Was KG a Flawed Superstar?
Kevin Garnett is an eleven-time NBA All-Star, an eight-time All-NBA selection, and a former MVP. He is the all-time leader in NBA seasons played with averages of at least 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists per game.
He is the best player on a team with by far the best record in the NBA. That team, the Boston Celtics, went from one of the worst defensive teams in the league last year, to the best defensive team in the league this year. The Celtics lead the league in fewest points allowed per game, opponents' field goal percentage, opponents' three-point percentage, and fewest points in the paint allowed per game. KG, along with coach Tom Thibodeau, is given the lion's share of the credit for the Celtics stifling brand of defense.
Las Vegas has the Celtics odds-on-favorites to win their first NBA title in 22 years.
Yet the critics remain.
A Minneapolis sports radio station recently called Garnett a "flawed superstar," because unlike Magic, Bird, Jordan, and Kobe, Garnett doesn't demand the ball in crunch time, and even when he gets the ball during the final minutes, he seems content to pass the ball or shoot jumpers instead of driving to the hoop. This accusation is nothing new, but something critics have been saying for some time.
As the highest paid player on the team, Garnett should not be immune from criticism.
But before we go any further, let's get one thing straight:
There is no such thing as a flawless superstar. Every player, just like every human, has their Achilles heel.
Wilt--Lacked a killer instinct
Bird--Got into bar fights and drank too much beer
Jordan--Quit the Bulls in his prime to play baseball, and liked to gamble
Magic--Forced to cut his career short by risky, off-court behavior
Shaq--Free throws and conditioning
Kobe--Where to start?
And then there is Bill Russell. He of eleven rings fame. Like KG, he wasn't known as an offensive behemoth. As a player-coach, he often read the newspaper on the sidelines while the rest of the team practiced the seven plays from the playbook.
Which brings us to KG. He was an easy target for critics in Minnesota because McHale failed to surround him with any talent, and the one time McHale modestly succeeded in this regard, KG won regular season MVP on his way to taking the Wolves to the WCFs, before an injury to Cassell knocked them out of the playoffs.
This year KG is shattering expectations with the Celtics. Critics inclined to downplay KG's role in the turnaround need look no further than Red Auerbach to assess the greatness of any single player.
Red said he could make a case for any one of four or five players being the best of all time, but the question couldn't really be answered without considering the supporting cast. So not even Red would play favorites by choosing one of his own. Instead, he said it all comes down to the supporting cast.
Is KG still often inclined to pass the ball down the stretch?
Against San Antonio he had the ball in the final minute with one smaller player guarding him. Did he take the shot? Nope. He passed it to an even more wide open Sam Cassell, who just so happened to be standing behind the arc. Result? Swish. Game over.
Did KG win the game with a drive to the hoop, and an over-under scoop shot that wowed the crowd and will be captured on highlight reels for the rest of eternity? No. But he did make the correct decision, the best decision, and a decision that was celebrated by his teammates and Celtics fans. He'll never get the type of acclaim and fanfare for these plays that Kobe, Michael and LeBron get for flashier shows of offensive prowess. But KG's contributions are just as effective.
Let's not forget the first 43 minutes of the game either. The Celtics have won a league-leading number of games by 20 or more points this year. The same goes for wins by at least 10 points. No one would question that KG elevates his game above the competition during the first three-and-a-half quarters. And if the net result is one blowout win after another, isn't this just as impressive, maybe even more impressive, than one or two game winning shots down the stretch (for one of KG's most impressive early round KOs, look here)?
We know the alternative.
Paul Pierce showed us for several years.
Sticking your head down and plowing through double- and triple-teams is counterproductive, both to your own reputation and to the welfare of the team.
Is KG a flawed superstar?
But most of us, including I suspect his present teammates, would prefer the flaw of selflessness to other sins such as gambling, risky sexual behavior, lack of conditioning, beer-drinking, bar-room brawling, and the failure to develop a killer instinct.
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