By Matt Esposito
Can’t say I’m proud of this article title. At this point I’m basically daring Editor Nick to usurp my percentage share of the website, forcing him and Zach into an unforeseen power struggle. Hopefully, the rest of my article wins back some good favor, as I suddenly find my writing career depending on positive feedback from loyal readers. Crap.
To make things worse, my piece is a nichey deep-dive into three rotation-level players. After you scroll your way past the words and straight to the video clips, you may understand why I focused on Torrey Craig, Jevon Carter and Brad Wanamaker. If you’re still here by now, then that means you’re either a hoops nerd or my mother. Or both. So, fellow nerds (or Mom), let’s begin this dorkfest by examining the underdiscussed, elite nature of Torrey Craig’s shot-blocking ability.
The Helpside Savant
Back in the good old days, when this website was but a fledgling little bird, I wrote about the way wings and forwards are changing rim protection. I used a couple of Raptors, one Jayson Tatum and an Andrew Wiggins used to demonstrate how teams are more frequently relying on lanky help defenders to deter shots in the paint. I struck out looking by not including Craig in that article, but I can make up for it now.
At 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot wingspan, Craig’s physical profile married his IQ, and that couple produced a beautiful, shot-blocking baby. While the restricted free agent has no issue hanging step-for-step with guards and swatting their attempts, his help defense has the most appeal. Craig’s rim protection bails out bigs such as Nikola Jokic and Mason Plumlee when they get switched onto guards and dragged out to the perimeter.
Like your chemistry teacher calling in sick on a quiz day, Craig’s timing is impeccable. He sniffs out drives and rotates over like a seasoned veteran, which he kinda is. Despite only having played three seasons in the Association, Craig is 29 years old. He understands that to stay in this league he must display fearlessness while also doing the little things. So far, so good.
The numbers say so, too. Cleaning the Glass reports that Craig has placed either in the 91st or 96th percentile for block percentage for his career. But will this elite skill earn him another contract? Definitely. How much money will this contract be for, is the question? Being a career 32 percent three-point shooter could lower his value. Yet, 32 percent is not an awful number, even if it is certainly below-average. Expect Craig to be signed at a bargain. Then, expect some fanbase to be bragging about it about four months later.
The Full-court Monster
A former Naismith Defensive Player of the Year, we all knew that Jevon Carter would be a bulldog in the NBA. Players who pick up their man and press them the entire length of the court are becoming a rarity in today’s game. Jevon “94 Feet” Carter is one of them, though, and I love him for it.
Cleaning the Glass pegged Carter’s steal percentage for last season in the 88th percentile, but this story goes further than the numbers. Carter wreaks havoc by picking up his man directly after the inbound pass. To boot, he hardly ever gets burned on these plays—if anything, he’s more likely to pressure the ball-handler into a turnover. When you see guards grow visibly frustrated by Carter, please know that a Phoenix fan is somewhere in the desert smiling.
Carter’s ability to steal the rock is truly remarkable. Our friend John Voita at Bright Side of the Sun summed it up better than I can:
“Jevon is a hustle player. His BBall Index perimeter defensive numbers fortify that mantra. His passing lane defense (bad pass steals + deflections per 75 possessions) is 4.3, an A- rating and in the 87%tile in the league. His pickpocket rating (loose ball steals per 75 possessions) is good enough for an A rating and in the 92%tile. And his real adjusted turnover rate is in the 98%tile in the league.”
As a restricted free agent, Carter finds himself in a similar situation to the aforementioned Craig. Where they differ, however, is their three-point shooting. Carter made 33.3 percent of his triples during his rookie year but bumped that number up to 42.5 percent during his sophomore campaign. With strong facilitating skills to go alongside his defense and perimeter shooting, don’t be shocked when some team pays a premium for Carter’s skill set.
The Catch-and-Shoot Threat
Continuing our theme of underdog success stories is Brad Wanamaker, another restricted free agent who most recently laced them up for the Celtics. If you ask ten different Boston fans about Wanamaker’s season, you’ll get ten different responses, a handful of awkward sounding ‘F’ words, and at least one person from Quincy sidetracking into a conversation about how “it’s called gravy, not marinara sauce!”
Regardless, no one can deny that the former EuroLeague stud was an exceptional catch-and-shoot player. Taylor Snow showed just how good Brad was. Why write when you can steal someone’s tweet, right?
Playing on an undermanned Celtics team this postseason, Wanamaker’s role became more critical to his team’s success. Many Celtics faithful were pleasantly surprised with his performances, as Wanamaker proved that he has more to offer than dependable defense. It’s hard to ignore someone shooting 44.4 percent from deep during the postseason. With defense you can count on and a reliable three-point jumper, Wanamaker may extend his NBA career a little bit longer. Even if he doesn’t, we can still enjoy one of the fastest triggers you’ll see in the game.
Boston can likely bring Wanamaker back on the cheap. They may, however, opt to roll the dice on a more promising prospect, whether that’s Tremont Waters or someone else, to fill their backup guard spot. If so, then look for a contender to offer Wanamaker a minimum contract to fill out their roster.
Despite Craig hitting only 26.2 percent of his postseason triples, teams will still chase after his skillset. Wing defenders are a premium commodity, and Craig would be a candidate for an All-Defense team if he received more minutes. Jevon Carter would be too. I’m not sure what the market is for these specialists, but they’re bound to make some general managers look very smart.