If not Stuckey, then whom? We've talked about the free agent class, we've explored the trade options and determined that three possible upgrade opportunities may be available. The great Bearded Thundar has analyzed Darren Collison, which leaves Ramon Sessions and Jarrett Jack for evaluation. What is it that has earned Sessions the admiration of
Mike Payne stat-heads and die hards? Find out after the jump.
Part One: The History
On April 14th 2008, Ramon Sessions filled in for the injured Mo Williams against the Chicago Bulls. Sessions recorded 24 assists, 20 points and 8 rebounds in his 6th NBA start. I watched the game, and needless to say-- I was hooked. In case you haven't seen that performance, here is highlight footage of Sessions' play. Note the common assist partner in this game: Charlie Villanueva. Under Sessions' direction, Villanueva shot 8-12 from the field for 22 points.
Sessions was not expected to enter the 2007 NBA draft. He would have spent his senior year at Nevada before declaring, but his performance in the Pre-Draft Camp in Orlando wowed GMs and led him to declare a year early. Here's what Draft Express said of Sessions' play at the camp, before comparing him to a young Tony Parker:
"In a camp full of solid point guard play, it would be hard to argue that anybody fared better than Nevada underclassman Ramon Sessions. Sessions isn’t the most imposing athlete out there. He has decent quickness, but a slight frame, and was at an overall physical disadvantage against almost every point guard in the camp. Yet it was Sessions who put up the most impressive statistics (13 points per game, 13 total assists compared with just 1 lone turnover). He was able to get to the basket, and did as good a job as any point guard in the camp at creating for his teammates and running the offense."
Milwaukee drafted Sessions with the 56th pick in the 2007 draft, then sent him to the D-League for development while Mo Williams and Charlie Bell manned the minutes at the point for the Bucks. In two-and-a-half months in the D-league, Sessions averaged 21 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds and 2 steals per game across 24 games. In January of 2008, Sessions was called up to the Bucks and sat out with an injured wrist until joining the team on the court in March.
GMs had little interest in Sessions due to concerns about his athleticism, size/strength, shooting touch and ability to defend bigger players. This began the one constant in his NBA career: undervaluation. He was not considered NBA-ready by GMs, but proved himself to be worthy of a pick with his Pre-Draft performance. He was not considered ready by the Bucks, but then exploded in the D-League. When Mo Williams went down with an injury in April of 2008, Sessions earned the last 7 starts of the season. In that stretch, Sessions recorded 6 games with double digit assists, averaging 13 points, 13 assists and 2 steals on 47% shooting (with 40% from three). This included that 24-assist explosion against Chicago (which was followed by a 25/14/7/3 game two days later).
Going in to the 2008-09 NBA season, concerns about Sessions' game remained. He did not trust his jumper during his rookie season, attempting 11 shots per game while dishing out 13 assists. In terms of point guard purity, this makes Sessions as pure as it comes, but his shooting touch was still very suspect. Additionally, Sessions' bright play at the end of his rookie season came with some poor defensive performances on a team with zero defensive identity. Beyond Ramon's short stint, however, the Bucks were the worst team in the league in terms of opponent field goal percentage and 4th worst in point differential in 2008.
In contrast to his measurements pre-draft, Sessions now measured 2" taller and had put on muscle, measuring at 6'3" and weighing 190 pounds. Milwaukee still didn't feel that he was ready to start for 82 games, so the team signed Luke Ridnour to run the point. Yet Milwaukee showed that the concerns about Ramon's size were behind them, moving him to start at shooting guard after Michael Redd went down with an injury. In six starts at SG, Sessions scored 16 points per game leading Scott Skiles to switch-up his lineup and give Ramon Sessions the start at his natural position at the point.
Ironically, that first start at the point was on February 7th against the Detroit Pistons. Ramon scored 44 points on 72% shooting, dished out 12 assists and pulled down 5 rebounds. For many Pistons fans, this was our first introduction to Ramon Sessions. In that game and the 29 games that followed, Sessions averaged 15.1 points on 46% shooting and 8 assists per game. For the stat-heads: with Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut out, Sessions led his team in seasonal +/-, Roland Rating and was 2nd in PER and win shares and third in wins produced.
Like Tony Parker and Rodney Stuckey, Sessions is not an outside shooter and may never develop a 3-point game. While he has made some clutch shots from range (like this steal and buzzer beater against the Wizards), his game is almost entirely about penetration or jumpers within 10 feet. Of the 775 shots he attempted in 2008-09, 432 were layups at the basket, on which he converted at 52%. In the 2008-09 NBA season, Sessions proved himself as an apt defender and a true floor leader capable of managing an offense. His range, however, did not improve.
At the end of Sessions' contract, the Bucks had a big problem and a great opportunity. They entered the off-season just $1.9 million under the luxury tax-- and they had a high lottery pick in what could be one of the best point guard drafts in NBA history. Even matching Sessions' $16 million offer from Minnesota would have been problematic post-trades, especially when the Bucks had a chance at an immediate contributor with the 10th pick in the 2009 NBA draft.
In September of 2009, Sessions signed a $16 million contract with the Timberwolves. Sessions was signed as a veteran alternative behind the number five and six draft picks of 2009, point guards Johnny Flynn and Ricky Rubio. ESPN's John Hollinger had this to say of the signing:
"Sessions signed a four-year, $16 million offer sheet with Minnesota that the Bucks inexplicably elected not to match. This was the steal of the summer, people. Sessions is a rising star at the point who should provide the T'wolves with a major upgrade while bridging the gap until Jonny Flynn and/or Ricky Rubio are ready."
