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Ze Freak - C'est Chic!

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By the way, Don at With Malice has decreed April 5th (yesterday) to be Unsung Player Day. I submitted this piece on Fazekas for that project, because few players are less sung than Nick Fazekas. Don't tell Don - but I would have written about him anyway.

It's becoming obvious, that despite an almost comical appearance on the court, Nick Fazekas can play.  I'm not sure if Mike and Ralph (aka Milph apparently) are stealing from me or I'm stealing from them, but, yes, he's effective despite appearances (Ralph) and, yes, he both rebounds and scores flat footed (Mike) an inordinate amount of the time.  

But he certainly seems to be making good things happen.  Furthermore, the team seems to play well when he's on the floor.

Still, we shouldn't have to depend entirely on what 'seems' to be nor (FSM forbid) on what Ralph and Mike tell us.  Is there any empirical evidence that Fazekas is playing well?

As it happens, there is.  A lot of it.

I mentioned his PER in the preview to the Seattle game.  Not surprisingly, in the two games since, arguably his best games as a pro, it's only gotten better.  His PER as a Clipper is up to 20.79 - better than Maggette now.  He's still only second best on the team - because now he's competing with the Elton Brand guy, who's at 23.94 after two games.  We've said before that PER is not the be all end all of metrics - and it's strength (that it measures a player's effectiveness relative to their opportunities taking into considerations playing time and a team's pace) is also one of it's flaws (when a player has logged as few minutes as Fazekas, the numbers tend to skew - Marcus Williams is also above 20).  But Fazekas has now played enough that he's not a complete fluke - though he could simply be on a really good roll.

So PER seems to verify that he is being productive.  What about my assertion that the Clippers have played better with him on the floor.

In games where Fazekas has played 'real' minutes (i.e. I'm excluding garbage only appearances of 5 minutes of fewer, which tend to be unhelpful at any rate), he has an astoundingly good +/- rating.  In fact, in 11 non-garbage games this season, he is a net positive in 8 of them, a net negative in only 2, and a net zero in one.  That's good.  Considering that the Clippers LOST NINE of those games most by large margins, it's unbelievable.  

Opp +/- Min Game Margin
MIA +6 9 +1
ORL -6 13 -22
ATL +6 6 -24
WAS -8 24 -10
MIN +4 9 -9
POR +12 18 -5
POR 0 17 -11
DAL +6 16 -13
DAL +5 20 -7
SEA +17 18 +18
SAC +8 25 -12

It's also significant to note that his last net negative performance was March 15.  He's been consistently positive for the team for the last seven games he's played in.

He shoots a high percentage (59%).  He rebounds (16.4 rebounds per 48 minutes, a tick behind Kaman per minute at this point).  He is particularly good on the offensive board, where he gets almost 40% of his rebounds.  Put it this way - Fazekas has 26 offensive rebounds in 196 minutes this season.  Tim Thomas has 61 in 1866 minutes.   He's also blocking shots - 2.2 per 48 minutes.  And he scores without having plays run for him.  

This last item is perhaps the most surprising to me.  Often times, a college player from a smaller school can have a very difficult transition into the NBA.  Going from being 'The Man' to being a role player or a bench warmer is not easy.  When the Clippers signed him, based on his college career, I thought that we'd see a lot of pick-and-pop.  He's a big guy who shot from the perimeter a lot in college while averaging 20 points per game (and earning second team All-American honors).  Instead, he's taken precious few perimeter shots in LA.  He gets all of his points hanging around the basket, putting back misses, catching passes, and just generally being in the right place at the right time.

If you've played enough pick-up basketball, you've come across a guy like this.  While you're shooting for teams, he makes his free throw, and you miss intentionally because you don't want to get stuck with him.  The first time he beats you, you just know that all those shots he made were pure luck; he can't possibly do that again.  The second time he beats you, you start to realize that he can do some stuff, but you figure that as long as you stop taking him lightly, you can shut him down.  Three hours later, he's still on the court, and you realize, 'Damn, he can play the game.'

Not only that, he's also got a great name for nicknames.  I'm currently partial to Ze-Freak.  But Fazek the Freak is good to, as is Faz the Spazz.

It's not much fun having an injury-riddled season.  But one advantage is that it allows the opportunity for other players to step up.  It could be a starter who turns into a star (Kaman).  It could be a rookie who turns into a force (Thornton).  Or it could be a D-Leaguer who shows he belongs in the NBA.  Nick Fazekas belongs in the NBA.