By Ian Parfrey @Ianparfrey
So there I am, after my daughter wakes me up around sunrise, halfassedly reading a profile of Beyonce in New York magazine while trying to get in a few more minutes under the covers, when I experience what is either a basketball epiphany, or a hairline fracture of my brain. It begins with J.R. Smith, who once scored 60 points against a team called the Qingdao Eagles, once made eleven threes in a game, once lost $25,000 to David Stern for tweeting a picture of his girlfriend’s ass, and once accidentally killed a childhood friend, all before he turned 28.
There is a tendency, of the little bit of Nate Silver in all of us, to get caught up in the mechanical achievements of LeBron, who will someday figure out a way to score 50 points on 20-of-19 shooting, and forget the side of the game that’s about entertainment and personal expression. J.R. Smith pays a price for this expression. For one thing, he makes less than Mirza Teletovic. For another, his former coach, George Karl, once called his sometimes-boneheaded play “an insult to the dignity of the game.”
In Mike Woodson, Smith has finally found a coach who is willing to let him play through his many mistakes. On January 24, Smith was shooting 2-of-15 in a close game in Boston, which was either going to become the Honey Nut Cheerios Revenge game, or collapse the Knicks’ fragile egos for good. In the final 90 seconds, Smith nailed the go-ahead three, and made two big defensive plays on Paul Pierce.
Let’s take a step back here (as J.R. loves to do). The whiny stat nerd in us can point out that if Smith had been able to hit the side of a barn in the game’s first 46 minutes, we would have been watching James White practicing his dunking on Jason Collins in the game’s final minute. Hey, that guy needs to shut up. He’s about as much fun as the kid in my college dorm who said, “we’re going to have to stop doing all these drugs and get jobs someday.”
Smith is a riveting presence out there, even if he’s shooting 2-for-200. Can you say that about LeBron and his boring physical dominance? Superstardom doesn’t have to be rote and joyless– the late career of Kobe Bryant certainly proves that. Watch him on this year’s Laker train wreck, looking like Michael in Reggie Miller’s body, shooting– and usually making– ridiculous circus shots because he doesn’t trust his new teammates. It’s the most watchable Kobe’s ever been.
That brings us to the Brooklyn Nets. I prefer to think the soul of the team isn’t the sore-ankled coach-killer Deron Williams, or Joe “Wake Me Up When We Get to Crunch Time” Johnson. It could be Reggie Evans, except we cringe every time Evans has the ball more than six inches from the basket. Yes, Evans is about the furthest thing from poetry in motion. He’s got all the finesse of a badly balanced sledgehammer. It could be Brook Lopez in a few years, once he grows some veteran hair on his chest. But, not so secretly, many of us want the soul of the Nets to be MarShon Brooks.
You can’t say that the bazillion-dollar backcourt has performed up to expectations, and yet the Nets are on pace to win 47 games, and could get the #3 seed if they exert themselves a little. The East is easy, full of Raptors and Wizards and Bobcats and Magic (we made our superstar disappear!). Maybe it’s time to dust off MarShon, and let him do the thing he does far better than C.J. Watson– score the damn ball. Brooks was second in the nation in scoring two years ago at Providence. He holds the all-time Big East single-game scoring record, with 52 points against Notre Dame. Clearly, he’s capable. As the fans, we should demand tip dunks, ankle-breaking crossovers, demoralizing pull-up jumpers right in the defender’s mug. Why can’t we be entertained, and win games at the same time? If you need an advanced stat to feel comfortable with this, compare the dunk-to-pout ratios of MarShon and Deron. Honestly, we’re going to be watching Heat-Thunder finals for the next five years anyway. If that’s the case, the least the Nets can do is entertain us. While winning 50-plus games, of course.