Player to Watch: Spencer Hawes
Spencer Hawes is many things to many people. Well, perhaps I should say the name "Spencer Hawes" is many things to many people. Folks who won't watch a losing team remember the skinny, pale kid (pre-Sunset Tan!) of the 2007 draft, and imagine another Chris Mihm-Todd Fuller-Raef LaFrentz-Paul Davis Great White Stiff. But Hawes isn't that.
Others remember the news that Hawes was a big (huge!) George W. Bush fan at the time it was least popular to be one, driving a car emblazoned with a W sticker around Seattle, a town where W stickers were not particularly popular. And so Hawes becomes a caricature, the prototypical big, white, conservative lug who can't get along with teammates.
Still others look at Big Spencer and see a future NBA Talisman, and evolutionary pivot whose name will demarcate avenues all over the world when his career ends. If you think this subset of the population is filled with lunatics, this post may not be for you.
The skinny, pale kid is a smooth, lean Man now. I mentioned Sunset Tan, but it bears repeating: Spencer Hawes made a guest appearance on Sunset Tan! Also, he has been photographed chilling with rapper Juelz Santana. This is not your typical lily white hard-ass, a la old mentor Brad Miller. This is the new White NBA Star, in the mold of Luke Walton rather than Chris Kaman.
That's all just personal style: his game is different, too. And I'm about to get a little superlative, a little out on Planet Neptune. You should know, if you already do not, that I am a Kings fan. I live on Hope and Nostalgia. If you take my Hope, dammit, I'm going to starve. So be kind. Please.
Hawes is young -- he turned 21 after last season ended. As such, it's hard to grade him out: so few comparable players were playing substantial NBA minutes at age 20. (This is further compounded by the fact that to be a 20-year-old 7-footer playing major minutes, you must have S.T.A.R. written all over your scouting report. I can't exactly toss a Patrick O'Bryant into an analysis, you know?)
So I took the three closest matches my brain could conjure. The rules: slim 7-footers who can shoot and also do center/power forward duties, and who played major minutes at age 20 or 21. I came up with Pau Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki and Andrea Bargnani. (I would have included the aforementioned LaFrentz, but he got no burn until age 23.)
Gasol is a bit of a concession, as he doesn't shoot threes often, unlike the others. But Pau's age 21 statistics are fairly close to Hawes's age 20 statistics, so I felt he merited inclusion. It's not like we're writing canon here. (Or are we?)
First, let's measure Hawes against the others with good ol' box score entries. I adjusted everything to a "per 36 minutes" number to get apples and apples. It should also be noted here that Hawes was in his second season, while the others were in their rookie year at these ages (age 20 for Dirk, age 21 for Gasol and Bargnani). The three international players did have overseas professional experience, though.
As we can we see, Hawes lags the others in per-minute scoring, but is the best rebounder of the bunch, and trails only Gasol slightly in per-minute assists and blocks. Like Pau, the combination of rebounding and passing skill is impressive.
But a knock on Hawes has been his shooting touch: he gets points, but not efficiently. How does his shape up there?
Again, Hawes lags only Gasol in two-point shooting at this stage. Hawes's interior shooting improved as the season went on last year: after the All-Star break, Hawes shot 53.8% on two-point attempts. His post work, while pretty, is still inefficient -- he thinks he has a hook, but it rarely goes down. His best bet is usually to face up and fire an unblockable 15+ foot "jumper." (He doesn't jump on 15-footers.) Or, he can hang out around the perimeter, where he hits threes at a far greater clip than Dirk did at this age (though Bargnani, who is now one of the league's most accurate deep shooters, was better).
But the face-up jumper and the perimeter play have drawbacks. You can see a glimpse in the True Shooting percentage comparison. True Shooting is a composite shooting score that is basically the equivalent of "points per shooting possession," taking into account twos, threes and trips to the free throw line. Hawes is second among this group in two-point shooting and three-point shooting, yet his TS% registered a good deal lower than Gasol and Bargnani. Which can only mean ...
The free throw line is not Hawes's friend, for two reasons. First of all, he never gets there! Hawes has drawn a shockingly low number of free throws as a pro. When he gets to the line, he inexplicably misses them, shooting just 66.2% from the stripe last season. We're used to centers -- Shaq, Duncan, Dwight -- suffering at the line. But those centers don't have legit three-point range! Seven-foot gunners should be able to nail free throws. It wouldn't have made a huge difference here if Hawes had made a higher percentage of freebies. The bigger problem is how few fouls he draws. But if Hawes somehow improves his foul-drawing, it will be problematic if he does not also improve his FT shooting percentage.
That lack of made free throws really affects Hawes's scoring and True Shooting percentage. And, obviously, it could affect the Kings ... if they didn't have one of the top foul-drawing shooting guards in the galaxy (Kevin Martin), a rookie who figures to live at the line (Tyreke Evans) and a frontcourt mate who draws an exceptional number of fouls for a non-notorious, mostly anonymous youngster (Jason Thompson). The Kings might not actually need Hawes to draw fouls too much in order for the offense to be solid in that category. It wouldn't hurt, of course, but if increased foul-drawing hurts any other part of his game, it might not be worth it.
Even if it means ceding "Myth of the Next Pau" or "Myth of the Next Dirk" ground to that Italian magician up in Toronto. Hawes has his own name to make anyway.