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A very lengthy post on, yes, Ramon Sessions

Citizen d2s4ui1 makes the case for Ramon Sessions.  I've essentially pleaded ignorance on Sessions through most of this.  Frankly, I like stats plenty, but if I haven't seen a player with my own eyes, I tend to remain skeptical.  The things I find most troubling here are (1) he just hasn't played that much, so it's hard to know if he can sustain these numbers and (2) many of the wildly positive quotes below have to be taken in context - for instance DraftExpress loved him in Orlando pre-draft camp, but concluded he should go back to school for another season.  That tells me they loved him as an unexpected surprise, not as an NBA starter two seasons later. 

Having said that, if Ramon Sessions is as much a mystery to you as he is to me, read this post.  Citizen d2s4ui1 has done a stellar job of tracking done references to Sessions, and of putting his NBA stats into context.  The kid can score, he can distribute, and he can get to the line - that much is clear.  But full MLE contracts have a tendency to look much worse in year four than they did in year one (see Jeffries, Jared).  Steve.

I know at this point it's unlikely that the Clips will sign Ramon Sessions.  But since it seems that the majority of Clips Nation is skeptical about him, I'm going to attempt to prove (whether I succeed is up to you I guess) that he's worth the entire mid-level exception ($5.854 million per year for 5 years).  Also, I'm hoping beyond reason that GMMDSr. might actually see this post.

First, a few concessions/explanations.  I'm not trying to prove that he's Chris Paul, or will ever be Chris Paul.  What I AM trying to prove is that even if he doesn't improve at all, he's still worth the full mid-level (of course, I DO expect him to improve, given that he's only played 1.17 seasons so far).  Here's my reasoning:

- by ANY statistical measure, he's an above-average starting PG (read: top-15)

- every NBA expert and every Bucks fan has good things to say about him (and comparatively few bad things)

- the mid-level is not that much!  In fact, by definition, it's average.  If you look at teams' salaries, their 5th-best player is almost always at the mid-level or higher (there are a couple of exceptions, like Houston, who's paying two guys $20 million per).  So if you believe, like I do, that Sessions is at the very least a starting-caliber PG, then he's absolutely worth what the mid-level pays.  (As for the length of the deal...c'mon, he's 23 and isn't injury prone at all.  It would be very fluky for him to get seriously/chronically injured, or get worse over the course of 5 years).

I'll start with quotes from a few sources, and then go with statistics at the end.

First, a few scouting reports from his college/pre-draft days (I don't mind if you skip these, but I'd rather you drink the kool-aid)

from cbssports:

Quick, darting point guard with the speed and stamina to execute the fast break and move up and down the court with ease...Physical perimeter defender with very good court vision and basketball IQ, firing off crisp passes to his forwards on pick-and-rolls...Unselfish player who is always looking for the open scoring outlet...Shows good patience rather than trying to force the ball in double-team situations and knows how to slow the tempo down before the game gets too out of control...Very creative in generating scoring opportunities for his teammates...Solid decision-maker who might not have the long-range shooting skills, but does a nice job of forcing the opponent out of the box to defend him on the perimeter...When the defense gives him room, he will capitalize by pulling up and firing off his jumper...Shows a steady hand bringing the ball downcourt and has developed a nice floater as his go-to shot...His decision-making ability will make him a nice catalyst in leading a pro team one day...Quick getting into the lanes on the pick-and-roll, showing deft passing ability to funnel the ball outside when the road to the basket is crowded.

From draftexpress:

Weekly Top Performers (12/12): Part 2
December 14, 2006

Based off what we saw, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Sessions is one of the steadiest, mistake-free point guards you’ll find anywhere in the country, as his 2.71 assist to turnover ratio would attest. He’s extremely confident handling the ball, is very smart, and as natural a playmaker as they get. His passing skills are outstanding, either driving and dishing—always with his head up seeking the open man—or in the half-court offense where he runs his team’s sets to perfection and does a fantastic job threading the needle unselfishly with some gorgeous post-entry passes...He can hit a 3-point with his feet set when he’s left open, but this is certainly not his strength. He has decent shooting mechanics, excellent footwork and a quick enough first step to keep defenses honest...Sessions is an outstanding defender, being fundamentally sound with his lateral movement, superb toughness, great footwork, and showing outstanding hands and anticipation skills to get into the passing lanes.

