A few weeks ago, Eric Neel wrote a column for ESPN's Page 2, which I heartily recommended. It was about Shawn Marion and Manu Ginobily, two of the NBA's freaks. Freaks are players you can't really explain, guys other players can't aspire to emulate, because they're a freakish collection of athletic gifts and skills in a package that does not really conform to an established basketball position.
I've done some thinking about it, as freaks are some of my favorite NBA players, and I've come up with five guys that make the All-Freak team, plus a couple who may be freaks once they figure out what to do with their gifts. Only two of these guys are the marquee players on their team, and one of those that teams has faced playoffs futility for some years, while the other made the finals once. I think this isn't an accident. Freaks make amazing complementary players (Scottie Pippen is a freak hall of famer), but they aren't as reliable as go to guys in the playoffs, when play slows down and the game becomes more physical. That's when the big, the steady, the sharp shooting, and the smart often beat the frekish. Some players aren't freaks, they're the apotheosis of their positions. Such was MJ. Such is Shaq. Those guys get more titles.
With that said, lets bring on YOUR NBA All-Freaks.
At guard, from the San Antonio Spurs, give a big hand of applause for Manu Ginobily!
Manu is an anomaly. He's the white guy who can jump to the moon, and seems to do so every game. He's the Spur who plays with reckless abandon, breaking up as many of his own team's plays as he does the opponent's. But the guy wins games. He OWNED the olympics last summer, getting Argentina the gold. On quite a few nights, he's the best player on his team, and that team has Tim Duncan on the roster. And every single game, he'll make a move that'll have you falling out of your seat.
At guard, from the Philadelphia 76ers, give it UP for Allen Iverson!
AI is the fastest man to ever play ball. He also may be the gutsiest. See him go to the rim against Shaq, and you've seen the definition of courage in sports. See him make a move and blow his defender away. Before you know it, he's at the basket, or he's stolen someone's ball. He can't be big enough, or strong enough to do the things he does. But he's just as big and as strong as he needs to be. And he's also got a freakish heart.
At forward from the Detroit Pistons, show some lovin' to Tayshaun Prince!
What a wingspan! Sometimes, he looks a bit gawky. But then he extends those freakishly long arms and gets a rebound, or a steal, or a block, or makes a three, and you can only marvel. Many players have vied for the title of "Kobe Killer," in recent years. Last year, in the NBA finals, Tay Prince took that mantle, as he stopped Kobe COLD. A body that gangly, that thin, shouldn't be the body of an NBA star forward. But Prince is a star. He was the Pistons X-factor in the finals, and take a look, he's getting double doubles more often than not these days. No doubt about it, that boy's a superfreak.
At forward, from the Phoenix Suns, bow down before Shawn Marion! How can a guy who's 6 foot 7 get over 11 boards a game? How does this happen? Freakish ability is the answer. He just jumps higher, gets to the ball faster. Suns almost never run plays for him? Doesn't matter, he'll get nearly 20 points a game from thin air. He also gets a couple of steals, a couple of assists, and a block and a half. In the roto category system of fantasy sports, he's the BEST fantasy player in basketball. In the weighted points per stats system my league uses, he's currently ranked 6th. And he's the THIRD option on his team on a good day. If Q and Joe Johnson are shooting well, he's the freaking fifth option. That's freakish.
At forward (Centers are generally too big and slow to be freaks, though Hakeem certainly was a king freak, and a two time champ to boot), from the Minnesota Timeberwolves, please welcome the king of all freaks, Kevin Garnette!
What can you say about KG? He may be the most athletically gifted man ever to play ball. He's fast, he's slim, he's damn tall. He scores, rebounds, passes, steals, blocks. He's the best fantasy player in the universe. He's intense as hell. And what position does he even play? He's not wide bodied enough to play center or power forward (though PF is his nominal position), he's too tall and capable of scoring inside to play swingman. And he's not fast enough to play point guard (though for a seven footer, he's got speed to burn). So his position, as far as I'm concerned, is Basketball Monster. If Shaq is the ultimate center, and MJ is the ultimate shooting guard, and Jason Kidd or John Stockton is the ultimate point guard, KG is the ultimate freak.
Eddie Griffin. Eddie's a headcase with a criminal record for assault and a history of bouncing from team to team in his short career. TWolves management has a hard time finding playing time for him, as he's not considered strong enough for center, and plays pretty much on the same spots as KG, but not as well. But hell, this is a 6-10 guy who can shoot threes. He's an AWESOME blocker and rebounder. If he gets his act together, the guy's a freak waiting to happen.
Chris Andersen. A seven foot white guy who can jump. Really high. Last year, Bill Walton wrote that Andersen is one of the best 25 players in the league, he just hasn't figured it out yet. Some nights, he dominates on the boards and blocks. Some nights, he's completely lost. Sadly, he was completely lost in this year's dunking contest. I'm positive he can make all those dunks he missed so badly. But the head is still holding the body back. If he ever learns to use that combination of size, hops, and speed, look out.