The most important thing to remember about Wizards reserve center Anzejs Pasecniks is that he wasn’t really signed because Tommy Sheppard and the front office thought he’d be a good player, even in a reserve role. He was signed to be friends with fellow Latvian Davis Bertans, whom the Wizards actually value as a player.
Sure, the Wizards hoped Pasecniks might be decent, but they didn’t really imagine he would be. I mean, there’s very little reason to think he’ll become even a rotation-level big — his size is adequate, but he’s slow, ground-bound, not very strong and doesn’t use leverage well. As an NBA player, his best asset is his ability to speak Latvian.
Some fans throughout the season clung to the delusion he might make a reasonable backup. Stranger things have happened, I guess but it’s extremely unlikely. In his 437 minutes, he was lower usage (17.6%), inefficient (nearly four points per 100 possessions worse than average), committed turnovers and fouls at a high rate and had a minimal defensive impact. His offensive rebounding was decent — top 30ish in the league.
Despite his size, he’s not a shot-blocker.
The second thing to remember is that had he come around 30-40 years ago, he’d be overvalued because everyone in the league thought centers were the most precious thing to have and therefore showered money and opportunity on nearly any seven-footer they could find.
His trip through the Statistical Doppelgänger Machine predictably yielded throwback stiffs. The overall quality of stiffs was a bit better than anticipated — several stuck around for multiple years. In most cases, teams that gave these guys decent contracts ended up regretting it. You’ll see what I mean.
Here’s the top 10.
- Bill Garnett, 1984-85, Indiana Pacers, age 24 — The standard NBA career arc is this: bad rookie season, progressive improvement, a peak at 25-28 and then a plateauing until 30 or 31. Garnett inverted that. Here’s his PPA by season: 97, 87, 45, 52. This comp season was the 45.
- Byron Houston, 1992-93, Golden State Warriors, 23 — I know, I promised stiffs and here’s a wing. But, Houston was a wing stiff. The Warriors gave him 1278 minutes in this rookie season and he was below replacement level. He pretty much stayed there for the next three seasons, though he did manage a 60 PPA in his final season. His per possession stats are strikingly similar to Pasecniks — usage, relative efficiency, rebounds, fouls and so on. The 6-5 Houston actually blocked more shots per possession than the 7-1 Pasecniks did this season.
- Jake Tsakalidis, 2002-03, Phoenix Suns, 23 — Basically a replacement level center, Tsakalidis managed to show just enough promise to make GMs think maybe he could be a decent backup. He did somehow post a 128 PPA in 732 minutes mostly off the bench at 26 years old. He got one more bad season and was out of the league.
- Ryan Hollins, 2009-10, Minnesota Timberwolves, 25 — Hollins had one of the more inexplicable NBA careers. He got 10 seasons despite not cracking replacement level until year 8. I use “cracking” loosely — he had a 49 PPA (replacement level is 45). He did manage a 66 the following season, and closed his career with a peak of 72. His five games with the Wizards that season are the stuff of legend.
- Cedrick Hordges, 1981-82, Denver Nuggets, 25 — I have no recollection of Hordges. He got two seasons and more than 2,900 minutes with the Nuggets. The first was bad (58 PPA) and the second was below replacement level.
- Hilton Armstrong, 2008-09, New Orleans Hornets, 24 — Appearances in six seasons. Armstrong didn’t get above replacement level until he returned to the league after a three-year absence to play 97 above average minutes for the Warriors. In his 41 games with the Wizards, he had a 34 PPA.
- Ian Mahinmi, 2012-13, Indiana Pacers, 26 — This one felt inevitable. Mahinmi was in his replacement level phase, which in fairness was most of his career. Three replacement level seasons later, he would explode to a 148 PPA at age 29 in a contract year, and Ernie Grunfeld would award him a four-year, $64 million contract that torpedoed Washington’s chances of being competitive and ultimately cost Grunfeld his job.
- Tim McCormick, 1988-89, Houston Rockets, 26 — McCormick defies the “big stiff” theme, at least a bit. His first four seasons were all mid-90s PPA scores, meaning he was a decent player. He collapsed to a 34 PPA in this season was basically replacement level until he concluded his career at age 29.
- Loren Meyer, 1995-96, Dallas Mavericks, 23 — In this season, Meyer posted a 35 PPA in 1,266 minutes. It would be the best season of his career.
- Eddie Lee Wilkens, 1984-85, New York Knicks, 22 — Wilkens got opportunities in six NBA seasons, at ages 22, 24, 26, 27, 28, and 30. This was his rookie season, and he managed a 40 PPA, which was his best until he registered a 77 in 192 minutes at age 30.
As mentioned above, Pasecniks is not unique in NBA history. The Dopplegänger Machine found 17 player seasons that rated a 90 or better in the overall similarity score (100 is an exact match). If you’re as ancient as I am, you’ll remember some of them:
- Joe Kleine
- Eric Mobley
- Will Perdue
- Melvin Ely
- Mark West
- Zaza Pachulia
- Mike Brown
A few of them improved enough to become contributors — Perdue, West and Pachulia became pretty good.
From Wizards/Bullets history, the closest comp is one that everyone following the team back in the 1980s should be able to pick: Dave Feitl.
So ends the Statistical Doppelgänger series. Next up: the draft.