Perhaps the most interesting stat line in Saturday night’s loss to the Spurs came from Wolves rookie Zach Lavine. Lavine scored 22 points and had 10 assists. It was his second-best game of the season. (Eds. Note: Lavine’s best game was his career-high 28 point night in the Wolves last win, against the Lakers in Los Angeles, on November 28.)
Take Lavine’s numb#rs with a grain of salt: Lavine, starting again at the point in place of the injured Ricky Rubio and Mo Williams, was going against the Spurs’ second unit. Tony Parker, the Spurs’ superstar point guard, had tweaked a hamstring injury the night before in the Spurs win at Memphis, and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich sat Parker on Saturday against the Wolves.
(Eds. Note: Pop also sat star guard Manu Ginobili in the game but played Tim Duncan, who fucked around and got a triple-double the night before in the Spurs win over the Grizzlies.) So Lavine had more breathing room to get his bearings at the point.
So, why should we care about Lavine’s numb#rs? Because Lavine’s night puts him into incredibly interesting company: LeBron James, Stephon Marbury, and Dajuan Wagner. Who, exactly, is that company?
The most important point to note is that the trio of teen NBAers who’d put up 20/10 double-doubles in points and assists is INCREDIBLY (!) cool. Just read the names again: Lebron James, Stephon Marbury, and DaJuan Wagner. They had special paths to the NBA. Now Zach Lavine is on that list. He didn’t. But he brings at least some of the “something-something” those guys brought, at least some of us think, and the Wolves front office seems to believe, since they were the ones who drafted him this past summer.
Lebron, Steph, and Juanny are and were cool in very different ways. What they all had in common was that as high school players, they were viewed as “the next coming.”
But the next coming of what? The answer is that it was different for each. But for each, it was some type of basketball greatness.
Let’s briefly walk them through, one-by-one.
LeBron was dubbed, while as a teen, the next transcendent superstar. LeBron was expected to be the next great player. Not much exposition is needed. LeBron is LeBron, and LeBron is basically who we thought he would be by the time he was a senior in high school.
LeBron has done that, and more (see video below). Just look at him now. He has won two NBA championships. He turned “The Decision” into something we didn’t really think was a thing anymore. He’s grown up. LeBron James is the greatest NBA player I’ve seen in 25 years of NBA watching.
Steph Marbury’s destiny was as the greatest NYC point guard ever. NYC was storied for its nearly industrial-strength production of fly point guards. And Marbury was to be the flyest.
(Eds. Note: This video is a must-watch. Even if you watch none of the other videos in this post, watch this one.)
For Minnesotans, Marbury was viewed as the key to a string of championships alongside with co-author and at-the-time best friend Kevin Garnett. At the time, their cover on Slam #21 basically said it all.
(Eds. Note: Full Disclosure: We’re unabashed Marbury fans on this blog. Did he realize his full potential on the Wolves or in the NBA? Almost certainly, the answer is “no.” But Steph was a special player, and he, along with KG, put us as close to legitimate title hopes as we’ve seen since, including 2004-05.)
For Wagner, who scored 100 points in a high school game, the expectation was that he would be the next Allen Iverson. His stature, ability, and “thug professionalism” preordained it. And it was true – no six footer could fill it up like Dajuan.
Here’s a sample of Juanny’s hoops from his 100-point game.
Wagner also graced the pages of Slam Magazine, then one of the classic litmus tests of high school players who were true stars on the rise.
Wagner’s career got off to a promising start with the Cavaliers after he spent one year in college at Memphis. In addition to the game that put him in the small group of teens who’ve recorded a points/assists double-double, he averaged a solid 13.4 points in his rookie season. (Eds. Note: To be fair, Wagner shot only 36% for a bad Cleveland team in putting up those points.)
Unfortunately, Wagner’s still-promising career was sidelined by a series of injuries.
“He averaged a career low 4.0 points in only 11 games played during the 2004-05 season, and was hospitalized for ulcerative colitis. The Cavaliers did not exercise their option on his contract for the 2005-06 season and subsequently Wagner was out of the league.
