February 26, 2009
While Marbury's loserdom has been properly documented, the idea about just what he would bring to the Celtics in the context of what, exactly, he has left seems to have been put on the backburner.
It took until Marbury's last few seasons with the Knicks for the mainstream media to glom onto the fact that he isn't a guy who likes to play in the open court. He likes to gun it, we're aware, but he never liked to run it. This was the case even in his teens, working alongside Kevin Garnett and Tom Gugliotta in Minnesota.
This doesn't have much to do with the current Celtics outfit, a team that is 16th in possessions per game (that is to say, pretty average in terms of how much they like to run), but it has a lot to do with how well national media and non-NBA types grasp the idea of Marbury, the player.
Yes, we know he's a malcontent that could be joining a team that would make Winthrop proud — what an odd pairing! Send a camera crew! — but the differences run a bit deeper than that.
Ideally, the Celtics need frontcourt depth, and someone in the backcourt who can ably deal with full court pressure, while melding with Boston's drive and dish offense. I'm not going to tell you that the C's think they solved the first problem with the Mikki Moore signing, but it was probably the best they could do. Moore is not a good defender at this stage and he's one of the worst rebounding bigs in the game, but it's possible that he could be an improvement over Patrick O'Bryant, who was giving the team absatively nothing.
(And while Joe Smith would have been an end-all cure for Boston's interior ills, it appears as if the veteran would prefer not to play for his sixth team in 26 months, and we can understand that. Apparently, he isn't an option.)
The guard situation? Eddie House is having a brilliant year, but he still can't bring the ball up against pressure defenses. And while potential playoff foes like Mo Williams, Rafer Alston, and Derek Fisher are more or less defensive sieves, it's good to have your bases covered. Which is where Marbury, apparently, comes in.
And if that's all he has to come into, then Boston is fine.
But if they're expecting a guy that's going to act as a mini-Paul Pierce, putting teams into the penalty and getting into the paint at will, the Celtics are in trouble.
I'm not interested in the soap opera aspect. Marbury's freak flag has been flying high for a decade, obvious to NBA-types since that trade to New Jersey, and it's a given that he's as delusional as they come. If Marbury makes this marriage all about himself, then the C's can cut him, with very little lost. He's on a minimum, pro-rated deal. He's not taking anyone's place, and the Celtics are championship contenders with or without him.
What I am interested in is the fact that Marbury hasn't really played much NBA basketball for the last 22 months or so. And even when he played, for a Knicks team trying to make the playoffs in the 2006-07 season, Marbury was decidedly average.
Now, that was two years ago. Marbury was 30 then and 32 now, and average guards who depend on their legs at 30 tend to not play all that well at 32. Throw in Stephon's career-long ankle and knee issues, and it's possible that the Celtics could be signing one of the least-productive free agents available.
Even if this guy made all the right decisions on the court and didn't make a peep off of it, there's a very real chance that Marbury might be a very well-conditioned Darrick Martin at this point, and that's not me trying to go over the top to make a point.
Think about it. Steve Francis and Jason Williams had about the same per-minute, pace-adjusted stats as Marbury did in his final full season, and they're out of the league. This is a guy who used his quickness and tank-ish build to create a driving threat that was mainly used to set up his 20-foot jumper for most of his career. He wasn't driving pell-mell into the lane.
He was a pick and roll point guard, grabbing assists for the players that set screens for him, getting his points off of long jumpers and the occasional foray to the paint. And his most recent games suggest that he wasn't getting into the paint as much as he once did.
And his most recent games were two years ago.
So how does that meld with Boston's need to acquire a point guard who can get into the paint and get to the line? Not well.
How does it meld with the team's need for someone to handle the ball and make the right pass as Eddie House flies off of screens? In a vacuum, Marbury would be just fine in that regard. Given his history with House, who knows?
This isn't to suggest that the Celtics will fail with Marbury. They won't, and most signs would point to Marbury being passable enough to work for the defending champs. But while he might not screw things up, he's not what they're after. Far from it.
If adding competency alongside House in a reserve backcourt is all that this team is after, then it could work. But expecting anything more would be quite a reach.