The Randy Foye Point Guard Experience: Learning Under Flip
Ups and downs, lefts and rights, ins and outs. This has been a season of mixed results for Randy Foye. He’s gone from being a featured complimentary role player, to unchallenged starter after the suspension of Gilbert Arenas, to veteran on a mix-mashed team of youthful newcomers. The one constant surrounding Foye’s first season with the Wizards has been change.
If Andray Blatche is the longest tenured, active Wizard, that would make Randy fourth on the chart behind Nick Young and JaVale McGee. Foye is 20 months older than the former, 51 months older than the latter, and has played over 10-percent more minutes this season than the two combined. Randy started the year as the ninth oldest guy on the roster.
Ask anyone about Randy Foye the player and they will probably say something along the lines of, “Well, not really a point guard, not really a shooting guard,” and then politely follow with, “He’d make a nice combo guard off the bench for some team, perhaps playing alongside another play-maker.” This is probably the role envisioned for him from last June’s trade and into October’s training camp. PlayFoye alongside Gilbert Arenas or Mike Miller and watch the magic happen. The magic didn’t happen.
Randy’s early-on issues were only partially a result of his deficiencies as a player. He was trying to fit into a new system next to new teammates, who in turn, were trying to do the same themselves.
Foye started the season off great, scoring 19 points in the opening win in Dallas. He followed with a 17 point effort two games later, filling in as a starter for the injured Caron Butler in the Wizards’ home opener against New Jersey. Foye also started the seventh outing against Phoenix, two games after Mike Miller got hurt and one game after Nick Young was a dud in his chance to start for Miller.
But then came bouts of inconsistency, starting with an ankle injury November 10th against the Miami Heat. He only missed one game as a result, but spotty play continued into December, a month where his minutes dwindled to 14.3 per game. From December 1st to 18th, Foye saw less than eight minutes of action in seven games.
Late in 2009, Foye started five straight games alongside Gilbert Arenas with decent results. This, of course, is after Miller got injured again. Both Young and DeShawn Stevenson were given a try at starting, but because the team wasn’t winning, something had to change. And that something wasn’t going to affect the entrenched starters of Arenas, Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison and Brendan Haywood.
The New Year came and Foye was once again out of the starting lineup, this time in favor of a big Arenas-Butler-Jamison-Blatche-Haywood lineup. That didn’t last long. Things would drastically change days later when the team found out Arenas would be suspended indefinitely right before the January 6th game in Cleveland.
Earl Boykins started that game against the Cavaliers, but in every game since, Flip Saunders and Foye have been forced into a tumultuous marriage of coach and point guard.
Let’s pause to take a quick look at Foye’s season in terms of game-by-game Usage, Assist-Percentage and Turnover-Percentage [stats via Basketball-Reference.com]. And as a reminder, USG% is an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while he is on the floor; AST% is an estimate of the percentage of teammate field goals a player assists while he is on on the floor; and TOV% is an estimate of turnovers per 100 plays.
[Note: Black circles represent games Foye started before Arenas' suspension; click on the chart for a larger image; click here for the raw data.]
Ideally you want your AST% high, your TOV% low, and the USG% somewhere in the middle, although, for point guards, sometimes it’s okay if USG% is higher than AST%. It could mean you are scoring more or that the offense as a whole is running more efficiently and that other players are getting in on ball movement assists.
As you can see in the chart above, early on in the season when Foye’s role wasn’t as defined, he struggled. Was he supposed to be an additional scorer alongside others when the Wizards’ offense was struggling? Was he supposed to be a creator off the bench? He wasn’t always doing much of either and the combination of his skills at guard wasn’t always effective.
In his first seven games starting for Arenas (see the span represented by the thick green horizontal line), I wrote a pretty glowing post about how great Randy’s numbers were. Seven games later, I checked on Foye’s stats after a loss to Boston, he wasn’t doing so well. This continued into the next game, a horrible, effortless loss to the Knicks in New York — the eight-game time period represented by the thick red line.
But after that, starting with a win in Orlando, Foye started to slightly turn a corner, at least in terms of his assist to turnover ratios. And this was before Butler and Jamison were sent packing. Coincidentally the Wizards have gone 5-4 since Foye’s red horizontal line came to a halt.
For further observation, let’s take a look at Foye’s game-by-game assists and turnovers per 36 minutes.
Wow, these stats are great and the charts are pretty, but what do they mean for Randy?
The answer is … who knows?
Often times, including recently, you’ll see Flip Saunders on the sidelines, visibly frustrated with his court leader’s decision making, slapping the scorer’s table or stomping his feet as he looks back to the bench at his assistants after Randy has jacked an ill-advised shot or picked up his dribble when a play was still to be made. Randy has subtly expressed his frustrations as well. In fact, he was flat-out baffled about his playing time after the aforementioned February 1st loss to Boston.
“He plays the game right now very black and white. If you call a play, he’s looking at one option. He’s got get to where he sees multiple options over the course of the play. That’s something he will continue to have to work with. It becomes more of a problem as far as late-game situations because usually late in the game, they’re always going to take away your number one option, no question, because the intensity kicks in,” said Flip Saunders when I asked about Randy’s seemingly mediocre imprint on the February 22nd win against the Chicago Bulls, despite him having nine assists to only one turnover.
Flip admittedly rides his point guards hard, holding them to high expectations and standards in comparison to those he previously coached, including Chauncey Billups, Sam Cassell and Terrell Brandon.
When asked about Foye’s overall recent play after the last home game against the Knicks, Saunders said, “Inconsistent. I look at how a team operates from a plus/minus standpoint, how you run point guard more than anybody because of my expectations. He’s got to learn to play the game more gray than black and white. And that’s what he’s trying to learn how to do.”
After that Knicks game, a couple of us had an extended conversation with Randy about his play and learning the point under Flip.
Although he’s mostly played below expectations, or at least has made less progress as a fourth-year player than one would have hoped, Foye hasn’t been a complete disappointment. He’s learning and it shows … and as Ernie Grunfeld, Flip Saunders, and just about anyone else in the NBA will tell you, “It’s a process.”
Does any of this mean there’s true promise for Foye to be the franchise’s point guard of the future. Likely no. When I recently forced two colleagues to quickly answer the question of whether Randy should be back with the team next season, the return came up two ‘nays’. My third made it unanimous. That isn’t to say Foye can’t break through his reserve combo-guard ceiling. Chauncey Billups certainly bounced around before becoming a star.
With over 30-percent of the season left (25 games), there’s plenty of time for Foye to make his mark on the “process.” It’s just that it takes a long time to develop excellent point guard decision-making skills in the NBA. So expect that process to happen much later, if at all, rather than sooner.