Before we resume this endeavor, here’s an email I got on Thursday from a special guest:
Great idea on the rotation players. But I totally disagree that E.Will and Gooden should be in there. Gooden started on a Finals team and Williams helped turn that entire season around.
I’ll give you this. Eight worst players who actually started games with LeBron (Ira Newble doesn’t make my list, he played hard):
Keep up the good work,
That is a brilliant list from Mr. Windhorst. I encourage at you to stare at it for a few moments and reflect on its implications. However, in regards to Brian’s first paragraph, I would like to clarify just what I mean by “ridiculous.” Ridiculous is not just a synonym for “bad.” It just means ridiculous. If a player managed to be effective despite his glaring and hilarious flaws, that actually makes him more likely to appear on this list.
This list is about more than just ragging on terrible players that have played alongside of LeBron. One of the main points of Moneyball was how the Oakland A’s, because of their low budget, were forced to find players who were effective but unorthodox. They had position players who couldn’t field, leadoff hitters who couldn’t run, pitchers who were too short, pitchers who didn’t throw hard enough, first baseman who were supposed to be catchers, designated hitters who were to old, and a reliever with a clubfoot.
The Cavs have always had plenty of financial backing in the LeBron era, but thanks to some of the circumstances I discussed in part one, they’ve been forced to fill their rotation with similarly unorthodox players.
I’ll say this one more time before I continue: ridiculous is not simply a synonym for terrible. Lots of these players were terrible at one thing or another, and that is often what made them ridiculous. But they found ways to be effective despite their flaws, and were parts of some very good Cavalier teams.
One last disclaimer: Like I said, the Eric Williams post was not totally about Eric Williams. Eric Williams was used as an avatar for the Ricky Davis situation, which was definitely ridiculous. I don’t dispute that Eric Williams had a major positive effect on the Cavs in 03-04 despite his bad shooting numbers. What makes it ridiculous is the fact that Ricky Davis had become such a corrosive presence that Eric Williams was able to turn the season around.
As for Drew Gooden, he was indeed an effective rebounder and provided some needed scoring punch. But he was a ridiculous dude.
Without further ado, the rest of the list:
4. Wally Szczerbiak
Makes the list for several reasons. When the Cavs traded for Wally at the 07-08 deadline, he was playing very well for Seattle. After he came to the Cavs, Wally went into a prolonged shooting slump for the rest of the season. He shot 36% from the field and 36.5% from beyond the arc with the Cavs that season, and was considered a major disappointment. LeBron had nothing resembling the kind of chemistry with Wally that he has with Boobie or Mo, and Wally wasn’t effective as a spot-up shooter alongside of LeBron.
This development caused the Cavs coaches to look at one another and ask this question: If Wally wasn’t effective as a spot-up shooter next to LeBron, how were they supposed to make him effective? This led to the advent of Wally Szczerbiak: Gritty Interior Defender and Wally Szcerbiak: Bench Gunner, which were both fascinating experiments. Wally wasn’t naturally suited to either role, but absolutely went 100% in trying to perform them. He became strangely effective in both roles, even if the overall effect was like watching Ichiro dedicating himself to batting .300 while hitting with a saxophone. The technique was always solid, but something always seemed ill-advised about the overall notion.
Wally did actually become a pretty decent defender, particularly if other players tried to bully him. This led to the always classic “Wait, aren’t you Wally Szczerbiak?” look from an opposing player when they tried to get an easy basket on Wally and found that he was actually providing resistance.
Wally’s success as a bench gunner was decidedly more mixed. When Wally put the ball on the floor from the perimeter, it was an adventure every time. This wasn’t like Sasha Pavlovic’s drives. Remember the scene in Memento when Guy Pearce’s memory blanked as he was sprinting away from somebody, and he had to figure out if he was chasing somebody or being chased as there were bullets flying at him? That was Sasha when he drove.
Wally’s drives were different. Wally always seemed like he had a plan, but always overestimated his own ability to execute it. He would be completely under control, but moving so slowly and predictably that the defense was always able to react to whatever he was planning on surprising them with, which led to Wally’s plan breaking down and something horrible happening. If Sasha driving was like watching Memento, then Wally driving was like watching the part at the halfway mark of a Scooby-Doo episode, when the gang comes up with the initial elaborate but ultimately doomed plan to catch the bad guy.
