Some words on the theater and a journey to the end of the bench, where our hero reviews the highlights of the NBA's least efficient and productive players.
Photo by Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
For a while, I acted. Not very well, if I'm being honest—I was a habitual line memorizing derelict, I could never quite get projecting from your diaphragm right, and also I have truly awful personal spacial awareness. I was only ever passably good at three things: cold reading, selling jokes, and being devastatingly handsome. In terms of seeming human, though? Just couldn't manage that.
So when I got on stage, I generally found myself in a perpetual state of winging it and trying to hide what a terrible fucking actor I was. Hit that next line, Corbin. Don't fuck up this blocking too bad, Corbin. Don't look into the audience or talk at the back of the stage. 45 degree angle, dude. Don't vigorously dry hump the air for 15 seconds because a joke worked. Don't make shit up on the fly because it's fun—that's rude, and everyone else worked a lot harder than you. Just keep on moving, buddy, just keep on trying to prevent the seams from splitting open and exposing your delicious haunches.
And so, in tribute to the visceral thrill of winging it, I went into The Mighty and Venerable Basketball Reference's Play Index and tracked down the worst NBA players of the year (by PER*) who had still managed to acquire 300-plus minutes. Then, I searched the venerable, deeply strange, Down to Buck YouTube Channel, which specializes in obscure role players and other slightly washed dudes notching career highs or unusually productivity, in search of highlight mixes from their inglorious seasons.
I watched and wrote about their brief moments of glory with one thing in mind: were they playing it cool? Did they manage to hide their stitches in this, their moment of glory? Or was their work mired in the pestilential swamp of their broader career? Let's find out.
2015-16 PER: 3.9
I'm of two minds about this mix of Rashad Vaughn scoring a ten points against the New York Knicks. On one hand, he does seem kind of permanently shook. At about :30, Vaughn takes and makes a assisted three-point jump shot. The shot has some natural beauty about it. It's stunning when you open up a video and expecting to see a through-and-through train wreck, and then just see some basketball. But then, on his way back to defense:
While he jogs back, he can ignore the immense existential weight of being a fringe NBA player. His step is bouncy, excited. But as he turns around, he is confronted with his current career, all the grinding in practice, the desultory garbage time burn in a loss to the Knicks. Vaughn realizes that his team is losing, and the little flame of happiness he carried for 70 feet was, by the value system he was raised in, works in, might end up dying in, an excess. He extinguishes it his mind. His eyes droop. An audible sigh. He is playing defense now. He wipes his mouth with his jersey.
But ... that shot is not a bad shot. It is, in fact, a nice shot. He even takes a technical free throw at about :28. The poets of the world aren't convening in my backyard to try to extract the purest poetic truth they possible can from the shot, they way we do with Matt Bonner. But during this week's post-seminar tea and biscuits—rosehips and a little shaving of premium kush, alongside some homemade scones, because only the best for my guests—we all agreed that, for a 6-foot-6 dude who is only nineteen years old, that was a three-point shot you might be able to get by with in the NBA, sooner or later.
So, do not despair, Rashad! The International Council for Poets Invested in Basketball (ICPIB, or "Eye-Cee-Pib" in casual conversation) think YOU might have a future! Wipe your mouth in abashed celebration, if you want. Go crazy.
2015-16 PER: 4.4
When I came up with this idea, it didn't occur to me that I might have to talk shit on a dude who probably didn't deserve it. So, to Sonny Weems, I preface: you are a 29-year-old international basketball star, self-made in all the most meaningful ways, and I respect that shit extremely. Weems had messed up feet when he was a kid and had to endure painful corrective shoes, but overcame this and because a professional athlete. His website is nice and well maintained. He is good at dunks. I have no reason to believe Weems is a bad, or even remotely unpleasant, person.
But, guys: Sonny Weems ain't no NBA player, as far as I can tell. His handle is all unstable and wiggly. He takes spot up threes and pull ups with his feet pointing away from the hoop at a highly unorthodox 45-degree angle. His speed changes are plainly telegraphed. He is comparatively feasting against the Sixers in this highlight, but the Sixers are, objectively, The Pits.
But that doesn't mean that watching him, in a highlight mix, is like getting your nails tore out or anything. If anything, Weems is almost an ambassador for a less streamlined, chunkier type of basketball, the kind of shit that doesn't pass muster for the Quality crowd, but which can move the hearts of anyone looking beyond the four walls of victory and into the theatre of Human Beings Wringing Themselves For Every Drop Of Performance.
Weems wants to be in the NBA, although he does not quite seem like someone who belongs there right now. But he still points out defenders and spots up when no one is even close to guarding him and he pulls out his toolkit and throws some drives together because goddamnit that's what basketball IS and you've got to DO IT if you want to play in the NBA. This is what all that sportswriter bullshit of going to work and doing your job is REALLY all about! It's about putting up a middling game in garbage time against a historically bad team.
Weems was waived by Phoenix earlier this week. He was then claimed by Philly, where he will teach their young and bad guns the ways of Europe—where to find a decent meal, how to get your team to pay you when they're being dodgy, how to set yourself up for another shot at the NBA when you're done making a whole continent bow at your feet. Weems' work will do nothing for the Sixers organization, but it will improve the lot and lives of the young men who were unlucky enough to be forced into the NBA Fringe just by dint of their association with the Sixers. That's something. Thank you, Sonny.
2015-16 PER: 6.3
You are probably familiar with Tony Snell. He was, at one point, the Ultimate Tom Thibodeau Player, a late draft pick with no discernible extraordinary talents who adopted his coach's "Kill Yourself or Die" credo. He busted his ass on and off the court as a holy sacrifice to that ornery, Earthbound God of Minutes Abuse, and for a while it made him a decent NBA player.
All that while, I loathed Snell and everything he stood for, and I am glad he has been brought back to earth by Moderate Republican Candidate for President Fred Hoiberg. And yet, for all this, Snell was the star of one of my all time favorite basketball plays.
The scene: The Bulls and the Washington Wizards are playing in the fifth game of their five-game series. Bulls are down, and desperately flailing for some solution to their through, deeply embarrassing pantsing at the hands of a team with inferior seeding. The ball leaks into the backcourt. Snell, ever the loyal soldier out here trying to do what's RIGHT for the team or wherever, dives for it:
When the God of light and fire, the creator of the universe, all powerful and boiling over with a dark and angry rage at the depraved depths of our sin returns to annihilate the Earth and cast the souls of the unfaithful, the lustful, the unbelieving, the time-wasting—that is, you yourself and also anyone who committed even a minor infraction against the pure and perfect will of God—into the darkest depths of fiery hades, I do not believe it will be as dramatic as all that. Instead I have always envisioned something closer to what Nene does to Tony Snell on this play.
The wide swaths of humanity, prostrate to BEG the Lord, who really did give them so many chances to reach up and grab Christ's infinite mercy, to, please save them from a life of eternal damnation, to let them bask in the glory of your light. And then God, like Nene, will delicately and even a little fussily snatch your shallow concept of existence right out from underneath your feet, and you will faaaaaaaaaall, belly down, a coward, into the pit, where you will be encased in a deep and fiery darkness, an unending parade of torture and death in your spirit for all eternity.
And so, people, I say only this to you: only accepting the infinite mercies of Maybner "Nene" Hilario before the end comes will save you from hell. It is not by any doing of your own weak, soft flesh, but only through his infinite grace.