Top 50: Kevin Garnett, no. 38

by Sam Rubenstein / @samrubenstein

Kevin Garnett has played over 50,000 NBA minutes including the Playoffs, and he’s been a screaming lunatic for every one of them. There are other players on the Brooklyn Nets who are “better” than KG at this point in his NBA lifetime. The guy is heading into his 19th (!!!!) season, and he’s just three years younger than the coach. His stats have been fading away over the past few years, and most people would have understood if he called it a career. His Hall of Fame ticket is already stamped and there’s not much left for him to prove. There’s about $25 million coming his way over the next two years, which is plenty of motivation, but it seemed like last season people were nudging him toward the next phase of life.

If only he were the type of guy who could go away quietly. The last time KG changed teams, he took a mess that was lost in the NBA wasteland to an insta-ring. He showed up in Boston and brought a passion for playing defense and excitement about the team concept. The one who failed seven years in a row in the first round became a distant memory as KG’s completely over-the-top intensity manifested itself in that Championship and a lifetime of memorable playoff memories.

The Brooklyn Nets are desperate for all of those things, but mostly the passion. They swung and missed on LeBron, Dwight, Carmelo, you name it. Their first season in their new location had a few moments, but nothing to match the hype that comes with all things Brooklyn. I live in Brooklyn and there was Gerald Wallace propaganda on display near my home. Yes, the Nets were desperate to generate some type of on court buzz to match everything else they put into their branding. Kevin Garnett has “it” and that makes the Nets exciting, even dangerous. But this isn’t about them, this is about him and his place on the list.

At this point in his career, Kevin Garnett is the fourth or fifth best offensive player among Nets starters. It won’t be his job to put up points. With Brook Lopez taking deep jumpers and staying far away from the glass, it will be up to KG to rebound, intimidate inside, and keep the team blood flowing. Last year, Deron Williams had a game where he hit 9 threes in the first half. The response from the general public was that finally something exciting happened at the Barclay’s Center.

If KG provided nothing else, at least he brings some good pageantry. Headbutting before the game, screaming at rookies, making inappropriate comments on the court about breakfast cereals. He brings a lot to your team, and he becomes the vocal/spiritual/emotional leader of a team that desperately needed one. That’s enough to get you a spot on the Top 50.

KG makes it feel like there’s a big game in the building that night, even if he’s no longer the player he used to be. His presence turns Nets-Knicks into a legitimate blood rival feud. He even has some people wondering if Brooklyn can disrupt LeBron’s march towards his seven-peat. Realistically, KG will spend part of this season on the shelf, stalking the sidelines in a tasteful sweater, screaming at his teammates. He might miss chunks of the season, and he won’t play huge minutes. And that’s OK. He’s still an impact player from the locker room and on the bench. He’ll be interviewed on the bench during games, and those interviews will be funny and charming. When he does play, the Nets will play well.

Fine, a lot of this is intangibles talking, and in today’s world everything has to be justified with data. The truth is that he’s not as good as he used to be, and he never will be again (unless there’s a raging PED epidemic in the NBA, and hey you never know). He’ll likely average less than 14 ppg. His rebounds and blocks won’t jump out at you, except there will be nights where he turns back the clock and you remember. His fans will direct you to his per 36 minute stats and anything else they can use to build a case.

So while Kevin Garnett might not be as “good” as say, LaMarcus Aldridge, he’s still got qualities that make him Top 50. If he feels disrespected, slighted, overlooked, then everything changes.

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SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2013
Rank Player Team Position Pos. Rank
50 Monta Ellis Mavs SG 5
49 Luol Deng Bulls SF 10
48 Ricky Rubio TWolves PG 14
47 Greg Monroe Pistons PF 12
46 Kawhi Leonard Spurs SF 9
45 Mike Conley Grizzlies PG 13
44 Al Jefferson Bobcats C 9
43 David Lee Warriors PF 11
42 Jrue Holiday Pelicans PG 12
41 Anthony Davis Pelicans PF 10
40 Joe Johnson Nets SG 4
39 Serge Ibaka Thunder PF 9
38 Kevin Garnett Nets PF 8

Rankings are based on expected contribution in ’13-14—to players’ team, the League and the game.