With But Sanctity To Guide Them
Far too much time has passed since last we uncorked a far-fetched theory on how basketball works. In the midst of our Melo/AI unveiling chat, the subject of Marbury came up. The Recluse raised his voice in support of the thesis that, if he only had a brain, Stephon would be a top five player. That got me thinking immensely on the subject of potential, one that should not be alien to any longtime readers. Namely, the possibility that there are two kinds of potential: that which can only be actualized as goodness, and that which could just as easily be made use of for evil.
On the surface, there's nothing so remarkably strange about this claim. Look at it thusways: the NBA Dark Ages defined for us quite accurately how a player could have great success at something widely considered a failure. How one could excel utterly at a practice detrimental to the sport itself. An athletic, agile guard or SF can be an utterly game-changing presence, instant offense when the team needs a lift. At the same time, we can generally agree that these hooligans can often overestimate their own prowess or importance. The ratio of arrogance to relevance varies, and yet there remains one constant: scorers can either score in a way that helps or hinders the overall project of the offense. The same can be said of de facto instigators like Marbury; it's often noted that his assist totals paint a misleading picture of his team's chemistry.
Mind you, a healthy degree of arrogance is associated with what certain schools of thought have called "swag." All the great ones have it. Roosevelt. Roosevelt. Pushkin. Belvedere. Grace Kelly. But we all know of the proficient 1-3's who have been corrupted by their own capabilities, and thus end up serving no master but their own pleasure. Again, the exact proportions vary. Yet who among us does not see that in Marbury, or Crawford, or Francis, or any of such players not currently employed by the New York Knicks, there exists the clear use of powers for evil ends? I have no interest in assigning this valence to Iverson; I see him primarily as a tragic figure, who now desperately wishes to commune with others but is often checked by his own internalized rhythms. We're talking about Hassan Adams, Gerald Green, Fred Jones, Rashad McCants, Tony Allen, J.R. Smith, all gifted individuals who could end up destroying themselves through misguided, skewed excellence.
Now amble with me, over to the lobby of the big men. Here, there is no such Faustian crossroads. When a big man realizes his potential, nature meets its match, petals pour in showers off of cliffs, and sweetness can reconcile with life. There is no such thing as a bad good big man. Perhaps a case can be made for good bad big men, but that would only bolster my assertion: when a post player falls short of the mark, it is almost always because of failure and indequacy, not misapplied genius. As for the more central possibility, look at that dude Zach Randolph. When he is distracted, insane, or corrupt, he getteth not position and fails to get points or boards. Returning to his double-double ways this year, he is also looked upon as a story of a life rescued from the maw of cancellation.
The lone exception to this rule proves how utterly powerful it truly be. The career of Eddy Curry has proven one of the foremost enigmas of contemporary basketball. When Curry has followed through on his tremendous potential, he is a formidably force in the paint—as far as scoring is concerned. Yet his total inability to block a shot, and remarkably fickle rebounding ability, seems to suggest that he has in fact developed a post game suited only to certain priorities. Much like the athletic off-guard whose defense is lacking but who can beat anyone off the dribble, Curry has redefined the center position as something that, like 1-3 on the floor, can be made a puppet of unseemly purposes. You'd never say that Curry isn't an excellent basketball player, and at this point he's also something of a mature one. But likely All-Star invite aside, he has taken on the role of the serpent in the low post's pro forma Eden.