The 2018-19 NBA season is underway. The Association still believes that its destination will be another championship for the Golden State Warriors. But that doesn't mean we can't enjoy the season as a whole. Last year was wonderful, so let's return to the path. Let's go back to the Journey.
Song of the Week: Gang Starr - "Skills"
Part of what makes basketball beautiful is that it allows for individual expression within a structure. Ever since I had my own sports blog a decade ago, I've been fascinated by that space for uniqueness. But every idea is birthed from some inspiration. Whether it be someone else's idea or a subtle change in the structure that creates a new advantage for the player, that idea is pushed through hypothesis and theory to produce something unique to that player. Sometimes, this results in a "signature move."
Signature moves are the result of inspiration, hypothesis, repetition and success. If you see Michael Jordan's fadeaway jumper, Allen Iverson's hesitation crossover, Tracy McGrady's hang dribble pull-up and so many more standout moves linked to one originator, understand that said move has been practiced thousands of times, honing it to the point it can be done any time and regardless if the defender knows it's coming. From the days of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and his patented skyhook and throughout the history of hoops, players have developed signature moves.
Today, one of the more well-known signature moves is the step back three from James Harden. It is built from the idea of separating from a defender after making that defender believe a player is going to drive to the basket. Harden then took that form of deception and applied it to his "dancing" standstill dribbling. Instead of lulling the defender to sleep to go past him, Harden uses that to step back and to the side, throwing off the defender's angle for a solid contest of his shot.
It can appear to be impromptu, but basketball isn't nearly as reactionary as highlights may cause us to believe. That move is done in the game because Harden has practiced that shot countless times, breaking each element down to get it as precise as possible. The footwork, how subtle his shoulder fakes are and even the trajectory of his release have been practiced and practiced perfectly. That move is his because he chose to make it his through creative inspiration and determined repetition.
In any moment, especially in big moments, Harden and any other player will go to what they do best and what they're most confident works in that situation. Rarely, will the shot or move be improvised—just a culmination of what is their individual method of success, like a casino patiently waiting to take your money.
Dallas Mavericks rookie sensation Luka Doncic seems to already have developed his own signature move: a version of the step back jumper. ESPN recently compared it to Harden's, and I'm here to explain why it's incorrect beyond the fact that the two players don't play alike. Doncic prefers the deception of appearing to drive. He also takes an elongated step backward and not a casual step laterally. Doncic used this go-to move multiple times as he single-handedly brought the Mavericks back against the Houston Rockets. Late in the fourth quarter of Saturday's game, Doncic used his pet move on Rockets center Clint Capela to create space for an open look. He went on a personal 11-0 run to secure a win for Dallas.
While video games tend to give players a wide selection of moves to use with playable characters, those characters have moves and abilities which are unique to them that can be most useful in most situations. From fighting games like Street Fighter where certain special moves create advantageous situations, to side-scrolling action games like X-Men: The Arcade Game where the mutant Colossus uses an energy field to clear surrounding enemies, users can use the character's best move to secure victory. Against the Rockets, Luka Doncic relied on his special move to give him the best chance of success. Call his step back jumper Luka Doncic's instead of rushing to label it someone else's.
- Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George scored 25 of his season-high 47 points in the 4th quarter to help his team really from a 22-point deficit against the Brooklyn Nets. George even hit the go-ahead three with time winding down, and Nets forward Jared Dudley knew it was going in like he had money riding on it at the casino.
- Monday night marked the final time LeBron James and Dwyane Wade played against each other in an NBA game. After four years in Miami with two championships and another half season together in Cleveland, the two friends and living legends battled one last time as the Miami Heat traveled to take on the Los Angeles Lakers. While it appears Wade will be the only one of the two to retire after this year, both of them to brought their best abilities and turned it up a notch in the name of friendly competition.
- This week's Hooper Appreciation Blurb goes to Knicks rookie Mitchell Robinson. While the Knicks continue to struggle and find their way back to being contenders, Robinson has been a bright spot. As of Sunday, Robinson is eighth in the NBA in blocks per game, while only playing 17 minutes a night. Hopefully coach David Fizdale plays Robinson more and lets him grow as an interior player.
That's Week Eight in the books. The Journey continues. Happy NBA, folks.
Poemer. 8-time Hug Champion. Pick&Roll Enthusiast. Guardian of Logic and Tact. Apocalypse's good Brother. Collector of muted souls for Mt. Filtermanjaro.