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Looking Back At the Green's Midseason Pickups

A Daily Babble Production

Over a three-day span in the final week of February, Danny Ainge added the last two pieces to the roster with which the Celtics attempted to defend their title this spring.  One of them caused me great internal tumult beforehand, and the other struck me as most likely to make a marginal positive impact rather than one significant enough to merit his round-the-clock news cycle among Celtics fans in the week leading up his acquisition.  With free agency impending for both of them, it's time for an evaluation of the respective green tenures of Mikki Moore and Stephon Marbury.

In Moore's defense, the Celtics signed him with the expectation that he would be the fifth or sixth big man (depending on Brian Scalabrine's role) if the team reached full health for the stretch run, which it never did.  The various injuries to Kevin Garnett, Leon Powe, Glen Davis and Scalabrine forced Moore into a more expanded role than projected, and averaging 19 minutes in 24 regular season games no doubt accentuated his flaws.

But the blame deflection disclaimer ends there, and it doesn't change the fact that Mikki Moore is a subpar NBA player who did not do a good job as a Celtic this season.  Rewind for a moment to February.  In his writing at FanHouse, top-of-the-line Kings blogger Tom Ziller offered us a scouting report before Mikki came to town:

Moore has springs in his legs, but he does not block shots (6'6 Francisco Garcia had more per-minute last season). He can do three things well: take charges (though he'll also rack up a ton of fouls trying to get those), hit the elbow jumper and finish at the rim, provided the ball is handed off to him within five feet of the basket and there are no defenders within 10 feet.

While TZ drew the ire of Celts fans by referencing Mark Blount (whose effort level is nowhere near Mikki's), albeit strictly in terms of rebound rate (where the two are comparable over the courses of their careers), his assertions about Moore proved spot on.

Mikki hit the mid-range jumper (48.8 percent effective field goal mark on jump shots while with the Celts), and he did finish at the rim, posting a fine regular season true shooting mark of 62.1 percent.  This is good, but it bears remembering that as someone who can't create his own shot, Moore's shots came in small volume, and he posted 4.8 points per game and 9.2 per 36 minutes as a Celtic.  Meanwhile, his hands of stone combined with his propensity to set illegal screens led to an 18.4 turnover percentage, a mark worse than that of any regular but point guards Stephon Marbury and Rajon Rondo, starting center Kendrick Perkins and oft-out-of-control Tony Allen.  This is not good.

At the other end, calling Mikki Moore a poor defender rings similarly to calling Ray Allen a good shooter.  It is true but quite an understatement.  While one could still argue that a full training camp and beginning the season with the team would make a difference, Moore failed time and again at the defensive end as a Celtic.  He did a poor job playing the screen and roll, often either jumping out with poor timing to commit a foul while hedging or losing his man entirely, resulting in opposing baskets.  When guarding players with the ability to step outside, Moore vacillated between losing them to the point of not being able to close out on shots and flying out of control at shooters and committing silly fouls on the outside.  On the interior, he found himself out-muscled and outsmarted by stronger and savvier players with regularity. 

Moore did draw the occasional charge, but just as Ziller predicted, he did so while fouling like there was no tomorrow: Mikki averaged four fouls per game and a whopping 7.6 per 36 minutes.  For all his size as a seven-footer, he didn't do much shot-blocking or altering either, but again, this shouldn't have been much of a surprise: Moore blocks just 1.1 shots per 36 minutes for his career, and he managed just 0.4 per 36 minutes as a Celtic (for reference, Marbury and Gabe Pruitt checked in at 0.3).  He actually exceeded his standard rebounding production, though a 14.1 percent rebound rate isn't much to write home about (and the fact that it was markedly higher than Davis' is more a poor reflection of the Infant's rebounding than a testament to Mikki's boardwork).  It comes as no shock that the Celtics were 5.6 points per 100 possessions worse defensively with Mikki on the court than off it.

The truly frustrating part is that so much of defense is based on effort, and Moore always tried hard.  But his energy constantly seemed to be misdirected, and he proved remarkably ineffective at the defensive end and made himself an infuriating-to-watch liability to this team.  Mikki has achieved plenty for himself by making the it to and sticking in the Association for as long as he has, and I have no reason to believe that he is anything other than a nice guy and a good teammate.  But Mikki's personal success story doesn't alter or outweigh his lack of efficacy on the court.  I can think of a lot of fun ways to spend $378,683, but paying that sum (or its full-season equivalent) to Mikki Moore to play basketball isn't one of them.  While it's a plus that there is plenty about Mikki as a person that would make it tolerable to root for him, count me as wanting no part of the Celtics bringing him back this summer.

