There’s a school of thought in film criticism that a piece of cinema can be so bad, such a misfire on every possible level, that it can be understood as great.  The thinking, as I understand it, is that doing the complete opposite, in the most literal sense, of what every correct artistic impulse dictates demonstrates a genius-level ability to identify, intuitively or otherwise, the essential pivot-points in the machinery of cinema.  The director of such a film has created a sort of photonegative of greatness, which with a little imagination, can itself be appreciated as great.

Willie Green – the exquisitely, defiantly, relentlessly awful Willie Green– was, in his own way, just such a photonegative.  And now, mercifully, he’s gone.  And some part of me –a part of me lodged so deep in the recesses of my being that I can only access it when I listen to Depeche Mode – misses him.

Some guys are unproductive, but fail to produce in kinesthetically impressive ways.  They jump high, run fast, and attempt ill-advised but handsome looking passes into traffic.  Willie Green is not one of these players.  He’s so un-athletic, and looks so bad on the court, that you might assume he’s actually good; that his pedestrian musculature and manifest ordinariness distract us from meaningful but stealthy contributions.  A black Scott Hatteberg.  If he looks so bad, the only way he could have stuck around the league, or even made it in the first place, is if he’s sneakily really productive, you’d be forgiven for thinking.  This benefit of the doubt is mislaid.  He’s really, really bad.  Worse than he looks.  And again, he looks atrocious.

I’m going to chart his awfulness.  A picture is worth a thousand words and a good chart is worth at least half that.  We’ll put the areas where he’s below average in red.

Statistic (Per 48 minutes) Average SG Willie Green’s Career
Points per shot 0.96 0.91
Free Throw Percentage 0.8 0.75
Field Goal Attempts 17.5 19.8
Free Throw Attempts 4.9 3.5
Points Scored 20.8 20.7
Rebounds 5.6 4.2
Steals 1.8 1.3
Blocked Shots 0.5 0.3
Assists 4.6 3.8
Turnovers 2.8 2.6
Personal Fouls 3.7 4.0

That’s a lot of red.  It makes Machete look like You Again.  Willie’s bad at everything but taking shots and avoiding turnovers.  Good news though for the integrity of my argument that Willie Green is bad at everything (though very bad news for people who’s mood is affected by the Sixers): taking shots hurts your team if you convert them at a below average rate (which he does!) and his lack of conventional turnovers is offset by all the possessions he gives the other team by missing shots!  So he’s a five-tool liability!  And what’s this? (finds piece of paper under couch cushion) Oh, another stat that explicates how awful Willie Green is (looks at paper again and shakes his head, takes a shot of Jameson, girlfriend peaks head around corner, looks frightened, retreats back to kitchen.)  Sit down for this.  Over the course of his career, Green’s produced 30.6 fewer wins than an average shooting guard would have if given his 9,000 minutes.  

The Sixers have gone 257-317 since Willie joined the team.  For those of you back-of-the-envelope mathematicians following at home, this means that if they had had a player who was completely average –not great or even good, but a dime-a-dozen fiftieth percentile schlub – playing in his stead they would have gone 288-286 over that period (looks at half full bottle of Jameson, then at loaded handgun that sits next to it.  Lingers on gun, but finally snatches the Jameson and takes another slug. One more day he tells himself).  Willie Green has been the difference between the Sixers being a terrible franchise and an OK one.  He’s been our defining player.  Our prime mover.  Our swing vote.  Our Anthony Kennedy.

And now he’s gone, and he’s taken with him a piece of the Sixers’ identity – a piece of their soul.

Well, maybe so, but I like to think that every time an open jumper is clanked off the back of the rim, a defensive assignment is whiffed-on, or an eleven-point 4 for 13 night is met with inexplicable plaudits from the local media, Willie Green will be there, smiling.  And it’ll be like he never left.*

*It’ll also be like he never left because the players we got in return for he and Jason Smith – Craig Brackins and Darius Songaila – are arguably worse than Green.  Brackins was projected by Draft Express as having a Channing Frye upside and Songaila was the worst player in the NBA last season.  Out of all the trades in the history of the NBA, this may be the one that saw the worst players exchange hands.   We traded the worst player in franchise history and may have gotten even worse!  Go Sixers!  Huzzah!

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