I was torn watching game 6 of the NBA finals last night. I really wanted a to see a 7th game but I didn't particularly relish the idea of the Mavericks (ie. Mark Cuban) winning the title if if went that far. Now I'm not a huge Heat fan (I don't like Shaq, Riley, Walker, Payton, or Haslem) but if you have read any of my previous posts this year you know I'm a Dwyane Wade fan. What happened in the finals is what happened all season for the Heat. Wade took over when it mattered. Shaq is still relevant but not to the extent that he or others think. This is Wade's team and Shaq is an accessory, albeit a rather large piece of bling. I'm feeling somewhat justified about my pick for this season's MVP now and I would think that if the Heat are contending next season Wade will be a larger part of the MVP discussion.
I notice after many people having anointed either Lebron, Kobe and amazingly even Dirk (after his pre-finals play) as the best player in the NBA, they are now jumping on the Dwyane Wade bandwagon as the best player out there. People need to just relax. I have stated before that I thought Wade was the best this season but let's see what the next couple of years have in store. I think it will be a battle between him, Lebron James, and perhaps Kobe (if he can mentally ever get it together--doubtful). Kobe's disappearance in his final game this season as well as other games where he has pouted have put him on shaky ground but I'm convinced that to be called the best you have to be like a player like Kobe that is able to dribble and create your own shot. Nowitzki and even Tim Duncan rely on others to get them the ball. Notice that one of the last plays in the game last night was one in which Nowitzki got the ball at the top of the key but couldn't break his defender down and had to pass off (a pass which Eric Dampier couldn't handle). That's just too big of a limitation for a candidate for "Best player in the NBA". Same with Tim Duncan. Many times it's Tony Parker or Ginoboli who ends up taking the big shot at the end. They can create the shot whereas Duncan (as most bigger guys are) is limited. Plus you don't want Duncan shooting free-throws at the end of the game. That right there takes him out of the discussion.
Jordan is held as the gold standard and haunts all other players who would be called the "best". Besides Jordan's 6 rings there are other reasons why he is the template for which guys wanting to be called the best are compared to. He had the basketball qualities that defined greatness and if a player has most or all of these characteristics he could be called the "Best player in the NBA". These charactaristics include:
1. You have to be able to dominate an entire game offensively. This doesn't mean every game is this way but you have to physically be able to do it if needed. Wade, Lebron, Kobe, Dirk, Tim, and a host of others can all do this.
2. You have to be a clutch shooter late in the game including on the free throw line. Games are won with shots both ways. Obviously Duncan is not someone you want to depend on if there were no seconds left on the clock and a free throw decides the game.
3. You have to be able to dribble the ball (including slicing and driving) and create shots against multiple defenders. This goes back to clutch shooting. You have to be able to get in position to take the clutch shots and without the ability to create that shot you are putting the ball into someone else's hands. Like Eric Dampier or Jason Terry. Dirk Nowitzki can shoot and create better than any 7 footer out there but he's just a step too slow if he has multiple defenders.
4. You have to be good defensively. I think a great defensive player obviously make this a slam dunk but if a player has all other qualities and is still "good" on the defensive end then he could still be called the best. You can't be a defensive liability though. Wade still needs to improve in this area as he is not great defensively but he is a decent defender and I think on the verge of being a good one. Nowitzki could be called decent as well but you wouldn't label him a good defender by any means and I don't think he's going to get any better. Lebron James on the other hand is really not good on the defensive end. This is a big reason why right now I would rate Wade above James. I think James physically has it in him to be good or even a great defender but he has not yet made an effort to do it. We'll see if this changes in the future. Of all the "best in the NBA" candidates, Kobe Bryant takes this category hands down. There is a reason why he makes All-defensive teams.
5. This is a big one and yet it's one that has the least amount of physical traits attached to it. You have to be able to elevate the play of your teammates and be a true team leader. It can't be a one man show all the time . Sometimes guys like Steve Kerr, Brent Barry, or even James Posey (last night) have to have the confidence to hit big shots and make a difference. Jordan learned this the hard way. But he did learn it. I think Duncan, Wade, Lebron, and even Nowitzki in varying degrees are able to do this. This is where Kobe Bryant is still lacking.
---Three players have at least 4 out of the 5 qualities here. Dwyane Wade, Lebron James, and Kobe Bryant. I think Kobe physically is the best of the three but mentally his immaturity has and will keep him from assuming the mantle of "Best player in the NBA". I see Dwyane Wade and Lebron James as the two that will fight for this title (and who knows maybe the Eastern conference and NBA titles as well) in the next few years. As this season ends, Dwyane Wade in my mind holds both titles. But Lebron James may have something to say about that next year and the in the years to come. Should be fun to watch.