Profiles In Profiling: Tarence Kinsey

July 1st, 2009 by John Krolik

First, the daily roundup: Andy V has officially opted out of his deal and will become an unrestricted free agent. Meanwhile, the Cavs’ first target in the free agency market seems to be Charlie Villanueva. Hmm. Three quick hits:

1. Anderson Varejao was an absolutely crucial part of the Cavaliers’ team for the previous couple of seasons. He might have been the most consistently important defensive player on the team, fit wonderfully with LeBron and Z, and pressured the rim offensively. Losing him would leave a much bigger hole than his stats would suggest.

2. There just isn’t a way that Anderson Varejao and Shaquille O’Neal can be effective offensively playing in the same lineup.

3. Shaq gives the Cavs some leverage, Charlie V would give more, and Anderson is much more valuable to the Cavs than he would be to any other team. The Cavs were able to get an amazing deal on Delonte West after the Mo Williams trade last season by using their leverage. Ferry has stood toe-to-toe with Anderson before, and will probably attempt to do the same this off-season.

But Dan Fegan is good at his job, and does not want to be made to look weak by giving in after a high-profile standoff again. Look at Fegan’s client list this season-other than Varejao, which of those players would you say is getting paid anywhere near market value? Jason Richardson, Troy Murphy, Erick Dampier, and Nene are going to make a combined $50 million next year. This is going to be an absolute war.

But let’s try to forget about that unhappy business, because this is the time of the off-season where I get to talk about how much I love Tarence Kinsey. (Except for the DUI)

-Tarence Kinsey is awesome. There’s just no getting around it.

-Tarence Kinsey is one of three players on the Cavs last year who could best be described as “swingmen,” or players who are capable of playing both the shooting guard and the small forward position. (LeBron would technically qualify as well.)

-Here’s the thing about quality swingmen: absolutely every team in the NBA has one, and most have two. Swingmen don’t have to be as insanely skilled as point guards/combo guards or as ludicrously big as big men to be successful in the NBA, so the talent pool for swingmen is relatively large. Most NBA teams can count on their swingmen to do a variety of things, as they’re generally the most athletic guys on the floor; they defend the other team’s best wing players, make open shots, can score in isolation, run the floor, make cuts, do lots of the things that hold teams’ systems together.

-Now, I do realize that the Cavs have LeBron and it is, on one level, completely ridiculous to complain about this, but it is a little bit frustrating how comically inept the Cavs have been at finding a quality swingman in the LeBron era.

-A lot of this is explainable; obviously, the Cavs have always had more pressing needs than the 3 position, and for a long time the 2 was effectively clogged up by Larry Hughes’ reign of misery and evil. And the one time the Cavs attempted to draft a swingman, they got Luke Jackson.

-And so it was that the guys playing the role of “swingman” for this year’s Cavalier squad ended up being Wally Z and Sasha Pavlovic, two guys who I described in my most rhapsodic Kinsey post of the year as “an American who plays like a bad Euro and a Euro who plays like a bad American.”

-Wally had good shooting stretches over the course of the season, but was never the consistent threat from outside he was in his prior NBA stops. And frankly, Wally did not bring a ton to the table other than shooting. Likewise, Pavlovic would occasionally look like an athletic slasher who could knock down threes, but just as often he would lose his shot and play completely lost on both ends.

-So basically, why Tarence Kinsey was only on the court for 7% of the time this season is a complete and total mystery to me.

-The first thing to note about Tarence Kinsey is that he never got a real chance. Almost exactly half of Kinsey’s limited minutes came in garbage-time lineups of Kinsey with some combination Boobie Gibson, Wally Z, Sasha Pavlovic, JJ Hickson, or Darnell Jackson as the other four players. For this reason, his +/- numbers have to be rendered completely irrelevant. Even his exorbitantly high opponent PER of 22 can be partially chalked up to the complete lack of defensive help provided by the frontcourt of Wally/JJ/Darnell.

-Kinsey was effective in the extremely rare stretches he played shooting guard alongside James at small forward and two bigs, and he only played 5 minutes this season at small forward with James playing the 4.

