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One Simple Rule for Andray Blatche

Andray Blatche, aka Bulletproof, aka Dre has perhaps replaced Brendan Haywood as the most divisive player among the Wizards' faithful.  As he enters his 5th season, some recent observations on Blatche, combined with the number of comments, fanposts, etc. on him on this site, got my attention.  Two big ones were:

From David Thorpe (ESPN)'s TrueHoop Tweets:

Blatche. Odom. Thomas (Tyrus and Tim). Smith (Josh). Clark. Very similar guys. Too talented for their own good.

From Dan Steinberg talking to an unnamed "league observer" at summer league:

One league observer suggested to me that Blatche needs to figure out the one thing he's really good at, the one talent he can offer the Wizards off the bench, the one thing he can be counted on to deliver.

After looking at 'Dre's numbers, I have a better idea.  Blatche needs to realize he is actually aggressively BAD at one thing-a thing he does quite a lot-and STOP DOING IT.  Or, really, do less of it anyway. 

Asking a player to improve in an area is great, but often doesn't work because a player has already maxed out in that area.  Asking a player to do more of something can be good, but may not work because the other team might take that option away or neutralize it, or there might be a problem of diminishing returns (telling many players to shoot more would cause their %s to plummet), or it might turn out to just be a bad fit for the player.  But I can't think of any reason why a player shouldn't have control over just not doing something anymore.  And I don't mean something simplistic like "stop throwing the ball out of bounds while attempting a cross-court pass on the fast break."  That's back to getting better at something--when and where to pass.  No, I'm talking about just not doing something.

Andray Blatche would give his already-notable value a significant boost if only he would stop attempting so many jump shots.

Blatche managed a PER of a perfectly league average 15.0 last year, despite his lackluster true shooting percentage of 50.8%.  That combination is not easy to pull off and puts him in a very mixed, and arguably elite, company.  Here are the players with at least 1,000 minutes who managed a better than 14.5 PER last season while shooting a worse than 52% true shooting percentage:

Anthony Randolph, Tracy McGrady, Louis Williams, Roy Hibbert, Derrick Rose, Allen Iverson, Ron Artest, Russell Westbrook, Andray Blatche, Tayshaun Prince, Rasheed Wallace, Rodney Stuckey, and Luol Deng.

That puts Blatche with an interesting mix of past-their-prime-but-still-effective big names (McGrady, Iverson, Wallace), popular up-and-comers (Randolph, Williams, Rose, Westbrook, Stuckey, Deng), a couple of established do-everything forwards (Artest, Prince) and . . . Roy Hibbert(?).  Obviously, to get on this list you must do some important things well to balance your inefficiency scoring.  For Blatche, those are rebounding, shot-blocking, and, despite the turnovers, passing.

But, Blatche should be able to get himself off of the that list (in a good way) fairly easily.  He could give his shooting percentage a significant boost just by taking fewer jumpshots.

Blatche was one of the worst jumpshooters in the league last year.  He managed only 35.6% on his Js.*  But that isn't really the problem.  No, the problem is that 2-pt jumpshots made up 53% of his field goal attempts.  To put this problem in perspective, here are the players who shot under 36% on 2-pt Js while having those Js make up at least half of their shots:  Darrell Arthur, Tracy McGrady's bad back, and Tyrus Thomas.  That's it.  Expanding the list to include guys who shot as well as 37% adds gunners like Monta Ellis, Baron Davis, and Al Thornton, as well as Luol Deng and Tayshawn Prince who made appearances on the earlier list with Dre, and Glen Davis, who could use a jumpshot intervention even more than Dre, having made 59% of his attempts 2-pt jumpers while managing to shoot his PER down to 10.7.

* Notably, his young frontcourt colleague Javale McGee would have been the very worst jumpshooter in the NBA if he had played enough to qualify.  Young Mr. McGee managed a truly horrifying 26.4%.  Somehow, Vale even managed to get 14% of his Js blocked.  Maybe part of why the two don't seem to function together (as per Prada's summer league anlaysis) is that having two 7-footers looking to take jumpshots at a very bad percentage is an excellent way to quickly kill your offense and shoot yourself out of a game.  What makes things even worse is that (1) both of these guys sometimes have good form-I mean, they aren't Mike Miller but they also aren't Mike Ruffin-so it isn't clear from appearances that they just can't shoot and (2) they hit just often enough to give themselves, if no one else, hope that the next one will go in.  Nevertheless, McGee took 63% of his attempts inside, versus only 43% for Blatche.  But we'll save this lecture for McGee if he starts chucking more often from 15 feet.

