All New Breath in Angles
Yesterday, Joey and myself hit up Sonics/Hornets on corporate tix. It was a momentous night for highbrow basket-blogging, and more importantly, marked the emergence of Julian Wright. Wright didn't really do shit, at least not anything that will make it into the national media. But he brought about a personal renaissance in me, thus resurrecting Shanoff's prophecy that "Julian Wright will be the most FD player to come out of the 2007 draft."
Wright's fairly buried in the Hornets' rotation, and I can't really disagree with that. New Orleans is stacked with guys who are better than you think, until you forget about them two seconds later. I spent the whole game trying to get a handle on David West, in style and appearance; he seemed to shift shape with each possession, and I don't mean that in a scouting report kind of way. Simmons's line about him was spot-on, but I'll take it one step further: West is underrated because you couldn't keep him stuck in mind if you wanted to. There's Rasual Butler, Bobby Jackson, Mo Pete. . . and they didn't even have Peja.
One sidenote on Chris Paul: I like Deron Williams and all, but Paul is a master in the making. It's the difference between watching Paul Pierce create space for a jumper and getting swept up in Kobe doing the same. If Steve Nash is pure presto, Paul (like Kobe) actually makes you understand the game better. By mining all sorts of wrinkles and quirks you didn't know were there, he gives you some quality time inside superstar cognition. Williams, by contrast, is almost straightforward.
Anyway, back to Wright. I can't even begin to describe how jarring his time on the floor is. He's so active it's silly, without ever submitting to the indignity of hustle: guarding three people at once, going for the steal just long enough to run after rebounds, altogether amped about making the entry pass. Wright's also the most bossy, or maybe just cerebral, third-string rook I've ever heard about. On offensive possessions, he shouts out directions and points furiously about spacing. During free throws, he earnestly confers with guys who actually touch the ball, or even pow-wows with Byron Scott near the bench. True to the scouting report, Wright carries himself like a key player who doesn't even need to matter.
All of which brings to mind my new model for success in the league: overwhelming and almost problematic idiosyncrasy. Why is Josh Smith so coveted? Because he's a shooting guard who leads the league in blocks. What's important about Gerald Wallace? That he's a power forward in a shooting guard's body. This isn't Garnett or Durant's completism; there's no presumption that these guys can do everything. More it's the idea that, if a player is weird enough, teams won't know whether to make them the center of attention or cut them. I believe the euphemism for this is "enigmatic," which is a polite way of saying "confounding."
I don't see why a lesser player like Wright can't cultivate this same quality. If coaches and GMs stay wondering about him, he'll always have a job in this league. Stick the mind of a point guard in the body of a swingman with lumpen forward skills. . . how can you even tell if he's good or bad? This is the kind of thing we usually talk about as a means to change the game, but there's a more practical value to it, for mortals tinged with oddity. The same way that some people got free meals off of armed resistance.
Oh, and also, networks need to get over their fear of missed shots. There are a plenty of misses, especially those on fouls, that are every bit as impressive as the makes. If at least a few highlights or replays are strictly eye candy, why not drop all pretense of goal-oriented activity for at least a minute?