Posted by: Kingsguru21 | November 12, 2009

The difference 7 games makes

Opening night for the Kings, Tyreke Evans struggled in his initial NBA debut. He was too slow initiating the offense, couldn’t figure out where he wanted to go, and looked very much like the criticism that he couldn’t play the PG in the NBA.

******

7 games later, and that criticism seems silly for several reasons. First, there are myriad examples in the history of the NBA where a team without that pure “PG” has gone on to win championships. With the exception of the Bob Cousy/Sam Jones Celtic’s, it’s difficult for me to remember WHEN a team had that player. Isiah Thomas was certainly that kind of player, and the Pistons did win 2 championships. John Stockton is certainly another player in that mold, but the Jazz never won a ring despite Stockton and Malone’s sustained success well into their late 30’s.

Maybe the most famous basketball team of all time, the Chicago Bulls of the late 90’s, didn’t have a pure PG. Neither did the Lakers of the 80’s, but they had some guy named Earvin who always seemed to be making this pass to another guy named James or Byron. The problem was that the Lakers just couldn’t shake this idea that this 6’9 prodigy from Michigan State could handle the basketball and run the basketball team despite his size. Early offense, late offense, it didn’t matter to those Laker teams. They ran over you, around you, under you, in you. All day all ways. You know the names. Byron Scott. James Worthy. Magic Johnson. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Kurt Rambis. Maybe not Kurt Rambis. Maybe more Michael Cooper.

The Celtics in the 80’s had a pure PG. His name was Larry Bird, and the problem was he that he ended up being the most dominant combo F of all time. He just also happened to be the only F in history of basketball to ever average 6 assists a game over a 3 year span. Who were the G’s of the Larry Legend title teams? Tiny Archibald. (Before Danny Ainge and Dennis Johnson got there. What years did Larry Legend get those 6+ assist years? Without Tiny Archibald there.) After Tiny it was Danny Ainge or Dennis Johnson–take your pick– because they brought the ball up the court.

The one team in those early 80’s with a pure PG, some guy named Maurice Cheeks, a tiny combo G bomber named Andrew Toney who every Celtics fan, including Bill Simmons who probably has nightmares about Toney still, does not remember fondly. At one point, the incomparable Moses Malone led the Fo-Fo-Fo Sixers to a title back in good ‘ole ’83. They also had some guy named Dr. J who managed to defy gravity once by doing his all famous windmill layup. He palms the ball and goes up like he’s dunking, and in the same motion manages to hang long enough to bank the ball off the glass. It is easily the most amazing incredible play you’ll ever see, and yet, it’s quite too often not even realized unless you’re talking about the hallows of greatness. Erving was in his prime, his fantastic prime, on the way to losing another Finals game while eventually watching Magic Johnson, the unpure pure PG, manage 42 points, 16 boards and 12 assists in his rookie year to win the Finals for LA. This, of course, was just the start of Magic’s legend.

If you watch that play in real time, the most amazing thing about it is that it was entirely unexpected. It was a part of the game, a play that only scored 2 points. Yet, you have the NBA making commercials like this many years later:

The irony of course is that you can hear Chick Hearn talking in the background in absolute amazement. (Anyone that has heard Chick knew how much of a NBA fan he was despite the fact he announced for the Lakers.)

Philadelphia goes on to win game 4. Maybe the Sixers don’t win that series, maybe that Finals victory alludes Erving for another 3 years, but Erving has his legend. It’s something that most people can never claim.

I alluded to DJ earlier, but a playoff moment, the playoff moment that includes Larry Bird stealing an Isiah Thomas inbounds pass, shoveling it to Dennis Johnson, a moment that Bill Simmons considers a far more difficult play than can be remembered and said as eloquently as you’ll ever find a Simmons column (he writes the RIP columns impossibly well) about a single subject.

