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?


At 12/20/2007 1:27 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

On David West: Chris Bosh without the hype (of a top-5 pick). The moves are slightly different, yet... not really. And the final numbers suggest a perfect match.

On Wright: Agree tremendously that guys like Wallace and Smith are liked as much as they for those reasons (and to be fairer, they are more liked by fans than they are by "the league"... no one really stepped up to make Wallace an offer this passed offseason, right? And I have my doubts about Josh Smith's value, too).

The difference between those guys, and what Wright does? Those guys are exceptional talented at one or two things for their positions.

Wright doesn't stand out... he doesn't bring a category (not even steals) in which he'll dominate or stand out in. What he brings - intangibles, mental knowledge - makes him a great player to have in practice. He'll help the team there, and I'm sure his self-confidence on the court stems from his leadership in the practice. I have no doubt that, if this true, the team values his contributions in that respect, and keep him around for the same reason you keep a savvy vet like Malik Rose around... to provide leadership for the team.

But that doesn't mean those guys are worthy of regular minutes, either.

At 12/20/2007 3:53 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

If Wright's so lumpen, there's a possibility he did a couple rails of coke on the bench.

At 12/20/2007 4:54 PM, Blogger Tim Grimes said...

I was so smitten by what you describe in Wright that I was momentarily positive that he was the third best player in last year's draft. I think his best skill is passing - although you'd never be able to tell by looking at his box scores, he averages .6 assists a game. But let me assure you, he's the best passer to ever average .6 apg's.

At 12/20/2007 5:08 PM, Blogger Trey said...

I'd love to own 7-6 Dwight Howard Chinese Bike Ride.

At 12/20/2007 5:19 PM, Blogger Ty Keenan said...

SML's points about Wright not doing anything particularly well would all be insignificant if he had even a passable jump shot. But he doesn't, so the various things he does all look like filler. For what it's worth, I thought Jeff Green would look a lot like Wright has this year for the same reason. Looks like I misunderestimated Green's ability to do other things. Still, would Julian look more impressive on a team that wasn't contending for anything?

I really like the last paragraph of this post. I don't think it's just an issue of eye candy, though. I was at a game last night in which one of the guards split a double team perfectly only to pull up and miss a shot. I yelled "perfect!" right after he split it, he missed the shot, and then the people in my general area looked at me like I was some kind of fool. My excitement at that play was results based, but only in that I know he split the double well enough to convert the play at some point in the near future. It's not just that people are results-oriented; they expect things to come fully formed, too.

At 12/20/2007 5:46 PM, Blogger BWB said...

Having seen Wright and West up close a few times this year, I can see where you're coming from.

The thing with Wright is he's mutating on the court--for a few minutes he's lost and wobbly and then a fresh pass will come out of nowhere and you get this glimpse of what's possible.

With West, he's not really that thick, and he seems in between styles (not unlike his team): not a great post game, nice outside shot, not the best instincts. His stats cover up some mental mistakes and the way NO goes away from him for whole stretches.

Paul is real.

At 12/20/2007 6:37 PM, Blogger El Presidente said...

This was, IMHO, the finest/purest piece on this site in at least 6 months. That is not an insult the recent work, however.

I love your analysis of confounding players. However, sometimes even great examples don't quite fit. What is so honestly aggravating about Brad Miller? Great passer, serviceable large-marge skills, and totally hate-able. I'd have a hard time liking him even if he played for my team.

I want to think that Paul/Wright combo can be better than Nash/Diaw some day in the future. Primary passers at the PG/SF positions.

During the Suns/Mavs game last night, the Mavs announcers were displaying their typical basic homerism (not the worst in the league but not the best either). Late in the fourth, Amare decided to play like '04, had like 3-4 NASTY, NASTY dunks, and we couldn't get a god-damn replay. I understand, flow of the game, blah blah, but seriously. Dirk had a nice scoop shot, they show the replay OTW to commercial. But Amare just ripped the fucking rim down. May I please, as a basketball fan, even as a Mavs fan, be treated to at least ONE quick replay? I mean, I'm getting glimpses of god-like vengeance, but god-forbid I need to blink. I realized at that point, homeristic replays are way worse than homeristic announcers.

Keep up the good work.

wv: vvppg - Vince Vaughn's points per game.

At 12/20/2007 11:40 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

David West's assist #'s have been impressive lately. But, then again, so have Zach Randolph's.

There's a point and a counterpoint in that.

At 12/21/2007 12:42 AM, Blogger Leonardson Saratoga said...

surprised no one has sounded off on Rudy Gay's cold blooded game winner last night, but I will.

First of all, I happen to love Rudy Gay (so much so that I would buy his jersey...if only I could wear it without ridicule in this red state...or any state for that matter). The thing that is so interesting to me about him is that I really feel he has LeBron/Kobe-level talent, but not LeBron/Kobe-level drive. For some reason, however, this doesn't aggravate me the way it does with other players. For some reason I feel that it is totally alright for Rudy Gay to not give a shit. I really believe that last night he would have felt the same way had he dribbled the ball off of his foot as he did by hitting the game winner.

For some bizarre reason, I can live with that, I can live with just being ok with his potential. I suppose this is because I can live with the fact that not every player has the same drive to be the best as the Great ones do. I think accepting this is the same as not getting too hyped over every draft class, because there won't be a LeBron or a Durant (still believe) in each class.

At 12/21/2007 12:19 PM, Blogger Tom Deal said...

i'd like to second the rudy gay love. the nonchalant bastard sparks something deep in my heart. it was even better watching him and pau gasol on one of those NBA cares commercials doing a basketball clinic for the lil' 'uns. he actually looked happier and more in to that than he generally does in games. like saratoga, i can deal with the potential. i'd be happy if the dude turns into a cornerstone wing on a contender grizzlies but not a superstar. also, his hatred against every team that didn't take him makes him mad lovable.

mike conley jr on the other hand, can never be forgiven.

wv wghhg: what to give to a hella high gilbert?

At 12/21/2007 2:34 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

very tasty. you've got me intrigued. gonna have to start hitting double time on the new orleans ligpass...

At 12/21/2007 11:33 PM, Blogger MC Welk said...

Did anyone else just see what Millsap did to Rashard Lewis? He put a salary cap in that ass.


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