Ah, the Sixth Man of the Year award. Obviously not as special as Most Valuable Player or Defensive Player of the Year, but still, fans seem to have a special affinity with it—the endearing concept of this “spark plug” who comes off the bench and tries to be as electric as possible while the starters sit.
Last year, new Rockets guard James Harden won the award, coming off the bench for 60 out of 62 games, and averaging around 17 points per game. With Harden out of Oklahoma City, it’s fair to say he’ll probably be starting, and many NBA analysts will have to change their pick for a potential winner. The crop of possibilities contain a few previous winners. No winner has repeated since Detlef Schrempf in the 1991-92 season, but it’s hard to pick otherwise, due to the production of some of these previous winners and their roles on their teams. Read more…
Kevin Garnett is a dick, right? I write that knowing full well he’s played the bad guy for the last five years in Boston, and was similarly antagonistic in Minnesota, except no one watched Minnesota for the last four seasons he was in town. Opposing fans refer to him like Romney supporters refer to Obama: he’s crazy, and not in a good way. Garnett doesn’t do much to dissuade them of this view either, seeming to revel in their antipathy.
He barks a lot on the court, with veins overtly announcing themselves on his sweat-drenched face; he bangs his head against the foam base of his basket’s risers before every game; he’s not against throwing an elbow or two or taking—borderline—cheap shots when he thinks the refs aren’t looking; he says inappropriate and demeaning things on the court to opposing players and teammates; he is so intense during games, even regular season games (the temerity!), it’s not a stretch to say that if an entrenched cubicle worker were to mimic his intensity, employment would be untenable and the worker might even risk institutionalization.
But Kevin Garnett cares about winning, and doesn’t mind sacrificing geniality in order to achieve that goal. He also might be one of the world’s best teammates and a genuinely nice guy, so long as it’s not in the time between an hour before tip-off, and when he leaves the arena.
One of the best feelings that coincides with watching the NBA on a regular basis happens when you consciously recognize something great as it occurs in real time, right before your eyes. Watching game after game on a nightly basis, the most intense observer can grow numb to well-executed pick and roll defense or the spin-induced bounce pass that needles its way through the lane, like a fly avoiding a swatter. These are incredibly difficult acts regularly performed to near-perfection, yet similar to most other things in life, oftentimes they’re overlooked until the day they stop working.
Recently, I was lucky to grab one of these moments by its neck, and the memory has yet to leave my mind. It was a Wednesday night, shortly before the All-Star break, in a rematch of last year’s most shocking playoff series: Dallas against L.A. Midway through the third quarter, as the game began its rapid transformation into a back and forth heavyweight bout, the Mavericks began to throw their barrage of haymakers. With the crowd’s volume beginning to crescendo, Andrew Bynum lost the ball as he tried spinning towards the basket. As soon as Shawn Marion grabbed it in his hands, it was flipped in the air with a tad too much gusto to a streaking Jason Terry. Standing at half court, Kobe Bryant made a halfhearted play on the ball, tipping it back to Marion, of all people. Through it all Terry didn’t stop running. Marion sees him and fires an overhead pass 60 feet down the court. He’s backpedaling like a wide receiver who’s well aware that nobody’s around him; all he has to do is catch it and the reward is six points. Except in basketball, catching it is just the beginning.
The littlest Maverick grips the ball with his right hand, squares up his body to the hoop in one smooth rotation, and releases a 15-foot jump shot. There’s no thought, no hesitation, and certainly no dribble. For 99.9% of all basketball players this is an extremely difficult shot attempt in a low reward, high risk situation—a mid-range jumper with no teammate available to grab the rebound. Should it miss (the league average among shooting guards for 15-foot jump shots is about 40%), a convenient counterattack is placed in L.A.’s lap.
Maybe it was the hype of the moment, the realization that a brilliant yet underrated career is winding down, or the fact that I’d just finished a cup of coffee around 10 PM, but this was the first Jason Terry jumper that made my eyes grow a bit wider and my back arch to attention. It was in this moment that a quick realization washed over me: Jason Terry may be one of the five best shooters I’ve ever seen. Read more…
Of all the mercurial things that happened with LeBron James during last year’s Finals, this singular moment has to crack the top three. A simple up fake and James, arguably the most versatile defender in the world, buckles? What? How does this make sense at all? Joel Anthony FLYING by Dirk’s move is understandable, because he plays the game like an 8-year-old who’s just funneled two gallons of espresso, but LeBron? Will we ever find an explanation for that whole week? There probably isn’t one, but that doesn’t make it any more coherent.
Not entirely sure what is happening here. D-Will gives a simple little left to right cross and in trying to react, Jason Terry crumbles like he was struck by a shotgun from point blank range. It’s one of the worst falls you’ll see from such a subtle maneuver. In a way it’s Deron Williams’ game in a nutshell: no flash leading to a notable outcome; effortless fancy.