Crawling is my excellence
I've got something on deck that culture has not yet the words to embrace, but I've been feeling a little guilty about so abruptly, so conveniently, kicking the pre-season build-up to the curb. So in honor of all those who feel compelled to wring their hands over such things, I've prepared a little list of ten players that I plan to care about this in 2005-2006. This isn't my favorite ten, two hands worth of storylines, or even ten to watch for (I respect our readers far too much to insult them like that).
Consider it my substitute for the inspirational underbelly of local fandom or especially "colorful" sports talk, which shows its devotion by harping endlessly on details that aren't even that important to the team or players themselves. Anyone can worship a superstar or awe at the gravity of the Big Game, but there's an parallel version of things, maybe even an inverted one, so unlikely in its construction that it needs you as much as you need it. Which is a long way of saying that I hope you don't agree with me, or get what I'm flapping my arms about, so that I, and only I, will be the one taking flight and sailing over the horizon.
In the order I thought of them (hence the obvious chain of associations), here's ten reasons to stay real:
Has lately been eclipsed by teammate Josh Howard, and deservingly so. But there's a reason why I took this man in third round of our fantasy draft last season, and it's not just because he should be a starter with Hughes-like numbers. You'd expect a rags-to-riches story like Daniels to embody all those cliches we expect on undrafted free agents who've managed to make it: hunger, grit, will, determination, "getting it." Instead, dude carries himself like T-Mac, but shorter, not as lithely mysterious, and kind of bored. I have never seen anyone take over games with as little taste for it as Daniels, who comes across not as a Vince-like case of disinterest, but a man who seriously believes he is mowing his yard or giving the dog a bath. He's both distant and mindlessly concrete, and the better he plays, the more pronounced it gets. It's like "going through the motions" is a positive for him. His attitude should be bottled and eaten, because we will never again see the likes of this.
Sure, the back court in Denver is crowded, and Hodge can't really shoot. And I'm not going to talk about his heart of a champion, or the fact that he seems like a good candidate for Black Fan Favorite. What I'm seeing here is a chance for K-Mart to remember his fury, for Melo to play as gangster as he lives. . . he may be a mere rookie, one likely squeezed out of the rotation, but Hodge will force them to act like they know. If Marbury epitomizes NYC flash, and Artest the gulliest of the gully, Julius Melvin Hodge walks a line as delicate, yet definite, as his wiry frame. Blandness has been the buzzword in Denver, but this one solitary rook will lead without even taking the floor. And don't think for a second that Karl, who is straight out of the Larry Brown school of doofy cunning, isn't also going to follow the tide. By March, this will be Hodge's team.
Whoever bought those Pietrus custom Jordans on ebay a few weeks back can have my first born. We've said this over and over again—Pietrus will be a star in this league. Everyone's going to have their eyes on the Warriors from the jump, but it's only a matter of team before either Dunleavy Jr. gets traded for someone funkier (at least Foyle is a weird, giant, politically-minded academic brat originally from the Caribbean. He'll make that "unwilling, cerebral center" role into an honor) or Jason Richardson ends up in the Midwest where he belongs. Pietrus is Josh Smith athletic—dirty, tough, whole body flying, not just the legs—and plays d like he doesn't get the difference in the kind of intensity between it and offense. If Josh Howard is a hustle athlete, he is pure athlete hustle.
Tony "Who Shot Ya" Allen
Instant notoriety, and look for him to take it as license to play up to it. Dude has skills, and it's slowly dawning on me that, for all offense's glamor, serious, aggressive defense with heart is how you get respect. For the last ten years, they might as well have called the Defensive Player of the Year the "Ice Grill Executive Prize:" Deek, 'Zo, Payton, Wallace, Artest, they scared to not give it to one of them. This is the year Allen begins that journey.
(This could easily have been Iguodala's entry, but like anyone needs us to explain why he's the shit. Plus he's a little too easy to get into; I think I said last April that he already counted in my heavily mutated galaxy of post-season stars).
