By Kevin Henkin
Even a king, I suppose, is prone to uttering foolish words on occasion.
Such as when LeBron James said about a three point shot made by Gabe Pruitt in a game against Cleveland last week, “Even a trash can gets a steak every once in a while.”
A trash can? Strong words. Especially during preseason, and especially from a young player who usually knows well enough to take the high road whenever discussing opponents. Even so, it got me wondering whether LeBron’s low view of Pruitt’s shooting had any merit. Curious, I did some digging into the matter. Here’s what I found:
In general, Pruitt has always been a pretty good shooter from deep waters, and he appears to be improving.
At USC, his 131 three-pointers were the most ever by a Trojan in his first two seasons. His three point shooting percentage during those seasons was 41% (and was 39% during his college career overall). For the sake of comparison, teammates Paul Pierce and Eddie House shot 35.5% and 36.6% respectively in college.
In his limited time spent with the Celtics during his rookie season, Pruitt shot 3-12 from three point land in 95 minutes sprinkled across 15 games. Of course, most of those minutes were spent in certified garbage time, which has never been much of a useful indicator of a player’s future contributions.
Perhaps its better to look instead at the 18 games that Pruitt also spent with Utah in the NBA Development League last year. In those 18 games, Pruitt hit 39 of 108 three pointers for a 36.1% shooting percentage. Additionally, in his 8 games during this current preseason, Pruitt has connected on 8 of his 21 trey attempts (38%), which is right in line with Paul Pierce’s 8-22 and Ray Allen’s 9-24 preseason three point shooting. Beyond the numbers, Pruitt during this preseason has clearly been more aggressive and more comfortable in looking for his own perimeter offense.
Look, we’re not talking about Ray Allen here. The upcoming Celtics’ season will not be made or lost on the play of Gabe Pruitt. Nonetheless, assuming he sticks on the active 12-man roster, his recent emergence can only be seen as a meaningful positive for the team. Above all else, he adds some necessary flexibility to the new roster.
Follow my logic here: Especially with the off-season loss of James Posey and in the wake of the release of Darius Miles, the team’s most notable depth weakness remains at the small forward position. Paul Pierce is obviously terrific at the three spot but when the starters take their rests, it potentially gets a bit dicey. However, with Pruitt as a viable back up point guard, Eddie House and Tony Allen are able to shift over to the shooting guard and small forward slots respectively. If you believe that Tony Allen is the best small forward option for the second unit (which I do), then it’s the combination of Pruitt and Eddie House in the backcourt that makes that option possible. It also offers a nifty switch sceanrio that protects Eddie House on defense against bigger shooting and combo guard matchups.
On the topic of Tazmanian Devil-man Bill Walker, the rookie appears to bring energy, nerve and offensive verve to the table but until he gains more seasoning in his all-around game at the professional level, his role should be relegated to human spark plug. If it’s about winning games, based on what we’ve seen to date, the Celtics are simply better with the combination of Pruitt, House and Tony Allen in the back three than with anyone else.
So while Gabe Pruitt will probably never be comparable to LeBron James, he’s no trash receptacle either. And while James is watching the Celtics hoist their 17th banner into the rafters and hand out their bling rings next week, he might wish to reflect further upon the high value of role players on a championship-caliber team.