He's only 23
Kevin Garnett continues to get better and better
Posted: Thursday February 10, 2000 03:56 PM
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Kevin Garnett has defied conventional wisdom his whole life, so his easy slide from small forward to power forward this season shouldn't be so surprising.
"Sometimes you think he's a point guard, especially when he comes down on the break and hits the three from up top," Minnesota Timberwolves swingman Malik Sealy marveled. "The guy is just so versatile, the quickness of a guard and the height of a center. So, put him anywhere across the board and he's going to be effective."
Garnett has turned the NBA on its ear since he skipped college and went straight from high school to the pros, opening the floodgates for others of less talent and maturity and spawning a torrent of rebukes from parents, fans, coaches, teachers, colleges.
At 21, he signed the richest contract in sports history, a six-year, $126 million deal that motivated owners to lock out players last season so they could reign in their skyrocketing spending.
Through it all, Garnett never allowed himself to become a poster child for the wealthy, young, spoiled athlete. He's quite the opposite, a mild-mannered, friendly superstar and, many believe, just the shot in the arm the league needs now that Michael Jordan signs the checks instead of cashing them.
After Tom Gugliotta and Stephon Marbury bolted from Minnesota last season, Garnett spent his summer shooting basketballs and Nike commercials, including the enormously popular bit with soccer star Brandi Chastain.
His four-hour workouts were followed by 100 shots from three-point range, and in his spare time, he helped the United States qualify for the Olympics.
But Garnett's growth wasn't done.
He got into a shooting funk at the start of this season and spiraled through the team's eight-game skid, the longest in coach Flip Saunders' four-year tenure.
Saunders compared it to a golfer who swings harder and harder to straighten out his drives.
In the midst of the skid, Saunders called Garnett into his office to tell him he was moving him to power forward because injuries had decimated the roster.
After four years as the league's only 7-foot small forward, Garnett's flexibility had made him an NBA star and MVP candidate.
He had upped his scoring, rebounding and assists in each of his first four seasons, establishing himself as the most versatile big man in the league.
Garnett did what he's always done -- defied detractors and thrived -- and heading into Thursday night's game at Phoenix, the Wolves were 20-6 since that momentous move, including an NBA- and franchise-best 12-3 in January.
"I don't think it really matters what position I play," said Garnett, who will start in the All-Star Game on Sunday, an honor that prompted him to apologize to Karl Malone.
Since switching to the power forward, or the "4" position, Garnett has added new aspects to his extensive repertoire.
Guarding bigger and taller players puts him closer to the lane and, therefore, the basket for rebounds and blocks. On offense, he forces big men to leave the lane to guard him, diminishing their rebounds and blocks.
Plus, Garnett's superior quickness and better shooting range than other power forwards means he can either speed past them or back up for open shots, which he's adept at hitting.
"It's helped me a lot because a lot of 4s can't guard 3s," Garnett said.
Saunders said people forget the reed-thin Garnett is a seven-footer.
"He's a freak of nature," Saunders said. "He's 7-1, he's quick. If you took a picture of Kevin running, you'd think he was 6-3 or 6-4 just by how graceful he runs. It's pretty tough for people to stay with him, and if he gets a half-step on you, he's long enough that you can't really contest it.
"The nice thing is he's 23, so he's going to get better."
Houston center Hakeem Olajuwon said the league is just now recognizing how good Garnett can become.
"I like his intensity, he wants to win and likes to win. He plays hard and now he's taking advantage of all his strengths," Olajuwon said. "I like the progress he's making."