Kidd gives glory a pass

Basketball: Big scorers don't impress the man who's turned around the Nets, but his selfless play is making big points with MVP boosters.

Pro Basketball

January 16, 2002|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The game Jason Kidd plays is simpler than that of most stars in the NBA. It does not command double-teams from opponents or inspire gaping stares from fans. It is appreciated by old-timers and often overlooked by Generation X-ers.

"I was taught that what you do in the left column is much more important than scoring 25 points a night," Kidd said recently.

What Kidd has helped the New Jersey Nets do this season in the left column - the win column - is more impressive than anything else he has accomplished in his eight-year NBA career. He has turned a laughingstock franchise into a legitimate contender to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals.

"Playing hard and playing together; that's what the game is all about," said Kidd, 28. "We have a group of guys that love to play with each other and have fun. When you have fun, a lot of good things will happen to you. ... This is the most fun I've had since my rookie year."

Going into tonight's home game against the also-surprising Washington Wizards, the Nets (25-11) have the best record in the East and the fifth-best record in the league. It all goes back to the mid-summer trade that brought Kidd from the Phoenix Suns for fellow All-Star Stephon Marbury.

"We were interested in changing the culture around here. We had a lot of bad things happen over the course of time," said Nets president Rod Thorn. "We needed to change the chemistry of our team. Jason is a catalyst-type player in that he thinks pass first."

Said second-year coach Byron Scott: "I would like to think that we've helped him because of the new start. I think he enjoys the experience of playing with these guys and our staff."

With their version of the West Coast offense that Scott and assistant Eddie Jordan brought with them from Sacramento, the Nets simply put the ball, not to mention their future, in Kidd's hands. See Kidd run. See Kidd pass. See Kidd be the antithesis of Marbury.

"He probably could score a whole lot more if he wanted to. He's very unselfish, but that's what's made him successful," said center Todd MacCulloch, who ranks among the league leaders in shooting percentage. "His first option is to pass. His second option is also usually to pass."

Whether it's a 40-foot bounce pass delivered to Keith Van Horn or Kenyon Martin for a dunk or going behind his back to find McCulloch or simply driving and kicking it out to Kerry Kittles for an open three, Kidd has shown why he is, according to Scott, the best point guard in the league.

So now it's time to ask: Is Kidd the NBA's early-season MVP?

Don't look at the league's top scorers. Kidd's 14.1 average leaves him third on his own team behind Martin and Van Horn. And don't look at the balloting for this year's All-Star Game, where Kidd, who has been selected to play on four previous occasions, is fourth among Eastern Conference guards.

"That's the media and the public," said Kidd, who recorded his 41st career triple double in Monday's 99-97 victory over San Antonio.

"The media has a lot to do with that, but also the public watches dunks on the highlights, fancy passes and the big numbers, but when it comes down to it, the thing that you're measured by is winning. That's the way I've always approached it."

Ask around and you'll find a grass-roots campaign of support of Kidd's MVP candidacy.

"You have to look at two things: How is his [old] team doing without him, and how is his new team doing?" said Los Angeles Clippers coach Alvin Gentry. "The only thing that has consistently changed on this team from last year is Jason Kidd. He's been a calming influence on this team."

Given that a player with Kidd-like scoring stats hasn't won the MVP since Wes Unseld of the Baltimore Bullets in 1968-69, it's doubtful he will beat out some of the other legitimate contenders, from Tim Duncan in San Antonio and Kevin Garnett in Minnesota to Michael Jordan in Washington.

"The MVP is always looked upon as, no matter what the numbers are, the team that's doing the best," said Kidd, who also ranks second with just under 10 assists a game and is among the league's top rebounding guards with a little more than seven a game.

"Winning sometimes overshadows the numbers. If I don't score, that doesn't mean I had a bad night. Scoring has always been low on the totem pole."

Learning the pass

When Kidd was growing up in Oakland, Calif., his favorite player was Magic Johnson. But it was a tape given him by Frank Laporte, his high school coach at St. Joseph of Notre Dame, that had as much influence. It was an instructional video by the late Pete Maravich.

"My coach told me to watch him, not so much the hot dog or the flash or the flair, but the way he could pass," said Kidd, who started at point guard as a freshman and would lead the team to successive state championships his junior and senior years. "He told me to try to make the game as easy as possible."

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