Orlando Pre-Draft Camp: Day Three
June 1, 2007

It was another fantastic showing for the underclassman, who has now racked up 12 assists to just 1 turnover in the first two days of competition. Sessions’ game management has been just as excellent as that statistic would indicate. His hand is steady, and he is able to probe defenses in a steady way that nearly always leads to a better situation for his team. Sessions isn’t the most explosive athlete out there, but his ability to make the right decision on whether to look for a teammate or shoot the ball himself makes him a very dangerous player with the ball in his hands.

Today Sessions got his offense going a bit, connecting on a handful of runners in the lane and getting to the basket a bit more often than he had earlier in the camp. He has a tendency to force his offense every now and then, but when his floater is connecting he becomes even more dangerous. On the whole, he is very willing to give up the ball and picks apart any defense that isn’t playing as a unit in terms of help across the whole court.

Sessions has done what just about every underclassman hopes to accomplish by attending the Orlando camp. It is unlikely that he would be able to crack the first round this season, but with an offseason dedicated to getting stronger and more explosive, the first round of 2008 doesn’t seem unrealistic at all. He will certainly get more attention from the scouts throughout his senior season if he does decide to return to school.

 

Orlando Pre-Draft Camp: Final Recap
June 4, 2007

In a camp full of solid point guard play, it would be hard to argue that anybody fared better than Nevada underclassman Ramon Sessions. Sessions, much like Jordan on our second team, isn’t the most imposing athlete out there. He has decent quickness, but a slight frame, and was at an overall physical disadvantage against almost every point guard in the camp. Yet it was Sessions who put up the most impressive statistics (13 points per game, 13 total assists compared with just 1 lone turnover). He was able to get to the basket, and did as good a job as any point guard in the camp at creating for his teammates and running the offense.

Sessions clearly has that natural knack for running a team, something he first displayed as a freshman. After injuries derailed his sophomore year, Sessions got back on track this season, showing major improvement as a scorer. His mark was all over this camp, and he does it with solid decision making, and a patient, probing way of making a defense commit to stopping him or stopping the pass. At this point Sessions would probably rather pull defenses toward him and use his excellent court vision to find teammates, but he is improving with the pull-up jumper and a creative array of floaters and other finishing moves if he makes his way into the lane.

In short, Sessions did exactly what the camp is intended to do for underclassmen. He had nothing to lose by coming, and now GM’s have an extended, first-hand impression of his game. Now Sessions needs to go back to school, and work on shoring up a few weak points that will keep him out of the first round in 2007.

Sessions decided to enter the draft anyway, and was selected in the 2nd round.  For all of you who think less of him since he played in the DLeague, he could have been a first rounder in 2008. 

From draftexpress again, this time in the dleague:

NBA D-League Showcase, Day Three
January 17, 2008
Sessions almost notched a triple-double today despite a disastrous 1 of 7 first half, but finished strong and lead his team to a 94-79 victory over the Albuquerque Thunderbirds.

Ramon dribbles effectively with both hands and can go either direction. Combine that with his quickness and you have a player who can get to the rim on just about any possession. In the fourth quarter he dribbled right into the paint and then did a quick change of direction and actually crossed a guy over and layed it in only a few feet from the basket – not an easy feat. He does a good job of setting up his teammates and threw a pretty no-look pass to Nick Fazekas in transition that just barely got tipped or would have lead to an easy basket.

Defensively he does a good job keeping his hands up and chasing his man around. He rotates well and was excellent when it came to cutting his man off from driving and funneling him towards the bigs, showing that his quickness translates well to lateral movement as well.

