Stars and comets both shine bright. But they’re two different things.
A star’s brightness is reliable and, for all intents and purposes, immortal. You can look up on just about any clear night and you’ll see the stars. They manage to be both readily available and astonishingly incomprehensible at the same time. Giannis Antetokounmpo is a star. So is Kyrie Irving. So is Kevin Durant. So is Steph Curry. So is James Harden, and so on and so forth.
If you want to see a comet shine you have to be looking up at the moment that it flies by you. It won’t give you the benefit of being able to admire it at your own leisure, perhaps because it’s uninterested in your validation, but more likely because it’s incapable of doing so. Their greatness is fleeting, but their moment’s are more special.
JR Smith and Dion Waiters are comets. They are watching the 2019 NBA Playoffs from home. So if those two beautiful, bright comets have shot past us (at least for the moment), then you might think it’s time to focus on the stars. But Alex and I say no. Recording the real-time legacy of a star might not be pointless, but it’s at least distracting. Why write about a star when you can just look up and observe it? We need to preserve comets’ moments on record, because if you blink they might be gone with nothing to remember them by.
So if you thought it was insane that we launched the JR Smith/Dion Waiters Power Rankings at their previous home back in 2016 then you probably thought it was downright ridiculous that we rebooted them here at RealGM in 2017. Well folks, I’ve got some tough news for you: We would like to introduce to you the JR Smith/Dion Waiters Power Rankings: The Next Generation.
If Power Rankings are going to continue to be a tenet of sports journalism Alex and I refuse to be denied our seat at the table. The Next Generation will honor the players who embody the spirit of JR Smith and Dion Waiters in any possible way (irrational confidence, unharnessed talent, supreme in-the-moment-ness, unintentional humor, etc.). Besides featuring new players the same rules will apply: Eligible participants (all NBA players) can rank anywhere from the coveted number one spot all the way to the bottom spot at number two. Selection and order is determined by the arbitrary decision-making of the committee (Alex and myself).
1. Lou Williams, Guard, Los Angeles Clippers
My apologies. I sincerely wanted to give this one to my main man, Kevon Looney. Not because Looney embodies even one trait that would warrant an award whose organizing principles are the nihilism and feisty grandiloquence of JR Smith and Dion Waiters, but because he’s been very beautifully going against the proverbial grain the entire season. As the majority of the Golden State Warriors tested out their new offensive scheme, “7 Seconds or We Fall Asleep” and their “Zoned Out Defense” (thanks for this joke, Grandpa!) Looney battled. He played hard. He got fitter, happier, more productive. He became the most reliable member of an increasingly somnambulant rotation. He hunkered down and got down to business and did it all with grace and chill and old school poise. But alas, this is not the Play Hard and Be a Cool Dude Power Rankings. It’s the JR Smith and Dion Waiters Power Rankings. So, yeah, it’s obvious and predictable but obvious and predictable gotta eat too, so it’s Lou Williams. Sorry. It’s just the way it is. And the way it is is that which Lou Williams most stridently seeks to deflate.
Extolling the myriad virtues of these Clippers can be a minefield. Everyone is doing it! They are the thing to spill ink on these days. Trying to suss out a new wrinkle is like trying to find a new way to describe your stomach dropping when you’re in love or the way you felt when One of the better pieces on the Clippers sprung from the handsome mind of my esteemed and handsome colleague, Louis Keene (who is handsome). He wrote this beautiful piece, summing up both their essence and the doomsday clock shelf-life of their joie de vivre. It’s worth a read to contextualize what the hell happened that got them to this point because they are indeed a special gang of droogs.
This team truly deserves to fly, but on Southwest or something, because they had the foresight to realize wax wings would melt. They have been shaved and shorn of all the (overstated) baggage of those perennial underachievers (from a certain standpoint), the detestable Lob City non-dynasty. They’ve remade themselves into enthusiastic Knights of Infinite Faith. Their very existence and perseverance evokes all sorts of banal truisms. They are dogged. Scrappy. They never surrender. Grit? Oh yeah man, that is a thing they posses...in abundance! This ragtag group embodies the poetry of obstreperous small-time crooks pick-pocketing from rich folk above their weight class. But forget about the team for a second. All that greater than the sum of their parts hogwash (it’s not hogwash, I’m just doing a thing) and all-for-one and one-for-all gobbledygook. That’s all fine and good. At the heart of it all is a single man and that single man is danger personified. He is your insecurity. He is your imposter syndrome. He is the guy your girlfriend warned you about, if you had a girlfriend that is, which you probably don’t, nerd! The voice in your head as you fall asleep at night that whispers, “I can take anything from you if it is my desire. And it is my desire. So gimme.”
Lou Williams is this sort of man who, in the best of times, minorly propels a certain moment of history forward, and failing that, makes himself such a nuisance that history has no choice but to reckon with its own infallibility. The first round of the NBA playoffs is where all the true heroes reside. As the playoffs progress and the games become more sparse and the chessboard inevitably shakes out to what it was preordained to be months and months ago, the characters and the elegance of human will begin to subside, leaving only very good teams smashing against each other, battering rams and walls, clubs and shields, strum und drang for Drake fans. The true maniacs and poets of the NBA are largely relegated to the opening rounds. Hopelessness is power. Futility is strength. Playing for nothing is playing for everything. But whatever, all that doesn’t matter. My intention is only to do homage to the sort of devil-may-care harvester who comes prepared to dethrone kings. A revolutionary, whether he acknowledges it or not. A human, who above all, knows himself and likes what he knows. As he should, because his game is insidiously anthemic, an off-key song that hits you deep in the warmest bits of your soul, that winks at the fringes of your brain that still believes in a thing called love. A deep cut that, deployed at the right moment, could go toe-to-toe with any goddamn song, poem, or emotion in the world.