Wally also really liked taking his man to the block, despite the fact he could never really get deep position, never drew a double-team, and only had one move. All he really had was a turnaround jumper over his man from the 12-18 foot range, and it didn’t go in very often. Despite this, Wally never was shy about calling for the ball and posting up. In terms of desire to post up and ability to be effective from the post, Wally was more or less the exact inverse of LeBron.
In 08-09, Wally got his shot back and settled into a nice role on the team. He spent most of his minutes at the three, which allowed the Cavs to play a small-ball lineup with LeBron at the four. The lineup was extremely effective, and Wally quietly became a valuable contributor. However, there was still one ridiculous thing about Wally, through no fault of his own.
Despite the fact that Wally learned to love mixing it up on both ends and became a serviceable defender (honestly!) every broadcast team other than Fred and AC talked about Wally like he was the absolute epitome of the soft, white, sweet-shooting player. Every time Wally came into the game, the opposing broadcast team would start absolutely begging their team to attack Wally every single time down the floor. They acted like Wally would take the ball and simply lay it in his own basket if anybody had the thought to drive on him. Occasionally, teams would get out of their offensive flow simply because whomever Wally was guarding was so determined to try and score on him.
Two final thoughts on Wally. First of all, Wally’s high-fives and all-around giddiness around his teammates was fantastic to watch. And finally, Wally once wore this.
3. Damon Jones
Oh, Damon Jones. On the court, Damon Jones was certainly ridiculous. Damon Jones managed to be a solid rotation player for many years with literally one NBA-quality skill. He was a very good three-point shooter, hitting at or around the 40% in each of his seasons with the Cavaliers.
In almost literally every other respect, Damon was at the bottom of the heap. He may be the slowest guard I have ever seen play NBA basketball. He would have to change directions three or four times just to get the ball over the half-court line. The only thing he did that approximated a move off the dribble was an odd motion where Damon would lift his lead leg while he dribbled with his back to the defender, like a dog marking its territory. I have no idea what this was supposed to accomplish, but Damon seemed to believe in it.
Damon was a poor finisher around the basket, and while he rarely turned the ball over, he rarely set anybody up with an easy look. His defense was horrifyingly bad.
Just how much of a specialist was Damon Jones? Here are some numbers:
In Jones’ three seasons with the Cavs, 878 of his 1209 field goals were taken from beyond the arc. That’s 73% of his shots.
Additionally, Jones took 122 free throws in his three seasons in the Cavalier rotation. LeBron has shot 157 free throws this January.
(Also, Damon was one of those weird guys who could shoot threes but wasn’t much of a free-throw shooter. Jones’ best mark from the line with the Cavs was 71.4%, and he shot 64% from the line his first year with the team.)
Of course, even Jones’ insanely limited game helped out the Cavs, who were always in need of more players to stretch the floor for LeBron. He didn’t do much, but he knew his role and performed it well. And, of course, there was this.
Of all the players on this list, Damon Jones is probably the one happiest to be on it. Damon Jones loved being Damon Jones. This is a whole separate essay, but Jones’ bravado lapsed into self-parody so often that I often thought that Jones had to be in on the joke, and was actually doing a kind of performance art designed to keep him famous for longer than he knew he deserved to be. In other words, the Cavs had The Situation for a backup point guard. Damon Jones’ dream was always to be part of a three-man booth while actually playing in a game, and more power to him. I could go on about this, or I could put up the Damon Jones’ Coat video.
There was a brief moment where I considered naming this website “Damon Jones’ Coat: The Blog.” Also, after Joe Smith was bought out and signed by the Cavs, Damon Jones was effectively traded straight-up for Mo Williams.
#2: Larry Hughes
Frankly, a lot of the Larry Hughes memories are too difficult to re-hash here. The whole experience has become a mush of disappointment and pull-up 21-foot jumpers in my mind, and I prefer not to think about it too much.
