For almost every NBA player, the success of their career ends up being some combination of their own skill and a large helping of luck. Luck to avoid or suffer injuries. Fortunate to play with good teammates or stuck in losing situations. Perhaps most importantly for role-player level talents is how well their skills fit the era.
As the game changes over time, different things have become more or less valued. In the ultra physical later 90s and early 2000s defense and toughness often predominated over skill, especially shooting. A player who could stroke it, but maybe wasn’t the biggest was perceived to be an untrustworthy liability. The offensive production of the era was…poor:
The trough from around 1999 to 2004 was the low point of this exaltation of brawn over brains and of “toughness” over basketball talent. Almost inevitably some players who would succeed in a more offense friendly environment were cast aside. For example:
Trajan Langdon was one of the great college shooters of the 1990s at Duke. He got essentially one full season in the NBA before injuries and the era itself saw him go overseas for a highly successful career in Italy, Turkey and Russia. While in europe, he won two Euroleague titles, numerous domestic competitions in all three countries and was named to the Euroleague All-Decade team for the 2000s. All-in-all a pretty good career. But had he come along just a few years later, would things have been different? Quite possibly.
During his best season in 2000-2001, Langdon attempted 53% of his shots from “MoreyBall” friendly locations, either at the rim or beyond the three point line. This saw him register a robust 56.1% TS% in 1,116 minutes played. A guy who could do that might, with a little luck, get paid $6.5 million per year, give or take, today:
This isn’t to argue Langdon would definitely or even likely have had a season like Meeks did last year, where Jodie put up a TS% of over 60. That said, is it so hard to imagine that in the modern NBA, where his major skill has been selling for a lofty premium in free agency, Langdon could not have felt the right team and system which allowed him to have a long and successful (or at least longer and more successful) NBA career?
(And yes this whole post is just an blatant attempt to jack up the value of Alaskan basketball after the amnesty of Carlos Boozer and the vitriol directed at Mario Chalmers for his NBA Finals performance.)
The shot charts in this post is the work of our own Austin Clemens. Check out shot charts for any NBA player going back to the 1996-1997 season here.