Shelden, I’ll Make You a Deal
Posted by Zach Lowe on Aug 3, 2009
Here’s the deal, Shelden: You can play for the Boston Celtics provided you stop taking jump shots unless absolutely necessary. And by absolutely necessary I mean the shot clock is running down and…that’s really about it.
Here are some things to know about the C’s surprise front court signing:
1) Shelden Williams cannot shoot. His numbers are almost shockingly bad. He’s a career 44 percent shooter, which really isn’t good for someone who is 6’9” and generally plays fairly close to the basket through which you are supposed to toss the ball.
And he really can’t shoot jump shots. Which wouldn’t be a problem, except that Williams plays as if he can shoot jump shots decently. Last year in 30 games with the Kings, for instance, about 45 percent of Williams’ shot attempts were jumpers, according to 82games. His field goal percentage on those shots: 22.5 percent. I mean…that is just beyond awful, and it’s irresponsible of both Williams and his coaches that he was allowed to use up almost half his shot attempts on jump shots despite an almost complete inability to make them.
Williams has never had an effective field goal percentage on jump shots higher than 34.6 percent in any of his stints with the Kings, Hawks and Wolves. Only in his 15-game stretch with the T’Wolves last season did Williams reign in his jump-shooting; in those 15 games, only 31 percent of his attempts were jump shots, down from a career average of about 45 percent, according to 82games.
His field goal percentage on inside shots is also below average for a power forward. He typically hits about 45 to 48 percent of his inside shots, which is not nearly good enough to make up for his abysmal jump-shooting.
So, really, he should keep the shooting to a minimum. And that might not be a bad thing, considering the C’s may end up with three rotation big men whose offensive games are based around jump-shooting (KG, ‘Sheed and Big Baby). Shelden Williams: A change-of-pace offensive weapon. Ahem.
2) He is a very good defensive rebounder. His career defensive rebounding rate–23.3 percent–would have ranked 6th among 20 centers eligible for the scoring title last season and 8th among 81 forwards, according to Basketball Reference. Dude can bang.
3) His team’s defense has improved with him on the floor in every place he has played. That’s according to the on/off court data on 82games.com (which you can view for his various teams here, here, here, here and here). Whether you place a ton of value in that stat is up to you, but the fact remains: Williams’ teams–every one of them–have given up fewer points per 100 possessions with him on the floor than with him on the bench. (For the stat fans out there, Williams’ adjusted plus/minus numbers at Basketball Value–which adjust for the quality of the other players on the floor–indicate that Williams adds value on defense and takes it away on offense. The advanced defensive metrics at Basketball Prospectus show Williams did a decent job guarding mostly below average players).
Can he jump out and recover on the screen-roll, the key skill for any big man in the C’s defensive scheme? He came out of Duke with a reputation as a quick-footed big man who could hedge and recover well, but the reviews on his screen-roll D in the NBA have been mixed. I reached out to Bret LaGree, who writes the outstanding Hawks blog Hoopinion (part of the TrueHoop Network), and he had this to say about Shelden:
He’s a legitimately good defensive rebounder but it doesn’t make up for how his lack of mobility limits him on both ends of the floor. No one expected him to be a significant offensive contributor but in retrospect his collegiate defensive reputation was earned by virtue of being free to guard the rim against the attacks of smaller and less athletic players than exist in the NBA. He’s an average defender if stationary in the post but if you make him move his feet, you’re already past him.
4) His team’s offense has been worse with him on the floor everywhere except in Minnesota, according to 82games (see those same links). And that 15-game sample in Minnesota last season is mighty small.
What you’re getting with Williams is pretty clear: A moose who can help on defense and won’t contribute much, if anything, on offense.
So what’s the verdict?
At first, I thought the Williams signing was unnecessary. The C’s already have three guys who, through their careers, have been good to great defensive rebounders and post defenders (KG, Perkins and Wallace). Williams, with no offensive game to speak of, is bringing redundant skills without adding anything new.
But it’s clear that Doc’s ideal rotation would have five big front court players who can contribute in the post on both ends. In 2008, those players were KG, Perk, P.J. Brown, Powe and (to a much lesser extent) Glen Davis. Last year, the idea was to feature KG, Perk, Powe, Davis and (gulp) Mikki Moore. That didn’t work out, and Brian Scalabrine ended up playing big minutes as an undersized power forward.
Prior to the Williams signing, next year’s roster included: KG, Perk, Wallace…and that’s really it, at least as far as players with any sort of low post presence. So signing a guy like Williams is like buying a form of Big Guy Insurance. Really, though, I don’t see how Shelden Williams is going to help this team.
And if the front court rotation looks thin in February, the team will have a few expiring contracts to deal for a mid-level type big man.