During Saturday's loss, Kevin Garnett reached a milestone that he created for himself. 20,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, 5,000 assists and 1,500 steals. He is the only person in NBA history to reach those hefty, round numbers, and is a true testament to Garnett's all-around play and ability to not have his knees spontaneously combust. Garnett's consistent play (15.2 PPG, 8.2 PPG are his broad statistics for this season) have allowed him to reach this point, but many have began (or have for some time) to cast doubt about Garnett's long-term future as an NBA player. He is a 16-year veteran, and as a 35-year-old professional athlete, he has lost the raw explosion and power that had 10-year-old me putting up his poster in my room, leading Garnett to resort more than ever to a style of play I can only describe as "maddening".
Last week, commentor drza44 wrote a very well researched AND written post about Kevin Garnett's lack of respect around some in the Celtics community. He cited one of my previous articles as too damning of KG's current basketball playing abilities, to which I immediately cried "How dare a commentor challenge my authority! What, soon they'll have rights!?". But after looking at KG's numbers from this season, drza44 was right. KG is vastly underrated, in part because he doesn't pass the standard eye test currently. KG is losing respect, and now I realize I may have been wrong in my initial assumption of what I assumed to be his "declining" ability. Still think his play is maddening, though.Take a moment and Google Search "Kevin Garnett decline", and you'll see a wave of articles and the such decrying the end of the demonic Kevin Garnett. They say he's too old, his skills are diminished, and he is a zombie on the basketball court. The problem is, Kevin Garnett actually is the most valuable player on the Celtics, and he never gets enough credit for that. He currently leads the team in Win Shares with 4.8, the best way to fully assess the value of a player to a team, because it calculates the number of wins contributed by a single player. If anyone is a MLB fan, you'll know this stat from the never-ending MVP debates, as new-age sportswriters use this statistic to assess value, whereas older sportswriters tend to rely on broader, outdated statistics like RBI's and batting average. Garnett is worth a full two wins more than Rajon Rondo, the guy who is likely the most talented basketball player on the Celtics. If you don't believe me, look at this table provided by 82games.com, an advanced statistic website that is utilized here to show the top-20 five-man floor units the Celtics have, in terms of minutes:
Top Five-Man Floor Units
Note that Garnett is a part of 12 of these units, and in those 12, the Celtics have a +/- of +108. The Celtics have a better offensive rating than defensive 75% of the time when Garnett is a part of these units, further proving his value to the Celtics most played rotations.
Garnett's real value stems from his defensive win shares, where he has 2.8 -- good enough for 9th in the NBA. His defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) is 4th in the NBA, at 95.3. As a defensive player, Garnett's value is still there, and he is still the best defender on the Celtics. Also, he does this on defense, which makes even MORE valuable (click on the photo. It is more than worth your time):
Guys like Dwight Howard and Josh Smith may have leap-frogged Garnett in terms of defending ability, but Garnett is still one of the 10 best defenders in the NBA. His value is still ever-present on defense, and over the past four seasons there really hasn't been much of a significant decline in that respect. The problem people seem to have lately with Garnett's defensive talent comes from alleged inability to grab rebounds the way most tall players do-- something that was ever-present throughout the Los Angeles game that made me so irate.
The thing is, as drza44 points out, KG is still one of the NBA's best defensive rebounders. He's 5th in the NBA in defensive rebounding percentage, a statistic that estimates the percentage of available rebounds a player grabbed while he was on the floor. He's far and away the leader on the Celtics -- a full 6 percentage points of Chris Wilcox. Guys like Brandon Bass and JaJuan Johnson are double digit percentage points behind Garnett, leading one to conclude that the rebounding problem with the Celtics is more everyone else than it is Garnett.
The thing that caused me to go on a mini-rant about Garnett previously was his offensive ability, and the fact that he absolutely refuses to enter the paint. For example, Garnett shoots jump shots 77% of the time, whereas a three-point shooting champion like Kevin Love only does it 60% of the time. The fact that he shoots so far away most of the time, in spite of his close-range shooting percentage being nearly 60%, absolutely infuriates me. It REALLY does.
Further more, Garnett's inability to want to step back two steps and turn that long jump shot into a three-pointer causes my blood vessels to burst. He shoots 48% from 16-23 feet, why isn't he taking that next step into three-point territory? It only makes sense, right? Instead, he resorts to what is arguably the worst shot in basketball, and it drives me up a wall, much to the chagrin of my mom who has to clean said wall.
The freaking problem is that it goes in at a consistent rate, so there's no real urge to make Garnett change his eccentric offensive strategy. It is maddening, but it's somewhat effective. GAH. His offensive rating is 106, which is far from terrible and shows he is still a good offensive player. He is just doing it a non-traditional way for a "big man", leading my emotions to become an ever-present state of "annoyed".
So...what we seem to have here, at last according to the advanced statistics, is the KG is still a very good player. He's not near the 2003-07 peak he had where he just flat-out embarrassed dudes, but he's still an NBA player who's worth something. The reports of his death are greatly exaggerated, a phrase that applies to KG more than it does to Mark Twain, mainly because Twain is definitely dead. His Player Efficiency Rating is the same as it was last year, which is higher than it was in 2009-10. His shooting percentages from the past two years are pretty much identical, and if you are in to broad old-school statistics, both his points per game and assists per game have gone up since last season.
Still, there are a few qualms to the theory I've presented here. His turnover rate has spiked almost two percentage points higher than last season. His offensive rating, while still good, is at it's lowest since the 1999-00 season. So there are a few facets of KG's game that are slipping, but that appears to be more so due to the fact that his career as a whole has been Hall of Fame worthy, and it is extremely difficult to keep that type of level of play consistent for more than 15 years. The fact that KG hasn't seen a dramatic decline in his game, as so many do, is really quite astounding.
The problem with all this is, KG is being paid FAR too much for what his statistics are worth. His current pay is $21.2 million this season, and he obviously, in spite of all the glowing information above, is not worth that amount. The market is driven by youth and broad statistics, something KG has neither of. Since that is the way the market is worth, it is unlikely we will see Garnett back in Boston unless he is willing to come back for something far less than he is currently receiving. If he ends up going somewhere else for a cheaper rate, he will be an extremely viable and sought-after target for anyone not named Stan Van Gundy.
If general managers haven't written Garnett off like so many of us have, they could receive an absolute steal this offseason.
Garnett is underrated because he doesn't pass, as noted at the top, the standard eye test. He never enters the paint, can look old at times, and resorts to long jumps and peculiar rebounds. He doesn't play like other big man, and this can seem very inefficient. His broad, old-school statistics are very bland and not all that impressive. It only comes when looking at the advanced metrics that you see KG's real value, and that he is far from dead or done or whatever. It's weird to say, but Kevin Garnett is really underrated, and probably deserves more respect than we give him.
Sorry, KG. Please stop hitting yourself.
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