'Boobie' a prize
Cavs rookie second-rounder unfazed by Finals stage
Posted: Tuesday June 12, 2007 11:43AM; Updated: Tuesday June 12, 2007 12:15PM
CLEVELAND -- There hasn't been much to smile about in Cavaliers country.
Down 2-0 in the first NBA Finals in franchise history, Cleveland's star player has looked every bit the 22-year-old that he is, its starting center has been overmatched and its offense has been stymied by a defense that runs with the precision of a Swiss watch. Albert Camus once wrote that "he who despairs over an event is a coward," but it would be tough, after two demoralizing losses, to blame the Cavaliers' faithful if it were ready to jump ship.
Unless, that is, you are talking about Daniel Gibson.
Gibson has been the Cavaliers' glimmer of hope in an otherwise hopeless pair of games. For the second straight series the rookie point guard is Cleveland's second-leading scorer, averaging 15.5 points against San Antonio. While Larry Hughes has struggled both physically (he has stopped taking novocaine shots for his injured foot because the drugs take away all feeling) and on the floor (one field goal for the series), Gibson has remained planted on the bench.
Why? That much is uncertain. The man affectionately known as "Boobie" clearly has the support of LeBron James, who already has taken to calling the 21-year-old "one of the best players on our team." Coach Mike Brown uses words like "poised" to describe Gibson while saying that defensively Gibson is "better than a lot of veterans."
One argument is that Brown, like his mentor, Gregg Popovich, likes the idea of having an offensive option coming off the bench, a la Manu Ginobili. But with Tony Parker carving up the Cleveland defense with his penetration, having a more consistent defender on the floor as well as an offensive weapon in the starting lineup would have to be considered an asset.
Texas coach Rick Barnes thinks so. Barnes, who attended Game 1, isn't at all surprised by Gibson's maturation. While Barnes said Gibson has always possessed the feathery jump shot, his defense and much-improved ability to finish around the rim have opened his eyes.
"Daniel could always shoot the ball," Barnes said. "He was a quiet assassin. And at times he would get down and guard people. But he has become so much better at it now."
In some ways Barnes wishes he was still charged with Gibson's development. After two seasons with the Longhorns, Gibson informed Barnes that he wanted to put his name into the NBA Draft. When Barnes talked to Gibson and his family, it was understood that if Gibson was not a certain first-round pick, he would remove his name from the draft and return to Texas. But as time went by, Gibson became more and more enamored with playing in the NBA.
"It was a personal decision," Barnes said. "Kids come to college to pursue their dream. The NBA was Daniel's dream. He could have come back. He was a great student who would have graduated in four years. But he wanted to play in the NBA."
While falling out of the first round was disappointing -- Barnes said Gibson really wanted to shake David Stern's hand -- he couldn't have landed in a better spot than Cleveland. Cavaliers general manager Danny Ferry was impressed with Gibson's predraft workout ("We let him know we really liked him," Ferry said) and saw a place for Gibson on the roster. Gibson was equally impressed with Cleveland, one of only two teams for which he worked out. Ferry flirted with the idea of taking Gibson with the 25th pick in the first round (the Cavs would select Michigan State guard Shannon Brown) before sweating it out to see if Gibson would still be on the board when the Cavaliers picked again at No. 42.
"We were very concerned we weren't going to get him," Ferry said. "When he was still there, there were some big smiles all around."
Said Barnes: "It couldn't be a better situation, for Daniel or Cleveland. Daniel wanted to be picked in the lottery, but Cleveland sure hit the lottery with Daniel."
That much is true. While many second-round picks wind up as roster fillers and training-camp cuts, Gibson not only made the team but by March he was starting in place of an injured Hughes. In 16 games as a starter, Gibson averaged 8.8 points while shooting 52.7 percent from three-point range. He has benefited from the tutelage of veteran Eric Snow while forging a close bond with James.
The next step in Gibson's development could be a return to the starting lineup. Gibson is shooting 50 percent from behind the three-point line against the Spurs, which is vital when you consider the swarm San Antonio sends at James every time he goes to the basket. He also (theoretically) has the foot speed to keep up with Parker, something the gimpy Hughes has been unable to do. A shakeup is certainly in order.
Because as it has been said in another corner of Texas, "If you want to win, put Boobie in."