A few good arguments that popped into my head early in this NBA season.
by Allen Powell II
While it’s way too early to anoint the Miami Heat as colossal busts, or the New Orleans Hornets as championship contenders, it’s not too early to engage in the sort of debates sports fans love. Here are five interesting arguments that popped into my head during the first few weeks of what looks to be a great season. Let’s hash things out.
1. Prettiest Offense: Utah Jazz or Los Angeles Lakers?
Despite coaching three of the most dominant offensive talents in league history, Phil Jackson has never abandoned the triangle offense he instituted under Tex Winter’s tutelage. And considering Jackson’s 11 rings, and the triangle’s beautiful high post action, it’s unlikely he will ever make a switch. When it’s clicking, the triangle has all five players operating on a string. It’s like jazz, the perfect mixture of pre-arranged movement and instant improvisation.
But, if the triangle is jazz, then Utah’s flex offense is its country and western twin with an Everyman appeal. Chock full of back screens, UCLA cuts and properly executed pick and rolls, Utah’s offense depends on purposeful movement and perfectly timed contact.
Unlike the triangle, Jerry Sloan’s offense works best with a point guard who understands where to get every player the ball, but who can also score on demand. Besides, while the triangle may look beautiful now, without the talent currently wearing purple and gold it didn’t look anywhere near as pretty. On the other hand, Jerry Sloan manages to create smooth offense regardless of the talent that suits up. Advantage Jazz.
Honorable Mention: Boston Celtics.
2. Nicest “Old Man Game”: Andre Miller or Jason Kidd?
A speedster in his youth, Kidd’s game has slowed down considerably in the twilight of his career thanks to a change in personnel and a drop in personal athleticism. But Kidd is still deadly on the block, or patiently waiting for his teammates to see the cuts and curls he anticipated as soon as he crossed halfcourt.
Andre Miller might be the most underrated point guard in the league. For years, he’s quietly excelled at his job, and while his game has some obvious deficiencies, they rarely get exploited. Watching Miller abuse smaller guards on the block, blow by defenders with a sneaky change-of-pace or set up teammates for easy shots brings to mind a popular description of Oscar Robertson’s game:
If you want Miller to take a 10-foot jumper, he’s going to get an 8-footer. If you want him to shoot a 5-footer, he’s going to get a two-footer. And if you want him to shoot a two-footer, he won’t rest until he’s shooting layups.
Advantage Miller. Kidd is still tough, but Miller has a larger impact.
Honorable Mention: Joe Johnson
3. Most Freakish Athlete: LeBron James or Blake Griffin?
For the past seven seasons, it’s been widely accepted that LeBron James is an incomparable physical talent. What he can do with his combination of size, speed and hops shocks viewers at least once per game. But, Blake Griffin isn’t going to concede the title of the NBA’s most freakish athlete without a fight. After missing his original rookie year due to injury, Griffin is using his mulligan to shock and awe nightly. It’s not that Griffin is quicker than James or jumps higher than LeBron, but somehow it seems like he gets off the ground faster and easier. While James is unstoppable with a head of steam, Griffin is amazing from a standstill! The way he explodes to the rim on random rebounds has big men all over the NBA watching their heads. Honestly, this argument is too close to call.
Advantage Push. I can’t make a definitive call on this one, but it’s fun to contemplate.
Honorable mention: Derrick Rose.
4. Most Surprising Elite Rebounder: Kevin Love or Reggie Evans?
Kevin Love is the toast of the NBA thanks to his recent 30/30 explosion, but it’s honestly not that surprising. In fact, the 30-points were probably harder for Love to come by than the rebounds since he gobbles them up like Superhead gobbles… well y’all know.
But, while Love gets the well-deserved hype, the rebounding prowess of Reggie Evans is underappreciated. Like Love, Wedgie, er Reggie, suffers from a distinct lack of jumping ability and quickness, but unlike Love, Evans might be the most uncoordinated player in the entire League. Watching him dribble is appalling and his shooting form isn’t much better. Evans seems determined to prove that rebounding really is all about effort, not talent, and that’s why he’s the League’s most surprising elite rebounder.
Advantage Evans. Love is the better player, but Reggie is the bigger shock.
Honorable Mention: Pau Gasol
5. Best Comeback Story: Michael Beasley or Andre Kirilenko?
After a rocky start to his career, Super Cool Beas seems determined to prove that he wasn’t the problem on South Beach. (How you doing Erik?) When his jumper is dropping, Beasley is a threat to give 30 points to anyone, and he’s an underrated leaper. With consistent time and the green light, Beasley seems poised to finally live up to his draft position.
A few years ago, Kirilenko was one of the most-hyped players in the League because his multifaceted skillset gave stat geeks the vapors. But, after landing a massive contract with Utah, the Russian assault rifle jammed thanks to injuries, questionable work ethic and atrophying skills. Boozer’s departure from the Land of Mormon appears to have opened up opportunities for Kirilenko and he’s once again showing off his nice feel for the game. That’s a great comeback.
Honorable Mention: Kevin Garnett