So here we are in the offseason, wondering what we’ll have next year (assuming we have anything). We don’t currently have Peja though, presumably, if he wants to play again and the Mavs want to sign him, he’d want to play here since that exact set of events has already happened once and worked out pretty well.
But what did he do? And what will he do?
I think it’s pretty dang hard to quantify a Peja Stojakovic at this point in his career but I'm inclined to think he could still be a big help.
A lot of people will say, and have said, something along the lines of, 'Peja was a good pickup for a while but he couldn’t even get on the floor in the Finals. Who needs him?' Jeff Caplan ranked him as our 15th most vital player and suggested he could have been 16th.
But I don’t think that’s quite fair.
Carlisle couldn’t play him because, against LeBron, Wade and Bosh, he couldn’t hide him defensively. That’s an extremely rare situation. It wasn’t because he was struggling offensively, though he was. Carlisle plays his offensive guys, that’s kind of his thing. Nobody started out the Finals worse than Barea. Coach C is worried about defense, and I really don’t think it’s all that much of a statement about Peja’s game that, in this one situation, he couldn’t cut it. He managed it against the Lakers and Thunder, and that’s pretty much good enough.
Yes, okay, most basketball players making significant contributions can be expected to contribute in basically all situations. That’s not Peja.
And yes, okay, at this point in his career, Peja, more than J-Kidd and Jason Terry, both higher than him on the list of all-time makes, is a one trick pony.
So, basically, I think the question is, could he really be that good?
The answer is: No one alive can shoot a basketball as well as Peja Stojakovic.
It’s really hard to appreciate a guy who’s just a shooter. Shooting 40% from three, which Peja has done his entire career, is insanely good. But it’s still just four out of ten. If you figure he’s going to get, on average, five shots a game, if he makes 1-5 one day and 3-5 the next day, he’ll be there, at 40%, but because his role is so specialized, on the 1-5 day odds are he didn’t do anything else good, and he looked worthless.
But there is a difference between Peja Stojakovic and, say, Brian Cardinal or Steve Novak, the bench shooters the Mavs started the season with which is that Peja has been a star in this league. For a long time, too. And that one year when Webber got injured, he was THE star for a damn good Kings team. He averaged 24 points a game that year, shooting 43% from three and an insane 93% from the free throw line. When everyone knew he was going to shoot. That never happened to Steve Kerr, I can tell you that much.
So unlike those guys, when Peja puts it on the floor, no he’s not dunking, no he’s probably not layup-ing, but unlike Cardinal who just has to hope somebody fouls him, he’s probably shooting a beautiful floater or making a smart pass. He’s been there.
And no one can shoot a basketball better than Peja Stojakovic.
Ray Allen? Hard to argue with Ray Allen. He’s still doing it with just as much frequency as Peja, he’s been a star for as long (longer, since he’s still a star), and for most of his career he wasn’t JUST a three-point shooter. But Peja’s actually a better shooter, percentage-wise, not just from the arc, but from the free throw line. Don’t get me wrong, you’d rather have Ray Allen on your team.
When we traded for Peja, there were people who thought we’d be better off keeping Sasha Pavlovic, who plays a little better defense. Peja has no trade value. WE didn’t even trade for him, and to the extent we sort of, under the table did, it was with our fourth-string center.
But if you give Peja Stojakovic room to set his feet and a little open space, the ball is going into the net.
And I don’t think, Finals or no Finals, that you can quantify that. Not just the points he scored, and there were some big games, most memorably game 4 against the Lakers. But because in the Mavs swing-the-ball offense, you don’t think the defender closes out on Terry or Kidd or DeShawn that much slower because if the ball keeps going it’s going to go to Peja Stojakovic?
I guarantee he does.
Peja may only have one skill at this point in his career. But possibly no player in the NBA is as good at any skill as Peja is at his one skill, except for, like, Glen Davis and eating hoagies.
So I say, yeah, Peja Stojakovic: A pretty valuable player. And at small forward, he gives Dallas one of the most unique one-two punches, maybe in the history of the game with the Matrix and the Serbian Sniper. How much would you have paid to see that seven years ago, you know?
He may be gone, with the way players are piling up on this roster, as well as the ones who need to be re-signed, with the new CBA, with everything. But I’m here to say that this team was better, sometimes significantly better, with Peja Stojakovic than without. Both for the points he actually put up and for the threat that the Mavs’ ball-movement offense would find its way into the hands of the man who’s still the greatest three-point shooter alive.