On the other hand, Blatche managed a solid 63.6% on inside shots.  That's on par with guys like Pau Gasol, Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson, Andrew Bogut, and Marcus Spreights, and notably better than guys like Chris Bosh, Lamar Odom, Z Ilgauskas, and Charlie Villaneuva.  Moreover, only 54% of those baskets were assisted, making him less reliant on being set up by teammates than some other big men.

So, if Dre would just cut his jumpshot volume from his 53% down to something like Paul Millsap's 36%, his true shooting percentage would leap in the direction of Millsap's very nice 57%.  By itself, reducing the Js doesn't quite get him to Millsap's level, because Blatche doesn't get to the free throw line at quite as good a rate.  But, they shoot essentially the same percentages both on their jumpshots and on the interior, and their free throw percentages are just about the same even if Millsap is taking a bit more of them.  To carry the comparison a bit further, Millsap is a better rebounder (though perhaps not by as much as you think), while Blatche is a better shotblocker.  They have nearly identical, good steal rates of over 1 per 36 minutes, and they both average over 2 assists and 2 turnovers per 36.  Millsap's PER was, however, 18.6 last season.  And he is about to make $32million over the next 4 years.  (Compare that to Dre's $9.7million over the next 3.)  Oh, and while Blatche does have more time in the league than Millsap, Millsap is on the long list of young studs who are actually older than Dre.

So, bottom line:  I'm not saying he needs to improve his jumper.  I'm not saying he needs to improve his shot selection.  No, he could help himself and the team tremendously if he would just randomly take half of the times he is getting ready to shoot a J and instead take the ball and make a simple pass back out to one of the perimeter players.* 

* Oh yes, and incidentally--I consider Dre a multi-talented center; I might be willing to buy him as a multi-talented and very tall power forward; he is not, however, a small forward and no one should let him think he is.  For example, those passing numbers that both get him praised (assists) and criticized (turnovers) look very good on a center.  They are acceptable on a power forward.  They are not so good on a small forward.

Scoring with the improved level of efficiency that would follow from just taking fewer Js would give Blatche a nice boost in value, while also freeing up shot opportunities for a team that could struggle to find enough shots for everyone anyway.  So, would it be good if Blatche would develop and step up to take a Haywood-type role on D?  Absolutely.  Would it be good if he were to stop trying to do too much with the ball in transition?  Without a doubt.  But at the end of the day, if he'd only take fewer jumpshots and thereby improve his scoring efficiency, he'd make himself a more useful and trustworthy member of this team.  And maybe set himself up for a nice payday in 2012.

Interestingly enough, it appears that if there is one area where a young player can clearly improve, it is in his scoring efficiency.  Let's look at the table steadyhand created of playing-time-adjusted (per 36 minutes) stats of 15 straight-from-high school players:

       First      Second Third  Fourth Fifth  Sixth
Pts    14.8     16.0   15.7   17.5   17.9   18.5
Rbs    7.7      7.7    7.7    7.5    8.1    8.0
Asts   2.6      2.8    2.8    2.8    2.9    2.9
Stls    1.1      1.2    1.1    1.2    1.1    1.1
Blks   1.5      1.6    1.3    1.2    1.3    1.2
TOs   2.8      2.5    2.4    2.4    2.4    2.5
ShEff  44.3%  47.8  46.5  47.1  50.1  51.4
Mins   36.0   36.0   36.0   36.0   36.0   36.0

As steadyhand noted, the consistency in many of these categories is striking.  To a large degree, a team already knows what it has in a player's rebounding, passing, steals, and assists essentially as soon as a player sees the court.  There is, however, one category with a huge positive trend:  shooting efficiency.  The progression from 44.3% in a player's first year, to around 47% in his 3rd/4th year is nice.  The leap to 50% in the 5th year is huge.  And then up to 51.4% in the 6th year is just icing on the cake.  Blatche was at 51% in his 4th season last year.  Here's hoping he can make a step forward in this, his 5th, year.*

* Disclaimer:  while Dre progressed from his first two years to his third, he didn't improve his shooting efficiency from his third year to his fourth.  Hopefully, that can be explained by his being given the opportunity to shoot more for a bad team last year.  Indeed, his FG attempts went up from 11.5 to 13.6 per 36 minutes while his proportion of jumpshots versus inside shots increased (i.e., got worse).

One final thought.  If I had to pick a recent/current NBA player as the example for the path Blatche should be on, it wouldn't be Odom, anyone with the last name Thomas, or Josh Smith.  No, it would be Jermaine O'Neal.  I'm not saying Blatche really needs to play more like O'Neal, but O'Neal is one of the best examples of a young player who improved his value by improving his TS% (while playing increased minutes), and some of the similarity of their circumstances is hard to miss when you start putting them side by side.    This could turn into the subject of a separate post.  But, let's hope that, unlike Jermaine O'Neal, Andray Blatche doesn't end up leaving his first NBA team before realizing his apparent potential.