Bear with us on the loose analogy for the player categories below, but gravity is a relatively new phrase for a constant concept that has determined countless styles of play and situational schemes. In the NBA, there are megastars that dictate the game with their combination of skill, size and athleticism. The next level down is your superstar, a player that can lead a team into the playoffs. After that, there are a variety of role players that need to fit into specific roles to complement the higher talent on the roster. These can be backups, 5th starters, shot-blockers, 3&D, etc. And since the rise of analytics, there have been certain roles whose value have increased as their correlation to winning was uncovered. We’re going to take a look at one of the new trendy terms floating around and shed a little more light on its importance.
As stated before, there are a handful of megastars in the league, meaning their impact on the game is so profound and their gravity (explained by Kevin Pelton) allows their teammates to operate with more time and space (measurements that are essentially the same when it comes to getting a shot off). Often times, talent scouts are drawn to those with immense gravity as a way to improve their team’s success. Which, if you’re lucky enough to have LeBron or Michael Jordan on your team, works out just fine.
If you’re like the other 29 teams that don’t have James or Jordan, you’ll need to find gravity in unexpected places to create space and time for teammates to operate with more freedom. For those that didn’t see these marvelous notes, take the time to browse and learn what the best coaches are seeing and working against. This clinic on spacing in pick & roll is a lesson in changing gravity from a genius. Using all 5 players to run your pick & roll set seems so simple, but is rarely done. Manipulating the other team’s pieces and ideas by putting your own players into specific spots with precise purpose is a must to create advantages. It’s seen during every snap in the NFL; changing the formation after the huddle breaks, sending a guy in motion across to the other side…all decoys and misdirection to expose how you are going to be defensed and getting the match-up you wan’t to exploit. As Trinchieri’s notes state, it’s difficult to move the ball side-to-side in order to achieve this because of the 24-second shot clock, so the action needs to be quicker and ready to go as soon as the offense crosses half court (remember, you probably don’t have an isolation scorer who can consistently get a great shot every time down the floor).
This post won’t dive into the schemes and actions that will create higher gravity, which in turn means more time/space for players to play in. Rather, let’s take a look at some players whose gravity may be a little underrated, providing more value than initially judged based on statistical/salary alone. Some of the names are no-brainers but this review contends that their value added to the offense is more profound than generally thought.
NEPTUNE (Hope this helps Neil DeGrasse Tyson learn the game)
These are the players that don’t have a great all-around game, but their ability to shoot from well past the 23’9″ mark makes their gravity stronger than other players at their position and force defenders from the help side to deter their outside shooting, meaning the defense has to stretch along the perimeter into lengths that are difficult to recover from.
Luke Babbitt-Nearly 75% of his shots came from 3PT range in the 16-17 season, which allowed Dragic and company to slash and finish at the rim. Babbitt started 55 games for the Heat, but was on the court for less than 16 minutes on an average night. Just enough time to fire up a few 3PTs and finish at 41.4% from deep, with nearly all of them assisted attempts. Somehow, he’s entering his 7th year in the league and will earn less than $2,000,000 with Atlanta. This will be a very interesting year for Babbitt, as Atlanta goes through somewhat of a transition and has a crowded front court situation. With the small price tag, and ability to knock down open looks off dribble penetration Babbitt may be on the move before the deadline. Do not look shocked if Babbitt ends up in Minnesota once they determine they need a big who can make some shots to give Teague, Butler and Wiggins more room to operate…and will do so in limited minutes because they have the best young center in the game.
Frank Kaminsky-Everyone’s favorite dancer is still developing a consistent NBA 3PT shot. Frank hasn’t scorched the nets from deep yet, but was at a respectable 33.7% and 32.8% in his first 2 seasons. The uptick in percentage of 3PT shots taken from year 1 to year 2 is what is so encouraging. On the surface a 7% increase doesn’t seem major, but the raw number of attempts (202 then 354) show that Frank is comfortable out there and his FT% indicates he has touch. This could be a year we see another jump for Frank as he plays off Zeller and Howard as the complementary shooter to their roller. Going into his 3rd year of his rookie deal, this is also an opportune year to sell high as the buyer gets a full year on a small number right as his production sees an increase. Another attractive player for teams looking for shooting bigs to draw help and free up options on the weak side. Where Frank separates himself from those other bigs is his ability to handle the ball and pass from the perimeter. His gravity opens passing lanes at the top of the key for other cutters and finishers to score easy buckets, adding a dimension that coaches dream about.
