Do you remember the scene in Cool Runnings, when the crowd all starts to get Jamaica fever?
The Jamaican team, led by Derice Bannick (and Sanka’s egg-kissing technique), is taking over the Olympic bobsledding track one surprisingly fast run at a time. Their push starts, aided by three near-Olympic sprinters and the best pushcart driver in all of Jamaica, allow the Jamaicans to fly down the ice, and not even a fat, former cheater of a coach can keep the world from falling head over heals for this lovable band of bobsledding rookies. The announcers discuss the increased adoration being thrown Jamaica’s way, ultimately unzipping their jackets to reveal their own Jamaica shirts.
“Ah, what the heck,” says one announcer. “Go Jam!”
I’m kind of like those announcers. I normally try to stay away from discussing college basketball in this space, but last night drew me in. Ah, what the heck. Go Jimmer.
But this post isn’t an ode to Jimmer Fredette — I imagine there will be enough of those written in the coming months. Fredette’s a certified star, a scorer without a conscience, a scorer who has yet to be stopped by any amount of double- (and sometimes even triple-) teams. If he hasn’t already (and, after last night, I suspect he has), Fredette will become this year’s Stephen Curry or Adam Morrison — a one-man show in a lesser league, destined to tear out opponents’ hearts while intriguing fans by the boatload. He’ll get his (well-deserved) shine this season, even if I don’t write a single word about him.
No, this post goes out to Fredette’s teammates. The selfless, gritty blokes who sacrifice shots and touches on a nightly basis, all so they can help their team win. The all-heart bastards who would rather pass the ball to their superstar teammate than shoot a lower-percentage shot themselves. The tough guys who throw their bodies around, who set mean screens for 40 straight minutes, who box out, who hedge screens, who dive on the floor, and who do it all with zero fanfare. Fredette’s teammates are the offensive linemen of college basketball. They help make winning possible, but never accumulate gaudy stats or the average fan’s adoration.
One thing last night’s BYU-San Diego St. affair reaffirmed is this: a team doesn’t need to have more talent to win; it just has to have pieces that all fit together. BYU wasn’t more talented than San Siego St. Not one through twelve, at least. If San Diego St. played BYU in a Ryder Cup-like string of one-on-one matches, San Diego St. would win every time. But this isn’t the Ryder Cup, it’s basketball, and so group synergy plays into the final results. BYU didn’t have more collective talent, but the Cougars have Jimmer Fredette, and they surround him with four players who all know their roles and remain committed to those roles all the time. On most nights, that synergy will be enough to win games.
Which (finally) takes me to the Celtics, and the NBA. There are certain teams that play beyond their individual capabilities. It’s difficult for me to say the Celtics are one of those teams, because they (still, even at their ages) have so much star power. But I’m going to say it anyway: these Celtics play better as a whole than they would as individuals. There’s something about “Rondo as distributor; Pierce as slasher/scorer/occasional playmaker; Allen as shooter; Garnett as provider of all things; and PerkShaq as big man/enforcer/occasional finisher/(hopefully) rebounder” that meshes perfectly. These Boston Celtics play off each other like Abbott and Costello. Which reminds me, Who’s on first.
The synergy I speak of is part of the reason James Posey didn’t play nearly as well once he left Boston. In Boston, the Celtics needed Posey to do only what he does best. He needed to defend, dive on the floor after loose balls, annoy the opponent, make open three-pointers, and, yes, hug his teammates before games. When his next teams (New Orleans and Indiana) needed playmakers, Posey could not oblige. That’s not his game; he can’t operate as a playmaker. Never mind that Posey has gotten older and lost a step (or two). Even in his prime, Posey fit best on good teams, teams that already had talented playmakers. Posey frees playmakers to make plays, and the playmakers free Posey to provide everything else. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship, one that doesn’t work if a team doesn’t have enough playmakers.
Never mind that I just said the word playmakers 12 million times in a single paragraph. There are about 30 players in the NBA who would fit into any situation in the league. Lebron, Wade, Kobe, Howard, Paul, and I refuse to list the rest, because listing 30 players is quite tedious. After the top 30 (or so), players only help matters when they fit in. Look at Hedo Turkoglu as perhaps the most obvious example. In Toronto, and I’ll put this mildly, Hedo sucked. In Phoenix, same thing. Now, back in Orlando, Turkoglu once again makes a positive impact.
Think about a player like “Old Shaq.” Either the Cavaliers didn’t know how to use Shaq last season, he simply didn’t fit into their system, or the players surrounding Shaq did not help him. Whatever it was, Shaq held the Cavaliers back. His mere presence not only made them worse, but a lot worse. Did Shaq have nothing left in the tank? No. We see now he can still help a team, but — at this stage of his career — Shaq’s a role player who has to be placed in the proper role to succeed. For players like Old Shaq, and most of the NBA, the situation has to be right. If you throw the wrong player into the wrong situation, what results is disaster.
The circle of life (or, in this case, the circle of a rambling post) leads me back to Jimmer and the Fredettes. If Noah Hartsock (one of BYU’s tall, tough bastards) played for North Carolina, he probably wouldn’t play a single minute. North Carolina isn’t ranked, but still has a stable of big men far more talented than Hartsock. Yet BYU, the country’s ninth-ranked team (and probably climbing), is perfectly content with Hartsock playing his role and playing it well.
When you see Hartsock, maybe you see a limited player who couldn’t score 20 points if he was left all alone, in a gym, for two straight hours. But me? I see pride. I see power. I see a bad-ass mother, thriving in the perfect situation, who don’t take no crap off of nobody.