Fifteen names that defined the ’09-10 regular season.
|ALL-NBA FIRST TEAM|
|Power Forward||DIRK NOWITZKI||Mavs|
|Small Forward||LeBRON JAMES||Cavs|
|Shooting Guard||DWYANE WADE||Heat|
|Point Guard||STEVE NASH||Suns|
Why they’re here…
DWIGHT HOWARD | Orlando Magic | Center
This season was further proof that the paint monster, Dwight Howard, has no equal. Past greats like Moses Malone, Shawn Kemp, Ben Wallace, Alonzo Mourning and others are referenced when talking about Dwight Hoard in hope of making sense of his beastly play. Truth is, he’s part Centaur, part Mr. Universe, part force of nature, part double-double machine, part dunkoholic and part future of the game, who only seems to have 20/20 vision, pun intended.
Looking back on the season, it didn’t matter that Hedo bolted for snowier pastures; or that Rashard Lewis was lost to steroids early and couldn’t find his shot; or that Vince Carter wasn’t the answer until the right questions were asked; or that Stan Van Gundy (sort of) changed his disposition; or that Jameer Nelson couldn’t find his All-Star form; or that Marcin Gortat and Brandon Bass weren’t worth their respective mega contracts; or that JJ Redick, Jason Williams and Ryan Anderson didn’t stepped foot in the key all year; or that Mickael Pietrus couldn’t pass; or that Matt Barnes continues to wear click-on Lego hair and ink his neck; or that the Magic got stronger and deeper overall but became messier and lost their identity (at times). None of it matters because Dwight Howard was there, always roaming, always ready.
Don’t be fooled by the depletion of the Center position because Howard is not only keeping it afloat, he making sure it’s not lost in the Okur/Dirk Euro wilderness where finesse trumps power. It’s for this reason that Howard might just be the game’s most valuable player (right now). LeBron James has no equal either but let’s face it, the gap between him and the field isn’t as wide as Howard and his fellow C’s.
Looking at it, objectively, Howard was an All-NBA First Team lock. Leading the L in four statistical categories wasn’t the half of it, it’s the way he went about it that impressed me most. On his track A Star Is Born, Jay-Z states that “50 came through/like Hurricane’s do”, he might as well have been talking about Dwight Howard’s career to date because that’s the kind of force this freak of nature (who’s still only 24 years of age) has become. Trust that Howard is to the post what LBJ is to the perimeter.
Numerically, Howard’s league leading 13.2 boards per, coupled with his chart topping 2.78 blocks per, would have been enough to land him on the First Team but this season we saw something else, something more from Howard — we witnessed his Keyser Soze (Suspects reference No. 2, don’t worry, there’s more to come, see if you can find them all) mode – he alter fates just be being there.
DIRK NOWITZKI | Dallas Mavericks | Power Forward
The Fred Fenster of the First Team, Dirk handled his biz this season and no one seemed to pay all that much attention. While outlets were quick to assign Kevin Durant the corner office, Dirk Nowitzki once again showed shareholders that profits can be made when he’s C.O.O. (Chief Offensive Officer). Since the Dallas All-Star Weekend, Dirk posted 30 or more points eight times while guiding the Mavs to an impressive 23 wins (including 13 straight) to go with their seven losses. Dirk is the reason the Mavs, sorry, Cuban’s comrades, finish 2nd in the Western Conference (almost catching the Lakers for top honors).
Dirk’s here simply because he contributed the most to the second best team out West. The Mavs landed major weapons, in Brandon Haywood and Caron Butler, bolstering their arsenal and yet it didn’t hinder Dirk’s production the way one might have expected given that Dirk has to share the rock with Shawn Marion, Jason Terry and now Bulter. The Mavs finish high and hot, Dirk was the man the entire time and while many people point to Jason Kidd’s drinking from Steve Nash’s Vitamin Water stash, once the dust settled it became clear that this team, a superior squad, can only travel as far as Dirk can carry them, with or without Carl Landry’s teeth lodged in his elbow. That’s a First Teamer – a man who’s great on a great of talent. Just know that his .915 FT and .421 3PT percentages, respectively, are both career highs, if numbers matter. All Dirk has done and the way he has done it, equals a First Team PF, no matter how you look at it.
LeBRON JAMES | Cleveland Cavaliers | Small Forward
This blogger’s favorite LBJ milestone came during a late season match-up with the Chicago Bulls in which LeBron became the youngest player in NBA history to score 15,000 points, beating Kobe by more than two years. My second favorite stat? The number of times I received text messages from friends asking me where best to order their No. 6 jersey?
LeBron averaged 29.7 points, a career high 8.6 assists (while always delivering with extra pepperoni) and 7.3 boards, while shooting better than .500 from the field. He also fouled fewer times than he has ever fouled before and widened the gap between himself and every other person who claimed they played basketball in the past 12 months.
