Pete On The Hot Seat: Appreciating NBA Talent

Thank goodness that the month of January is over and can’t cause anymore damage. The first month of 2020 brought the Coronavirus, devastating fires in Australia and one of the worst days in NBA history. That day was Sunday, Jan. 26, when Kobe and Gianna Bryant tragically died with seven others from a helicopter accident in Calabasas, California.

There was an outcry of sorrow after the news of Kobe’s sudden passing. It impacted everyone and not just the basketball community. The tragedy reminded the world to make sure to hug a loved one, drop grudges and tell your family and friends you love them. You never know when your life or someone else’s can change in the matter of seconds.

Those are the most important things someone should be reminded of from a tragedy like this, but they aren’t the only things. As a basketball nerd it made me realize to cherish NBA players careers as much as you can.  You never want to have to think “Damn…. I never appreciated him enough”

I have to admit I wasn’t the biggest fan of Bryant, but I always had respect for him. After his death though, I felt like my respect for him wasn’t nearly enough.

If you would have asked me before Kobe’s passing, “Who would you rather have Tim Duncan or Kobe Bryant?” I would have said Tim Duncan before you finished the question.

That debate should never be answered that fast as the two were the best player’s of the 2000’s decade.

Maybe since he played for the Lakers that got in the way of me appreciating him enough.  Or maybe because he was my brothers favorite player. (It is a written rule in life when you are a kid you can’t possibly have the same favorite player or team as your brother. Look it up.)

I also think it might be him beating Reggie Miller, Allen Iverson, Jason Kidd and more of my favorite players in the NBA Finals. Or maybe it was the greatest duo in NBA history breaking up because he and Shaq couldn’t get along.

There probably isn’t one specific reason why I didn’t appreciate Kobe enough, but none of that should’ve mattered when it came down to being able to enjoy his career. I let all of that get in the way of realizing how lucky I was to witness his basketball genius. I like to believe it is never too late to appreciate someones career, but it is never the same as doing it in the moment. 

Just look at his 2002-2003 season,

30 PPG 7 RPG 6 APG 84 FT% 38 3P% and played in all 82 games.

Or how about his 2005-2006 season where he AVERAGED 35 PPG in a league that was still hand checking. Did I also mention he was a 15X All NBA and 12X All Defensive team? There has to be one last thing that he did that I am forgetting to mention? Oh yeah! HE SCORED 81 POINTS IN A GAME! If that doesn’t deserve all caps nothing does.

There simply aren’t enough words to describe how amazing Kobe was on a basketball court.

With all of that said, the NBA has a plethora of players that need more recognition. 

Damian Lillard should be at the top of that list. He might sound a little too overqualified, since he has made Four All NBA Teams and is an NBA All Star. Just trust me though, he is not.

He has been stuck behind this shadow of Stephen Curry and that is even in a year where he has missed most of the season. He might not be the shooter Curry is, but he is for sure an out of this world shooter.

The best thing he has done to gain some of that spotlight was waving goodbye to the Thunder, after that series ending three on Paul George.
This has helped his reputation tremendously even though, it probably wasn’t received as well from those in Oklahoma City.

Lillard’s series ending shot has been done by less than ten players in NBA history and he is the only one to do it twice. 

Whatever holds him back from front and center stage this year (*cough *cough Portland being 23-27)  is a real shame because this might be his best season. Portland has been down  due to injuries and Lillard has still found a way to keep them in playoff contention.

His last ten games he has averaged, 41 PPG, 9 APG, 87 FT%, 50 3P% and has scored over 45 points in four of his last five games. Most importantly the Trailblazers are 4-1 during that stretch. 

Dame is in his prime and has made himself must watch TV every game. Fans should want to see Lillard in the playoffs and teams don’t want any part of him. Except for Russell Westbrook with their beef being one of the most interesting storylines in the NBA.

There are so many great guards it makes it tough to miss them. While on the other hand, It is easy to look past the modern big. The evolution of the game has changed the position entirely. It is a guard driven league, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t good big men. So many centers are being outshined by guards and some even on their own team like Clint Capela (James Harden), Rudy Gobert (Donovan Mitchell) or Andre Drummond (Derrick Rose).

Brook Lopez is another center, who suffers from being outshined because of his teammate Giannis Antetokounmpo (unofficial alien from the Mon-Stars and best player in the NBA #hottake).

Lopez’s career has been one of the more fascinating ones starting as a true back to the basket center for the Nets. (Oh how times were different when he first entered the league.)

Nobody had realized yet taking a bunch of three’s was a good thing, except for the Phoenix Suns. Teams still fed centers the ball on the block and Lopez thrived with 20 PPG and 7 RPG. Lopez was so good Shaq would say he was the best center in the NBA specifically over Dwight Howard. Even though, he would  call Brook his twin brother’s name Robin every once in a while. Everything was going pretty well for him other than Billy King trading everything away for aging Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.

Then bang!( Mike Breen voice after a Stephen Curry three) The Warriors came along and changed how the entire game was played. That wouldn’t stop Lopez from being a terrific NBA player. That is when Lopez became one of the first center’s to evolve. In 2015-2016, (The Warriors first title year) Lopez attempted .2 threes a game and then the very next season attempted 5.2 a game.

By doing this Lopez has become a pretty good three point shooter around 34% for his career. This has been monumental for the Milwaukee Bucks with them having a true center on the floor, who can shoot threes and spread the court for the reigning MVP. Lopez has been great on offense and defense as he has averaged two blocks a game the past two seasons. This season Lopez leads the NBA in block percentage at 8.9. 

Lopez is close to perfect as an NBA archetype for a center. He might not be one of the top big men in the NBA anymore, but his ability to adapt is one of the most impressive things a player has been able to do in years.

Lillard and Lopez are just a couple of examples that come to mind of players that might not  get the appreciation that their basketball talent demands.

Honestly, though it comes down to you the fan to decide if they get the attention and praise that they deserve. Just make sure when their career is over you don’t sit back and think “Damn…. I never appreciated him enough.”

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