[Unrelated Note: I'm off in NYC working on creating the East Coast Branch of FullyClips so there may not be that many posts over the next week. But maybe I'm lying and there will be. We'll see. Just giving a heads up. I now return you to your regularly scheduled post:]
Before we get started, lemme state outright: I’m a big Baron Davis fan (okay, truth is I’m a short Baron Davis fan). I love Boom Dizzle on and off the court (I don’t think any player in the league has had that cool funky style since Walt “Clyde” Frazier was sporting serious pimpin’ outfits). That said, I’ll be the first to admit that last season le Baron played like donkey dung. And moldy donkey dung at that. Stinky, moldy donkey dung. Stinky, moldy, diarehea-esque donkey– well you get the point.
Likewise, sure, for many years he’s been competing against Shaq, T-Mac, Grant Hill, Jermaine O’Neal & current teammate Marcus Camby to claim Sam Jackson’s mantle from “Unbreakable” of Mr. Glass (Note: in recent years with Big Zydrunas Ilgauskas & Antonio McDyess resigning from the above club, there’ve also been good newcomers joining the race like Dwayne Wade, Gilbert Arenas, Gerald “Crash” Wallace, Chris “Call Me Sampson ‘Cuz I Got Injured Constantly After Cutting My Hair” Kaman, Kevin “The New Kmart” Martin, Mike “Unfortunately It’s Not My Father Who’s” Done-leavy Jr., Michael “Never Met A Defense I’d Play” Redd, Wally Szczczczcerbiak, Luol “I Don’t Give A” Deng, Elton “Traitor” Brand, Carlos “Screws Over Blind Men & Mormons” Boozer, Andrew “I Coulda Been A Factor” Bynum, A’m’a’re, Peja “No Back” Stojakovic, Kenyon “Don’t Call Kevin K-Mart” Martin, Nene “If I Have No Last Name Can I Still Have a Fake Middle Name in Quotes?”, Greg “I’m really 69yrs old” Oden, Al “He’s No KG” Jefferson, and perhaps the current winner: Mr. Yaouch Ming). …Anyway, many people, both Clipper fans and not, seem to have given up on Baron. They’re treating him like he’s jumped the Shaq- er, shark. Well y’all are nuts.
Last year was an aberration, not a sign of things to come. He was injured, forced to play in a system that went against his strengths, had his two great centers trying to out-Glass him, all while having his joy of the game pummeled out of him by all the losing. Now betting on Baron not getting hurt is a worse idea than betting that Britney Spears has a healthy psyche. His first three seasons in the league he didn’t miss a single game. However, once his Charlotte Hornets decided to move to New Orleans, the angry locals placed a curse on Baron (why they didn’t do it on evil owner George Shinn is still a mystery). Ever since, he’s only played in every game once. Besides that year, his highest game total was 67 (out of a potential 82). It may seem like I’m banging in the final nail in his coffin, but the thing is, even with all them injuries, he still was darn productive during those years. Last year was the first time his PER (John Hollinger’s measure of how good a player is) was below average (15 is average and he had a PER of 14.54). In the previous seven years, his lowest was 2002 when he had 17.51. Four of those years he was right around 20 or higher, which is darn good.
Baron’s True Shooting Percentage (a measurement that takes into account free throws and gives more credit for three-pointers) last year was 46%, his lowest during the “injury years.” The other years he averaged between 49 and 53%. His Turnovers Per 40-minutes were his worst ever. Same with his Points Per 40 and FG%. His best season over this time period wasn’t even the season when he played every game (’07-’08). His second best season (based on PER that is) was actually the season he played the least games (only 46). Meaning he’s a guy, unlike Tracy McGrady, whose game doesn’t implode when his season is riddled with injuries. So while nothin’ in the world could make me bet that Baron will make it through this season injury-free, I’d take money from your wallet that he’ll be better. The man can play through injuries.
That leaves 3 remaining concerns from last year: 1.his teammates’ health, 2.his joy of the game, and 3.the system. Let’s start with the last one. Dunleavy is a coach who likes to literally call each offensive play down the floor and is more controlling than the lovechild of Hitler and Mussolini would be. Hold on, hold on, no, don’t get carried away, I’m not implying Dun’s a Nazi. Although come to think of it, I haven’t heard of him having any Jewish friends… Then again I haven’t heard of him having any friends. …Sorry, I’m babbling off-course here. So Dunleavy has said that this year he intends to let loose a bit and have the team run occasionally. If it happens, that’ll not only take care of the system, but also ensure Davis keeps the love o’bball all year. However, just like it’s a mistake to rely on Baron not getting hurt, it’s not a great idea to count on Dunleavy letting go. But so what? Yes, Baron thrived in Don Nelson’s helter-skelter free-for-all offense in Golden State. His highest PER was that ’06-’07 season where the Warriors shocked the Mavs in the playoffs. However, his next two highest PERs in the “injury years” were while he was with the Hornets running a more traditional offense. Therefore, while Baron should do better if the system opens up, he’s also proven he can be a stud in a more regulated offense.
