By: Dan Grant
About a year ago, I wrote one of my favourite columns ever. I sent it out into the ether, enjoyed the response and as often happens, completely forgot about it. Until about ten days ago. That was when I heard a Bill Simmons playoff preview podcast with Joe House. During a discussion about who should be the rookie of the year, Bill dropped the following gem:
If Chris Webber and Rasheed Wallace had a baby that was allergic to weed, I think that baby would be Karl-Anthony Towns.
– Bill Simmons
It stirred something in me. Simmons is always wont to compare newer players to ‘evolutionary’ versions of older guys but this was a bit different. It reminded me of…oh yeah! I wrote about that!
And it was on like Sarah McLachlan at a funeral, because column format, from now until forever, I will remember you.
NBA Parentage is back.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. It was inspired by one of the finest American films to ever grace the silver screen. This should be explanation enough. Just imagine an NBA version!
2. Legacy star players like Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins beg easy comparisons to their parentage and are therefore not eligible. Discussing similarities and differences to actual parents is a completely different and far less silly discussion, and one that is wholly unwelcome here.
3. ‘Same-name, way less talent’ sons such as Tim Hardaway Jr. Glen Rice Jr., Gerald Henderson and Glenn Robinson III have cracked NBA rosters, but are also excluded.
That’s it for the don’t’s. As for the do’s, well, the player must have been ‘sired’ by former NBA players
who were teammates at some point during their careers. Just like with true genetics, he may have acquired specific characteristics of one parent and only bear a mild resemblance to the other, or he may be a true 50/50 mix.
Update: I’ve tweaked this to eliminate the teammates portion of the equation. They may have been teammates at some point, but the NBA is so buddy-buddy now that it doesn’t really need to be a requirement. Who am I to deny a May-December romance? What, you think I started this with hyper-specific rules and quickly ran out of material whilst trying to follow them? Well, I think you’re far too observant! Burn!
Let’s get started.
5. You don’t look the same, but you can really see the similarities around the eyes!
John Stockton + Karl Malone = Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant
Westbrook occupied the poll position in this column last year, and here the little bugger is again. In fact, he was the genesis of the whole damn idea, as I thought it was crazy how much he embodied the Supersonic spirit of both Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton, in one freakish body. For the record, he’s definitely a cat.
However, with Durant back to full strength this year, it’s more pertinent to focus on the two as a tandem. They’re in elite company in NBA history in terms of their cumulative talent level. You could make arguments for peak Jordan/Pippen, Robinson/Duncan or Kareem/Magic, but that’s the kind of company we’re talking about. The thing is, all those duos were so dominant that they won titles either immediately or for a sustained period.
We’re into year eight, and we have just one Finals appearance from Iceberg Slim and Furious Stylez and unless they pull off an upset of massive proportions, the Conference Finals seem like their ceiling again this year, as it has been twice before. A combination of poor roster decisions by management, injuries to both players and stiff competition have kept this team from the extended dominance we all expected when they surged to the Finals in 2012. They’re always competitive enough to land a high seed, but never quite the top. They succeed, but never dominate.
Hmm. A hyper-talented point guard and a dominant scoring forward, both capable of taking over the game, both impossibly skilled and incredibly consistent. The forward grabs more glory because he’s a better scorer, but NBA heads like to argue that the guard is actually the more important player. There’s constant speculation about one or the other leaving, but they’re really always thought of as a duo. They should be better than they are, but for one reason or another, they always aren’t.
Nut-huggers aside, does this remind you of anyone? Me too.
4. You know, you look exactly like this guy I know… that’s not a compliment.
Dominique Wilkins + Alex English = Carmelo Anthony
The similarities here are a little eerie. Melo has long been the NBA equivalent of a tennis or golf star that couldn’t win a major. He’s in contention every now and again and his peers clearly respect his game, but whether it’s because of his style of play or his attitude, he’s never gotten over the hump, and it says here that he likely never will. Dominique spent nearly his entire career in the East, while English spent the majority in the West. Carmelo will enter his seventh season in the East as Knick in 2016-17 — he spent eight in the West as a Nugget.
From Dominique’s side of the family, he gets his star power. Melo is the undisputed best player on one of the most valuable sports franchises in the world, and he seems to relish this. He likes the spotlight. He sells watches. He’s also, through little fault of his own (until recently anyway), frequently been the best guy on teams with absolutely terrible rosters during in his career, and has dragged those teams further than they should have gone. Wilkins was a selfish ball-hog (sound familiar?) but when your best teammates were peak Kevin Willis and Doc Rivers, what the hell were you supposed to do? Ditto for Melo, who looked downright dejected at times playing for the post Amar’e, pre-Porzingis Knicks (what an era!), and for iterations of the Nuggets that didn’t feature Allen Iverson or Chauncey Billups..
