Let’s Play Make-Believe: Take Two

 

Photo by Marano Marco Photography from Flickr

Since it’s looking less and less like a season (How u), I’ve decided to dive deeper into denial and continue to write as if the lockout didn’t exist (if this is at all confusing please refer to part 1).

The Curious Case of Rajon Rondo

What exactly are we to make of Rajon Rondo? During the 2010 playoffs and the first half of last season, he was arguably the best point guard in the world. Then for whatever reason (emotional injury, real injury, loss of a solid screen setter, defensive adjustments, or regression to the mean), during the second half of the year, Rondo became an impotent, ineffective version of himself. Rondo regained some of his, “I can affect the game in more ways than any other point guard” magic during the Knicks’ series, but he was mostly ineffective against the Heat (even before Dwyane Wade obliterated his elbow. I’m kidding Heat fans; obviously, Dwyane is a saint).

Rondo has become a source of both joy and frustration for me and Celtics fans. When he’s at his best, he’s a basketball maestro, using his own movement to create passing lanes, while simultaneously employing his massive wingspan and inhumanly large hands to torture defenders with an impressive array of fakes and dribble moves. However, too often last season, that version of Rondo was either barely visible or altogether missing. In order for the Celtics to have a shot at one last title, Rondo needs to find a way to play at a high level more consistently. I’m not sure how he can make that happen. I’m not sure anyone knows, Doc Rivers included.

Rondo has always been a bit of mystery. It’s an integral part of his unique style. Still, if he wants to be considered one of the top players in the league, his great play needs to feel a little less ethereal and elusive, and more material and reliable.

A Blazer’s Fan Roots For Z-Bo

Zach Randolph isn’t exactly a celebrated figure in Portland. In many ways, he was the embodiment of an era in Blazer’s history that fans would like to forget. One of my favorite memories from attending Blazer’s games consists of Z-Bo heaving a shot from the three-quarter court with about 5 seconds left on the game clock, and then proceeding to slap himself on the head after realizing his mistake. It was equal parts awesome and sad. His off the court transgressions, and perceived lack of effort and poor attitude served as fuel to an already raging fire (of fan discontent) (remember we’re dealing with Portland fans here) that would ultimately lead to Zach being run out of town. His experience was just another chapter in the The Blazers’ odd history with talented but misunderstood power forwards.

At the time, I held a lot of resentment towards Zach. I felt like he had been a degenerative force on our team. He was supposed to be the “leader”, and during his time in Portland, the team did nothing but disappoint. However, his recent success in Memphis has turned me into an unapologetic Zach Randolph fan. I love how hard he’s worked, and how he’s been an integral part of the transformation of the culture in Memphis. It was fun seeing him become the most dominant power forward not named Dirk Nowitzki.

Rooting for Zach Randolph forced me to re-examine my preconceived notions about Zach’s tenure for the Blazers. Everything that transpired wasn’t his fault. Did he do some colossally stupid things? Absolutely. But he was generally loved by his teammates and for the must part, he was putting in enough effort to generate wins; the team just wasn’t very good. It can be frustrating to see guys like Zach move on from the franchise you love only to find success elsewhere. Still, as fans, it’s a lot more fun to root for these guys rather than resent them.

Kevin Durant’s Kevin Durant Problem

Throughout the 2011 playoffs, one of the most consistent, ever present issues was Russell Westbrook’s supposed sabotage of Kevin Durant and the Thunder. Westbrook was “ruining the offense”, taking stupid shots, and refusing to give the ball to Kevin Durant. While the criticism was valid, it also ignored a lot of important context and absolved other important contributors of any blame. Certainly Scott Brooks also deserved his fair share of admonition for diagramming failed sidelines out of bounds play after failed sideline out of bounds play. More importantly, there is one individual who was as much, if not more, a part of the problem as Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant.

Now I know what you’re thinking: No not Kevin Durant! He’s the Golden Boy. He’s so humble he would have never left Cleveland like LeBron did! Yes, I understand Kevin Durant is an incredible basketball player and an awesome person (it’s rumored that he spends his free time rescuing puppies and kittens. This rumor is of course unsubstantiated.) However, there are flaws in his game that cause problems for the Thunder’s offense.

His biggest issues remain his lack of strength and inability to get free from physical ball denials. Late in games, Durant gets pushed so far away from the basket that he puts himself and his team at a huge disadvantage. (Seriously, go watch tape of Carmelo establishing position, then watch video of Durant and tell me that off ball positioning isn’t absolutely vital to late game success). Many of Westbrook’s “forced” shots and bad decisions came because the Thunder would run a set for Durant, only to have him catch the ball 30+ feet away, take a couple aimless dribbles, and hurriedly force it back to Westbrook, leaving Westbrook to take a bad shot and the brunt of the blame.

Kevin Durant is still the best player on the Thunder, and Westbrook does deserve criticism for some poor shot selection and his frequent inability to take care of the ball. However, to place sole responsibility for the Thunder’s offensive woes on Westbrook is simply incorrect. Let’s not focus on Kevin Durant’s “Russell Westbrook problem”. Russell is way more of a plus than a minus. Kevin Durant should instead focus on Kevin Durant, and so should we.

Scott Leedy

Scott Leedy is a Junior at The University of Oregon studying Political Science and Pre-Med. Above all else Scott loves Tracy McGrady and has made it his life goal to ensure that no one ever forgets his greatness. You can follow Scott on twitter: @ScottLeedy.