This is going to be one of those articles where I try and give credit to all the guys people say I don't give enough credit to. There will the usual stuff at the end you would expect and will inevitably get pissed off about, because I can't leave you hanging like that. But I did want to get some thoughts on it.
- Lamar Odom is, and I can't stress how nauseated this makes me feel about myself, my favorite player outside of David West to watch in the playoffs. Versatility is not necessarily the best asset for a player to have, too often it leads to a little bit of everything, not enough of what's needed. But man, is it fun to watch. And Lamar Odom is the king of it right now. The flashes of brilliance he showed with Wade and Butler in Miami have been extrapolated into a total performance, mixed with veteran experience, and a confidence that comes with not having to be "the man." To be perfectly honest? Pau Gasol isn't playing that well. He's not that aggressive, he's a lousy defender unless you come straight at him (luckily, Carlos Boozer is all about going right at guys bigger than him; it's like he enjoys being blocked), and a lot of his points are coming off of blown assignments and mismatches. Those are primarily being created by Lamar Odom. Somewhere along the way, Phil Jackson managed to penetrate Odom's thick skull and say "Hey. We're going to limit your options to four choices if you get the ball. Floater, dunk/layup, touch pass to Gasol, pass back to Kobe." And released of the burden of making a complicated decision or being a powerful inside force, Odom has relaxed, and become awesome. He's like Charlie Sheen. When he stopped trying to be succesful, he was. The touch pass to Gasol is my favorite, because it cycles so fast. The defense and the viewer is so enthralled by watching Kobe, that they can't follow the off the ball movement between Gasol and Odom. When Kobe drives and kicks, the defense overreacts expecting a spot shooter, only to find Odom touch passing to Gasol beneath the basket.
- Kobe Bryant is a phenomenal basketball player. Shocker. I know. But despite what people said this season? He really didn't make his teammates better. He was Kobe being Kobe and the rest of the team was better so that helped. Yes his drive and kick was better because he had improved perimeter shooters and Bynum and later Gasol certainly helped. But there wasn't the same kind of play that made you really appreciate what he was doing to make good players great. His advocates will try and sell you that. Don't buy it. Watch the tape. He was still a scorer looking for people making themselves available to benefit from his brilliance instead of working with them. That's all over now. Bryant is actively working as a ... God this is weird to say ... part of a team. He's making the right decision in almost every situation, outside of Game 4 when the pain seemed to convince him to somehow go back to the old ways. My favorite moment of Game 6? Jordan Farmer airballs another shot and promptly makes a terrible foul. As he walks to the sideline, pissed at himself for yet another in a long line of failures he's suffered in this round, muttering at himself, Kobe, grabs him, and pats him on the back of his head. Kobe says "It's aight. It's cool, Jordan." This is not the same Bryant we've seen. And it should be terrifying for every other team in the league.
- Deron Williams is absurdly talented. He's brilliant. The best thing about him is his size for a point guard. He's meastly. He's like a powder keg. He's not wiry at all, and yet he doesn't suffer from a lack of speed, either. His step back three may be the most dangerous in the league by a point guard right now. Paul's better when he sets his feet. Kidd can't shoot anymore. Nash thrives off the dribble in almost a runner situation. But Deron has a ridiculous ability to get off a shot quickly and with no warning. It's almost indefensible. Maybe one day he'll actually have someone to lob it to who can produce down low.
- Mehmet Okur killed the Jazz in this series. They were depending on him to be an effective down low player and instead he went back to "Look at me! I'm big and can shoot a three! Wheee!"mode. That's not going to cut it, kids. When Pau Gasol out-toughs you in the paint, you've got problems. The Jazz have all these talented big guys that can rebound and block shots and yet none of them can put together a complete game. Unfortunate.
- I wanted to believe that Utah actually had what it takes. But of course, they don't. This team is fundamentally flawed in a variety of ways, including but not limited to their inability to get buckets when they need to, a lack a poise, Boozer's inability to understand his skills and dominate with them, Mehmet Okur, the inability to continuously play the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors in every round, and the fact that they center a severe amount of minutes on Matt Harpring.
- Andrei Kirilenko cleared the visa trip. I know he cleared the visa trip. And players have lives outside of the game. And I get that. And I respect that. But can you see Lamar Odom skipping practice the day before an elimination game? How about Peja Stojakovic? Manu Ginobili? How about Paul Pierce? Tayshaun Prince? Hedo Turkoglu? Yeah. Me neither.
- The Lakers are unquestionably the team no one wants to face right now. Their defense also has a lot of holes that they might want to shore up at one of them there fancy dinner parties.