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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Jason Kidd: A Winner and a Champion

It is easy to reduce the storyline of a series or a season to the tales of a few titans but that is not accurate or fair; Dirk Nowitzki is unquestionably the headliner for the 2011 NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks but all 15 players will receive championship rings and all 15 players contributed in some way to Dallas' triumph.

Doug Collins has said that if he ever writes an autobiography he will title it Always a Winner but Never a Champion, acknowledging that there is a difference between being a winner and being a champion; Dallas point guard Jason Kidd is both a winner and a champion, adding the 2011 NBA title to a resume that already included two Olympic gold medals (2000, 2008). Kidd played an underappreciated role in revitalizing Team USA and it is not a coincidence that during an era when Team USA struggled at times in FIBA competitions he posted a 46-0 record during his FIBA career, winning three gold medals in three tries in the FIBA Americas Championship (1999, 2003, 2007) in addition to his success in the Olympics; Kidd's game has always been about court vision, unselfishness, intensity and defense, precisely the qualities that are necessary to build a championship team at any level of the sport.

Kidd was the headliner when the New Jersey Nets advanced to the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003 and he could be called the "anti-Stephon Marbury": teams tended to become worse when they acquired Marbury only to become better as soon as they cut ties with him, while the opposite is true of Kidd, who led the Phoenix Suns to five straight playoff berths before guiding the Nets to their best years as an NBA franchise and then helping the Mavericks take the final steps on the road to their long-sought first NBA title. Kidd has participated in the playoffs in 15 of his 17 NBA seasons, while Marbury--who posted much gaudier statistics and was at one time (prior to a late-career swoon) the only player other than Oscar Robertson with career averages of more than 20 ppg and more than 8 apg--made the playoffs just five times in his 13 seasons, with the last of those postseason trips coming as a little-used reserve for the defending champion Boston Celtics.

Kidd's passing, rebounding and defense have always been impeccable but during his rookie season he shot just .385 from the field, .272 from three point range and .698 from the free throw line. Kidd diligently worked on his shooting stroke until he became an above average free throw shooter (exceeding .800 in nine seasons, with a career mark of .784) and a solid three point shooter (.350 or better in seven seasons, with a career mark of .348). Kidd's career field goal percentage is just .401 but that is deceptive because for the past several years a large number of his shots have come from behind the three point arc.

Even though Kidd has lost some of his quickness the four-time member of the All-Defensive First Team is still an effective--and underrated--defensive player, as he showed during Dallas' 2011 playoff run when he performed credibly at that end of the court against elite scorers Kevin Durant and LeBron James; my All-Defensive Team choices usually match the official selections later made by the league's head coaches but one of the few times that I disagreed with the coaches came in 2010 when I felt that Kidd still deserved Second Team honors.

The 2011 Mavericks will always be viewed as Dirk Nowitzki's team and their championship will always be considered primarily as a line on Nowitzki's Hall of Fame resume but Jason Kidd is also a future Hall of Famer, so that championship certainly belongs on his resume as well: Kidd's passing, defense and leadership were vital ingredients in Dallas' championship recipe.

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posted by David Friedman @ 6:16 PM