Forget about the burgeoning national debt, the plunging stock market, the sky-high unemployment numbers. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are so extraordinary that, as free agents, they’ll be able to play wherever they desire for as much money as they desire.
Indeed, not since Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale has a pairing of such elite professional athletes been up for grabs at the same time.
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However, the Cavs’ easy win in their last meeting of the regular season demonstrated with undeniable clarity the vast difference between the respective talents of LBJ and D-Wade.
His stat line was impressive — 9-16, 17-21 from the stripe, seven rebounds, eight assists, two steals, four turnovers and 36 points. But his unofficial stats were even more impressive — 6-12 on mid- and long-range jumpers. In half-court sets, LeBron got into the paint a total of 15 times, producing two assists and 16 of his points. He’s so big and so strong that even the biggest defenders bounce off of him. He’s so quick and so fast that defenders of every size and shape are also liable to choke in his dust. Because of these qualities, LBJ has a much easier time that does Wade in getting a shot off in any and all circumstances.
Let’s face it — like Magic Johnson, the man’s a freak. Nobody that colossal is supposed to have the skills and the warp speed of a little guy. And when LeBron’s jumper is falling, he’s literally unstoppable.
For sure, he frequently over-handles, but the result is usually something good for the Cavs. And, yes, he sometimes cuts the pie — as when he turned down an easy layup in favor of making a between-his-legs back pass that was intercepted by Wade — but even the majority of LBJ’s mistakes are entertaining.
Against Miami, James was never challenged on defense. When he was beaten by Rafer Alston, J.J. Hickson bailed him out by blocking the resulting shot. LeBron did draw a charge on Wade during a 2-on-1 fastbreak, but the call was off the ball, had nothing to do with the evolving play, and was based more on a technicality than on the silly ref’s true understanding of the game.
It should also be noted that, since James was playing point guard in the absence of Mo Williams and Delonte West, he was mostly defended by Alston, who is 6 inches shorter than LBJ and at least 75 pounds lighter. At other times, James was guarded by Quentin Richardson — two inches shorter and perhaps 30 pounds lighter — who has never been accused of playing acceptable defense.
Game, set and match to LeBron. WADE
His line was acceptable, yet obviously inferior to LeBron’s. Wade was 11-26, only 1-2 from the line, with three rebounds, nine assists, four steals, six turnovers and 24 points. Unofficially, Wade nailed only two of his nine jumpers. He flashed his way to the rim on 21 occasions, producing two assists, and 19 of his points.
But here’s the most telling stat: Five of LeBron’s passes created uncontested shots that his teammates missed, meaning that he might easily have totaled 13 assists. Meanwhile, Wade executed 10 similar passes that produced zero points and could have credited him with 19 assists. More than anything else, these numbers illustrate the vast difference in each of these superstar’s supporting casts.
Also, because Wade is “only” 6-4, he doesn’t have the luxury of seeing the court as completely as does LeBron, nor can he make unobstructed passes with the same ease and simplicity.
Normally, Wade is the superior defender, but not tonight. He was lifted by a head fake by Anthony Parker 20 feet from the basket. Wade also fouled Boobie Gibson on the money-side of the 3-point line. Both of these transgressions bordered on being unforgivable.
Is there any aspect of the game where Wade surpasses James? Absolutely. Wade is a half-step quicker to the rim, and his last step could be the longest and the quickest in the league.
Playing with perhaps the best team in the league, LeBron plays with ease, confidence and grace. Playing with a decidedly mediocre ball club, Wade clearly labors under the heavy load.
There’s one more important factor to be considered when comparing these two perennial All-Stars: As great as he is, Wade is as great as he’s ever going to be, while LBJ is continually improving from season to season.
There’s no question that LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are the first and second most impactful free-agents to-be. It’s just as obvious that Chris Bosh is next on the list. Let’s take a close look at Bosh’s game.
At 6-10, and even though he’s buffed up to 230, he’s long, lean and left-handed. He’s always had a quick first step going left, and he’s worked to go right (for at most two dribbles) nearly as speedily. Bosh loves setting up near the right baseline where he can take his left hand to the middle and can also approach the rim from there with his off hand. When driving left into the middle, Bosh has also greatly improved a right-handed layup that’s delivered into the body of his opponent and invariably draws a foul. What Bosh needs, though, are more options when receiving the ball anywhere on the left wing.
