Gary Neal in the Old/New Year — A Wizards Preview Series | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Gary Neal in the Old/New Year — A Wizards Preview Series

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Updated: November 3, 2015

[TAI’s preview/review series on the Wizards going forward with a look-back on those who graced the team in the past season continues. First up was Kevin Seraphin; then Paul Pierce; Alan Anderson; Otto Porter; Kris HumphriesRasual Butler; Ramon Sessions; Andre Miller; Kelly Oubre, Jr.; and Nenê. Now: Gary Neal, by Bryan Frantz. Read on…]

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It would be wrong to call Gary Neal a hometown hero, local legend, or any of the other fun, alliterative terms we like to use in sports movies. But Neal, of Maryland’s Aberdeen High School and Towson University, is certainly getting back in touch with his roots these days.

The Wizards held part of their training camp at Towson this fall, and for the 31-year-old guard who has been on four teams in the past three seasons, the idea of playing close to a place he once considered home is obviously appealing.

Neal debuted in the league at age 26 and made his bones under Gregg Popovich, playing a key role off San Antonio’s bench for three seasons, including a run to the NBA Finals in 2013. He was named to the All-Rookie 1st Team for the 2010-11 season, along with John Wall (nearly six years his junior), Blake Griffin, DeMarcus Cousins, and Landry Fields, and ahead of players such as Paul George and Eric Bledsoe.

After leaving the Spurs in the summer of 2013, Neal bounced around from the Bucks to the Bobcats/Hornets to the Timberwolves. On the surface, many of his numbers haven’t deviated much from his time in San Antonio — points, rebounds, assists, and steals per game have been relatively consistent his entire career, no matter what uniform he’s wearing.

Now, on a well-constructed team with postseason expectations and conference title aspirations, Neal has a clearly defined role as a combo guard off the bench who will be asked to relieve both Wall and Bradley Beal at times. He seems primed for a modest but successful year, one in which he might put up 15-to-20 points a handful of times but will only be expected to score 7-to-10 on any given night.

His offensive efficiency since leaving San Antonio hasn’t been nearly good enough to mitigate his subpar defense—99.4 Offensive Rating and 108.2 Defensive Rating in 2013-14, 98.7 OffRtg and 102.9 DefRtg in 2014-15—but he was potent in the artistic masterpiece known as the Spurs offense. His 110.0 OffRtg as a rookie was substantially higher than what any Wizard put up last season (Beal’s 104.7 was the highest), and he topped that in his second season with 110.4. He returned to Earth in his third and final season under Pop, scoring a modest OffRtg of 105.4. Of course, much of that is due to superior team offense; the Spurs’ OffRtg was second in the league in Neal’s rookie year, first the next season and seventh his third year.

But in his two seasons away from San Antonio, Neal hasn’t been nearly as efficient. He’s struggled to find his shot—his effective field goal percentage was .521 with the Spurs, .462 with the Bucks, .442 with the Hornets/Bobcats, and .481 with the Timberwolves—and his win shares per 48 minutes dropped from .086 with the Spurs to -.012 with the Bucks, .041 with the Hornets/Bobcats, and .080 with the Timberwolves (albeit in just 12 games). That seems to be the case with Neal: He can thrive as a role player on a good team who doesn’t ask too much of him, but as soon as he’s taken out of his comfort zone, his efficiency plummets and he struggles to create his own shot.

So what to make of Neal in the District, on a new team that features a new offense and easily the best backcourt Neal has ever backed up? Well, perhaps a good way to look at the Wizards’ offseason makeover, and their vision for Neal, is to isolate the transition away from Kevin Seraphin as a point-getter on the second unit.

Seraphin was a role player big man, a body to come in for 20 minutes a game, grab rebounds, put up a few points, pick up a few fouls, and give Marcin Gortat and Nene a breather. He was not an efficient scorer, with an OffRtg of just 98.6, and his defense was lackluster. In fact, Seraphin was dead last in both OffRtg and DefRtg among the 10 Wizards who played at least 700 minutes last season, including every big man except DeJuan Blair.

Now take him off the roster and replace him with Neal. Neal is a role player guard, a guy who can come in for 18-to-20 minutes a game, knock down 3s, play with the ball in his hands or off the ball, and give Wall and Beal a breather. While Seraphin could (more than willingly) score points in bunches, he was also a ball-stopper; Neal is expected to still score in bunches, but not be so much of a clog in the drain.

The Wizards will need him to knock down triples like he did during his first two seasons in the league, when he made 1.5 and 1.6 per game, respectively, at a .419 clip. As a rookie, Neal went 129-for-308 from 3-point range; compare that to Beal, who went 106-for-259 last season. The decline in Neal’s shooting proficiency in recent seasons is likely due more to the boost he got from a well-oiled offensive machine early on than from developing any sort of mechanical issues of his own.