However, Sessions wasn't used to "bridge the gap", he was used as a backup, an insurance player while Minnesota focuses on the development of Johnny Flynn. The Timberwolves remain high on Flynn, whom they think has a higher ceiling than Sessions and the outside game Ramon may never develop. Sessions was used as a cross-positional backup, not employed as a distributor as often, and (like Kevin Love) had trouble grasping the triangle offense of coach Kurt Rambis. However, Sessions was one of three players who statistically made the team better on the court, as well as Love and Jefferson. You can bet that Sessions now regrets turning down offers from the Knicks, where he likely would have started the full season under Mike D'Antoni.
Part Two: The Opportunity
Minnesota is in dire need of help at the wing, a position Detroit is over-stacked with. Sessions is not a good fit in Minny, and it may not take much to pry him away. The price for Sessions is low but the opportunity is very, very high.
As stated, Ramon Sessions has a history of being under-valued, an underdog who clawed his way into the draft, fought through the D-League and excelled when given his minutes. He's the exact type of mis-understood player that makes GMs look brilliant, a no-name journeyman who has shown that he can excel in the right circumstances. Can you think of any NBA GM with a reputation for turning players like that into stars?
- Ramon Sessions
- Point Guard
- 190 lbs.
- 23 years old
- $12.8 million remaining on contract through 2013
Sessions has played like the "point guard of the future" we'd all hoped Rodney Stuckey would become. He's an excellent to-the-basket slasher, an efficient finisher and an apt distributor. When given starter's minutes at the point, he's averaged 14.7 points on 44.3% shooting, 8.4 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.4 steals in 47 games as a starter. He can play the point and the off guard on both ends of the floor, having developed a respectable defensive game upon committing himself under defensive stalwart Scott Skiles. Before the draft, Sessions was considered to a younger, less athletic version of Tony Parker, and the positive aspects of those comparisons remain today.
Here's a comparison between Ramon Sessions and Tony Parker at 22 (the year in which the Spurs defeated the Pistons in the NBA finals):
In even minutes, Sessions is a superior passer, rebounder and free throw shooter-- with Sessions actually earning more free throw attempts than Tony Parker. This is a particularly strong point in Sessions game, in that he excels at drawing contact and getting to the free throw line, better even than one of the league's most notorious referee darlings.
As mentioned above, Sessions has performed like the player we hoped Stuckey would become. The hope for Stuckey was that he would become a Tony Parker style player, a to-the-basket point guard who could penetrate and pass, draw contact and finish efficiently at the rim. In three seasons, Stuckey has shown to be a poor finisher at the rim (48-49% in the last two seasons), whereas Sessions finished between 52% and 54% in the same stretch. Sessions is clearly a superior passer and leader of an offense, averaging 3.5 more assists per game as a starter. In terms of drawing contact, Sessions drew two more foul shots per game than Stuckey in even minutes last year (in that 44-point game against Detroit, he attempted 21 free throws). Sessions achieves all this despite a physically inferior frame-- Ramon is two inches shorter and 15 pounds lighter than Stuckey, with clearly less muscle. Also, according to defensive rating stats and net production by position, Sessions is superior to Stuckey on defense.
We want Stuckey to be a better passer, to finish better at the rim, to shoot more efficiently across the board and to show he can actively lead an offense. He has still not taken those steps, and if this season was any indication, there are little to no signs for improvement in any of those categories. Sessions represents those upgrades out-of-the-box, proving he can dominate in the way we'd hoped Stuckey would.
Since Joe Dumars designed this team around the skill set of an improved Rodney Stuckey, Ramon Sessions would be a perfect fit in this system. A backcourt of Ramon Sessions and Ben Gordon could be deadly for a myriad of reasons. Like Stuckey, Sessions is a cross-positional guard, capable of guarding opposing 1's and 2's (and under Scott Skiles watch, no less). On defense, Ben Gordon can guard opposing point guards and Sessions can switch off on the 2 guard. On offense, Sessions' lack of an outside shot would be masked by Gordon, whose efficient 3-point shooting can sustain a backcourt alone. Sessions often passes by pulling defenders on to him and passing to an open 3-point shooter, as evidenced by the video at the top of this report. Gordon and Villanueva can park at the 3-point line all day, and Sessions will find a way to pull a defender and feed them the ball.
Speaking of Villanueva, he and Sessions have plenty of history, with Sessions accounting for countless CV baskets in 2008-09. When Villanueva was at his best last season, Sessions was running the point. In total, Sessions' cross-positional nature, style of play and history with our long-term players makes him an unusually ideal fit. Throughout every potentially available player in the league, Sessions may have the best skill set and history to make our big free agent signings produce in line with their contracts.
Unlike Darren Collison, acquiring Ramon Sessions could carry very little cost. At the very least, a package of Chris Wilcox, a second rounder and any one of Bynum(s&t)/Daye/Summers could be enough to acquire Sessions, but it might take a larger investment. Detroit could continue with its plans to rebuild its frontcourt with the #7 pick and trades involving Prince and Hamilton. It has been suggested that Dumars wants to upgrade the Pistons frontcourt and point guard positions, and this move could be the lowest cost, highest output opportunity. Sessions numbers fell in Minnesota, but not as a result of a lack of talent. There is little risk for taking on Ramon Sessions, and in the off chance that he does fail, the initial investment is negligable. But hey, for every time he's been under-valued in his career, he's fought throught it and excelled. Now he stands to make a wise GM look brilliant if given the chance.
The last time Dumars acquired a misused, misunderstood, journeyman point guard from the Timberwolves, it didn't turn out too badly...