: he's ok at the FT line (he made his first 9, he's only made 4/10 since).

      He's quick (as in footspeed) but he doesn't have hops – i.e. he's sorta athletic, and sorta not. Because of this, he has trouble dunking around the basket – he's missed a couple of bunnies going for a heavily-contested high-contact layup when a dunk would have sufficed.

  • micskeeds

    Exactly. So what he really misses is physicality. That,, of all things, is the easiest to develop. Pau Gasol, Chris Bosh, Birdman, Perk, even the allready riddiculously gifted Dwight Howard at one point in their careers desided to hit the gym hard, and came back after a summer with twice the muscle they had before.

    Don't get me wrong, the kid most probably won't ever be a superstar, but he'll get going.

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