Wednesday, August 29, 2007
NBA Preview: In Praise Of Dwyane Wade
Watching the US in FIBA competition has lent itself to the argument once again of "Who's the best player in the world?" The answer is supposed to be either Kobe or LeBron, with Kobe getting a lot of attention for his maniacal defensive intensity during the tournament. Honestly it's hard to gauge anything in these FIBA things, the US team is hardly a team in the real sense of the word. They're more of a conglomeration of superstars forced to play off as a "team" for a few weeks in the summer. Let's just say, as it has been for the past few years, that chemistry seems to be lacking. That's no one's fault, just the nature of things given the circumstances.
Kobe has looked awesome, but honestly LeBron is so fucking talented and so big it is just insane. He threw one in from halfcourt the other night and I expected it. The sky's the limit for that guy; he's all of 22. Legitimately he could win like six championships - hell, he probably should win six championships.
But LeBron is the future, and we are probably only at the fledgling stages, which is scary and awe-inspiring. Kobe meanwhile, as phenomenal as he is, is not Jordan. I can't believe people still make this comparison in arguing his merits. Kobe is a scoring freak, with great willpower and tenacity, and a historically unique player. But he is not the best player in basketball, and he never has been. To those who strongly disagree with me - all I can say is that great individual exploits do not make you the world's best player, and I laugh if you tell me the Lakers would be worse off with Tim Duncan instead of Kobe.
It is Duncan who probably deserves the claim as the world's best player more than anyone; his continual dominance has been as calm and obscure as possible considering his accomplishments. He is a veritably great player, one of the ten best ever, and coming off another championship. But personally I think he might be slipping ever so slightly, and he is now on the other side of thirty. Anyway, I personally say there is someone better, but that could be a strech on my part.
The only player that can presently be compared to Duncan is Dwyane Wade. To many this seems to be heresy, but it is obvious to me, and might be obvious to you once next season plays itself out. Wade is everything you could ever want a basketball player to be - super athletic, incredibly unselfish, tough as fuck, and an indisputable winner. Like any great player stats don't do him justice, but he led the league in PER the last two years; the stat I value probably more than any other.
But Wade cannot be explained by stats. What sets him apart is his total understanding of the game, and his uncanny ability to fully execute it. No player can get from one spot on the court to another with such effectiveness. When Dwyane Wade moves, his whole team is forced to move with him. No one has done this since Jordan.
Great big men make players move around them. They are glorious pillars that everyone must react to. They are the centers of the game in a very literal sense, as everything is fundamentally fed into them, both offensively and defensively. Great guards and wing players do not have this luxury. They have no place in the middle, they are by nature peripheral figures. To be great, then, means to attack with utmost skill. And by attacking the core of the action shifts to them, momentarily make them the center, and all off a sudden gives them a distinct advantage. I cannot stress how hard this is to do on a consistently high level. Nash does it in an obvious way, but frankly he does not have the supernova talent to truly take over a game in such a fashion.
But Wade does have that rarefied talent, and the proof is in the pudding. No one else in the league could have done what he did in the 2006 Finals, when he heaved almost the entire burden on his shoulders and proceeded to destroy the Mavericks. This performance has been gigantically undervalued, because it was so explicitly miraculous that simple praise does it no justice. There is a reason he was Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year - he deserved it. To be as dominant as Wade was that series, and indeed as he has been in total the last two years, takes much more than just talent. It requires a mental understanding equal to one's physical domination. Dwyane Wade does not make himself better, he makes the entire Miami Heat better.
And that said, the Heat without Wade pretty much suck. Shaq is way past his prime; in the '06 Finals the Heat would have been better served to have someone like Emeka Okafor as their center. Seriously. Part of the reason Wade is still under the radar is fans believe Shaq is one of the top ten players in the game. I don't even know if he is in the top forty. The Miami Heat have been Wade's team the last two years, and he is brilliant enough to know it is best to deflect this truism when it is brought up. But at this point, he is as close to a one man band as there is in the NBA. Because he has reached such a high mark he can make it look like the Heat are better than they are, but this team needs some major revamping. I have to think Pat Riley is intelligent enough to realize this.
Back in early 2006 Pierce was on a rampage for the Celtics. I was telling people he was playing better than anyone. Then the C's played the Heat and Wade had like 34-8-8, but that didn't matter as much as the fact that it seemed like he was directly involved every time the Heat scored. I was watching the game with a friend and asked him if Wade was having one of his best games ever. My friend said, "No, he pretty much always plays like this." It was then I realized that Paul Pierce's best month ever was just normality for Dwyane Wade.
Wade may not play "maniacal defense" like FIBA Kobe, and he obviously does not have the ridiculous inherent talent of LeBron. But Wade is 25 and gets it in a way that both those guys might never attain. When you watch Dwyane Wade play, you are watching an artist who leaves it all on the court. He's coming back from both knee and shoulder surgery, playing on an adequate team, and still does not get as much hype as Carmelo. But if the East is as shitty as it looks, just wait till playoff time. Miami might have all it needs.