They're going to miss Rasheed Wallace's talent, but he didn't give a full effort last year [while playing for former coach Michael Curry, who was fired after one season]. He was kind of just there. When he has a coach like Larry Brown who commands respect, Wallace can be a very effective player. He at least played hard for Flip Saunders [a few years ago], though I don't know if he respected him that much. So it's probably good for them to move on without him, but it's a hard thing to say you're going to replace Rasheed with Charlie Villanueva and come out ahead.
Villanueva is not an every-day player. He can go off for you and make shots and score. But he isn't a big, post-up power forward. He doesn't have the toughness of Rasheed defensively; it's not even close. He floats on the perimeter as more of a catch-and-shoot guy who can put it on the floor one or two times and get to a jump shot. But he's not somebody who makes contested jump shots. I don't think he can make plays for others because he doesn't draw the double team and he's not a post-up guy, so you can't play through him like you could through Rasheed. If he's your power forward, you need at center a big-time post player who can command a double team. That means you could put Villanueva at the top of the circle -- the defender comes off him to double-team inside, the center kicks out, the defense is forced to rotate and now you've got them. One, two or three passes later, and you've got an open jump shot somewhere. But if you don't have somebody who commands a double team in the low post, that's going to hurt Villanueva's opportunities.
Kwame Brown is their starting center, and he can't demand a double team. He has the size and length to play against the bigger players, and against the more mobile centers, they can cross-match it with Villanueva and let Brown guard the more physical power forward. But Brown tends to get in foul trouble, he doesn't get up and down floor real well, and he isn't going to give you much offensively.
Ben Wallace is back to give them toughness -- not in the long haul, but in spots here and there. Every once in while he'll have a game where he does something -- gets a block, a stop, a big rebound -- but I don't see him being on the floor extended minutes. He can be a positive influence just because Tayshaun Prince and Richard Hamilton will show him respect and that means the others also will have to.
Chris Wilcox is one of those heartbreakers. He has the ability to score, but he has never been a focal-point scorer on a team. I don't see him with anything but a drop-step move with his right hand to the middle. Nothing else in the half court. Athletically, he is very good. He can get up and down the floor and finish on the break, but you can't dump it into him in the post, and he doesn't seem like he bangs in there. He'll get pushed off the block, so now he's looking at one, two, three dribbles and maybe he can make a jump hook. You can anticipate what he'll do, so when he puts the ball down, you can dig down on him and mess him up and maybe get the ball. People see his highlights and think he can score, but he's limited.
Jason Maxiell is an undersized energy guy off the bench. I don't think he'll ever be more than that. He is a wide body who can compete for rebounds and he's got inside scoring ability with power, so he can roll to the basket and finish in traffic as well as rebound in traffic. But he's not a big-time, back-to-the-basket player and he has no perimeter game, which is why he can't play starter's minutes. They seem to like having him on their team, so he has value as a power forward playing with a small forward's length.
All of this means that they're going to live on their wing players and guards: Prince, Hamilton, Ben Gordon and Rodney Stuckey. Prince is going to be important from a leadership standpoint because he and Hamilton are the veterans who were there when they were successful. It's important that he's heavily involved offensively and defensively and that the others follow along. It's one of those deals where the best players have to buy in with the coach and the system, and then the others will follow suit.
Prince has a little bit of a post-up game. He's slight and gets pushed off the block, but he has ball-handling skills, he's long and left-handed, and he's tough to guard. He's like Hamilton in that he's in shape, he plays big minutes and he doesn't get hurt. He can shoot, take it to the basket and handle the ball -- a complete basketball player. Defensively, with his length, he can help in double-team situations. He has a good sense of when to double and when not to. He can fake the double too and go back and stunt, so he understands schemes that way. I'm sure there are guys who think they can overpower him or get deep position on him, but Prince has super-long arms and great instincts.
