As we settle in to a new season of NBA basketball, we start to notice certain trends, both alarming and encouraging among players. Kevin Seraphin, unfortunately, is an example of the former. While Randy Wittman sung Seraphin's praises in a Washington Post piece, a deeper observation of his play shows that while he's made some individual improvements, the team is still worse with him on the floor.
The most disappointing part of Seraphin's game has been his subpar defense. Again: from a bird's-eye view, it looks like he's improved, but his struggles on that end become obvious once we dig deeper. He does not have good enough awareness to be a good pick and roll defender, as shown by his rough showing Wednesday against Brandon Wright's pick and roll play.
His impact defensive numbers don't paint him in a very positive light. He is fouling an absurd 6.8 times per 36 minutes, one of the highest rates in the league. He's constantly late in his rotations, which hinders his very real progress as a rim protector. He's not nearly quick enough laterally to corral ball handlers, which leads to many silly reach-ins.
All this explains why the Wizards' defensive rating with him on the court balloons to 111.7 and decreases to 96.5 when he's not in the game. Some of this is statistical noise -- Seraphin plays with all-bench units and behind two very accomplished defenders in Marcin Gortat and Nene. Still, that drop-off is steep enough to raise an eyebrow. Being the full-time backup center, Seraphin should have the responsibility of being the defensive anchor of that second unit, and despite his improvement, he's just not getting it done.
Seraphin's defensive rebounding has also been a huge problem. On the surface, he is averaging a mediocre 5.4 defensive rebounds per 36 minutes, which may not seem cripping unless you look at the on/off numbers. With Seraphin off the court, the Wizards grab nearly 78 percent of available defensive rebounds. When he's on the court, they grab less than 70 percent. Again: on/off numbers are tricky and Seraphin played many minutes with Drew Gooden, another mediocre rebounder. But this is alarming. Seraphin doesn't get enough elevation to jump over players for rebounds and he's not making up for it by boxing out effectively like Nene does.
Seraphin's offensive numbers are very good on the surface. He has a 59 percent true shooting percentage while using 21 percent of the Wizards' possessions, which is a fantastic rate. He has a nice hook shot that he can hit with either hand and he's hit seven of his 12 mid range jumpers so far, which is encouraging in a small sample size.
But problems emerge with a deeper dive. While he scores well, Seraphin doesn't do much aside from post-ups and occasional jumpers. He's not a useful pick and roll player, nor is he a particularly good screen setter. He doesn't grab offensive rebounds and doesn't have counter moves to his hook shot. He needs the offense to run through him to be a factor, which slows down movement for everyone else.
And while Wittman correctly noted that Seraphin is being "more precise" with his decision-making, he's still not good enough to be the hub of a second unit. The Wizards can't run plays that get everyone else involved, like dribble-handoffs or any plays in the high post designed for him to get the ball to cutters. Seraphin's scoring in the post is not nearly as effective if he can't make defenses pay in other ways. Defenses don't double-team him because of his skill in the post; they double-team him because they know they can force a turnover. He's averaging 3.1 per 36 minutes, which is too many. He also has a tendency to get frustrated when his shot's not falling, making him stop the ball and force bad shots that might as well be counted as turnovers.
Given these struggles, it's a surprise DeJuan Blair hasn't received an opportunity to play. Blair is not a good defender in his own right due to his lack of height or jumping ability, but he grabs defensive rebounds at a reasonable rate and can rack up steals with his quick hands.
While Blair is not as skilled as Seraphin individually, he can do more to help a team's offense. He's adept at slipping screens and rolling to the rim and has learned how to finish despite his lack of size. He also has a nice floater, which serves a useful in-between shot on short roll situations. Moreover, he sets hard screens, which will help guards get open and free shooters. We haven't even mentioned his best skill: grabbing offensive boards, something only 10 big men did at a higher rate last year.
Blair (and Drew Gooden for that matter) is a flawed player, but so is Seraphin. While Seraphin is improving individually, the team still suffers with him on the court. Blair should get his shot sooner rather than later.