Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Could Bo McCalebb Have Helped the Lakers or the Magic?

Also on The Painted Area:
• EuroBasket Quarters Preview: ESP-SLO/LTU-MKD|RUS-SRB/FRA-GRE
• FIBA Americas Musings: Argentina, Canada & more

Bo McCalebb, a New Orleanian playing as a naturalized citizen of the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia, has led his team to a 6-2 record in the tournament and a surprise berth in the quarterfinals, where they have the unenviable task of trying to knock off the host Lithuanians, coming up in just a little bit.

The top six scorers at EuroBasket 2011 include prominent NBA names Gasol, Nowitzki, Parker, Deng, Bargnani... and McCalebb. Indeed, the speedy point guard has been a breakout star of EuroBasket 2011, possibly the best guard in the tournament other than Parker, and now his name is featured in a headline on this site for the third time in a week.

I would say that McCalebb is a revelation, but he's actually far from that. Rather, he broke out as a pro in the 2009-10 season as a second team All-Euroleague player, leading Partizan Belgrade to a surprise appearance in the Euroleague Final Four (Jan Vesely was a teammate). On that big stage, McCalebb had 21 points, 4 assists and 4 steals in 40 minutes as Partizan nearly shocked powerful Olympiacos in the semifinals.

In 2010-11, McCalebb made a return appearance to the Euroleague Final Four with Montepaschi Siena, though his season was hampered by a foot injury.

Here are what McCalebb's Euroleague stats look like, translated into NBA per-36 minute numbers using John Hollinger's translations. (The first line are Bo's actual stats, second line are his translated NBA stats.):

2009-10 Partizan Belgrade
MIN,    PTS, REB, AST,  FG%,  PER  
30.1, 13.4, 2.9, 3.4, 45.7, 17.7
NBA36, 12.0, 4.1, 5.4, 40.2, 12.4

2010-11 Montepaschi Siena
MIN,    PTS, REB, AST,  FG%,  PER  
20.8, 11.5, 2.0, 2.1, 55.0, 28.3
NBA36, 14.9, 4.1, 4.7, 48.4, 19.8

A few notes for further context on the numbers:
- The reason for the big difference in FG% in the two seasons was three-pointers. Bo shot only 23.2% in '09-10, up to 43.8% in '10-11. In reality, the truth is probably somewhere in between - Bo's 34.4% mark on threes at EuroBasket is probably a more accurate gauge of his outside shooting, which is definitely not a strength.

But what's notable to me is that McCalebb's two-point shooting percentages are consistently strong - those are often a sign of athleticism which can translate to the NBA. Bo made 53% of his twos in '09-10, 57% in '10-11, plus a stunning 66% in the weaker comp of Italian League play, as well as 51% at EuroBasket so far.

- Steals are often another marker of athleticism, and McCalebb always has strong numbers here, averaging 2.0 in 30 minutes in '09-10, and 1.8 in 21 minutes in '10-11. At EuroBasket, he's third in this category with 2.3 steals per game, behind only Andrei Kirilenko and Nic Batum.

- McCalebb was off to a fantastic start in Euroleague play in 2010-11 before his injury. In the 10-game "regular season", Bo played 25.7 minutes per game, averaging 15.5 points on 58% FG, including 60% on twos and 47% on threes.

Siena played pretty good competition during this time. In particular, Bo torched powerful FC Barcelona with 41 points in two games on 16-23 FG, and Siena split the two contests, winning by nine at home and losing by one in Barcelona.


At this point, I have no doubt that Bo McCalebb is an NBA-quality player. Not saying he's a star or even a starter, but I definitely think he could be a rotation player who could make an impact. Of course, as a role player, so much is dependent upon finding the right fit with a team which has a need for and an understanding of the player's skills.

But if the fit is there... well, take a look at the NBA in 2010-11. As much as teams like the Heat and the Lakers dominated the conversation, there was actually a lot of parity on top - the difference among the top 8-10 teams proved to be quite small. Role players helped make key differences all over the league, including imports from European leagues who fit just right like Gary Neal in San Antonio and Omer Asik in Chicago.