Ryan Anderson-Probably the name most basketball experts think of when discussing “bigs” that stretch the floor. Anderson stretched that out even further this year for Houston’s high powered offense. 65.5% of his shots are from 3PT range, and I don’t have the numbers off hand to show how many of those 3PT shots came from the 26′ and deeper range. Anderson shot 40.3% on over 8 attempts per game, some of his best numbers in his career even though he’s aging with some difficulty. Will give James Harden some credit for the spike over the last 3 seasons. It seems that Daryl Morey is well aware of his value and paid the best “Gravity Specialist” in the NBA handsomely. Until the wheels fall off in Houston, expect Anderson to keep moving further and further from the hoop in search for the longest distance he can make open shots from, since no coach (yet) will make sure he’s defended closely at half court giving James Harden and Chris Paul even more room to dissect the remaining 4 players.
Gravity not quite as strong as Neptune, but these players travel through time and space at a higher velocity…tireless runners with quick triggers. As they fly around screens, help defenders have to spend an extra defensive count worrying about their shot meaning they increase their distance away from their primary mark. This group has a range of pay scale but assuming Redick chases a ring next year after filling up his checking account, he’ll be able to provide a low-paying option that coaches dream about. Meeks has trouble staying healthy, but plays with a chip on
JJ Redick-Still at peak fitness levels, Redick runs non-stop and always drags his man around the court…most of the time, he forces the defense to get out of their comfort zone and extend to make sure he doesn’t catch the ball in scoring range. He’s on the more expensive side this season, but it’s reasonable to think Redick can be had at a much smaller number next year as he chases rings for his final seasons in the NBA.
Jodie Meeks-If only Meeks could stay healthy! When he’s on the floor, he’s a constant threat. Meeks is shark-like in that he’s always on the move and can get into his shot immediately on the catch. He adds a dimension to his game by knowing when to throw his off-speed pitch and backdoor to the rim, where he’s not as terrible a finisher as you’d think. Deadly from the FT line, Meeks showed some flashes of drawing fouls with defenders closing out to his 3PT shot. Low contract number, but won’t be able to give you a full season either.
Eric Gordon-Former star (maybe?) who’s transitioned into the best of role players. After last season’s success, it may be difficult for Gordon to stay in that role. Great move by Daryl Morey to add another superstar guard to make sure Gordon stays in the natural pecking order behind Harden. There may be a slight decrease in chances, but the Rockets’ team gravity will be significantly higher than everyone else in the league, so Gordon’s production value will still outweigh his contract.
More massive than the others, their gravity is seen at the rim with the ability to crash defenses and pull perimeter defenders into the paint.
Boban Marjanovic-May be a name that continues to go under the radar because of how big he is. Teams focus on the fact that Boban’s hands are the biggest in the world more than his ability to score efficiently around the basket. Last year, Boban took almost 90% of his FGAs within 10 feet of the rim, 41.7% of his shots came within 3 feet of the rim where he converted at a 76.4% clip. Add that to his 16.5% OREB% and you have a real problem for defenses. Slowing him down requires more than keeping a body on him, his unique size, reach and grip allow him to pick the ball out of the air at points no one else can reach. In his 2 seasons in the NBA, his ORTGs are 130 and 128…one season with a great team (SAS) and one season with a mediocre team (DET) so despite the small sample it’s safe to say that Boban’s talents are not dependent on his teammates but rather his gravity. Even more attractive is the small salary, $7,000,000 this season and the next Boban gives you more value per dollar than any other backup and most starters.
Montrezl Harrell-On the size scale of Centers, Montrezl is on the opposite end of the spectrum from Boban, but the ferocity and energy Harrell brings to the court makes up for it. His ability to roll to the rim out of pick & roll sets and finish are in the elite category. 68.7% of his shots come within 3 feet and his FG% there is an astonishing 75.1%!! Considering he had 98 dunks in only 58 games last season, it’s easy to see why those numbers are what they are. He’s moving into a system that loves to use high pick & roll sets, but this year without its maestro could put Montrezl into a stickier situation with less opportunity to showcase his abilities. Coming into a contract year, Harrell could be a guy on the move at the deadline and then cash in next off season for a decent pay day. He fits the style of play in the future of the NBA and should be a sought after player.
Richaun Holmes-Another young guy who can play at the rim with athleticism and toughness. 92 dunks in 57 games and a rim FG% of 73.4% shows Holmes has the ability to crash defenses and punish them when they don’t. What sets Holmes apart from some of his counterparts is the emerging 3PT shooting skill where he made 35.1% of his attempts in the 16-17 season…a vast improvement from year 1. Extending the area of coverage with the threat of being able to make shots in pick & pop situations contorts defenses and affords Holmes more options to score. Thus, making him more dangerous to help defenders and justifying his name on this list of underrated Gravity Specialists.