The Difference Between Cults and Cliques
There's already a little grumbling about Kidd's inclusion on Team USA, that he'll crowd out what should rightfully be the Chris Paul/Deron Williams show, that there's nothing he can do that those two can't do better, and that we should hurry up and get the torch-passing over with (as if it hasn't been passed already). I completely understand the desire to see Paul and Williams take center stage, but feel compelled to say that Jason Kidd is the absolute perfect fit for this incarnation of Team USA.
This might seem like an unusual stance to take given that I typically am fully in favor of embracing the future and burning the past, and there's no question that Kidd has been fully eclipsed at this point by those two. Paul and Deron don't have any dues left to pay or any lessons to learn by sitting behind Kidd. Similarly, this isn't about Kidd's years of service, the wisdom gained from them, or the locker room hierarchy that will supposedly help him manage the egos. Deference to our elders means little to me and I have no use for symbolic positions meant to honor past glories. Kidd was pretty underwhelming this year both during his disappointing Mavs reunion and certainly while sleepwalking with the Nets. I fully acknowledge that Paul can run circles around him at this point and that Deron actually has a jumpshot. But none of that changes the fact that the U.S.'s demolition of last summer's FIBA Americas Championship was a thrilling display of basketball, largely because of Kidd's role. Carmelo put up the stats, LeBron got the highlights, and Kobe basked in the defensive glory, but it was the aging Kidd who set the tone for the entire run in a way that Paul or Deron couldn't replicate.
As ecstatic as I get over the Paul-to-Chandler oop, it's almost entirely about Chris Paul's wizardry. Kidd's passes, on the other hand, are complete deferrals to the power and majesty of his finishers, which is exactly what this crowd needs. When Paul's at his finest, the players around him almost feel like props that are out there for his pleasure. LeBron James and Dwight Howard are anything but props. With those two, in addition to Kobe and Melo, this year should still be primarily about them and the terror they can inflict. They shouldn't be out there headless though, which makes the deteriorated Kidd the perfect compromise to set them up without taking any of their spotlight; to put the ball in the perfect place every time, while still allowing the finishers to lead.
If you didn't see or don't remember Kidd's FIBA performance, it was absolutely flawless, and something I can't wait to see recreated on an even bigger stage. The statline he ended up with doesn't appear striking (1.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg, and 4.6 apg in 15.9 mpg), but his two most important numbers were the just 10 shot attempts and 5 turnovers over the course of the 10 games. That second stat is especially staggering when one thinks back to the ridiculous array of passes he attempted. In particular, two of his botched passes stick out to me more than all of his successes: at one point he attempted a full-court bounce pass that weaved between three defenders, barely beating his streaking target to the spot. Even more impressive was the highlight of the entire tournament: the failed off-balance, off-the-backboard alley oop to LeBron from the 3-point line. Had LeBron connected (and he arguably should have), it would have gone down as the greatest pass I've ever seen.
Despite all the absurd pass attempts, he still ended up with a tournament-leading 9.2 ast/to ratio. That number is off the charts in a regular season, but in an intensified series of All-Star games, it just doesn't seem rational. But when you have LeBron and Dwight on the other end of your lobs and they're actually trying, you can usually get away with things you couldn't imagine anywhere else. Chris and Deron are definitely going to have their share of inspired plays, both by themselves and using their teammates, but with those two their highlights are manifestly of their creation, with their stamp always firmly affixed. In the NBA, this makes their play hugely preferable to Kidd's diminished game. Surrounded by other future HOFers though, I'll take Kidd's seemingly-less-authored genius every time.
At least as important as his awe-inspiring lobs was Kidd's unique approach to moving the ball that summer. He came into the tournament absolutely determined to never dribble the basketball, opting instead for full-court outlet passes after both makes and misses. He may have dribbled the ball 6 or 7 times over the entire week and a half, never holding the ball for more than a second or two. The "hot potato" style completely took over, as though the entire team collectively decided, "fuck dribbling," which translated to incredibly gorgeous basketball. Somehow a team starring Carmelo, Kobe, and LeBron managed to use hardly any isos at all, save for an occasional reassertion of Kobe's alpha status. On a team loaded with scorers, a point guard that needs to dominate the ball has the potential to disrupt the awesome flow that this group established last summer. With Kidd at the reigns, I feel confident we'll be treated once again to the steady stream of flawless touch passes we saw last August.
Chris Paul and Deron Williams are absolute virtuosos on the court. They'll be spectacular both this summer off the bench and as they lead us to the next 3 or 4 gold medals. But for this year, it's still all about Kidd setting the table without ever claiming the foreground. Not as a nostalgic tribute to what's come before, but because his current style is what will make for the most exciting and dominating basketball right now.