Sunday, September 25, 2016

Kevin Garnett Retires From My Beloved Timberwolves -- My #22 NBA/ABA Player of All-Time

When I watch basketball, what I become most frustrated with is lack of effort.  I will at times stand up and yell at coaches or players "come on, TRY!"

As a Timberwolves season ticket holder, I watched Kevin Garnett play around 300 games in person and 500 more on TV.  I never once asked for Kevin to try harder.  I once saw KG badly turn an ankle at Target Center, hobble on one foot to the locker room, and play the entire game the next night in Denver.

Kevin Garnett played with a fury and desire that took an awful franchise from embarrassing (50-65 losses a year) to a lengthy playoff run and 45-57 wins per year.  Then the Timberwolves traded KG.  He immediately won a title in Boston, and the Wolves have not made the playoff since.  That, in a nutshell is Kevin Garnett.  He busted his ass every single night for the fans.  He brought us wins, he made us a respectable team; he brought us to the Western Conference Finals.  Then we jettisoned him and gave him to Boston for Al Jefferson.  He immediately turned around Paul Pierce's attitude and won the Celts their first title in 22 years.  Every casual fan in the East suddenly learned how great KG was, without the slightest understanding that they were seeing a guy who was 20% past his prime and not anywhere near the player who left his guts on the floor while playing 1,000 games of basketball for the Wolves.

Kevin Garnett was a smart player.  He would save his fouls until the 4th quarter and then start playing with a frenzy where fouls 2-3-4 might come in 3 minutes.  In a close game against a good opponent, he'd often end up with 4 or 5 fouls.

A typical "good" KG game in his prime would be 22 points, 12 rebounds, 8 assists, and 1 block. Only Charles Barkley has more of these types of games since 1984.  The other names on that list?  LeBron, Bird....

Kevin Garnett was my favorite ever NBA player until 2003 when I saw LeBron James play.  Now they are very close on my list of beloved players.  James is obviously the better player, and far more of an entertainer than KG.  KG has done more for me as an NBA fan than anyone ever, by a long, long way.  James is an entertainer.  He understands that he is putting on a show and that is what he loves most about the game - giving the fans a good show.  KG is a gladiator.  He wants to win.  He will leave every drop of his blood on the floor to win.  The fact that he does not or cannot does not ever enter his mind.  He doesn't care how he acts on the floor or how he pursues his goal of winning.  When he is out there, is it a gang war (as he said in his famous speech in the 2004 playoffs).  As an opposing fan, you can begrudgingly respect KG.  As a home fan, you have to love him deeply.  

Some things the NBA will always have from KG:

1) Guys blocking shots taken during a dead ball.  That was KG's deal and what everyone does today (including LeBron on Curry in the 2016 Finals).

2) The maximum salary for individual players.  KG's $126M salary broke the bank and stunned NBA executives.  Tim Duncan (one year behind KG) made roughly $100M less than KG due to the Collective Bargaining Agreement being revised for fear of other guys getting KG's money.

3)  The moving high ball screen.  As a young man, Garnett was so quick in setting a screen right and then quickly making it a screen left that it made defending a high ball screen virtually impossible,  As he grew older, he kept doing the same thing and was moving pretty badly when he reversed the screen.  The refs looked the other way, and now we have a whole generation of NBA big men who set wildly illegal ball screens of this type.

4) Evaluating big men on the quality "rebounds outside of his area."  Kevin Garnett is the #1 defensive rebounder of the past 40 years.  He never boxed out.  Garnett would simply plant his feet in the middle of the lane, follow the flight of the ball, and outjump everyone.  That is now called "rebounding out of your area."  When I was growing up, it was called doing a poor job boxing out.  But when you are 7', fast as a deer, can touch 12 feet and have great hands, it is a good strategy.  This is particularly so when you are playing for a pretty mediocre set of temmates who expect you to get every rebound.

KG was also famous for the defensive hedge by the big man 35 feet from the hoop on a pick and roll.  Hedge, turn you back on the dribbler, run back to your man.  It is a great defensive tactic, but very difficult to do, so most teams don't use it anymore -- they just switch.

I rank Kevin Garnett as the #22 best NBA/ABA player of all-time -- just behind Barkley and Baylor, just ahead of Stockton and Dirk.

He has two of the top 50 Win Shares Per 48 seasons of all-time (2003-04 with Minnesota, 2007-08 with Boston).   Kevin led the league in Win Shares twice; in VOPR 3X, He is 9th in career WS, 7th in career DWS.  He has more career Win Shares than Oscar, Shaq, Bill Russell, Kobe, Hakeem, Moses, Magic or Bird.

Kevin Garnett had 10.7 or more Win Shares in a season 9 times, tied for 14th all-time with Barkley, Bird, Magic and West.  He had a season-long Defensive Rating of under 100 12 times; that ties him for 3rd with Hakeem and leaves him only behind David Robinson and Tim Duncan.  If you combine the two requirements -- that you have 10.6+WS and a DRtg under 100, Kevin had 7 such seasons, tied with Kareem for 3rd best.  Duncan and David Robinson had 10 each.

