Player Focus – Kevin Garnett

When Kevin Garnett was drafted right after high school back in 1995 by the Minnesota Timberwolves, nobody knew what to expect from the tall but thin prospect. He was viewed as a project who would need years before developing into a productive player. Of course it all ended with him being the greatest player in franchise history and ranking first in almost all major statistical category. Let’s take a look at The Big Ticket’s game and how he revolutionized the power forward position.

 

Scoring

When it comes to scoring the basketball, you would expect your power forward to do it exclusively in the paint. Not KG. He could score from almost anywhere on the court. His combination of height and speed enables him to blow by most big defenders and muscle his way against smaller ones. His jumper is almost automatic from inside the arc and he has an array of post moves that would leave his opponents dumbfounded on how to defend him effectively.

 

Defense

Despite not having any stars to play alongside him during most of his time with the Wolves, Garnett has managed to lead the team to multiple playoff appearances because of his all-around skills, especially his defense. His length allows him to bother shots from anyone and he is also an exceptional one on one defender. He can defend post players and he can also defend perimeter players, cancelling out the advantages of players such as Dirk Nowitzki, who is a tough cover due to his size. This makes Garnett an invaluable asset to have on the defensive end.

 

Rebounding

He has magnet-like hands when it comes to cleaning the glass. Despite his thin frame, his long arms, quickness, and anticipation allows him to grab rebounds even against the biggest and strongest opponents. He almost always knows where the ball will end up after a shot. He uses his quickness to get around slower opponents and grab the ball. Of course it’s not only the physical gifts that makes him a great rebounder, but also his effort to get the ball. There are a lot of power forwards who shy away from rebounding, not Garnett.

 

Passing

When defending against Kevin Garnett, it’s not only his scoring that you should worry about, but his passing as well. Due to his height, he sees the floor so well that he knows when and where to pass the ball. This makes double teaming him a nightmare as he can find the open man with ease. Even on fast breaks, KG has proven that he could pass the ball as well as he could run the floor, making his opponents clueless on how to play against him.

 

The constant knock on KG has been his lack of success while leading his own team. Of course it could be argued that his talents are most suited to that of a team player with other great players, such as what happened in Boston where he teamed up with Ray Allen and Paul Pierce to win a championship. However when all is said and done, Garnett will be remembered as a great player and future Hall of Famer, whose unique talents revolutionized the power forward position.

Player Focus – John Stockton

A lot of people believe that the most difficult position to play in basketball is the point guard. You have to know where your teammates are at all times and at the same time you have to know the play that you are running. In addition to that, you are the head coach’s eyes on the court which means that he would need you to remember certain parts of the game. That sounds like a lot of work. However there are certain guys who have mastered the art of being a point guard that all of that seems effortless to them. One of these point guards is the great John Stockton. Let’s have a look at his game and how he has led the Utah Jazz to great heights for his whole career.

Passing

Perhaps the most popular thing about John Stockton is his almost perfect passing ability. He is the all-time leader is assists in the NBA and 2nd all-time in assists per game, second only to Magic Johnson. Of course it helps that you are playing for great coach in Jerry Sloan and playing with the likes of Karl Malone, making every pass to him a likely assist most of the time, but Stockton has the ability to find the open man every time. Whether in a slow play or in the open court, Stockton knows where to pass the ball for an easy basket.

 

Court Awareness

John Stockton’s passing ability is due in great part to his superior court vision. Even though he is often the smallest guy on the court, he can see everywhere and knows where his teammates are at all times, even his opponents. This uncanny ability enables him to push the ball where the Jazz have a high chance of scoring or getting defensive stops. This is why he played for Jerry Sloan for so long, as he is the great coach’s eyes on the court.

 

Basketball IQ

In relation to his excellent passing and court vision, is his basketball IQ. This may have been because he was coached by Jerry Sloan, Stockton knows exactly what play to run given the circumstances. He knows when to push the tempo or deliberately slow down the game to give the Jazz the advantage. His mastery of Utah’s offense is evident by the countless winning records that Utah had during his career.

