Dwyane, LeBron and other humans
It's a gimmick that needs no introduction. It's a gimmick that says "I couldn't come up with a real column that has a beginning, middle and end," as well as "You're hopefully going to be entertained anyway." It's a gimmick that insinuates the rankings reflect a nationwide consensus, even though it's the opinion of one person and one person only. It's a gimmick that seemingly relies on a secret statistical formula, even though one doesn't actually exist. That's right, it's a power rankings column!
Here's my little twist: We're calling this the "2010 NBA Playoffs Human Power Rankings." Why? Because I Googled "2010 NBA Playoffs Human Power Rankings" and nothing came up. That means I'm the Christopher Columbus of this idea. Or at least the Christopher Cross. Without further ado ...
200. Jermaine O'Neal
We have a new basement for playoff contract runs: In 117 brutal minutes over five games, O'Neal missed 35 of 44 shots, missed four of seven free throws, grabbed just 28 rebounds and nearly finished with a negative PER (2.8) ... and that doesn't begin to describe how poorly he played. He was like the Bizarro 2004 Jerome James. When your fans are clamoring for Joel Anthony, you know something horrible is happening. On the bright side, you know Mark Cuban has a five-year, $33 million offer waiting for him.
199. Everyone on the Atlanta Hawks (tie)
Hang your heads in shame. You had home-court advantage, as well as six of the best eight players in the series (including the best three), and yet, you turned off your fans completely and totally and now need to win on the road to survive? You know it was a three-game bender when people from Seattle start sending me "You think we can get the Hawks?" e-mails.
177. Adrian Dantley
Winner of the 2010 Shooter From Hoosiers Award, for the overmatched playoff coach who generates the most e-mails from my readers comparing him to Shooter (in the scene when Norman Dale gets kicked out). Too bad this can't be a ceremony with last year's winner (Vinny Del Negro) putting a plaid jacket on him while a grinning Jim Nantz looks on.
156. Jason Kidd
Five games, 32.5 percent FG, 45 points total and five made 2-pointers as the Spurs have hugged him on the 3-point line and dared him to drive. On the other end, he can't stay in front of any quick guards ... which has been the case for three years, but still. And if that's not enough, he made Roddy Beaubois the fourth-most popular person in Dallas behind Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Romo and the guy who pooped on the floor of Bennett Salvatore's steakhouse in Stamford, Conn. (OK, that didn't happen. Yet.) Did I miss anything? I'm pretty sure Dallas could have gone 1-3 in playoff series from 2008 to 2010 had they just kept Devin Harris, two No. 1s and the extra $10 million. Almost positive. One of the biggest games of Kidd's career Thursday night.
152. Phil Jackson
Took until Game 5 for him to say, "Maybe I should put Kobe (my best perimeter defender) on Russell Westbrook (the guy who's killing us) and shift Derek Fisher (who can't defend anyone) to Thabo Sefolosha (who can't score and seems mildly terrified)." Actually, he didn't say it -- Kobe told him, "I'm guarding Westbrook tonight." Here's where Lakers fans say, "Come on, Phil was saving Kobe's legs!" Hooey. Had the Lakers pounded OKC inside (where they have an overwhelming advantage) and controlled Westbrook, they would have swept the series. Pretty sure that would have saved Kobe's legs. At the very least, they could have thrown Kobe on Westbrook in the Games 2 and 3 crunch times.
(Here's a good rule of thumb: If Jeff Green is defending Pau Gasol, you might want to get Pau Gasol the ball. In Game 2, Kobe took 28 shots, Gasol took 14. The next game, Kobe took 29 shots -- Gasol took nine. On what planet does this make sense? Not a good month for everyone in the "Kobe's finally getting it!" camp.)
144. The Clippers
I split my season tickets with my friend Tollin this year. We went to 21 games combined, gave away 15, and ate five games either because we couldn't find anyone or forgot there was a game. Of the 10 I attended, I enjoyed two. Not only does the Sports Gal refuse to go with me anymore, she refuses to allow me to bring my kids, explaining, "If you want them to like sports, this isn't going to help." Good point. Anyway, I took her to Game 2 of the Lakers-OKC series. After 2½ hours of staring at trophy wives, bimbos, celebrities, botched plastic surgeries and the guy sitting to our left who looked like he was hoping someone would cast him as the European assassin in "Taken 2," after a really entertaining game with a lively group of fans, and after seeing Kobe and Durant, she announced, "That's the first time I've had fun at a basketball game in I-don't-know-how-long."
