Happy Thoughts for a Happy New Year

First, watch the beginning of the play above.

Then, imagine, instead of of a dinosaur, that’s a 7’3 Unicorn catching at the top of the key. Imagine him stepping into a 30-foot bomb and scoffing at his defender for giving him so much room. Imagine him pump-faking when his defender remembers, “Oh sh**, that’s not Kanter! This guy can shoot,” and closes out too hard. Imagine one dribble to the basket. Imagine a long, lean arm rising toward the clouds before hammering the ball through the rim.

Rewind.

Imagine this Unicorn does nothing extraordinary. Instead, simply imagine the impact of his presence. Imagine his defender, the opponent’s rim protector, fearing his range. Imagine the defense extending well beyond the arc rather than sitting in the circle. Imagine the extra space for cutters and drivers.

Imagine the Unicorn in the near corner. Imagine him moving to the mid-post, catching the entry, and turning to shoot an effortless fadeaway, uncontested despite his defender’s best contest. Imagine it off one foot like Dirk. Imagine it kissing the glass before falling through.

Rewind.  

Imagine he doesn’t shoot from the post. Imagine he engages Timmy in the dribble-handoff. Imagine the confusion when the defense can’t just sit on the roll. Imagine, instead, a fade to the three-point line for a quick flick of the wrist. Then imagine a few possessions later, the Knicks run the same action. Imagine the defense, fearing the three, anticipates the pop. Now imagine the roll. Imagine his long strides toward the rim. Imagine him leaping to catch the lob, handling it with such ease and grace that even road fans must applaud.    

Imagine the opportunities in transition. Imagine him setting the screen for Mudiay, drifting to the top of the key, catching and shooting. Or imagine he doesn’t get it. Is Thaddeus Young anywhere near Mudiay’s release? No. He’s blanketing the Unicorn, giving Emmanuel any number of easier options. Just imagine the impact of his gravitational pull, what it could do for everyone else on the floor.

Imagine him catching the inbound. Imagine him taking his man off the dribble – one bounce, maybe two – and drawing the foul. Or imagine he executes the handoff to Lee, and…they switch? Maybe this worked in the past, but not anymore. Not with this better, stronger Unicorn. Imagine a patient Lee pulling it out to exploit the mismatch. Imagine the mouse being walked into the post and dominated. Or imagine Lee inexplicably shooting it anyway. Missing. Yet you don’t scream at the television, because there it is – a vintage Unicorn tip-slam. Imagine his glare. I’m back, it says.  

Imagine the two-man game with Frank. Imagine the collective length of this duo, neither of whom can legally rent a car. Allow your mind to drift to the other end of the floor, even as the offensive possession continues, and imagine the devastating defensive impact they could have together.  

Not now. We’re still trying to score. Imagine the Unicorn fading, catching, and…well, you know the result. Or imagine, again, his gravity. Imagine his defender can’t thwart Frank’s baseline drive. Imagine his man must sprint toward the hash mark, full speed, everything he has. Imagine how different Frank’s life would be. Imagine how much easier it’d be to play with controlled aggression, to find room, to create off the dribble. Imagine Frank getting all the way to the rim. Imagine him flushing it with two hands.

Imagine the help coming from the baseline, with the Unicorn being blanketed out by Fizdale. Imagine Frank taking an extra dribble before throwing a dart to Knox in the corner. Imagine Knox rising up and releasing. Imagine the ball doing what it’s been doing for Knox lately.  

Imagine, now, the wing helping down to the corner. Imagine the extra pass to Lee.

Imagine a top-ranked defense playing helter-skelter, desperate to recover, but always one pass, one move, one step behind. Imagine the open jumpers. Imagine clogged lanes parting like some sort of biblical event. Imagine a frustrated timeout. Imagine a baffled opposing huddle. Imagine futile adjustments. Imagine increased continuity, percentages rising, teammates filling more suitable roles and young talent inching closer to potential fulfillment, all made possible by the return of a truly unique talent…

Sometime soon, you won’t have to imagine anymore. Sometime soon, this will be your reality.

Just imagine how you’ll feel then.

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