Picture thanks to Akis Yerocostas of The Pick & Scroll.
Note: Akis wants me to make it clear: He still hates Sasha Vujacic. I do not.
When the Nets announced that they’d made their first deal of the season, essentially trading away doghoused guard Terrence Williams for doghoused Lakers guard Sasha Vujacic, I was, in a word, upset. I thought the Nets had gotten hosed. Here was Terrence Williams, a guy bursting with potential, fresh off averaging a triple-double in an impressive stint in Springfield, a guy who could dunk the lights out of an arena, being shipped away for a guy without much upside and enough hair gel to drown the Staples Center. My irritation reeked of bias, but it was definitely irritation.
At first glance, I hated the trade. At second glance, I softened a bit, but not because of Sasha – I realized that the additional picks the Nets received gave them greater flexibility in future deals.
Now, at third glance, I couldn’t be happier with the deal – and it’s because I can safely say, weeks later, that I have a strange love for Sasha Vujacic.
While his advanced statistics don’t pop out at you – he’s got a below average offensive rating of 101 and a below average PER of 13.4, thanks to a high 14.6% turnover rate – Sasha’s impact has been much bigger than those numbers would indicate. According to 82games.com (which is, admittedly, five games behind), the Nets are actually almost five points better on offense and almost seven points better on defense when Sasha is in the game. The Nets have benefited from Sasha’s peskiness on defense, allowing an eFG% of 44.8% when Sasha is in the game, as opposed to 49.2% when he’s not. For what it’s worth, an eFG% allowed of 44.8% would be the best mark in the NBA.
As Justin has shown us on two occasions, Sasha’s use of staggered screens and ability to find himself in the right place at the right time has proven to be surprisingly valuable. He’s shooting 41.5% from beyond the arc thus far. He’s made at least two threes in seven of his nine games, had at least four rebounds in six games, and at least two steals in four games. During the embarrassing loss to the Wolves, Sasha was perhaps the only bright spot – setting the tempo offensively in the first half and finishing with a team-high 22 points. That 22 figure also tied his career high.
Time and time again during his short tenure with New Jersey, Sasha has simply been maximizing his effectiveness by playing levelheaded, fundamentally sound basketball. Hustling after every loose ball in his vicinity. Curling off screens with Ray Allen-like purpose. Bothering opposing players into forcing bad shots or turnovers. And, of course, grabbing the offensive rebound and laying in the game-winner against the third-best team in the East Wednesday night. A lot of statistical measures can in the long run be chalked up to small sample sizes, but the effort Sasha’s put in is noteworthy in and of itself. He’s proving he deserves his playing time, every minute that he’s on the floor.
It’s not just what he’s doing on the floor, either. When on the bench, Sasha is the first guy jumping up to high-five or cheer on his teammates. He seems honestly elated to have the opportunity to play the amount of minutes he does. In his two post-game interviews I’ve seen, the first thing he’s done is thanked the fans for their support. He might be laying it on thick – the Nets are last in attendance, after all – but he sounds genuinely happy, and his play on the floor confirms it.
I didn’t expect much from Sasha. I don’t think any of us did. I certainly didn’t expect him to outperform Terrence Williams, who has played 14 unimpressive minutes in just two games with the Rockets. But his stretch in New Jersey has made me a believer in robotics. In the new bomb. In Team Machine.