January 27, 2014

SHATZMAN | Low Scoring, But Not Low Talent

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Every basketball fan enjoys watching a player “go off” — you know, make shot after shot no matter how good the defense, scoring lots of points in the process. In that sense, January has been a fantastic month for basketball fans.

Kevin Durant has dropped 30 or more in ten consecutive games, including a 54-point outburst against the Warriors. Carmelo Anthony lit up the Bobcats for 62 at MSG Friday night. We know superstars like these have the ability to do this on any given night, but often times it is not the superstar who limits himself from scoring lots of points, but rather the talent surrounding the superstar that holds the Durants and the Melos to 30 instead of 65.

See Terrence Ross. The Raptors’ swingman and 2012 lottery selection out of Washington has proven himself to be a capable NBA starter and ferocious dunker. He is by no means inept at scoring, but when teams prepare to face Toronto, they are game planning as though Terrence Ross will be taking 20-plus shots.

That’s not his role on the Raptors. In the five games prior to Saturday’s matchup with the Clippers, Ross’ scoring numbers were were ten points or fewer in four of those five. This season, the 6’6” forward is averaging merely 10.2 points per game. On Saturday, though, Ross netted 51 points on 16 of 29 shooting, and nearly doubled his previous career-high of 26.

“How in the world did Terrence *expletive* Ross score 51 points?” many NBA fans, including myself, asked upon seeing ESPN’s bottom line Saturday night. But after a bit of thinking, I realized that the answer is simple: if you’re in the NBA, you’re really good at basketball. Like, really, really good.

Terrence Ross is already a solid NBA player at the ripe age of 22. Do not get me wrong. Heck, a couple years from now he could be an All-Star. For now, though, he is a solid player. But what does solid mean in the NBA? It can’t refer to scoring ability if Terrence Ross can score 50-plus, right? There are no objective standards in determining who qualifies as a solid NBA player or even what exactly solid means in the NBA, but what Ross’ breakout game shows is just how much talent — and scoring potential — exists up and down all 30 NBA rosters.

To put this in perspective, think about players like Tu Holloway and Scottie Reynolds. The former college basketball stars, for Xavier and Villanova respectively, were both scoring machines in college. Both currently play professionally overseas. They are only a few years removed from college and each could certainly play in the NBA at some point during their basketball careers. Players like the Pelican’s Brian Roberts and the Nets’ Alan Anderson both played overseas for several years before achieving success in the NBA. At this point in time, however, the former NCAA studs have failed to prove themselves worthy of an NBA roster spot.

Of course, success in college does not translate to success in the NBA. The point is that guys like Holloway and Reynolds are talented volume scorers, and if they were magically warped into an NBA game tonight, I guarantee that fans previously unfamiliar with both would have no idea that both were overseas players, and, if given significant minutes, each could score plenty of points.

Remember “Linsanity”? The Knicks called up undrafted Harvard-product Jeremy Lin from the D-League, and in what coach Mike D’Antoni called a “desperate” move, Lin was inserted into the starting lineup. He went on to score 20-plus points in nine of his first ten games as a starter, a run that became known worldwide as “Linsanity.”

Lin was called up from the NBA Development League, the same league that Scottie Reynolds thrived in for one season before going overseas, and a league that Tu Holloway could excel in had he not chosen the overseas route. If Reynolds or Holloway were given the same opportunity as Lin, who knows where they would be. Eventually Lin came down to Earth, but his successful stint with the Knicks ultimately brought him a cozy three-year, 25.1 million dollar deal with the Rockets.

I am not trying to convince you that Reynolds and Holloway are NBA-level players whatsoever; I am trying to provide a decent perspective as to how Terrence Ross topped the half-century mark when LeBron James has dropped 40 once in the last two seasons. It’s because Ross is a talented player in the NBA who has spent countless hours in the gym working on his jumper. When you’re that good, there will be some nights when you can’t be stopped. On Saturday night, Ross was unstoppable.

As for why LeBron James has scored 40 points just once since the beginning of last season? It isn’t his goal. One day LeBron will “go off” but for now the four-time MVP is content with his back-to-back titles and is focused on winning his third championship this June.

Could LeBron score 50 every night? Yes. But he does not need to. He does what he has to do to win, and to him that means letting other talented Miami Heat players score, too. His strategy seems to work.

Oh, the Raptors lost on Saturday night, by the way.