NBA D-League Showcase, Day Four
January 18, 2008

...Sessions plays hard on the defensive end and rebounds the ball extremely well for a guard his size. The rookie shows great strength with his upper body and uses this as a defensive asset against bigger guards.

Las Vegas Summer League Day Two
July 13, 2008
Sessions looked like an NBA player today. The experience he got late in the season has done wonders for him. He plays with a ton of poise, and was almost too effective today. On far too many occasions he got in the lane and dropped a quick pass to a teammates only for it to deflect off their hands out of bounds. With essentially no other players with a season of NBA experience on the roster, Sessions will probably experience his fare share of frustration this week. His passing ability is a nice contrast to what Mo Williams brings to the table in Milwaukee. This setting makes it hard for him to showcase his ability to protect the ball, but the sheer number of free throws he took is a testament to how he uses his body in traffic.

Las Vegas Summer League Day Five
July 16, 2008
Sessions had a great game today, carrying his team over Detroit in a defensive battle. He solidified his spot on the Bucks’ roster last season, and has been a standout all week here in Vegas. He’s got tremendous quickness and very good ball handling ability, allowing him to get into the lane at will. This game was just another instance of Sessions making a move at the top of the key and getting to the rim. Though he’s not going to play above the rim, he gets to the line at a high rate, and shows a lot of savvy attacking the basket. Sessions is a good rebounder for a point guard, and played solid defense throughout this game against Detroit’s lesser guards. Sessions has developed quite a bit since his days in the D-League, and given Milwaukee’s positive feelings about him, may get more playing time than most would expect.

Las Vegas Summer League Day Seven
July 19, 2008
Sessions once again looked great running the show for Milwaukee. His teammates are finally catching up to the speed that he plays at, and it shows in the box score. The young point man displayed great court vision today, and very consistent range on his jumper. He still needs to work on hitting the NBA three, but he proved capable of that during the regular season. If he can make that a regular part of his game, he would be thoroughly dominant on this level. Unlike last game, Sessions didn’t make a ton of trips to the line, finishing most of his drives to the rim with lay ups. Denver’s defense didn’t have an answer for him, and he did a great job constantly pushing the tempo by tracking down numerous long rebounds. The former Nevada player clearly turned a corner in his development near the end of the season, and this is the second time in recent memory that the Bucks have had a second-round point guard develop into a very good NBA player.

 

 

Now for some quotes from his NBA days:

From sportsnet.ca

An incredibly unselfish player who is always looking for his teammates. A gifted passer with long arms and excellent court vision. Can both run the break and set up effectively in the halfcourt. An improving shooter who has solid 3-point range and can score when teams overplay him.

You may be wondering: wait I thought he couldn't shoot?  Well, it turns out he's a decent 2-point jump shooter, ahead of guys like Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, and Peja Stojakovic (not to mention Sebastian Telfair and Baron Davis, but I digress).  He only took 34 three-pointers last year, but there's a couple explanations for this.  1) He's a better set-shooter than pull-up-and-jack-up-a-3 shooter.  2) It made more sense to set up his teammates, many of whom were good shooters.  98% of Charlie Villanueva's 3s were assisted.  That number is 95% for Michael Redd, 93% for Richard Jefferson and 83% for Charlie Bell (only players with 50+ attempts were listed on 82games.com).  And Sessions led the team in assists. 

As for the poor % he shot on 3s, brewhoop points out that most of his attempts were end-of-shot-clock situations.

Speaking of Brewhoop, let's hear what they have to say:

Sessions...is already a very productive NBA player at the age of 22.

Empty The Bench makes the well-reasoned case that Ramon Sessions should be on the Sophomore team at All-Star Weekend. John Hollinger also singles out Ramon as deserving, and Charles Gardner says Sessions was a snub too.

