Profiles in Profiling, #1: Jawad Williams, Kinda

June 18th, 2009 by John Krolik

To explain: This kicks off our “Profiles in Profiling” series, in which we do a fairly straightforward look at the strengths, weaknessess, status, role and other errata of the 12 guys on the Cavalier order, in reverse order of how important I believe they’ll be to the team next year.

So first up is Jawad Williams, who stands in for whatever 12th man the Cavaliers trotted out this season for the majority of the time, a job done admirably for several years by Dwayne Jones.

I don’t get NBA 12th men. This is a position with literally zero expectations placed on it. There is no chance a 12th man will play meaningful playoff minutes. So why are so many 12th men cookie-cutter decent but undersized and underskilled college bigs with low upside who do nothing? I’m sure there are practice-squad related reasons for this, or something status-quo related.

But this is a position that should be reserved for a high-risk guy who has one ridiculous skill that has a chance to translate into NBA success, or a guy who will be consistently entertaining on the bench. Scott Pollard was a 12th man’s 12th man. My favorite 12th man story of all time is the Rodman Bulls, whose 12th man was a guy brought on in the Rodman trade whose sole purpose on the team was to be Rodman’s friend and keep his craziness in check. Realize that this is one of the most useful 12th men in NBA history.

So here would be my ideas for a possible Cavaliers 12th man, and the ideas for and against them. Quick detour here: props to the Mavericks for giving the ultimate “why don’t we at least give that guy a chance?” player, Gerald Green, a chance. Turns out he’s pretty bad. It was worth a try, as are these players.

James White:

First, the dunking. Holy lord, the dunking. (My favorite part: he’s not even smiling when he’s getting the trophy and unleashing the best dunks in any dunk contest this year.) If he’s not in the dunk contest this year, I’m putting an asterisk on whoever wins it. And that includes LeBron.

(A great subplot to this year’s dunk contest, by the way: The league’s MVP is going to be in the contest. The world’s best dunker wants in. I can see this going a number of ways-nobody signing him in fear of a Stern horse head in the bed, White completely outdunking LeBron and getting screwed by the fan voting, or LeBron and White having one of the most random and yet completely epic showdowns in NBA history.)

Actually, the reason I would be against signing White on the Cavs is that LBJ and White’s impromptu dunk contests, while they would probably be pay-per-viewable, could very possibly lead to LeBron getting some sort of horrifying injury trying to dunk with his knees or do a backflip off the top of the backboard or something.

2nd, there are a lot of actual basketball reasons to sign this guy-going back to the “one-skill” theory, we know athleticism is a skill that correlates well with success, and White may be one of the 10 best athletes playing basketball at any level. Have him play defense, run the floor, and make cuts off the ball, like a Dhantay Jones-type guy, and anything he can give you putting the ball on the floor is a bonus.

And his production in the NBDL is downright freakish-he’s scoring 26 a game on 67% True Shooting, with a 37% clip from beyond the arc, and 5 and 2.5 to go with it. How this guy isn’t in the NBA is a complete mystery to me, to be honest.

Lee Humphries, et al.

Look at the top 3-point shooters, percentage-wise, in the NBA this season. Notice how few of them were first-rounders? How many of them were guys that went undrafted? Whatever NBA front offices think they know about the values of shooters, they’re off a little bit. A lot of this has to do with watching Anthony Morrow this season-that percentage is no fluke. He is a freakish shooter. He is absolutely automatic with his feet set on an open three. I’m serious-in game situations, he’s literally 60-70% on those shots. The stroke is perfect. I’ve seen a lot of great shooters in my time, and he’s the best catch-and-shoot guy with his feet set I’ve ever seen. Bar none.

And every single team in the NBA passed on him twice. You’re telling me there aren’t more Morrows running around Italy and Spain right now?

Of course, none of this is an exact science-the best three-point shooter in college history can’t seem to knock down open ones in the pros, and Wally and Boobie couldn’t even knock down open threes for us this year. Shooters are fickle by nature. But truly great ones are so valuable, and I feel like too few of them get dismissed.

And here’s my real question: If you’ve ever been around a professional shooting coach or bummed around guys who know semi-pro basketball, you know that there are guys on this planet who are absolutely freakish shooters. Scary, scary stuff.

Dave Hopla, who’s now the shooting coach for the Wizards, gave a demonstration at my high school, and it was amazing. For a full hour, he moved and talked to us while shooting the entire time, and missed something like 5 of 700 shots during that time. It was incredible. And he’s not alone.

There are tons of guys younger than coaches, in the 30-40 range, playing overseas or in a fringe league, who don’t quite have the pop it takes to play in the NBA but simply do not miss open shots, ever. Especially not free-throws. How many guys would you venture to guess will simply never miss a statistically significant amount of free throws? 50? 100? 200, maybe?

My point is that there’s more than 30. The Cavs have a free-throw closer, but it astounds me how many teams don’t have a guy they can give it to at the end of games and count on two free throws going in. So why not have a guy on the tail end of a fringe career, the type of guys who generally become shooting coaches, grab him before he’s 40 and still in game shape, and use him as a 12th man who only comes in during must-foul situations?

(It would be trendy to implicate the Magic here, but the truth is Redick fits the bill of one of the guys I’m talking about here-in my opinion, SVG should’ve fouled Fish and trusted Redick to make the free throws. But you see how important it can be to have a free throw shooter in whom you have absolute confidence.)

I realize there are counter-arguments:

-It’s a lot harder to make free throws in a game than it is in practice. This is absolutely true. Pressure, fatigue, all those things-generally those things cost you around 10% on your free throw accuracy. I’m not one of these guys like M. Night Shamalyan who believes it’s possible for anyone to master free throws with sufficient practice. Making free throws in an NBA game is freaking hard. But there are free throw savants out there who are good enough to make them even in that pressure, and I don’t know why every NBA team doesn’t have one.

-The pressure would kill these guys. Most of them have played basketball at a level where a win or a loss is the difference between making a living and not, with crowds that make US crowds look like Wimbledon. I think they could handle it.

-He couldn’t come in cold. I equate it to NFL placekickers, who have tremendous pressure placed on them even in extra point situations and perform at a near-automatic level.

-There’s no guarantee he’d get the ball. True, but it’s a big floor, and if nothing else it makes it effectively impossible to ball-deny your other best free throw shooter.

I may be off about how many truly freakish free throw shooters exist, but there’s no excuse for not at least having a high-80s guy up your sleeve for these situations, especially down the stretch when you’re not developing guys anymore.

Final question, for which I have no answer: If you were decently familiar with both basketball and football, and I asked you to bet your house on how many free throws or extra points you could make, you’d choose the free throws, right? Extra points are certainly a more difficult action than free throws, and the pressure in game situations is even greater- Stefan Fatsis spent months training to be a kicker, and whiffed on both extra points he was given a chance on in scrimmage situations. And yet the league-wide extra point conversion rate is 99.66%, while free throw rates rarely approach that.

I’d imagine once the action becomes routine, the limits of the small hoop against the relatively large goalposts become the factor that matters-is there documentation or nomenclature for this phenomena that anyone knows about?