Jason Kidd plays heavy minutes, which is not just to say that he rarely comes out of a game. Kidd, the Phoenix Suns' point guard, attacks each moment as if it is truly weighted with possibilities and his mission is to extract the best result from it. That approach is obvious in the way he leads the fast break, measuring defenders and calculating angles, considering his options at warp speed until he determines the right instant to present a teammate with the ball and, more often than not, the best chance for an easy bucket.
Kidd is also on the court a great many minutes—41.8 per game, more than anyone else in the league, through Sunday—and you wonder how long he can handle playing time that is so plentiful and so heavy, how long he can continue to so rigorously push the pace, push his team, push himself. Shouldn't he at least take his foot off the gas every now and then, conserve some fuel? This is the NBA regular season, after all, during which occasional coasting is not only expected but also recommended. But Kidd insists on going above and beyond the call, on testing the limits of his energy.
With Phoenix ahead by 15 points against the New Jersey Nets at America West Arena last week and less than two minutes to go, he was still on the court, fighting through a pick like a rookie trying to impress the coach. After flying home with his gold medal from Sydney, Kidd refused to take a few days off before reporting to training camp, and he even modeled the Suns' new uniforms at a press conference the day after he landed. "The guy's unreal," says Phoenix coach Scott Skiles. "He lived out of a suitcase for six weeks with the Olympic team. He flew in and 36 hours later reported to camp and hasn't missed anything since."
Maybe that's because heavy minutes don't feel burdensome to Kidd, not now, not when each one seems better than the last. At 27, he is entering his prime as a floor leader, orchestrating his team's performance at both ends of the court. His grasp of the game is peaking along with his physical skills, which is why he's well on the way to the best season of his seven-year career. In addition to leading the league in assists (11.1 per game) through Sunday, Kidd ranked second in steals (2.54) and was averaging 16.0 points. His 6.8 rebounds per game were also the second-best mark on the Suns, who, despite the absence of guard Penny Hardaway, out until late December after surgery on his left knee, led the potent Pacific Division with a 10-3 mark.
"Anybody who wants to learn to play point guard should study Jason Kidd," says Vancouver Grizzlies playmaker Mike Bibby. "Nobody does everything a point guard needs to do as well as he does."
Kidd's all-around game has been so sharp that he is the rare player in the league who can even dream about doing what only Hall of Fame guard Oscar Robertson has done: average a triple double for a season. (In 1961-62 the Big o racked up 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists per game.) When Kidd was traded from the Dallas Mavericks to Phoenix in December 1996, he chose 32 as his uniform number—the 3 for triple and the 2 for double. "I'd love to do it," says Kidd, who at week's end had a league-high three triple doubles this season. "A lot of people say it can't be done. I'm more interested in winning a championship, but I'd like to take a run at it."
The assists factor of the triple-double equation is a virtual lock, especially since Kidd is making fine use of one of the newest weapons at his disposal—lane-filling, alley-oop-grabbing Shawn Marion, a 6'7" second-year forward out of UNLV. Marion has become one of Kidd's favorite targets on the break because, says Marion, "I'm the only one who can keep up with him." Kidd sees no reason to slow down. Despite having had his off-season cut in half by his Dream Team duties and having his minutes at a career high, he insists he feels no fatigue. "Why rest when you're not tired?" Kidd says.
It is a question not only of stamina but of perspective as well. The 2� turbulent years he spent with the Mavericks have made Kidd appreciate the comfort and stability he has found in his 3� seasons in Phoenix, where he has emerged as the Suns' unquestioned leader. "When you're in a good situation, a winning situation, you want to enjoy it as much as possible," he says. "You want to be on the floor as much as you can."
His determination to make the most of what he has is also a result of what he has lost. In May 1999, three days after he had hugged his father, Steve, goodbye at the end of a visit to Phoenix, Kidd got a late-night call from his parents' home in Oakland. Steve Kidd, 61, had died of a heart attack. It is no coincidence that Jason has played with a renewed vigor since the loss of his father, that he has stayed even longer after practice, that his nightlife now consists mainly of late-night hoops sessions at home with his wife, Joumana, and their two-year-old son, Trey. He realizes that it's not the heavy minutes that eventually wear a man down but the wasted ones. "My dad's death made me value things more," Kidd says, "knowing God can take things away from you, just like that."
The only thing Kidd wastes these days is the occasional possession. He will bring up his 14-turnover game against the New York Knicks on Nov. 17 before you do, but it's worth noting that he had 18 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in that 90-85 home loss. His turnovers are high—with 4.6 per game, he ranks first in the league—but he more than compensates for that with his command of a game. After a 100-81 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Nov. 7, Phoenix guard Mario Elie studied the stat sheet. "How many shots did Jason take tonight?" he said. "Nine? Nine shots and he completely controlled the game. He was the biggest reason we won. How many guys could take nine shots and have that kind of effect?" Kidd finished with 10 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists, but none of those numbers described how he ratcheted up the pace, pushing the ball up the floor to help the Suns negate the height advantage of 7-footers Tim Duncan and David Robinson.