When it comes to the topic of Andris Biedrins on Twitter, Jazz Nation seems to be a mixed bag. Some people are excited about the 7’0″ Latvian center. Some think he will be a great help to the bench. Others think he’s washed up as a player and will not contribute at all. They point to the numbers, his PER, which have declined the past 5 years and say the trend will continue. I love numbers. They can be a great help in understanding the value and the effectiveness of a player. Sometimes we have to look deeper though. I am one who is excited at the potential Biedrins has to help strengthen the Jazz bench this year. Let’s take a look at why.
Andris Biedrins had his most productive seasons as a player when Don Nelson was coaching the Warriors. Nelson coached the Warriors from the 2006-07 season to the 2009-10 season. Here are Biedrins‘ numbers during that time. (Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference)
In those first 3 seasons under Nelson he was 6th, 4th and 7th in minutes played. In 2008-09 when he put up his best statistical numbers of 11.9 ppg and 11.2 rpg he averaged 30 minutes a night but was 7th in minutes played. What this tells me is that during this stretch he was a key component and contributor on the team. He was someone the Warriors relied on to rebound and play defense and he produced in the minutes he was given. He was never asked to be a go to scorer as he played with the likes of Baron Davis, Al Harrington, Stephen Jackson, Monta Ellis, Jason Richardson, Jamal Crawford and Corey Maggette during that 3 year stretch. To me those are quite impressive numbers to put up playing alongside such ball dominant players.
So what happened in 2009-10? As pointed out by Grant Hughes of Bleacher Report, Biedrins got hit by the injury bug. It started in the 2008-09 season and carried over into the 2009-10 season. Groin and back injuries limited him to just 33 games that season and the Warriors finished with a 26-56 record. Don Nelson was fired and the Warriors youth movement began. Here are Biedrins numbers from the last 3 seasons:
As is the case with youth movements, and even though Biedrins was only 24 in the 2010-11 season, veterans become casualties as younger players take their place. No longer was Biedrins counted on and the numbers show. His minutes dropped from 23.7 mpg in 2010-11 to 15.7 mpg in 2011-12 (his 1st year under Mark Jackson) and to a career low 9.9 mpg in the 2012-13 season. He continued to play with ball dominant players but was not on the floor enough to contribute at all. He has proven in the past that he can be a productive player with ball dominant teammates when playing 27+ minutes per game. He was not given this opportunity under Keith Smart or Mark Jackson and as a result he posted the worst numbers of his career.
Steph Curry joined the Warriors in the 2010-11 season and he along with Monta Ellis, David Lee and Dorrell Wright combined to average 75.6 points per contest and lead the team in minutes played. In the 2011-12 season the Warriors added Klay Thompson and Brandon Rush to the mix and minutes became even harder to come by. (You might be saying to yourself, “so what? what does this have to do with a big guy?” Well we know how much the Warriors enjoyed playing small ball. Quite often David Lee was the center so the quickest lineup possible could be in the game. Biedrins talents obviously do not fit this style.) Then last year the Warriors drafted Harrison Barnes and added Andrew Bogut via trade with the Bucks. With Andrew Bogut the style of played slowed down a little bit but I think we all agree that Andrew Bogut is the better player. By this time though, Biedrins was obviously no longer in the Warriors short or long term plans and I’m sure they were shopping him around the league for takers.
So what does Andris Biedrins think about his fresh start with the Utah Jazz? This is what the man himself had to say about why he would not be joining the Latvian National Team this summer; the quote comes from Sportando.net:
“It’s no secret that past seasons with Warriors weren’t successful. Trade to Jazz in last year of my current contract has created new chances. which I want to use as best as I can. That’s why I’ve decided to return to USA as early as first half of August, so I can prepare for season. Also, in this situation I didn’t want to risk injuries. Trade was unexpected, so I had to reconsider my plans. That’s why it took extra time to make decision about playing for NT. In meeting with Latvian basketball executives we agreed to keep in touch closely and decide about my participation in NT next summer already in spring. I’ll take in consideration only sports related factors, health, contract status. I wish Latvian NT great start in Eurobasket”
To me that sounds like the Jazz are getting a very motivated player that wants to prove they still belong in the NBA and can contribute. I honestly think Biedrins is going to have a very nice year for the Utah Jazz and be a key part of the bench. I think he’s going to play 20-25 minutes a night. I know Jazz fans are excited about Rudy Gobert and I am too. He’s going to have an adjustment period though and it’s no coincidence the Jazz brought in a serviceable and dependable backup in Biedrins. We all know Favors can get in foul trouble from time to time and Biedrins is going to be called on often in those situations. He is a good defender and rebounder and the fact that he is only 27 is why he is more than an expiring contract to give the Jazz room for 2014 free agency. This is a year long tryout for him and he could find himself in Utah for many years to come. I think that with his new set role, increased minutes and opportunity, Biedrins will be a very pleasant surprise for Jazz fans everywhere. He will be a key contributor off the bench and a big help to Rudy Gobert’s transition to the NBA and growth as a rookie. He’ll be a great teammate and he’ll show the league he has a lot of basketball left in him. He’ll surprise everyone, just not me.