As a youngster, I saw a video about the sneaky sports impostor Barry Bremen, who, among other stunts, once donned a Rockets uniform and shot pregame layups at the 1981 All-Star Game. A few years ago, I was at the All-Star Game media session, where each player sits at a table and fields questions while wearing street clothes. There was LeBron, Superman, D-Wade, wait - who's this guy? I did a quadruple- take. Was this a modern-day Bremen?
Turns out, it was Joe Johnson, the Atlanta guard with an unfamiliar face from a seldom-seen team.
Well, now, Johnson has been to three consecutive All-Star Games (as an actual participant!), and unless he tanks for the next three months, he'll be back for a fourth. But the best player on (arguably) Basketball's best team is often overlooked and underrated.
"I don't think people look at him like a Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant or those guys - but I do," Nuggets all-star Chauncey Billups said. "I see him like that. He's on all those guys' level. He's one of the most complete players. For his size, his skill set is incredible. Incredible. He's one of my favorite players in Basketball. I love Joe Johnson."
Nuggets coach George Karl said this past week that the Hawks are the best team in Basketball. They've already defeated Portland twice and Boston too, and Johnson entered the weekend leading the Hawks in scoring (23.6) and assists (4.7).
"When we played them," Karl said, "we didn't play well and were fatigued, but - whew! - they had a lot of stuff going on out there that we didn't have control of and never got control of. I think they have a mission right now."
(By the way, it's admirable that both Karl and Hawks coach Mike Woodson are doing well in the last year of their contracts.)
As for Johnson, last week he tallied 30 or more points in consecutive games against the Blazers and Heat. And the 6-foot-8 scorcher has ascended into a dangerous, Dirk-like fourth-quarter player. He demands a double- team in the clutch, providing a pick-your-poison situation for opponents.
"He's a team player," Karl said. "He started his career by getting on the court because he defends, but he's gravitated to being a very efficient player. And at the end of games, it's very difficult to make him miss."
Nowadays, he's a can't- miss player.
Big praise. The Lakers' low- post duo of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol is arguably the best in the NBA, but Karl said Toronto's Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani "might be a better duo than anybody."
Karl pointed out that Bosh's offensive rebounding is better than at any point in his career and that Bargnani is developing into a low-post strength after years of hovering around the perimeter, reading pick-and-rolls and popping jumpers.
Going global. This is pretty cool. The NBA has launched a website that reaches out to its Hispanic fanbase - www.NBA.com/enebea - and the Nuggets' Nene, the Brazilian big man, has appeared in ads for "?ne-b?-a" on networks such as Telemundo and Univision. The league said that 15 percent of its global fan base is Hispanic.
Looking ahead. "With the first pick in the 2010 NBA draft, the (insert abysmal team here) select ? John Wall of the University of Kentucky."
That should come out of David Stern's mouth next June. The freshman guard is a 6-4 pterodactyl, with a stunning wingspan and speed to soar down the court. In his first game, he hit a game-winning, pull-up jumper at the buzzer. NBA execs from multiple teams have said in private that Wall is the projected No. 1 pick, at least for now. SPOTLIGHT ON ?
Andre Miller, guard,
I bet somewhere in Denver, there's a tree or a sidewalk with a heart carved into it ? and written inside: GK+AM.
It's no secret that Nuggets coach George Karl loved Miller, the former Denver point guard who was a pass-first floor general. Now Karl, of course, has an upgrade in all-star point guard Chauncey Billups, but Miller is back in Karl's life as a point guard for a division rival.
Miller actually began as a reserve for the Trail Blazers this season, but the offseason acquisition has since been inserted into the starting lineup, and Portland is 7-1 with Miller at the helm.
He leads his squad with 5.3 assists, good for 17th in the NBA, and he has eclipsed double- digit assists three times in this young season.
Asked why he thinks Miller is doing well as a Portland starter, Karl said, "He's Andre Miller - the more possessions you put the ball in his hands, the more efficiency you're going to bring on the other players being who they are. That's what Andre does. He's not this spectacular stat guy. He sees the team and sees what you want and he puts it together. Of the point guards I've coached, Nate McMillan, Chauncey and Andre are the three people who think like a coach."
Sure enough, McMillan is now Miller's coach in Portland.
Benjamin Hochman, The Denver Post
Sam Forencich, NBAE via Getty Images
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