He could easily regain that touch if he gets any meaningful minutes alongside Wall. As a rookie, 66 percent of his buckets were assisted on a Spurs team that moved the ball perhaps better than any team in the league. The next season was a bit unusual, as he was assisted on just 41.5 percent of his field goals—likely due to some combination of Tony Parker missing 22 games, Manu Ginobili missing 48 games, and George Hill being traded away (for Kawhi Leonard)—but it climbed right back up to 63.8 percent in 2012-13.

Since leaving San Antonio, Neal has been forced to create his own shot, something he, again, really shouldn’t be put in a position to do. Just 55.4 percent of his field goals were assisted in 2013-14, his first season away from the Popovich offense, and that number dropped to 43.1 percent in 2014-15.

It’s not perfect, but in a way it’s a microcosm of the Wizards’ shift in philosophy. The Wizards entered this season with five traditional big men, including two who are now popping treys on the regular, instead of six; they also opened the season with three combo guards who are expected to be a part of the regular rotation, compared to the one (Garrett Temple) they began last season with.

Neal and Ramon Sessions are very different players, but either can play the 1 or the 2, and both are much more productive offensively than Garrett is, at either position.

According to 82games.com, Neal played the 2 for six percent of Minnesota’s total minutes and 19 percent of Charlotte’s total minutes last season. He played a little bit at the 1 (two percent of total minutes) for Charlotte and briefly at the 3 for Minnesota, but he primarily played off the ball on two teams who were set at the 1. In 2012-13, Neal’s final season with the Spurs, he played 23 percent of their minutes at the 2 and 13 percent at the 1.

Sessions, in his roughly third of a season in Washington, played nine percent of the team’s minutes at the 1 and four percent at the 2. When he played the 2, it was generally with Wall at the 1. Andre Miller was almost exclusively a 1 and Temple was almost exclusively a 2.

What the Wizards have now instead of a reserve backcourt of Miller and Temple is an interchangeable pool of guards who can play on or off the ball with nearly equal comfort. The cost to obtain that was a player who could play either the 4 or 5 adequately—just like Nene, Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair can.

How successful Neal is this season will likely come down to Randy Wittman and the offensive game plan. If Neal is used in a role like the one he thrived in with the Spurs, playing next to a ballhandler (Sessions can be Manu Ginobili or George Hill for this exercise), he should be a valuable asset to the bench unit. If he is asked to create the offense for the second unit and set up his teammates, he could find himself on the trading block within a few months.

Best Moment.

To Gary’s Wikipedia

gary-neal-wikipedia

Moving on…

Worst Moment.

When you play for two teams that combine to go 49-115, as the Hornets and Timberwolves did last season, and you’re not bringing guns into the locker room or committing acts of knuckleheadery, it’s tough to really mess up that much. Nevertheless, Neal struggled with his shot last season, but never more so than mid-December.

It was a miserable holiday season for Neal, who shot just 35.1 percent from the field and 25.0 percent from 3-point range in December. But perhaps his worst two-game stretch of the season came right at the time of Ol’ Saint Nick’s visit. Neal went 0-for-9 (including 0-for-5 from beyond the arc) on Dec. 23, then in Charlotte’s next game, on Dec. 26, Neal managed just 1-for-8 shooting.

Neal followed those clunkers with a 3-for-9 game and a 2-for-8 game, and his next few weeks continued in that pattern. He wouldn’t shoot even .500 in a game again until Jan. 23, when he went 1-for-2. That’s a full month of shooting below .500. Not great, Gary. Not great at all considering he gets paid to do just one thing: shoot league average, at worst.

Curious Stat.

While researching Neal’s cold December, I happened upon a bleak trend: He really hates the heart of winter. Throughout his career, he seems to always struggle in the colder months, especially December and January. He’s played at least 45 games in each month from November to March, and he’s played 37 in April, so there’s certainly enough of a sample size to warrant attention,

  • November: 10.3 ppg, 102 OffRtg, .506 eFG%
  • December: 10.3 ppg, 101 OffRtg, .473 eFG%
  • January: 8.3 ppg, 90 OffRtg, .449 eFG%
  • February: 9.7 ppg, 100 OffRtg, .515 eFG%
  • March: 10.4 ppg, 108 OffRtg, .506 eFG%
  • April: 11.7 ppg, 111 OffRtg, .565 eFG%

Even his free-throw percentage, which is at least .846 in every other month, drops to .786 in January.

If Gary Neal were a type of food or an entire meal of food, he would be…

An Eggo waffle. Kind of bland, and nobody would ever mistake him for a nice, hearty Belgian waffle, but he’ll suffice in a pinch.

 

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Bryan Frantz
Reporter / Writer at TAI
Bryan is a D.C. native with a degree in something or other from UNC. He has important, interesting hobbies, but mostly he just weeps over D.C. sports teams. You can find him on the Metro, inevitably complaining about Red Line delays.