Sunday, January 19, 2014

Going from Airball to Air Mirza

Mirza Teletovic, the Bosnian forward who had the few Nets fans who watched Eurobasketball excited for his entrance into the league.

Coming onto the Brooklyn Nets squad last year, Teletovic had a lot to prove to dispel the stereotypes about European players. Yes, he was a shooter, but was he soft? Was he unable to keep up with some of the greatest athletes in the world on defense? These were just a couple of questions that entered not only the minds of Nets fans, but anyone who else who was watching Teletovic. While he may not have been placed on the big stage, he was on his own, secluded stage. Alone.

Teletovic was not just an ordinary player from overseas though. He was 27 years old, about the time that players reach their prime. The expectations for improvement when he entered the league was low, and he was merely supposed to be a role player. He had a lot to prove to himself and the fans, and the start of his NBA career was the definition of a debacle.

In the mix of a couple of good shooting games, there would come string of just as many or more poor games. In his first ever game, he shot 2-3 for five points. In his second game, he shot 1-8, which included 1-7 from beyond the arc.

This was a man who was a captain of his team in the Euroleague and was dominating with a combination of his ridiculous range, his smooth jumper, and attacks to the basket.

Instead he became a chucker. Sometimes it went in enough times, other times it didn't. But amongst Nets fans, he developed a reputation for being trigger-happy, and the moment he got the ball you know he was thinking  "SHOT!". Ninety-two percent of his jump shots came assisted. In comparison, shooting guard Klay Thompson, another shooter, has 76% of his jump shots assisted. What does this mean in layman terms? It means that Teletovic rarely put the ball on the floor before shooting. If he got the ball, he'd shoot.

To make it worse for Teletovic, his trigger-happy hands did not even produce quality shooting numbers. He shot 34.3% from three. Yet, despite this, Teletovic managed to shoot 57.2% of his shots from beyond the arc. Read that number one more time. Steph Curry, arguably the best shooter in the league, shot 42% of his shots from beyond the arc. Now the circumstances are a bit different, as defenders play Curry tighter than Teletovic, but that's also because Curry makes his shots.

This was the man that Nets fan clamored to have play in NBA games even as a rookie who was about 27 years old.

Teletovic never quite stabilized into a quality player last season. By the time he had managed to pull off three airballs in a row and six in a span of just a few games, it was nearly time to dump this player and bring in Bogdanovic.

Yet, nothing fazed the Bosnian Bomber, the man who would go out of his way in the middle of distressing war times to go play basketball with his buddies. One poor season, thousands of angered fans, and the seemingly inability to adjust to NBA was not going to be enough to have Teletovic just give up.

This was the man that fans had given up on by the end of his very first season in the NBA.

Coming into the season, Teletovic would have to prove himself once again. With the addition of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, the expectations for Teletovic shrunk. All he had to do now was to be able to fill in for Garnett when he took a rest as the team rode the backs of the All-Stars to the NBA Finals.

Alas, those dreams faltered quickly when the Garnett and Pierce of Boston failed to show up and the team just could not pull it together under the lead of Jason Kidd. But when the elder stars stumbled and the team lost both Deron Williams and Brook Lopez for extended periods of time, Teletovic began his ascent.

Did Teletovic stop being a three-point shooter? No, not at all. He's actually taking a much higher percentage of his shots from beyond the arc (65.5%). The difference, is that he's hitting it a much higher rate (41.7%, nearly a 10% bump).

This is a man who made a surprising jump in play his second year into the NBA and could not be fazed by the bulky beast that is LeBron James.

Now this is not to say Mirza Teletovic is a bonifide starter. He's still has ways to go, but the strides he's made this season has surpassed the expectations of everyone beside die-hard Mirza Teletovic fans. He's become much more consistent in his play, he's proved he can crash the boards and also take flight as Air Mirza. For the Teletubby, Fearza, MT3, or the Bosnian Bomber, whatever you want to call this man, the statement has been made.

Here is a man who overcame an extremely poor start to regain the talents he showcased back in
Caja Laboral.

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