The holidays are officially here! ‘Tis the season for snow, holiday cheer and all that other good stuff. For a child, is their any greater moment than waking up early Christmas morning to open up the presents Santa brought the night before? Sentimental memories popping into my head as I write this.
Christmas represents one of the most anticipated days of the year (closely followed by the day they lowered the basketball hoops in middle school, allowing a vertically challenged young version of me to feel like Dr. J for a day). For basketball fans, it’s another day of great games too.
But what does Santa bring millionaire, superstar NBA athletes for Christmas? What if Santa could skip the Dolce and Bentleys this year and bring something meaningful, like improvements to their game? Yes, this list is essentially a “How to Make Dominant Players Even More Dominant”-For Dummies Edition.
Don’t get it twisted; these guys are already great, but nobody is perfect. So, let’s take a look at what improvements Santa hopefully brought these stars for Christmas this year.
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20. JOHN WALL
What’s Santa Bringing: A Midrange Game
Wall, now in his fourth season, is having a career year for the Washington Wizards (career-high 19.6 PPG, 9.1 APG, and 2.2 SPG to go along with 4.3 RPG). He has even improved his shot from beyond the arc, shooting 32 percent from three. But Wall — like most super athletic, young guards who can seemingly score at will — still loves the pull-up midrange two (AKA the least effective shot in basketball). To take the next step towards superstardom, Wall needs to improve on his 43.6 percent shot from inside the arc. According to SportVU, Wall averages the second most touches per game (97.6 times per game), but is only making 31.3 percent of his pull-ups. Watch a Wizards game and you’ll see defenders staying behind picks and playing off Wall, begging him to pull up (and rendering his game-changing speed useless). Santa should bring Wall an effective midrange shot so Wall can force defenders to guard him up close, which will allow him to use his speed to beat them to the hoop more often.
19/18. KOBE BRYANT/DWYANE WADE
What’s Santa Bringing: An Improved 3-Point Shot
Both players’ age and injuries have sapped their game-changing athleticism and forced them to change the way they play. Bryant, who made his return from a torn Achilles tendon only to injure his other leg a short time after, has suffered another major setback. Do I put it past the second biggest “Eff You” player of all time (behind Jordan) to come back and act like nothing has changed? No. But there’s also a part of me who saw Kobe’s dunk highlight from practice and a few of his first games back and said, “Uh-oh, he isn’t doing a whole lot of that jumping thing…” and “Why isn’t he blowing past Gerald Henderson?”
Sure it was a small sample, but even Kobe has to age, and coming off an injury, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if he comes back a step slower. I mean he’s 35 years old and has played over 1,200 games in his career; eventually he has to slow down, right? Already a master of the post-up, and a player whose footwork is second to none, Bryant can force his relevance by adding a lethal three-point shot (he wouldn’t be the first aging player to develop a better three. Remember coach Kidd did it.). He’s not in the same category as Rondo or Wall, but a career 33.6 percent isn’t exactly deadly either. Santa is bringing Nash’s three-point excellence to the Black Mamba.
Wade isn’t as old as Bryant, but injuries have forced him to sit out numerous games this season. Like the Mamba, Wade has primarily relied on athleticism and a crafty post-up game to score the ball. But the career 28.9 percent three-point shooter’s best days are behind him. While he’s still an effective player (read: when healthy), a reliable three-point shot would make life a whole lot easier for the Heat leader. Santa should bring a nicely wrapped three-point shot to Wade as well.
17. DERRICK ROSE
What’s Santa Bringing: Clean Bill Of Health
Santa tells me he wanted to avoid offering health-based presents, but Rose is a clear exception. The former MVP finally returned from his torn ACL, and while things weren’t quite right, there were flashes of the old Rose. Now with a torn meniscus (and resulting surgery) forcing Rose to miss the rest of the season, who knows what’s next? Will he return to greatness, or will his career be cut short like Brandon Roy’s? Santa has to bring Rose a strong recovery, for the sake of the NBA.