Eyes on Gary Neal and Local Water from Deep | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Eyes on Gary Neal and Local Water from Deep

Updated: July 8, 2015

[Image via USA Today Sports; 2013 NBA Finals]

[Image via USA Today Sports; 2013 NBA Finals]

The Wizards have had their eye on Gary Neal ever since he left the Spurs in 2013 after three successful seasons. Undrafted in 2007, the Baltimore native who split time in college between La Salle University and Towson (an hour’s drive north of the Verizon Center), cut his professional basketball teeth overseas in Turkey, Spain, and Italy over three seasons before joining San Antonio in 2010. The Spurs have always had an eye for talent playing overseas, and Neal used his ability to hit shots in their system of ball movement to curate a career in the NBA—as a journeyman. The Wizards will be his fourth team in the past three seasons.

During his time with the Spurs, Neal shot 39.8 percent from 3-point land, ranked 11th-best in the NBA over those three seasons (amongst players with 250 or more makes, per Basketball-Reference.com). Jared Dudley’s 3-point percentage (39.7%) ranked 12th-best in the NBA from 2010 to 2013. Washington, now with Neal and Dudley on the roster, hopes to deliver dialed-in deep threats in any rotation, as both shooters could be featured alongside John Wall in 2015-16. (1)

Neal is the consummate role player à la the utility infielder that Randy Wittman likes to call Garrett Temple. Except Neal packs more of an offensive punch and can more reliably shoot the ball—always key—as well as guard positions 1-thru-3. His career 12.8 Assist Percentage (percentage of teammate field goals a player assisted while on the court) ranks just above the likes of Temple (11.0), Paul Pierce (11.9), and Nene (12.0) for the Wizards last season. That is, he’s a scorer off the bench, but not the obscene chucker-type that has previously caught the eye of Wizards management (Nick Young, Jordan Crawford, etc.). Neal isn’t a defensive stopper at 6-foot-4 with a 6-foot-5 wingspan, but he won’t get you beat on every play. He’s not as wiry as Temple, certainly much, much better than Martell Webster, and more stout than Ramon Sessions. Neal is along the lines of Wizards guards not named John Wall or Bradley Beal who can play multiple position, a tactic by design of team management.

Neal’s hot shooting in the 2013 NBA Finals (which resulted in a temporarily devastating Spurs loss to the Miami Heat, despite Neal’s 14-for-30 from deep), is what initially intrigued Milwaukee the following offseason. San Antonio withdrew their $1.1 million qualifying offer to Neal after instead signing Marco Belinelli for two-years and $6 million that summer, also thinking that Neal would be too expensive for their salary cap-conscious ways. Matthew Tynan of Spurs blog 48 Minutes of Hell, in assessing Neal versus Belinelli, relayed below-the-surface concerns that San Antoino also might have had:

“Yet there was a tangible disconnect at times between [Neal] and Gregg Popovich. His sometimes undisciplined style and below-average defensive acumen drew the ire of the coaching staff and fans alike, especially during last season’s shooting slump. Behind the scenes, Neal was hurt. Most of his nights following a game during the 2012-13 season were spent wrapped in ice, yet he continued to play through most of the injuries.”

Neal signed for the same amount as Belinelli to play in Milwaukee, but his time with the Bucks was short-lived and a bad memory. He spent 158 minutes playing with Brandon Knight to the tune of minus-17.9 per 48 minutes, 143 minutes with O.J. Mayo (minus-32.8), 141 minutes with Luke Ridnour (minus-15.6), and 255 minutes with Nate Wolters (minus-2.5). Not backcourt combinations that would be featured on a pairing menu.

Neal also clashed in early-January 2014 with then-Bucks star Larry Sanders (who’d signed a four-year, $44 million contract before that season). After a loss in Phoenix, Neal was overheard by the media yelling at Sanders, “I earn my money. Why don’t you try it?” About a year later, Sanders was waived and bought out of the remainder of his contract; he is now out of the NBA. Sanders’ mental state aside, he wasn’t a good teammate. It’s a positive that Neal wasn’t afraid to speak up, even if the public nature of the confrontation could have involved more tact. The situation in Washington should be different, one would suspect. The Bucks thus became desperate to trade Neal just short of seven months after signing him. Neal lasted 30 games in Milwaukee before being sent, along with the very trade-able Luke Ridnour, to Charlotte in exchange for moving deck chairs Jeff Adrien and, you guessed it, Ramon Sessions.