 

Physicality

Despite his size, Stockton is known as one of the most physical players in the NBA. He will use anything to gain an advantage, sometimes bordering on dirty plays. Playing with Karl Malone, another physical player, they make a terrifying combo, especially when you become a victim of their painful screen and rolls. Steve Kerr, former Bull which faced the Jazz in 2 consecutive finals, is on record saying that John Stockton is a dirty player. This is quite contrary to his schoolboy looks, which makes his physical forays really surprising.

 

John Stockton may not have been the fastest or most athletic player when he was playing, but he played bigger than his height and always gave it his all on the court. His consistency throughout his career as well as his loyalty to the Jazz has cemented his legacy as arguably the best pure point guard the NBA has ever seen. Magic Johnson was a freak of nature at the point guard position so you could see why he dominated the game, but Stockton is a small guy and looks ordinary which is why him being one of the greatest of all time is truly an inspiring achievement.

Player Focus – Dirk Nowitzki

Dirk Nowitzki came into the league with nobody knowing who he was. He was a tall, skinny European who looks like someone who wouldn’t last a few games in the NBA. Right after being drafted, he was dealt for Robert “Tractor” Traylor, which is one of the most lopsided deals in league history when looking back on it. Nowitzki has carved a great career and is known as one of the greatest NBA players ever. Let’s dive into his game and how he played the game of basketball.

 

Scoring

When talking about Dirk’s game, it’s impossible not to mention his greatest talent, putting the ball into the hoop. He can score from almost anywhere on the court. His signature one legged fade away has haunted countless opponents and is virtually unblockable. Due to his height, he can post up down low, making him a nightmare to defend. His outside shooting has a lot of basketball fans comparing him to the legend, Larry Bird. Being 7 feet and shooting accurately from 3 point land, you can’t imagine how opponents plan for him as there are but a few big men wo can guard him outside, and putting smaller defenders allows him to operate inside.

 

Rebounding

European players have a reputation of being on the soft side. Nowitzki may have not been known as a bruiser, however he has proven that he does not mind banging bodies inside when grabbing rebounds. Somewhat surprising because of his playing style, Dirk is a very good rebounder despite his thin frame. His long arms and uncanny anticipation allows him to crash the boards very well, especially on the defensive end.

 

Clutch Plays

The thing that led to most comparisons to Larry Bird is his ability to hit outside shots. However there is more to it than just that, as Nowitzki has made countless game altering shots, just like Larry Legend. When you need a bucket in the crunch time, everybody knows that you will go to Dirk for that go ahead basket. He has the ability to drown out all the noise and sink those pressure packed shots to help his team.

 

Throughout his long career, Dirk has gone from being labeled as a choker and being soft, to shattering those labels and silencing his critics. By leading the Dallas Mavericks to their lone title, against the LeBron James led Miami Heat no less, he has proven that he is not just a typical European NBA player and that he has the goods to lead and NBA team to the promised land. He may be the greatest European player to ever set foot in the NBA and will surely be inducted in to the basketball Hall of Fame once he retires.

Player Focus – Pau Gasol

Pau Gasol wasn’t always known as a great player in the NBA despite winning Rookie of the Year honors during his first season. This is because he initially played for the Vancouver/Memphis Grizzlies, a small market team that had trouble making the playoffs every year. When they hired Hubie Brown as coach, the culture of the team changed and they began fighting for post season positioning. This is when Pau somewhat became known, prior to his stint with the L.A. Lakers. Let’s take a look at his game and see why he was so important during LA’s championship runs.

 

 

 

Post Play

Pau has been causing havoc in the post for years. He is a very tough guy to defend because of his length, footwork, and post moves. While he is not as bruising compared to other big men in the league, he is very intelligent which enables him to outsmart stronger defenders and putting the ball in the basket. He has and endless array of post moves and because he is quick on his feet and his reaction times are great, he can leave defenders in the dust or fake them while going the other direction instead.

 

Offensive Awareness

Not only is Pau a scoring threat on the offensive side, but he can beat you in a lot of ways too. He is a great passer for a big man, which is why the Lakers where so successful running the triangle offense. He knows when to make the pass, and to whom. He can pass out of the post when double teamed, and within the flow of the offense that results n easy baskets. His off the ball movement is also top-notch as he knows where exactly he should be in order to maintain the flow of the offense.

