The NBA lockout rolls on, bearing with it all of its collected narratives. Incredibly rich men continue to beg to be protected from their poor decisions, both past and future. The union continues to accumulate missteps and ill-chosen statements. (Read this article now.) Childhood heroes–looking bloated and sad in ill-fitting but probably astonishingly expensive jackets, having long lost that joyfully redeeming glow that more than once reduced us to tears, having revealed over and over their crass, blandly corporate, brand-maximizing self-interest–continue to gravely disappoint.
It is inevitable, then, that at times like these our thoughts would turn to Luke Ridnour. (For one thing, he is exactly the kind of middle-tier player that this lockout is largely about.) Ridnour is a perfectly competent, perfectly likeable NBA guy (186th in #NBARank, with a score of 4.51 out of 10: just above average). It helps him that he shot 44% from three last season and moved the ball in the open floor like an actual point guard (unlike some second-year PG’s we know). It helps him that he had a higher assist rate (29.9) than Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, Tony Parker and many others. It helps him–in my estimation, at least–that he looks like a pale, undernourished JV stowaway and yet moves on the court with the same lilting stride, the same aggressive confidence as all accomplished NBA guards.
In many ways, he didn’t deserve to be trapped on a 17-win team and in an offense that constrained his playmaking abilities. (Consider that last year he had the second-lowest usage rate of any starting NBA point guard, behind only Jason Kidd.) It’s true that Ridnour was prone to periods of strange shot-selection and wayward late-game decisions, but he often seemed, with apologies to Anthony Tolliver, like the only adult on an island of lost boys.
On the other hand, average point guards (who are not teammates of Kobe Bryant or LeBron James) are the stock-in-trade of bad teams. The Wolves’ offense was painfully stagnant for large portions of the season. And while this could be blamed on lots of things–Michael Beasley’s stolidly predictable solo adventures, the team’s barely rudimentary grasp of its own offense and that offense’s latent conservatism–it was largely because their point guards lacked the dynamism to shape the game; too much of the time they simply didn’t make plays.
At some point, the owners and the players will amicably wind up their dance; or they will collapse from exhaustion; or they will just eat each other alive, right there on the dance floor in front of everybody. At that point, Luke Ridnour–now on my side of 30, with no All-Star games in sight–will settle into the role that was probably ordained for him the moment he first stepped into a gym: mentoring a younger, more prodigious, more mercurial player. There are worse things in this world than nurturing something beautiful.