I've never been the biggest Thaddeus Young fan. Actually, I take that back. I was the biggest Thaddeus Young fan coming out of Georgia Tech because that Georgia Tech team was my 2007 college equivalent of this year's Denver Nuggets (soft spots galore for Javaris Crittenton, Anthony Morrow, and Lewis Clinch). I was a staunch Thad supporter with the 12th pick over the likes of FSU's seasoned Al Thornton that most fans seemed to want.
But over the years, Thad hadn't gotten statistically better. He's gotten stronger. He's gotten smarter. He's just as polite and endearing as he's always been, maybe even moreso, but he hadn't improved enough for me to justify the Sixers paying him $42 million over 5 years. This year was supposed to be where his rebounding deficiencies were masked by Andrew Bynum and his slashing ability and knack for offensive rebounding would prove highly useful.
Though Bynum has played as many minutes for the Sixers as I have, Thad has stepped up his defensive rebounding game in his absence. His previous DRR career high (per B-R) was 15.2% two seasons ago -- he's up to 18.0% this year. I can't express how average to below-average that is. But compared to his old-fish-smell percentages of years past, I'll happily take that.
His percentages are mostly unchanged, but according to Hoopdata, he's been taking more shots at the rim and converting an extremely high percentage of them (76.1%). Though my eyes tell me his jumper looks better, the numbers don't lie -- he's working on career lows from the midrange and beyond and he's yet to attempt a three this season. With that in mind, Thad needs to get to the line more to maintain any sort of consistency once his numbers at the rim normalize. But I'll trust my eyes a bit in predicting his jumpers will fall with more regularity.
It's the on-court/off-court splits where Thad reveals himself to be truly useful. +/- can certainly be misleading on a game-by-game basis, but looking at the big picture can shed some light on the impact of a player. Via 82games, over the 462 minutes that Thad's on the court, the Sixers are 60 points in the black -- good for a +6.2 per 100 possessions. In 166 minutes in which Thad sits, the Sixers are -- gasp! -- bleeding 80 points, or a -23.1 per 100 possessions. That's a net of 29.3 points per 100 possessions based on his being on the court.
Consider Jrue Holiday, who has a net of +3.5. Kyrie Irving has a net of +10.5. Kevin Durant, +23.4. LeBron James, +5.4. Only the android known as Kobe Bryant leads our Thaddeus -- he's a +35.6 net. This certainly isn't the end-all for statistical evidence, but it does say something about the impact Thad has on his team on both sides of the ball.
A huge reason Thad's splits are so pronounced is that his replacements have been dreadful. The Non-Thad frontcourt is so abysmal that Doug Collins has gone small recently, using Thad at the 5 and Dorell Wright at the 4. It's been working (they are a +17 with Thad at the center), and it'll be interesting to see how often Doug turns to that set. The rebounding ability of Dorell, Jason Richardson, and Evan Turner make it much more appealing.
But my favorite part of Thad's on/off-court stats are the percentages. With Thad on the court, the Sixers have an eFG% (refresher: field goal percentage incorporating the value three-pointers have over two-pointers) of 49.9%, while their opponents sit at 46.2%. When he's on the bench, their eFG% drops almost 15 points to 35.4% as the opposition shoots up to 52.3%.
That shows his value so far on both sides of the ball. He's finding his home in the starting lineup as a 4 that can create mismatches with speed and versatility on offense and hold his own at the other end. Consider that he's barely played a minute at the small forward position and it seems that preseason talk about him playing the three fell by the wayside when Bynum's knees did.
They wouldn't be close to 8-6 without him, not because he's been elite -- he still has plenty of work to do -- but because he's the only member of the frontcourt who can tie his shoelaces without setting the arena on fire. And that's pretty important. Now all he needs is a healthy Bynum and that contract would look like a bargain. Ahem.