Neal increased his 36 percent 3-point shooting with the Bucks to 40.6 percent over 22 games with Charlotte. The Bobcats, fueled by two shooters in Neal and Ridnour over one perimeter player in Sessions, finished 18-9 after the trade, securing the 7-seed in the playoffs and a first-round date with the Miami Heat. Charlotte put up a fight in their second playoff appearance in 10 seasons but was swept 4-0 by Miami. Neal shot 4-for-18 (22.2%) in the 2014 playoffs and started the next season shooting poorly from deep as well—29.3 percent over 43 games with Charlotte in 2014-15.

That subpar play combined with an injury to Kemba Walker last season put Neal on the move again. Charlotte sought more point guard help and acquired Mo Williams, along with Troy Daniels, via trade with the Timberwolves in exchange for Neal and a 2019 second round pick. It was initially suspected that Flip Saunders would waive Neal after that February 10, 2015, trade, and the Wizards at that juncture were ready to pounce. But that’s not the direction Washington’s ex-coach, now coach and team president of Minnesota, went. He saw Neal as a veteran rental helping the Timberpups grow. Neal averaged a career-high 23.8 minutes over 11 games with Flip’s team and brought his long distance shooting back up to 35.5 percent. Neal’s 15.1 PER during that small sample size in Minny was also a career-high. Having lost out on the ability to pick up Neal, the Wizards instead traded for Sessions just over a week later. Now they have both long-time guard targets.

The Wizards this summer are filling gaps with veterans, shooting veterans, and there’s hardly a complaint. It’s cheap to kick the tires on Neal, who will turn 31 in October, for one season and the bi-annual exception of $2.1 million. Team owner Ted Leonsis has also long been tickled by the idea of connecting with the community via players who have local ties. Neal checks that non-basketball-related box. Basketball-wise, it’s all about rekindling the consistent system of ball movement that Neal thrived under in San Antonio. Check out the pre- and post-Spurs differences in his shooting from key areas on the floor:

San Antonio (2010-13)

Field Goal Percentage (Percentage of All FGAs):

  • Corner 3-Pointers – 42.9% (9.4%)
  • Above the Break 3s – 39.1% (34.6%)
  • Midrange – 44.9% (31.2%)

Milwaukee, Charlotte, Minnesota (2013-15)

Field Goal Percentage (Percentage of All FGAs):

  • Corner 3-Pointers – 32.6% (4.7%)
  • Above the Break 3s – 34.6% (30.6%)
  • Midrange – 41.1% (40.5%)

Not only did Neal’s shooting percentages go down across the board after leaving San Antoino, but his rate of 2-point attempts from midrange went up (by 9.3%!), while he took less 3-pointers overall from both spots. Sure, the Wizards also love the midrange, but that area is normally reserved for the in-game decision-making of John Wall and Bradley Beal. Those other, non-Spurs teams more relied on Neal’s ability to work off the dribble, which he can do on occasion but that’s not his expertise. Neal shot 38.2 percent on pull-up attempts last season, per NBA.com (2), and 38.5 percent on catch-and-shoot attempts. With the Wizards, Neal should thrive as a spot-up shooter first—The John Wall Effect—and be a threat on offense in other ways second.

Chalk Neal up as another “Going Home” NBA free agent signing—if LaMarcus Aldridge can go home to Dallas via San Antonio, then Neal can certainly get to Baltimore via D.C. (and maybe Kevin Durant to Seat Pleasant one day). Neal gets a chance to revitalize his own career by buying local and drinking from the Fountain of Wall. He also gets to be part of a much-anticipated behavioral transformative state of the Wizards. Packaged with the acquisitions of Dudley and the latest, Alan Anderson, the Wizards are deeper at the swing-wing position than ever, showing a true, roster construction commitment to surrounding Wall with the right type of players, and forming a squad primed to play the way of the new NBA.

  1. Fun Fact: Neal and Wall both made the NBA’s 2010-11 All-Rookie first team.
  2. For reference, Bradley Beal shot 34.9 percent on pull-ups last season and 36 percent the season prior—that needs to improve.
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Kyle Weidie
Founder / Editor / Reporter / Writer at TAI
Kyle founded TAI in 2007 and has been weaving in and out the world of Wizards ever since, ducking WittmanFaces, jumping over G-Wiz, and avoiding stints on the DNP-Conditioning list. He has covered the Washington pro basketball team as a member of the media since 2009. Kyle currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with his wife, loves basketball, and has no pets.