For a myriad of reasons, some of them injury-related, Larry Hughes was never very good at making the ball go in the basket when he wanted it to. What made the Larry Hughes era ridiculous was how hard the Cavs tried to make Larry Hughes effective despite this important issue. Hughes managed to be adequate in a number of roles, but never became anything approaching the impact player he was expected to be. For the purposes of this post, let’s focus on a few of the ways that Cavs fans, myself included, tried to avoid facing the reality of Larry Hughes:
-Larry’s strongest suit is his decision-making! He’s actually a giant point guard! (It isn’t; he’s not.)
-Larry’s hand is finally healthy! Now he’ll be back on track! (Nope.)
-This is the wrong system for Larry! He’s a slasher being forced to shoot! (Not only did Hughes show very little desire to go to the rim during his time with the Cavs, he wasn’t very good when he got there. His best “inside” eFG% with the Cavs was 53%, which is a very low number.)
-He worked with Mark Price! (This story got recycled this past summer with Rajon Rondo, to similar results.)
-He’s a lockdown defender! (He really wasn’t.)
-His knees are back! Here comes Larry! (Never happened.)
By the time www.heylarryhughespleasestoptakingsomanybadshots.com came about, everyone was ready to face the facts. The pain of watching Larry Hughes take bad jumpers was not a necessary sacrifice that needed to be made to allow Larry’s all-around game to flourish. It was just an overpaid swingman taking bad jumpers.
Larry Hughes endured some tough circumstances both on and off the court during his time with the Cavs, was part of a finals team, and always seemed to be trying his best to contribute. But those jumpers took a year off my life.
#1 Eric Snow
I have never been as conflicted about a player as I am about Eric Snow. On the one hand, Eric Snow is a guy any coach would want on his team. He played smart, he played tough, he loved playing defense, and he was pretty darn good at it. He was a leader on and off the court, and lots of folks think he’s got a coaching job somewhere in his future. He never tried to do too much, always made the correct play if it was there, and always tried to make up for his limitations with hustle. On one level, if a team with a below-average amount of overall talent wants to succeed, it needs players like Eric Snow.
On the other hand, it is almost unfathomable that a player of Eric Snow’s offensive ineptitude was the point guard for successful teams that featured LeBron James. Eric Snow was not simply a bad offensive player, or a player with a terrible offensive game. Eric Snow was literally incapable of being an effective offensive player in the NBA. An all-powerful basketball God could plot out each and every one of Eric Snow’s offensive decisions for maximum possible benefit, and he still would not have helped an offense. How many successful rotation players can you say that about in this league, let alone starters?
Eric Snow could finish at the basket. That was his lone offensive skill. He was not fast, couldn’t get dribble penetration, couldn’t make home-run passes, and was one of the worst shooters I have ever seen play in an NBA backcourt. Teams would leave him wide-open from 18 feet and he wouldn’t come close to hitting the net. It was like seeing a normal guard try to shoot a medicine ball.
Teams would double off of Eric Snow and trap LeBron, and there wouldn’t be much the Cavs could do about it. It was the kind of defensive strategy that rarely works against the likes of Ben Wallace, and Snow was a point guard. That Mike Brown developed a reputation (which stuck) as a poor offensive coach while the Cavs were almost literally going four-on-five on that end is an injustice.
One stat for perspective: Mo Williams made 43.6% of his threes last season. When you factor in the added value of the shot, his eFG% on threes was 65.4%. In 2006-07, Mo Williams played in all 82 games for the Cavs, and started 45 of them. That season, Snow shot 63.7% on free throws.
Eric Snow was the epitome of a Mike Brown player. He helped instill a defensive mentality that’s served as the backbone for the Cavs’ success. He was a great presence on and off the court. He played a crucial role in molding the Cavs into what they are today. He accomplished all of this despite being a point guard who couldn’t beat anyone off the dribble or make an open shot to save his life, and would routinely get ignored on the offensive end. And yet he was the guy running the point as one of the great offensive talents the league has ever seen was first leading teams deep into the playoffs. If that’s not ridiculous, I don’t know what is.
Well, that’s more than enough of that for the time being. Let me know what you guys think, but remember that I wasn’t interested in players who just happened to be very bad at basketball and employed by the Cavaliers. Also, this video was considered.
Oh, David Wesley. 949 games, 10,023 shots, and that’s the first thing that comes up when someone searches for you on YouTube.