From Alex English, he got his empty-calories offensive game. Never a leaper like ‘Nique, Carmelo has a decent three point shot, but otherwise, he’s an English clone. Alex (by all accounts a wonderful man) was a fluid, graceful player that scored efficiently everywhere inside the three point line, getting to the rim and employing a deadly mid-range game. He starred for the 1980’s Doug Moe coached Denver Nuggets, who gave zero effs about stopping their opponent from scoring. A pre-cursor to the ‘7 seconds or less’ Phoenix Suns, that Denver team actually managed to chuck their way to a Western Conference Finals in 1984-85, which coincidentally, is the furthest former-Nugget ‘Melo has ever gotten. Funnily enough, both of those appearances happened when the two players ceded the spotlight to lesser talents; for English, it was a younger Calvin Natt and for Melo, it was an aging Chauncey Billups.
Both English and Wilkins had the physical skills to be above-average defensive players but because of scheme and/or attitude, both were below-average at best, and awful at worst. Carmelo was better this past season, but on the whole, has mirrored that spectrum. Couple that with the fact that both Wilkins and English’s windows for success were slammed shut by a variety of teams that were simply better, and the similarity to Anthony is only heightened. For Wilkins it was Jordan’s Bulls, Larry’s Celtics and Isiah’s Pistons. For English it was the Showtime Lakers, and various other lesser foils. So it has been for Carmelo, no matter where he’s been. Even when his teams have been good, he’s always run into Duncan’s Spurs or Kobe’s Lakers in the West, or LeBron’s Cavaliers and Heat in the East.
All three guys have been models of consistency, be that good or bad. English was an eight time All-Star that led the league in scoring at age 29; Wilkins was a ten timer that did it at 26. Both managed it just the once. Melo is a nine time All-Star (so far), who pulled off the feat at 28 and is fairly unlikely to do it again.
You can’t choose your family, man.
3. You look mighty good in them ‘genes’ boy.
Ben Wallace + Nate Thurmond= Dwight Howard
17.8 points, 12.7 rebounds, 2.1 blocks (per game). Five first team, 1 second team, 2 third team All NBA selections. Three defensive player of the year awards.
Yes, that’s Dwight Howard’s career resume. I mean, dear god, I think we forget. So dominant. So punishing. Yet such a chucklehead.
I’m not sure if it was from that damned Saved by the Bell or what, but Dwight certainly didn’t get his attitude off the court from his parentage. Wallace was a brutal tough guy, a shot-blocking defensive menace and fantastic rebounder who became a perfect role player on a greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts Pistons squad. That team made two straight Finals appearances and actually won one, which gave false hope to every NBA team that lacks a true superstar.
Thurmond is one of the most underrated NBA players ever — I mean, have you ever even heard of him? And even if you have, what do you know? An absolute beast for the Warriors franchise, he averaged exactly 15 points and 15 boards for his career, and 2.1 blocks, even though they only kept track during his age 32-35 seasons. The late 60’s was an era in which all stats were inflated due to the fast pace of play, but he put up a season in which he averaged a 20/20 — that’s impressive.
So where are the similarities? Mostly in bad luck and bad decisions. All three guys were dominant big men, so that’s an easy starting point of course, but it runs deeper.
Overshadowed his entire career by bigger stars like Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell and later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Willis Reed, Thurmond was the yeoman centerpiece of a good but not great Warriors team that lost it’s primary star (Rick Barry), just like Dwight was when he came to the suddenly T-Mac-less Magic franchise. Can you imagine young Dwight paired with peak-era McGrady? It would have looked kind of like Thurmond with Barry, if Barry hadn’t stupidly jumped to his father in law’s ABA team, only to be forced to sit out a year in his prime for legal reasons. Both guys were forced to carry the load while their teams re-tooled; Barry eventually returned and the Warriors won the title in 1975, but Thurmond was past his prime and had left for Chicago. Howard led the Magic to the Finals in 2009 but never got back there again. Missed opportunities all around.
Wallace and Howard have an obvious touchstone in their defensive dominance, but unfortunately, their biggest similarity seems to be coming in their steep decline once they left their natural habitat. Howard was never better than when he led the Magic to that Finals; Wallace was never better than when he patrolled the paint for the mid-2000’s Pistons. Howard jumped to the Los Angeles Lakers by demanding a trade, while Wallace signed a massive contract with the rival Chicago Bulls. Both moves were immediate disasters. Wallace quickly spiraled, playing only a season and a half in Chicago before being dealt to Cleveland, and then returning to Detroit in a limited role. Howard wilted under the pressure of being a Laker, signed with the Houston Rockets and while he made a Conference Finals, has dealt with injuries the entire time and has often looked like a shell of himself on the floor — not to mention a complete nincompoop off it.
I fully expect him to sign with the Dallas Mavericks this summer, because Mark Cuban is the guardian angel of washed up big men everywhere. Erick Dampier, Samuel Dalembert and Brendan Haywood are reading this and smiling, just as they drift off to sleep on large piles of cash, with many beautiful ladies.
