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I don't blame our very own Stephen B. Snyde. We had just seen the Utah Jazz, led by an unstoppable Carlos Boozer inside, beat our Warriors. Then we saw the same Jazz get beat up inside by Tim Duncan, who ended up eliminating one of the few teams that could hang, the Phoenix Suns, who had Amare Stoudemire in there to try and neutralize Duncan. So of course, we figured that you had to take Greg Oden with the first pick.
Come to think of it, I'm not so sure. Two big discoveries for me have made me jump ship. Big time.
Win, every time, any time you step on ANY court
The first was an on-the-court recount of Kevin Durant by a TrueHoop reader:
We start playing, and everyone's just goofing around, jacking up threes, until someone blocked one of KD's teammate's shots. To be fair, the guy who got his shot swatted sucked. They got super-intense, and the next time down the court, KD started posting me up all serious-like (I was the tallest player on my team, and therefore was the most 'qualified' to guard him). This brought back memories of three or four other examples where I have played against pro-am players in pickup ball. The guys that play hard and treat it like any other basketball competition (within reason, of course, because ain't no college D-1 or future NBA recruit is gonna find himself playing pickup where no one on the court has ever played in high school somewhere or can't make a layup), they make it to the next level. Those bright-future guys I have played against who never took it seriously, who were "saving" themselves for the real comp or something, they never amounted to anything.
All of a sudden he spun towards the basket, but not before slamming his pointy elbow right in my eye. After dunking on us, he yelled 'don't talk s--- if you can't back it up' (that was heavily edited). I quipped, 'Isn't it past your curfew?' I'd like to say that I led my team to an upset victory, or even I j'ed a 3 in his face, but no. He single-handedly dominated us, literally with his teammates watching, as he would block our shots or steal the ball, and then drive into the lane and slam it home.
My real-life example is, of all NBA'ers, Earl Watson. I visited my cousin in SoCal and we went to UCLA to go play in the rec gym. We won one game, then all of a sudden Watson and Jelani McCoy walk in and call next game. I can't remember the name of the 6'10" guy, but he was heavily recruited by the NBA, but didn't last long. As you should know, Watson is still in the NBA. At the time, I knew about him and saw him play and didn't think he had a great game. He definitely was nothing all that spectacular on the court at UCLA that day, but I had to guard him and for sure he was taking the game seriously. I mean, this against a bunch of small Asian guys, albeit it was clear to them we had at least played in high school. The thing I remember about Watson was his intensity and just playing the game right. Nothing fancy. I reckon that's why he still has value in the NBA today. He must be a smart guy.
Then there's my now old-man gym rat buddy Chris Kuwada who recalls his days at the Santa Clara University gym. Last week, Kuwada tells me about how Steve Nash was the quintessential gym rat. He would play against anybody and everybody in the gym. According to Kuwada, he shot a lot of threes -- NBA-range, of course -- and made all of them. He didn't drive much. Kuwada theorizes that it might be because during Nash's freshman year, SCU had a couple of really good, big, tall guards who weren't anything special on offense, but who could really play defense. So Nash couldn't really penetrate through them when he was a freshman.
Learn the bounce-behind-backboard shot before playing HORSE with this guy.
You know how sometimes the gym gets empty and you the hoops-addicted college student are wondering if you should just go home and watch TV? Well, Nash stuck around and loved to play HORSE. With anyone. Girls, guys, law students, anyone. Kuwada says that Nash's favorite HORSE move would be the one behind the basket -- no, not the one you or I used to impress bystanders with. Nash's behind-the-basket HORSE shot would take one bounce off the top of the backboard before going in the hoop. Anyhow, Nash was one helluva competitor.
Now here are some examples where guys who never took the court seriously never made it. Aside from a shooting guard who had flashes of greatness on Cal's RSF pickup court, but never really did anything but shoot threes and stay out of harm's way, who eventually played for SF State but had a falling out with the coach and honestly I can't remember his name, there was Monty Buckley, who played alongside Jason Kidd at Cal. Buckley never took it seriously on the pickup court. Sure, you're gonna say that he wasn't all that great to begin with, so the comparison against Watson and Nash is apples to oranges, but I'm saying that if you don't have that competitive fire even in pickup games, then by definition you don't have a chance at the next level.
You're clearly the best player on the court. Act like it. Don't sit back, shoot threes, and not care because this isn't where you "normally" play. Eventually there'll be a pickup game where it's 9-to-8 and game's to 11. How can you not care about winning that one? What are you doing there in the first place?
I don't think competitive fire is something a young recruit can just turn on and off. If you have it, then that will carry your mental strength. If you don't have it, then as a young recruit, you'll be vulnerable to issues involving the hoop mental game.
I'm not saying Oden doesn't have that competitive fire, but KD clearly showing it in the quote above, that's a huge reason for me to pick KD. Goes beyond the obvious. That's all I need to know, all I need to be reassured about.
We're in an era of hoop where Plastic Man rules.
