Resume: 14.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.1 steals, 29.7 minutes, 50% FG, and 79% FT… Team record in games played: 36-32 (5-8 without)… Playoffs: 12.7 points, 13.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.0 block, 35.3 minutes, 50% FG, 94% FT… All-Star, 12th in MVP Voting
Why rank a 37 year old power forward that is clearly in the twilight of his career and already has logged nearly 53,000 regular season and playoff minutes on his odometer a spot ahead of 23 year old power forward whose best days are all but certainly ahead of him? I’ll answer the following question by the time this write up is done.
The Big Ticket began his NBA career eighteen years ago when I was just a little tyke of only three years. He came into the NBA straight out of high school, the first player in twenty years to do so and the career he’s put together in the nearly two decades since has been one of the best in the history of the Association. Always snubbed from the Duncan/Kobe debate as to whom the best mid-nineties draft pick was, Garnett is without question the bronze medal winner of that discussion. At his peak Garnett was arguably the best all-around player in the league; a mainstay on both the All-NBA team and All-Defensive teams in the early to mid-00’s, Garnett spent his prime playing with Latrell Sprewell (in his last two years in the league), Sam Cassell, Wally Szczerbiak, Troy Hudson, Trenton Hassell, Fred Hoiberg, and Rasho Nesterovic as his best teammates. Year after year Garnett dragged an underwhelming cast to the postseason, right up until his MVP campaign in 2004.
Garnett spent his last three seasons in Minnesota playing 234 of a possible 246 games and logging huge minutes (38.8 minutes per game in those last three Timberwolves seasons). Finally when he was traded to the Boston Celtics before the 2007-08 season was Garnett flanked by an appropriate supporting cast. With the burden having to produce 24 points and 12 rebounds every night gone, Garnett transformed into Boston KG; the brash, loud, defensive anchor and heartbeat of his team who is perfectly capable of turning back the hands of time and coming through with a vintage Big Ticket game when it’s needed. With a championship under his belt and a moment that will be replayed over and over during any NBA Finals for the next 50 years, KG solidified himself as one of the NBA’s best for the second time, this time doing the things that often go unnoticed by the casual fans. In some ways KG has become the late career version of Ray Lewis in the NBA (minus the deer antler spray)—even though he’s clearly lost a step and not the player he was in his prime, his impact in the locker room and impression on his teammates cannot possibly be neglected.
Now Garnett (and Celtics teammate Paul Pierce) is a member of the Brooklyn Nets, a team that much like the Washington Sentinels minus Shane Falco, was missing miles and miles of heart. When the shorthanded and injured Bulls ousted the Nets in the 1st round last year it was glaringly obvious that talent wasn’t the deciding factor… it was that the Nets collectively didn’t play with a pulse. With KG (and Pierce) in the picture, I’d bet big money that doesn’t happen. And that ultimately is why Garnett is ranked ahead of Ibaka. As good as Ibaka is and will continue to get over time, it’s hard to imagine him ever making the kind of difference that Garnett can make on a good team trying to take the next step to becoming great. Garnett will bring an eff-you edge that should put the Nets on the level of every upper echelon team in the Eastern Conference. Remember, this list isn’t just about individual skill, statistics and accolades. It’s about status and reputation too. Garnett’s 26-32 minutes, 12-16 points and 6-10 rebounds for Brooklyn will indeed be impactful. Becoming the metaphorical defibrillator for a team that more often than not looks like it’s flat lining is something that Garnett and very few others could pull off.