Nothing Ages You So Fast As Refusing To Mature
Quickly: I truly and seriously am coming to hate the MVP award. Next year, I'll just find the player who best embodies the most positive cliches and fucking say he should win. Why bother with shit like how well they actually played during the season when you have data like "rebounding is about desire. Kobe wants it more, so he's a better rebounder than LeBron" at your fingertips? Kobe is becoming the NBA's answer to Juno for me-I really like him, but his supporters are so overwhelmingly fawning, pretentious, and obnoxious that I have begun to loathe his very concept. Also, I have become convinced that Jason Collins is the NBA's answer to Pi: he is an elaborate inside joke on the public by NBA literati, an experiment to see if people will believe something truly horrendous has value they are unable to see if they say it enough. (Shoals: You can cut that out if you want. It just felt really good to write.)
So anyways, the best player who has no way been tarnished by MVP talk this season, other than to call his hopes for the award hubris, has been Amare Stoudemire, who is very quietly putting together one of the best scoring seasons in a long, long time.
Amare's rocking 25 a night on 65% "True Shooting" which is FG% with free throws and threes in there too, basically making it better. The only other players, as far as I can tell, to post a higher TS% than Amare and score over 20 points a game are Kevin McHale and Charles Barkley. And that's it. Ever. Even a little bit scarier: The one thing "True Shooting" doesn't account for is "And-1" baskets, and Amare leads the league with 94 And-1 buckets.
RETURNING TO THE REGULARLY SCHEDULED PONTIFICATION:
So Amare's got 25/9/1.5 with some baggage in regards to the defensive end, on the previously mentioned historically nuts shooting percentage. Dirk won the thing on 24/9/3.5 on 60% true shooting and a whole hell of a lot of baggage on the defensive end, while KG's candidacy is far more legit than Amare's with 19.5/9.5/3.5 on 58%, as is DH with 21.2/14.4/1.5 on 62%.; While KG is quite beastly on the defensive end, and DH more than holds his own, Amare being at 13th in the race reeks of bullshit.
(From the "Shit that's funny in retrospect" file: One Oscar-Nominated film in 1995 contained multiple instances of the phrase "Jew Motherfucker." It was not the one made by Mel Gibson, which won best picture.)
In reality, what Amare has gone and done is hit the glass ceiling of not being the guy who makes it happen on his team. So long as Nash wears the orange and purple and produces prodigiously, Amare will never receive his proper due, as his play is seen, to a degree, as a function of what Nash makes. Shawn Marion chafed under this to the point where he had to be moved, leaving his legacy as a perfect cog behind for a future as a flawed but uninhibited paradigm.
Nash and Amare now lie as the prime example of symbiosis in this league; both are the absolute best at what they do in terms of running a pick-and-roll, with Nash's unreal outside shot, ball-handling, and passing on the one end and Amare's explosion, ability to finish, ability to draw contact and hit free throws, and newly acquired deadly mid-range J on the other. As such, their success is inexorable from each other's talents: Both were very good before they found each other, but have now ascended based on the ability of the other.
Amare is a victim of the NBA's version of the Peter Principle- he's producing like a superstar, but is seen as a role player because his success is aided by the system he plays in rather than the system requiring him to sacrifice in order to aid those around him. To be given his proper due as a superstar, he must attempt to take on additional responsibilities until he inevitably hits an Iguodala-like wall or Curry/Kemp level all-out collapse.
There's definitely some Peter Principle-type shit happening with the Suns, the most rigidly hierarchical team in the league-Nash has the ball in his hands, Shaq creates space, Raja makes open threes, Hill picks up slack throughout the facility, and Amare fills the existing space with aplomb.
The Suns make sense to us because they follow the rigid structure of our everyday life, while the Warriors operate on a constantly shifting paradigm in which Ellis, Davis, S-Jax, or even Harrington or Azubuike is capable of centering the offense around him based on the circumstances of the situation. And the Nuggets operate on a completely arbitrary system, with the strong but opaque notion of attack driving the team to an urgency that none of them really understand but are eager to execute.
Everybody says that the definition of a superstar is somebody who makes marginal players better. However, Amare is a superstar-level talent who is clearly made far better by the system that employs him, and him and Nash thrive because they make life easier for each other instead of one relying inordinately on the other to make life easy for him-Amare doesn't only look for wide-open dunks when he's around Nash, and Nash doesn't throw the ball into Amare and wait at the three-point line for open jump shots-instead, they both work in harmony with each other to produce the perfect high pick-and-roll.
Right now the NBA Peter Principle seems to dictate that anybody who is associated with the words "Most Valuable" has a god-given responsibility to shoulder a gigantic burden, while role players' respective strengths should be nurtured to the best ability of the team.
