Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Things to look for this season: Matt Harpring

Love him or hate him, we can all be pretty secure in the knowledge that when (not "if") Matt gets back off the IR, that he's going to play at least 10 mpg at small forward for the rest of the season [Unless Ceejay levels up a few times while Matty is out and becomes a real NBA Starter, of course, but I'm not going to hold my breath]. I could go on and make this a very short post, but I think Matty deserves better.

Like so many other players (Mark Eaton, Thurl Bailey, Jeff Malone, David Benoit, Donyell Marshall, etc), his best years were playing off of Stockton and Malone -- but those years were almost a lifetime ago. In my mind he is now probably best suited as a 'life coach' for our younger players . . . if they could adopt his work ethic then I think we'll be sitting pretty at the center spot in a few seasons. That said: he is still useful on the court.

Before you leave this website forever let me further explain what I mean.

Harpring is a physical three who rebounds well for his position and doesn't back down from anyone. In recent seasons he's been a thorn in the side of everyone from Carmelo Anthony to Ron Artest. Guys like Korver, Miles and Almond are just not going to be able to make Ron Artest get ejected or take 'Melo out of his game. He's useful in specific situations, especially because we do not have anyone who can replace what he gives on the 'toughness' angle just yet. [I highly recommend this uploaded video by xunlucky17x]

Harpring elevates for his patented missed field goal shot

That does not mean I think he needs to be playing big minutes, but he's a special type of player that is useful in certain situations. He's like your 2nd string fullback in American football -- he may not be the starter, or useful in all situations, but on a 3rd and short he's going to get the job done. If you put Harp out there to muscle up against another physical small forward then he is actually useful.

If the other team isn't using a physical small forward then don't put Harpring in the game. Simple as that. Why? Well, for starters: statistically he is getting worse, his shooting range seems to be positively correlated with my shrinking hair line. Back in the early 2000's Harpring could hit threes and I had a full head of hair. Now Harpring misses layups and I have to comb my hair down. It's a sad time for both of us. You don't want to have Harpring on the floor unless you really need to have him on the floor. (Especially when we're close to a title and need to have our younger guys be developed now rather than later) If you need any other reason why you don't want him on the floor just ask yourself if you think Harpring is quick enough to defend any perimeter small forwards any more. The answer is, of course, no.

Harpring is still one of the few tough guys our team has Matt Harpring Games and Playing time

Harp will not let go of playing time without a fight, just like he wont let go of this ball unless he gets to keep Luke Ridnour's forearm as a prize.

Click on the image to make it bigger

Here's a chart that (tries to) depict how many games Matty has played in each of the 6 seasons that he's been with the Utah Jazz. [This is the dark blue bar] This chart also (tries to) depict how many minutes he plays per game.[This is the light blue bar] As you can see he usually plays over 70 games per season (he has averaged 75.5 games per season in the last four seasons). He played 36.6 minutes per game back in 2003-2004 -- his most as a Jazz player -- but since then there's been quite a decline which corresponds with accumulated injuries and advancing age.

If you've done the math (and I have, if you want I can e-mail you the spread sheet) over the last four seasons (from age 28 to 31) his minutes per game has been going down by (on average) 4.625 mpg in each successive season. [Data: -3.5 between 2002-2003 and 2003-2004; -5.7 between 2003-2004 and 2004-2005; -1.9 between 2004-2005 and 2005-2006; and -7.4 between 2006-2007 and last season, 2007-2008] For you math geeks out there who remember their y=mx +b and slope = y2-y1 / x2-x1 formulas the average rate of declined MPG (in this case, -4.625) is also equal to the slope if you use the points (2, 36.6) and (6, 18.1).

If you extrapolate this to the next season, this current season (2008-2009), then you get 18.1 - 4.625 . . . or 13.475 mpg. I could live with Harpring playing 13.5 mpg this season, I'd be happier with 12, but I'll take what I can get. It remains to be seen if his playing time decline is going to be so linear . . . he may very well just play in under 70 games this season, but in those games play closer to 20 mpg for all I know. All of this gobble-dee-gook aside, what three things can we look for this season from Matt Harpring?

