December 11, 2009

In Defense Of Corey Maggette

Marcus Thompson had a nice feature about Corey Maggette up yesterday, that has inspired discussion at GSOM and elsewhere. A lot of the talk focuses on what a dandy guy he is -- that he's a good teammate and runs his own charitable foundation and buys the guys Louis Vuitton and P.F. Chang's and whatnot. The suggestion is that you shouldn't boo a guy like that just because he takes some ill-advised jumpers. And I'd tend to agree: save your booing for wrestling shows, people, because God knows they could use some heat these days. But I'm not interested in defending Corey Maggette the person. I'm interested in defending Corey Maggette the player.

Let’s be very clear: what Corey Maggette does on offense works. It’s ugly as hell when he's hitting and downright nauseating when he isn't, but it is absolutely effective. Maggette’s career true shooting percentage is .577, the 49th-best figure on record (meaning since 1977). Over the course of his career, Maggette has been a more efficient scorer than Karl Malone, Pau Gasol, Carlos Boozer, Chris Paul and Michael friggin’ Jordan. Monta got a $66M contract based on a year with a .580 TS%, a figure that’s increasingly looking like an outlier in the context of his career… Maggette has scored more efficiently than that in five out of the last seven years. The worst TS% of Maggette’s career is .553, recorded during his rookie season. That’s not only well above league average, it’s higher than any season total Baron Davis or Stephen Jackson has ever recorded. And this year, Maggette’s at .578. It’s not like he’s lost a step.

The impressive thing about Maggette’s efficiency is that he keeps it high despite shooting so often. Corey is also 56th-best in the league in usage since 1977, using 25.4% of his team’s possessions. Call him a gunner if you like, but when a guy scores this efficiently, you want him shooting a lot. Maggette not only scores more efficiently than Ray Allen, he scores more often than Ray Allen. In fact, only seven players have scored both more efficiently and more often than Maggette since 1977: Adrian Dantley, David Robinson, ‘Zo, Shaq, Dirk, Yao and Amar’e. That doesn’t mean that Maggette is actually the eighth-best scorer of the last thirty years, because he’s not… combining the lists unfairly cherry-picks in his favor. Still and all, this guy has been a truly elite scorer for a long time. If any Warrior has earned the benefit of the doubt when making offensive decisions, it’s him. Yet Warriors fans have less patience for him than for anyone.

Do I like it when Corey Maggette shoots jumpers? No, I don’t. But he does have to shoot some to set up his drives — he can’t let defenders completely sag back on him and seal off the lane. It’s also easy to overstate the crappiness of his jumper. His eFG on jumpers this year is .359. That’s no great shakes, but Monta’s only at .368, and Vlad’s only at .387. I’d like to see Maggette take more of his jumpers from behind the arc, as that stretches defenses more and has a higher payoff… those eighteen-footers are for the birds. But I can’t begrudge him for taking jumpers in general. The guy knows what he’s doing.

The rest of his game, of course, isn’t as good. Maggette’s a pretty good rebounder for his size, and doesn’t get enough credit for that, but beyond that, he’s pretty limited. He’s not a good passer. He turns it over a good bit. And his defense has been a detriment: both this year and last, we have defended a bit worse with Maggette on the floor. In fact, his overall plus-minus numbers as a Warrior have been weak… both this year and last, we get beaten more quickly when he’s out there for us. Which is weird, because he had a positive adjusted plus-minus for the Clippers in each of his last five years there. Maggette was a consistent asset before becoming a Warrior. What happened? Did he get old? Did he stop trying? Did he start shooting too many jumpers?

No, no and no. Our weak record with Maggette on the floor is not Corey Maggette’s fault: it’s Don Nelson’s. We acquired a player who’d been a solidly good small forward for nine years — within three weeks, Nellie made him a power forward and the wheels came off. Maggette doesn’t have the size or shot-altering ability to defend fours, and the mismatch at the other end doesn’t do much for him… it’s not like he was having trouble scoring against threes. It has been obvious for over a year that Maggette is in no way, shape or form a power forward, and yet, through a combination of injury-induced necessity and Nellie’s stubbornness, Maggette has spent over two-thirds of his Warrior minutes at the four. This is a guy who was drafted as a shooting guard. Since coming here, he’s spent more time playing center than shooting guard.

Maggette is playing out of position, getting smacked around by guys who have sixty pounds on him, night after night. He’s still driving the lane and producing, putting his body on the line. He’s putting up the best rebound rate of his career, primarily through sheer effort on both ends. He is playing possibly the most energetic defense of his career. He’s consistently diving for loose balls. All this doesn’t amount to much, because no matter how hard he tries, he’s not a power forward… we’re just flat-out using him wrong. But he tries anyway, and he does it without complaint. Corey Maggette is a good soldier, a good Warrior. To boo him because he takes the occasional ill-advised jumper (on this team, no less) is, as Cheese would say, some shameless shit, right here. How can we expect to acquire and retain good players if we don't even recognize them when they come along?

When it comes to winning, it's not about how they look... it's about what they do. Maggette's bump-'n-whine offense doesn't look good, but it is. And Maggette's muscles may make him look like a power forward, but he's not. We -- the franchise, the coaches, the fans -- would do well to let the guy play small forward and leave him be.

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