Posted by Zach Lowe on Nov 18, 2009
We’ve been hearing rumors about the C’s dealing for Andres Nocioni for a long time now, which means we can at least assume that Danny Ainge likes the Annoying Argetine’s game.
So…what is Andres Nocioni’s game?
It’s average. In almost every way, Andres Nocioni is the average NBA player. He’s listed as 6’7” and 225 pounds—about league average. He’s a small forward, a three, the median position on the floor in terms of size and skill set. His career Player Efficiency Rating (PER) is 13.5, a touch below the league average mark of 15.0. His defensive statistics suggest “average” is his ceiling on that side of the ball.
But Andres Nocioni does two things that potentially make him a good fit here: 1) He shoots three-pointers decently (37 percent career, about the same as Paul Pierce); 2) He plays small forward.
Unfortunately, two things make him a bad fit: 1) His contract and its huge luxury tax implications for next season. Brian Robb already covered that; 2) He’s good at things the Celtics are already good at (three-pointers) and bad at one thing they are already struggling with (offensive rebounding). His skill set is somewhat duplicative in that way.
But simply being a league-average small forward makes Nocioni desirable to the Celtics. The C’s just don’t have a lot of wing players; when Glen Davis returns, the team will have 11 rotation players, only two of whom can be classified as true small forwards (Paul Pierce and Marquis Daniels)—and one of those two isn’t even playing small forward, really. Brian Scalabrine is not a small forward, no matter how much the Celtics wish he could play extended minutes there.
A living, breathing small forward who can shoot threes and not get killed on defense? The C’s could use that player. His presence would allow them to rest Paul Pierce more, and his jump-shooting would allow Doc to tinker more with line-ups; a Rondo-Daniels back court, for instance, becomes more workable if you add a jump-shooting small forward who is not named Paul Pierce.
You know exactly what you are going to get from Nocioni on offense. His numbers on 82games.com are amazingly consistent year over year: About 75 percent of his shots will be jumpers, his effective field goal percentage on those jumpers will be about 49 percent (roughly the equal of Paul Pierce’s average) and he’ll get rejected a lot when he takes the ball to the rim. He can set a decent screen.
He’s an average passer (his assist rate ranked 42nd out of 81 forwards who qualified for the scoring title last season), and, somewhat distressingly, he’s an awful offensive rebounder. He ranked 69th out of those 81 forwards in offensive rebounding last season, according to Basketball Reference.
But what about his defense? After all, the C’s are #1 in the league in defensive efficiency and can’t afford to fall to far from that perch.
Nocioni has been in the league since 2004. And not once has his team played better defensively with him on the floor. Only last year’s Bulls broke even, giving up the same number of points per 100 possessions whether Noc was colliding with people on the court or checking out the talent in the stands at United Center from the bench.
Every other team Noc has played for has given up more points per 100 possessions with him on the floor. That includes this year’s Kings, who are allowing about 3.5 points more per 100 possessions when Noc is on the court.
You know what, though? That’s not a disastrous number, and it’s actually a bit worse than Noc’s career defensive plus/minus. Every other place you look—Basketball Value’s adjusted plus/minus system or the new defensive stats at Basketball Prospectus—suggest Nocioni has basically a neutral effect on defense. He’s a non-entity. He’s average.
Again, there is value in average. Brian Scalabrine can shoot threes nearly as well as Nocioni, but he’s below average overall (career PER: 7.9) and plays power forward, a position at which the C’s are already loaded. Scalabrine saw major minutes in the playoffs last season only because the C’s had no other trustworthy power forwards to play.
Tony Allen is Tony Allen. He plays defense better than Nocioni but he can barely dribble the ball without a) hurting himself; b) hurting the rim; or c) hurting someone else. Tony Allen saw major minutes in the playoffs last season only because the team had no other trustworthy small forwards to play.
Marquis Daniels is the team’s back-up small forward this season, but the team’s starting small forward (Pierce) has been on the court for a majority of Quisy’s 212 minutes,according to 82games. Pierce is almost always on the court when Doc pairs Daniels and Rondo—something he’s done more than any of us expected. The reason? A Rondo-Daniels back court can’t hit enough jumpers, and so the offense needs a third ball-handler who can. That’s Pierce. It wouldn’t have to be Pierce all the time if the C’s had a player like Nocioni.
And when Daniels plays with House? Ray Allen is on the floor. That would likely remain the case even if the C’s traded for a player like Nocioni, but a jump-shooting three would at least give Doc the tools to experiment.
Andres Nocioni is not a great player. He’s not even a good one, really. But he’s a type of player, and his type would work in Boston.
Too bad a trade appears unlikely to happen for salary reasons.
So here’s the challenge: Can you find a player who fits the skill set but doesn’t bring the salary issues? You can bet the C’s have looked everywhere.