Thursday, March 01, 2007
Some young guys who don't give up
Look at Alexander Johnson's face. Look in his eyes. He wants it. He wants to be the best player in the NBA. He may never get there, but you can be damn sure that you're not going to be the man to stop him. He's not going to give up.
Alexander, to me, is both a member and a metaphor of the group of young players in the NBA. These players are filled with potential and are [at least somewhat] unaffected by the marital, monetary, and many other psychological concerns that older NBA players face. They are looking to make their names, these young guns, and most of them know that they'll have to play their asses off to do it.
That's the reason I love watching younger guys' progress in the NBA. A part of me doubtlessly identifies with them because I'm in a similar station myself, young and trying to make it in the world. Still, I've always appreciated old-as-fuck players as well as young, so I don't think it's all about identity.
What really excites me as a fan is potential. My days of card-collecting had me looking for the next Star Jordan Rookie, and those years seamlessly transitioned into a time in my life where many hours were spent positioning my Madden franchise to take over the league. Through those hobbies and as a fan in general, I have seen the benefits and pitfalls that players with potential have, and in my opinion, potential brings more excitement, more disappointment, and more energy in general to sports than anything short of the playoffs. Only one group of fans gets to enjoy their off-season in contentment, while the rest are all looking at that potential; which of their guys is going to progress, where can they find someone better, etc., etc. It gives even the most pitiful teams' fans something to grasp on to when they are seemingly in dire straights.
But enough melodrama. ("MELODRAMA!" would have been a great Daily News headline after the Knicks/Nuggets throwdown. It could have included a picture of Carmelo Anthony connecting with his punch-slap, with another picture of him dejected and pissed off after the fight. I think that would have been classic.) Today, Don't Ever Give Up: The Basketball Blog presents to you my list of young players who will make a difference, and those who won't. Doing this is always hard, but it's also fun, so what the hell. I will try to keep my readers updated of my success or embarrassment in the coming months/years/decade.
Celtics: Gerald Green; I know everybody realizes Green is a great athlete and was good enough to be drafted out of high school, but what a lot of people don't appreciate is that he's one of the better shooters in the NBA. The thing that's worrisome is that he's got all the tools, and for two years, he hasn't been able to put it together. Great players have had similar problems (Tracy McGrady, for instance), and Green does have the burden of deferring to Pierce and getting benched by Rivers. I know that Doc Rivers isn't a great coach, but he must be benching him for some reason. I think the problem behind his lack of playing time is his defense; he's certainly athletic enough to be a great defender, but it doesn't seem to me like he's proving that yet.
Nets: Marcus Williams; He's having a rough rookie campaign, but I believe in Marcus. Point guards have it rough in the NBA, especially in a backup situation, especially when they're not good shooters. However, Marcus has the ability to overcome these problems in the coming years, and Jason Kidd is aging, divorcing, and can't be too happy in New Jersey. Williams is silently putting together a very good month, averaging 10.6, 3.8 assists, and 3.0 rebounds in just 20 minutes of work a night. More importantly, he's shooting pretty effectively (11-25 from deep in December, 86% from the line for the year, and 46% in the last two months). If he can hone his mid-range shot, he could be the next Rod Strickland.
New York Knicks: David Lee; Everybody knows about this already so I'll spare you. He'd be an all-star if he played more. (An aside: Balkman and Frye suck.)
Philadelphia Sixers: Honestly, the only person who's noteworthy is Iguodala, because he's becoming an incredibly complete player, and I don't think a lot of people saw that coming.
Toronto Raptors: Despite the presence of Bosh and Bargnani, I think the most significant young guy on this team is Jose Calderon, a great Nash-like point guard who can dunk, drive, shoot, and pass. Last month he averaged 12.0 points and 7.5 assists on 56% shooting despite playing only 28.7 minutes a game. This month his minutes are down to 22.9, but he's still putting up 11.3 points and 7.0 assists while shooting 54.5%. He's made 30 of his last 32 free throws. He can even dunk with two hands (he's actually got great size for a point guard, standing 6'4"). If you don't believe me, check this out (and remember to wait for it...there is another dunk in the highlight that's just some 6'9" Spanish turd.) Think that's a fluke? Check out his athleticism here [again, wait for it] and here.
Chicago Bulls: I'm on the fence with Thabo Sefolosha. He seems like quite the dunker, and a good defender, which I like, but I just feel like he was a big fish in a small pond in Switzerland, and over here, I think he'll end up just like Freddie Jones. He's a good athlete who plays hard, but he doesn't really have any fundamentals. (He shoots 52% from the line, for instance.) I'm going to predict him being a bust.
Cavs: Anderson Varaejao definitely qualifies as fuck-bag number one, and his hair really pisses me off. The thing is, he's big and strong, plays hard, is a good rebounder, and if he ever figures out how to control his body, could be a great role-player. He will be like Eduardo Najera, I think, which is a compliment in my book.
Pistons: Joe Dumars knows how to trade, but not how to draft. (If only he could combine talents with Danny Ainge or Isiah!) No young talent here.
Pacers: I think Danny Granger is a high-floor, low-ceiling kind of guy. My pick for young talent on this team is Ike Diogu, who is one big, bad, low-flying motherfucker. He doesn't play defense well and from what I understand he can't play effectively in a set offense, but I think with his athletic skills he could still become someone important, and I like his tenacity. He would make a great Knick frontcourt team with Curry and Lee. Oh well.
Bucks: I don't know how it's possible but Charlie Bell looks like a real professional. This could go one of two ways; he could become more aggressive and really mean something to someone, or he could continue to be a solid role player. Either way I think he will matter to someone in the future. Who doesn't like an unselfish shooter who can pass, play defense, and get to the hole when he has to? He would be a great fit for the Spurs to back up Parker.
Hawks: For a team with a bunch of young players, to be honest, I don't think any of them are going anywhere. Prove me wrong, Marvin Williams, prove me wrong....
Bobcats: Raymond Felton is obviously the man, and I think he will be very good. It would be a blessing if he could learn how to play more efficiently, but he is the real deal. Like David Lee, there's not much I can say that isn't already apparent. (14.2 ppg, 7.4 assists) I don't see why Mo Williams gets any more publicity than Felton.
Heat: No young up and comers here. I'm tempted to say Dorrell Wright but...I don't know...see Thabo's entry.
Orlando: God, it kills me to say this, but Darko seems like he's beginning to put it together. He's played 24 minutes per game this month, as much as at any point in his career, and he's averaging a fairly impressive 11.7 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game. He's shooting 50%. Perhaps he may finally realize his potential at some point soon. (One impressive thing is that the most shots he's taken in a game is 11, yet he's managed to have outings of 21 points, 19 points, 16 points, and 14 points twice. That's not bad at all.)]
Washington: I think that one of the least productive 2-guards in the league also has the most potential. He's also something of an old man for a young guy at 25. However, he's a six-year veteran who's had the tutelage of one of my favorite people of all time, Jerry Sloan, and I think he's immensely talented and unselfish. To wit: He shoots 50%, and 45% from three-point range. He is very, very athletic [2000 McDonald's All-American dunk contest winner]. He knows how to play within the offense and can really step up when he needs to (16.2 points in the last five games, in which his frontcourt has been scoring less than 5 points per game combined).
That's all for me today. Tomorrow: the West.
Posted by Jimmy at 11:05 AM