(Translation: I don't think I'm getting those Clippers tickets again. You know who might get the nod? The Kings! Who's up for a year of hockey columns with a title like "Behind the Boards"? Anyone? Any takers? Anybody?)
123. Ray Felton
Made Jameer Nelson look good enough that I left the Magic series thinking, "Either Nelson has gone to another level and I need to reconfigure my 'Orlando can't make the Finals without a real go-to guy' statement, or Ray Felton is a career backup and should not earn more than $2.35 million a year."
119. Jeff Green/Thabo Sefolosha (tie)
This spring's proof of the "You can't count on young guys in the playoffs" theory. I can't blame Green because the Lakers chew up undersized power forwards. But Thabo desperately needs to go to Bruce Bowen Summer Camp, where aspiring stoppers learn how to make open corner 3s, *accidentally* trip opponents even though it's intentional, step on an opponent's toes as he's jumping, and make a convincing "What did I do????" face to the officials.
115. Shaquille O'Neal
Seemed a little winded in Games 4 and 5 of the Chicago series after hosting "Saturday Night Live" last weekend.
105. Michael Beasley
Hate to throw the "bust" word around after two years, so let's flip this around. You're watching the playoffs right now. Pretty competitive, right? Other than scoring, you need to rebound, defend and play hard to advance. Beasley can't do any of those three things. Play an undersized power forward against him (like Glen Davis in Game 2) and he gets eaten up. Stick a small forward on him (like Paul Pierce) and he can't post that guy up. Stick a traditional power forward on him (like Kevin Garnett) and he can't beat that guy off the dribble or prevent the guy from scoring on the low post. So what's left? I don't see any conceivable scenario in which this guy has a meaningful NBA career. Could he put up stats on a bad team? Of course. Anything else, I'm not seeing it. All of Pat Riley's fidgeting during the 2008 draft now makes perfect sense.
If Dwyane Wade ends up leaving this summer, it's because of two reasons:
A. The teams that ended up with O.J. Mayo (3) Russell Westbrook (4), Kevin Love (5), Danilo Gallinari (6), Eric Gordon (7), Brook Lopez (10), Jerryd Bayless (11), Robin Lopez (15), Serge Ibaka (24), Nic Batum (25) and George Hill (26) wouldn't trade those guys for Beasley right now. That's a borderline catastrophe. They got the 13th-best guy in the draft at No. 2.
B. Riley didn't sell his Beasley stock in time. The window was February, when a panicking Suns team happily would have green-lighted Beasley (making $19.4 million from 2011-2013), Udonis Haslem's expiring deal and a protected 2010 No. 1 for Amar'e Stoudemire. If you're Miami, why not? Amar'e gets a taste of Miami for a few months; you get the chance to offer him a sixth year and more money; worst-case scenario, you have his sign-and-trade rights this summer; you can make a 2010 playoffs run with the Wade-Amar'e combo; and you potentially have a 2010-11 nucleus of Wade, Amar'e and Free Agent Star X.
If you're Wade, would you stick around and put your basketball prime in the hands of someone who just botched those two decisions? Or would you flip teams and opt for a safer situation? More on this later.
91. Memo Okur
The Jazz became unbeatable after he blew out his Achilles tendon in Game 1, only he's not good enough to qualify for the Ewing Theory. Tough year for NBA players from Turkey.
(Speaking of tough years, as Falcon in Edmonton points out, "Is it just me or is the NBA pimping season tickets for next year kind of like going back home after being away for a few years and having the previously untouchable high school hottie being way drunk and begging you to take her home? I mean, she's still good looking, but I'm a little short on cash and really don't want to dish out for brunch tomorrow ... ")
80. Portland's brain trust
I tweeted it at the time and I'll write it again: Allowing Brandon Roy to play that soon in the Phoenix series is the kind of short-term, short-sighted decision you make when your front office is in complete disarray. It was Roy's job to claim he could play, and it was Portland's job to say, "We can't take the risk, especially with our injury history over the past 35 years and the way our medical staff has blown some of its decisions these past couple of years. Athletes get hurt when they're slightly out of shape and don't quite trust their bodies yet. We don't care that you've been cleared; we're not winning the title this year, anyway. Practice with us for a few days and, if it goes well, we'll bring you back for Game 6." Any franchise that has its basketball people and owners on the same page plays it that way.
