NBA Top 50: Gilbert Arenas (No. 21)
FanHouse's Tom Ziller argues his ranking of the top 50 players in the NBA.
Gilbert Arenas doesn't fit any prototype at hand. That, as we all know, leads to vast misunderstanding. Look at his field goal percentage and -- "Hey, it's Starbury for a new age." Wrong, absolutely wrong. Gil is more like an elite scorer -- Kobe, LeBron, 'Melo, old T-Mac -- who just happens to be short enough and a gifted enough passer to be a point guard.
Arenas' scoring output is truly outrageous -- he's gone over 25 points per 36 minutes twice already, something only four guys did last season. Gil does it two ways: he uses a ton of possessions, and he scores efficiently. It won't show up in that old FG% you're trotting out, but that's why we don't use FG%. It tells us nothing.
Arenas takes a metric ton of threes, more than seven per game in his last full season ('06-07). That almost 40% of all his FGAs tied up beyond the arc. He hits them at a solid rate (36% career), which susses out to an average of 1.08 points per three-point FGA. The average last season for all offense across the league was 1.06. So Gil's "lowest percentage shot" -- the threeballs he tosses up seven times a night and misses 65% of the time ... those are more efficient than half of NBA teams.
The rest of Arenas' efficiency comes from the free throw line, where he has a timeshare. Gil averaged 10 FTAs a night in '05-06, and 9.7 in '06-07. He's a career 81% shooter from there. Every trip to the line for two FTAs offers up roughly 1.62 points for the Wizards. That's nice for most players. When you draw free throws so effortlessly, and it is legitimately the second biggest part of your arsenal -- that's a massive boon to your team's chances.
But isn't that sort of weird, how Arenas lives at the three-point line, but also draws a ton of fouls? It speaks to how Gil understands NBA offense -- possibly subconsciously -- and realizes the two most efficient shots in the NBA besides the dunk are free throws and threes. So, he shoots and drives. The mid-range game can be valuable to bust zones and foil pack-it-in schemes. But on the whole, against NBA defense and playing NBA rules, threes are going to be open and the refs will get you to the line if you attack.
Folks ignore Gil's play-making for others. Six assists a game is nothing to sneeze at. When you adjust for pace, Arenas is every bit the passer Allen Iverson is, and just about there with Tracy McGrady. And that's passing -- as I've said, Gil scores a ton more per minute on more efficient shooting.
We're ignoring '07-08, of course, a disastrous campaign of frustration and pain for Arenas. I'm assuming he'll bounce back. You don't go from second-round pick to outsider MVP candidate without having a mess of hard-workin' bones under your skin. Gil works like few others, and I suspect he'll continue to be an All-Star mainstay ... this time without paying kids to stuff ballots.