It's wouldn't seem to be all that radical of an idea, getting guys who make life easier for your superstars, but it seems to be one completely lost on NBA teams, who instead seem to be hell-bent on milking their superstars for all they're worth.
Two major trades related to this principle occurred this season-the Shaq trade originally caused no small level of distress here and made me wish that the Suns had just traded Amare to the Hawks and officially given up on the dream, but by getting a guy who can create space for a guy who excels with space given to him by Nash, they unleashed the beast within Amare and have found something radical and new in the context of the half-court offense.
The 76ers made the de facto swap of Kyle Korver, a lights-out shooter, for Thaddeus Young, a slasher on a team full of them. On the surface, this wouldn't make a whole lot of sense, but taking the burden off of 'Dres Miller and Iguodala has transformed the 6ers into a shifting and furious full-speed attack.
Of course, this logic would seem to suggest that the Kidd trade would have worked instead of completing the downward spiral of the Dynasty That Would Be. Well, Dirk actually is a lot better with Kidd on the team, and if you saw them against the Warriors it's clear that the Kidd-fueled Maverick attack is pretty fucking scary, although the Warriors can't guard anybody at all right now. If I ever dared to question Don Nelson, I would be worried that his Bataan death-march rotation and suicide-style of play has worn the Warriors down for their playoff push, but I am confident this is all part of Nellie's master plan. Also, Harris is a guy who creates a good deal more for himself and others than people realize-Kidd's actually been more of a catch-and-shoot guy for the Mavs than Harris was. And Harris is pretty clearly an upgrade over Kidd defensively at this point in their respective careers. (The moral of the story: when you trade a 24-year old making the rookie scale for a 35-year old guard making max money and throw in DeSagnia Diop, expiring contracts, and draft picks, you should probably be absolutely positive that the player you're getting is better than the player you gave up.)
(I'm pretty sure I found this picture on this site. Occasionally, we must make sure that some things are never forgotten.)
If you follow the Cavs, it's shocking how different the offense looks with Delonte West playing with LeBron, as he pushes the ball to get LeBron transition opportunities and can tilt the defense with the ball in his hands to keep things from stacking up on LeBron, often leading to a resounding LBJ dunk off a simple dribble-handoff. And this was the third string point guard on the Sonics. Team USA showed that LeBron can be a fairly deadly shooter when he's allowed to set his feet and get a look at the target, but he takes a higher portion of his threes off the dribble than anyone else in the league. However, the conventional wisdom seems to be that LeBron should be surrounded by spot-up shooters who he can do all the work for.
MAKING IT EXPLICIT-There seems to be a notion that the relationship between elite slashers/post-up players and spot-up shooters is symbiotic, as shooters supposedly keep the defense from "bunching up" and provide space for the stars in which to work. I find this to be mostly a load of crap-from watching guys like Kobe, CP3, LeBron, and Duncan, I can tell you that spot-up shooters get open looks via those guys about 95% more than those guys get open lanes via their shooters. For a case study, the Cavs have made the de facto swap of Eric Snow (possibly the worst outside shooting backcourt player in the league) for TITS GIBSON (arguably the best three-point shooter in the league this year other than Nash, who is a complete freak), and the upgrade gives LeBron perhaps a quarter-step more space than before-Snow and Boobie get left alone just the same, but Boobie can actually make the defense pay when the defense leaves him alone.
On a common sense level, I'd set a 40% three-point shooter up with a wide-open look and give him all the time he could possibly need before I'd leave LeBron or Duncan's man without help, because they're going to score in that situation like 90% of the time. The relationship between stars and spot-up shooters is, at best, a 90-10 proposition in terms of benefit.
Howard is one of the best guys in however long at getting and converting alley-oops and quick catch-and-dunks, to the point where he's scoring 20 points a game without an especially nice post game or any outside shot to speak of, but his status as a superstar has the Magic convinced that he should stick himself in the post and be surrounded with shooters instead of finding a more suitable option at point than Jameer Nelson to get him the looks he enjoys.
This is why I'm glad my boy O.J. Mayo had a fairly innocuous freshman year instead of a Durant/Beasley like star turn-as a role player, O.J.'s deadly shot and first step will be complimented by whichever team lands him, while Durant, and soon Beasley, were thrown straight into the fire of being the guy whose responsibility it is to nurture the rest of his team.
The MVP race reflects the NBA's strict sense of hierarchy-one man is the superstar of his team, and all the rest are there to benefit from him, driven by a sense that every NBA team has one ideal play, with their superstar as the sole catalyst, that they run 110 times a game. However, in Amare Stoudemire, a superstar who keeps the trappings and benefits of a role player, we see the argument for a more collective effort, in which roles are symbiotic, each player helping all others, including the supposed superstars. And that's why a glimmer of hope still lies in the Suns.