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Breathtaking Focused and at the top of his game, Jason Kidd is tirelessly piling up assists and minutes--and keeping the Suns hot

Dec. 04, 2000
Dec. 04, 2000

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Dec. 4, 2000

Breathtaking Focused and at the top of his game, Jason Kidd is tirelessly piling up assists and minutes--and keeping the Suns hot

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.

This is an article from the Dec. 4, 2000 issue Original Layout

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 1/2 turbulent years he spent with the Mavericks have made
Kidd appreciate the comfort and stability he has found in his
3 1/2 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.

In the last two decades only Magic Johnson (his boyhood idol),
Scottie Pippen and John Stockton have rivaled Kidd's ability to
control a game while shooting so seldom. It is this quality that
has made countless coaches on every level hold him up as an
example, but Kidd, despite his 38.9% shooting from the floor at
week's end, believes he is sometimes unselfish to a fault.
"Probably every coach I've had has told me to think about
shooting more," he says. "They're right--it's the biggest
problem in my game. But by the time the first quarter is up, I
want the other four guys to have had enough touches to feel like
they're into the game. You've got to get everybody going,
because sooner or later, you're going to need them all."

Like other smart playmakers, Kidd makes sure he feeds the hot
hand, but he goes further than that. To help a teammate snap out
of a shooting slump, Kidd will find him on a fast break or get
him the ball in a favorite spot. "I've even seen it when rookies
are scrimmaging," says Skiles. "There might be one out there who
you don't think is much of a player. Then Jason shows up, and
suddenly the rookie is getting shots and looking pretty good."

It's obvious that Kidd has already done wonders for Marion, the
ninth pick of the 1999 draft, who with each game looks like a
bigger steal. Impressive as a rookie before missing 31 games with
a left knee injury, Marion isn't totally dependent on Kidd; he
has proven to be surprisingly tough on the boards despite his
willowy, 215-pound frame. Through Sunday he was the
second-leading rebounder in the league, with 11.9 per game. But
it is his fast-break work with Kidd that has turned heads. Kidd
sometimes looks as if he's gauging Marion's limits by lobbing
impossibly high passes, like a driver leaning harder and harder
on the accelerator of his new sports car. "So far he hasn't put
one up there that I couldn't get to," says Marion, who was
averaging 19.4 points at week's end. "Sometimes he'll put the
ball up there before I even know he's going to do it. I just
figure if I can catch up to him on the break, it's usually going
to mean a layup or a dunk for me."

Kidd can make his teammates look so good that his own virtuosity
can go unnoticed. Although he will sometimes pull out a fancy
playground pass from his days on the Oakland blacktop, he more
often chooses the deceptively simple-looking delivery. If the
flamboyance of the Sacramento Kings' Jason Williams is at one end
of the point guard spectrum and the fundamentals of Stockton are
at the other, Kidd is the happy medium. He is not plain vanilla,
but he doesn't use the pass as a form of self-indulgence either.
"I don't think I'm less flashy than I used to be," he says. "I
look for the best way to deliver the ball, whether it's a bounce
pass or a behind-the-back pass."

In addition to bridging that stylistic divide, Kidd is one of
the links between two generations of stars. The league is in a
transitional period in which most of its marquee players are
either fading, like Pippen, Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon,
or still maturing, like Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter and Allen
Iverson. But Kidd has already dealt with all the issues--media
scrutiny, ego clashes with teammates, the pull of the
nightlife--that stars face in their youth. He has emerged as a
mature professional, friendly and accessible with the press,
quick with an autograph and a smile for fans, comfortable in the
spotlight while not needing to seek it out. The friction between
Kidd and teammates Jimmy Jackson and Jamal Mashburn when they
were Mavericks seems like ancient history now, as does the
reputation Kidd carried as an uninterested practice player.

"You heard things about Jason early in his career that weren't
always flattering, things that might have had to do with
maturity," says Suns general manager Bryan Colangelo. "But
whatever problems there might have been in Dallas didn't follow
him here. He's been a model player for this franchise on and off
the court."

He has been a model for other players as well. Kidd has already
reached the stage where younger point guards, like Bibby and
Williams, name him as one of their influences. How does that make
him feel? "Flattered," he says. "And old."

But Kidd isn't old, only experienced and wise. That's what a man
becomes when he makes the most of his minutes.

COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER [T of C]COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN W. MCDONOUGH STILL DELIVERING Neither Olympic travel nor heavy playing time has kept Kidd from the swift completion of his appointed passes.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN W. MCDONOUGH RUNNING MATE Injured as a rookie, Marion has emerged as a topflight rebounder and a spectacular sidekick for Kidd on the break.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN W. MCDONOUGH

Treble Shooter

If anyone has a chance to match Oscar Robertson's singular feat
of averaging double digits in points, assists and rebounds for a
season, it's Jason Kidd. In just his seventh season, Kidd ranks
sixth in career triple doubles--behind Robertson, Magic Johnson,
Wilt Chamberlain, Larry Bird and Fat Lever--with
34 through Sunday. Below are the players who have most frequently
racked up triple doubles. --David Sabino

TRIPLE DOUBLES GAMES GAMES PER TRIPLE DOUBLE

Oscar Robertson 178 1,040 5.8
Magic Johnson 138 906 6.6
Jason Kidd 34 427 12.6
Wilt Chamberlain 74 1,045 14.1
Grant Hill 29 437 15.1

"My dad's death made me value things," Kidd says. "God can take
things away, just like that."