 

Unselfishness

One of the qualities that best describe Gasol is his unselfishness. He is willing to do anything in order to let his team win. Despite his overwhelming talents, he often defers to team mates for the sake of preserving team chemistry. It has often been documented that his Laker team mate, Kobe Bryant always wants to be the leader of their team and as talented as Gasol is, he was willing to sacrifice stats in order for the Lakers to not have internal issues and ultimately win championships.

 

Leadership

Even though he often lets team mates with large egos act as the team leader, Gasol still shows leadership qualities. His maturity rubs off on young team mates who more often than not listens to him in the basketball court. Especially during his time with the Grizzlies, his brand of leadership is not usually the in your face, gung-ho type, but the calm and cool leader who does not buckle under pressure and will help you when you are feeling down.

 

Pau Gasol is a surefire Hall of Famer anyway you cut it. He has won in the NBA and the Olympics for Spain. He might not have been an A-List superstar in the NBA, but he has proven that he has what it takes to compete in basketball at the highest level and even excel. His contributions to the Lakers’ championship years will be well remembered when looking back at his legacy. His leadership and unselfishness are seen as vital contributions to very successful years.

Player Focus – Tracy McGrady

Another player to come straight to the NBA from high school, T-Mac was drafted by the Toronto Raptors who also had another high flyer on their team, his cousin, Vince Carter. He has wowed crowds everywhere he played and this was highlighted during the 2000 Slam Dunk contest where he displayed spectacular dunks. He took his talents to Orlando where he would have teamed up with Grant Hill who was severely hampered by ankle issues. Let’s take a look at McGrady’s game and why he was one of, if not the most, electrifying players in the early 2000s.

 

Scoring

When it comes to scoring, only a few can match T-Mac’s arsenal. He can score anywhere on the court, from beyond the 3 point line, all the way inside. He has improved his jump shot over the years, especially during his Orlando Magic days, where he was almost always the sole scoring threat for the Magic. He can beat anyone in an isolation situation and is a great finisher. This is evident when he led the league in scoring during the 02-03 season where he averaged 32 point per game, the most since Michael Jordan.

 

Versatility

Scoring is not the only thing that McGrady brings to the table, he can beat you in a lot of ways. When he puts his mind into it, he is a great defender and can shut down anyone. His length allows him to bother any shot in front of him and his anticipation allows him to steal the ball by playing the passing lanes. He is a great rebounder for his size and because he is such a freak of nature, can start the fast break when he sees the situation calls for it.

 

Offensive Awareness

When talking about T-Mac’s offense, his offensive instinct has to be mentioned. He is not only great at putting the ball in the hoop, but making his teammates better as well. When he has the ball, the defender knows that T-Mac has the ability to find the open man, which makes him such a terrifying offensive threat. He won’t force shots when he sees a better opportunity for the team to score. This is why unlike other volume scorers in the league, a lot of players like to play with McGrady.

 

Leadership

It has been often a knock on McGrady that he has not advanced past the first round when he is leading a team. However there are times when the circumstances are not in your favor. T-Mac certainly did everything in his power to advance but it was just not meant to be. He has always took responsibility for his team’s performance and this is how a leader should act, win or lose. It’s you job to lift up your team’s spirit, even if the opponent in much more talented than you are.

 

The biggest question regarding McGrady’s legacy is if his achievements were enough to catapult him among the all-time greats. However, injuries and failure to go on deep playoff runs will certainly play a part in putting him among the best. Make no mistake though, the run he had during his peak years were absolutely marvelous. There was even a time that people were arguing on who was better between him and Kobe Bryant, so that says something about your talents. Whatever the case may be, T-Mac is one of the best basketball players in recent memory.

Player Focus – Magic Johnson

No one during the 80s captured the hearts of both hardcore and casual basketball fans quite like Earvin “Magic” Johnson did. His Showtime Lakers helped bring the excitement of the game to the fans and marked the golden years of the NBA. The combination of flashiness, flamboyance, and competitiveness has made Magic one of the all-time greats and even arguably the best player during the 1980s. Let’s take a look at the best aspects of Magic’s game and how he changed the way basketball is viewed.

passing

Passing

It’s impossible to talk about Magic Johnson without mentioning passing. If you look at a highlight reel featuring the best plays of his career, almost all of them involve him passing to an open teammate. Whether fancy passes or low key passes, Johnson has mastered them all. He is not the all-time assists per game leader in NBA history for nothing. His passing ability is arguably unparalleled by anyone, in any era.

