December 17, 2009

Start Corey Maggette. Constantly.

The Nellie meme that I find the most tiring, save the one about how he should be something other than fired: the endless talk about his creativity as a coach. It's not that it's strictly untrue... even now, he will still bust out some interesting little plays once or twice a game. There is still a great basketball brain buried somewhere beneath all of that flesh and dishonesty and recently-savored gin and apathy and evil and partially-digested lobster-topped skirt steak. But Nellie's current overarching game plan is about as uncreative as it gets. Facing the Cavs? GO SMALL! The Pacers are banged-up? GO SMALL! Spurs are in town? DID I STUTTER I SAID GO SMALL! That shit ain't exactly "Up." I wish Nellie actually would try something genuinely weird, as opposed to the same failed attempt to create mismatches night after night after night.

You know what really would be weird? You know what would be weird and might actually work?

Turning Corey Maggette back into a small forward, and starting him.

Every quarter.

One of the great things about basketball is that pace and playing style can warp just about every facet of the game. You'll see games where both teams score in the 70s and games where both teams score in the 130s; there have been games featuring 50 total rebounds and games featuring 130 total rebounds. Every statistical component of the sport is fluid and contingent on the style of play...

...except for one. That component is fouling. The rules governing fouls are rigid, and unresponsive to stylistic concerns. Players on running teams are not each awarded a seventh foul to play with; teams that foul quickly are not saved from early penalty situations just because they do everything else quickly, too. No matter who you are or how you play, you get six fouls, and then you're out. And if your team commits five defensive fouls in a quarter, or two in the final two minutes, your opponent's going to the line. Period.

Now to most teams, this distinction is irrelevant. But we are terrible, and we are desperate. And we have a pretty unusual weapon. Because Corey Maggette is good at getting fouled. Really good. If getting fouled were a drop of water, Corey Maggette would be all the oceans of the world.

Compare him to Monta, for instance. Monta has been slashing early and often, and is going to the free throw line more often than he ever has. In his 971 minutes, Monta has already taken 145 free throws. Maggette's already taken 156, in almost 400 fewer minutes. Monta takes 7.2 free throws for every 48 minutes he plays... Maggette takes 12.5. Only four NBA players go to the line more frequently than Maggette, and you've heard of them: Dwight Howard, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony. This doesn't even account for the instances when Maggette draws a foul but doesn't convince the officials that he was in the act of shooting, despite his looks of principled outrage. (God, he's annoying. God, I love him.)

His whistle magnetism is reflected in his on court/off court numbers: when he's not on the court, we draw 19 fouls per 48 minutes. When he is, we draw 25 fouls per 48 minutes. When he's not playing, we average 20 free throws per 48; when he is, we average 29.

So what's the point of all this? Corey Maggette pushes our opponents very quickly towards the penalty. As such, he is the rare NBA player whose inherent value can vary depending on when you play him. If he comes in late in a quarter, even if he personally gets fouled, he's not doing much to affect your overall chances of getting to the line. But if he starts a quarter, all those smacks and slaps he endures take on a larger meaning. Suddenly the other team's in the penalty with seven minutes left, and you get to go to the line whenever someone brushes Monta on the perimeter, or inadvertently smacks a guy when going for a rebound. All of a sudden, you're going to the free throw line constantly. There are few better ways to win than that.

So the diagnosis is simple: you start Corey Maggette in the first quarter. And the second quarter. And the third. And the fourth. You play him for the first six or seven minutes of every single frame, so you never cost yourself a chance at drawing five early fouls and living at the line. You play him at his natural position of small forward, because 1) non-stupid teams play their players in the right place anyway, and 2) he'll have an easier time surviving a pounding given by opposing threes. And when he gets tired, or in foul trouble himself, you sub in Anthony Morrow, who's not only a jarring stylistic change for the other team, but a guy who will hit free throws, if you can put him in occasional position to do so. Corey Maggette can do that.

This won't happen. But it would not only be more likely to bear fruit than what Nellie's doing, it would also be a good bit weirder. And if he's the creative genius he once was and is still reputed to be, you'd think he'd give something like this a try.


FreeZarko said...

Never has such a productive player been so despised. And the crazy thing is, I can understand why they hate him. I just wish they'd siphon off some of the hate and funnel it towards Vladdy (a guy who sucks and by all accounts doesn't give a shit)

FreeZarko said...

Great post, I forgot to say. I think this is the best new bball blog and deserves to be part of the True Hoop family.

Owen said...

The gap between Maggette's perceived value and his actual value really is stunning. Usually prolific scorers are overrated, if anything; we've seen our share of that over the years, with Monta even getting some of that this season. But Maggette spends a decade giving his team highly efficient big-scoring nights, and everybody just rolls their eyes. It's a testament to the power of aesthetics... fans want their swingmen to play pretty.

warriorsscore110 said...

Lost in the contract snafu and Maggette's black hole style offense is that he is become quite solid and efficient. Having Maggette play 25 minutes at the 3 and 5 minutes at the 4 as a change pace would be great. It would be nice to see the Warriors play more convential tonight against the Wiz and hopefully walk away with a win.

Keep up the great work here.

Dave said...

Extremely convincing post, but you're preaching to the choir, and the choir is me on this one. I knew Maggette could get fouls the moment I saw him face Eric Williams in his Golden Celtics years, and each recognized himself in the other immediately, and they came face to face, and their eyes met, and each was clearly thinking, "This guy can probably get fouls almost as well as I can."

Dave said...


One day maybe these dudes, whoever they are, will let True Hoop be a part of this blog.

Dave said...

I bet Nellie didn't take a solid poop this week. He already hears the music playing over here, believe me.

Dave said...

So I guess I'm pitching Jim O'brien for the next Warriors coach. He made the 2002 conference finals with Paul Pierce, a naked emperor named Antoine Walker, a few Tommy Heinsohn catch phrases, a defense and three-pointers philosophy seven years ahead of its time, and Eric Williams's foul-getting. Think what he could do with Corey Maggette and the detailed 90-point repair schedule being slowly unveiled on this blog.