Projecting Brandon Rush’s season is an exciting exercise in the same way that flipping a coin is exciting.
To Jazz fans, the Jazz’s recently acquired shooting guard is an enigma. He’s the only player on the roster that has not yet played any games in a Jazz uniform, meaning there’s a significant number of fans (those who only watch the Jazz, or who have watched other teams only casually) who have no idea what Rush represents.
But even those who closely follow NBA basketball have lingering questions about Rush. Of course, there are always questions about a player’s ability to recover from significant injury, and Rush’s ACL tear in the second game of 2012’s campaign looked particularly bad. But beyond that, he’s really only had one passable NBA season, his 2011-2012 campaign with the Golden State Warriors.
Before that, he played a significant number of minutes (an average of 27 per game!) for the Indiana Pacers, during which he was generally replacement-level: he shot just 42% with Indiana while only using a below-average 15.5% of his team’s possessions. He was a middling defensive player whose offense didn’t really justify huge minutes. While there were plenty of other factors in play, including a coaching change after a 17-27 start to the lockout year, it’s probably no coincidence that the Pacers went from sub-.500 to Eastern Conference elite after transferring the starting off-guard duties from Rush to eventual All-Star Paul George.
But if you believe that Rush finally cracked the code after Indiana and that his 2011-12 season represents his true level as a player, there’s a lot there. That season, he was actually the 7th most efficient player in the NBA by points per possession, finishing with 1.12 PPP. Impressively, it was due to his efficiency in all manners of scoring, not just his famed shooting. In isolations, he ranked 42nd in the league. As the pick and roll ball handler, he ranked 13th. As a cutter, he also ranked 13th. As a spot-up shooter, he ranked 16th. Many guys are good at one or two of these aspects, but rarely can players be so efficient at all of them at once, leading to a meaningfully versatile player.
For those reasons and others, Rush comes in at #4 in our pre-season JazzRank. ESPN’s Kevin Pelton projects Rush as one of the Jazz’s best reserves, second in projected scoring only to Marvin Williams and in Wins Above Replacement only to Jeremy Evans. The ESPN/TrueHoop panel also likes Rush better than anybody outside the Jazz’s core of five; at #222, he came in a few spots behind Alec Burks and one spot ahead of Williams. Even Jazz GM Dennis Lindsay has made it clear in his comments that he considers Rush as part of the team’s extended core, saying in response to injuries to Rush, Williams and Trey Burke that “three of our top seven guys” are banged up.
Of course, the alternate explanation is that Rush’s one good NBA season was a fluke, that he’s due for a regression to his career norm. He’s either a flawed player who had an outlier performance in a year on a bad team, or he’s a guy who was finally starting to put the pieces together when injury luck dealt him a setback.
The question is an important one to the Jazz as they evaluate Rush’s value, either as a player or as an asset. His very affordable contract expires this summer, so if he excels like he did in Golden State, he could be the kind of role player that’s incredibly valuable to teams with postseason aspirations. He could be shopped as a player with similarities to Danny Green, for example, to teams like Memphis, Miami or Chicago that need some 3-and-D help in exchange for a draft pick or other asset. On the other hand, if he reverts to Indiana form, he has very little trade value and the Jazz’s big summer salary acquisition trade suddenly looks weaker. It could go either way.
In fact, the Jazz may care more about Rush’s play as a function of his trade value than they do about his actual on-court output. If they could continue flipping those Warriors pieces into more assets, they effectively make last July’s trade haul better, and Rush represents their best chance at doing that given his low salary and relative on-court value. Playoff teams probably won’t come begging for Andris Biedrins, but some will inquire about Rush if he’s had a decent season in Utah.
That gamble makes Rush an intriguing player to keep an eye on if you care about the Jazz’s long term future beyond this season. So we wait for the Rush coin to show heads or tails.