When talking with reporters after Lawrence Frank was fired Sunday, Rafer Alston said that sometimes “players need to go” when a team is struggling as the Nets have. I hope Alston believes these sentiments, because coincidentally, Rafer would be the first person I would fire based on poor performance, with Bobby Simmons running a very close second.
Yes, Alston and Simmons have been that bad this season. These two players are so bad, they hardly resemble NBA players anymore, yet because of injuries, and coaching decisions, they both have logged major minutes all season, and have played a pivotal role in the Nets historically heinous start.
Here’s what ESPN’s John Hollinger wrote about Alston after the 2008-09 season:
“Is there such a thing as an elite stopgap point guard? If so, that’s what Alston has become. He’s not a star, but because he can defend and handle the ball, he’s a good choice when a team finds itself shorthanded at the point.”
Sounds like a great addition for the team, and a perfect back-up to the oft-injured Devin Harris, right? Here’s what Rafer Alston has actually given us in more than 32 minutes of action per game: career lows in assist percentage (24.9), rebound rate (4.6), and true shooting percentage (43.1) along with a career high in turnover ratio (14.5). Alston’s current PER (Player Efficiency Rating) of 7.63, is good for 291st out of 311 qualifying players in the entire league. Among the 60 qualifying point guards, Alston has the second lowest PER. The one player behind him, Anthony Carter, only plays 16.6 minutes per game.
In what ways is Rafer struggling? Well, since the season started, he has only shot more than 50 percent in a game twice. Meanwhile, he’s shot less than 30 percent in a game nine times, including less than 20 percent three times. He’s shooting about 27 percent on three-pointers. He’s only attempting two free throws per game. His assist-to-turnover ratio is less than two-to-one. These are not numbers belonging to a decent back-up NBA point guard, no less one who’s started a bunch of games this season.
What makes Alston’s performance so bewildering is that he was so solid as an emergency fill-in for Jameer Nelson in Orlando last year. There was nothing spectacular about his shooting percentages, but he definitely got to the free throw line more, turned the ball over significantly less, and passed the ball off to his teammates with more efficiency. Granted, the Nets, in general, can’t shoot, so it’s hard to critique Alston too much for his assist numbers, but the drop-off this season is still alarming.
Some other notes about Alston’s game: he’s shooting more jumpers this season than last (77 percent vs. 64 percent, according to 82games) and making them with far less frequency this season (eFG of .366 vs. .447). As for opposing PGs, they put up a PER of 15.2 when Alston was on the court last season, compared with a PER of 18.8 when he’s on the floor this season.
Yet, Alston’s awful season may actually be topped by Bobby Simmons’ performance. While Simmons may be one of the league’s most overpaid players, he actually was an effective three point shooter last season, finishing with a true shooting percentage of 59.6, best for SFs.
This season has seen a steep decline for Simmons. In 19.5 minutes per game, his true shooting has dropped by nearly 14 points to 45 percent. While he’s had more nights shooting more than 50 percent from the field than Alston (four), Simmons has also had his share of dreadful games, including a 1-9 performance against Denver on November 4. His PER of 6.02, is good for 305th in the league,. That’s right, there are 304 players who have better overall numbers than Bobby Simmons in the NBA. And this is someone who has functioned as Lawrence Frank’s primary back-up at power forward.
So while it’s admirable for Rafer Alston to try and be a leader on this club by saying the players are responsible for the team’s awful start, talk is considerably cheap when a player’s performance is so bad. For the Nets, they have two players who are among the worst in the NBA. Their losing ways are sure to continue as long as Alston and Simmons keep getting playing time and keep playing so terribly.