His Own Happy Abyss
You go away to celebrate the Lord's birth, the ringing in of 2010, and more wedding, and all sky busts open. That's pushing things too hard, maybe, but I've had a few topics festering in my brain over these last two weeks and now it's time for them to get out. Topics that deserve a friendly presentation around these parts. Also people have been nagging me over Twitter to have opinions and I like to respond to our readers. So here goes my four-act, back-logged holiday grievances, which may or may not work together as a dramatic construct, or web of intrigue, when taken as a whole.
John Wall just keeps on doing it, we watch, register amazement, and nod our heads like "I told you." John Wall: Where Amazing is one some level assumed with each passing second. There's little question that Wall represents the latest in the highly-selective lineage of CHANGE THE GAME prospects. This is not a follow-up to the "have we lived a lie?" post precipitated by Darko's retirement. That was the last, desicated days of 2009, when accounts are called in and bells rung with solemnity. Now we're wandering amidst the first triumphant peals of 2010, where for at least a little while longer we can step outside and surely announce that today's news will echo forever. What better time, then, to declare what's become something of a no-brainer: We're watching the kind of player who makes the "I am a Martian" trope intelligible; this is athletic performance we might very well be hallucinating, as well as the long-needed intersection of NBA scouting and taking lots of drugs.
But Wall, unlike LeBron, Durant, or going back, Garnett or Odom, isn't just a basketball quark waiting to be unleashed on the pros—and, for the time being, negotiating with ease the scraggly environs of the NCAA. Wall is the most preposterous kind of paradox: A player whose raw ability, and range of skills, give him the ability to shatter our very imagination, leave us transfixed and drooling at the exact point where all pedantry fails. And yet, after watching Wall seamlessly fit into a talent-packed UK team and acquire a jumper overnight, we've simultaneously seen him reveal himself as a building block that offers more than infinite possibility. Short of a seven-foot inside presence like Oden (the safe pick, the nice guy, etc.), a PG is the most straightforward investment you can make in your team's future plans. Especially in this rule-changed era, you might argue that it's an even more foundational pick than the dominant big man—besides the obvious Steve Nash/Aaron Brooks test, you also find the perimeter game increasingly transformed into the—ahem—center of the action. Inverted, upside-down ... now, the point guard is the ultimate functional component. Chris Paul, for all his all-time-y proficiency, is (like Duncan) still on some level a role player. In the same way that a Maybach gets you to and from work.
Wall, though, is both capable of almost anything and without doubt locked into a position, a role. Part of the frenzy surrounding LeBron and Durant had to do with the fact that, while they seemed capable of almost anything, we had no idea what they'd be tacked to do as pros. You could argue that Garnett's spent an entire career negotiating the less plush side of this dynamic. John Wall's potential is hydra-headed. He's the next great PG, leap-frogging Jennings, Evans, Rondo and Rose before he's even hit the league. On expectations alone, Wall already stares eye-to-eye with Chris Paul. Yet at the same time, Wall's feel for the game and innate ability allow him to do things that his position-mates just usually can't. In that, he has much in common with Rondo (not a new observation), or maybe rookie year Westbrook. Except Walls is at once a more immediately adept point guard than the scrappy Rondo or scattershot (then, at least) Westbrook, and is more of an athletic outliet than either. He has the ability to make plays that just shouldn't happen. The phrase "that's just plain wrong" is applied to bringing completely and totally raw dishonor, or defying the expectations we bring to the game as viewers. Wall actually insults our assumptions about what's supposed to happen next.
If this is odiously vague, well, it's because John Wall is balancing his point guard responsibilities with his ability to do pretty much anything he wants on the court. I got to know John Wall at Hoop Summit, where he ran wild in one of those games that reads like the greatest workout you ever saw. At UK, he's been the quintessential team player, adherent to the system, and so on. He's played the kind of basketball that every coach loves, albeit with occasional flashes of the great beyond. Yes, John Wall right now is amazing. But perhaps even more unfathomable is that tension that exists between a sense of predestination and the power he holds to write his own script. We've never seen anything like it, at least not in this era of uber-hyped kids coming out of HS. Dare I say that, because he'll hit the pros with both a first-rate sense of purpose and an untapped reservoir of basketball superpowers, his rookie season might be a voyage of discovery (for him and us) that rivals even Bron's first campaign.