 

Sessions' versatility  A year ago we were marveling at Sessions' 24-assist effort against the Bulls.  A week ago he was scoring at will against the Pistons.  Tonight it was back to more of the old school Ramon, as he simply took what the Pacers gave him en route to another extremely productive line.

Unlike the previous two games, Indiana came prepared to help on defense against Sessions' penetration.  So Ramon did what any good point guard would do: find his open teammates and pile up a ton of dimes.  Sessions took just six shots (making half) but again did damage from the line (9/13) in addition to grabbing seven boards. 

In four February games, Sessions is now averaging 26.0 ppg and 10.5 apg while shooting .547 from the field and getting to the line 14 times/game.  Damn.

Just a week after lighting the Pistons up for 44 in Milwaukee, Sessions was a marked man in Detroit.  The Pistons were not surprisingly much quicker to help Allen Iverson on defense this time around, but Sessions was fairly patient despite having an off night from the field (6/17 fg).  He couldn't get his floater to go, but as we've seen a number of times he helped in other departments.  Aside from his 17 points, Sessions hauled down nine boards and handed out seven assists with just one turnover. 

It also seemed like the Bucks made a concerted effort to have the ball out of Sessions hands more often, relying more on ball movement and perimeter handoffs to prevent Sessions from having to do his one-man wrecking crew act all night long.  Bell also brought the ball up a number of times in the late going, allowing Sessions to save some energy.  Oh, and like a week ago Sessions easily outshone his fellow sophomore point--Rodney Stuckey had just three points on 1/6 fg before fouling out in 31 minutes."

I just liked how Sessions managed the pace of the game.  The Bucks seemed to be looking to run at every opportunity early, perhaps realizing that a halfcourt game doesn't work well for a team without an inside presence or a consistent ability to make contested shots.   Sessions was making consistently good decisions even without having to shoulder much of the scoring load himself (4/11 fg, 13 pts), and threatened a triple double (eight boards, seven assists) in just 28 minutes.  In contrast, his all-star counterpart Harris managed less than half his average--10 pts (3/11 fg) compared to 22.4 ppg coming in."

...for me he's the Bucks' most enjoyable player to watch.

Equally adept at finishing in the paint or setting up teammates, he managed to consistently stuff the box score after Bogut, Redd and Ridnour went down.  It seems like the scouting reports don't want to admit it, but he's a sneaky good athlete who can finish at the rim or drop in 5-10 foot floaters.  He also improved defensively and flourished when the Bucks were forcing turnovers and getting out in transition...Sessions should have played more early in the season, but Skiles' preference for the low-risk (and low-reward) Ridnour meant he didn't really find his stride until the last few months of the season.  But when he did--wow.  The kid had some terrific games and left little doubt that he can be a quality starter...As an Arenas rule restricted free agent, the Bucks can match any offer Sessions gets and he can't be offered more than the MLE (probably around $5.8 millionish) as a first year salary.  I would say bringing him back would be the main priority this offseason

Lets' start our rundown of the 08/09 (and look ahead to 09/10) with the backcourt.  You'd think trading an "all star" like Mo Williams for, um, Luke Ridnour and losing Redd for half the season would kill the backcourt, but it didn't really happen.  Per 82games, the Bucks actually had the 12th-best PER differential at the point guard position and the 11th best at the shooting guard spot. That's a huge improvement at the point over last year, when they were the worst team in the league at defending the PG position.
The two obvious reasons for the Bucks improvement are Scott Skiles and Ramon Sessions. Skiles brought the Bucks the sort of defensive accountability we haven't seen since...well, before I started following the team in 1992.  And while it took Skiles a while to give Sessions the minutes he deserved, he got around to it much earlier than Larry Krystkowiak.

From Hardwood Paroxysm:

Sessions has so much blackout speed I have to remind myself to watch him when he has the ball because half the time he scores when I'm not looking.