75. Joey Crawford
Why the NBA Shouldn't Have Old Refs, Vol. 9,817.
69. Dwight Howard
The good news: Orlando swept Charlotte despite Howard missing 22 of 35 free throws, making just 13 field goals and committing a staggering 22 fouls (tying a playoff record for a four-game sweep, according to ESPN Stats & Information ace researcher Alok Pattani). Throw in Vince Carter's lousy performance (20-56 FG, 1-17 on 3s) and everyone who argued that the Magic's superior depth was their biggest strength was feeling good. It's true -- the Magic can survive multiple stinkbombs from their best six guys and still win any given game. Noted.
On the other hand, many still believe Howard will make a leap of sorts (think Shaq in 1999-2000). Someday. If you believe this, you believe that -- eventually -- he will learn to stop getting whistled for dumb fouls and getting roped into double technicals, stop jumping over people's backs, become more of a viable low-post threat, make a higher percentage of free throws and so on. Are you sure? The following post-1970 centers peaked statistically as scorers/rebounders within the first seven seasons of their career: Kareem (Year 2); Mutombo (Year 2); McAdoo (Year 3); Moses (Year 4); Cowens (Year 3); Walton (Year 4); Mourning (Year 4); Ewing (Year 5); Yao (Year 5); Robinson (Year 5); Daugherty (Year 5); and Parish (Year 6). If you believe Howard can still get better, you're banking on two points: He came right out of high school (possibly setting his Peaking Clock back a couple of years), and Hakeem Olajuwon peaked super-late (Year 10). The odds are much better that Howard is who he is at this point.
My take hasn't changed: If you're an Orlando fan, you know that you have the best rebounder/shot-blocker in the league -- by a decent margin, actually -- but you also know that you can't run plays for him in crunch time (nor does he want you to), you wince every time he gets fouled, and you fret constantly about keeping him on the floor in playoff games. Were three of the Game 4 fouls called against Howard totally unfair? Yes. Did he have every right to complain about them? Yes. But officials don't give foul-happy players the benefit of the doubt, and the fact remains, Howard's current foul-per-game rate (4.3 in 41 playoff games) is the seventh-worst of anyone who ever played 40-plus playoff games and the worst rate of anyone since Lonnie Shelton ... who retired 24 years ago. Yikes.
(The good news for Magic fans: If the Hawks complete their epic collapse this weekend, Howard gets to feast on a Kurt Thomas/Dan Gadzuric/Ersan Ilyasova trio in Round 2. The Bucks might have to bring Andrew Bogut back for that series, stick a hard plaster cast on his arm like Iron Mike Sharpe, then throw him out there to club Howard around. Could you beat the Magic with Hack-A-Howard by using 24 fouls a game? Don't think Scott Skiles isn't mulling it over.)
67. Mark Cuban
From the "Damn, I wish I had thought of this before I picked these guys to make the Finals" files: After I submitted my playoff preview, a reader (sorry, lost the e-mail) lambasted me by basically saying, "Simmons, you realize you just picked a team that changed 40 percent of its crunch-time roster in February to beat the Popovich/Duncan/Manu/Parker nucleus in Round 1, right? Experience and continuity wins championships. I thought you were smart." Yeah, but still.
62. Vince Carter
In his honor, I'm mailing this paragraph in.
52. Chauncey Billups
You might remember me making the "We need to stop calling Chauncey 'Mr. Big Shot'" case as he was disappearing from the 2007 Cleveland series (scroll down to No. 3). Since then, he struggled in the 2008 Pistons-Celts series (16.5 PPG 39 percent FG shooting), disappeared in the last two games of the 2009 Lakers-Nuggets series (12 points in Game 5, 10 points in Game 6) and was dominated by Deron Williams through four games until showing signs of life Wednesday night. In my playoff preview two weeks ago, I mentioned that Chauncey had done just enough to make the Hall of Fame Pyramid of the paperback of my book. After watching the 2010 Nuggets implode, and after watching Williams (28.2 PPG, 11.6 APG, 51 percent FG) have his way with Chauncey for two weeks ... I don't know. Tough one.
