(Image Credit – Tomek Kordylewski)
“Love is patient, love is kind.” Yes, I repeat that classic wedding poem whenever I watch Robert Williams play. Surely enough, he makes my All “Be Patient” Team for this season. What is the criteria? Idk fam, you tell me. Essentially, there are a handful of players across the league that just need a little extra lovin’. Guys that have to bake a little longer in the oven.
Some of these players have had some off-court issues. One of them was recently trending on twitter for something I am both too old and uninterested in to figure out. Another one crashed back down to earth after his draft stock soared a bit too high. Regardless, each of these players has shown some signs of life, whether it has been at the pro level or the G-League. Let’s start with our point guard.
Guard – Dejounte Murray
After landing on the 2017-18 All-Defensive Team, Murray was forced to miss the 2018-19 season with a torn ACL. Therefore, this season was his first chance to truly take the reins as the Spurs lead point guard for an entire season.
How did he fare? Well, Murray went back to his old form on defense, unleashing that 6-foot-10 wingspan onto ball handlers the way pollen attacks my nostrils. Additionally, his shooting took a step forward. Murray canned 42.1 percent of his catch-and-shoot triples this year and made serious strides in the midrange, suggesting that his shooting touch is coming around. Pay attention to the bottom row in the image below, it is his most recent season.
Yet, Murray still needs become a more dependable scorer. Plus, his distribution skills are lagging. His assist and assist to usage ratio both ranked in the 33rd percentile for point guards, according to Cleaning the Glass. Murray has exhibited some flashes, however. Flash could be the appropriate word, too.
Dejounte can be a blur on the court and his handles are finally catching up to his speed. During drives to the hoop defenses are forced to help out. Murray has made progress in keeping his eyes up and spotting cutters.
With a contract extension already inked, expect Murray to take a step forward next year. Sure, it will technically be his fifth year in the Association. The Spurs could be headed for a rebuild too. Be patient, however, because the tools to be an elite defensive player and steady offensive force are there. Cheers to him and another favorite: Lonnie Walker.
Guard/Wing – Zhaire Smith
This took some convincing. I am not the world’s biggest Zhaire Smith fan. Personally, I don’t like players who fly backwards on pull-up jumpshots or have suspect shooting form in general. I’m coming around on Smith, however.
His physical attributes are positionally elite. The 20-year-old youngster is one of highest flyers in the league and darts all over the court like my dog Hopper when he has the zoomies. So, why am I asking for patience with Smith? Well, plays like this.
I repeat: why am I asking for patience with Smith? Well, plays like this. Smith has the measurables and energy to become a game changing disruptor. But like a college student discovering
their sexuality coffee for the first time, Smith often plays too fast for his own good and it results in mistakes.
The Sixers would do well to clearly define his NBA role. Zhaire should be a perimeter nuisance who springs for both 3-pointers and backdoor lobs. His outside stroke has not been totally reworked but, it is showing signs of coming around. That hesitative, slingshot hitch Smith showed during his college days isn’t totally gone but similar to your attention span in this article, it’s fading. He is just too damn athletic to not make an impact and expect him to do so when the game slows down for him.
Wing/Forward – Josh Jackson
I am forrrrr reallll. Outkast’s most memorable chorus seems appropriate here. After being traded from the Suns to the Grizzlies and dealing with some issues off of the court, Jackson has started to show the potential that made him a high lottery pick.
The stoppage in play came at the most inopportune moment for Jackson. The third year player was averaging 13.5/2.1/2.6 in only 21 minutes per game for the Griz over his last ten outings. What’s more, JJ was shooting 46.3 percent from the field and canning 36.5 percent of his 5.3 3-point attempts per game during that stretch.
There have always been questions about Jackson’s shooting stroke, but it is gradually becoming less of a concern. Consider his pro percentage this season and his 38.2 3-point mark from deep during his G-League contests. We like this, very much so.
What we like more, however, is Jackson’s meteoric rise in his at-rim finishing (on a small sample, sure.) Check out his growth in at-rim finishing and how it pairs with his overall percentile rank for effective field goal percentage.
It seems like someone has finally figured out that he is 6-foot-8 and freaking athletic. With Memphis, Jackson has been either going straight into the body of defenders during drives or speeding past them to the rim. Just for good measure he has sprinkled in some impressive body control.
His defense is outstanding as well. Only 28 players in league history have averaged at least one steal and half a block per game in under 20 nightly minutes. Jackson did it this year, solidifying his ability to produce on the defensive end. If he can maintain that production and both the aforementioned at-rim and perimeter efficiency, Jackson could make Memphis regret the decision to not pick up his rookie option (making Jackson an unrestricted free agent.)
Forward – Jarred Vanderbilt
Am I asking a lot of you when I suggest patience with a player who has only played 28 professional games? Yep. But it could pay massive dividends. Now that Vanderbilt has a new home in Minnesota, brighter days could be ahead.
Possessing a 7-foot-1 wingspan with the same standing reach as Anthony Davis, Vanderbilt projects as a defensive menace. He has the agility, explosiveness and mentality to one day become a true switch-5 defender.
The former top-20 recruit and second round pick might simply need time to make mistakes and put on good weight. Watch him STAT (stand stall and tough) against the behemoth Andre Drummond. Vanderbilt is beginning to trust in his own strength and length, proving he can stymie NBA giants without fouling. He can clog the lane with active hands and lead a fast break, too.
Offensively, JV offers a unique skill set for someone of his physical profile. Upon first glance, Vandy does not look like a playmaker or creator for others. But the combo forward can drop dimes during transition, deploy a crafty handle to set up teammates in the halfcourt, and create for others from the perimeter.
Why is this defensive switchblade, offensive facilitator not getting more NBA minutes? Vanderbilt cannot space the floor right now. Opposing teams can shrink the court when he is on it. We’ve seen non-shooters entirely rework their mechanics before, however. It’ll take time and a summer of 500 reps per day, but Vanderbilt can do it.
Big – Robert Williams
I had to include a Celtic, didn’t I? Timelord provides more than just the best nickname in the league. After slipping in his draft, the lottery level talent has both frustrated and excited Boston fans.
At a short glance, Williams wows with his advanced metrics. According to CTG, he is currently in the 97th percentile for block percentage and the 100th percentile for steal percentage. This is indicative of a fluid, springy shotblocker who can also hang during some switches.
William’s defensive ceiling is well known yet, many may not know of his offensive potential. The big man is a surprisingly gifted passer. He does not get flustered when trapped and can find cutters when operating away from the bucket. Usually, teams only consider Timelord to be an awesome vertical threat and this extra dimension often catches them off guard.
William’s paint deterrence is special, too. The guys over at B-Ball-Index have him as a top tier at-rim deterrent, as he prevents 1.66 of those attempts whenever he is in the game. Being in the game is the problem, however. Williams has played in only 55 career contests. The second year man has dealt with injuries to his back, groin and both of his hips. Perhaps he just needs to grow into his body and learn his limits. His upside is worth the risk, so give him time.