The Jazz didn’t acquire Andris Biedrins because they wanted a 6-11 center. They did it for one reason – Golden State was trying to shed salary and by taking on Biedrins’ expiring $9 million (to go with another $15 million in expiring deals) Utah was able to pry 2014 and 2017 unprotected first-round draft picks from the Warriors. It was purely a financial/future assets decision.
In a league where teams routinely give unproven players gigantic contracts only to watch promising potential fade into actual salary cap dilemmas, how Biedrins ever commanded a $9 million salary is a cautionary tale of potential and development.
2004-09: Selected by Golden State 11th overall in 2004 at the age of 18, Biedrins’ breakout season would come during the 2006-07 season at the age of 20. Biedrins posted averages of 9.5pts/9.3reb/1.7blk on 59.9% FG shooting while playing just 29.0 minutes per game. He followed that up with 10.5pts/9.8reb/1.2blk in 27.3mpg in 2007-08, in which he led the league in FG% shooting 62.6% from the floor. In the offseason, Biedrins signed a 6-year $54-million extension (that included an extra $8 mil in performance incentives). The next season he rewarded G.S. with what remains his best season as a pro, averaging 11.9pts/11.2reb/1.5blk on 57.8% FG shooting.
Most impressive was he did it at age 22. How rare was that?
Since the merger, there have only been 36 other cases by 20 other players who averaged at least 11 points and 11 rebounds in a season before the age of 24. The players to do that are:
Average 11-Points and 11-Rebounds in a season before age-24:
|1.||Dwight Howard||4x||7x All-Star; 3x DPOY; 5x All-Defense|
|2.||Shaquille O’Neal||4x||Future Hall-of-Famer|
|3.||Tim Duncan||3x||Future Hall-of-Famer|
|5.||Buck Williams||3x||3x All-Star; 4x All-Defense|
|7.||Elton Brand||2x||2x All-Star|
|8.||Kevin Love||2x||2x All-Star|
|10.||Carlos Boozer||1x||2x All-Star|
|12.||Kevin Garnett||1x||Future Hall-of-Famer|
|13.||Blake Griffin||1x||3x All-Star in first 3 seasons|
|14.||Al Jefferson||1x||Avg 18.8&10.1 in 7 seasons as starter|
|15.||Charles Oakley||1x||1x All-Star; 2x All-Defense; #22 all-time rebounds|
|16.||Cliff Robinson||1x||17.2 career scoring average over 11-year career|
|18.||Jack Sikma||1x||7x All-Star|
|19.||Roy Tarpley||1x||Avg 12&10 in 5-seasons before drug suspension|
The only player I would argue that went from a promising 11&11 frontcourt player to a complete afterthought less than 5 years later was Danny Fortson, who never took his conditioning seriously enough to come close to posting the averages he did early in his career (which came on some very bad teams).
So how the heck did Biedrins even end up on that list to begin with?
This summer I rewatched some 2006-07 Warriors/Jazz games – including their Conference Semifinal series. Biedrins, as a 20-year old, scored virtually all of his points within 10-feet of the rim (he shot 345/567 within 10-feet and 3-14 outside of 10-feet). Sidenote: So paint-oriented is Biedrins, that in his 9-year career in which he’s attempted 2,408 shots – only 42 have come outside the paint (1.7%).
In the lane, Biedrins was able to maneuver around (he lacked the elevation or release-point to shoot over) defenders with a deceptive quickness and the advantage of being a lefty. If he got the ball, he was going inside and usually looked to spin back and shoot off his right-shoulder. He shows a soft touch around the rim and the ability to use the glass.
He also played in one of Don Nelson’s quirky but wildly entertaining offenses and by the end of the ’07 season the W’s were essentially running a dribble-drive motion offense with a lot of 4-out-1-in principles where Biedrins was often the only big playing inside (at either end). Because he was active with decent hands, he grabbed a ton of rebounds in GS’s fast-paced style. Defensively, Biedrins blocked some shots and defended fairly well but for the most part wasn’t a great 1-on-1 defender (Boozer ate him alive in the playoffs but Booze was also an elite offensive player in 2006-07).
2009-13: Biedrins’ scoring averages dropped from his career-high of 11.9 in 2008-09 to 5.0 in each of the next two seasons – a drop-off that coincided with missing 49 games in the 2009-10 season due to a variety of back and groin issues. His free throw shooting, which had hovered in the mid-50’s from 2006-09, fell to embarrassing percentages of 16%, 32%, 11% and 31% respectively over the next four seasons. 2010-11 was the final season in which he averaged over 20 mpg, and in that season he was so afraid of being sent to the line he had the 2nd-lowest rate at drawing fouls amongst all NBA centers.
After finding himself in the distinguished company of Hall-of-Famers with his 2008-09 season, Biedrins also finds himself on a selelct list for free throw futility. In the past 15 seasons, only three other players have shot less than 40% from the free throw line in 3 or more seasons (with a min of 20 attempts).
|Three or more seasons of sub-40% FT Shooting since 1997-98|
|1.||Ben Wallace||5x||41.4% career FT’s; Highest FT% in career 49.0%.|
|2.||Eric Montross||4x||47.8% career FT’s; shot 8-31 in 2000-01.|
|3.||DeAndre Jordan||3x||42.4% career FT’s; can dunk alley-oops from CP3.|
|4.||Olden Polynice||3x||53.5% career FT’s; 45-155 (29%) with Jazz|
|5.||Andris Biedrins||3x||50.3% career FT’s; 24/78 (30.8%) last 4 seasons.|
I doubt former assistant coach and shooting consultant Jeff Hornacek stays awake at night regretting how he won’t have the opportunity to work with a 31% free throw shooter every day in practice.
2013-14 Outlook: Even if Biedrins miraculously regains enough confidence in his FT’s shooting to look to score more in the paint – that may not be enough to make him a quality NBA bigman again. Even at 27, after 9 seasons and various injuries – it’s unlikely he’ll ever move as well as he did in his early 20’s. Considering he never possessed a skillset that projected to mature well with age and injury, there are legitimate questions as to whether Biedrins even deserves to be in the Jazz rotation this year.
There’s remains the possibility that Biedrins is currently Utah’s best option as a backup at center, but he should be on a short leash. Perhaps the trade serves as a means for Biedrins to revitalize his career by doing some of the dirty work inside in relief of Utah’s young frontcourt as they transition into leading roles. In reality though, by mid-December Utah should know whether they have any realistic shot at competing for a playoff spot and if Biedrins can help them at all.
On the flip-side, ideally at some point this season 7-2 rookie Rudy Gobert will be mentally and physically ready to step in and play 8-12 minutes off the bench. If not Utah can be creative with their rotations and play Kanter and Favors (who is more than capable of playing both frontcourt positions) at the pivot and focus on finding a 4 (potentially Jeremy Evans, Marvin Williams or maybe even pedestrian Brian Cook) to soak up more of the reserve minutes.
The important thing is to realize Utah doesn’t owe an acquisition an opportunity simply because he’s a 9-year veteran. They owe it to the team to maximize their long-term success – and that figures to include Evans and Gobert. While everyone wants the Jazz to win games – this season is all about finally evaluating all of Utah’s youth and potential.
There will surely be nights this season where they all struggle, but Ty Corbin can’t panic and automatically turn to experience. This is the season where his young players need to figure things out on the court where they either sink or swim. It’s rarely a smooth process for young players, and Andris Biedrins should understand that as well as anyone. It is a business after all, which was the reason why he’s here.