 

court-awareness

Court Awareness

Magic’s passing excellence is actually a by-product of his uncanny court vision. Most of the time, especially on fast breaks, it seems that he has eyes behind his back as he knows where everyone is throughout the basketball court. Standing at 6’9″, his height allows him to have a better view of the court compared to the typical shorter point guard. On defense, he might not be a good defender, but he can anticipate where the action is going which results in him pushing the pace immediately upon getting the ball and get easy baskets.

 

leadership

Leadership

When talking about the Showtime Lakers, the first thing that comes to mind is the fast breaks and flashy plays that Magic mostly instigated. Their team success almost takes a backseat to the highlight reels, and this team success wouldn’t be achieved without a capable and assertive leader such as Magic Johnson. He not only leads with his words and motivation, he does it by example also by showing his teammates just how hard he works on his game, as well as rewarding them on the court via his precise passes, giving them opportunities to contribute.

 

final-words

Mentality

When you see Magic Johnson, the first thing you would notice is a big smile coming from his face. Part of his charm with the fans is his very outgoing personality and he comes off as this friendly fellow. What isn’t that noticeable though, even on the basketball court, is his killer instinct. He will do anything to win but and this relentlessness has made him a very competitive opponent. You do not lead your team to multiple championships, in his case 5 titles with the Lakers, without being ruthless.

 

mentality

Magic is one of the most well-respected athletes not just in the NBA, but in every major sport. It was just an unfortunate event when he was forced to retire early due to being HIV positive, but this has enabled him to contribute to society in more ways than an athlete could imagine. His battles with Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics was the golden age of the NBA and put the league back on track as fans flocked to arenas to witness their epic battles. As colored as the history of the Lakers are, with several great players donning the purple and gold, Magic is arguably the best of them.

Player Focus – Hakeem Olajuwon

When talking about the best big men of all time, one will be hard pressed to find a list without Hakeem Olajuwon on it. He has been known as one of the greatest players ever, as well as being the greatest post player ever seen. His combination of height, speed, strength, and skills has propelled him as the prototypical center that every team covets. Let’s take a look at the aspects of Hakeem The Dream’s game and why so many fans, and even players, almost worship his body of work.

 

post-moves

Post Moves

Perhaps the thing that made Hakeem a household name, is his seemingly endless array of post moves. He post moves, counter post moves, and even counters to his counters. This makes defenders go crazy in trying to predict what move Olajuwon is going to make against them, and by the time they realize, they are left in the dust via the Dream Shake. Olajuwon’s uncanny combination of speed, finesse, and footwork makes his post moves fatal especially when defended one on one.

 

UNDATED: Houston Rockets' Hakeem Olajuwon #34 looks to pass during a game. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Hakeem Olajuwon  

Passing

On offense, it’s not only his scoring ability that makes The Dream a nightmare to defend, but his passing as well. He has excellent vision and can pass the ball should the situation call for it. This is why teams cannot just double team him down low as he will find the open man most likely. This results in single coverage, where Olajuwon leaves almost all of his defenders dumbfounded as to what happened.

 

defense

Defense

Not only does Olajuwon strike fear in the opponent’s heart with his offensive arsenal, but also with his excellent defense. Whether in a one on one or help situation, Olajuwon has the ability to affect every shot that goes up. He can block shots and alter the ones that he did not block. Despite his height, he also has the ability to anticipate the ball carefully, resulting in steals and turnovers. He is a former Defensive Player of the Year and the award is well-deserved.

 

competitiveness

Competitiveness

Hakeem has been known as sort of a quiet individual. He rarely displays any emotion on the court and does not engage in any trash talking. Shaquille O’Neal has repeatedly said that his trash talking ways have never gotten anywhere when doing it to Olajuwon. Despite all of this though, you will be hard pressed to find many guys who is as competitive as him on the basketball court. Perhaps the most notable display of this competitiveness is during the 1995 Western Conference Finals against San Antonio, where he faced then MVP, David Robinson. Hakeem wanted that trophy and feels he deserved it, and he certainly played like it, destroying The Admiral and showed the world just who was the best basketball player in the world.