2. Moms are the real MVPs
Kevin Garnett = Chris Paul
Here’s the part where I again break my own rules, and once again, I invite you to fornicate yourself if you have an issue with it. Sometimes one parent is enough. Love to single moms everywhere!
Everybody loves comparing Chris Paul to Isiah Thomas, and in terms of the way he dominates the game from the point guard position, that’s completely accurate. But from a career standpoint, there is nobody more similar to Paul than pre-Celtics KG.
Both have carried moribund franchises on their backs (Garnett with the Timberwolves, Paul with the Pelicans/Clippers) and gave legitimacy to organizations that had none prior to their arrival. Both had various stars as compatriots, Garnett with Stephon Marbury, and then the combustible Latrell Sprewell/Sam Cassell combination, Paul with young Tyson Chandler and then Blake Griffin, only to have situations implode for a variety of reasons. Hell, both even had really good-looking, sharpshooting white guys! Don’t leave Wally Szczerbiak and JJ Redick alone with your wives or daughters is all I’m saying.
At times, the sheer force of their will seemed destined to carry their teams to greater heights- when the Clippers led the Rockets 3-1 last season, they seemed like they might legitimately have a chance at knocking off the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals and have a path to victory against the depleted Cavaliers. Garnett’s T-Wolves made a single Conference Finals after losing seven straight years in the first round, but lost to the waning Shaqobe Lakers and never returned. In fact, the T-Wolves haven’t made the playoffs since.
Both guys are supposedly wonderful off the court, but are also legendarily competitive on the floor and for both, this manifests itself in sheer dickheadedness. Yes, that’s a word! Call it whatever you want, but both guys are shitty on-floor teammates that would have been zero fun to play with, not because of their style (both are unselfish creators), but just because of the Oscar Robertson-like verbal punishment they inflict on their teammates. I realize these guys are professionals, but treating role players like they’re Rogers Customer Support is not a good way to get guys to go the extra mile.
After twelve seasons, Garnett finally admitted he needed help, and asked for a trade, winding up in Boston with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, winning the title shortly thereafter. After losing another season, this time to Blake Griffin’s quad and his own broken hand, Chris Paul is entering year eleven. It says here that he’s in Cleveland with LeBron sooner rather than later, and like KG, he’ll get the title he so badly wants. And maybe then he’ll learn to chilllllllll out.
1. Check this man’s birth certificate!
Horace Grant + Scottie Pippen = Draymond Green
Sometimes a sentence emerges into reality, that if you wrote it down and sent it via time travelling carrier pigeon back to just a couple years earlier, everyone there would laugh at you like you suggested something insane like, ‘Donald Trump will be a front runner for a presidential nomination’ or ‘Keith Richards will outlive Prince’. Such a sentence has emerged this NBA season. Ready for it?
Draymond Green is going to finish second in defensive player of the year voting and in the Top 5 in NBA MVP voting.
Here is the NBA world’s reaction, as recently as October of 2014:
Comparing Green to two former Bulls might seem a bit on the nose, especially given that both Grant and Pippen made dismissive comments about the current Warriors team during their pursuit for 73 regular season wins. Their assertions just tickled my funny bone, because to me, Draymond possesses the best qualities of both guys. He’s the ultimate role player, like Grant was, doing the dirty work that makes the Warriors beautiful machine run smoothly. He’s a tenacious defender both in the post like Grant, and on the perimeter like Pippen. He’s also a perfect sidekick to a generational talent in Steph Curry, like Grant and Pippen were for Michael Jordan.
Can’t you imagine Scottie playing the 5 for a small-ball team in the modern NBA? That would have been abjectly terrifying, just like Draymond is when the Warriors run out their ‘small ball death squad’. He also passes the all-important ‘Madonna’ test, like Pippen. You can just call them Scottie, or Draymond. Everybody knows who you’re talking about.
Finally, just like Pippen and Grant, Draymond is a champion who came from humble beginnings. Both Pippen (5th) and Grant (10th) were drafted highly after starring in college, but came from Central Arkansas and Clemson respectively; they had potential, but neither was considered a sure thing. Green was a second round pick coming out of Michigan State and all anyone could focus on his was what he couldn’t do, instead of realizing the dynamic package he brought to the table.
Grant started for four champions and one finalist. He won three titles with the Bulls, left for Orlando, made another Finals, and then won another title late in his career with the Lakers. Scottie won his six rings in Chicago, and made another Conference Finals as the grey-beard leader of a young Blazers squad. I see Draymond going much the same route. He’ll be an instrumental piece in this current Golden State team for whatever their window is, but if he ever leaves, the attitude and abilities he brings to a team will translate no matter where he goes. And with Steph Curry sidelined for who knows how long, we’ll soon see what Draymond looks like in a more central role.
My prediction? He’ll do his NBA parents proud.
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