Posted by Neil Paine on July 2, 2009
Here's a new concept for posts that I'm rolling out this week, in honor of the long NBA offseason really starting in earnest. Basically, the idea is that I go to our lovely "Frivolities" page and click on the "Random Page" function, sending me to the page for "a randomly selected player, coach, team, or league". Whatever turns up, I write a little essay about it, no matter what it is. It's kind of a takeoff on what JKL is doing over at our sister blog, the Pro-Football-Reference.com blog -- he's basically writing what comes to mind when he thinks of a certain player, like our colleague Doug Drinen did back in 2002 for PFR:
“So for every player, I wrote about whatever popped into my head when I thought about that player. A lot of times, as with Bill James’ comments, I think about something that morphs into something else that is only vaguely related to the player himself. . . . Some of these comments were written two months ago and some of them were written yesterday, and I’d like them to be timeless. I want them to be as interesting and as relevant in one or two or five years as they are now. . . . What you will find in these comments are my opinions, some interesting trivia, and hopefully more than anything else, some historical perspective. . . . You’ll also get your fair share of completely stat-free ramblings and opinions. As with all opinions, take them for what they’re worth.”
So here's your basketball version, the inaugural edition of which belongs to... Scot Pollard of all people (thanks, random page function!):
Most of us remember Pollard for his eccentric persona, of course -- he frequently painted his fingernails, sported perhaps the NBA's most bizarre collection of hairstyles and/or facial hair designs since Dennis Rodman retired, and had a highly offbeat sense of humor that sometimes came back to haunt him. But just like Rodman, Pollard was more than a circus sideshow; he was actually a highly effective role player during his prime with the Sacramento Kings at the beginning of the decade, when the team challenged the Lakers for Western Conference supremacy.
Before back problems really began to short-circuit his career starting in 2002-03, Pollard had put up these efficiency numbers (translated to the 2008-09 offensive environment):
It's unfortunate that the injuries limited his effectiveness and durability from that point on, because these numbers show he had the makings of a very promising career as a frontcourt role player for a championship-caliber team. The Kings ended up trading Pollard to Indiana after he played only 23 games in 2003, dealing him (along with Hedo Turkoglu) in exchange for Brad Miller, who ended up being Vlade Divac's successor as Sacto's designated high-post option. It's really a shame how many key injuries derailed that Kings team: Pollard, Chris Webber, even Peja Stojakovic... This was a team that deserved better than the way it ended up dissolving.
But back to Pollard. The Rodman comparisons are fun because both were hard-working, rebounding, defensive-minded interior players with a penchant for crazy hairstyles and strange behavior. While Pollard was never at Rodman's level as a defender or (especially) a rebounder, he certainly played a similar style to The Worm -- it was the type of physical, tough brand of basketball you often see from role players on successful teams like the Bulls and, to a far lesser degree, the Adelman-era Kings. A lot of fans have this image in their heads of the Kings squads Pollard was on as a bunch of all-offense, no-D, wild run-n-gun teams, but they actually ranked better on defense than on offense in 3 of the 4 seasons from 2000-2003. They may have played a fast pace, but they also ranked in the Top 10 in defensive efficiency in every year of Pollard's peak ('00-'02), and it's clear that the physical presence of a guy like Pollard inside helped Sacramento to reach that status.