Now we’re down to teammates’ health & joy o’ the game. Again with teammates’ health, betting on Camby & Kaman being injury-free is a sucker’s bet. However even if those guys don’t play a single game, this is a much better team. At the beginning of last year, Eric Gordon was some rookie who couldn’t even get minutes behind a man (Cat Mobley) who’s heart was so bad that he had to retire. Similarly, DeAndre Jordan didn’t get any playing time (& probably shouldn’t have) until after the injury lightning bolt hit every other player on the team twice. By the end of the season, Gordon had proved he can be a stud, and DeAndre showed he’s got real potential. And then there’s some new kid, Brake Griffy or somethin’, who I hear is pretty darn good. So if the bigs go down, Baron will now feel comfortable that there’s a solid backup. Plus rather than last year when it left him with just some rookies, stragglers, and a semi-decent second-year player (Al Thornton), now he’ll have players he not only trusts at every spot, but a few (EJ & Blake) with whom he’ll probably be pretty impressed. Now that, that should seriously improve his joy. If Dunleavy releases the hounds, that’d let Baron run the fast break with EJ, Thornton, Blake & DeAndre. That’s a fun, fast group that’ll leave Baron as happy as a nudist beach seeing Megan Fox approach.
Baron and Dunleavy also have talked a fair amount this summer. That should enable Baron to feel more of a sense of ownership of the team and also make it more fun. Now the skeptical amongst you may rightly point out that out of all the problems Baron had last year, really the only one I’ve said will change is that an injury plague won’t decimate all the “good” players. However as we’ve read, Baron rededicated himself to training as soon as last season ended. He feels ashamed about how he played and has worked his butt off to change things. The man has serious pride. This is his hometown. His friends and family are watching. He’s not going out like a punk. This season he won’t be coming in as a new kid who doesn’t know anyone. He had a year to analyze them. He knows their strengths, their weaknesses. Where they like the ball. Who can handle the tough passes. Who has what awareness on the court. Who can D their man straight up, and who he might need to hedge over to help.
But before I go, let’s actually get into some specifics of his game. People feel he indiscriminately chucks up three-pointers and ill-advised shots. He will never be confused for an outside marksman, but the thing most people don’t realize is that for the most part he is aware of how well he’s shooting, and will adjust his attempts correspondingly. Last year he had his worst FG%. He also took less shots than he has since his second year. Excluding his rookie year (when he only averaged 18 minutes and came off the bench), last season was his worst three-point shooting percentage. Except for one year, it was the least threes he attempted since his second year. There’s no denying that some of his threes or poor choices, but the thing is that’s part of what keeps his defenders off-balance. If he always came up the court, surveyed it to set up other players or drive, then his defender could just back up to try and prevent the drive or pass. If they’re worried he might jack up a three, then they’ve gotta get on him tight as soon as he gets near the three-point line. With them playing that close, it then makes it infinitely easier to drive around them.
Defensively, he’s always been a bit underrated. He’s pretty darn strong and he’s fairly tall for a point guard, which enables him to sometimes switch onto shooting guards who try to physically post up Eric Gordon (like Baron did some covering of Kobe when they’d play against the Lakers). Players like Deron Williams and Chauncey Billups can’t use their strength to bully him around the way they do on scrawny fast PGs like Chris Paul and Tony Parker. That strength also is obviously what enables him to finish nicely on his drives no matter how many hits he gets along the way. He only just hit 30 this year, so defensively he should also still have the quickness to keep up with them Parker/Paul speedster types too. He’s also always been one of the league leaders in steals, and if given free range to roam on D (like the Lakers do with Kobe), he can play the passing lanes better than most. And after Kaman and Griffin, Baron’s also probably the next best post player. Unlike Kaman though, if Baron gets doubled he can pass to the right person with ease. Or if the other team has to switch their shooting guard onto him to prevent his post-ups, then that leaves Eric Gordon being defended by a smaller point guard so EJ can abuse him. Basically, healthy or not, the good Baron if used well, can be a match-up nightmare. This year, let’s hope our opponents come in sleepless.