41. Ron Artest
Durant is earning his playoff Masters at Artest College right now. Not so easy to make 50 percent of your shots with someone built like an NFL tight end shoving/pushing/grabbing/clutching you and making you work to get free on every screen and every pick. This current version of Artest was put on earth to defend two guys: Carmelo and Durant. Still, he remains an offensive liability (34 percent shooting, 5-for-27 on 3s in the series) ... and if you think he's going to make it through four rounds without getting kicked out of the wrong game, bitching at the wrong ref or melting down at the wrong time, you're crazier than he is.
36. Quentin Richardson
Who would have thought that a washed-up swingman on his way out of the league -- and not Doc Rivers, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen or Danny Ainge -- would be the one who finally woke up the 2009-10 Boston Celtics (and their fans) from their four-month nap? Thank you, Q. Thank you. I actually like watching my team again.
31. Serge Ibaka
Let's say Sam Presti resigned, OKC hired me to run the team, David Stern announced that the league was adding 10 more teams, and there was a mega-expansion draft coming in June in which I could protect only three of my players. (I know, this isn't the most likely scenario. Just bear with me.) I would protect Durant, Westbrook ... and Serge Ibaka. It's true.
(Random note: I'm not sure someone named "Serge Ibaka" needs a nickname. That's a strong name. He sounds like the villain in a James Bond flick -- as in, the world is going to blow up unless 007 can stop Serge Ibaka. But every time an announcer screams Ibaka's name -- and it's happened a few times in this Lakers series -- it always sounds a little like "Chewbacca." Which makes me wonder if we could get away with calling him "Chewie." Just throwing it out there. And while we're on the subject, let's stop with the "Durantula" crap. We should be calling Kevin Durant "Plastic Man." That's what he is. We made a mistake collectively approving that nickname for Stacey Augmon 20 years ago; it didn't work out; and we should get a mulligan. Kevin Durant should be Plastic Man. Freaky-long arms, crazy reach, superhero tendencies ... what am I missing?)
27. Antawn Jamison
Forgot how good that trade was.
26. Manu Ginobili
Forgot how much I missed watching him. He's one of like five current players who could get away with playing with a giant maxi-pad on his face.
23. Steve Javie, Mark Wunderlich (tie)
Forgot how few good refs there are. We lost these guys (both crew chiefs) for the playoffs to injuries and it made Round 1 about 9.73 percent worse.
20. Russell Westbrook
Forgot how breathtaking he is to watch in person. My "So Much Better To Watch In Person Than On TV" Team for the 2009-10 Season: Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade (guards); Kevin Durant, LeBron James, (forwards); Dwight Howard (center); Josh Smith, Westbrook, Rajon Rondo, Tyreke Evans, Gerald Wallace, Pau Gasol, Amare Stoudemire (bench); Anthony Randolph, Yao Ming, Eddy Curry (injured list).
19. Gregg Popovich
Forgot how good of a coach he was. A masterful job this season juggling lineups, adjusting to Duncan's offensive decay, bringing guys back from injuries and aiming for a late-April peak. I never thought he could pull it off in time.
18. Kobe Bryant
His performance in Game 4's blowout (when he shared the ball a little too blatantly, with a petulant demeanor, as if he was saying, "Fine, Phil, if you want us to pound it inside, then I'm doing that and not even pretending I might shoot") looked even worse after his Game 5 performance (when he controlled the flow of the game despite taking just nine shots in a classic "the stats didn't reflect how well someone played" performance. The reason we bitch about Game 4 Kobe is because we know Game 5 Kobe exists. And so does he.
15. Jason Richardson
2010's most unlikely do-or-die NBA player. When he's good, you can't beat the Suns. When he sucks, you can absolutely beat the Suns. Don't believe me? During the season, he averaged 17.8 PPG, 52% FG and 46% 3FG in wins ... and 11.7 PPG, 39.3% FG and 25% 3FG in losses. In the playoffs, he scored 84 points (58% FG) in Phoenix's three wins and 29 points (31% FG) in its two losses. So if he plays four good games every series ... and the Suns win every one of those games ... I mean ...
13. John Salmons
A playoff warrior last spring ... so we can't be surprised that he's a playoff warrior this spring. Yet another guy Miami could have plucked this season. By the way, I'm demanding Captain Lou Albano-like rubber bands in Salmons' beard before Game 6.