 

leadership

Leadership

When the Houston Rockets won the NBA championship in 1995 as the 6th seed, it was then that the world got to see Olajuwon’s greatness, and of course, his leadership. In the 2nd round against Charles Barkley and the Phoenix Suns, they were down 1-3 but came roaring back to win the series behind Olajuwon’s leadership. He led the team eventually to the finals, where they impressively swept the young and talented Orlando Magic which were led by Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway.

 

final-words

Though he didn’t win as much as other greats, Olajuwon has maintained a career long excellence and is considered as one of the greatest ever. The fact that he didn’t start playing basketball at an early age makes it even more surprising that he has achieved the success he has on the court. Carrying his teams to championships while being comparatively inferior talent wise is why Hakeem is so looked up to in the basketball world and his knowledge of the game is always sought after by fans and players.

Player Focus – Scottie Pippen

There may not be anyone more underrated in NBA history than Scottie Pippen. It is understandable, however, since he played with the greatest basketball player of all time. It can also be argued that he has had the success he enjoyed since he played with Michael Jordan. Both scenarios can be true though, as Michael needed Scottie to win their six championships, and vice versa. Let’s take a look at Pippen’s game and how he helped the Chicago Bulls build a dynasty in the 90s.

defense

Defense

Perhaps the most well-known part of Pippen’s game, he has been known as a lockdown defender for most of his career. He and MJ made the 90s Bulls teams elite defensive units. The thing that makes him an elite defender is his versatility. He is fast enough to shut down guards and strong and long enough to guard bigger wing players. He has the capability to guard elite offensive players one on one while also providing help to his teammates who are in need.

 

play-making

Playmaking

Dubbed as the first-ever “Point Forward”, Scottie was tasked numerous times to run Chicago’s offense as to free up Michael Jordan of the duties and also when there was no suitable point guard. Phil Jackson always favored big guards which is why he was letting Pippen run the offense and Scottie did not disappoint. His length, vision, and decision making made the Bulls triangle offensive sets almost perfectly executed every time. This enabled the team to build the chemistry in order to win multiple championships.

 

basketball-iq

Basketball IQ

With his awesome defensive capabilities and playmaking abilities, it’s pretty obvious that Scottie’s basketball IQ is off the charts. He knows what play to make, when to pass, and where to place himself all throughout the course of the game. With this, MJ does not have to shoulder the burden of carrying the Bulls throughout the regular season and playoffs, as Pippen is the type of help that any legend would want to have. He is a lot of times the coach inside the court, as Phil Jackson trusts him with guiding the team because of his intelligence.

 

work-ethic

Work Ethic

Pippen did not become one of the all-time greats due to natural talent, he became one of the greatest players ever due to his hard working nature. One of the things that he and Michael Jordan have in common is there drive to be the best that they can be. You can see their intensity and seriousness during practices. When the season starts, you could see that Pippen has always kept himself in game shape so as to prepare his body for the punishing regular season.

 

final-words

While Pippen was a great player, he is after all named as one of the 50 greatest NBA players of all time, the fact that he was not able to lead a team of his own to greater heights has somewhat diminished his legacy. Not that his legacy is anything to laugh about, but playing with the greatest basketball of all time during the peak of your career will naturally convince people that he was great because of Jordan. Basketball purists, however, has recognized Pippen as a great player on his own.

Player Focus – Jason Kidd

One of the premiere point guards in the NBA during his career, Jason Kidd is a one of a kind player. He is known as having one of the greatest instincts inside the basketball court, which is a point guard skill, yet his all-around brilliance has allowed him to dominate the game in other ways too, as evident by his countless triple doubles. Let’s go back in time and see the best aspects of Jason Kidd’s game and what made him the best point guard in the NBA during his prime years.

 

passing

Passing

The thing that made Jason Kidd a very popular basketball player is his passing. He has perfected the art so that he could make any guy a better player. They say that great players make their teammates better. There are only a handful of players that can do a better job at this than Jason Kidd. He will almost, always find a way to find the open man. Not only does he rack up assists in every game, but he also makes the important passes which do not show up on the stat sheet but is every bit as important.

