Season Preview Essays: Beno Udrih
The good thing about Beno is the confidence he instills in one’s heart as far as the Kings’ front office. Yes, Geoff Petrie gave him a contract extension worth more (some may say much more) than he justifies. But you know that if your team’s roster includes a productive player that the Spurs let go, you’re in good hands.
And after two years of solid back-up-point-guard-level production, Beno seemed to take the leap, to the point where the Kings can probably be comfortable starting him. He runs the pick-and-roll with expertise and precision, fine at both creating for others and shooting himself while curling off the screener. According to Synergy Sports, Beno scored 0.91 points per play as the ball handler in a pick-and-roll, while shooting a very impressive 48.3%. Going by these stats, Beno ranked as the 37th best pick-and-roll ball handler in the entire league.
Beno’s best asset as a player, though, is his lightning quick release. The second Beno gets the tip of his big toe around the pick set by his big man, the ball is already up. This sort of quickness makes his shot very hard to contest, and helps his percentage immensely. This is what makes Beno such a weapon both on the pick-and-roll, and as an off ball shooter, as a spot up guy, and moreso when coming off of screens. Since opponents must respect his shot, this also opens room for penetration, both for scoring and for dishing, with the former often featuring his very strong floater. The downside to this is that his penetration rarely ends at the free throw line – Beno averaged only 1.5 shots from the stripe every game throughout his career, denying him the chance to show off that 82% free throw shooting.
Most importantly, Beno is a very good fit next to Tyreke in the backcourt offensively. Both can handle the ball, both can create for others, with Tyreke focusing more on the drive-and-kick game while Beno is more of a traditional point. The two complement each other very well, a sort of inside-outside combo that one rarely sees out of two backcourt players (mainly because so little backcourt players have an inside game such as Tyreke’s) and it’s no coincidence that the two combined for 5 of the 6 most frequently played line-ups for the Kings last season.
However, one needs to take Beno’s 09-10 season with a grain of salt. Shooting percentage’s are the games flukiest statistic, and Beno far exceeded his career highs with a 49.3 FG% and a 56.6 TS%. His three point shooting was even weirder – his 37.7% was better than his career average of 35.8%, but he has posted two better seasons (40.8% in 04-05 and 38.7% in 07-08) and three worse seasons (34.3%, 28.7% and 31% in 05-06, 06-07, and 08-09, respectively). So while it’s unlikely that Beno suddenly reveals himself to be a bad shooter – the mechanics are definitely there – we also shouldn’t be disappointed if those percentages fall.
Of course, you probably noticed that so far, my focus has been on offense. This is partly because he is so good at it – constantly utilizating his surprising quickness and the sort of veteran savvy that you learn to expect from a former Yugoslavian point guard with a beard. But that’s also because Beno is, to put it lightly, a terrible defender.
He is listed at 6’3″, 205 pounds, but one watches him and can’t help but think that’s too much. The number of opposing point guards that can’t throw Beno around as they please is quite small. And though Beno is quite a quickster on offense, he lacks the sort of lateral speed that being a good defender necessitates. Not even the major basketball smarts Beno has can help overcome the very flawed piece of Swiss cheese that is his defense – a very big problem when you’re guarding point guards in the no-hand-check era, and a very big factor why opposing teams found such an easy path into the Kings’ paint last season.
At this point in his career, it seems very unlikely that Beno changes for the better on D. However, his deficiencies can be properly camouflaged with some work from his teammates.
First and foremost, the improved frontcourt should go a long way towards helping with this problem. This is no big news, but it’s much easier to pressure the ball when you know that even if you get beat, a top-notch shot blocker has your back. As shown by Beno’s 1.1 steals per game, he is capable of applying some kind of pressure on ball handlers/passing lanes when he doesn’t have to worry about opponents getting free lanes to the rim whenever he misgambles. And this goes even beyond the obvious acquisition in Samuel Dalembert – the sheer monstertude of DeMarcus Cousins another year of development from Jason Thompson combined with should make for much better returns than the two headed monster of Spencer Hawes and whatever undersized 4 was backing up Carl Landry last year.
Additionally, Beno should be hoping for a big step defensively from Tyreke Evans and Omri Casspi. Both players (mainly Evans) showed some good defensive instincts at times, to go with some terrible defensive instincts at other times (mainly Omri). Both have good size for their positions, and could be very good defenders under the right tutelage.
If both those players make the defensive leap, than combined with Donte Greene and Francisco Garcia, the Kings should have ample defensive ability on the wings (for the sake of the discussion, Evans is a wing, at least defensively, whenever Beno is on the court). Even if you’re guarding the Chris Pauls/Deron Williams/Steve Nash’s of the world, and they’re getting by you at every chance, it’s possible to deal with if you have defensive talent behind you. Great defensive units have been able to successfully utilize even poor defenders throughout NBA history (Ray Allen, Derek Fisher and Rashard Lewis are three of your most recent finalists), and with the defensive potential on this Kings squad, Beno could be hidden in the same way.
The Kings better hope they manage to hide him, because the other options in the backcourt are scarce. Beno seems poised to split all non-Tyreke guard minutes with Francisco Garcia. Whether he remains a glaring hole or transforms into a Slovenian Gary Payton, he seems locked in to those 30 minutes with 12 of them coming at point and 18 at shooting guard. And while he and Garcia will also share the spot of go-to-example-for-criticizing-the-Kings’-front-office due to his contract, the value he gives this squad is something Kings fans will undoubtedly live with.