Welcome one and all, man, woman and child to the first annual, Dancing with Noah all-star selection. Fans and coaches, writers and analysts, people I know and people you know; they’ve all had their say and now it’s our turn. We the people on this 14th day of February, 2012 wish to declare a new stash of all-stars free from the defined parameters of the National Basketball Association. Will there be carryover, overlap, blendings and snubs? We can only hope so.
This year’s team is made up of 12 players. Positions, team structure and conferences don’t matter much here. We’re not playing for gold medals or gold metals or home court advantage or even pride. If it’s a celebration, then let’s express ourselves in a mood of Dionysian delight and indulge in the players who captivate our attentions on the court and help our minds to believe in the impossible.
Kobe Bryant: Still the One. Not the “one” in the sense of Neo in the Matrix, but in the sense he’s still at the center of basketball world; consuming our loves and hates, sucking it all in like a swirling vacuum and becoming endearing with time. He’s tough, driven, motivated. Even the legions of anti-Kobe-ites have had their icy facades melted away by his commitment to and pursuit of excellence. Kobe Bryant embodies that blue collar, hardworking American ethic we tout so proudly in this country. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
DeMarcus Cousins: It’s fitting that this child-like man is on the Kings. His game is resplendent with royalty and a lingering sense of being spoiled that probably accompanies the young and entitled. But despite the years of bad press and the mountains of evidence that his attitude is rotten to the core, his post-Westphal game has become the envy of big men worldwide. At 21, he already possesses a more well-rounded offensive game than Dwight or Bynum. His motor ticks, he cares and he can only get older (which is hopefully accompanied by more maturity).
Ricky Rubio: His passes are snazzy and functional at the same time. He already had a cult following that maybe gave up on him after a couple of bumbling seasons in Spain, but a chance to radiate in the greatest league in the world has been seized upon by this young man who was apparently born to play here (in Minnesota?). Like Cousins, he’s only 21 and already running shit in Minneapolis. He’s fourth in the league in assists and leads the league in steals. His on-the-ball defense needs a bit of work and his jumper does too, but holy shit, Rubio’s already nudged, elbowed, scratched and clawed his way into NBA legitimacy. A lot of us thought it was all premature and a lot us are happily watching his highlights thankful for being so embarrassingly incorrect.
Andrew Bynum: Welcome to World B. Healthy—for now at least. In a scant 24 games of youthful vitality, Andrew Bynum has given fans and basketball minds a respite from the all-too-familiar tale of sky’s the limit prodigy hobbled by the cruel fate of injury. Bynum’s story (far from complete) is one of patience and warmth. His health and the world class performance that accompanies it, is a ray of sunshine for the young Sam Bowies and Greg Odens of the world. Yes young man, you may be down and out and experiencing literal growing pains, but tomorrow can be yours. Just ask Drew.
JaVale McGee: If 2012 Andrew Bynum is unimpeded sunshine, then JaVale McGee is a full moon; equally captivating, but cooler and more confounding. Despite the Youtube clips of JaVale doing nonsensical things on the court, I don’t believe there’s a decision to do or not do. Impulse takes over and next thing we know, JaVale’s tossing up hook shots, pushing the break or saluting imaginary soldiers in the crowd after blocked shots. If Kobe, Michael and Larry have taught us you can take basketball too seriously, then McGee’s head in the clouds routine (that’s not a reference to one of his dunks) acts as a comedic reminder that basketball is just a game—sometimes played by children.
Brandon Jennings: I like Brandon Jennings. I was pleased when he gave the establishment the bird and spent what would’ve been his freshman NCAA season playing in Italy. I like that he skirted the traditional sneaker powers that be and signed an endorsement deal with a power-to-be in Under Amour. And even though it was never his choice, I’m satisfied he plays up in that great northern everyman’s town of Milwaukee. It’s not as crazy of juxtaposition as a young, politically and spiritually curious Lew Alcindor playing there in the early 70s, but Jennings has enough Hollywood in him to seem like an outsider while maintaining a strong enough sense of himself to be accepted by the locals.