From John Hollinger:

Ramon Sessions (restricted, Milwaukee)
There are a few reasons why the Bucks didn't give a qualifying offer to Charlie Villanueva, but one is that it's good poker. By sending a signal to the market that Sessions is the guy they want to keep, the Bucks effectively precluded anyone from making a strong offer to try to wrest him away in free agency and thus almost certainly lowered his final price.
He's worth it, too. Sessions can't make 3s and needs the ball in his hands to be successful, but he's a deft passer who can also score around the rim. Last season, he averaged 18.8 points and 8.3 assists per 40 minutes, and did it efficiently, as he had the ninth-best turnover ratio among point guards. He's also an effective rebounder (5.0 boards per 40 minutes) and rated 13th among point guards in PER.
Best of all, he's only 23. Considering all the veteran point guards getting attention this summer despite presenting far greater risk because of their ages (Jason Kidd, Andre Miller), it's puzzling to see Sessions virtually ignored.

It certainly seemed like a healthy Bucks team was headed in the right direction this year, but any further improvement will rely on the Bucks' ability to stay healthy, retain at least Ramon Sessions...

Ramon Sessions (Milwaukee, WI) Hey John, rumor is I'm going to be traded to the Clippers. Have you heard anything?

John Hollinger: There's a different rumor every hour with Sessions. I'll stay calm until something actually comes to fruition. I'll say this though -- if Milwaukee manages to keep Sessions they might be better than people think.

Mike (Illinois) Any chance the Bucks are better than last year? Or are they going to fight for the ping pong balls?


John Hollinger: I think they could contend for a playoff spot if they keep Sessions, but that doesn't seem likely. Without him it's ping-pong city.

Andy (DC-Metro) Who is the player or team that no one is talking about that is on your radar screen? Please dont say Durant or THunder- I'm already driving that bandwagon with Simmons riding shotgun

John Hollinger: Player -- Ramon Sessions. Most underrated player in the league. Will be a big-time pick up for the team that lands him. As for teams, I think the consensus is largely accurate right now, but there's one quasi-surprise team I'm keeping my eye on pending future moves this summer.

Just for the heck of it, a couple comments from Truehoop readers:

dalton46sd:

Plus he can hit the three just doesnt shoot it. Trust me i live in milwaukee and am a diehard bucks fan and watched him during shoot arounds and such and i can testify that he can shoot the ball.

leroyjw1027:

I would love to find out how many players in the history of the NBA have had individual games of 40+ points, 20+ assists and a triple-double within their first 100 career games.

And finally, to reinforce my point, from scoresreport.com:

3. Ramon Sessions, PG (23)
PER: 17.65
Regular readers know that I love this guy. I'm a Bucks fan so I see more of their games than the average NBA fan. Trust me - Sessions is flying under the radar. Normally, I think the Bucks would match any offer up to the mid-level exception, but now that they drafted Brandon Jennings, they may deem it too much to pay for a backup point guard. But Sessions is no backup. Jennings is a few years away from being a dominant player, and there's no guarantee he'll develop, so the Bucks would be wise to keep the 23-year-old Sessions around. He had the 13th-highest PER amongst all point guards, and the 5th-highest amongst all point guards under the age of 26. Moreover, his +/- numbers are the best on the team for anyone who played more than 1200 minutes. I definitely think that's worth the mid-level. The Grizzlies, Hawks and Blazers might be willing to pay more, who knows.
Value: $5.5 - $6.5 million per year

 

Ok now for the stats portion.

Click on this link.  It's a post by Clipperblog's own Kevin Arnovitz.  (btw, it seems like ages ago that no one was talking about Ramon Sessions)

The Best Free Agent Nobody is Talking About

Arnovitz brings up a few good points and the Dan D'Antoni video is interesting, but one thing stands out the most to me, particularly because we're now on the subject of statistics:

2008-09 PER as Point Guard: 20.6

PER as point guard.

Most people here know that he only started half his games last year.  But people forget that he frequently played shooting guard, which is definitely not his natural position (check the quotes above, they all compliment him as a pass-first PG).

