A Meditation on Movement

Posted by David Hopkins on October 30, 2012 under Commentary | 2 Comments to Read

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“I have need of a new Herald…” – Galactus, Devourer of Worlds

Tonight, Darren Collison debuts as the Mavericks’ starting point guard. I wrote last week about the expectations that burden and bless O.J. Mayo, and in some regards, it’s amazing how similar the fates of Mayo and Collison are. Both had standout rookie years. Both had starting-caliber production, but were moved to bench. And both have been acquired by the Mavericks to “replace” popular guards, Jason Terry and Jason Kidd. However, while Mayo will be scrutinized for his ability to reproduce Terry, most people are letting Collison off the hook. After all, we know he’s no Jason Kidd. Shrug your shoulders and move on, right? It’s as if Mavs fans collectively agreed there are only two kinds of point guards — good point guards who play like Jason Kidd and then everyone else.

Darren Collison is not Jason Kidd. Kidd has this ability to make the ball magically appear in the hands of whomever he wants. If Kidd wanted the child in section 111, row M, seat 3 to get the ball, then by god, that child would have the ball. Collison can’t do that. But what Collison offers is, in some ways, just as mythic and powerful: Speed. It’s Collison’s birthright, and crucial to every bit of his NBA success.

From the 2012-13 edition of Pro Basketball Prospectus:

“Collison’s best asset is no secret. The son of two sprinters—his mom was an Olympian in 1984, representing Guyana—Collison might be the league’s fastest player from end to end.”

He carries the ball like Mercury, like Hermes, like Iris. Like a messenger from the gods, Collison can move.

The Herald and the Power

What does it mean to fast, to transverse from point to point across the hardwood plane?

The herald archetype in ancient mythology is sometimes designated with wings on his ankles or an iconic lightning bolt in his hand, a god of transitions and boundaries, moving freely between the worlds of the mortal and the divine. In some mythic traditions, he is the trickster. He’s the fast one. He sends a message.

In basketball, three things punctuate a message: accuracy, strength, and speed. Accuracy is the jump shot, the three-pointer, and the humble (if maddening) free throw. Players pause, contemplating the arc of the message. It’s the period at the end of the sentence. Strength can take mortal form in the slam dunk — sometimes a message delivered upon another individual as an exclamation mark. Speed takes form in the fast break. It’s a message given to the entire team, a question mark. What the hell just happened? Repeated fast breaks and gratuitous displays of speed can wear down an opposing team’s will to live. Thus, a fast break ending in a slam dunk can be appropriately punctuated: ?!

On offense, speed says, “Catch me.”

On defense, speed says, “Try to get past me.”

To teammates, speed says, “Hurry up.”

Speed can be an affront to the very laws of physics, as to be fast is to be everywhere within time and space. Does the herald speed up or does his existence on the court slow the rest of the world down? (I call it ‘The Barbosa Effect.’)

Collison can bring the Dallas Mavericks back to race. For years, the Mavs have depended on the punctuated accuracy of Kidd, Terry, and Nowitzki. With Collison, plans can be set aside for the wild improvisation of a fast break.

Verbs for Point Guards

The herald blurs between the world of substance and motion, nouns and verbs. Last night, I spent an hour or two researching (i.e. YouTube) the foot movement of Maverick point guards. What verbs best describe their voyage?

Steve Nash stomps and stutters. When he moves, he moves as if intentionally wanting to make squeaky sneaker noises on the court. Nash’s motion is best defined within confined spaces where he navigates.

Nick Van Exel bops and floats. He utilizes a hypnotic motion to paralyze his opponent before he continues his journey.

Devin Harris shifts and spins. He moves as if gravity stirred and is pulling him down the court. Harris is the only other Mavericks point guard who can rival Collison in distance over time. At the 2009 Eastern Conference All-Star practice, Harris dribbled from baseline to baseline in 3.9 seconds, which garnered him a Guinness World Record.

J.J. Barea scrambles. I know he was a fan-favorite, but he was incredibly annoying to watch. Barea weaved around the court, sometimes without reason. He made easy things look hard. And to fans, it all looked like “hustle.”

Jason Kidd jogs. As the antithesis to Barea, Kidd’s movement is all about economy. Simple, boring economy of movement. Kidd transports the ball past the half court line, forever vigilant for an open teammate. Occasionally, you will see a burst of motion. His opponents are just as surprised as you are.

Delonte West skips and shuffles. His steps on the court mirror his much-publicized bipolar disorder. The skip is West, innocent and free spirited. But a second later, it’s gone and he shuffles, disgruntled and full of dark clouds. The next thing you know, he’s skipping again. West befuddles his opponent and scores.

Darren Collison glides. He coasts along the surface with smooth strides. It’s movement that cherishes speed in its most graceful form. As a point guard, he may be looking to receive the down-court pass more than offering it. If he improves his ability to finish at the end, the young Collison may be with the team for a long while.

Running to Stand Still

Nowitzki is the constant in the modern era of Dallas Mavericks basketball, and the personality of each separate epoch seems defined by the starting point guard. Nash to Harris to Kidd. Dallas, a city obsessed with the legacy of quarterbacks, carries some of that obsession over to the NBA’s closest (if not somewhat inaccurate) analog. What will Collison bring? He glides. He races. He brings energy and pace. Something the Mavericks sorely lacked last season. But mostly, you’ll hear people say he’s no Jason Kidd.

David Hopkins is a freelance writer — a regular contributor to D Magazine and Smart Pop Books. He’s still looking for a good place to watch tonight’s game. Follow David on Twitter at @davidhopkins.

  • Ryan

    The toughest transition for point guards since Steve left has always been how well they can get Dirk the ball in his spots. If Collison (and Mayo) cannot do that effectively this season then it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

  • jc castro

    good read. perfect metaphors. i liked the punctuation marks reference best