That Dream Where I’m in the NBA and Steal Someone’s Skills

When I watch players who are infinitely more athletic than I am play the game of basketball, sometimes I close my eyes and wonder what it’d be like, if just for a day, I had their ability.  I don’t imagine myself incarnating Kobe Bryant or Lebron James like the 12-year-old Josh Baskin once did Tom Hanks.  Instead, I wish their skill sets would inhabit my 5’ 10”, 165 pound body. Give me the first step of Dwyane Wade or Tony Parker’s incredible ability to finish at the rim and to keep me from playing, you’d have to peel me from the blacktop.

There’s one player who sits near the top of my wish list who probably doesn’t belong with the rest. He’s no household name, has no sneaker deal and was likely never asked to appear in a Gatorade commercial. He’s not a superstar, has never been named to an all-star game or even averaged 13 points per game.  Forget about guessing who it is.  Not only does he come off the bench, but his name won’t be listed by any credentialed beat writer as a serious sixth man candidate. The player?  Give up? The one…the only…Delonte West!

I view and admire his skills on a regular basis as having the complete game I’d like to show off in a Rec League. The way he attacks the basket with a rare, ferocious toughness.  The way he never backs down on defense and single handedly (pardons to Paul Pierce) seems to be revitalizing the mid-range jump shot.

Right now his usage percentage is the highest its ever been as a Cavalier.  He upped his numbers in points, rebounds and assists from the regular season to the playoffs last year and despite a sad, ongoing struggle with a bi-polar disorder, is widely regarded by those who play and travel with him as an amiable character.

So what else is to like? First off he’s left-handed. Depending on what your take is on south paws, whether you think their awkward looking or seamlessly smooth, I’ve always found it harder to guard a quick lefty.  He’s both instant offense and rugged defensively. His range stretches to the three-point line—crucial on a team that possesses Lebron—but he seems to prefer pulling up off the dribble, for that lethal yet dieing art form.

In the first sentence of West’s 2010 Basketball Prospectus profile, the former St. Joseph’s standout is said to be lacking at greatness in any one particular skill, “but good, or at least average, in virtually every facet of the game”.  It’s an incredibly apt description for an underdog who’s been able to carve a personal niche among the best players in the world.  His handle is superb, able to direct the ball between his legs in a way that isn’t flashy, but useful and with purpose.

According to HoopData.com, West is one of three players on Cleveland who have a higher field goal percentage from 16-23 feet than the percentage assisted on those attempts, meaning he’s more than capable of scoring and creating offensive opportunities on his own from the perimeter.  The other two are Lebron James and Mo Williams.  Between 10-15 feet, only Shaq has a lower percentage on assisted field goals.

He’s self-effacing on one of the leagues most flamboyant teams and lacks any sort of off the court need for attention all the while being loved by his teammates.  Earlier this season, Lebron said West was the funniest guy in Cleveland’s locker room (on a Shaquille O’Neal team none the less).

Delonte West plays the same position as Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, Brandon Roy and Joe Johnson.  At barely 6’ 3” and 180 pounds, when he goes up against those guys it’s like he’s entering the Indy 500 with a lawnmower.

I first caught him when he was in college, but was far more impressed with Jameer Nelson to pay any real attention.  Then he was drafted by my Boston Celtics and became a member of a franchise that stood mired in decrepit disappointment.  If he wasn’t the answer, then he was apart of the problem, and thus I ignored his abilities.

Now, irony is biting my behind.  West is in Cleveland and should face off against the Celtics in what will surely be a hard fought, no love lost,  seven-game battle in the second round. He’s someone who plays the game with passion, skill and a fearless demeanor no true fan could afford to disparage.

Seth Carstens