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Friday, August 15, 2008

When Did Jason Kidd Become Public Enemy Number One?

It is truly baffling to read and hear all of the negative reactions to Jason Kidd's performance for Team USA this year. Just two weeks ago I did a brief post that explained Kidd's value and included quotes from Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade about how much they respect Kidd's game but it seems like a more detail discussion of this subject is warranted.

The number one problem for the 2002, 2004 and 2006 editions of Team USA was poor defense and a big reason for that was that Team USA's guards lacked the savvy, size and toughness to deal with the physical play in the FIBA game. That is why Kobe Bryant and Jason Kidd were added to the roster after Team USA finished third in the 2006 FIBA World Championship. Carmelo Anthony (19.9 ppg, .504 FG%), Dwyane Wade (19.3 ppg, .576 FG%) and LeBron James (14.1 ppg, .587 FG%) led that team offensively but nobody set the proper tone defensively, particularly at the point guard position, which was manned by Chris Paul and Kirk Hinrich. The addition of Bryant provided a defensive stud who can "take out" the other team's best perimeter offensive player and his example has clearly affected the attitude that the rest of the team has about defense. Kidd owns a perfect record in FIBA play and he was the point guard when Team USA won the 2000 Olympic gold medal; that was the last time that Team USA finished first in either the Olympics or the FIBA World Championship.

Recent editions of Team USA were All-Star teams that were thrown together without rhyme or reason and none of those squads practiced together enough under FIBA rules. Team USA's current managing director, Jerry Colangelo, put an end to that by requiring players to make a three year commitment to USA Basketball. Thanks to Wade, Anthony and James failing to bring home the gold in 2006, Team USA had to play in the 2007 FIBA Americas tournament in order to qualify for a spot in the 2008 Olympics. Kidd averaged 1.8 ppg, 4.6 apg and 3.3 rpg as Team USA went 10-0 and won the gold medal. Those numbers will not blow anyone away, yet Kidd was named USA Basketball’s 2007 Male Athlete of the Year in recognition of his vital importance to Team USA. People who criticize Kidd's reluctance to shoot or scoff at his statistics do not understand basketball; Kidd was not added to the roster to shoot or to put up gaudy numbers but rather to be a leader, a stabilizing influence, a mentor for the younger point guards who will have to carry the torch for USA Basketball in the future and a distributor who is willing to get the ball to the primary scorers.

Even in 2000, when Kidd was coming off of an All-NBA First Team selection, his value to Team USA was not fully reflected in his statistics: Kidd averaged 6.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg and 4.4 apg in the Olympics.

Jason Kidd is not as good as he was in 2000 and maybe he is not even quite as good as he was in 2007 but to belabor those facts is to miss the larger truth: Kidd is the oldest player on the team and he already "did his time" for USA Basketball by helping the 2000 team to win the gold medal, so he could have been like Kevin Garnett and other players who refused to make a three year commitment to Team USA. Instead, Kidd embraced the challenge of taking a leadership role and helping the NBA's young stars learn how to be successful in FIBA play. It is wrong to discount or underestimate Kidd's impact on the practice court and it is terrible to minimize or forget the key role that he played in the 2007 FIBA Americas tournament, when neither Chris Paul nor Deron Williams were ready to fully take the reins in FIBA play.

Kidd's three year commitment to rebuilding Team USA will hopefully culminate in a gold medal performance in Beijing, a fitting conclusion to Kidd's FIBA career. Kidd deserves to be commended for helping to right the ship.

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:51 PM

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2 Comments:

At Friday, August 15, 2008 4:41:00 PM, Blogger Daniel said...

With Rick Carlisle running things, how do you expect Kidd and the Mavericks to do this year? It seems like Dallas will need to run more in order to get the benefit of having him run their offense.

Do you think Josh Howard can return to form as well? He hurt his back around the All-Star break and was never the same, and he had some personal problems that affected his focus.

 
At Saturday, August 16, 2008 6:27:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Daniel:

There are some similarities between Rick Carlisle and Avery Johnson in that both coaches stress defense and they both like to slow the game down offensively. Kidd has lost some lateral quickness but I think that he still has value because of his leadership, his savvy, his unselfishness, his passing ability and his rebounding--he can create some fast break opportunities for Dallas just by getting defensive rebounds and pushing the ball.

Howard seemed to lose focus at some point last season. I don't know if that was because of the back injury you referenced, the personal problems or something else--but whatever the reason, he just did not look like the All-Star level player that he had been previously. Since I'm not sure exactly what the problem was, it is hard for me to say whether or not he will regain All-Star status. I think that his comments about his marijuana use showed a severe lack of focus on his part: it is not clear how much marijuana he is using but it is certainly possible that his drug use negatively impacted his performance on the court--and even if it didn't, the fact that he spoke about it so openly and then went on to say that many NBA players are smoking marijuana showed poor judgment on his part and the timing of his statements (during the playoffs) could not have been worse. Let's just say that his career does not seem to be on the upswing at the moment.

I think that having Kidd for a whole season will help Dallas but, realistically, as things stand now--barring more trades or injuries to key players--the Mavericks do not look better on paper than the Lakers, Spurs, Jazz, Hornets or Rockets in the West.

 

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