12. Danny Crawford
Just the facts according to our guy Alok Pattani. Starting with the 2001 playoffs:
A. The Mavs are 2-16 in playoff games officiated by Crawford since 2001 (including Game 3 of the Spurs series, a loss) ... and 46-39 in all other playoff games. They won their first 2001 playoff game with him (Game 5 versus Utah), so they've lost 15 of the past 16.
B. Against the spread, the Mavs are 4-14 with Crawford officiating ... and 45-40 in all other playoff games.
C. They averaged 21.9 free throws in the Crawford games; 27.1 free throws in the non-Crawford games.
So why does Danny rank so highly in the power rankings? Because any NBA official who can keep his job post-Donaghy with a documented history of bias against a particular team has to be commended. I'm being sarcastic. What a joke. The league could easily avoid these situations by admitting that, yes, from time to time, a team rubs an official the wrong way, and officials are human, and there's nothing we can do about this other than making sure the official and the team cross paths as little as possible -- like Crawford and Dallas, like Bill Kennedy and Boston, like Joey Crawford and San Antonio (1-4 in Crawford's five Spurs playoff games since he was suspended for ejecting Tim Duncan in 2007) -- but apparently it's easier to stick our heads in the sand and pretend this stuff isn't going on. You know, because Tim Donaghy's documented-by-the-FBI, staggeringly successful record of picking winners by playing on the biases of officials against certain teams didn't really happen. Even though it did. Let's just move on.
10. Bucks fans
FEAR THE DEER! FEAR THEM! YOU MUST FEAR THE DEER! COWER, DUCK YOUR HEAD AND PEE IN YOUR PANTS! FEAR THE DEER!!!!!!!!!!
(Follow-up note: I am expecting one of the great basketball crowds of the past 15 years in Milwaukee on Friday night. Just know that if it wasn't my daughter's birthday this weekend, I would have walked from Los Angeles to be at that game. OK, not really. But I would have done just about anything. Maybe for Round 2. Hold your heads high, people of Milwaukee. You proved this season that small market basketball can work with the right group of fans.)
9. Ray Allen
His last four Miami games: 22.3 PPG, 58% FG, 19-of-32 3s. He continues to be the most underrated summer free agent because you could, conceivably, get him with the midlevel exception after signing two other big guns. Let's say LeBron goes to the Knicks, convinces Joe Johnson to join him, and then the Knicks sign-and-trade David Lee for Chris Bosh ... or as Knicks fans call it, "Our Wet Dream Scenario." Add Ray Allen and Danilo Gallinari to the mix, sprinkle in some Mike D'Antoni and the 2010-11 Wet Dream Knicks would score 120 points a game. I'm just sayin'.
(Fast-forward to August, when Knicks fans are trying to talk themselves into Joe Johnson, Carlos Boozer and the Baron Davis-for-Eddy Curry trade and sending me e-mails like "Screw you Simmons! You got my hopes up with the Wet Dream Knicks! I hope you die a slow death!")
8. Roger Goodell
Moved his NFL draft head-to-head against the NBA and NHL playoffs, came out of it with a 7.1 rating ... and nary a peep of protest from the NBA except for Mark Cuban. I have too much respect for the Stern era to make the "This never would have happened if David Stern was still alive" joke. But I did think about it.
7. Jameer Nelson
Played well enough down the stretch of the regular season, and then in Round 1, that "What if Jameer Nelson had been healthy in the 2009 Finals?" has become a legitimate "What If?"
6. Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah (tie)
Their 2010 playoff performances were a co-written love letter to LeBron and Wade. Here's what the letter said:
Dear LeBron and Dwyane,
We are wired correctly. We give a crap. We want to win. We are really really good. We are warriors. We could absolutely be the second-best and third-best guys on a team that wins multiple titles. Sadly, this can't happen without one of you. Please think about Chicago. It's cold during the winter, but during the spring and summer, there's no better place. It's the No. 3 TV market. It's the city that once had the greatest player ever. We're firing our coach and GM this summer; if you want, you can pick the next two guys. We want to win titles. Not title ... titles. By the way, Joakim wants you to know that he isn't nearly as annoying if he's your teammate.