Andrea Bargnani: Like Franz Kafka’s strange tale The Castle, Bargnani’s work in 2011-12 is incomplete (he’s appeared in 13 of 29 games). And also like The Castle, this particular season, however brief and interrupted, has been a pleasure to partake in. The former number one pick and player most-frequently-compared-to-Dirk was having a career best season across the board until a calf injury deprived us, Raptors fans and Silvio Berlusconi of seeing it through. The NBA might not have a place on its all-star team for a guy who’s appeared in less than half of his team’s games, but here at Dancing with Noah, we’re willing to waive these simple trivialities.
Josh Smith: He might not be paid like he’s the man in Atlanta, but since Al Horford went down with an injury, Josh Smith has functioned as the heart, soul and elbow grease of this sleep-inducing also-ran Hawks team. He rebounds, dunks, blocks shots, shoots less threes than he used to (keep working on it) and does it at 6’9” without complaint. His improved rebounding and re-commitment to defense indicate he’s finally ready to move on from that experimentation phase so many of us go through and accept the talents his creators bestowed on him. Do your thing, Josh. Just make sure you do it inside the three point line.
James Harden: How good is this guy? That’s not a rhetorical question. We’ve all see his dope game: the lefty threes, upright running style, deceptive athleticism, change of pace and surprising passing and playmaking, but do we have any real idea what the ceiling holds for Harden? He reminds me somewhat of a talented backup in the NFL trapped behind an all-pro incumbent. Is he Aaron Rodgers, Michael Turner, DeMarco Murray? For any player in the league who takes ten shots per game or less, James Harden scores the most at 16.6ppg. If he took 20 shots a night, would he score 32? Doubtful, but I don’t think we’ll find out any time soon. He’s under contract through 2014, so until then, don’t let your curiosity get the best of you.
LeBron James: Just because we’ve come to expect greatness from this great one, let’s not get all carried away and take it for granted. As a transplant of almost eight years, I still notice things in Seattle that just don’t exist in the Midwest. My daily walk to work used to take me down Madison St which crosses over I-5. Looking south on clear days, you can see over 14,000 majestic feet of Mount Rainier resting impassively in the distance. So many times I walked past this and instead of marveling at its natural power and beauty, I marveled at the other people walking by who never blinked in the direction of that mountain. This isn’t to say I have a keen appreciation for nature that others lack. It’s to say sometimes we get so caught up in what’s next; we forget to enjoy what’s now.
Greg Monroe: There is hope in Detroit and his name is Greg Monroe. Sadly, I haven’t seen the latest Georgetown big man nearly as much as I’d like since it’s so painful to watch his team play, but I know from what some friends tell me and what the stats and highlights say that Mr. Monroe is for real. He joins Cousins, Bynum, McGee and Nikola Pekovic as post-Shaq bigs who embrace the advantages their size offers. Just because his team is so awful, let’s not condemn the son (Monroe) for the mistakes of the father (Dumars).
Kevin Durant: I guess it shouldn’t be a shock that he’s getting better at 23, but rather that he was so good at 20, 21, 22. He’s rebounding and passing the ball better and shooting a career high FG%. His on-the-ball and team defense have both improved. His scoring is down, but the team’s winning more. He’s exhibited a willingness to sacrifice his own points to appease the needs of others (Harden and Westbrook are both averaging career highs in PPG). And most importantly, he’s has taken what appears to be his natural high road regarding the Westbrook situation that lingered from last year’s playoffs and carried over to the beginning of this season. He’s handled the situation perfectly from the get go and has most likely reinforced what was already a sturdy foundation in OKC.
We can’t have a team without coaches and this year’s co-DWN all-star coaches are Minnesota’s Rick Adelman and Philadelphia’s Doug Collins. They might be a couple of old chips off the old NBA block, but both combine a strong sense of in-game coaching with the ability to read the temperatures of their teams and adjust accordingly. For that, they have the great opportunity to coach this mish mash, hodge podge of world class talent against each other in imaginary scrimmages that I’ll daydream about on the bus tomorrow.
Friends, this concludes the 2012 Dancing with Noah all-star selections. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.