Like everything else about his career, few remember his defining moment: The waning seconds of Game 5 in the ’87 Eastern finals, when Bird famously picked off Isiah’s pass and dished to DJ for the winning layup. Everyone remembers the steal and Johnny Most’s call; nobody remembers DJ standing near midcourt, seeing Bird moving for the pass. Even as Bird snatched the ball out of Laimbeer’s hands, DJ was already moving toward the basket with his hands up, ready to make the winning shot. From the mid-’70s to right now, I can only pinpoint a handful of players who would have instinctively known to cut toward the basket even as that steal was in the process of happening — MJ, Magic, Frazier, Stockton, Reggie, Mullin, Rick Barry, Isiah (ironically, the one who threw the pass), Robert Horry, Dwyane Wade, Jason Kidd, Iverson, Nash, Kobe, and that’s about it. Nobody else starts moving until after the steal happens. And by the way, if DJ never made that cut, Bird would have been forced to launch a fall-away 10-footer over the backboard to win the game — which he probably would have made, but that’s beside the point.

Case in point:

Simmons is right. You hear the call by Johnny Most, you see Isiah Thomas somehow not see Bird sprinting at full speed for 10 steps, but you never see DJ run from half court. Why? Because he was standing casually at the 3 point line waiting to foul anybody who came near him. DJ was a smart player; an impossibly gifted G who shit on you like you were swirling on the toilet bowl when you tried to score on him. Of all the great G’s in history, Dennis Johnson might be the less appreciated because he didn’t play with a pure PG style. Lenny Wilkens knew it; hell Simmons knows it. But, it worked because the teams DJ played on, with John Johnson and Gus Williams in Seattle, Walter Davis in Phoenix, and Danny Ainge and Larry Bird in Boston all worked around it by being incredibly good at either handling and/or passing. (Plus, it’s not like DJ couldn’t handle the ball AT ALL.) DJ’s passing stats aren’t necessarily pedestrian; they’re quite good for a guy who wasn’t that adept at times running the offense. But I’ll give Simmons a chance to redeem himself for a slight error (DJ never took a step past the 3 point line; he’s not a bullet train) in what was a terrific overall point:

One more thought on that layup: the replay never does it justice. DJ was going full speed, hauled the pass from the left, then had Dumars coming at him from his direct right, so he had to shield the ball from Dumars, turn his body to the left and make a reverse layup that was much harder than it looked. My father and I were sitting on the opposite side of the main CBS camera, right in the tunnel where the players entered and exited (you can even see us at the end of this particular game), so you have to believe me on this one: that layup almost missed. Dumars changed the angle at the last second; DJ’s layup struck the right side of the rim and somehow dropped home. Believe me, the layup was just as tough as the steal.

Simmons is generally thought of as a Boston homer. To a very real extent, because he’s a C’s, Sox and Pats fan, he will always remain that way. He spent a childhood where the Celtics, the greatest overall franchise in Boston history with a city rich of sports history, were the dominant team, and that’s just the way things were. When the rest of the NBA become the “black” league, Boston had 2 of the most dominant “white” players to ever play the game. Ironically, Boston’s long term fortunes died along with Len Bias. In some ways it would have been far greater for the NBA to have a foil to Michael Jordan; in some ways Jordan’s legend has grown because the ultimate foil didn’t exist. If Jordan doesn’t have a team (other than the Pistons) with that swagger to beat along with championship pedigree, it’s difficult to say what happens. Like most championship teams, they own the day until they no longer can. Nature hates a vacuum; why should winning NBA championships be different?

Either way the point about Simmons is that while he got 1 detail wrong (saying he’s near the half court line is not the same thing as saying he was at the 3 point line, sorry), he did get that DJ’s layup nearly misses. (You can see everything Simmons talks about minus DJ being at the half court line.) Because the ball had so much on it I think that sometimes it doesn’t look like DJ’s layup almost fell off the rim.

Needless to say, regardless of the eulogy Simmons gave, it was a great play on Dennis Johnson’s part. One of many that may, or may not, be remembered much as time goes on. (It was on the NBA’s 4th all time Playoffs play list. I don’t think too many people have forgotten it because of Bird & Most. But, as Simmons says, it’s wrong to forget that DJ made a great play too.)

******

You’re probably wondering what this has to do with the Kings, and Tyreke Evans and what he’s done over the last 3 games. One of the reason’s that the whole name “Michael Ray Richardson” freaks me out when connected with Tyreke Evans is because how good Richardson was. As good as Chris Webber has been in the Sacramento era, or even Mitch Richmond, Tyreke may leave both in the dust by the time it’s said & done. He has the talent, and perhaps drive, to get as close to Oscar Robertson as any player could. (I know.) When it comes to players hanging in the rafters, Robertson remains the gold standard for this franchise. Which is saying something, but whatever. Not every NBA franchise can have a “B” team of Hall of Famers like the Lakers or Celtics.