Joakim and Derrick
5. Brandon Jennings
All Jennings did in this Atlanta series was announce to everyone, "I get better when it matters." There aren't 20 guys in the league wired like that. Who knew? And on that note, the entire Knicks fan base will throw Molotov cocktails at one another.
4. George Karl
Big postseason for the "NBA Coaches Matter" camp: Jerry Sloan's system trumping the injury bug in Utah; Popovich piecing together a difficult situation in San Antonio; Scott Skiles pulling off one of the three great Round 1 coaching jobs of the past 10 years (along with Rick Carlisle in 2005 and Don Nelson in 2007); Scottie Brooks weaning Ibaka and James Harden perfectly during the regular season (and having both guys shine in the playoffs); Alvin Gentry smartly building his bench's confidence during the regular season, then having that trust pay off when the bench guys carried Phoenix to a Game 5 win; and, of course, Denver's semi-collapse without Karl running the show.
Is it possible that coaches are getting better? We have eight good ones right now: the five above, plus Nate McMillan, Larry Brown and Phil Jackson. Throw in Doc Rivers, Mike Brown, Rick Adelman, Stan Van Gundy and Rick Carlisle as "at the very least, they've been competent and haven't derailed good teams" guys. That's 13. If you count Lionel Hollins (40-42 for that goofy Memphis team) and Jeff Van Gundy (currently working for ABC), that's almost a half-league of decent-to-great coaches! Hubie Brown is sobbing with joy right now.
3. LeBron James
Allow me to nitpick "Mona Lisa" for a second. In Game 4, he played one of the best random playoff games I have ever seen in my life: 37 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists, one half-court shot, seven missed shots total (including free throws), one hellacious block and 36 minutes of cutthroat, MJ-like intensity. You could tell by his face within 20 seconds of tipoff that the Cavs weren't losing that game.
One game later, the Cavs were about to close out Chicago. LeBron is at the line, up three, with seven seconds remaining. His elbow is bothering him. He wants us to know this. He makes the first free throw to clinch the game. For the second free throw, he shifts his stance and shoots it left-handed ... and misses it. During Chicago's ensuing possession, he holds his limp arm like it's broken and winces through the final play. In the postgame interviews, he claims that he's fine, and nobody pushes him on it ... meanwhile, HE SHOT A FREE THROW LEFT-HANDED IN A FOUR-POINT PLAYOFF GAME! What??????????? Either ...
A. His elbow is genuinely injured and the Celtics have a chance in Round 2.
B. LeBron caught the Flu Game on ESPN Classic, said to himself, "I'm too indestructible right now, this is becoming a no-win situation. If I win the title, everyone will say I should have won the title. Maybe I'll milk this elbow injury, lower everyone's expectations a little and generate some false sympathy heading into Round 2."
It's one or the other. Either way, the door has been opened for a once-dead 2009-10 Celtics team. Just a little.
(By the way, Casey in Hoboken, N.J., has a great idea for Boston fans in Round 2: "It's been the story all year, yet no crowd has used it to their advantage. If this was college basketball we would have heard it months ago. Imagine 18,000 fans chanting "LEBRON IS LEAVING" or "NEW YORK KNICKS!" every time LeBron was shooting free throws. It may not distract LeBron, but all his teammates would definitely get affected. Right?" Right. I'd take it a step further: If the Celtics blow out Cleveland in Game 3 or Game 4, they just sing Sinatra's entire "New York, New York" song. Any edge counts.)
2. Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer (tie)
We learned a valuable lesson here: No "injury-riddled team" can be counted out in the playoffs if they still have their best two guys. By the way, I'm about to have a Shawn Michaels/Marty Janetty moment with Chris Paul ... so hold on tight ... but I can't fight it anymore. Deron Williams is officially the best point guard alive. For the old "Independence Day" scenario in which aliens land on earth and challenge us to a game of basketball for the future of the universe, if we could pick only five guys, Williams, LeBron, Wade, Howard and Melo would have to be the five.
(Well, unless you're a Lakers fan. Then you'd pick LeBron, Bynum, Gasol, Kobe and Jordan Farmar.)
