For years, Kevin Garnett was known as a choker. His teams couldn’t get past the first round. He tended to disappear at the wrong times.
I don’t agree with the assessment, but the assessment was there. In my eyes, it’s hard to win playoff series’ when you’re flanked by the likes of Mark Madsen and Trenton Hassell. Basketball’s a team game and — while some individuals can win games all by themselves — the fact of the matter remains that the better TEAM wins almost every time. There are five men on a court, 12 men on an active roster, and everybody counts. Kevin Garnett was not alone in failing, but his shortcomings were seen as his alone, not the teams.
But Kevin Garnett won a championship, and most of that talk went away. He’s earned his stripes, whether you like it or not. And he’s got the hardware to prove it.
Still, Stan Van Gundy sees fit to bring Kevin Garnett down. Maddened by an article saying Dwight Howard lacked a killer instinct, Van Gundy went on a hissy fit in defense of his big man. (Orlando Sentinel via the Boston Globe)
“Kevin Garnett has been in this league forever and he’s won six playoff series in his career,” Van Gundy said. “Dwight’s won four and he’s 23 years old [actually, 24]. That’s a pretty good comparison. Why is Kevin Garnett a great winner and Dwight Howard’s not? I don’t get it.
“And if you’re just going to go by titles, Kevin Garnett’s got one, and Dwight’s got as many as LeBron’s got. But LeBron’s a great winner and Dwight [isn't]? I don’t get it.”
Back off, Ron Jeremy. I read the article, and Garnett wasn’t even mentioned. He wasn’t even f—ing mentioned. So why bring up his name? Huh? Is there really a need to disparage one of the game’s great competitors, just to prove a point to a local reporter who stated his opinion (which is probably right on point) that Dwight Howard doesn’t have the mean streak to consistently dominate opponents?
First of all, let’s talk about the number of playoff series’ won. Dwight’s won four, Garnett’s won six. But if the aforementioned KG hadn’t been injured last season, all of a sudden Dwight’s stuck on two and Garnett’s got at least seven. KG’s worth one win in a seven-game series, right?
So there’s that. Also, I mentioned Garnett’s supporting cast earlier. But did you know that Dean Garrett started a bunch of games for three of those Timberwolves teams that failed to get out of the first round? Or that Rasho Nesterovic was probably the best center KG was ever flanked by? Or that on the team Garnett finally broke through with, reaching the Western Conference Finals, the trio of Mark Madsen, Michael Olowokandi and Ervin Johnson started a combined 87 regular-season games, and Trenton Hassell started 75? Or that he was joined on the All-Star team just twice by another Timberwolf? And those two All-Stars were Tom Gugliotta and Wally Szczerbiak? Wally F–ing Szczerbiak, I shit you not. Seriously, it’s all true.
Look, KG’s got a title and Dwight doesn’t. KG’s earned his stripes, Howard hasn’t. Dwight’s an All-Star, and a superstar, but KG’s got a ring.
Still, the ring isn’t even what the Sentinel writer — George Diaz — who complained about Howard was even focusing on. He was focusing on what everybody else sees: That Howard is perhaps the best combination of strength, athleticism, and coordination — not named Lebron James — that the league has ever seen, yet he still doesn’t dominate games the way he should.
He doesn’t demand the ball in crunch time. Actually, he hardly demands the ball ever. And maybe he shouldn’t. He doesn’t have a very advanced offensive game, and if he gets fouled in crunch time he’s likely to miss the free throws.
Howard is as good as they come defensively and on the glass, but he’s only scratching the surface of what he could be, and I — for one — doubt he ever will. I don’t know whether it’s because he doesn’t work hard enough at his offensive game, or whether he doesn’t have the killer instinct that all the crunch-time scorers tend to have.
Sometimes you just want to shake Howard and tell him, “Dwight, just go dunk the damn basketball.” With his package of power and agility, you just get the feeling there’s something missing that’s keeping him from being unstoppable. That he should be unstoppable. But that it’s definitely not the case.
And that’s what Diaz was talking about. When Lebron James wants to get to the basket, he’s going to get there. When Dwight Howard wants to get to the basket, he might settle for a half-hearted hook shot over Kendrick Perkins’ out-stretched hands.
People complain about Howard smiling too often, but they aren’t really complaining about the smile. The smile has become symbolic of the player Howard is. He’s not going to kill you at the end of games. He might settle for a soft running jump-hook instead of trying to get a dunk. And he does it all with an infuriating smile on his face, to make you think he’s not a competitor. Even though he certainly is. He wouldn’t be so damn good if he wasn’t.
True competitor or not, Howard doesn’t seem to have the killer instinct to be great down the stretch. He can still do all the other things to help his team win, without being a go-to guy down the end of games. He can still be a superstar, without demanding the ball every play in the fourth quarter. He can still be a champion.
In fact, you would probably be right if you argued that Kevin Garnett doesn’t have the killer instinct when the game’s on the line, either.
But Garnett’s got a ring. Howard doesn’t.
And neither does Stan Van F—ing Gundy.