Name the NBA player whose play is most vital to his team's success.
Ask any Timberwolves fan, and there's no doubt what their answer would be: Kevin Garnett
. And it isn't just Timberwolves fans praising Garnett for what he has meant to the Wolves this season. Plenty of coaches, players and fans nationwide are taking notice because it's easy to defend the idea that no other player has done as much for his team this season as KG has done for the Timberwolves.
Garnett leads the NBA in triple-doubles, double-doubles, efficiency ranking and the Nestle Crunch Time stat, and he ranks second in the league in rebounding. He also ranks among the top 10 in minutes and points, and among the top 20 in field goal percentage, assists and blocks.
Ever since he entered the league in 1995, Garnett has developed a reputation for being one of the NBA's most unselfish players. Nothing he's done this season has diminished this trait. Though his points and board work get noticed — Garnett has already clinched his fourth consecutive 20-point/10-rebound/5-assist season, which ties him with Larry Bird — it's the little things, things that either get overlooked or don't make the stats sheet, where Garnett has been even more effective.
According to Wolves coach Flip Saunders, when it comes to frontline players, Garnett's unselfishness is comparable only to Boston Celtics great Bill Russell. "Kevin is doing all those little things that really make a team a really good team," said Saunders. "It's his weakside help (on defense), coming over and blocking shots, contesting shots, setting good picks, and moving the ball at the right time." Throw in the fact that the superstar often guards the other team's best player, and makes the pass that leads to an assist, and his game is even more impressive.
His overall play, furthermore, has been infectious to his teammates. Center Rasho Nesterovic, for example, has greatly benefited from Garnett's presence and is having a career season. "The way guys have responded has helped KG to have the type of year he is having," Saunders said.
After Garnett was criticized at the end of last season for not taking over games, he worked on this over the offseason. "To his credit," Wolves vice president of basketball operations Kevin McHale said, "he got upset, but he worked on things. He became a better basketball player."
Added Garnett: "Everything I've done in the summer caries on into the season."
Garnett has carried a Timberwolves club that lost the services of its starting point guard (Terrell Brandon) indefinitely, their starting shooting guard (Wally Szczerbiak) for 30 games, and the team's starting power forward (Joe Smith) for extended periods due to injuries.
A crowning moment for Garnett came during this year's NBA All-Star Game in February. His 37-point, nine-rebound, five-steal performance, including nine points in the second overtime, led the West to a 10-point win over the East. It was the highest-scoring output by an All-Star since 1988 and the fourth-highest in league history.
"The star of stars tonight was Kevin Garnett," NBA Commissioner David Stern proclaimed as he handed Garnett the game's Most Valuable Player trophy.
As splendid a season as he is having, Garnett doesn't allow individual accomplishments to sway him from his overall goal. "I don't get into my personal stats," he says. "I just don't like turnovers and I don't like my man scoring a lot of points. That's the first thing I think about when I get the stat sheet. It's not about me, it's about this team and what we do together."
by Charles Hallman