After standing pat for three weeks and watching rival NBA GMs battle for the right to overpay free agents of various pedigree, Geoff Petrie has finally addressed the King’s glaring lack of backcourt depth in the form of Antoine Wright and Pooh Jeter. Lets take a look at what the two might bring to the table.
At 26 years old and 5 years into his NBA career, Antoine Wright is what he is at this point – a good to great defender that will give you little, if anything, on the offensive end. Tom Ziller had a fantastic breakdown of Wright’s defensive abilities at Sactown Royalty, which requires no elaboration on my part. He should compete with Donte Greene for the title of the Kings’ go-to wing defender.
On offense, though, things start to get ugly. Wright has posted a PER of 8.63 for two consecutive seasons, after posting 0.70, 8.18 and 8.46, respectively, in his first three years. Say what you want about PER – it certainly has it’s faults – but a player who consistently posts a mark in the eights probably isn’t the answer to anyone’s hopes and prayers. The same goes with Wright’s true shooting percentage (hovering around 50 for 4 straight seasons).
The Kings’ main needs from a guard were ball handling and long range shooting. Wright gives neither. He has posted 1 assist and 0.8 turnovers per game throughout his career, and is a 30% career three point shooter, although he bumped that up to 33.5% last season. He gets a little better shooting long twos – he made 43% of his shots from 16 to 23 feet last year, after making 48% in 08-09. He also struggles at the line, shooting 67% for his career and 68% last season on only 1.2 attempts per game.
All in all, Wright should be considered a temporary stopgap, and the one year deal he signed should tell as much. He’ll give the Kings some hard nosed defense from the 2 and the 3, and will hopefully hit some outside shots with Tyreke and Run DMC setting him up. However, he should not be part of the rotation as far as long term plans go. The solid defense just isn’t enough to justify it, especially since Donte Greene has shown the potential to be a better defender with an actual offensive game. To be completely honest, I would have rather this roster spot go for a D-Leaguer or a summer league guy who might have some untapped potential, as opposed to Wright, who is extremely unlikely to show up at training camp boasting some new and extraordinary skill.
Moving on to Jeter, I must warn you that I am very nearly incapable of being objective regarding this guy. Not only is he nicknamed Pooh – and it’s not like Derrick Rose, who says it’s his nickname but never really uses it, this guy actually goes by the name Pooh – but he spent most of the 09-10 season with my beloved Hapoel Jerusalem, and was one of my favorite players to watch. Having said that, I think this is an absolute steal.
Generously listed at 5’11”, Jeter is a scoring point guard. His release is lighting quick, which makes him a very good shooter off the pick and roll, not unlike current King Beno Udrih. He also has virtually unlimited range. As someone who has spent the past season watching him play live, I can attest that I have never seen him take a shot that I didn’t think was going in. Of course, some of them don’t – 60% of them, last season – but this shows you that he has unlimited confidence in his game. Don’t let the 25% he shot from three in summer league fool you – the man can light it up.
Need proof? Jeter was responsible for one of the greatest performances in Israeli basketball. On March 27th, against Hapoel Afula, he went off for 39 points (remember, in a 40 minute game), while shooting – get a load of this – 13 for 14 from the field, including 9 of 10 (!!!!) from three. Yup. I know. If that’s not enough for you, one of those threes was a game winner, as Jerusalem won 102-99. Jeter has shown his clutch ability in summer league as well, hitting a game winner for the Cavs against the Bulls (go here for a breakdown of the play by the fantastic Sebastian Pruiti).
Despite being primarily a scorer, Jeter is still a very capable ball handler. His assist numbers with Hapoel won’t knock your socks off – 2.6 per game in European play, 1.6 in the Israeli league – but trust me when I tell you that hardly tells the full story. European play rarely has bloated assist numbers (even Ricky Rubio had just over 5 per game in Euroleague play), probably due to stricter scorekeepers and less minutes as much as style of play. Jeter consistently gave Hapoel a calm ball handler, and set up the offense better than anyone else on the team. He showed as much at summer league as well, averaging 5.4 assists per game.
On the downside, Jeter’s confidence can lead to him becoming a bit trigger happy, and is a major flaw in his ball handling resume. Jeter did a good job controlling this at summer league, but at Hapoel, he had a tendency to take multiple bad PUJITs and heat checks. And when those didn’t go in, he hurt his team not just by the wasted possessions. As his shot goes, so does his game, and though he is calm and collected, shooting slumps can throw him off his game both as a shooter and a ball handler. This could be something to look out for – in an 82 game season, Jeter will have bad shooting nights, and will need to find other ways to contribute. If he keeps the contested pull ups to a minimum, he should be a very solid option at the point.
Defensively, Jeter’s size is obviously a major concern. While he was one of Hapoel’s better perimeter defenders – he’s lightning quick and stronger than he appears – the NBA has so much more size than anything Hapoel played against that it’s hard to take too much from it. He works his tail off all night long, which earns him a couple of deflections a night, and helps him collect more rebounds than you would expect from a man his size. But all the hard work in the world can’t compensate for the size advantage that almost every guard in the league should enjoy over him. I’m hoping that he shows the same defensive ability he did at Hapoel, but I may be too optimistic. It’s highly unlikely that he will be able to do anything against Chauncey Billups or Deron Williams type guards in the post, so he will probably be best defensively against quicker guys, and not back-to-the-basket beasts.
I realize that it’s kind of absurd that I’ve come off as more optimistic about the summer league addition than the 5 year NBA veteran. However, I truly believe that Pooh is an NBA level player. Yes, I’ve seen Pooh against much inferior competition, and the one skill he lacks the most (size) is probably the one most important to an NBA player. But he is such an athletic freak (it runs in the family – sister Carmelita holds the second best time ever in the women’s 100 meter dash) and has so much skill that I don’t see why it can’t translate. Even if it doesn’t, I love this move by Petrie. There is absolutely no risk involved. If Pooh shows that NBA level competition is too much for him, than he’s still just a third string point guard. If, however, he shows the same explosiveness he has shown in front of me in Israel, the Kings have acquired a legit NBA talent for nothing at all.
That would be my bet.