  1. He's not going to be rushed back: The Jazz have enough wings to weather the storm until he comes back to "anchor" the 2nd unit with his veteran play. (Anchor, as in, he brings the play down, check out his +/- stats sometime, 4th worst on the team last season) In as way, his injury has come at a good time when Sloan is more open to trying out different line-ups and open to developing his young talent. We've already seen C.J. Miles take the starting role while AK supplants Harpring and the key bench veteran. Matt Harpring's current injury is the main reason why Jerry Sloan has had to change up the line up this off-season. (Sure, Deron's injury is an acute issue right now, but the line up was changed before he got injured) You can be sure that when he comes back that Jerry Sloan will shuffle things all over again. Right now AK is being put in the veteran off the bench role that our second unit really needs for stability. This is usually Harpring's role, and I can easily see Jerry Sloan immediately revert to putting AK at the 3 in the starting line up after Harpring is back. Though, Jerry does some funny things time to time, like how in 2005-2006 to finish the season Memo was the starting 4, and Carlos was the 5, because Memo had been playing the 4 most of the season while Carlos was on the injured reserve. I can't really predict what's going to happen when Harpring gets back, but I know that he's going to play. He's not going to give up playing time without a fight either. Thankfully, there is no current time table for his return, so we're not going to see him for a while.
  2. Frustrate the fans: Some fans are going to complain that when he comes back that he still plays too many minutes. Some will complain that he's not playing enough and that "we need his _____" (defense, rebounding, toughness, scoring, veteran play, hustle, flops, crew cut, fouls, whiteness ?). Both sides are not going to be placated until he retires from the NBA and joins the Georgia High school Football Hall of Fame. (Apparently there is such a thing, and here's Harpring's high school team's record) He's one of the most divisive players in Utah Jazz history, and part of the reason stems from the fact that many fans would rather develop his eventual replacement instead of keep giving a guy all these minutes as he breaks down every season. (Jazz career average for games played per season: 68.5) He's injured right now, and there's no time table for his return -- so the "sit Harpring" contingent will have an undisclosed amount of time to sit Harpring all they want. To be clear, I think I fall neatly in that contingent as well, but I don't think that it's time to take him out behind the barn and shoot him yet. (That's next season...)
  3. Continue to play physical, smash-mouth basketball: If the Jazz are in the playoffs, he is going to play in them. I don't know when his immune system is going to be back online, but I can empathize with him as I've been a little sick lately. When he does come back, I feel bad for the forwards that'll match up with him when he's finally been given the green light to play at full velocity. (Speed just isn't a strong enough word to describe his game) He only knows how to play the game one way, and you can be sure that he'll be a force to be reckoned with when he's on the court this season. (Just a force for which team, ours or theirs, remains to be seen) If we have to face a team with a physical small forward in the playoffs I can see him getting a lot more burn than 10-14 mpg like he will this regular season. I'm pretty sure that he can rattle a guy like Artest if they face off against each other in the playoffs.

I don't know when he's going to play for us, but it's a safe bet that the Jazz may start off by watching his minutes very closely. This may contribute to continuing a downward trend in minutes played per game for Matt, and as a 32 year old with the knees of a 45 year old, I'm sure his body (if not his mind) will appreciate it. Now only if he can continue to teach the younglings (Kosta and Kyrylo) how to throw their body around and play physical like he has all these years . . .


DXJ said...

i really agree with what you have to say about matt. he skills/physical ability might be diminishing, but you never question his effort or heart (unlike some other people i could mention. Hello Carlos). plus i like having him and his toughness on the team whenever we play teams like the nuggets, kings (now rockets), and the like.

p.s. i have wide screen and your blog looks fine.

Anonymous said...

i met him