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26 January 2005

1351 Words on Rasho Nesterovic

You probably did not notice that I changed the name of this here blog. I liked "The Spurs, Mainly" because it was an accurate description and I enjoy commas. However, I had to choose between a title I liked and a title that would attract more readers. Yep, I ain't frontin'-- I want people to read this crap.

On to the "content."

Radoslav Nesterovic, 7'-0" C, 28 years old, 5.4 PPG, 6.7 RBG and 1.5 BPG in 25.4 MPG

Rasho is one of the main reasons I started this blog. I have a lot to say about The Man From Ljubljana, for two main reason.

First, one of my coworkers, who happens to be Guamanian, loves to e-mail me and go on and on about the inadequacies of Rasho. He believes a team would be better off spending next to nothing on some seven-footer off the streets. More on that later.

(And of course there's Steven W. Smith, who loves to bad mouth Raaaasho, presumably because he has trouble pronouncing "Adonal" or "Olowokandi." Apparently Steeeeeeven is getting his own show on ESPN-- it's going to be called "Quite Frankly." Or something like that. ESPN is going to run this at the same time as "I, Max" right? Are British bookies making odds for which show will post lower ratings? And what will television watching sports fans do during that thirty minutes? Sit through curling on Fox Sports World? And, with Steven Smith getting his own show, will other fringe commentators start screaming pointless phrases more often? Will Tim Legler start every non-sensical speech with "To put it bluntly?" You know, he should. Then he'll get his own show called "Puttin' It Bluntly" and Snoop Dogg can get involved.)

Secondly, you should know that I've lived in Seattle for the past four plus years. So I've seen my share of stiffs-- Jerome James, Vitaly Potapenko, Calvin Booth, Leon Smith, The Drobber, Elden Campbell, Vin Baker, Olumide Oyedeji, Ruben Wolkowyski, Jelani McCoy and the calcifying remains of Patrick Ewing. Not to mention the legacy/curse of Jim McIlvaine.

Before we get into Rasho's performance, we must look at context and circumstances.

Context. As in the context in which Rasho was signed. The Spurs inked him to a six year, 42 million dollar deal during the offseason after they won their second championship. David Robinson had just retired, leaving them with Kevin Willis and Mengke. The Spurs new they couldn't replace The Admiral, but they still needed a starting center for two reasons. The first is obvious-- they presumed they would be facing Kobe and Shaq in the playoffs every year for the next 7 years or so. The second reason is that Tim Duncan, despite being 6'-11", absolutely refuses to even be referred to as a center, let alone actually play defense against opposing fives. So the Spurs had no choice but to go get a big body.

That offseason there were quite a few suitable players available. Personally, I wanted Elton Brand. He's 6'-10" on a good day, but he plays longer. The Spurs wanted him, too, but he was a restricted free agent. They couldn't afford to make him an offer and wait for the Clippers decision to match or not because they possibly could have missed out on everybody. That left Jermaine O'Neal, Rasho and Olowokandi. Jermaine resigned with the Pacers without even taking a (at one time scheduled) visit to San Antonio. Olowokandi was coming off an injury-filled season and had a reputation as a tireless slacker. So the Spurs went after Rasho. He signed even though Minnesota offered more money.

Back to my Guamican coworker, who once told me his uncle is a cock-fighter fights cocks. I've asked him the following question about a hundred times, in various forms, translated into numerous languages: "Who the fuck were the Spurs supposed to get?" I want a name. Someone available at that time.

Let's now address circumstance. Let's looks at the Spurs offense. Offensively, Tim Duncan is the Spurs center. About 40% of the time the ball goes into Tim on the block and everybody else stays out of his way. This leaves Rasho about twenty feet from the basket, pointing at his man and yelling "defensive three seconds!" in Slovenglish. About 50% of the time the Spurs run pick and roll, usually with a guard and Duncan. A few of these pick and rolls involve Nesterovic and he occasionally gets the open look. The remaining 10% of the time the Spurs run iso with Ginobili or Parker. The offense was basically the same pre-Rasho. The Spurs knew they didn't need a back to the basket type center (though Rasho can do this) because they already had one in Duncan.

The Spurs needed a guy who could do the following:

-at a minimum, compete with Shaq (in other words, be at least 6'-10" and 250 pounds)
-understand the concept of team defense
-be aggressive on defense
-be able to occasionally hit the 18-ft jumper
-understand the concept of spacing
-know how to set a clean pick
-not complain about a lack of touches
-be a hard worker

I want to emphasize a couple of those, namely "understand the concept of spacing" and "know how to set a clean pick." The Spurs needed someone that could fit into their offense. They didn't need a scorer. They already had Duncan, Parker and Ginobili. Finding a big guy with these qualities is not easy. Have you ever watched a guy like Jerome James on the offensive end? Not just when he has the ball, but the whole time. If his back isn't to the basket with his feet on that little black square he has ABSOLUTELY NO FUCKING CLUE WHAT TO DO. He can't set a legal screen to save his life. He doesn't even no where to go half the time. He's perpetually lost, like me at every dance I've ever been to, just looking for a way out. And Jerome's not a special case. Hell, even Danny Fortson (who, if you listen to Seattleites, is the second coming of Dennis Rodman) has problems setting a legal screen. He's also a damn head case who cannot stay out of foul trouble, though I like his pig-tails. Rasho actually knows what he's doing on the court. He can fill lanes, make the back-cut pass and set good picks.

He's a capable seven-footer getting paid seven million a year. Which is less than the salary of the following PF/C:

Alan Henderson
Lorenzen Wright
Austin Croshere
Kelvin Cato
Brian Grant
Maurice Taylor
Adonal Foyle
Dale Davis
Mutumbo
Antonio Davis
PJ Brown

Rasho's also a good defensive player. He challenges and alters a lot of shots and rotates to the ball well. Duncan has said on more than one occasion that he trusts Rasho to back him up; that gives Tim the freedom to play aggressive defense. Nesterovic also understands basic fundamentals like stepping out on screens, which, again, isn't exactly common place amongst big men.

Some interesting Rasho stats:

-He's 32nd in the league in rebounds per 48 minutes. Essentially tied with Chris Webber and ahead of the likes of Boozer, Brand, Battie, Gasol and Kenyon Martin.
-He's 23rd in the league in blocks per 48 minutes.

At this point you probably think I'm the lone member of Rasho's fan club. That's not the case. There are numerous centers I would rather have. And, of course, just about all of them have higher salaries than Rasho or are with the team that drafted them. Did my heart skip a beat when I heard the Rasho for Chandler rumor? Of course it did. I would love to get younger and more athletic, but that is much easier said than done. Show me a name people. I want answers (not endless and pointless criticism).

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the one part of Rasho's game that makes me cringe. Matty the Blade summed it up nicely when he called Rasho "the softest player in the NBA." That's an exaggeration, of course. But, offensively, Rasho lacks aggression. I'm not asking him to shoot more, but when you are seven feet tall and get a rebound under the basket you shouldn't take two dribbles to the three-point line and shoot a hook shot. Throw it down big-man, throw it down. Ugh. I feel dirty now.

After all that I give Rasho a B-. Just above average. Uh, and Rasho, you've got a bald spot. Have some self-respect and shave your head. Your hair gets a D.

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All content copyright Matthew Powell 2005.