If You Never Saw Hondo

There is a great John Havlicek piece over on CelticsBlog.
The whole thread is well worth the read.

For those of you who never got a chance to see Hondo work his magic, here are a few modern comparisons that might help you comprehend just what a remarkable player Havlicek was. No single player will suffice as none embody all the attributes John brought to the table. Also there is no modern player who brings the shock effect of the 6th man whose energy and production lays waste to an opponent's frame of mind--We were doing o.k. until ..., much less play that role to perfection for half a decade.

My first comparison seems unlikely but think of Tim Duncan crossed with the Energizer Bunny. Half a foot shorter but with the same relentless execution of perfect fundamentals, Hondo buried opponents under a deluge of "easy" plays. Eschewing the degree-of-difficulty shots, Havlicek took simple open shots created by his constant motion, incessant use of picks, perfect positioning and form, and by outworking every other player in the Association. And he did this without a single chest thump, primal scream, or pointed finger. He seemed never to lose his spot between his defensive assignment and the basket, played the pursuit angles perfectly, challenged every shot although not a big shot-blocker, and left the opponent's primary swing scorer exhausted and frustrated almost every night. He did all this, like Duncan, without fanfare, and you almost expected to see him leave the arena in a blue shirt and with a lunch pail. They are both paragons of basketball fundamentals, even demeanor, and humility.

The other player that occasionally reminded me of Hondo was Rip Hamilton in his prime. At times it seems like they used all four teammates on the court as screens, sometimes more than once,
on the same trip down the court. It seemed impossible to keep them from getting a wide-open 17-ft jumper sometime during the 24-second offensive possession. Hondo, however, served up the same relentless dose of energy on the defensive end. One aspect often overlooked by these motion players is the myriad of open looks their teammates get due to defenses becoming totally disorganized trying to help-out on the threat constantly moving around, between, over, under, and back through screens. Exhaustion and frustration become tools in and of themselves in breaking the will of the opponent to contest.

Pierce may be in the discussion for best swing man in Celtics' history but is more of a contrast than a comparison. Paul and Hondo have very different tool sets. Hondo was constantly in motion while Pierce is very selective in his movement. Paul uses strength while Havlicek employed boundless energy. Pierce uses his guile to gain a step going one-on-one, Hondo used his to lose his defender on a screen, beating him down court, or by reversing his direction. Paul plays excellent defense selectively while Havlicek shut down opponents with dogged determination. They were similarly sized for their respective eras but Pierce rebounds with strength while Hondo used his energy to corral caroms at which others should have had a better opportunity. Pierce will embarrass you while Hondo wore opponents down until they just lacked the energy, or will, to fight back. Perhaps they are most similar in that both were clutch shooters whose teammates loved to see take the last shot.

While both belong on the list of all-time greats, I’ll have to go with Hondo if only because of the plethora of opportunities that his constant motion created for his teammates. Pierce would probably take Havlicek in a one-on-one to 20, make-it-take-it, at a single basket. Play 15 games straight and I say Hondo takes the last five. It’s been a pleasure, and a blessing, to have seen both.