I think it would not be a stretch to say that I'd be the first one to volunteer to drive Utah Jazz guard Raja Bell to the airport, with the theory that he's leaving our franchise as a player for good. I think he's a solid veteran presence when he's not making a fuss in the locker room, he knows his way around the league, and has been in a number of playoff battles of note in his career. His experience should have been invaluable to a team with such little hands on experience. He wasn't the perfect guy on the court for us last season, and he wasn't the perfect guy off the court either. I can't fully hate on Raja though, after all he has the most major Hindu holy symbol as a tattoo on his arm, and went to India this off-season to give kids in a third world country a basketball camp. That's some pretty chill stuff right there that not a lot of other NBA players would do. That doesn't make him beyond criticism though. I know, because I criticize him plenty. Probably the biggest reason not to hate on Raja is that last season he was pretty darn good, as far as being a low use, high efficiency guy.
I know this not just because I looked at his stats, but because I looked at his stats and the stats of four other guards with the sole purpose of poking holes into Raja's game. And in some cases, the guy we can't even work a buyout with ended up looking like the best player. (Yes, my head did asplode when finding this out)
Yes, I really did start looking into Raja's stats from last season with the purpose of pointing out how crappy he was. On defense at times he was. According to the good folks at MySynergySports.com, by the points per possession metric on defense he was the #387th best player in the league. He was still effective against opponents when defending guys coming off of screens, or isolating against him -- but beyond that he was not that great. For example, against guys spotting up, he let the opponent shoot 38.9 3pt% against him. As a direct comparison, rookie Alec Burks only let his man shoot 31.1 3pt% off of spot ups, in a larger sample size of spot up defensive plays. Raja still helped us get that early season win against the Golden State Warriors by harrying Monta Ellis into a bad shot -- and Monta was super hot in that game. Defensively Raja was a far cry from what he used to be.
He's lost a few steps offensively as well, but last season he was pretty much everything you kinda want a 5th option to be:
- In terms of overall PPP, Raja Bell was #27th best in the league, with a 1.03 PPP; only his low attempts hit this fact well. He only finished 212 possession, and shot 45.9 fg% last season. It's not quite Jeff Hornacek levels, but very few people were able to shoot as efficiently as he did late into their careers.
- 36.3% of all of Raja's plays ended in Spot up situations. In these situations (which the Jazz overall NBA rank was #26 out of 30 teams) he was the #110th best player in the NBA. He wasn't dead-eye from spot up plays; but he did something crazy. He shot better on spot up three pointers than on all spot up shots combined. He did space the floor, and when he was open from downtown -- he wasn't half bad. He was actually the #110th best player, so that effectively makes him only a quarter bad, at the most. On a team where we were built up of tons of guys who would miss their open threes, Raja was actually hitting his.
- Truly the craziest things about Raja's offensive season were that by the PPP metric he killed it in other areas on the offensive floor. He was the #55th best guy off of screens, which took up 20.8% of all of his offensive possessions. He scored 1.50 PPP off of Hand offs. He scored 1.75 PPP off of cuts (going 6/7 from the field). And he was ranked the #12 player in the NBA on transition plays. (1.43 PPP, 65.1 fg% -- direct comparison is that Burks was 1.21 PPP, and 59.8 fg%) Of course, Raja did not take a lot of attempts, he'd only risk shooting if he was open. Either this is heady play, or just being stingy. None of these play types (off screens, hand offs, transition, cuts) had more than 50 attempts last year. Raja did not shoot much, but he was really efficient when he did.
Would Raja perform better on a team where he had less attention? Like a vintage Phoenix Suns team where everyone could hit threes? I don't know. Raja had the green light to shoot two years ago. Last season he only shot the ball 5.1 times a game, which is his lowest output since he was playing for the Dallas Mavericks. I guess the ultimate thing to hate on Raja this season is that he was shooting so well (relative to the rest of the NBA, and our guards in particular), yet he hardly ever shot the ball.
As an aside . . . take a gander at Raja's proficiency from deep over his career; particularly as he has aged. He started off his career shooting 33.3 3pt%, but got way better. Compare this with the improvement over the years of Randy Foye and Earl Watson. And notice well that Alec Burks shot the same percentage as a rookie . . . you know . . . just food for thought.
More on these four players tomorrow!