-When asked to describe Tarence Kinsey, which actually happens less frequently than you’d think, I generally respond that Kinsey is a slightly worse version of what Larry Hughes was supposed to be when the Cavaliers signed him. He’s athletic, he’s a slasher, he contributes on both ends without needing the ball, and he’s always trying to get the ball moving towards the opposing basket.

-First off; Kinsey is probably the most athletic perimeter player the Cavs have gotten in the LeBron era since LeBron himself. (Hughes had lost a step even before the crippling series of injuries that made his tenure with the Cavs wholly ineffective.) It’s not just raw leaping ability, straight-line speed, or power. (Okay, it’s especially not power.) Kinsey has incredibly light feet on the perimeter, great lateral quickness, accelerates quickly, and has an absolutely amazing second jump, not to mention Energizer-bunny conditioning.

Kinsey won’t wow you with one huge dunk, crushing block, or jaw-droppingly fast move to the bucket, but he constantly operates at just a bit of a faster pace than most everybody on the floor, and always seems to be deploying that extra step or hop.

-Second, Kinsey combines his athleticism with the basketball IQ of a true scrapper to provide all of the “little things” out on the floor. He’s a relentless seeker of turnovers, and always has one eye on the passing lanes for a lazy delivery, pressures the ball, and goes full-bore for every single loose ball and rebound. Had he qualified, he would’ve been a top-15 shooting guard in rebounding rate last season.

And once a turnover or rebound occurs, Kinsey loves the fast-break game as much as any Cavalier on the roster, flying down the court at every opportunity and looking to create numbers for the Cavaliers in the open court.

-Kinsey also knows how to play the game the right way on both ends, which is especially noticeable offensively. Kinsey’s not a volume scorer by any stretch of the imagination, and his playmaking is almost non-existent, but he does things to help the team offensively.

Most perimeter players who play with LeBron like to “stretch the floor” for him by essentially standing on the weak-side when LeBron has the ball and waiting to catch-and-shoot. It does work, but defenses don’t mind guys standing still a skip pass away from the ball as much as you think they would. Kinsey pressures defenses by actually making cuts on the weak-side, making his pass and immediately cutting through, weaving angles, flashing to the strong-side, and then rotating back. He keeps the spacing all the same, makes the defense have to watch another guy, and actually gives LeBron (or Mo) more high-percentage options with the ball.

-And just by the way, Kinsey is more skilled than you think; he can handle the ball, and while he shoots his jumper with a kind of side-to-side movement and doesn’t have much of a pull-up game to speak of, he can finish at the rim and can make shots with his feet set; his eFG% on jumpers last year was an impressive 46.1%, and he actually made 39% of his threes. That’s a very small sample size, and he’s probably not as good as those percentages suggest, but he’s not a guy defenses can completely ignore as a shooter.

-So, the elephant in the room: Why wasn’t Kinsey part of the rotation? A big part of it is that the Cavs didn’t want to fix something that wasn’t broken, and ultimately felt more comfortable in the playoffs with Wally and Boobie’s experience rather than trying out the inexperienced TK. When I asked MB about Kinsey when the Cavs played the Clippers this year, he said that he liked what Boobie was giving him in terms of the little things and didn’t see a need to make a change.

That certainly makes sense on one level-you’re talking about benching a well-paid veteran on a 66-win team to make room for Tarence Kinsey. And in the case of Boobie, the fact that Gibson has a contract that runs until 2013 was probably a consideration.

But this Cavs team could stand to be more dynamic, Wally and Pavs are now gone, and I love the idea of giving Kinsey run at SF with LeBron at the 4 to really pressure teams on both ends of the floor for limited stretches. Danny Green brings many of the same things that Kinsey does, with a better outside shot and less years on him. However, I hope the Cavs don’t forget that they have a player with a lot of talent who could give this team a whole new dimension in terms of perimeter pressure, offensive grit, and full-court capabilities for 15-20 minutes a game sitting right on their bench.