Eternal Youth for the Kidd
For Jason, age is just a number.
by Colin Powers
Jason Kidd? Forreal? The same Kidd who knocked Duke out of the Tournament in ’93? The same dude who teamed with Rex Chapman in Phoenix? Same guy who stole the city from the Knicks? That guy is still pushing the break, and now playing at perhaps the most efficient level of his entire career?
There has never been anything all that orthodox about Kidd’s career, so we really shouldn’t have thought we had any right to project how it would finish up. He was one of the most dominant players of the last two decades but without ever caring or having a proficiency for shooting, a true outlier in this epoch of the scoring PG. He never had the big cross-over or the lightning quick first-step of some of his contemporaries at the position but he still outplayed them. From day one, Kidd truly created his own path, and it looks like he ain’t gonna let conventional wisdom decide where it ends.
After all, marks of erosion were clearly visible as early as 2007, or so we thought; when the Mavs swung their young, jet-quick attacking PG Devin Harris for one of the elder statesmen of the League in the middle of that season, a lot of people were contemplating the peyote Mark Cuban must have been dabbling in. Kidd had a big contract, was on the decline, and couldn’t keep up with these youthful game-changers joining the League’s ranks at every draft. This sport rarely allows a graceful exit.
And yet, in 2010, at 37 years-old, Jason Kidd is fresh off a vintage performance last night in the first round of the Playoffs for his 2nd seeded Mavericks, dictating the pace, controlling and calming his teammates, and burying big shots time after time while just barely falling short of a triple double. 13 points, 11 dimes, 8 boards, 4 steals. He buried three of five from beyond the arch, including a dagger with under three minutes left that just about iced it. In this tense Game 1, we found a fitting tribute to and a perfect moment to symbolize Kidd’s continued evolution and tremendous ability to keep himself relevant in this young man’s game.
As a sure thing hall-of-famer, internationally undefeated, and bearing a legacy firmly established as one of the greatest ever at the position, Jason had little reason to do anything but ride off into the sunset. Nonetheless, Kidd arrived on the scene this year with that same need to win and a new tool from his summer work-outs: a sharper, more consistent jump-shot. He’s improved his balance and footwork, avoiding the historical pitfalls that plagued him of fading left and right when releasing his shot. Committed to staying disciplined in his mechanics, both in jumping straight up and down and in extending his follow-through, Kidd reemerged as a 42 percent 3-point shooter in 2010. That’s right. Jason Kidd is shooting 42 percent from 3. In doing so, he has transformed what were meant to be twilight years into an extended era resembling his prime, and in doing so, also helped transform the Mavs into genuine contenders. For both Kidd and the team as a whole, the window of being amongst the elite very much looked closed prior this October. To say the least, a lot can change in six months.
So not to fall into hyperbolae, it should be said that Kidd’s vision and understanding of the game on both ends of the court was always going to allow him to persist in effectiveness once his physical tools began to erode. He wasn’t a guy like Isiah or Kevin Johnson who built their game around dribble penetration, guys that developed an entire outlook on the game through their ability to take their man 1-on-1 in close quartered situations. Kidd was a bigger PG with strength and girth to offset any loss in wheels. He still loves the open court and attacking in those advantageous situations, but he always had a diversified game that did not solely rely on breaking the D down, especially in the half-court. He is one of the smartest PGs of all time, and his mind was going to allow him to age well no matter what. But this well?
No, this new-found precision from distance has profoundly changed the way teams must defend him and Dallas as a team, and along with the acquisition of Haywood and Tough Juice, has played the biggest role in returning Dallas to contention. When the Mavs spread the court, there is no longer anyone to slink off of, providing Nowitzki, Butler, and Terry with the room and time to attack the defense. Kidd continues to make plays on the break, getting Shawn Marion and Haywood and the like easy buckets, and also keeps Dallas emotionally poised in moments when they might suffer from some ’06 flashbacks. But more importantly, this fresh incarnation of J. Kidd makes the Mavs far more difficult to handle in their half-court sets, which is where the majority of Playoff basketball is found anyway. Their spacing is so much improved, and the opposition is consistently forced into a catch-22 of sorts: The Mavs enter the ball to Dirk at the foul-line extended, isolating him in what is indiscriminately a tough match-up for any defender in the League. Surrounding the big German are three able-bodied 3-point shooters and a big man to clean up any ensuing garbage. If you throw a second defender at Dirk, you either open up lanes for a Maverick player from the weak side to cut through, piercing the heart of the defense for an easy two, or you leave an open shooter somewhere on the perimeter. If you let Dirk go one-on-one, he might just hit you for 36 points on 12/14 shooting. Poison either way.
In past years, a defending team might be able to send whoever was playing Kidd to double Nowitzki, scrambling to recover to the remaining shooters and taking Dallas out of their rhythm. This year, that strategy is not a real option. In the 4th quarter last night, we saw a Spurs team hopeless to combat such a Mavericks offense, with the subtle improvement to Jason Kidd’s shooting deserving much of the credit.
A good deal has been written about the influx of dynamic Point Guards beginning with the preeminent Class of 2005, and rightfully so. We have witnessed a striking number of special young playmakers populating the professional ranks in the past five years. Their masterful abilities along with the crackdown on physical defense have genuinely changed the nature of the game, and these guys are the vanguard. But all the while, a number of the old boys have quietly continued to go about their business, redefining the typical career trajectory of the point guard position. Through out history, the 30th birthday was an indelible mark of the coming end of days; 35 was an almost universal signal for a time to switch careers. Whether through nutrition, preparation, good luck, or just statistical anomaly, this post-season alone features three such players defying their age and ballin’ on: Mr. Kidd, Steve Nash, and Andre Miller. Let’s enjoy it while we can.