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Milwaukee Bucks Essays: Drew Gooden, The Big Zero

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This image is perfect, even if it's not. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-US PRESSWIRE
This image is perfect, even if it's not. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-US PRESSWIRE

It's hard to sum up Drew Gooden's NBA career without using the number zero. It doesn't quite make sense that zero would figure so prominently in the story of an NBA pro who has started more playoff games than the remainder of the Milwaukee Bucks' 2012 - 13 roster combined -- 40 playoff starts for Drew vs. 37 playoff starts for the other 12 players on the roster -- but did you really expect a lucid narrative to develop in an essay on Drew Gooden? Perhaps contrary to your initial impression, the zero theme has nothing to do with nothingness. For Gooden, the number zero serves as a fence post to the excesses and oddities of his time in the NBA.

Over the past decade, the six-foot-10 forward from the University of Kansas has played for nine different NBA teams -- the Memphis Grizzlies, Orlando Magic, Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Clippers and Milwaukee Bucks. He's a top-10 talent from the 2002 NBA draft with premium size, an alluring array of skills but only a loose grasp on how best to apply those advantages on the court. So for every GM willing to part with Gooden, there has always been at least one other GM interested in acquiring him. Just take a look at the tour Drew has been on to-date (via Basketball-Reference):

  • June 26, 2002: Drafted by the Memphis Grizzlies in the 1st round (4th pick) of the 2002 NBA Draft.
  • February 19, 2003: Traded by the Memphis Grizzlies with Gordan Giricek to the Orlando Magic for Ryan Humphrey, Mike Miller, a 2003 1st round draft pick (Kendrick Perkins) and a 2004 2nd round draft pick (Sergei Lishouk).
  • July 23, 2004: Traded by the Orlando Magic with Steven Hunter and Anderson Varejao to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Tony Battie, a 2005 2nd round draft pick (Martynas Andriuskevicius) and a 2007 2nd round draft pick (Brad Newley).
  • February 21, 2008: As part of a 3-team trade, traded by the Cleveland Cavaliers with Shannon Brown, Larry Hughes and Cedric Simmons to the Chicago Bulls; the Chicago Bulls traded Joe Smith, Ben Wallace and a 2009 2nd round draft pick (Danny Green) to the Cleveland Cavaliers; the Chicago Bulls traded Adrian Griffin to the Seattle SuperSonics; the Cleveland Cavaliers traded Donyell Marshall and Ira Newble to the Seattle SuperSonics; and the Seattle SuperSonics traded Wally Szczerbiak and Delonte West to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
  • February 18, 2009: Traded by the Chicago Bulls with Andres Nocioni, Michael Ruffin and Cedric Simmons to the Sacramento Kings for Brad Miller and John Salmons.
  • March 5, 2009: Signed as a free agent with the San Antonio Spurs.
  • July 30, 2009: Signed as a free agent with the Dallas Mavericks.
  • February 13, 2010: Traded by the Dallas Mavericks with Josh Howard, Quinton Ross and James Singleton to the Washington Wizards for Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson.
  • February 17, 2010: As part of a 3-team trade, traded by the Washington Wizards to the Los Angeles Clippers; the Cleveland Cavaliers traded Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Emir Preldzic and a 2010 1st round draft pick (Lazar Hayward) to the Washington Wizards; the Los Angeles Clippers traded Sebastian Telfair to the Cleveland Cavaliers; the Los Angeles Clippers traded Al Thornton to the Washington Wizards; and the Washington Wizards traded Antawn Jamison to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
  • July 8, 2010: Signed as a free agent with the Milwaukee Bucks.

Despite his lack of input in most transactions and destinations along the way, Gooden has still claimed some measure of ownership in his elliptical path. His choice of jersey number at each stop constitutes enough evidence to convince me he's embraced the oddities of his career.

Gooden has requested that a zero be featured prominently below his last name at each stop on his nine-team parade. He's only ever been a 0, 9 or 90 in the NBA. For one season in Orlando a lonely number nine dotted his jersey, but in his second season with the Magic the nine gained some much-needed company as he changed his jersey number while still on the same team for the only time in his career. Guess what number was added to the sequence? That's right, a zero. Gooden hasn't ever made it sound like the number choices are preternatural or the product of some psychic intuition, but I feel good enough to make that call on his behalf.

But let's forget about the numbers for a second, because I will circle back to them in due time. The big man's connection with the ellipse is far more organic than a uniform pattern anyways. Gooden is often indirect and impromptu on the court; his basic approach to basketball is elliptical. He's self-assured and entirely unafraid to push forward with unfinished thoughts during games. Where a writer might brand an fragmented idea with ellipses (...), Mr. Gooden's expressions are rarely even marked with even a trio of dribbles. Alternatively, he invents ways to express his thoughts on the fly.

His signature play with the Bucks is arguably an alley oop play off the backboard that he initiates and finishes without any assistance. It's definitely a Drew Gooden play, but not because he's selfish (he finished with the third-highest assist total on the Bucks last season). No, the essence of that play for me is his confident delivery of a virtuoso performance despite an obvious disregard for the relevant context.

Gooden's best moments and best plays rarely emerge by design. He can lead with his shiny bald cranium and dive head first into nearly any situation because he has always been equipped with the natural talent to succeed. It's what makes watching him so frustrating, but it's also what frustrates any ire I've (almost) ever developed towards him. He plays his game, and not many other players can truly ever play along, keep pace or predict his next move accurately.

Drew Gooden is an eccentric human being as well. In mathematics the eccentricity of a circle is zero, but the eccentricity of an ellipse (that is not a circle) is greater than zero but less than one. I think we can all agree that Gooden has always ranged from somewhere between zero and one over the past decade. He has never quite become the sum of his parts. For all the unique skills and elite measurements he possesses, things have never quite come together perfectly.

Even so, he started all four games for the Cavs in the 2007 NBA Finals and nearly averaged a double-double (12.8 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 50.0 FG%) against Tim Duncan and company, so he really doesn't have to justify his worth to anyone. His other 40 playoff appearances add a considerable weight to that point. After all, some executive in the NBA always seems to understand him well enough to roll the dice.

It's hard to accept it, but Drew Gooden is not the one who should be held accountable for the number of zeros at the end of each paycheck he receives from John Hammond and the Milwaukee Bucks. Maybe we've once again reached the point where a GM is willing to part with Gooden, but this time the combination of advanced age and a graduated salary has altered the calculus for any GM that may still be interested in acquiring him. Once again it's out of Gooden's control, but he has never much cared about the context anyways. He will make something happen. He always does. I have zero doubt about that...

Bonus Question: Can you tell Ersan Ilyasova apart from Drew Gooden based on Career Per 36 Minutes Stats Or Career Advanced Rate stats? I've removed the most obvious individual markers and the player IDs for Per 36 and Advanced Rate stats have been separately determined. Good luck!

Advanced PER eFG% ORB% DRB% TRB% AST% STL% BLK% USG% WS/48
Player A 16.7 0.47 10.7 21.9 16.2 7.6 1.4 1.8 21.9 0.107
Player B 16.1 0.495 9.4 21.1 15.1 7.2 1.5 1.4 20.2 0.135

Per 36 Min FGM FGA FG% FTM FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
Player Y 6.2 13.4 0.466 3.2 4.2 0.759 3.4 6.7 10.1 1.6 1 0.9 2.1 3.4 15.8
Player Z 5.8 13.1 0.445 2.5 3.2 0.785 3.1 6.5 9.6 1.6 1 0.6 1.6 4.1 15.5