When Kris Humphries was traded to the New Jersey Nets midway through the 2009-10 season, he finally got placed on a team where he wasn't blocked by an elite power forward. He had played behind Chris Bosh in Toronto, Carlos Boozer in Utah, and Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas. After putting up excellent per-minute numbers for years, he finally had a shot at more playing time. He impressed during his partial first season in New Jersey, then exploded onto the scene this past season. Humphries averaged a double-double and it couldn't have happened at a more perfect time as he enters free agency. He will likely get a hefty pay increase as a result. This means he is going to have to take the next step if he wants to prove last season wasn't a fluke and earn his forthcoming wealth.
What He Did Well?
The advancement of Humphries' offensive game came when Nets head coach Avery Johnson started using him off the ball and putting him in situations where he doesn't really have to make a lot of decisions. Two years ago, Humphries was involved in the pick-and-roll just 9.7 percent of the time. Instead, he was isolating, spotting up, and posting up. In 2010-11, Humphries was involved in the pick-and-roll 16.5 percent of the time, and the more selective usage boosted his overall efficiency.
Like some of his power forward counterparts such as Amar'e Stoudemire and David West, when Humphries is setting a screen, it isn't to get his teammate open. Instead it is to help him get open on the roll to the rim. Because of the lack of body contact on screens, it allows Humphries to roll to the rim a little quicker than usual, getting into the lane and beating the rotating help defense:
In addition to getting into his roll quickly, Humphries also does a good of going up strong once he makes the catch. Humphries is athletic enough and strong enough to finish over--and sometimes through--the rotating help defender. He doesn't need to waste a lot of time and motion taking unnecessary dribbles. More importantly, he understands that and gets the ball to the rim very quickly.
In addition to his pick-and-roll offense, Humphries is a very good on-ball defender. In the post, Humphries held opponents to just .851 points per possession (PPP) on 41.3 percent shooting. In isolation situations, Humphries was even better, holding opponents to a .616 PPP on just 27.5 percent shooting. Humphries strength and lateral quickness are key here:
On the block, Humphries' strength allows him to push the man trying to post him up off of his spot, preventing him from catching it areas where he can make a move and go up quickly. Once the posting player does get the ball, Humphries, who normally is working against a height disadvantage, is able to keep bigs from backing him down, forcing the offense into a tougher shot.
In isolation situations, Humphries is quick enough to be able to play up on power forwards who like to face up, defend the shot, but still beat them to the spot if they try to drive to the basket.
His lateral quickness also gives his coach a little more options defensively. Because he can stay in front and contest, Johnson was comfortable with Humphries switching screens, especially late in games.
What Needs To Change
If there aren't too many drastic changes with the new CBA, Humphries will probably command a nice little chunk of change. Because of that, he needs to be more than a guy working off of the ball, dunking off of pick-and-roll opportunities. He needs to be able to create his own offense, especially posting up. On the block last year, Humphries posted a PPP of just .698--placing in the bottom 20 percent among all NBA players--on just 34.2 percent shooting:
As you can tell by his pick-and-roll clips, Humphries is a big and powerful guy who likes to finish strong. While that is great in off-the-ball situations, it really hurts Humphries when he posts up because he shows a lack of touch in those situations. Humphries isn't big enough to make a move on the block and finish with an emphatic dunk. Most of his work takes place below the rim, and Humphries struggles just to finish.
So will Humphries be able to improve on his first full season with New Jersey? I don't think he can unless he learns how to create his own offense. I always thought Humphries' best role would be coming off the bench as a high-energy, playing-strong-defense type. However, he isn't going to be paid like that, and whoever coughs up the cash is going to be very disappointed if he continues to be just a pick-and-roll guy with no back-to-the-basket game.
Sebastian Pruiti is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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