Monday, February 18, 2008

All-Star Thoughts

Now that the hoopla surrounding All-Star Weekend is subsiding, it feels like a good time to post my thoughts. Why? Because I never let an NBA story die!

Actually, I've just been busy. But here were my favorite things about Saturday and Sunday. (For my thoughts on the Rookie Challenge, see the previous post.)

1. Dwight Howard gets all the love. Fame and adoration are fickle things in professional sports, here today and gone the next. Even more mysterious are the origins of certain legends. Why do some players turn into instant starts and others struggle to get the hype? In some cases, we'll never know. But will never be a problem with Dwight Howard. He's been on a steady rise in NBA circles since miseason last year when he threw down that crazy, last second alley-oop on Tim Duncan's head. He followed that seminal moment up with the "sticker dunk" and "kiss the rim dunk" at last year's dunk contest (when he was robbed by horrendous judging on the part of Michael Jordan) and then a monster second half to the season. This year he broke out with a big first month and then stayed in the news when Stan Van Gundy called him out for not rebounding ... which he followed with a 24-rebound performance in the last game before the break.

Now he's become a bonafide star, showing off his comic chops as well as his electric skill and athleticism. He stole the show during the dunk contest, displaying such grace and creativity that even Gerald Green's classic "birthday cake dunk" was relegated to second billing. Granted, Howard didn't even really dunk the ball on his "Superman dunk" (many are saying that it meets the technical definition of a dunk because it was "thrown downward into the basket" but as my buddy Stump put it, "It failed the 'I know it when I see it' test"), but his tip dunk was insane, and the behind the backboard throwdown was a nice twist on Andre Igoudala's classic (leaving his head on the other side of the backboard was pretty cool). Plus, he conducted himself in the joyful fashion of a kindergartener on recess. Then, to top it all off, he went for 16 and 9 during the game on Sunday and even threw an alley-oop to LeBron. Needless to say, he became a "star of stars" on this weekend.

2. Chris Paul is incredible. Once the East pulled away at the end of the game, it was clear that Paul wouldn't be receiving the MVP award, which is a shame because he was the most dynamic player in the contest and he nearly led an amazing comeback on his home floor. 16 and 14 is nothing to sneeze at, and that's before you consider all the steals or the crazy ballhandling stunts. The move that he made late in the third quarter, when he faked a bounce pass by spinning back into a dribble was absolutely incredible (and pretty much completely ignored by the announcing crew). The great thing about Paul is that he can play his normal style of basketball and be electric, without infringing on the "ridiculously unselfish, no blatant attempts to show anyone up" style of an All-Star game. Everything Paul does is exciting because of his speed, but ultimately pretty subtle. If you watch any Hornets game, he will do all the same things he did on Sunday: throw ridiculous passes, lull people into submission with his sick handles, drop key threes and floaters, and pick people's pockets. None of that comes off as "trying too hard" (an All-Star no-no), yet it is all entertaining AND helps his team win. Which leads us to ...

3. Brandon Roy makes a great debut. I've tabbed Roy "The Perimeter Duncan" for his cerebral, steady play, instinctual ability to lead, and preference for playing the game the right way. Therefore, I kind of assumed that he would disappear into the landscape, much like the real Duncan. I am pleased that I was so wrong. Wages of Wins had Roy as the best player on the floor on Sunday, Byron Scott played him for all the big minutes, and his line of 18-9-5 was downright sparkling. Like Paul, he played with a perfect blend of passion and unselfishness. His only downfall was when he tried to throw down on an alleyoop that was beyond his realm - a mistake he rectified late in the game when he opted to take a lob and lay it in rather than risk a miss. As always, Roy played with a poise well beyond his years.

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