Posted Jan 19 2010 3:43PM
How often do we use the "scary" cliche? A couple seasons ago, Derrick Rose was going to be "scary" in five years. But two or three years from now, will Rose really be frightening his opponents? All-NBA? Maybe. But inducing quivering? That's a whole other level of fright.
If the Magic come to town, does the thought of 48 minutes of Dwight Howard scare the opposing fans? I'm thinking no, but we were told it would five years ago. Folks still say it today, in his sixth season: "Man, in another five years, when Dwight finally has his Hakeem game ... he's gonna be 'scary.'"
By my count, there are really only four "scary" players in the league: Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. As good as Chris Paul is (I swap him and Wade in and out of my No. 3 spot -- behind Kobe and LeBron -- depending on my mood), he's not really scary. To be scary, a player has to be a consistently unstoppable offensive juggernaut or a destructive (not just disruptive) defensive force (think Dennis Rodman, Ron Artest, Scottie Pippen, Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson at their defensive peaks). Scary good takes on a profundity that eclipses "really, really, really good."
What's most frustrating is that we take this "scary" characterization and use it as a forecast for practically every young player that we think will play in multiple All-Star games. Out of Kobe, LeBron, 'Melo and D-Wade, guess how many of them honestly foreshadowed something "scary" when they were, say, 21 years old? LeBron and ... that's it. Wade wasn't even in the league. And, at 21, it was still in question whether 'Melo would ever realize his potential.
"But what about Kobe? He was an All Star on his way to his first championship at 21."
That's true, but as good as Kobe was in his fourth season (23 ppg, six rpg, five apg), I don't think it was until the following season -- when he became Laker option 1B -- that we started thinking, "Hold up, at some point, this dude is going to be capable of anything on the court. Score 81 points in a regulation game? Hey, it could happen. Average over 40 for a full month? It could happen ... I mean, did you see him go 20 for 26 against Houston?" Those feats weren't comprehensible a year earlier.
And, really, in the last 20 years, the only player other than LeBron that deserved the "He's going to be scary" tag, as a 21-year-old pro, was Shaq. [Click here for a list of the best 21-year-olds in the history of the NBA.] By that age, Shaq was out-muscling and generally bullying the best centers in the game. It's comical to watch old replays of Shaq dunking on the Knicks as a beleaguered Patrick Ewing jogs up the court, trying not to shake his head. "You mean I have to deal with THIS for 10 more years?" Shaq was the scariest thing (not named Jordan) the modern game had ever seen.
What is with all this talk about "scary?" I was in Philips Arena on Monday as Kevin Durant led his young Thunder squad (only two players averaging over 20 minutes a game are older than 25) to a tough, close road victory over the Hawks. The youngster had 29 points, five rebounds and five assists. He didn't shoot all that well (just 7-for-18), but he was relentlessly aggressive (14-for-15 from the line) and dominated most of the game by not only play, but personality. The Hawks, blessed with several interchangeable defenders, looked helpless at times.
At 21, in just his third season, KD is averaging 29 points and seven rebounds a game. He is 6-foot-9, but those spidery arms make him almost like a 7-footer. His range is limitless, his release is as quick as that quarterback that used to play for the Miami Dolphins. He's still a frail dude, but he's physical, which is why he gets to the line about 10 times per game. And he's obsessed with not only winning, but leading his team to winning.
Most of the time, exceptionally young teams go through the season playing free-wheeling ball because there are no stakes, no expectations -- sort of like the 2008-2009 Thunder. This Thunder team, however, is 23-18, tied with the Utah Jazz for the eighth spot in the always tough Western Conference. So KD has the prospect of finishing the second half of this season as the unquestioned Man, not just on a young team, but a young team trying to beat back and overtake more experienced teams for a playoff spot. And you know what? He loves it.
"That's what I dream about," he said. "About beating the pressure and challenge of carrying a team to a championship."
And it didn't sound like lip-service to me. That's what this kid is about. He's as good as any 21-year-old has ever been in the league (yep, LeBron, Shaq, Magic Johnson, Jordan, Isiah Thomas included). What he's doing is already scary. Five or 10 years from now? An absolute nightmare.
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