Though the sentiments aren't quite as vehemently against it, my interest in retaining the other in-season acquisition isn't much greater.  As detailed in my Facing the Starbury Fear narrative the week of the signings, I found myself turned off by Stephon Marbury's history of playing poor defense, quitting on his team, causing distractions and making questionable me-first decisions - but understanding that his offensive talent could provide a lift for this team and willing to hope for the best so long as the front of his jersey read "Celtics."

Thanks to going in with incredibly tempered expectations, I found myself pleasantly surprised with Steph on the whole.  He said the right things off the floor, appeared to get along with his teammates and managed to avoid off-court distractions.  He played with greater defensive intensity than previously witnessed, and he worked harder than I expected to stay with his man and to get through screens.  Marbury displayed impressive offensive chemistry with Eddie House, and on certain nights he did an effective job keeping the offense running smoothly.  He played a key role in breaking open Game 3 against the Bulls and had his crowning moment as a Celtic with a fourth-quarter scoring barrage in Game 5 against the Magic that propelled the green to an improbable 14-point comeback to take a 3-2 series lead.  I applaud the effort he made to play unselfish basketball and to fit into the Celtics' system, nearly to a fault at times.

But even with all that in his favor, Marbury was far from a supersub or a roaring success in Boston.  That he tried hard defensively was a step up from his lackluster performance elsewhere, but that doesn't mean he was effective.  Bigger guards still shot over him with ease, and though he made more of an effort than expected to fight through screens, he still had trouble against the high screen roll.  The Celtics' defense was 5.2 points per 100 possessions worse with him off the court than on it.  While part of that is due to his tenure coinciding with Kevin Garnett's injury, part of it is a reflection of the fact that he remains a mediocre defender.

At the offensive end, Marbury had his moments as described above, but they proved the exception rather than the rule.  Steph posted 3.8 points per game in an average of 18 minutes over his 23 regular season appearances.  That's the equivalent of 7.7 points per 36 minutes, the lowest figure of his career.  This wasn't purely the result of unselfishness and lack of volume shooting either.  Marbury put up a true shooting mark of 37.7 percent in the regular season.  To comprehend just how miserable that is, consider that 328 players qualified for the true shooting leader board this season.  Had Marbury done so, he would have ranked 328th, barely edging out Chuck Hayes (37.5).  True shooting figures less than 50 percent indicate significant inefficiency.  Less than 40 percent is disgusting.  Brought in partially for his ability to knock down jumpers from mid-range and beyond, Marbury did not shoot well from behind the arc or the floor on the whole.  The playoffs saw more of the same, when his TS figure dipped to 37.2 percent despite his couple of well-timed scoring performances.

As far as running the offense was concerned, Steph looked up and down.  At times, he played patient basketball and kept the ball moving both inside and on the perimeter.  But he also commandeered his share of stagnant stretches and committed quite a few embarrassing turnovers, including losing the ball in the backcourt on multiple occasions.  While assists are far from the be-all-end-all, Marbury's mark of 6.5 per 36 minutes joined his last three seasons in New York as the only campaigns of his career shy of seven assists per 36 minutes.  He turned the ball over on an outrageous 24 percent of plays during the regular season and led ultimately ran an offense that scored 8.7 points per 100 possessions more with him off the court than on it. 

As with Moore, a full training camp would help Marbury get better acclimated than he did at any point this season.  But also as with Moore, this is not a player who was on the verge of excellence or anywhere close during his partial season as a Celtic.  The green performed a net 13.9 points per 100 possessions worse with him on the floor, and this came under ideal conditions with regard to off-court circumstances for Marbury.  If the guy were ever going to get his act together and behave like a teammate, it was this season, when he hadn't played for more than a year and knew that without guaranteed money for next season, another public relations disaster could have been the end for him.

Marbury earns praise for conducting himself well as a Celtic, but those few months don't erase a years-long track record of misbehavior.  People can change, and changes of scenery sometimes help that happen.  But Marbury's history leaves me wary, and his play this season was far from awe-striking enough to merit taking the risk for the future.  That is especially true if he comes at any significant price tag, but even at minimal cost, the idea of his return doesn't excite me.

Credit Mikki Moore and Stephon Marbury for playing hard and doing their best to fit in with their teammates upon joining the Celtics in the midst of the 2008-09 campaign.  But here's hoping that each man has seen the last of his days in green.

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