Lefty jump hooks are one of his potent weapons, but Bosh mostly relies on his jump shots. He can pull, spin, and/or fade with equal success — although his effective range is limited to 17-18 feet. Moreover, Bosh is attacking the basket more than ever (averaging a career-high 8.8 free throws per game), which is a significant reason why his points-per-game production has improved to a career-high 24.3.
In most cases, he’s still too much of a lightweight to establish and hold prime position deep in the pivot. But, because of his jumper, Bosh is extremely dangerous when assuming a mid- to high-post spot. A willing passer, Bosh is also prone to missing his target, which is why he has more turnovers (2.4) than assists (2.2).
Bosh is a quick jumper, and is one of those thin, slithery guys who’s hard to box out. No surprise, then, that his current rebound numbers (11.5) are the best of his career. However, he can be (and often is) bodied out of rebound contention and must therefore rely on his mobility and quick ups — which is why he rarely captures heavy-duty rebounds in tight quarters.
Bosh can also get out and go like a guard and is a potent finisher on the run.
He’s a slightly above-average weak-side helper, but his leansome physique makes him vulnerable to being bullied by bigger, stronger opponents, especially in the low post.
Because he’s strictly a finesse player, albeit an excellent one, Bosh would benefit by being paired with a strong-armed big man who could corral the tough rebounds. If the proposed big was also capable of hitting mid-range jumpers, Bosh would still have sufficient room to operate with the middle open.
Because of his lack of power, Bosh is not a franchise player. But pair him with the likes of Tim Duncan, Luis Scola, Yao Ming, Marc Gasol or Nene, and Bosh would be a championship-caliber player.
Perhaps the reason why virtually all of Bosh’s numbers are up is because he’s playing for a colossal contract. Even so, Bosh will be a terrific consolation prize for any team that tries and fails to sign either LBJ or D-Wade.
What sacrifices — besides implementing Mayan rules — would be required to make the All-Star game competitive and interesting? Like you, I see no reason for anybody to lose his head over the current NBA spectacle. — David Peterzell, San Diego, CA
In lieu of the losers being decapitated, here are two suggestions to make the game more interesting.
• Pitting an All-Star lefty team against a righty team. The former would feature such players as Chris Bosh, Manu Ginobili, Derek Fisher, David Lee, C.J. Miles, Todd Murphy, Lamar Odom, Zach Randolph, Michael Redd, Josh Smith, Beno Udrih, Delonte West and Thaddeus Young. It should be noted that up until about the 17th Century, left-handed people were believed to be spawns of the devil, primarily because Judas was a southpaw. So the game would have an overtone of a morality play, i.e., good versus evil.
• This has been suggested many times by many people, but how about an American-born squad against foreign-born players? Andrea Bargnani, Andrew Bogut, Jose Calderon, Luol Deng, Pau and Marc Gasol, Manu Ginobili, Ben Gordon, Andrei Kirilenko, Steve Nash, Nene, Dirk Nowitzki and Luis Scola. To make matters more interesting, play the game with international rules.
TRAVELS WITH CHARLEY
Just the other day, the showers in the men’s locker room at the Kingston YMCA was being re-tiled, so all of the Y guys were detoured to the boy’s locker room. With the lower showerheads and urinals, and the smaller lockers, I had a déjà vu flash of playing a road game.
Postgame showers have their own mythic history. For example, the avoidance of the same by Wilt Chamberlain, who famously doused his still-sweating body with cologne before heading out into the pleasures of the evening.
When the Albany Patroons played in the Washington Avenue Armory, the only available showers (and toilets) were in the public men’s room down the hall from the team’s locker room. Players had to thread their way through the postgame crowd wearing only flip-flops and a towel.
I’ve also played in various runs and tournaments that convened in elementary school gyms. Some of these had navel-high showerheads, and some had no working showers at all. But not taking a shower after playing for hours inside a stuffy gym in mid-summer, and then having to ride shoulder-to-shoulder with teammates for an hour or more to get home was unacceptable.
When no functional showers were available, some players simply flushed the toilets and doused their towels in the “fresh” water. I’ve also seen a few guys wash their hair by dipping their heads in the post-flush collected water. Others flushed the urinals and cupped their hands to catch some of the “clean” running water.
I even saw one player rinse his body from head to toe with cold beer. For many an amateur hoop-o-maniac, cleanliness is certainly not next to godliness.
If you have a question or comment for Charley Rosen, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and he may respond in a future column.