NBA GOATs Top 50: Kevin Garnett - #20
ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!!!
That remind you of someone? In fact, if you were an NBA fan living anywhere in the world back in 2008, chances are that as you read these words today, there can only be one image in your mind - a visibly teary-eyed 7'1" 240-pound man sporting a shamrock green cap releasing all of his relief into the microphone while getting interviewed by a sideline reporter.
The first prep-to-pro player to enter the league in 20 years, Kevin Maurice Garnett entered the NBA and promptly put the league on notice, even though it may not show in his rookie campaign stat sheet. A do-it-all power forward who had the height and the reach to play as a center, Garnett kickstarted an influx of high school prospects entering the league early on.
Garnett's scouting report at the peak of his powers reveals him to be one of the most versatile and complete players of all time. Even at his height of 7'1" with shoes on, Garnett routinely used his handles to bewilder defenders on his way to the paint. What kept them honest at their job was the fact that like players a foot shorter than himself, he had a deadly jumpshot from several spots within the 3-point line which meant they couldn't sag off him.
The Big Ticket guarded point guards of the calibre of Kevin Johnson as well as he guarded low-post monsters like Shaq and Karl Malone. He ran the floor like the best transition scorers in the game, often grabbing a defensive rebound and taking it coast to coast on his own whenever the opportunity arose.
The Big Ticket may have been an offensive juggernaut in his prime, but it was his defense that truly set him apart from the crowd. His rim protection, help defensive instincts and huge wingspan made him one of the best interior defenders in the world, and at the same time, he showed a willingness and an ability to guard the smallest, fastest players on the floor with the same lockdown capability.
Dirk Nowitzki, for example, had an offensive peak undoubtedly better than Garnett. But as a complete player, he never dominated the league on both ends of the floor as Garnett did during his 2003-04 campaign, when the Wolves had the #1 seed in the Western Conference on account of KG's big-time two-way impact as he was voted the MVP of the league and finished as a finalist in the Defensive Player of the Year honours.
The Timberwolves' playoff streak stopped that season, and after 3 lean years in a historically loaded Western Conference, the stars aligned for the Boston Celtics as Danny Ainge orchestrated what was at the time the biggest trade in NBA history, sending 7 players to Minneapolis in exchange for the services of Garnett.
Shortly after, Trader Danny acquired the services of Ray Allen in exchange for Jeff Green and a future first-rounder, putting together a modern Big 3 in place in Boston. The Celtics made 2 NBA Finals in 3 years and added a Conference Finals appearance to that in 2011-12 during the Big 3 era which brought championship glory back to Boston after a 22-year drought - the longest in franchise history.
Garnett was named Defensive Player of the Year in his first season in New England and was having another MVP-caliber season before a knee injury ruled him out for the rest of the reason. Though he came back and still garnered All-NBA consideration and made the All-Star Game for 3 of the next 4 seasons, he was never the same again.
The Celtics' decision to rebuild in the 2013-14 meant a change of scenery for Garnett, who was traded to the Nets along with Jason Terry and Paul Pierce in exchange for mid-level contributors and draft picks.
Garnett's final go-around, however, was as fitting as they came - back in Minneapolis mentoring the likes of Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine and Karl-Anthony Towns. He announced his retirement after 21 seasons in the league - more than half of his life had been spent as an NBA player at that point.
Garnett's impact was felt both on and off the court around the NBA. Prep-to-pro became a path of choice for the very top prospects of high school classes years after him, so much so that 3 of the top 4 picks in the 2001 NBA draft were selected right out of high school. Indeed, the failure of prospects drafted after him to develop into stars despite being in NBA training is what led to the league instituting the one-and-done rule from the 2006 NBA draft onwards.
Many people attribute the 1998-99 NBA lockout to Garnett's 7-year, $126 million contract with the Timberwolves, which forced franchises to lobby for designated maximum salaries and the raising of rookie-scale contract lengths from 3 years to 5 for first-rounders.
His competitive fire - he's up there among the most impactful trash talkers and competitors of all time in the NBA - and intensity were a ready-made recipe for success given his willingness to work on his craft and keep adding new tools to his arsenal. Like all other great players, Garnett had that streak of genius that was instantly apparent the moment he touched the ball.
KG shall be best-remembered for his Celtics years, when past his prime, but a peak Kevin Garnett has a legitimate argument as one of the 15 greatest players of all time. He's certainly up there alongside Tim Duncan, Charles Barkley and Dirk Nowitzki in the conversation for the greatest power forwards of all time, and he played in what was the golden age for the 4 position and elevated it to a new status.