I think Bo McCalebb might have been a difference-maker in 2010-11 precisely because he offered what the Lakers and the Magic desperately needed: athleticism and creativity off the dribble from the perimeter.

McCalebb was sitting there as a 25-year-old free agent available to the basketball world in the summer of 2010 when L.A. and Orlando made what have proven to be disastrous signings to fill their backup point-guard slots. L.A. signed 30-year-old Steve Blake to a 4-year/$16 million contract, while Orlando inked 28-year-old Chris Duhon to a 4-year/$15 million pact.

Blake posted the worst PER in the league (7.6) of any player who played 750+ minutes, and the Lakers actually missed the change-of-pace that Jordan Farmar could occasionally give them because Blake was utterly unable to create anything off the dribble, making just 32.7% of his two-point attempts. You're telling me the Lakers wouldn't have been better off countering J.J. Barea with McCalebb rather than Blake? I'm convinced the Lakers would have been better off signing McCalebb, especially considering Blake is going to stay in decline.

At least the Lakers could put Blake out on the court. Duhon was so bad (5.7 PER in 15 mpg in 51 games) that Orlando not only had to relegate him to the outer reaches of the bench, but he also played into the need to make the franchise-crushing trade which brought the brutal contracts of declining Gilbert Arenas and Hedo Turkoglu to town while shipping out a prime trade asset in Marcin Gortat.

Certainly, Gortat would have had a tough time establishing the value that he did in averaging a 15-10 for Phoenix after the All-Star break, but quality size is at such a premium in the league that I think Gortat, with his reasonable contract, would be an attractive trade piece this summer (or winter, I suppose, unfortunately), when there are several intriguing players on the market - certainly players far better than Arenas and Turkoglu looking into the future.

Instead, the Magic are desperate to make a big move to keep Dwight Howard happy, but they have nothing else that anybody wants. Orlando's ship has sailed, and they are dead in the water.

Where would the Magic be if they had simply signed a different Louisianan? McCalebb is clearly better than Duhon, and I believe that he's also better than the Gilbert Arenas of today and tomorrow. And, obviously, cheaper, too.

Would the Lakers or the Magic have won the 2010-11 NBA championship if they'd signed Bo McCalebb instead of the Blake/Duhon disasters? I mean, I'm not trying to go that far and oversell Bo. But I do believe that the Magic organization would be in a healthier place if they'd done so, and held off on their trades.

And c'mon, another similar guard we've seen in FIBA play, J.J. Barea, was a legitimate difference-maker in the 2011 Playoffs, certainly in the Mavs-Lakers series. After what we've seen from McCalebb in the EuroBasket and in the Euroleague, you think that he couldn't have provided that same kind of boost?

I'm not saying the Lakers would have beaten Dallas with Bo, but I believe the Mavericks won their NBA title by leaving no stone unturned in trying to find every possible edge they could, ultimately winning it all with a narrow margin for error. By keeping their eyes closed to McCalebb, the Lakers left a stone unturned, and they're stuck with slow Steve Blake for three years, and still desperate for an athletic young player who can create shots off the dribble from the perimeter.

Also on The Painted Area:
• EuroBasket Quarters Preview: ESP-SLO/LTU-MKD|RUS-SRB/FRA-GRE
• FIBA Americas Musings: Argentina, Canada & more


At 5:20 AM, Blogger Loz in Translation said...

I think you can argue that Bo would have been a better player or contract that Duhon or Blake but not necessarily a better fit.

As the best player in the Macedonian team and the primary ballhandler, he has developed a certain style of play. Taking it inside for crafty layups and outside shots. So I guess, like stated it can be very Parker-like if paired with a capable big. Then may CP3/Wade 2k10-like, when they were playing for undermanned teams

At 10:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very good post. The world should know about Bo McCalebb, undoubtedly a top-5 guard in Europe.

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At 8:47 AM, Blogger Z said...

Good text.
And BTW he is from MACEDONIA, not like you wrote.

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