(btw for those of you unfamiliar with PER, it basically "summarize[s] a player's statistical accomplishments in a single number".  So if you even consider statistics like points or rebounds in your analysis of a player, then you can't really bash PER.  I, personally, happen to love it.)

So, when he played PG, he recorded a 20.6.  How good is 20.6?  Good enough for 23rd best in the entire NBA.  Or how about 6th among point guards? 

Oh, by the way, no PG in the top 18 in PER has less than 4 years of professional experience! (Derrick Rose is #19).  The only players in the top 18 who aren't at least 2 years older than him are #1 Chris Paul and #9 Rajon Rondo.  In fact the only players in the top 50 in PER who are younger than Sessions are Kevin Durant, Andrew Bynum, and Kevin Love.

Other stats to chew on:

Using "as PG" numbers, Sessions averaged, per 48 minutes in 2008-09:

21.4 points (16th among PGs)

11.5 assists (7th in NBA)

6.5 rebounds (5th among PGs)

3.19 assist/turnover ratio (6th in NBA)

In 2008-09, he averaged more points, assists, and rebounds, scored more efficiently, and had less turnovers and fouls than his PG opponent counterpart.  Speaking of his opponents, he held opposing PGs to a 14.1 PER and opposing SGs to a 14.3 PER (15 is average).

 

Ramon Sessions was Milwaukee's MVP, according to wins produced.

From the truehoop link, his 2-year adjusted +/- stat is 5th best among PGs.

Or if you like obscure statistics, the Bucks shot 8.5 more free throws per 100 possessions when he was on the court (highest in the NBA).

I don't really have a conclusion, but I think I've offered enough evidence to support that he's worth the mid-level exception.

Final note:

Now I know that all I set out to do was prove he was worth the midlevel, but while I'm here I might as well throw out a couple more things to convince you that the Clippers should indeed sign him (and, like I've said/implied, if it requires the mid-level to keep him away from the Knicks, then so be it).

Both of those things revolve around Baron Davis.  Think about it, if we didn't have Baron, we'd have thrown a ton of money at Sessions already.  There's no way we go into the season with Telfair starting (and, presumably, Mike Taylor backing him up).  Anyway, back to BD.  I don't care what you think about him, whether you like him or not, whether you think he'll regain his mojo this year, etc.  None of that should matter when considering Sessions.  And here's why:

Baron Davis is 30 years old.  Baron Davis is injury prone.  Yes, he may play well this year.  But how long do injury prone point guards last?  Hell, even the non-injury-prone PGs (Billups, Kidd, Nash) found a way to play without being very athletic.  Can Baron do that?  How long until he completely breaks down? 3 years? 4?  I bring this up because no matter how optimistic you are about the Clippers, there is 0 chance they compete for the title for at least 3 years, when Griffin and Gordon start hitting their primes.  If we keep Davis, the best case scenario is he holds up for the length of his contract and produces all 4 years.  And maybe the Clippers somehow reach the Conference Finals (probably losing to the Thunder).  Then what?  Do we sign Baron Davis to an extension?  At 34 years old, while the rest of the core is 10 years younger?  "No," you're thinking, "of course we'll find some sort of PG to lead us between now and then."  But who?  What top-15 NBA PG will leave their team to come to the Clippers at 6 million a year?  In 4 years, Sessions will have just turned 27, and will be in the middle of his prime.  And as a Bird Exception, we'd be able to sign him to an extension without worrying about the cap (assuming we're able to sign EJ and BG to extensions)

The other point I want to make is that even while Davis is playing (and starting presumably), Sessions would get more than the 10-15 minutes the backup PG gets.  He had a 16.8 PER while playing SG, 15th best among SGs.  And like I said before, he held opposing SGs to a 14.3 PER.  In fact his total PER of 17.65 in 2008-09 was better than any of the Clippers' guards' PERs last year (yes, I'm including Butler).  So instead of waiting for Sessions to eventually take over the starting PG job, he would actually be producing from the beginning.

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