Evaluating Darius Songaila in 2008-09
Darius Songaila, the coaches dream and a consummate teammate. I’ve made no secret that he’s been one of my favorite Wizards (if not ‘#1’) over the past couple of seasons … perhaps to the point where I’ll one day purchase a D-Song customized Wiz jersey and appear on Straight Cash Homey.net (although I’m not exactly the jersey wearing type). Songaila will undoubtedly be missed after being traded to Minnesota just prior June’s draft. But at least I can rest a little more comfortably now that he’s been moved to a good team in the New Orleans Hornets, where his contributions will be appreciated.
Songaila was unjustly criticized more than any other Wizard. Sure he was slow, white, and non-athletic … you know, the traits people only judge with a glance without digging below the surface. However, most who closely follow the Wizards realized the level of Songaila’s professionalism, leaving his detractors looking like an uneducated bunch.
Statistical critics will point to Songaila’s porous rebound numbers. And yes, for a 6’9″ bruiser, a dirty-working tough guy, they were far below where we would have liked them to be. His 5.4 rebounds/36 minutes last year was a career low, finishing below every Wizards big man, and a mere 0.3 points above Javaris Crittenton.
In the Basketball-Reference.com database, since TRB% (an estimate of the percentage of available rebounds a player grabs while he is on the floor) started being kept in ’70-71, only 14 players 6’9″ or taller have had seasons where they averaged between 19 and 20.6 minutes per game (Songaila = 19.8); less than 5.5 rebounds/36; and had a TRB% less than nine. The list ranges from your “non-big” bigs like James Worthy and Clifford Robinson (at age 40), to your traditional stiffs like James Edwards, Jarron Collins, Brian Scalabrine and Matt Freijie, to a big like Antoine Carr who was more concerned with scoring than anything else, to some cats you’ve probably never heard of before.
Despite all the textbook boxing out in the world, Songaila’s rebounding numbers cannot be massaged to make him look good. Still, you can’t knock the guy’s fundamentals, heart, and hustle. If the ultimate goal on defense is to get the other team to miss shots, well, Songaila did that. In his three years in Washington (’06-07 to ’08-09), his Net FG% Allowed numbers were -1.9%, -2.7%, and -2.1% respectively [via 82games.com].
What Songaila did do well was willingly make the extra pass, never try to play outside himself, and was always ready for duty, whether it meant a starting role or spot minutes. In 08-09, Darius often played out of position at center, much to the chagrin of some Wizards fans. But with injuries, what other option was there? Sure Dwight Howard ate D-Song alive, as he did with pretty much anyone else in the league. But it was Songaila’s veteran savvy, use of leverage, and willingness to stick his nose in the middle of the scrum, that most slowed down players like Howard, putting his teammates with much more athletic ability to shame.
Perhaps the basketball skill that Songaila brought most to the table was his ability to hit long range jumpers, making him valuable in almost any offense. In 08-09, 57% of his attempts were jumpers, of which he hit 46% with a whopping 87% being assisted upon [via 82games.com].
It says a lot that a role player like Songaila played an integral part in at least three wins (if not more) in a 19 win season … tough D on Rasheed Wallace and a big fourth quarter bucket in game 19 against the Pistons, 19 points on 8-9 FGs in a March win against his temporary team, Minnesota, and of course Songaila’s ‘White Knight’ game in the biggest win of the season.
It says even more that vets like Brendan Haywood and Antawn Jamison took time to publicly praise Songaila after he was traded. That Steve Buckhantz pegged Songaila to be an All-Star … if he only had the body of Kwame Brown. That Caron Butler dubbed Songaila the team All-Star off the bench (even though he started 29 games).
It speaks volumes that in a season which got worse as time progressed, while Songaila’s post All-Star break numbers got better (PPG +62% to 9.9, RPG +42% to 3.7, FG% +16% to .581), no matter what I write, I still don’t feel I can do justice to what the guy meant to the team.