Speaking of that great workout/great game dichotomoy, that actually sprung to mind yesterday at Seattle U./Harvard, which I attended with most members of the Super-Secret Seattle Basketball Dork Association. Normally I have huge problems leaving the house, but this offered the rare opportunity to see two potential first-rounders—Seattle's Charles Garcia and Harvard's Jeremy Lin—square off for the cost of a hot dog. Given that Lin is the greatest Asian-American basketball player since Wat Misaka, and has a shot at being the first since Misaka to make the NBA, and Garcia is ... some kind of Latino in a sport desperate for them ... I was secretly hoping for a race war. One quarter of the arena Harvard, one quarter SU, another random Asians, and the last, Latinos from around the area. And then one half of one row of draft geeks. But alas, that was not to happen, and I had to content myself with assessing Lin and an on-the-mend Garcia.
Sidebar 1: SU's return to D1, albeit without a conference, reminds me of post-colonial independence movements. They have spent years in the wilderness, off the radar, whatever, but now get to basically invent an identity and narrative for themselves as a legit program. At the same time, there's this mythical past they can always reference, with Elgin Baylor being the pre-colonial icon from which all else draws its strength.
Sidebar 2: Feel free to take whatever I say about Garcia worth a grain of salt. For reasons that will become apparent, I have no choice but to over-react. Everyone I was with concluded that they "needed more information," and Q McCall has been investigating Garcia for a minute now, so his dispatches are probably more reliable.
I'm getting tired here, so the bare bones of what I saw: Lin played the better game, Garcia the better workout. Harvard blew out SU, Lin made play after play (often inconspiciously); Garcia seemed off, distracted, and unable to deal with decent opposing bigs. But at the end of the day, Lin—while bigger, stronger, and faster than I'd expected—is, in the words of Ty Keenan, "one of those unathletic guards who does everything relly well," while Garcia is like something I dreamt up while asleep at my desk. He's 6'10", 230, with massive biceps and length for days. While he bears a faint resemblance to a young Larry Johnson in the face, his game is tailor-made for FD. My cohorts are fond of comparing him to Tom Chambers for reasons I don't quite get, but I'd describe him as post-injury Amare, plus Odom's versatility, plus Rashard Lewis's range (and lack of strength inside). Garcia needs coaching and discipline, or at least a situation where he gives a fuck, but he's hardly Anthony Randolph raw. Don't count on him chewing up the paint and knocking over opposing PFs on defense, but as Haubs pointed out, Garcia he could be positively deadly as a 3/4 on a fluid, up-tempo team. Which, more and more, is the way of the Association. Or, more specifically,: If Kevin is right that last year's Orlando Magic was the ideal line-up for today's NBA, imagine a guy who could alternate between the Turkoglu and Lewis roles.
Odds and ends:
-Don't ask me about Arenas. Any reporting that takes Vecesey as its foundation is like building a house on top of raw sewage. Bullets Forever is going a great job of compiling the credible info coming out, and as of now, I still don't feel like I have a clear picture. Sorry for not being bloggy enough; I wrote some good stuff about Beasley, but regret how prematurely I jumped on that story.
-I know that the whole "if Jeezy's paying LeBron" line from "Empire State of Mind" was cleared up a long time ago. It's not tampering, it's about Jay's imaginary drug-dealing career. But you have to wonder, did this ever come to the Commissioner's office? And if so, did he get an explanation from a PR flak: "Don't worry, it's just a high-profile stake-holder in an NBA franchise pretending to be a drug trafficker." Either we've come a long way since the Thug Warz that surrounded AI's rap career, or Stern isn't as on top of things as we'd like to think. Maybe because these things just don't matter anymore.