1. Dwyane Wade
His Game 4 against the Celtics (46 points, just eight missed shots) was one of the highest degree-of-difficulty performances I can ever remember watching. It had already been established that (A) his team sucked, (B) the Celtics were going to swarm him at the 3-point line any time he thought about driving, (C) they were going to double him coming off any screen, and (D) any time he drove into the paint, the entire Boston team was going to collapse on him. Didn't matter. After he caught fire in the fourth, the Celtics double-teamed him 35 feet from the basket. He still got his points. This wasn't a great game as much as a great performance -- to paraphrase the great Bill Walton, Wade controlled the flow of the game and did it with real meaning.
An NBA performance can come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. For instance, you can have ...
"The Torch Pass" -- When a younger great player yanks the torch away from an older great player. Like Bird outscoring Doc 42-6 in 1984, leading to their crazy fight.
"The Robert Altman" -- When someone controls every aspect of a basketball game without scoring, almost like a director would control a movie. Only Bird and Magic could do this consistently ... although LeBron has it in him.
"The Angelina Jolie in 'Mr. and Mrs. Smith'" -- When a potential free agent is playing on the road in a potential destination city and turns it on a little, and in return, the crowd raises it a level as well. Think LeBron in New York.
"The Severe Gut Check" -- When a veteran star(s) is running on fumes and grits out one of those "There's no way in hell I'm losing this" playoff games. Best example: Jordan and Pippen, Game 7, 1998 Eastern Finals versus Indiana. Just an FYI: We might see Kobe pull one or two of these off this spring. I'm excited.
"The Mitchell & Ness Throwback" -- When a slightly-past-his-prime star reaches into the throwback machine and submits a monster game. My favorite recent one: Shaq's 36-20 in Game 4 of the 2004 Finals. His last truly dominant game.
"The Billy Chapel" -- When a mostly washed-up player catches fire one last time. Think Steve Kerr against Dallas in the 2003 playoffs, or Big Shot Rob in Game 5 of the 2005 Finals.
"The Dueling Banjos" -- When two great players bring the best out in each other on a big stage. Think Bird and Dominique, Game 7, 1988 playoffs.
"The Willis Reed" -- When an injured player defies the odds, returns at home and makes a few big plays. We just had one of these! Brandon Roy in Game 4. And no, I still don't think he should have played.
"The Michael Jackson Moonwalk" -- When a future superstar puts himself on the map with one of those "In case there wasn't any doubt, I am here to stay" moments (like Jordan's 63 in the Boston Garden). Yes, I am hoping for a Durant Moonwalk Game Friday night in Game 6 or in Game 7. Keep your fingers crossed.
"The Eff You" -- When a star destroys a team with particular zeal. My personal favorite: Bird in Game 6 of the 1986 Finals. The best example: Jordan's Game 4 versus the '93 Knicks (54 points and at least 10 eff you moments).
"The Eff You In Particular" -- When a star destroys a rival with particular zeal. Like Jordan ruining Drexler in Game 1 of the 1992 Finals, or Hakeem watching David Robinson accept the 1994 MVP trophy (then dismantling him completely and totally), or MJ hitting the buzzer-beater in the first game of the 1997 Finals after "MVP" Karl Malone missed two free throws. Just for the record, I absolutely LOVE the "Eff You In Particular" game. My favorite of favorites.
"The Degree of Difficulty" -- When a star shines as efficiently and splendidly as possible. It's almost like a perfect figure skating routine. Had Wade played Game 4 any worse than he did, Miami would have been swept. He had to nail his triple axels, his double toe loops, everything. It was a 9.9 on the Degree of Difficulty Scale.
"The Virtuoso Evisceration" -- When a star completely and totally destroys a team Keyser Soze style without any real provocation. He's just doing it for sport and carving a manufactured challenge into a real one. As in, "I haven't proved this in a while, I thought it would be fun to kick some butt." That's what LeBron did in Game 4 against Chicago. Only the greats can pull this off. It's the highest level you can hit.
Here's the point: I know that Wade, depending on the situation, can hit nearly every one of those aforementioned levels. But the last one? I don't know. He might be on the Virtuoso Evisceration level, he might not. We won't know until he plays for a very good team in a city that gives a crap about basketball. He should sign with Chicago. He should force a sign-and-trade to Dallas. He should do something. We know Dwyane Wade is great. We just don't know how great. He owes it to himself to find out.
Bill Simmons is a columnist for ESPN.com and the author of the recent New York Times best-seller "The Book of Basketball." For every Simmons column and podcast, check out Sports Guy's World. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sportsguy33.
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