By Rich Levine
MIAMI You notice it the most when he goes up for a rebound.
Actually, "goes up" doesn't do the motion any sort of justice. He explodes. He literally jumps as high as he can, like a wannabe-NBA-rookie getting measured for his pre-draft vertical.
Even when he has the most basic rebound in front of him one of those boards where the other nine guys have already released by the time the ball falls off the rim he grabs it with nothing less than reckless abandon. He'll snatch the rock on his way up, slap it so hard that James Naismith's original peach basket can feel it, and then he'll just float in the air for a second. He'll let out a little scream, or violently kick one of his legs out to the side. He'll act without hesitation, or concern for himself and his surroundings.
Kevin Garnett does all this because he can.
If we're being honest, it feels wrong, maybe even a little insulting to write a paragraph (or two) commending one of the greatest power forwards in NBA history on his ability to jump, rebound, or do anything you'd expect out of even the Joel Anthonys of the world. It's like marveling over a 90 MPH Roy Halladay fastball or an LT touchdown run.
But anyone who watched Kevin Garnett over the course of last season which I assume includes anyone who's still reading this story realizes how fortunate they are to once again see him perform at this current level of legitimacy.
To see him run down the floor without looking like he just stubbed his toe. To see him hit the ground and get up without limping, looking down at his knee or screaming, "I'm OK! I'm OK!" like he was trying to convince himself of something that clearly wasn't true. To see him go up for loose rebounds in traffic by jumping off and coming down on both legs, instead favoring his left leg on every landing. To see him not only fight for position on the block, but actually win those fights.
To see him play like Kevin Garnett.
Honestly, did you ever believe you'd see that again?
I didn't. Sure, we knew Garnett would be better this season, a full year removed from his surgery. We expected him to be faster, stronger, more confident, and to brush off at least some of the rust that had built up over the previous 18 months. He showed glimpses of that in last year's playoffs. He looked like he was getting better. But he still had such a long way to go. He still wasn't even a shadow of the guy whod helped raise Banner 17.
It's easy to forget this now, but Garnett literally couldn't catch an alley-oop last year. He missed more lay-ups in 69 games than he had in the previous 16 seasons combined. He was routinely getting punked by the likes of Andray Blatche, Al Harrington and Kris Humphries.
He looked like he lost it. And most of the time in this league, when a guy like KG who started young, and went on to play an ungodly amount of minutes loses it, it's lost. Look what happened to Tracy McGrady. A few years ago he was averaging 25 points a game. Then he suffered a knee injury, and now hes a mop up man for the Pistons. And he's only 31.
KG's 34. You knew his mind would never quit, and that's why you still held out hope that he'd come back better this season. But you had to wonder how much his body had left in the tank.
At least I did. But I'm not wondering anymore.
On Thursday night in Miami, Garnett posted his fifth double-double in only his ninth game of the season. Last year, he had 10 double-doubles in 69 games. He already has three games with three or more steals, after doing that only twice all of last year. His scoring is up, but even more impressive is how he's scoring. Yeah, there's still a lot of jump shots. But he's also running the floor. He's finishing at the rim. He's converting on dunks, alley-oops and put backs which, I know, still only count for two points, but are also so indicative of what he's able to do and how much he's able to trust in that knee.
And even then, it's not really about numbers with KG. It never is. It's about that movement; that agility; that fire and explosiveness. It's about how much space he can cover on defense, how many jump balls he can win off the glass, how much he can effect the ebb and flow of every single game by just being wild and crazy KG.
Last year, that wasn't there. Last year, he would have been eaten up by Chris Bosh. Hell, he wouldve been dominated by Joel Anthony. But last night, he was in control. He was dominating.
Listen, I can't sit here and claim that Garnetts been transported back into the prime of his career. The Garnett we see now isn't as good as the man we saw in 2007, never mind all those legendary seasons before he was here. But while to this point, much of his season at least from a national perspective has been marred by the Charlie Villanueva incident. For those who care more about KG the basketball player, this season has been about one of the game's all-time greats once again returning to greatness.
Maybe he's not the old KG. In reality, he'll never again be the old KG. But at least now hes back to being KG. At least now, for the first time since he limped off the court that February night in Utah, you watch him and never forget that seeing one of the greatest power forwards in NBA history.
And if you haven't seen it yet, just watch the next time he goes up sorry, explodes for one of those rebounds.
I promise you it's there.