Monday , Apr , 26 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

Rookie Review: History in the Making

We were lucky this year. We got to see things we’ll be reminded of in twenty years. We got to see things we won’t need to be reminded of in twenty years; we’ll still be talking about them. We got to witness events our grandchildren will tire of hearing about.

We got to see history in the making.

One day we’ll look back on all this and say we saw it coming, because we did. We’re past gut feelings at this point. We just know that this is the start of something special. If this sounds a little epic, it’s because it is. To a real fan, this is it. Three gifts from the basketball gods.


Rookie Review: History in the Making“He’s about as can’t-miss as can’t-miss gets.”

He’s had the NBA contract for nearly a year and the attention since his sophomore year in high school, but he’s always had the gift. I’ll admit it once, and once only: I was wrong. I saw the scouts at every game, saw the dunks and the dishes, saw the covers and the coverage. But I was blind. I jumped aboard the bandwagon and decided he couldn’t ever be anything under the pressure that comes with a million eyes on your back, a target on your chest and a franchise on your shoulders. He silenced many with his play this year, but I’m still talking, only now it’s about how good he is and how great he will be.

To see the kid play is to see 245 pounds of solid basketball do everything humans shouldn’t be able to. He throws passes twenty thousand fans don’t see. He gets up so high that he knows the top of the rim like the back of his hand. His highlights are the cause of more spilt popcorn than The Exorcist. Simply put, he’s a time machine: he lets us see the future.

What’s more is that he’s done enough already. 20-6-6 as an 18 year-old rookie would assure him a place in the basketball annals. He could hang his Nikes up today and be happy with what he’s done, but that’s not enough for him, and it’s not enough for us. The public and the media set the bar higher for him and we now have the pleasure of watching a true phenomenon grow to be something greater than we could ever have envisioned. Even in a draft year as strong as this, one name and one game shone stronger than any other. Somewhere, Gordon Gund’s smile just got a little wider.

“He’s a winner.”

Gordon’s not the only one prone to beaming. The revolution will be televised, and the leader may well be the man with the megawatt grin. It’s impossible to avoid adjectives such as “smooth” and “fluid” when talking about his game and it’s equally difficult to ignore the 21-6-3, which improved as he grew with his team. Still a teenager, he assumed an active leadership role and was the driving force of a young team that did the unthinkable in gaining a postseason berth in the super-competitive west.

He’s also a guy who thought outside the box score and exhibited the poise and killer instinct that helped his squad to a championship last year. By the break it was as if he had been in the league forever as he displayed skills and knowledge normally associated with a ten-year veteran. On top of this, he was always the man with the rock in crunch time, hitting numerous big-time shots when it counted, affirming the image he developed as a PTPer in his amateur years.

Leader of the revolution? Perhaps leader of the evolution is more fitting. Seeing him drafted to lead a team from the front was a moment of monumental significance, a new phase in the development of NBA basketball. Young players had been brought into teams with the aim of immediate contribution, but they were never expected to make their teams better and to actually lead and educate guys ten years older than them. In fact, many a team had actually put the growth of the individual ahead of the collective to bring them along faster. Not this time though. Forget the fact that the title of captain isn’t official; it soon will be. Just remember this: in 2004 a nineteen year-old rookie led a young team of unacquainted players from the worst record in the league to the playoffs in the western conference.

He’s a winner. Give him a few years and he’ll prove it again.

“Damn”

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard or said the word after he’s made a play. Other guys can do things that get you out of your seat, but he’s one of the rare few that can make you fall out of it. He has a crossover so quick he fakes the cameraman out. He has a first step so explosive that his defenders usually turn just in time to see his feet hanging before them. He has such power in his muscled frame (he weighs two pounds more than fellow freshman Chris Bosh) and spring in his legs that anyone in the key can be taken for a ride to the rim.

The fact that few have yet realised this is in his favour. Defenders around the league are posterised every night because they don’t respect him as an athlete. However, as a ‘tweener, or combo guard as he is euphemistically termed, his lack of height is often highlighted. Look closer and you’ll see a freakish 6-foot 10¾ wingspan, more than making up for the inch or two most off-guards will have on him. Bear in mind that, if you take the official NBA draft data, he can touch 11’6” from a standing jump. He’s 6’4”, folks.

Aside from the trademark flashiness of his game, sharply contrasted with his humility of character, he has shown an improved jumper and the court awareness and handle required of an NBA point guard. His balanced character has been a surprising plus; his passion in the lulls of a game and composure in clutch situations have had a levelling influence on the team. Despite his NBA inexperience, he looks to be the team’s main scoring option next year and, if he is able to develop the momentum he was denied by injury this season, it’s likely he’ll put up over twenty a game.

Fast-forward a few years and he’ll likely be cited as an elite scorer. Add to that a burning a desire to improve his all-round game, a team-first mentality and excellent basketball sense and we could soon be talking of him as a top player on a top team. Fans, look up. Defenders, look out.

Three Kings

We can safely expect the draft every five years or so to yield a bona fide superstar, a player who is clearly set apart from the pack in his excellence. They play the game with such apparent ease that we wonder if they ever break a sweat. They are central to the action, but unperturbed by it. They are team players, but take it upon themselves when the game is on the line. They are princes among men, kings among princes.

We were lucky this year. We were given three superstars, three names that will endure in the minds of basketball fans far beyond their careers. We haven’t seen three in a draft since Akeem, Mike and Charles. These three could one day be an even greater overall trio.

That’s not just special. That’s historic.