Carmelo Anthony might have started the season a little hotter than James but the Cavalier quickly served notice, like a briefcase from Kobayashi, that he was serious about his legacy. Any talk about Kevin Durant catching LBJ is straight nonsense and belongs in the bin. Don’t get me wrong, the kid from OKC is good but let’s not get ahead of our selves, again, remember what happened with T-Mac?
LeBron James owned this season like Google owns search engines and yet it somehow felt like he flew under the radar (maybe it was just me?). Are we already taking him for granted, like we did Mike (to prove we took MJ for granted, the media handed an MVP award to Karl Malone to stage off boredom from Mike’s seemingly clinical dominance) or are we collectively afraid that last season’s post-season failure is doomed to repeat? Like the Mavericks, the Cavs also benefited from the Washington Wizards cleaning house but the addition of All-Star forward Antawn Jamison, much like Butler in Big D, didn’t crowd LBJ’s party. In fact, it simply gave him another bartender to help mix drinks. Playing an MVP caliber season, James spent most of ‘09-10 on Mars, constructing flotation transports with Dr, Manhattan, you know, because he has friends in high places and because his game was simply on another planet.
DWYANE WADE | Miami Heat | Shooting Guard
OK, this is the meat and potatoes of this blog entry. Take off the Kobe goggles, for just a second, calmly let me hold your hand and let us walk through this one together… It wasn’t easy swallowing the truth that Kobe wasn’t his best this season, that he didn’t turn into Steve Nash and support his squad no matter what. Sure, he’s just not wired that way, I get that. But when he was down – when he wasn’t producing – he didn’t defer, he simply brought the team down with him.
Know that Wade’s placement is equal parts about his rise as it is about Kobe’s momentary fall. This isn’t a punishment, nor is this a dent to Kobe’s legacy. It’s just the reality that Kobe no longer walks on water, his body won’t let him. Like Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and Allen Iverson (fellow decade defining players), Bryant has returned to earth, he has once again joined the basketball mortals, or at least he did during a large portion of 2010.
Looking at it from a distance, from top to bottom, through 82 regular season games, Kobe Bryant was the NBA’s fourth best guard. That doesn’t make him worthless, it certainly doesn’t mean his stock is dropping, it’s a refection of his season and it just so happened to coincide when Wade got it together. Remember, for the past two seasons Wade has furiously, relentlessly chomping at Kobe’s heels and for my money he finally took a jumpman leap and surpassed him – help of course by Kobe’s pigheadedness to play through all kinds of ailments.
Breaking it down, roster wise, we all know Wade did more with less. I’m happy to acknowledge that when 100 percent healthy, Kobe will most likely reclaim his First team honors but as far this season, it’s hard to rank him ahead of Wade. While most hooperts, who have been invited to vote, will cop out and place Kobe on the first team next to Wade, I’m drawing the positional line in the Blake Griffin training hill of sand.
Kobe lovers, look at it like this, he was forced to take too many days off, forced to call in sick one too many times and when he did show up to work, he didn’t always file his paper work correctly. Wade, on the other hand, while not always the perfect employee did play both ends of the timber better than Kobe.
Wade ranked among the league leaders in steals per game (1.84, good enough for fourth) while Kobe was 13th (1.55). Wade notched 17 double doubles (tied for 44th), Bryant had seven (tied for 77th). Kobe obviously trumps Dwyane in the Win/Loss department but dragging the Heat to a fifth seed/47 wins, even if it’s in the East, shows that Wade could have taken that Lakers roster to near 70 wins.
Wade committed 2.4 fouls per contest compared to Kobe’s 2.6, which leads us to Technicals. Kobe mouthed off more and notched 14 Ts to Wade’s 9. Kobe also turned it over at a similar clip (but both were terrible), averaging 3.2 to Wade’s 3.3, respectively. Obviously Wade registered a better assist-to turnover ratio but let’s not hold that against Kobe, he’s never been able to let his basketball talk to another player.
Don’t worry Kobe fanatics, I’m getting to those six game winners – including that running bank shot in Wade’s grill. Yes, Kobe hit a few amazing clutch shots but bailing a team out doesn’t automatically qualify you for First Team honors, not when it’s about overall contribution. So there you have it, while Kobe spent a portion of his season playing left handed, seemingly toying with defenders, Wade was crushing on defenders, just as Anderson Varejao.
So why is Wade here? He became a LBJ clone, finishing 10th in the NBA in assists per game (with 6.5) while Kobe could only manage 25th despite having no point guard and more weapons around him. Kobe took more shots and played more minutes but how about when they squared off? Does that void or back-up your claims? Well, I’m glad asked…
Game 1, in L.A.
