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13 October 2005

Nick (the Quick?) Van Exel

The second of the Spurs' trio of acquisitions this past off-season was Nick Van Exel. Nick was brought in for four reasons:

1) He has a reputation for "taking and hitting the big shot."
2) He was willing to sign a one-year deal for the LLE ($1.14 million; teams can only use this once every two years).
3) Tony parker has a reputation for "disappearing in big games."
4) Beno Udrih ended his season with 5 bad games.

If you watched the NBA Finals you are probably aware that Udrih had all sorts of problems bringing the ball up against Lindsey Hunter. The rookie PG managed 8 TOs despite playing only 44 minutes the entire series. That's one TO every 5.5 minutes. Ouch. It's interesting to note that in the three other series he limited his TOs to one every 16.3 minutes, actually bettering his regular season rate of 14.9. Nick's career rate? 15.6 M/TO. That's a significant improvement over Beno when you consider that Nick has consistently been relied upon to create shots.

Does Tony disappear in playoff games? Sometimes. His disappearances always seem to coencide with the opponent learning to not respect his jump shot. Ah... Tony Parker's jump shot. The only thing keeping The Wee Frenchman from being a perennial All Star. Let's hope this guy lives up to his billing.

As bad as Udrih was against the Pistons, I think Tony's issues have almost as much to do with Nick's acquisition. Because Nick Van Exel can hit the open jumper. Well, that's his reputation anyway. He's actually a career 40.5 shooter (35.8% from 3), but his eFG% on jumpers was 47.4% last year compared to 40.5% for Tony.

But at least we know he's a clutch player. Um. Maybe? Everyone seems to remember the run he had with the Mavericks in 2003: 19.5 PPG, 46%FG, 39%3P. He was HUGE. Of course the year before he SUCKED ASS. 11.1 PPG on 12.6 FGA, 37%FG, 21%3P. This remind you of anybody? Hmm. Maybe Robert Horry? Shoots 2-38 from behind the arc for the Lakers in 03 and then 38-85 for the Spurs in 05... make sense of that.

There's another issue here: Nick's defense. He turns 34 this year and it shows. Dan Rosenbaum's adjusted +/- ratings (scroll down) show Nick is one of the worst defensive PGs in the league based on his performance the past three years. Not surprising, really. What is surprising is that Beno is ranked 5th. Huh? What? But, um, he's, uh, Slovenian.

Before you go discounting all of Dan's work you should know that he would probably be the first to tell you that Udrih's ranking is based on a very small sample size and more data is necessary to get an accurate portrayal of his true ability. Do I think he's a top 5 defensive point guard? No. But he certainly never struck me as bad. Certainly not as good as Parker, whose rating is probably dragged down by his 02-03 and 03-04 seasons (he's a much better defensive player now).

Am I implying the Spurs should not have added Van Exel? Of course not. This signing was an absolute no brainer. He's certainly a better ball-handler than Udrih and a better shooter than Parker. He's inexpensive and from all accounts willing to play a smaller-than-usual role. It's a luxury to have an experienced player with talent as an insurance policy. But that's all I see him as. If he gets big playoff minutes it will likely be due to (mainly) Parker's and (somewhat) Udrih's failures to improve. Tony and Beno are the future; Nick is a stop-gap. A very, very good stop-gap.

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All content copyright Matthew Powell 2005.