The long arm of the law and genetics
The other thing I realized when contemplating the whole Duncan/Amare/Boozer effect in the NBA playoffs is, if I were a coach and my team were undersized, would KD step up and take the responsibility of guarding the bigger man?
Here I am, the Portland Trailblazers. We made it to the 2008 playoffs as the #8 seed against the #1 Spurs. I picked KD over Oden and that guy (Pryzbilla? -- heck, fill in the blank with any 6'10" dude) is not getting it done against TD. It's a close game with under 2:00 to go in the 4th.
Well, it's not like having Durant cover Duncan is a totally blasphemous thing.
After all, on my Dream League All-Star team, I've had my 6'1" small forward Ross Lim, who has a wingspan of 6'3" (i.e., a standing reach way, way over my smallish 6'1" frame) cover 6'3" power forwards, such as Ryan Dunn, who is really 6'2" with about a 6'4" wingspan, of the Pac Coast Barons (Lim now plays on Dunn's team).
Never underestimate wingspan. When a guy with a long wingspan dedicates himself to playing defense and hustling after loose balls like Lim did, it's a thing of beauty. Lim doesn't necessarily have the greatest offensive moves and he has long lacked a jump shot or even a reliable three-point set shot. But his value to us in filling in all the other holes was immeasurable.
We also had another 6'1" guy with a 6'3" wingspan in point/forward Jameel Uddeen. He's like our Scottie Pippen. So I've had two of my starters with long wingspans, known more for their defense than their offense, lead my teams to multiple tournament championships, shutting down highly talented scorers.
I'm a strong proponent of wingspan, if it's used properly. I don't think anyone will argue that Durant uses his wingspan to his advantage.
I did a Google on "kevin durant wingspan" and sure enough, not only is Durant's wingspan 7'5", which is technically a quarter-inch longer than Oden's, but his jumping vertical (34 inches, higher than Oden's) and standing reach (9'2" compared to Oden's 9'4") are pretty incredible. I wasn't able to find Duncan's measurements, but as I said, having KD guard TD is not blasphemy.
I think he would do it, too. He'd be up to the challenge.
The epitome of skill and determination -- along with being skinny!
The other thing is, I've seen kids with Durant's body type. When you are that long and your muscle structure hasn't developed yet, that means you are still growing. His body type -- the bony limbs, the oversized feet and hands, the semi-awkwardness -- looks so much like dreamleague scorekeeper and current De Anza Community College player Everett Johnson's. "EJ" has grown an inch or two since I first met him 3 years ago when he was 18. That's probably good for another 2 inches of wingspan and standing reach for EJ. Think of what more growth will mean to KD.
With the likes of Reggie Miller, we've all seen that having muscles in basketball only gets you so far. If I were KD, I wouldn't be in a hurry to bulk up. Let the bones grow to their maximum before piling on the tissue.
So in other words, I think KD will end up not being that much smaller than Oden. Add the repertoire KD already has and can continue to build? SCARY.
Other stuff about Durant's future
ESPN's John Hollinger has a more scientific approach and has Durant way ahead of Oden. In fact, you look at Chris Bosh and his measurements, and it gets me thinking that Bosh and Oden are kinda at the same "tier", if you will. Now would you pick Durant or Bosh? Case closed.
Btw, Hollinger's 50-50 quip about Dwyane Wade and KD backs up my assessment on wingspan and defense.
Adidas, what the hell are you waiting for? Kobe Bryant already re-signed with Nike and Oden is enjoying his spending account at Niketown, so why don't you hurry up and sign Durant before it's too late? After all, you do already have a shoe ready to go (I might even jump ship from Nike on that, too). Not only that, you know Nike would have trouble marketing a low-cost shoe, like how Durant wants.
And I can't find the link, but I'm pretty sure I read somewhere that Nike would not even come close to LeBron James's contract if they were to sign Durant. Here's your opportunity to snap up Durant forever, Adidas. Duh!
Portland, don't act the fool
So with apologies to Stephen B. Snyde and the NBA playoffs, if I were Kevin Pritchard, first of all, I would try to swap with Seattle. You know Seattle's gonna pick Oden if they had the chance. So why not try to get something extra out of all this? A future pick. Even a couple million bucks.
The other thing is, you save face by not having to pass on Oden with the first pick. Half of the critics are guaranteed to call you stupid, half the owners are never gonna hire you (any coach or GM's NBA career is, by definition, short-lived) because of your pick, so drop down and take Durant at #2.
It's another case of buy-low-sell-high. This stuff should be taught in business schools.
In fact, if Oden was at #2, I wouldn't be all that disappointed either, even though I am saying that Durant is one-in-a-million. Oden is still my one-in-a-thousand. You still can't lose at #2.
But if you must stay with the #1 pick, then you better mount a huge PR effort as to why you picked Durant. And the two arguments I made above are your starting points: (1) according to what we've researched, KD has an unbelievable fire inside, and (2) we believe he is going to grow another inch or two or three, to the point where it's not blasphemous that you would see him switching on defense against an Oden or Duncan and Durant comes out of it with a steal or blocked shot.
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