Lakers 108, Heat 107
Kobe: 42 minutes, 33 points, seven rebounds, three assists, three steals. (+4)…
Wade: 42 minutes, 26 points, eight boards, nine assists, two blocks. (+8)…
Game 2, in Miami
Heat 114, Lakers 111
Kobe: 46 minutes, 39 points, four assists, two boards, one steal, one block. (+3)… Wade: 42 minutes, 27 points, 14 assists, five boards, one steal. (+5).
Both close, both could have gone either way… but seeing as LA is far superior in every department, I’m giving both W to Wade. Lifting an inferior roster while helping an average coaching staff to look good against the defending Champs, hmmm, appears like Wade has it in the bag.
Wade gained momentum as the season wore on, stream rolling through the latter stages of the season, while Kobe and the Lakers played the mediocre game. Wade finished the season with 21 wins and eight losses (since the All-Star break) – a weekend that also saw him collect MVP honors on (literally) the worlds biggest basketball stage. In many ways, that Dallas showing was the microcosm of the season – Wade was a standout, Kobe was hurt, didn’t play.
In 25 years, when we need to look back on ‘09-10 season, remember that for six months, Wade was superior to Kobe.
One final note before this blog blows out to 10,000 words, Wade finished 28th in the L in blocks per, averaging just over a block per game. He even swatting more shots than LBJ, in fact, the only other guards to finish inside the Top 60 were the Los Angeles Clippers’ Rasual Butler (ranked 47th), Indiana’s Brandon Rush (ranked 52nd) and Philadelphia’s Andre Iguodala (ranked 60th). As for Kobe, he finished at 120. Wade played with one of the finest shot blockers of the past 10 years and still held his own one man wrecking crew. Kobe, well, he had an excuse, his finger was tapped up.
Rather than circle jerk about Kobe let’s all just be honest – let’s award him with his true placing and accept that, for this campaign, Wade was superior. OK, you can let go of my hand now.
STEVE NASH | Phoenix Suns | Point Guard
The Verbal Kint of the NBA, Nash knows how to hide the lies (his age) inside his truths (his playmaking). Yet again, he led the L in assists and recorded more double doubles than any other NBA guard (finishing with 49, five ahead of Deron Williams). Nash also takes First Team honors ahead of Deron (the only other real challenger at the PG spot) because he had less to work with, runs under an inferior Coach, is much older, still looks like more fun to play with, and shot 50/40/90 for the third straight season (forcing all kinds dubious claims to be made that’s the best statistical shooter in the history of the game). Actually, his .938 from the charity is the best of his career. Oh, and Nash opened the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, which means he even one-upped Deron in that department.
Whizzing past the competition out West, Stevie Wonder collected his Super Mario Kart mushrooms every trip round the circuit and following the All-Star break he helped the Suns bypass both the Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets (when it mattered most). In fact, the Suns recorded an incredible 23 win, six loss mark following the mid-season break, so yeah, there something in the (vitamin) water in Nash’s fridge. Why isn’t Steve Nash being asked to appear on every magazine cover across the country? Didn’t his season, or the Suns molten lava start, coupled with their Tokyo bullet train finish, do enough to force us all to go gaga over the Suns and Nash, again? Shouldn’t we all be looking at his production, his ability to force his will, his magical shooting percentages, his likability, his energetic without being frantic attitude with renewed admiration? Don’t we owe it to ourselves as basketball fans? It has become clear, at least to me, that we’ll see every player in the League replicated three times over before we find ourselves with a talent quite like Nash. Does all that equate to him being a certified First Teamer for ‘09-10? No doubt.
Side note: If Nash isn’t third on MVP ballots, surely Head Coach Alvin Gentry needs to be considered for NBA Coach Of The Year? He took the Suns to third in the Western Conference, when most people thought they’d fallen off and out of the Playoff bubble, once and for all.
Gentry also had to deal with a contract year superstar (whose name was also tossed around during trade talks more than a burnt DVD quality copy of Avatar); a blur-less bench; a 37 year old starting point guard who people claim ‘can’t play any D’; the ‘next Jordan’, from two decades ago; the poor-man’s Lopez brother; a C trapped in a SG’s mentality; the gamble known as Jason Richardson; an undersized, pony tailed, energy man pretending to be a back-up C; Jared Dudley and a foreign PG whose strengths are often his weaknesses.
That’s also why Nash is here, he got more out of his players than anyone else since, well, Steve Nash. He made every Suns player look good this season. He’s as much the team stylist as he is the playmaker. He wouldn’t go away, wouldn’t fold, wouldn’t stop supporting his teammates and wouldn’t stop dropping dimes or showing up more athletic, more talented players.
While his back gave him troubles (at times), when it matter most, when he saw his window with Amar’e Stoudemire was closing, he stepped it up, devised an ingenious plan and turned ‘09-10 into his more masterwork. The biggest lesson given out this season: don’t ever, ever count Steve Nash out.