As we inch closer toward 2014, we see some light in a dark, injury-filled NBA winter. This is Damian’s world, and we’re all just living in it. Blazers gonna blaze. Meanwhile, Ray Allen has made the right choice, as he has been wont to do throughout his career. Also, Omer Asik is about to make some fantasy owners, and one actual owner, very happy.
1. Derrick Who? Damian Lillard might be the best young point guard in the NBA: Two nights after whirling his way into a game-winning shot against Detroit, reigning NBA Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard knocked down a last-second 3-pointer to sink the Cavaliers, the exclamation mark on a career 36-point, 10-assist and 8-rebound night in which he also hit 8-of-12 3-pointers. In a league of excellent young point guards, perhaps the best generation of them since the early 1960s, Lillard is jettisoning himself ahead of the injured Rose and the flashy-but-frustrating Kyrie Irving to lead a remarkably great Blazers team. With help from LaMarcus Aldridge & Co., the Blazers could find themselves playing well into the late spring, with Lillard as their catalyst.
2. The Dwightmare is over – cue the Sea Asikness: Horrendous name puns aside, Omer Asik was a solid contributor for a great Rockets team a season ago, averaging 10.1 points and 11.7 rebounds per game in a season in which he started all 82 games. Now that the Manchild is under the rim in Houston, Asik has become one of the most compelling trade pieces in recent memory. Recent reports say that a possible deal to the Celtics may be in play, with Jeff Green and future draft picks as bait for Houston. We knew this was coming from the time Howard chose to take his talents to the Lone Star State, and now his impact may be greater in fantasy squad rotations than on NBA courts. Though an effective 7-foot center, Asik is not a contender maker-or-breaker for the Celtics, who are still playing in an extremely weak and top-heavy Eastern Conference. Rajon Rondo will be happy to utilize Asik’s prowess on the pick-and-roll, however, and that may be enough to convince Rondo that a long-term rebuilding project is not the current plan.
3. There is justice within the ridiculous NBA nickname jersey game: I had the occasion to speak with an executive at the league office about a month ago. When talking about the plan to place nicknames on jerseys during select regular season NBA games, he pointed out the obvious: “It’s all about making more money and creating new streams of revenue. If it makes the players happy, that’s a great side-effect.” Placing nicknames on the backs of jerseys further detracts from the idea that basketball is a team game and places even more emphasis on star power and the individual. This is the kind of thing that encourages kids to go to Kentucky for a year, play for the draft and try to become stars even if their talent is not to that level yet. There is a silver lining, however: Ray Allen has elected to wear a J. Shuttlesworth jersey when the Heat plays the Celtics on January 21st, in homage to his character, first name Jesus, in the Spike Lee joint He Got Game. If it has to happen, we can rejoice that it is happening this way, with this player. Few actual NBA nicknames are better than that fictional one.