 

court-awareness

Court Awareness

During his time, there was perhaps no one who could rival J-Kidd’s court awareness and vision. He as the ability to know where everyone on the court is, including the opposing team. During fast breaks, he can spot anyone from what seems like a mile away and make the perfect pass or finish it himself. It sometimes appear that he has eyes in his back enabling him to see everything happening in the game. Coupled with his instincts, he makes the right decision almost every time.

 

defense

Defense

Not only was Kidd known for his ability to set up his team’s offense, but also for his skill in shutting down opposing guards. Due to his superior strength, size, and speed against most point guards, he can guard anyone which makes it very difficult for opposing teams to set up their offense and score. Of course, his superior physical gifts are not the only things that enable him to play lockdown defense, but his effort as well, something you won’t find lacking in him.

 

rebounding

Rebounding

Kidd was known to be the best rebounding point guard during his time, maybe ever. This is why he has a ton of career triple doubles. Adding to his all-around brilliance, he combines his strength, speed, and anticipation to snag boards. This is also why he is very dangerous in the open court. Since he can grab rebounds by himself, he can start the fast break immediately and either find the open man or score the basket himself.

 

competitiveness

Competitiveness

Everywhere Jason Kidd goes, his team instantly becomes a contender. This is because not only does he makes the players around him better, but his competitiveness rubs off on his teammates. His will to win is matched only by a few players in the NBA, and you can see this with every game he plays. Watch him play during the playoffs and finals, and you will see a man who seems possessed and will stop at nothing to win the game for his team.

 

final-words

Combining passing, ability to control tempo, leadership, competitiveness, and all-around skills, Jason Kidd has been a pleasure to watch for all basketball fans. The 2 finals appearance of the New Jersey Nets during his time there is a testament to his leadership skills while his 107 triple doubles, which rank 3rd all-time behind Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson, is to his all-around skills. The 2011 NBA Championship he won while being the starting point guard for the Dallas Mavericks was well deserved. Even though his skills weren’t what they once were, he was still an integral part of the team and coach Rick Carlisle’s voice on the court.

Player Focus – Shaquille O’Neal

Very few players have the impact that matches what Shaquille O’Neal has brought to the NBA ever since he first stepped on the basketball court. The self-proclaimed MDE(Most Dominant Ever) has been an unstoppable force that every team fears. There were only a few who could match his production, and almost none who exceeded them. We shall take a look at the best aspects of Shaq’s game and how he dominated the floor each and every night.

strength

Strength

What’s fairly obvious just from seeing O’Neal, is his immense strength. His massive frame requires a lot of strength just to move, which makes it amazing to see him move around the court, especially during his Orlando days. His strength allows him to bulldoze his way inside for the easy basket, and also allows him to body up anyone that he’s defending. He does not have a lot of post moves, which is really not that important since his strength allows him to move straight ahead without worrying about the defense.

 

athleticism

Athleticism

One of the most surprising things about Shaq especially the first time you see him play, is his incredible athleticism. Despite his massive frame and sometimes out of shape state, he can run the floor, jump for blocks and rebounds, and move quickly around the rim. This makes him very hard to game plan for. With his back to the basket, he can either bulldoze his defender or move around him using his quickness. This makes him impossible to guard on a one on one situation.

 

mental-fortitude

Mental Fortitude

One of the most underrated characteristics of Shaq is his mental toughness. Due to his frequent battles with his weight and his goofy persona off the court, people have this impression of him that he does not take the game seriously. However if we take a look at some of his biggest games, especially the playoffs and finals, it’s very rare that he has an off-night and he has proven to frequently hit his free throws whenever the game is tight. This makes him one of the toughest minded competitors in the league.

 

final-words

While he was not as dominating for a long time that everyone expected him to be, Shaq’s impact on the league was felt in every city throughout his prime. Even when past his prime, he helped Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat win their first ever championship, thanks to his inside presence which helped D-Wade transform into a prime time player. He has also feuded with a few of his teammates and coaches but everyone knows that every time you have Shaquille on your team, you will contend for the championship every year.

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