Hamilton is somebody who worked on his game. Talk about a physical specimen. He just goes and goes and goes with nonstop movement. He could be the next Reggie Miller, though he won't ever have Miller's range. He's got the same kind of endurance. Hamilton is good for a movement offense because he plays without the ball. He knows how to read screens, how to curl, when to flatten out. He knows what the defender is doing. Is he cheating over the top? Is he trailing me? So now Hamilton is saying, "What's my countermove?" And Hamilton is going to know he's in better shape than the guy chasing him, so if he doesn't get the ball this time, he'll just run through the screens again and get it the next time. The guy in Portland, Rudy Fernandez, is a little bit like that too. To play that way, you've got be rewarded by getting the ball at the right times. His teammates have done that for him because they've had faith in him. He's had players like Rasheed and Ben Wallace who don't demand the ball, who look to run plays and make passes knowing it will help them win. On other teams, you see people in contract years who are thinking about their own game, and so a lot of times those kind of passes aren't made.
There is going to be a lot of responsibility on Hamilton and Prince. I've got to believe they had lot of say in having Allen Iverson move out of the starting lineup last year. So it's going to be on them now -- we heard you, we did what you wanted, now you've got to put up. It isn't going to be easy to not be in contention anymore, to keep going hard. A lot of guys in their position say, "Trade me to a winner." But we haven't heard that from them.
Gordon has been a big shotmaker at the end of games. But he's one of those guys you can get carried away with. I don't view him as a starter, and on this team he should definitely come off the bench behind Hamilton. He's a below-average defender and not a great ball-handler or playmaker. He's a hired gun. He's OK coming off screens to catch and shoot, but he's at his strongest getting the shot off the dribble. He can get to the rim and you've got to be up on him because he elevates and gets the shots off so quickly. He's also a good free-throw shooter who draws contact. He's one of those guys who can make the shot when you're right up there on top of him. But he can also put himself in situations where he's hurting his own team by turning it over. He can be a 30-minute player, especially if you've got a good team defensive concept that you can use to cover up for him and hide him. But the more he's shooting, that means the less the ball is going to Hamilton. At the end of the game, they're going to run pick-and-roll. In Gordon's case, that will mean pick and get away from me so I can get a shot off. That's never been what Rip has been all about, so it will be interesting to see how they pull it all together.
Stuckey is a big, strong point guard who can get to the basket. I wouldn't call him a true point guard, but he gets the ball up, he can run a half-court set and he looks to make plays. He isn't out of control. He has the toughness to defend the position, and he also has the size to defend the shooting guards. They can put Gordon out there with him and have Gordon guard the weaker of the guards. Stuckey is an average shooter. He needs a lot of time to get his feet set because he's not a quick-release jump shooter. They don't need him to be a leader because the players will be looking to Hamilton and Prince for that. He's a guard who wants body contact, and once he has that, he can hold his man in position and take up the space just by nudging or moving him, and he can get to the foul line that way too. He's going to be a good, solid player, and he could have a long career if he keeps himself in shape and develops his game to hit open jump shots. The one thing he'll always have going for him is that he's big and strong enough to get to the rim. Defensively, he may have trouble against the quicker Aaron Brooks-type point guards, but who doesn't?
Will Bynum had some big games for them last year as a backup point. He isn't huge so much as he's muscular and stocky. He's an explosive driver and scorer, but ultimately he's a journeyman. They're going to be looking for ways to get the most minutes out of Hamilton, Prince, Gordon and Stuckey, which means they can play small with Prince at 4. I imagine we'll see that at the end of the game.
John Kuester will be a good, honest worker as a coach. Not a blowhard. He's going to be prepared, he'll treat his players with dignity, and he'll gain their respect because he's knowledgeable and he works hard. They'll be organized and he'll have the veterans in Hamilton and Prince who will help with the leadership. It's really going to help him to not have Iverson there. Can you imagine Curry as a rookie head coach last year coming out of training camp to find that they've traded away Chauncey Billups -- his glue player -- and replaced him with Iverson? But Kuester will be an upgrade because he's been with a lot of different coaches over the years and he's seen you can't be stubborn and he's seen the right ways and the wrong ways to work with people. I imagine he'll put in an offense with a lot of movement, a perimeter-oriented deal that borrows from the UCLA high-post offense, or maybe even a structured passing game.
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