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An in-depth second look at Carlos Arroyo in the playoffs

Immediately after my indictment last week on Carlos Arroyo’s play in the Heat-Celtics series I was notified that my comments had predictably not gone over well with the Hispanic/Puerto Rican contingent of the Miami Heat fan base. Although I was initially skeptical about Arroyo’s late arrival to the team at the outset of the season and thought the move was about 3 years too late, I eventually warmed up to him and thought he had played quite solidly after Rafer Alston abandoned the team. It was a pleasure to interview him as well and was pleased to see the Heat's first Latino player actually make a difference on and off the court (never mind his arrest). Then the playoffs came and went and everything I feared would happen against a matchup against Rajon Rondo (instead of the Atlanta Hawks’ Mike Bibby) actually did happen. Arroyo may have played admirably against the likes of the lower-tier NBA teams the Heat faced during their huge winning streak at the end of the season but he was no match for a top 5 NBA point guard. Fine, you might say, how many teams can have the luxury of starting a point guard that even could keep with Rondo? For starters how about a team that, according to Riley, will be built from scratch to be a "dynasty team"? Or we could take a look at the NBA teams that did make it into the second round of the playoffs, where the Heat presumably should easily reach next year if the expected reinforcements do arrive. In the East, I’ve already mentioned Boston’s Rondo and Atlanta’s Bibby. Then there’s Orlando’s Jameer Nelson and Cleveland’s Mo Williams (both could have been Heat players a couple of years ago). Out in the West, there’s Utah’s Deron Williams, L.A. has savvy playoff vet Derek Fisher, Phoenix has 2-time MVP Steve Nash and San Antonio starts ’07 NBA Finals MVP Tony Parker. So obviously, Arroyo is not in their class by a long shot. But didn’t he play well enough to at least merit a backup role in light of Pat Riley’s insistence last week that he sees Mario Chalmers as a starting quality point guard? Fine, let’s look at the backup guards then. In the East, Orlando has former Heat championship starter Jason Williams on standby and Atlanta sporadically plays Jeff Teague (but does employ Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford as the first guard off the bench). Cleveland is using Delonte West in favor of Daniel Gibson and the Celtics choose not to use Nate Robinson because Rondo is capable of playing the entire game while chasing down 18 rebounds and 13 assists. In the West, Phoenix just had a monster game from backup PG Goran Dragic while the Lakers use Shannon Brown off the bench. Utah hardly needs Ronnie Price to spell D. Williams and San Antonio has George Hill whose stock has risen so high it’s possibly made Tony Parker expendable. Doesn’t really seem like Arroyo even belongs on this list either, does it. Enough with comparisons. Was I wrong at first sight about Arroyo and his production in the Celtics series? Simple, I delved into Synergy for a recap of everything that Arroyo contributed in the entire series on video. Turns out that not only was I going to stand by my original assessment, I was having second thoughts about whether Arroyo had done more damage than even Jermaine O’Neal to his own team with his play. The facts speak for themselves. Arroyo for the entire series rarely, if ever, even attempted to play the game 25 feet or closer to the basket. Think about that for a second, your starting point guard had practically no assists, no rebounds and only a few shot attempts anywhere near the basket or as far away as the free throw line. It’s baffling, considering that Boston’s bigs are capable defenders but not particularly difficult to at least probe around the area of the basket or along the baseline. Even more confounding was that all of his shot attempts were near the 3-point range but he actually only attempted one 3-pointer for the series (which he missed). So basically he was primarily taking the least-effective two point shot from anywhere else on the court while only getting two baskets at the rim on only four shot attempts in the paint for the entire five game series.

[caption id="attachment_1480" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Carlos Arroyo's shot charts games 1 through 5"][/caption] Looking at the shot chart you can easily ascertain what kind of shot attempts Arroyo was attempting from that distance. Either he walked the ball up the court and attempted the shot or he was fed the ball from another player in the perimeter. The easiest type of defense Boston could hope to have to work with. Unassertive, non-aggressive and static player (& ball) movement. Game 2 was a bit different though. Arroyo actually attempted three shots in the paint. 1) In the opening moments of the game Arroyo walks the ball up the court and, after using a Beasley screen, goes to his right to get some space from Rondo. After Glen Davis goes back to covering Beasley, Arroyo briefly fakes posting up Rondo and curls towards the basket only to use his right hand to finish and misses an uncontested layup. 2) A few minutes after missing another long-range 2-pointer in transition from Mario Chalmers in the 2nd quarter, Arroyo uses a Beasley screen at the free throw line to head towards the basket but misses a floater over Davis and Kendrick Perkins. 3) With a 16-point deficit in the third quarter at 37-53, Arroyo goes to his left after another Beasley screen near the top of the key and gets another floater by the rim off but is blocked by Perkins. 4) In the closing moments of the game and the game already decided, Arroyo misses another spot-up jumper below the three-point line in the fourth quarter but then 40 seconds later makes his only basket of the game. It’s also a step underneath the three-point line. But that’s just scratching the surface if we’re just looking at shot attempts by a point guard. This is the player who must facilitate for others and run the team’s offense. So why was his assist total so low? In Game 1, Arroyo’s three assists came from passes near the three point line: a Michael Beasley spot up jumper in the first quarter, a Dorell Wright layup that he created for himself via the baseline after getting the ball from Arroyo (who happened to be the last person to have swung the ball around from one end of the court to the other side) and a Michael Beasley layup in which he also created for himself by taking the basket to the hole after taking a pass from Arroyo near the top of the key. Game 2 had series-high four assists from Carlos. First there was another assist from being the last player to swing the ball around the perimeter for a jumper by Quentin Richardson in the first quarter. Then there was actually an assist incorrectly given to Arroyo in the box score. With the score 11-6 in favor of Boston, Arroyo trots to his left by the top of the key and feeds it to Jermaine O’Neal who is posting up Perkins while Wade is curling off of Allen to break free towards the baseline. O’Neal then instantly feeds Wade to his right with a perfect bounce pass for the layup basket. Jermaine is shown to have zero assists for the game. Again in the first quarter, Arroyo actually gets a chance to run a fastbreak after a Celtics turnover and gives a nice bounce pass to Wade for the dunk. In the second quarter, Arroyo gives the ball to a cutting O’Neal in the paint for a potential three-point play after another Celtics turnover in the second quarter. For games 3 and 4, Arroyo only has one assist. Another perimeter pass to another perimeter player, this time a three pointer from Richardson in the first quarter of game 4. Arroyo was then given three assists for the last game of the series, two feeds into the paint for an Udonis Haslem short-range jumper and a Jermaine O’Neal breakaway dunk from the top of the paint where he received the ball. The other assist has to be yet another error. All Arroyo did was pass the ball back to Wade at the three point line where Wade then held the ball and dribbled for six seconds and then proceeded to score on his own with a midrange jumper. That’s a pretty liberal interpretation of an assist there. So we can see that most of Arroyo’s game actually involved very little playmaking and was more a product of the other player making a jumpshot or taking the ball to the hall themselves. Almost no movement on or off the ball causes the defense to always know where that player is if that player is always just roaming at the top of the key. Even someone like Derek Fisher who is considered to be old and washed-up knows better than to always be active on both ends of the floor even with someone like Deron Williams giving him fits. Arroyo provided none of that and I haven’t even bothered to detail how Rondo torched him and the Heat. If the Heat must have a small, unathletic guard who won’t turn the ball over, then what was wrong with keeping Chris Quinn who at least has three point range? Arroyo may have been decent enough in the regular season but the Heat must find themselves a young, athletic guard instead or they will get torched again in the playoffs at such a critical position.