Thursday, August 30, 2007
I Honestly Think I Have Magical Powers
As you probably don't know unless you've slogged through 20 minutes of Vick coverage, 2 hours of college football preview shows (Even though they essentially perform fellatio on my school, I am ridiculously sick of them. We have nine running backs. I get it. That's a lot.), and a half-hour of baseball pennant race coverage every night, team USA basketball is absolutely rolling right now. They are completely destroying their opponents, and playing the best basketball the world has seen since the fateful summer of 1992.
Freed from the shackles of oppressive double-teams, the stars on the teams are free to let their strengths run wild in this tournament; Kobe is shutting down opponents on defense and playing his beautiful offensive slash-and shoot game to perfection; Carmelo is playing a Bernard King-like pure scoring role, getting to the line and using the shorter 3-point line to make his mid-range shot into a deadly long-range shot; Dwight Howard is finding opportunities to catch and throw down inside like early Shaq; Michael Redd and Mike Miller have been letting fly from 3; and Jason Kidd is making the whole thing run smooth as butter, the true point guard past USA teams lacked.
Most impressively, however, my favorite athlete, LeBron James, has been playing almost literally perfect basketball.
Here are the raw numbers: he's averaging the second-highest total on the team, despite having less attempts than 4 or 5 other team members. He's 3 assists away from being tied for the team lead with Jason Kidd and Deron Williams, two top-5 point guards. And that's not even the impressive part. He's shooting 79.7% from the field, 70.0% from 3, and 72.7% from the line. He's taken 59 shots and taken 11 free throws, which means that we should add 5 more "attempts" from the line, bringing the total up to 64. If LeBron had dunked every one of his attempts and was yet to miss a shot in the tournament, he would have 128 points; as it stands now, he has 115. I can't give you a "true shooting"%, because the computer I'm posting from doesn't have a calculator feature.(This ain't exactly the New York Times.)
Aesthetically, LeBron's game has been even more impressive than the numbers would suggest; simply put, his own unparalleled skills have been perfectly highlighted by those around him, allowing him to play the game to perfection. With Redd, 'Melo, Miller, and Kobe spacing the floor, defenses have been unable to stack against him, enabling him to drive the hole with absolute impunity. With Kidd pushing the tempo, he's been able to get into the open floor, where his speed, strength and leaping ability make him the closest thing basketball has ever seen to an unstoppable weapon. With Kobe and 'Melo slashing to the basket, LeBron has even gotten to take his breathtaking passing game off of mothballs, dropping no-look dimes for layups like he was back when we first saw him against Oak Hill academy.
Perhaps most importantly, his jumper actually seems to be coming around; not only has he been making his 3s at a ridiculous clip (Carmelo, Kobe, Mike Miller, and Chauncey Billups have all taken more 3s than James, but none of them have hit as many as he has; Michael Redd has hit 6 more 3s, but he needed 29 more shots to do it), but his form actually seems to be better- he has stopped his maddening practice of jerking back his arms instead of following through, and his balance seems to be vastly improved.
He's even gained 10 more pounds of pure muscle without losing any speed whatsoever, and earlier in the tournament seemed to be working on adding actual post moves to his bag of tricks, which would make it literally impossible for any small forward not named Ron Artest to guard him on the low block. (Although this tournament doesn't seem to be the best place to practice them-the high level of team USA's collective skill has rendered extensive one-on-one maneuvers, such as mid-range jumpers or extended post-ups, moves designed to handle a defender's pressure, moot-this team is able to simply drive and kick at will, discarding the defenders completely.)
And as a quick aside, I realize the competition is weak, but keep in mind that team USA struggled with these teams only recently. More importantly, LeBron's play would be amazing in a Rucker-league game; perfection as he is approaching now exists in a vacuum. Also, open looks and a shorter 3-point line don't explain why LBJ is shooting the ball much better than players who are supposedly much better shooters than him.
There are two explanations for LeBron's domination of this tournament. One involves magic, so I'll save that one for last.
The first is that while LeBron's killer instinct has been a subject of much scrutiny over his relatively short career, he has always delighted in systematically destroying any criticism of him that manages to bubble up to the mainstream. "Overhyped, and unable to be an impact player right away." How about the best rookie season of the past decade, as well as the best season of all time by an 18-year old? "Very promising, but still a work in progress, especially with his jump shot, and not a superstar yet." How about a dramatic jump shot improvement, a step up to MVP candidacy, and leading his team to within 1 game of the playoffs, followed the next year by a 50-win year, 30 ppg, a playoff birth, and 2nd place in MVP voting? "Not clutch." A couple of last-minute heroics against the Wizards seemed to quiet those whispers, as did nearly taking down the Pistons by himself. "Lost his passion, regressed as a player, no killer instinct, and not clutch." Game 5.
After the Spurs series, the criticism became that while he may be the most singularly talented player in the league, his game remained woefully incomplete, and especially lacked a solid jump shot. Normally, LeBron would have to wait a full year for redemption in the finals; instead, he has found a way to expedite his revenge on those who doubt him by shoving a newfound Kobe-like offensive precision squarely up two continents' assholes. For all the talk about Woods, Jordan, Arenas and Wade's need for criticism in order to let loose their inner brooding killer, the man who gleefully does a number as Bobby Brown continues to systematically silence those who dare challenge his greatness.
Then, of course, there's the supernatural reason why LeBron is doing so well right now. Several months ago, after the All-Star break, LeBron went on an absolute tear through the league for no apparent reason, then went back to a state of semi-ennui just as inexplicably. When I looked back at it, I realized that LeBron's tear had bizarrely coincided almost perfectly with my short-lived relationship, and posted about it here. That was weird, but I shrugged it off.
The next time I got any play was May 26. (I remember it because it was the day before graduation-it's not like I keep a journal of this crap.) Anyways, LeBron had been relatively unspectacular up to that point in the playoffs, and the Cavs were down 0-2 to the Pistons. Starting on May 27, the Cavs won 4 games in a row, fueled by late-game heroics by LeBron in games 3, 4, and especially 5, the best game of his career. I didn't post about it at the time because I was wary of jinxing anything, but I thought that it was a fun little coincidence, and I would definitely have mentioned it if I hadn't been so desperately afraid of doing anything to screw up the Cavs at that pivotal point in the season.
After a celibate summer (I went to boarding school, so there wasn't a real possibility of summer-league action), I ended up participating in a random, drunken hookup at a party my 2nd day here. (That was also the night I met O.J. Mayo-I thought it was a fun twist that a star athlete caught a blogger in an embarrassing situation.) Anyways, that was last Thursday, August 23, and after an 11-point showing on August 22, LeBron has been on a legendary tear.
So the logical conclusion here is that the fate of LeBron seems to be tied to my ability to get ass. This is a monumental responsibility, and a challenge I frankly don't know if I'm up to(maybe the fact that I'm 18 and made a Bernard King reference tipped you off, but I'm not the biggest player at USC. But I'll keep trying, because that's the kind of team player I am-if I get lucky on Saturday night, maybe the Bibby trade will get done.