Steve Novak Brings His Touch to the NBA

Steve Novak Brings His Touch to the NBA

As Steve Novak was dropping three-pointers softly through the net for the Houston Rockets against the Miami Heat recently on ESPN, a thought occurred: The best basketball player on the planet and the best shooter on the planet were playing on the same court that night.

As Steve Novak was dropping three-pointers softly through the net for the Houston Rockets against the Miami Heat recently on ESPN, a thought occurred: The best basketball player on the planet and the best shooter on the planet were playing on the same court that night.

And they used to play on the same court every day at the old gym for one Final Four season. LeBron James might soon be the best player in the world and Tim Duncan might have been No. 1 until recently, but for this window, Wade's on top of the basketball world.

Arguments could be made for James, Duncan, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett, even Wade's teammate, Shaquille O'Neill, but if you want to be right, argue on behalf of Wade.

His talent, blended with an absence of ego and a fresh, young body not yet worn down by the pounding incurred during brutal NBA schedules, give him the edge over anybody else. The Heat play better without Shaq than when Wade is sidelined. Duncan, The Big Fundamental, can't take over a game as freely as Wade because someone has to get the ball in his hands first.

Kobe's a better defender than Wade, but he's a more self-centered offensive player. Nash shoots better than Wade and passes even better, but he is neither as unstoppable a scorer nor as good a rebounder.

Nowitzki, who like Nash, also deserves consideration for best-shooter-on-the-planet honors, doesn't impact a game defensively the way Wade does.

Garnett's freakish talent never has translated to winning big.

James is bigger than Wade and like Wade a terrific passer, but he hasn't proven he can take a team on the kind of ride Wade took the Heat on in winning the NBA title, or even in steering Marquette to the Final Four with a triple-double in the blowout victory over Kentucky.

(Jay Bilas does a phenomenal job for ESPN. Nobody knows college basketball better, but the stance he took that year still drives me nuts. He kept saying that if Keith Bogans were healthy, Kentucky, not Marquette, would have gone to New Orleans. How's that looking now?)

Of course, without Novak burying three three-pointers in overtime against Missouri, Marquette might not have made it to the Kentucky game.

As he showed in the nationally televised exhibition game, Novak's range has only gotten deeper since then.

NBA draft projections get more accurate the closer draft day draws because beat reporters are so good at springing leaks in organizations. Still, I thought sure the projection that Duke's J.J. Redick would get drafted way before Novak couldn't possibly make sense.

Yet, Redick was taken by the Orlando Magic with the 11th pick. Novak lasted into the second round when the Rockets took him with the 32nd pick. Novak, crowned national three-point shooting champion last season, is five inches taller and had a better career three-point and free throw shooting percentage than Redick in college. Both players have ultra-quick releases.

Rip Hamilton - he went to UConn before Novak torched the Huskies for 41 points and 16 rebounds in Marquette's Big East opener - led the NBA with a .458 three-point percentage. Novak, who missed 16 free throws during his college career, shot just under 48 percent on three-pointers during the exhibition season.

With Yao Ming posting up and Tracy McGrady driving and dishing, Novak should get plenty of opportunities to shoot. McGrady called Novak, "the best shooter I've ever seen."

So the best player in basketball and the best shooter both were recruited by and played for Tom Crean. Maybe in a couple of years Dominic James can become a human billboard for Marquette basketball by winning the slam dunk competition.

** A native of Rochester, N.Y., Tom Keegan is a 1981 graduate of Marquette University. He is the sports editor and columnist for the Lawrence Journal-World in Lawrence, KS. Three of his nine siblings and two nephews also graduated from Marquette. Two sons and two nieces are students at Marquette.

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