Telfair's star dims
Tonight the Timberwolves will play in San Antonio against the Spurs and the blindingly quick Tony Parker. As has been the case for the past two games (three if you count his paltry four first half minutes in the Sacramento debacle), and despite the fact that he is the only active T-Wolf remotely capable of staying with Parker, Sebastian Telfair will not likely see the floor. Friends, this puzzles me.
First, because I know you are a nerd and you love it like I do, some stats. My guess is that Telfair is sitting for two reasons: his shooting and his size. Even a Bassy fan like me will admit that he is an awful shooter. He's never been great, but he problem has only gotten worse this year as he's hitting shots at a miserable 31.3% clip, despite defenses basically running away from him when he's further than 10 feet from the basket. Worse, despite the fact that he's too small (6' in shoes) to shoot over anybody, Telfair has not yet become adept at getting to the foul line (he's only attempted 22 free-throws this year). And Telfair's normal-person height makes it very difficult for him to defend larger point guards, like our friends Lord Chauncey Billups and, okay, Tony Parker.
But here is where things get funny. Telfair's +/- (that is, points the Woves score vs. points scored by their opponent when he is on the floor) per minute is significantly better than both Kevin Ollie's and Rashad McCants's, the two players who have largely taken Bassy's minutes. Indeed, McCants' s -.319 per minute is second worst on the team, behind only Rodney Carney. And McCants shoots a lot more than Telfair with not much better results (35%), while bringing significantly less defensive effort and playmaking ability. What's more, of the Wolves' ten most commonly deployed five-man lineups, the two that feature Telfair at the point are more effective by far, than any other (the sample sizes here are, admittedly, not too large).
When Telfair is in the game, the offense is faster and more dynamic; the ball moves more fluidly and with greater purpose. Because of his absurd quickness, his court vision, his sometimes magical passing ability and his supple, explosive handle, Telfair is the Wolf most equipped to facilitate McHale's more aggressive, pace-pushing offense. Despite his shortcomings, he seems to be the only Wolves point guard who makes his teammates play better--and is, not coincidentally, the most pleasing to watch. When he's playing well, he meshes two of the more enduring NBA mythotypes: the selfless floor general and the charismatic, high-dribbling playground superstar (which meshing, if you think about it, kind of dissolves the essential, often racially tinged assumptions--that the former is serious and unflashy and the latter all style and no substance--of both of those old chestnuts). Even better, unlike almost all pro basketball players, Sebastian Telfair actually sort of resembles (and acts like) a normal human (but with a sparklier smile and the words "Lucky Me" tattooed in huge script across his back"), which, for me, makes his astounding skill with a basketball all the more astounding.
So, in lieu of actually being able to watch him play for the Wolves, have a look these highlights from his senior year of high school in Coney Island, culled from the film "Through the Fire" and check out the ridiculous things he can do when playing against people closer to his own size. I suggest watching the entire film; it does a nice job of depicting what it might be like to be a teenage boy slowly awakening to a world of unreal money, pressure and fame. I have to say, Bassy's streetwise yet charmingly naive personality totally won me over. For all of these reasons (oh, and also the fact that he probably had Fabolous shot), it really kills me that things so seemingly arbitrary/elementary as height and the inability to hit a wide open jumper seem to be on the verge of derailing this kid's NBA career. Anyway:
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