Friday, November 26, 2010

Ron Artest: From Oddball to Specialist Oddball in Five Years

Only humble great players can accept leveraging their diminishing skills into lesser roles for more wins. For one thing, most terrific, cornerstone, franchise foundation, meteoric ballers are treated as such, and therefore have a hard time admitting when their abilities have deteriorated beyond the point of fancy shots falling. Hangers-on endorse them to no end, baby mothers ask for more money, and the expectations only increase with every All-Star appearance. When that rueful day comes, when their vertical leap measures the height of a cinder block, some walk off slowly, but most live through a bevy of trades to worse teams in smaller markets at each stop. Allen Iverson went the way of the dodo as soon as some GM leaked the inside information that he looked a few steps slower in practice. Shaquille O'Neal turned from NBA's greatest giant to traveling sideshow in the span of a year.

Ron Artest stands out because of how his career made that turn both abruptly and ungracefully, and in a simultaneous series of events his personal struggles multiplied in that tumultuous two-year period. However unceremonious his decline, he ironically found success right there in his worst statistical years. Mainly, it's because he modified what he did on the court so that his specialties were narrower but more powerful in the end. Ron Artest became a defender who could shoot three-point shots, as opposed to a multi-faceted scorer who could defend in stretches, and it made him more valuable to franchises over time.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Night Toney Douglas Was Born

It is a mighty struggle to avoid making this a Knicks blog. For one, grandma bred in me a love for the Blue and Red (or is it orange?) that still stirs me to rapture today. Second, the Knicks are barely relevant without Amar'e Stoudemire as a cipher for Judaism, poetry, race relations, labor disputes and general chicanery. Even so, the Knicks present a challenge to the perceived order of the NBA today. At first dismissed as a sideshow, their threats are real and urgent in the context of the season. Raymond Felton can handle the rock like a maven, though his shooting prowess is limited. Toney Douglas makes up for what Felton lacks in shooting, but has no court vision. Anthony Randolph rebounds where Amar'e can't and a whole long list of Frankenstein parts compensating for amputations. Even Rony Turiaf and Timofey Mozgov work like conjoined twins to fulfill their duties as centers. Generally, it's all confusing but, at least right now, it looks like a load of fun.

New York and Chicago haven't had a true rivalry since a certain No. 23 suited up for the Bulls and a Jamaican immigrant fought arduously to stop him. Aside from the defection of Jamal Crawford from Chicago to New York in his early career, there has been little player movement to even trump up a debate between the two squads. A couple of New York locals have played in the the Bulls uniform, including Ron Artest (The Bridge), Ben Gordon (Money-Earnin' Mount Vernon) and more recently Joakim Noah (Harlem World), but none to scintillating effect. Naturally, the two cities seem like they could be jungle predators fighting for a final bone, but in basketball 2010, Chicago's Derrick Rose/Luol Deng/Joakim Noah combo are the real show here. When TNT decided to air Knicks-Bulls, it was a respectful nod to what that contest should mean but not what it amounted to.

But then in a strange and FourPointPlay-like turn of events, the Knicks turned into the dreamy style small-ball, running-gunning terror I had come to love in my childhood. Specifically, the guard play from Toney Douglas and Raymond Felton were a serene potion of attentive defense and made three-point baskets. In the previous season, though the Knicks shot 2145 threes and made a paltry 34% of them in comparison (the league high was 41%), charges like Danilo Gallinari made a name for themselves by simply showing a willingness to take shots from anywhere on the floor not near the basket. The Mike D'Antoni fusillade of 3-bombs was not enough to make a new man out of Tracy McGrady or Al Harrington, mind you, but it certainly emboldened young phenoms like Gallo and Nate Robinson to fire at will. In the end, it read like a chaotic war plan from an even more desperate platoon.