Create the Definition Within

I’ve made it pretty clear that I’m not a fan of the Warriors bringing back Mickael Pietrus for anything close to his asking price. He’s simply not that productive a player relative to that kind of money, and there are many players in the NBA who can play decent defense and not make threes. Of course, that means that Mullin and Nelson have to sign one of those players. With that in mind, I think they should take a long look at James White.

White is far from a sure thing, though, so the GSW brain trust would probably need to pick up another wing; it’s not best to place too much confidence in a guy who just got cut by the Spurs before training camp. But White also has a reputation as a solid defender and one of the best dunkers ever, so it’s not as if he’s chopped liver. During his last season at the University of Cincinnati, White was definitely considered one of the best wing defenders in the nation. (He originally attended Florida, where he was supposed to be everything Corey Brewer became—plus a lot more.) I’d assume that the Spurs gave him a shot at the end of last season mostly because of his potential to turn into a lockdown defender. White did score a bit in his six-game stint with San Antonio, though, turning in 8.3 ppg in 22.8 minutes of play.

Yet it’s unclear how much we can take from White’s time with the Spurs. In that offense, wings aren’t really asked to do much more than make open threes and play defense. White only took seven threes last season, so who knows if his .286% shooting from beyond the arc is worth using as a predictor of things to come. In a somewhat recent post for TrueHoop, Henry Abbott makes an observation that White played “only OK defense” in Vegas. While you would expect someone fighting for his job to try his best, I’m not sure anyone goes all out on the defensive end during summer league. All that adds up to a situation in which a supremely athletic wing with a high-major college basketball pedigree played no better than decently for an NBA team that didn’t allow him to play to his strengths.

Regardless of his production, White can be a good fit for the Warriors; lord knows Nellie loves athleticism. White might still be too raw to get immediate playing time, but Pietrus still hasn’t learned how to dribble and found a way to earn some legitimate burn. White can likely be had for a meager contract, so why not take a chance?

With the Warriors angle covered, I’d like to return to the issue of White’s time with the Spurs, because I think it gets at one of the major reasons I dislike the organization. Before I start criticizing them, I should make a few points clear. My opinion on the use of assembly-line, part-for-part systems in the NBA differs greatly from my opinion on their importance to college teams. I’ve already fired the opening shot in my argument that the system path is perhaps the only way to go in the NCAA, mostly because it’s almost the only way to foster continuity within the program. I would think I'll have a lot more to say on that topic in coming months.

More importantly for this topic, I don’t disagree with the fact that the San Antonio system works incredibly well; no one can really blame them for doing what they do. As I said in my Suns post yesterday, there’s no point in not trying for championships, and the Spurs always do their best to win.

However, they do so in a way that often keeps players from utilizing their strengths, which in turn makes the Spurs an exceedingly boring team to watch. That does not mean that San Antonio does not have exciting players; Parker and Manu can do things that only a few players in the league can replicate. But try to imagine what those two would be like if they played in more open styles. For one thing, they would regularly hurl their bodies into the lane and finish impossible plays in traffic. They still do that now, but I always get the sensation that both players exist as bastardized versions of what could have been.

Parker and Manu are best case scenarios for non-Spurs fans. They can still be successful in the Spurs system because they’re excellent players, and both maintain massive portions of their individual games. But in the case of someone like James White, who isn’t yet good enough to fit in any system, PopBall (or, perhaps more accurately, DuncanBall) limits his ability to succeed in its relative refusal to adjust to the skills of the player. In a TrueHoop article from Tuesday, Abbott claims that White “didn’t look like a Spur,” which would seem to jive with his earlier comments on how White was “calling for the ball all the time” and “shaking his head every time a teammate fails to send him an alley-oop lob.” I’m not sure Abbott meant for it to come out this way, but those remarks make it seem like there’s something wrong with White, when in reality it’s perfectly reasonable for an amazing dunker to get upset that his teammates aren’t letting him do his thing in a glorified pickup game. Otherwise, Abbott’s right: this is an issue of a player not fitting with a particular team. White never looked like a Spur, but that’s only because it’s categorically not his brand of basketball.

For these reasons, I’m actually quite glad that San Antonio cut him. Even if the Warriors don’t end up signing him, I’m excited that he’ll get an opportunity with a team that wants him to be James White. I don't expect him to be a solid player immediately -- he's just not that good. The guy has a long way to go before he’ll be a legitimate NBA role player, but teams need to let him be the sort of role player that his skills allow him to be.


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Ben Q. Rock said...

James White on the Warriors is about the best fit imaginable for anybody. If nothing else, he can come in during garbage-time and throw oops to himself off the glass.