Monday, November 30, 2009
It doesn't exactly take a heroic effort to get sent to the foul line in the NBA. You drive to the hoop, go up for a shot, take a little contact, and earn yourself a pair at the stripe. It's not rocket science. Now, there might be a game or two where a player will be hesitant taking the ball to the rack and go free throw-less for a short span. But to play in multiple games at the swingman position in the NBA without ever shooting a single free throw is nothing short of miraculous. A few weeks ago, we looked back on the career of Nick Anderson. Anderson famously became spooked of the free throw line in his later years, and even played an entire campaign one season, spanning 169 minutes, without once going to the line. Turns out that was just chump change compared to our boy Quentin Richardson.
The forward for the Heat has played a staggering 322 minutes this year and is still yet to attempt his first free throw. Don't bother rubbing your eyes or adjusting the brightness of your screen. You read it right the first time. 322 minutes. And not one free throw attempt. Is he afraid of something here? Did a teammate jokingly tell him that the free throw line is actually a "danger zone" loaded with hidden landmines and traces of anthrax, only for Richardson to miss the sarcasm entirely and regard the comment as a legitimate national security threat? How else to explain a starting small forward in the NBA playing that many minutes without ever taking a free throw?
With Nick Anderson, it was understandable. The memory of the '95 Finals never stopped haunting him, and he eventually became Polynice-esque at the line, causing him to make a personal vow never to return. Richardson, on the other hand, is a semi-respectable 71% free thrower for his career. He's always been able to get himself about 100-120 freebies a year. Now, all of a sudden, that number has been whittled all the way down to Goose Egg City. I know Q-Rich has essentially become a 3-point "specialist" these last few years (with 'specialist' being used very liberally), but he is taking that title to new and dangerous heights this year. When you are able to play the shooting guard/small forward combo position in the NBA as a starter for as many games and minutes as Richardson has without earning a single trip to the line, and not be banished to the NBDL or Slovenia in the process, it is truly a miracle of the highest proportions.
I've always been a sucker for unique streaks in sports. When Baron Davis repeatedly failed to shoot better than 50% in a game for nearly an entire season (62 games total), I basically shut down the rest of my life to devote all my attention towards it. In the world of baseball, I developed a secret affinity for Rondell White's bizarre stolen base streak, and was crushed when it finally came to an end. (White registered at least one theft in each of his first 14 big league seasons, and oddly enough, in the last 6 years of the streak, he stole one, and one only, every single year to keep the streak alive. Tragically, in season #15, ol' fella couldn't get the legs going for a single attempt. I'm still recovering.) Former Piston legend Terry Mills took the city of Detroit by storm in 1996 when he canned 13 consecutive treys to tie Vanilla Brent Price's NBA record. Those 13 bombs might have only spanned three nights during the season, but to us wide-eyed Pistons fans, his name might as well have been DiMaggio.
To most NBA fans, Quentin Richardson is just a washed-up swingman gunner who no longer does much swinging or gunning. He doesn't capture any headlines and will never be the focal point of a Kornheiser/Wilbon on-screen debate. His durability has and always will be a major issue, and there have even been some rumors that Q-Rich is planning to change the name on the back of his jersey to "Smits" in honor of his similarly oft-injured Dutch mentor.
But to me, Quentin Richardson is so much more. Because there are good streaks. And there are bad streaks. But it doesn't matter to me...I like 'em all. Which is why I'll be paying extra attention to those Miami Heat box scores in the coming weeks.
You'd think it would be impossible for any NBA player to keep logging court time and hoisting the rock without ever once getting bumped or grazed in the process. But then again, nobody ever thought Brent Price and Terry Mills would knock down 13 straight from long range. And nobody ever thought that Kwame Brown could fumble 768 consecutive post entry passes without once making a clean catch. But those things did happen. So maybe Q-Rich can go the whole year without ever stepping to the free throw line. I know I'll be watching. (Even if I am the only one.)
Because after all, a streak is a streak, and no matter how obscure or bizarre it happens to be, sometimes you just have to sit back and acknowledge the consistency, appreciating the little nugget of minutiae that is being cemented into the long and glorious history of the NBA.
I love this game...
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