Following the master of the up-fake in ‘Querque
Tiger alert! Tiger alert!
On the morning after the Albuquerque Thunderbirds lost a defense-is-optional 135-112 shootout to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, it befits my general level of confusion that I’m thinking about the only T-Bird to step on the court and not score.
Jason Horton managed to play more than a full quarter’s worth of a game that included 247 total points and take just one shot in said game. Which sounds exactly like the Jason Horton I remember.
Disclosure: Horton played four years of collegiate ball at the University of Missouri. I’m a Mizzou guy and had the pleasure of watching much of his thoroughly unspectacular collegiate career.
The rugged 6-2 guard from Dallas spent time at both backcourt spots during his days with the Tigers from fall 2004 through spring 2008. With acceptable but not explosive speed, Horton did a decent job limiting turnovers and putting up decent assist figures (3.5 per game for his career, personal best of 4.5 as a junior) despite seeing his minutes fluctuate and presiding over oft-times stagnant Missouri offenses. He made his name with his contributions at the defensive end, where the strength in his 190-pound frame and his willingness to be physical garnered him a reputation as the Tigers’ lead perimeter defender.
Nothing too much to write home about so far: The guy was a part-time starter and full-time rotation player for a team that really wasn’t much good during his time there (one NIT game his freshman year marks the entirety of Horton’s postseason tourney experience outside the Big XII tournament). The first line on his player bio on MU’s athletics page reads, “Tough, gritty guard that makes some of his biggest contributions because of [his] mistake-free play at the point guard and his strong play defensively.” When avoiding egregious errors is one’s calling card, suffice it to say explosive upside is limited. Not bad, but not rave-worthy either.
But what struck me about watching Horton play at Missouri was that at no point in my tenure as a basketball observer can I remember a worse shooter using the shot-fake more effectively.
In fairness, I remember Jason Horton as a much less effective shooter than he actually was, largely because he was utterly horrific from the field his senior year, failing to crack 22 percent from the three-point line and posting a career-low 39.6 effective field-goal percentage. In whole, he may have been a pretty bad shooter rather than a downright awful one (depending on how liberally you’re willing to use “pretty bad” as a compliment), shooting 32.4 percent from the three-point line for his career and posting a less-than-thrilling 47 percent true shooting (putting up a crummy 57.6 percent from the charity stripe – as a guard, no less – didn’t help matters).
The point, any way you slice it, is this: Jason Horton was clearly not a good shooter and did not get his 4.6 points per game on efficient heaving. But for some reason that will never be clear to me, Division I collegiate athletes could not get enough of his up-fake. It worked from everywhere on the floor. Catching the ball outside the three-point line in the triple threat position, Horton would start to crouch and then faux-explode toward the balls of his feet, and his man would leave his feet with startling regularity, giving Horton easy access to the lane. This didn’t always do Missouri much good because Horton didn’t go all the way to the rim all that often and wasn’t even necessarily too aggressive or effective with his pull-up.
But when Horton did pull-up, he was once again highly effective at separating defenders from the ground. He made textbook jump-stops in the lane, landing on both feet and extending his upper body upwards hard. Time and again, defenders had to know as he progressed through his four seasons that a) he didn’t shoot all that much and b) when he did shoot, he wasn’t that dangerous. Yet time and again, defenders jumped and wound up out of position anyway.
I never did and likely never will comprehend how exactly that pump-fake worked as well as it did as often as it did for Jason Horton at Missouri.
Horton is now six games into his rookie season with the Thunderbirds after making the team in a local tryout. Deep on the Albuquerque bench, he plays 8.8 minutes per game, and true to form, he has taken just 10 total shots from the field thus far (two for buckets).
From everything I have seen of him in the past, I’m not buying Jason Horton as an NBA player anytime soon. I’m curious about how well his defense will translate to this level, and I wonder a bit if his shooting efficacy has changed at all since departing Columbia, Mo., in 2008. But mostly, I can’t wait to see if the inexplicably effective up-fake still gets his counterparts jumping. So I’ll be watching.
Over at beloved CelticsBlog, my pal IP is back with the newest edition of the Lobster Roll. In addition to recapping the Maine Red Claws’ weekend home-and-home sweep of the Springfield Armor, IP checks in with D-League veteran Billy Thomas. Among other topics of intrigue, the Claws’ locker room leader talks about how the D-League has changed since its inception:
“It has become more closely tied with the NBA. When I started there was no affiliation at all. What happened was you would tryout for [an NBA] team in the summer, and if that didn’t work you’d go to the D-League, and only the scouts from that team would follow you. Now all the teams follow the entire league. More guys getting called up from the D-League and closer NBA affiliation has really increased the credibility of the league too. Players believe there is a real chance they can get noticed here, so we’re getting better and better players each season.
There is more great insight in there, including some thoughts from Thomas on the relation between D-League assignments and NBA roster spots (later touched on by Scott Schroeder over at Ridiculous Upside) as well as reminiscences of playing with current Celtics captain Paul Pierce at Kansas. Definitely worth a read.
On a tangential note, a hearty welcome back to the aforementioned Mr. Schroeder, who recently returned to writing at RU. Good to have you back in the blogosphere, Scott!
From the Department of Shameless Self-Aggrandizement: I chatted with Rick Kamla on NBA TV’s D-League Central on Wednesday and have linked the video clip for those interested.
From the Department of Shameful Self-Promotion: Enjoy snickering at the photo of yours truly in said video. This is what happens when you realize that you don’t have any head-shots saved on your computer and end up taking a picture of yourself with Photo Booth on Mac.
The worst sign of just how bad that picture is? Even Mama Weinman’s first reaction was a three-word text message: “Need new photo.” Which was followed by “Looks like mug shot.”
Two thoughts: One, Oscar the Grouch is way cooler than I am, and I would have been much happier to use my alter ego’s likeness rather than mine as I have throughout my blogging career, but I wasn’t sure the folks at the network (or as Mama Weinman reminds us, the residents of Sesame Street) would take kindly to that. Two, I don’t claim to be the world’s most handsome dude, but I guarantee I normally look worlds better than I do in that shot.
But as far as that photo is concerned, bring the mockery. I have it coming for that one.
Exciting weekend of D-League hoopin’ coming up, including 13 games on tap over the next three days. We expect to have plenty to talk about on the flip side. Until then, in the words of the incomparable Paul Farash…