Back when ESPN ran their “Right Now” tournament, and asked viewers “Who’s More ‘Now'” like 70 times a day, I made a habit of writing weekly letters of complaint to their ombudsman. That’s because their definition of “now” was some ambiguous blend of being good, being cool, and being the flavor of the week. That’s a dumb definition.
I’ll suggest something else instead. For a basketball player to be one of the hottest players “right now,” they need to a) be playing so well that one outstanding performance carries over to the next, creating a substantial string of games, b) be playing so well that their teammates defer to them almost frantically when the shot clock is under 7 seconds, and c) to get theirs in a way that is directly helping their team win games. It doesn’t matter if you make funny commercials or not.
Here are some names to consider…
* Dwyane Wade – Quote of the week goes to Mike Beasley. After Wade caught a ‘bo from Danilo Gallinari, which made him bleed his own blood, he proceeded to take the Knicks’ collective soul. Beasley then commented after the game, “I think we need to punch him in the lip every night.” Over his last eight games, Wade is posting 33.3 points per night, playing with his Olympic bungees – instead of crashing to the floor after a tough lay-up, he’s just dunking everything and waiting for land below him to clear away before returning to Earth. If we would have polled our readers a month ago about the MVP race, with Kobe, LeBron and Wade as the three options, I can’t imagine that he’d be in the conversation. But he’s been so good over the last month that he’s leading Kobe by 20 votes in our poll today.
* David West – In the four games since Tyson Chandler‘s trade was rescinded, his miraculously-healed ankle/turf toe injury (which nobody knew of before the deal, mind you) hasn’t been an issue at all. In fact, he’s put up about 10 points and 12 boards per game – numbers he was supposed to be tallying all year long. Maybe he’s been helped by David West’s ridiculous eight-game stretch, in which he’s lead N.O. to a 6-2 record, averaging 25.5 points and 10.5 boards during that span. He was just named Western Conference Player of the Week to boot.
Last night specifically, there were multiple possessions in which CP3 didn’t find a seam to exploit off the pick-and-roll, so he ended up swinging the ball to West about 20 feet from the cup with the shot clock expiring. West patiently attacked, using a series of shoulder fakes and dekes to clear himself for a look at the cup. If West can get the Hornets a bucket with 7 seconds or less on the shot clock, they become a significantly more dangerous team.
* Shaq – Vintage Diesel is back: the pass between Dwight Howard‘s legs during the All-Star game – which was enough for him to earn Co-MVP alongside Kobe, the dunk-on-everyone mentality that we saw during the 45-point explosion over Toronto and 30-plus point night against L.A., and then the shit-talking on CB4, calling him the “RuPaul of Big Men.” What more could you ask for?
* Deron Williams – You can see when this guy starts to feel it. It starts with his crossover. On occasion, he’ll use it to put a defender on skates, like he did to Marco Belinelli last night. But D-Will is at his best when he’s using that dribble-move to set up his elbow jumper. Like Kobe and Pierce, there are spots on the floor that Deron knows he can score from no matter what. When he’s got it working, that elbow jumper is almost as good as a lay-up. February was his most accurate month of the season thus far, as Deron hit 51% of his shots from the floor. Plus, he’s double-doubled in eight of his last nine games.
* Nate Robinson – Nate has been so good over the last month or so, that he’s actually become the reason to go to Madison Square Garden. Dude put up 23.9 points per game over the course of February, and now his name is popping up in Knicks’ ads for tickets. “See Nate Live!” has actually become a slogan for NYK.
* Ron Artest – Why are the Rockets so much better without McGrady? Michael Lewis – author of Moneyball wrote a column in the New York Times Magazine a couple of weeks ago, focusing on Shane Battier‘s worth as a defensive-stopper. But Ron-Ron has been the one to pick up Tracy’s production on O, tallying 19.5 points per game on 50.4% shooting from the field. Therein lies the biggest jump – from 40.4% on the season to 50.4% during this stretch. He’s still taking off-balance, fading three’s, but without McGrady doing the same thing, the Rockets cumulative “bad shots for any player to take” total has gone down.
* Richard Hamilton – It’s probably far too early to say that the Pistons are back to form after making yet another lineup adjustment (this time it’s AI to the bench). But in Detroit’s two wins – over Orlando and Boston – Rip has been the firestarter, going for 31 points and 6 assists against the Magic, and 25 points, 9 assists and 6 boards against the C’s. The biggest difference between Detroit’s previous 13 games and their last two is that Rip’s minutes jumped from 30.4 per game to 40.0.