NBA: Always sly as a fox, Kidd, at 36, has added a lethal jump shot
By Kevin Sherrington
The Dallas Morning News
DALLAS — When Jason Kidd saw Mike Woodson out on the court Friday, he started thinking. He wasn’t sure what would happen if he ran into the Hawks’ coach. He wasn’t even sure it would result in a technical.
Still, he got there as fast as he could.
“I figured it’s gotta be something,” he said.
Correct, as usual.
The Mavs are hurtling along on an improbable eight-game winning streak, rising in the Western Conference, led by a point guard who’s in some ways better than he ever was. And not just his forearm shiver, either.
Straight up: I’ve always liked the way Kidd plays. Thought so even way back when a Dallas assistant, Butch Beard, told me the Mavs did the right thing trading him to the Suns. Said Kidd couldn’t shoot, and he was right. Generally speaking, a guard who can’t shoot is the same as a deputy with a bullet in his pocket.
Anyway, it’s tough to make it in the NBA if you can’t shoot. Kidd managed. He did it by running the offense and playing good defense and adding a wrinkle you wouldn’t expect, namely, rebounding. He performed all three at such a high level that his shooting was rarely an issue.
He has what experts call “a high basketball IQ.” What this means is that he’s not just dribbling in circles, waiting for Dirk to get open.
Like Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, Kidd doesn’t just see the floor; he sees what’s about to happen. The kick out of watching all three didn’t come from outlandish feats of athleticism. Combined, they might have matched Spud Webb’s vertical leap. But the NBA has lots of athletes. Occasionally it’s fun to watch a guy think his way around the floor.
Besides drawing a technical from Woodson — an all-timer that’s been hailed as genius by some and a dirty play by detractors — here’s another recent favorite:
In the All-Star Game, Kidd lost the ball at one point and started back on defense. Mad at himself for the turnover, he paused to think what he’d do if he were the young point guard holding the ball. He’d throw it directly over the head of the retreating guard, that’s what. His back to the ball, Kidd shot his arms straight up, leaped and caught the ball before he’d fully turned his head to the passer.
But what if the guy had thrown the pass two feet shorter?
“That,” Kidd said, “would have hurt.”
Genius, is what it was.
Even a guy as smart as Kidd can’t live by his wits forever, though. He turns 37 in three weeks. While still in New Jersey, he decided he needed to do something that, as crazy as it sounds, would make him seem quicker.
And that’s when he started to learn how to shoot.
For a guy so smart, it might have seemed a little late in the game. A classic point guard, Kidd had always been a facilitator first. But he knew he had to change. What made it problematic is that basketball players in their 30s don’t add to their games. They die with what brung ’em.
Instead of fading away, Kidd went to work every summer with what amounts to a swing coach.
Before Kidd came back to Dallas two years ago, his best 3-point percentage over a full season was .366. Last year, he shot .406. But he still didn’t trust it. Opponents knew it and backed off, daring him. Teammates and coaches, knowing how much it would help Kidd’s drives and the rest of the offense if a defender were forced to play him, begged him to shoot. And still he wouldn’t let it fly.
Gradually, as more shots go in, he’s come around. In the Mavs’ first 18 games this season, he scored in double figures five times. Each month, he’s gotten a little bolder. Last month, which included his best streak of play in years, he scored in double figures 11 of 13 games, including a ridiculous triple-double against the Hawks.
He’s now shooting 42 percent from 3-point range, 14th in the league, just two spots behind Steve Nash.
No longer just a big brain at point guard, Kidd’s a legitimate scorer now. If the Mavs harbor any hopes for the postseason, he must keep shooting.
“Absolutely,” he said. “This is me. This is us.”