I’m not here to tell you that any comparison with Michael Ray “Sugar” Richardson doesn’t freak me out; Holy god awful shitballs Batman does it ever. But, there are 2 reasons for this.

The first is obvious for any knowledgable basketball fan who remembers the late 70’s & 80’s vividly. Here are the list of G’s who were high impact game changing superstar players: Michael Jordan, Isiah Thomas, Magic Johnson are usually the 3 that comes off immediately. When Sugar was at his best, he was right there with all of them. Sugar had Magic’s passing, Isiah’s feistiness, Michael’s penchant to overcome obstacles.

The second is also obvious to any fan who remembers the 80’s as well: Sugar had a bit of an addiction to white powder better known as cocaine. Of the players who’ve gotten suspended for it (Chris Washburn, David Thompson, Walter Davis) and ultimately hounded out of the NBA, or a player like Len Bias who died from using it, it’s clear that Sugar’s life took a different turn.

Unfortunately, I see that in Tyreke Evans too. Make no mistake. Evans is good; lord is he beyond good at this point. I’m just thankful he isn’t part of the NBA at a time where cocaine is as common as afro’s.

******

At the end of 8 games, the Kings stand 4-4. The won a single game with Kevin Martin and Tyreke Evans in the lineup. That game, Memphis, was the first of Allen Iverson’s 3 game career with the Blue Bears, also saw the emergence of Beno Udrih as a reasonable player in the rotation.

Beno UdrihWabeno Udrih has been a major cause for the resurgence for the Kings in the last 3 games. It’s true that Evans has averaged 25 6 & 6, but WaBeno has been nearly as important in ways that stats don’t nearly measure as often or as well: Simply put he allows Evans to be comfortable. Evans being comfortable makes him be Dwyane Wade lite at 20 years old.

Even Andres Nocioni value to the franchise long term could be questioned in framing it in that who has more value right now: Nocioni or Francisco Garcia? Honestly, it’s a unreasonable to ask right now for any real number of reason’s.

The first is that Garcia is hurt, and nobody should lose stature after how Garcia got hurt. Nobody. The second part is that the question of whether Garcia’s versatile, fiery skill is more important than Nocioni’s fiery toughness with some 3’s and a few layup’s sprinkled in. I have no idea. But, if Noc continues to succeed it makes it reasonable that the Kings may decide to hold onto Nocioni long term and move Garcia once the season ends.

I like both and what they bring. Before the season, I was far more in favor of moving Noc because I thought he would be far easier to move. Now, with Garcia’s injury taking a part of this, I think the organization has a possibility to make a decision on which move will mean more long term. The only move I think I disagree with is that the Kings don’t move one of either. Given the salary situation on the roster, it’s also difficult to justify PT for 6 guys at the SG/SF spots consistently. There just isn’t that much time to go around even when you have a 9 man rotation with at least 5 of those guys being able to play a minimum of 2 spots, and the other 4 able to play 3 spots. It’s a good problem to have. It’s also a problem that needs to be addressed as the Kings move forward.

*****

Here’s what I know. The Kings have won 3 games in a row. There is considerable question of whether Tyreke Evans can consistently facilitate for other teammates. There is even more considerable question of whether it matters if Omri Casspi can fit a more play making ball handling SF type mold. Or, in the sense that Garcia is part of this equation, do you favor Garcia over Nocioni for this type of reason?

What I know is that history says that special talent will win you games in the NBA because that special talent was unique. Larry Bird was drafted 6th overall in 1978 for those who remember Bird in those times. (That was mostly due to Bird not coming out of Indiana St though. GM’s knew how good he was then.) Special talent requires special circumstances from teams looking for them.

So, while you hear people talk about Tyreke Evans not being a pure PG, or something like that, or even a facilitating PG (a reasonable question given how the Kings have marketed him as that), keep in mind that maybe the answer isn’t to make Tyreke Evans a facilitator, to bring Kevin Martin off the bench, or expect WaBeno Udrih to keep appearing.

Somewhere in the middle ground the Baby Royals exist. Enjoy them while you can. Their innocence won’t be around for much longer.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: