1.03.2010

His Own Happy Abyss

Good Elephant

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.

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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.

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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.

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25 Comments:

At 1/03/2010 3:23 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Anyone want to second my nomination of Shaun Livingston as the abortive precursor to this new John Wall paradigm?

 
At 1/03/2010 3:55 PM, Blogger Dylan Murphy said...

I think David Stern would have a minor heart attack if John Wall destroyed his knee like Livingston did.

 
At 1/03/2010 5:03 PM, Blogger Mouth said...

I think of John Wall as I thought about Jason 'Jay' Williams, whose individual talent was partly hidden by his excellent Duke teammates and whose career was destroyed by that vehicular accident.

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Incidentally, regarding your passage, "leave us transfixed and drooling at the exact point where all pedantry fails," our New Year's resolution should be to not allow our pedantry to fail.

 
At 1/03/2010 5:58 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

I can understand why you'd be wary of drooling if you thought Jay Williams was on John Wall's level.

 
At 1/03/2010 6:34 PM, Blogger Mouth said...

First, did you see Wall yesterday, I think, receive that pass off a tipped ball, when he caught it in full stride, dribbled once, I think, and in-1-motion went behind his back on his way to the basket? The defender had to foul him just out of sheer panic and intimidation. It's impressive when a failed transition layup is an indication that a guy is the best player in the building.

John Wall has time to become even more drool-worthy than he currently is, but, after years of amateur scouting and wanting to grant hyperbolic praise for potential, I like to give credit and drool retroactively over a prematurely retired point guard who once threw a behind the back, no-look alley-oop from nearly half-court just after saving a loose ball from going out of bounds. I can't remember if this was in a high school game or a pre-college exhibition, but I wish I could find the old video. Williams also had a triple-double in his only NBA season, so shouldn't you at least admit that he might have been as good as Brandon Jennings is now?

Other stuff to support my bittersweet fandom of Jay Williams, from NBA.com: Scored 34 points, adding 8 assists and 7 rebounds in victory over eventual NCAA Champion Maryland. … Started all 39 games as a sophomore, leading Duke to the 2001 NCAA National Championship. … Earned National NABC Player of the Year honors. … Named “Point Guard of the Year” by ESPN Magazine. … Broke Dick Groat’s record for single-season points, scoring 841 points (previous record was 831 set in 1951). … Scored 154 points in the NCAA Tournament, leading all tourney scorers and averaging 25.7 ppg. … Drained 132 three-point field goals, the sixth-highest total in NCAA history. …

(*Plus, Jay Williams earned his Sociology degree from Duke, one of the best academic institutions in the world, in three years. Unfortunately for NBA fans, he might have to put that degree to use one day.*)

 
At 1/03/2010 6:43 PM, Blogger dreamleague said...

Jeremy Lin is unathletic? Bro, what are you smoking? What else does he need to do besides dunk TWICE and chase down Jerome Dyson full court to swat his layup.

 
At 1/03/2010 9:59 PM, Blogger josh said...

Might still be too early in the season to tell, and nobody really knows where Bron-Bron is going next summer, but is it totally outside the realm of possibility to imagine Wall and LeBron together? I mean... say New Jersey gets Wall with the first pick, LeBron signs, those two plus Jay move the team to Brooklyn...It's a staggering thought.

Even if it isn't New Jersey, what if Lebron holds out on making a decision based on what happens in the draft... If Wall and LeBron are on the same team we might see the first "every play is an alley-oop" season in NBA history.

 
At 1/03/2010 10:13 PM, Blogger rayearth2601 said...

that's a good article

thank u

 
At 1/04/2010 1:19 AM, Blogger Toasterhands said...

Lin and Garcia as first round picks?

In what league? Certainly not the NBA.

 
At 1/04/2010 3:47 PM, Blogger Deckfight said...

Isn't rod strickland a UK & former Memphis asst coach? (did i see that here?) that explains rose, evans & now wall & almost every other future great PG who must play in college.

in reference to big *mouth*, duke might've had that pipeline if j. williams was still playing.

 
At 1/04/2010 3:59 PM, Blogger Tim said...

My observation about Wall is that while UK may get beaten and not have a perfect season, whoever beats them will have to beat Wall and that's a hell of a task.

 
At 1/04/2010 4:40 PM, Blogger Mouth said...

Yeah, Deckfight, Rod Strickland's the man, the key to success that Duke lacks. Blue Devils must be struggling without him.

. . .or if Duke lowered its academic standards. . .or if they didn't already land the best high school scorers from all over the world [California (DeMarcus Nelson), Virginia (J.J. Redick), Sudan/Egypt/England/New Jersey (Luol Deng) etc.]. . .or if it wasn't already the winningest program of the century so far. . .

 
At 1/04/2010 6:05 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

Hey Mouth, you do know Duke offered John Wall a scholarship and practically begged him to go there, right? You know Sean Dockery almost didn't qualify? What are these higher academic standards you speak of? In 2005, the graduation rate for the Duke basketball team was 50%, lower than the average for the NCAA. But, seriously, Stanford, Notre Dame, and the Ivies all have legitimately higher academic standards. Duke does not and never has. It's a misconception at best, and an outright lie at worst.

Also, what's Duke's record against UNC since Roy Williams came back?

 
At 1/04/2010 6:07 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

@Deckfight: I don't think those guys committed to Calipari because of Rod Strickland.

 
At 1/04/2010 7:10 PM, Blogger Mouth said...

I would expect nothing less of Coach Krzyzewski than to try to recruit the best point guard to his team.

I think it's fair to say that Wall has found a great situation for himself in Kentucky, too. Fact is, though, that Duke's academic rigor scares some recruits. It ain't quite Ivy League, but it's just a step below it for prestige and selectivity. I doubt that's the reason Wall didn't end up there, especially if he plans to be a 1-&-done.

Duke's had a few guys in recent years who were recruited/accepted and technically walked on to the team because there were no scholarships available until their sophomore years. These guys could've gone and starred at a lesser program. I don't know the stats on which other schools have had this happen, but it seems impressive to me.

By the way, MVP/Champion Kobe Bryant says that, if he had gone to college (even for 1 year), he would have gone to Duke.

 
At 1/04/2010 9:51 PM, Blogger Mouth said...

And now my beloved alma mater has defeated UNC, so who cares when Duke-UNC play again? Ah, it's the ole Food Lion MVP Classic again, but now featuring Bobby Cremins and a new arena.

It's so beautiful. C-of-C! C-of-C!

 
At 1/05/2010 12:13 AM, Blogger Mouth said...

Forget Duke-Chapel Hill. What's College of Charleston's record against UNC? 3-3. And tonight it's sweet victory for us alumni. I love to see Roy Williams bewilderedly answer questions before a SoCon-CofC background at the postgame Q&A sesh.

I'm sorry, I don't mean to ramble or dominate this comment section. In a few weeks (or months?), I'll be back in Afghanistan and I probably won't have access to the best basketball-related blog in the world, so tonight I gloat.

C-of-C! C-of-C!

 
At 1/05/2010 2:24 PM, Blogger Austen Whipple said...

You write:
"a PG is the most straightforward investment you can make in your team's future plans"

I don't want to misunderstand your point, but this statement comes off as preposterous. Point guards are sometimes fun to watch. But teams that rely on one player to handle the ball as much as 'top' point guards demand to do rarely are all that successful.

 
At 1/05/2010 5:06 PM, Blogger Deckfight said...

@brownrecluse it couldn't hurt, right if rod was there? at least one of their handlers would probably know who strickland was.

and to set the record straight--i'm actually a Duke fan & wish that j. williams would've have had a great career. also wish maggette would not have gone pro.

 
At 1/05/2010 5:11 PM, Blogger Mouth said...

Unfortunately, it's probably best that Maggette, my favorite player ever (Bob Cousy being my favorite point guard ever), left after one year. All that Myron Piggie nonsense could have hurt the program.

 
At 1/06/2010 12:01 AM, Blogger kpelton said...

"Lin and Garcia as first round picks? In what league? Certainly not the NBA."

Lin yes, but Garcia is No. 24 on DraftExpress' current mock draft.

 
At 1/06/2010 4:17 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

Where'd all these Duke fans come from? At least MC Welk and MegaPickles actually went to school there.

Anyway, Shoals is angry that I'm not more excited about Jeremy Lin. I can't really explain my lack of enthusiasm, other than maybe I'm protecting myself from having my hopes dashed when he doesn't make the NBA. In that event, where does Lin go pro overseas? China is the obvious place, but then he quickly loses all novelty and starpower, right? A Chinese guy playing in China isn't very interesting, even if he is really an American. Would Europeans even care?

I think the answer can only be....HARLEM GLOBETROTTERS!

 
At 1/06/2010 11:23 PM, Blogger J1Kwon said...

In response to Recluse, I think Lin will most likely play in Taiwan if he does play overseas. Both his parents are Taiwanese citizens.

 
At 1/06/2010 11:27 PM, Blogger J1Kwon said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 1/07/2010 1:29 AM, Blogger Mouth said...

Where I grew up, you have no choice as a basketball fan but to choose Duke or North Carolina, and my Russian parents went with the Polish fellow over the guy that played the 4-Corners offense back in the day. I'm glad they did. Jesus Christ, 4 corners--are you serious, Dean Smith?

Duke substantiated my fandom by maintaining a relationship with my 12 year old self, when the Duke Talent Identification Program (TIP) program kept sending me letters. They kept in touch with me after I dominated the SAT as a 7th grader. The highlight of my youthful Duke fandom was exchanging 'pounds' with Nate James on campus when I was a tennis camp participant the summer before my varsity team became the #1 boys' tennis team in upper state South Carolina.

Oh, yeah, the 2 most beautiful women I've ever known are high school friends and graduates of the Duke undergraduate program.

Point is, I'm a Duke fan for a reason.

 

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