Lou Williams is the man of the hour. The man of the hour drifting sideways, bounce-house fadeaway jumpshotting himself into Valhalla, shouldering his way into dagger floaters that are more devastating than a mere two-points could ever communicate. And sometimes, despite all your cruelest intentions, there’s nothing to do but doff your cap to that particular man of the hour. You can act like an avalanche is not happening. You can feel the brunt of its power and still deny it, though in your heart you know you’re wrong. You can be edgy and pretend to be above it all and say something such as, “Lou Williams? Yeah he’s cool, but I only like his old stuff, like when Allen Iverson made him cry in practice or before he was part of the dowry the Rockets paid for Chris Paul.” I mean, if you want to feel and say that stuff it is between you and your Lame God. Lou is for real. He’s not a gimmick. He’s proved this for over a decade now and maybe this is his moment, come at last, belatedly, but come at last.
Lou is the natural successor to the progenitors of these sacred Power Rankings. He is what would happen if you injected a bit of peace and perspective into the hearts of JR Smith and Dion Waiters. Few would confuse Lou’s tranquil jumpshot bombardments and sly paper-cuts to the rim with the baleful hedonism of JR Smith or the histrionic guff of Dion Waiters. As far as raw personality and all that goes, he’s on another graph entirely. He isn’t programmed like them. Despite the fact that he’s a Scorpio, he’s chill, even when the shit gets as real as shit can possibly get. He just wants to hang with Meek Mill and collect 6th Man of the Year Awards. But like Smith and Waiters, Williams is unabashedly a gunslinger, unabashedly a person of the moment. His existence on the floor forces the world to bend to his will even if the world includes five future Hall-of-Famers who thought this was all going to be just another dope stroll in the park. If Smith and Waiters embody the spirits of outlaws like Jesse James and Billy the Kid, Lou is a counteragent, a Wyatt Earp, inclined to the same sort of violence, but constrained by certain mores and laws. That’s not to say Lou is a cop, but there’s some code that permeates his DNA. Some adherence to equilibrium. He’s not chaos. He’s order, pushed to its breaking point. Order doesn’t require or demand restraint. It only requires order. And Lou keeps his team in good order. He gives them something no other trigger-happy 6th man could possibly give them. Jamal Crawford, bless his beautiful heart, could never be both the force and the defibrillator that Lou Williams is.
The Warriors, including Lou’s old teammate and fellow Sixth Man, Andre Iguodala, are in hell now. It is largely because of his unapologetic antics and his utter refusal to go quietly into the Gone Fishin’ Night. He’s a peasant boy who has grabbed the giant by the scruff of his neck and dragged him through the muck, whispering “We Believe” in his ear. And it’s not all talk and psychological warfare. He does believe. And for little moments, fleeting moments sure, but very real ones, so do we.
2. Terry Rozier, guard, Boston Celtics
When we created these rankings in 2016, JR Smith and Dion Waiters already were what they are. That special something was still brimming with unpredictability, but we could identify them as something that only made sense by pairing them together. Still, players of this mold always have origin stories, and I believe we are living the Terry Rozier origin story in the spring of 2019.
Terry Rozier’s nickname isn’t “Scary Terry” because he frightens his opponents. It’s because “scary” rhymes with “Terry.” But beyond that, he frightens everyone: his opponents, his teammates, his coaches, his fans. He’s young, but he is, by all accounts, a moment chaser.
He was handed a moment last postseason when the Celtics entered the playoffs without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, and he made that moment his own. He scored 23 points in the Celtics’ first game of the postseason last year and sent the Bucks home with a 26-point Game 7. More importantly, he feuded with Bucks guard Eric Bledsoe, who foolishly claimed to not know who Rozier was only to be outplayed by Rozier the entire series, which included Rozier showing up in a Drew Bledsoe New England Patriots jersey to troll him. The Bucks were eliminated because the Celtics won four games against them, but in another very real way, they were eliminated because Rozier made Bledsoe advancing in the playoffs unallowable.
The Bucks have bounced back by winning more regular season games than any team in the NBA this season. Now they get a rematch with Boston. Milwaukee is the favorite to win the East and their star player is the favorite to win MVP. But to Rozier, they are surely still just the team that employs Eric Bledsoe.
Meanwhile, Irving and Hayward are back, and Rozier has been relegated to the bench in a tumultuous Celtics season of finger pointing (mostly by Irving, who had no part in their run to the Eastern Conference Finals last season). Irving is their best player, but head coach Brad Stevens witnessed them take down the Bucks with Rozier leading the way. Stevens is a rational man. A man of science and logic, forced to exist in Irving’s ultra-woke flat earth and whatever beautiful galaxy exists in Al Horford’s eyes. At some point in this series he’ll have to put down his clipboard and make a decision with his heart.
Rozier was given a moment against the Bucks last year, and he delivered on that moment. This year, he might have to pull a JR Smith or a Dion Waiters and take his moment. Will Brad Stevens do the right thing and let Scary Terry live?