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Who's the NBA's top wing defender?

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Charley Rosen

Charley Rosen is FOXSports.com's NBA analyst and author of 17 sports books, the current ones being Bullpen Diaries: Mariano Rivera, Bronx Dreams, Pinstripe Legends, and the Future of the New York Yankees and Crazy Basketball: A Life In and Out of Bounds.

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VOX POPULI

Since so many people consider Tayshaun Prince, Ron Artest, and Shane Battier to be three of the best wing defenders in the game today, would you discuss what they each do that makes them so effective? And, of course, which of them is best? – Matt, Menlo Park, CA

Prince’s effectiveness on defense is a function of his length and his quick feet. The long-limbed 6-9, 215-pound Prince can play a half-step farther off his man than other defenders do, thereby giving him time and space to react to, and interfere with, dribble-drives, while still being able to reach out and challenge set-shots or pull-up jumpers. Because of his leansome physique, however, Prince is susceptible to being overpowered in the paint.

Artest’s lateral quickness has diminished as of late to the point where quick-footed opponents can frequently take him off the dribble. Notice how often he’s reduced to trying to tip the ball from behind after his man has gotten past him. But, at 6-7, 255, Artest still has quick hands and is a powerhouse defender -- relentless, eager to accept any challenge and difficult to seal in the low post.

Battier’s defensive agenda is just about halfway between Prince and Artest -- strong enough to battle most opponents down low (where he likes to front or three-quarter his man), and quick enough to stay in front of all but the league’s speediest players.

Three or four years ago, Artest was head-and-shoulders above both Prince and Battier. But these days, devising an absolute ranking of these three is an exercise in futility since Prince and Artest are essentially specialists, while Battier doesn’t play quick wings as well as the former, and doesn’t play strongmen as well as the latter.

However, I’ve never mastered the art of avoiding futility so -- if all unequal things are equalized -- I’d rank Battier at the top because of his versatility, Artest next because of his physicality, and Prince third.

STRAIGHT SHOOTING

Here’s my list of suitable Christmas presents for those players who have been naughty and those who have been nice.

Gilbert Arenas -- A pair of oversized clown shoes that, no matter how hard he tries, won’t fit into his mouth.

Chris Andersen -- A show of his own on the Cartoon Channel.

Nate Robinson -- A clue.

Stephen Jackson -- Less talk and more walk.

Mike Bibby -- A road map that can lead him to the free-throw line.

Chauncey Billups -- Teammates who are as mature as he is.

Kwame Brown -- A hand transplant.

Kobe Bryant -- For the man who has everything the only suitable gift is … nothing.

Vince Carter -- A game-winning shot deep in the playoffs.

Baron Davis -- The overheating and breakdown of his cruise control device.

Pau Gasol -- More touches.

Jerome James -- A stretch in the joint for stealing so much money.

Dwight Howard -- A jump shot.

Allen Iverson -- A long post-NBA career overseas.

Nenad Krstic -- A post-up game, plus a successful search for the missing vowel.

Tracy McGrady -- A coach who can love him.

Darko Milicic -- A one-way ticket to the darko side of the moon.

Mikki Moore -- A jail term for impersonating a starting NBA center.

James Posey -- A reason to play hard.

Manu Ginobili -- A summer vacation.

Dwyane Wade -- Teammates he can respect.

Greg Oden and Yao Ming -- Full recoveries.

Shelden Williams -- A victory in a one-on-one game vs. his wife.

And may Basketball Jones bless us every one.

TRAVELS WITH CHARLEY

I am neither a young man nor a Christian, yet a visit to the Kingston (NY) YMCA is always a revelation.

No matter what the weather, if the sun is shining, Pete Wolf will be perched on a folding chair in the parking lot, slowly puffing on a cigarette, carefully turning the pages of The Daily News. “I work nights as a bartender,” Wolf explains. “I need all the sunshine I can get.”

Indoors, all YMCA’s smell alike -- freshly swabbed floors, clean glass and rusting trophies, with just a slight fragrance of chlorine.

The locker room is scattered with racquetball players and joggers. A brace of weightlifters tighten the wide leather belts they use to keep their kidneys from exploding.

“It’s been a year since I hurt my knee doing squats,” says one of them. “It still hurts and I’m still doing squats.”

Most of us climb quietly into our workout outfits, but a buoyant pitch of conversation comes from a group of senior citizens dressing in the prestigious lockers nearest the showers.

“Tom Logan got married yesterday. You know. George Logan’s youngest …?”

“I lied about my age, see? I wanted to see the world ..”

“No kiddin’! Who the hell did that ugly mug marry? A blind woman?”

“Kerist. I got outta the Army on a Thursday and I was back at my old job on Monday.”

“So how’s your prostate?”

Most of them swim, some walk the track, a few rattle the weights. With his mouth clamped around a dead cigar and his hand clutching a racing form, Pistol Pete is forever hustling up a game of handball. Ken Stratton sprouts the last crewcut in America as he brings good news and a laugh to each of his compatriots. “If we were home,” he says, “our wives would find something for us to do around the house. We’re the atha-letes.”

Upstairs, the regulars are working their way through the Nautilus machines. There’s Eddie, the 85-year-old unofficial mayor of the Y, who sometimes falls asleep on the leg press -- but who denies this charge, and even sports a t-shirt that says, I’M NOT ASLEEP, I’M JUST RESTING MY EYES.

And Pete, who’d rather talk about politics than work out. Also, a pair of young women who rush through their workout, chattering all the while. A bearded young man does slow yoga exercises between machines. Megan and Kendra work at the administrative offices at the high school and exercise during their lunch breaks. Megan is happiest at the end of the week when she merrily greets everybody with “Happy Friday!”

Of all the torturous machines, the triceps is the most difficult. … 6 … 7 … 8 … Grunting as I thrust my forearms against the pressure. Each push demands my full attention -- this is no time to worry about unpaid bills or the leaky roof. Just the grunt-rush of the effort itself. To live in the body instead of the mind. To submit to a silent wisdom more ancient than the 10,000 voices bleating inside my head … 11 … UNH! … 12!

Afterwards, it’s still too early for the hoopers to commence their regular runs, so I’ll duck into the gym to shoot some solitary baskets. Hearing only the patter of joggers on the overhead track. The bounce of rubber on wood. The swishes or clangs as my shots reach the basket.

By now, the atha-letes have finished their swims, walks or jogs and have adjoined to the steam room. “They’re nice guys,” Murray says. “They send you cards when you’re sick.”

Then I pull open the door and step into a hot searing fog. “I’ll feel guilty if I have a beer with lunch,” says Stratton. “But what the hell. I’m only young once.”

The atha-letes always turn the steam on full throttle and I’m always the first to escape. When I tip the scales at 235, I feel pumped and energized. My grey beard and aching hip are just illusions. I’m stronger than ever and I’ll be playing hoops until I’m an atha-lete myself. Secretly I flex my triceps in the shower.

Then I laugh out loud because I know I’ll be useless for the rest of the day without a nap after lunch.

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