(Note -- some of these stats did not exist for Bill Russell, so Bill is almost certainly #1 in all such stats).

Sub-Total of This Section -- KG on an Advanced Stats Basis was a top 15 all-time player.

KG was MVP of the league (2003-04) and Defensive Player of the Year (2007-08).  Kevin is 15th all-time in MVP award shares, 9X all-NBA (4X first team), 12X all-defense (8X first team).  Kevin was almost unanimous MVP, and should have been (one voter cast a vote for......Jermaine O'Neal?).

Kevin's 2007-08 Defensive Player if the Year award still really angers me. From 2000 to 2006, Kevin Garnett was the best overall defensive player in the league.  He could guard every position (though he admittedly struggled against huge heavy centers).  He could guard out on the floor; he could guard by getting back on the break, he could play interior help defense.  In 2003-04, KG had a Defensive Rating of 92.  Don't you think it was THEN (his MVP year) that he should have been Defensive Player of the Year?  Nope.

And Kevin did all of his defensive wizardry playing for a coach in Flip Saunders who did not give a damn about defense.  But when the Wolves declined after 2004, the powers that be took KG off the all-defense first team and by 2006-07 he was second team all-defense and third team all-NBA.  Then he goes to Boston and the media picks up the whole "my God, this guy is the greatest defensive player of all-time" line.  Well, guys, when KG got to Boston he was roughly 80% the defender he was in Minnesota.  He just ran across Tom Thibodeau and a team concept that actually emphasized defense.

In short, when KG was in Minnesota, he was horribly underrated and underappreciated from an all-NBA and DPOY standpoint.  Once he went out East, he became, if anything, overrated.  But no one is going to go back and sort through the record book and say "well, should have been much higher, played in Minnesota and we didn't give a flying fuck about Minnesota players."

Sub-Total of Awards Section -- top 35 player of all-time.  You'd view him in the Havlicek, Pippen range if you looked just at these stats/awards.

Often cited as the greatest negative on KG's resume.  When in his prime in Minnesota he only won any playoff series one year (2004) and the Wolves either missed the playoffs or lost in the first round.

Not a top 100 player based upon this stretch.  Was always compared negatively with people like Tracy McGrady and Big Dog Robinson.

Then KG goes to Boston and immediately wins a title.  He gets hurt for a year and then the Celts go on another playoff run.  He led the NBA in Playoff WS in 2007-08, so he was the best player on the best team.
His one title with Boston saves him in this category, as he has a title while Ewing and Barkley and Malone and Stockton and Durant and Chris Paul do not.  I will add that Boston Celtics fans are rapid fans and advocate hard on behalf of their players, so winning one title in Boston is like winning 4 somewhere else.  But I think his lack of success in MN will always hurt him when all-time lists are announced.

Sub-total -- top 40 player.


Kevin Garnett is not dead, so I won't treat this like a eulogy where we put to one side all of the negative aspects of someone and pretend that they were perfect in all respects.  I will just try to express to you the flaws of KG and his overall greatness.

When I moved to Minnesota for good in the summer of 1989, I got season tickets for the Timberwolves.  I had been a Buffalo Braves fan until they moved to San Diego (then L.A.).  I had picked the 80's Celtics over the 80's Lakers, and I had been a huge Ralph Sampson fan 1979-86 (how did that work out for me?).

Anyway, as a Timberwolves fan, let me just make it super clear -- when we did not have Kevin Garnett, we were the most embarrassing team in the league.  We always lost 50+ games and usually 60+ games.  The ownership tried to sell us to a New Orleans group that literally had no source of funding.  Then KG came.  Some things that you noticed right away about KG:
- 7 feet tall, legitimately
-- unbelievably long arms
-- ran like a deer
-- unbelievable passer
-- could touch the top of the backboard, but not a natural shot blocker
-- played with a level of intensity that was almost frightening
-- was so physically dominant from a speed and size standpoint that he scared other NBA players.

I recall Bobby Jackson coming down on a 1-on-1 break against KG, just exploding into the air and then seeing KG go up a foot and a half above Bobby.  Jackson panicked so badly that he came down to the floor with the ball.  The ref was (of course) trailing the play by 20 feet so he called KG for a foul.  He never touched Jackson, but he scared him so much that they called a foul.

Shawn Marion just HATED Wally Szczerbiak (Wally had been picked before him) and he would regularly go at Wally.  Often he would blow by Wally and would get met by KG in the lane.  Marion on several occasions would just rocket the ball off the top of the square or throw a wild pass out of bounds so as to avoid being snuffed by KG.

One game I sat next to the Kings' bench and Rick Adelman called timeout and brought his team over.  Rick (like Flip) was a great offensive coach.  He looks at his team and says, "Guys, come on.  Garnett is stopping our entire offense!  When you have the ball, look for Garnett and pass the opposite way that he is going."

He gets extra points for being so dominant.

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