The odds are that Mullin will not be able to pull off any more trades going into training camp, the capology just doesn't support a big move, so we go into battle with what we’ve got. Fortunately he picked up Turiaf & Maggette in the chaos of the summer. Both in their own way will make everyone else’s production increase. But to even hope to sniff the playoffs, Nelson not only needs marginal production from young role players but also a veteran to make a big contribution to fulfill Mullin’s challenge. There is one man on the roster who could make up a significant portion of the slack.
First the obvious. We know what we’ll get from Jackson – 15-20 pt per game, getting the toughest defensive assignment on the perimeter nightly, and occasional 4th quarter heroics after sporadic shooting for three quarters.
He’ll be asked to provide leadership and take some of the ball handling pressure off whoever starts at PG. It’d be unfair to expect much more than that when other teams will be keying on stopping him. Hopefully his extension talk is settled by Oct.
Similarly Maggette can be expected to score 16-22 ppg, and will likely thrive in Nelson’s system, playing major minutes. We know he’ll attack the basket and hopefully when he draws a lot of defensive attention he’ll be able to kick-out to shooters or dump off to Andris & Co. inside for some easy baskets.
In a previous post, someone posed the question of who would take the last shot in a tight game. While the obvious answer might seem to be Jax, it's likely Corey would be a prime late game option in must-score possessions as he can get to the rim and the FT line as much as anyone on the team not named Ellis.
He was already being counted on to pick up a lot of the slack from the loss of Baron. We can’t expect much more than that, and he’s going to be making the adjustment to Nelson’s system early in the season when Monta’s still out.
Williams and Watson will likely get a chance to contribute at the point early on. Frankly, if either just holds their own we should be more than satisfied, much less hoping they can replace Monta’s production or replicate his effect on a game. Similarly, while KAz will play more meaningful minutes, rotating in behind both Jackson & Maggette, he simply won’t have enough minutes in a reserve role to make up for Monta’s absence. We need a productive KAz, but we need more than KAz.
Marco & Kosta aren’t even on my radar, and expecting much from Randolph or Hendrix in their rookie season is asking for trouble. If ANY of those four make a contribution it’s pure bonus. Brandan Wright will be contributing if he plays 10 –15 min pg and does some scoring and rebounding. In fact, if he has any kind of season at all he might find himself up for 08-09 MIP honors. He's not the one we should be looking toward to pick up a significant part of the slack.
Turiaf doesn’t possess the qualification Nelson seems to have for a running mate opposite Andris – shooting range. He’ll likely be backing up at the C spot which will free Andris from playing tentatively to stay out of foul trouble. Andris has been getting better every season, and hopefully that continues. But I’m not counting on a whole lot more from him than last year. Nelson has one other veteran to turn to.
KAz, Turiaf, and Wright will have to help make up some of the difference, but none of the aforementioned have the opportunity and ability to step up as much as the skilled veteran who’s been one of Nelson’s & GSoM’s favorite whipping boys, and who I propose is the ONLY one who can "step up" in Mullinesque terms:
Harrington is going to have to emerge as the key to our season if we are to remain in striking distance of the playoffs until Monta returns. He needs to increase his scoring from 13 to the 18-22 ppg range, with at least some of that coming from the FT line. He needs to rebound and he needs to maintain the positive vibe in the locker room.
Harrington should really benefit from the addition of Turiaf (to back up Andris & help prevent Al from suffering the more egregious defensive match-ups) and the emergence of Brandan Wright who could keep him fresh.
Al has the skill and opportunity to be the difference maker we need if he finishes stronger around the basket as well as shoots the three at a bit better percentage, if he rebounds just a bit more, and if he can stay out of Nelson’s doghouse. Tall order? Yup. But he's our best bet to make up a significant amount of the slack early this season.
A couple summers ago Mullin had targeted Harrington when he was a free agent, and then snagged him in the DunMurphy trade. All along Mullin hoped Al could be the multi-dimensional threat that could maximize mismatches.
In the time he’s played for Nelson, Harrington has had to try to do even more than Mullin had imagined, from defending opponent bigs like Yao while playing undersized center on defense to being a consistent three-point threat. Critics who didn't like the additions of Maggette and Turiaf this summer don't see a part of their productivity which is difficult to measure: sliding all our players into more natural positions - including Harrington.
Last season Al was hinting he’d been limited by Nelson’s instruction to stay outside, possibly to leave the lane open for Baron, Jackson, and Monta to drive and kick-out or dump off to Andris. To begin this season two of those three are gone and Nelson will have to turn to Al to do more on the offensive side.
That looks like the attitude I’d want when playing the prohibitive favorite in the West. Al is the player who has both the opportunity and the skill set to accomplish what his heart and soul wants to contribute. There’s no one else on the roster who has the combination of opportunity and ability to take up the slack in Monta’s absence. Monta will return hopefully sooner than later, it's not like we need Al to play at All Star level all season - just for the first part of it.
Step up #3!