His colitis condition was not amenable to medication and, after consulting with New York Knicks head coach Larry Brown, who referred him to a New York medical expert, Wagner underwent surgery to remove his entire colon on October 25, 2005 at Mount Sinai Hospital.”
In fact, in 2012 Philly.com put Wagner’s situation like this:
Wagner is now 28, at a point in his life when many in South Jersey once believed he’d have a trip to the Basketball Hall of Fame all but locked up. But Wagner wasn’t in town on an East Coast road trip. He didn’t have a few games off from playing with the Cavaliers, or the Warriors, or anybody else. In fact, it’s been more than 5 years since he’s played in the NBA. “It’s hard to tell a 28-year-old that you’re at the end of your career,” says his father, Milt, now an assistant coach at Auburn. “He hasn’t even hit his prime yet.”
Juanny’s situation has not improved. This was the issue being bandied about as of 2012:
Things haven’t gotten better for high school legend Dajuan Wagner. He is on the wrong side of 30 and is currently out of professional basketball. There was recent reporting that Wagner may be re-entering pro basketball soon. I have not been able to confirm whether or not this has happened. But I think it’s safe to say we’ve seen our last impactful basketball from Wagner.
Looking at this group of teenagers who put up particularly precocious lines, Lavine stands out as the one who’s different.
Lavine would certainly not have been considered a “preps-to-pros” kind of player (as in LeBron’s case), or even necessarily a clear-cut “one-and-done” kind of player (as in Starbury and Wagner’s cases). When he left high school in Bothell, WA, as Yahoo! Sports 44th-ranked high school player in the class of 2013. (Eds. Note: Yahoo! Sports considered Lavine a shooting guard. He ranked as their 12th-best shooting guard in the 2013 class.)
But Lavine did one year at UCLA. He was the sixth man. He was slammed for his lack of numbers, but his role was muddled by being put into direct competition with his coach’s son–a difficult to win positional battle.
But Lavine didn’t come into the League as the kind of one-and-done who was expected to be a transcendent player of any type (apart from his freakish dunking ability).
(Eds. Note: This was the best “Zach Lavine is a Phenom” video I could find from early(-ish) on. Is there a better one?)
As Zach’s video shows, and Yahoo’s scouting suggests, Lavine entered the League with nothing like the hype of James, Marbury, or Wagner. Lavine is also in a different team situation from each of the above when they entered the League as teens.
Still, what the other three accomplished was impressive, and interesting, each in its own way.
But, given that LeBron is in conversations about “best player ever,” Marbury was a multiple time all-star, and we don’t know what might have become of Wagner’s career, what does Lavine’s night tell us about Lavine? Anything?
I don’t know. Lavine has had his moments. His game against the Lakers may be the best game played this year by any rookie.
But let me be clear (Obama voice): What I do know is that I like the company Zach keeps. In addition to the company he has found his self in via his teenage double-double, we learned during the Wolves’ West Coast road trip that Lavine (paraphrasing) sees “Kobe as my idol” and Jamal Crawford as “someone I model my game after.” Kobe is among the best competitors and closers ever. Crawford, well, he keeps it interesting and exciting (and even 100) all the time.
Both Bryant and Crawford are polarizing players, for the reasons cited above. If Lavine continues developing, he might be even more polarizing than he is now and rival the likes of his idols as to what he should be in the NBA.
One response to “Appreciating Zach LaVine’s Diverse (and Elite) Company”
LaVine – Marbury comparison makes a lot of sense. Marbury/KG had the opportunity to build something special, but were to good/young/inexperienced to realize that they would have much more success together than apart. LaVine/Wiggins/Bennett/Rubio/Shabazz perhaps playing alongside GR3/Dieng/(Young/Brewer/PEK) – each of them brings something special to this team. Wouldn’t it be great if they could figure out how to share the wealth – not only salary but headlines – and build a career together.