Another Maverick, and another former State student. Powell went pro after posting four or five impressive games during ACC/NCAA Tourney time, when, as everyone knows, flukishness lives and walks among us like a man. Despite mediocre camps and absolutely no enthusiasm from scouts, he stayed the draft, got denied by all, and then fizzled into darkness. I used to bring him up a lot as the all-time worst early entry but the truth is, I always kind of liked his style. No idea where's been since then, but the Mavs have him on the roster, and if K-Mart is the king of swagger, Powell just might stake out a similar claim to Master of the Cocky Wobble. It's what happens when you're not cut enough to pull off K-Mart's near-inert swagger, but too imposing to simply lurk; too big to creep, too small to tower. Though the Recluse will probably tell me to the contrary, I'm looking for Powell to be a stupider, unskilled, angrier Sean May (bonus: looks much less like Terrence Howard than I'd remembered).
Clown me all you want, but the kid who modelled his game after Pistol Pete would be a legend if he hailed from a different state (and had a less corny hairdo). Though only half of that Seattle team can run, when Ridnour does get them on a break, it's highlight gravy. If they had a no-look pass contest during All-Star Weekend, he would finish behind only the following players: White Chocolate, Kidd, Livingston (possible tie there). I also like to think that he plays with a little edge because of Jay Bilas, who announced to the Garden the on Draft Night 2003 that he "couldn't guard the chair I'm sitting in."
Monta Ellis, photographic star
(For the sake of overkill, I'd put in a bigger version than I first saw, but it looked more like he was carrying the World's Biggest Goiter on the back of his neck. I've seen the WBG walking like a man in West Philly and Monta Ellis, sir, is no WBG.)
(Fuck, it still does look kind of like that, barely like he's got the hair of a woman. To salvage this with an utter cheap shot: we've been making jokes about high schoolers and acne forever, but Ellis is the first to really come through on that one).
It all began for me in the summer of 2002, when the Recluse revealed that Murray, a home state kid straight out of Shaw (why don't traditionally black schools care about basketball as much as football?) was his big draft sleeper. Fast forward to October 2003, when Flip takes over for an injured FBP and proceeds to light up the Association for one glorious month. It's been so long that I can barely remember his game, but dude is a proficient scorer with tons of heart, speed and power, questionable judgment, and too much volatility to be that useful off the bench. I'm not saying he's the next Michael Redd, but Murray is far too good to stay buried in the hyper-methodical Sonics rotation forever. If Eddie House could be a cult favorite, you'd think Flip—who's at least a real basketball player with some star trappings—would have gotten the same love from fans. It's like he's too real an underdog for anyone to gleefully admire, but too talented to earn some condescending, Horace Jenkins-esque attention. Rock the fucking boat, Seattle!!!!!!!!
I know that he's on the Spurs, and that he's a big man, which makes him an even stronger candidate for style deficiency. But much like Hodge's effect on Martin and Melo will do for the Nuggets, the inside-outside combo of Oberto and Ginobili could wipe from my memory a thousand seas of accumulated San Antonio bashing. I have no idea what he does in an organized match of actual basketball, but as far as I can tell Argentinians are the most entertaining international players yet invented (Free Delfino!), and what could be more amazing than a 6'10" heartthrob who threatens to upset the chaste erotic balance that the players, coaches, organization and fans thrive on? He and Ginobili will infect the Spurs like a virus, till the franchise is known not only for normalizing the presnence of Euros in the Association, but for making American realized just how much soccer's derring-do, swashbuckling bravura, and seamless egomania can indeed make the NBA a game of many nations.
Ron Artest for MVP
The media circus will dissipate once he's proven he's in control, the Pacers, Heat, and Pistons will fight for Best in the East all season. But when you wake up one day and realized that Artest has become the go to guy on a Finals-worthy team, is near the top of the Association in scoring, and looks like a lock for Defensive Player, I'll already have been yelling it for months.