Ranking Todays NBA Ninja Assassins

Jose SalviatiCorrespondent IIDecember 14, 2009

I am the featured columnist for the Los Angeles Clippers.

(Waiting for laughter to die down)

Done yet?  No?  Ok, take your time.

(Waiting for the last chuckle to subside.)

I understand; I'm used to it. 

I mentioned that only because I recently wrote a piece about the basketball team from Los Angeles that included the basis for the article you are reading.  In that original Clipper story I outlined how the Clips had a chance to go "Ninja Assassin" in a recent game against the Spurs.

The Clippers blew their shot and you, most likely, didn't read that story.  Like I said, its fine, I'm used to it.

I felt a reference in that article was too good to not share with all of you today so I am re-printing here with permission from the author.

Me, "Hey, is it ok with you if I reprint that part about the dagger in your latest Clipper story in an article I'm writing?"

Myself, "Sure, that's fine.  Just make sure to give me credit".

Me, "Of course, thanks!"

I, "Hey, that's plagiarism!"

Me and Myself in unison, "Shut up I!  Loser"

After some internal debate I have decided to allow myself to reprint parts of the article in this piece.  You can find the original article here , but be forewarned that piece is about the Clippers.

The Dagger

Larry Bird was a master of the "dagger three".  It wasn't just that Bird would make the field goal from beyond the arc, it was when he made it.

If the Celtics were leading by nine with a few minutes left in the quarter or a tight game was turned on its ear by an eight-zero Celtic run, Bird was looking to apply the dagger.  There is a big difference between leaving a team with a nine point deficit as opposed to a twelve point hill to climb.  An eight-zero flurry that gives your team a lead is the cake, the three point field goal that extends the lead even further is the icing.

I remember Bird sneaking over to the corner three line and waiting for the pass he knew would come.  Michael Cooper wasn't just guarding him, Coop was attached to him.  The ball came to Bird, Coops hands went up, Magic left his man to make a run at Bird screaming; Bird jumped (reaching full 2 inch vertical), the ball would leave his hands.  Swish.

Ugh.

Bird would return to the bench pumping his fits screaming as he watched M.L. Carr waving that stupid towel.  (Carr was the first player I remember seeing who was actually a fan favorite who could play.  He always seemed to contribute when he got playing time and was always inciting the crowd when he didn't.)

Bird knew just went to apply the dagger; he knew what they meant.

Dagger threes kill hope in the other team

Dagger threes get the other teams coach screaming for a time-out.

Dagger threes demoralize your opponent while pouring fuel on the fire of momentum that your team is riding.

No player shot and made more dagger threes than Larry Bird.  He was the original NBA Ninja Assassin.  He invented the shot that was later adopted by Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan.

In today's game I see less dagger threes and more heat check threes.  Kobe is one of only a few players that I think senses the opportunity to throw up a dagger (Stu Lantz, analyst on the Laker broadcasts even tried to get the nickname "dagger" to stick for Bryant; it didn't) he doesn't do it with the regularity or feel for the moment that Bird did however.

A dagger can come from any source of course.  A big steal, block, rebound, or layup; in the big sense of the word a dagger can even come in the form of a game.

Which got me to thinking, which players today come closest to being the modern NBA Ninja Assassin?  These are not necessarily super stars.  These are players that have an innate feel for the game and seem to make the big play when its needed.

Sadly, I don't see many Ninja Assasin candidates in todays Association.  Here are my top 10.

10. Vince Carter (Orlando)
His "Human Highlight Film" days are behind him but he can still stroke it.  Carter is also on the perfect team for him at this point in his career.  He can sit beyond the arc and wait for All World Dwight Howard to kick the ball out to him.  He will get his chances at daggers this year and make some.  I wonder if the ball will feel like a twenty-pound weight in his hands however when its kicked out with 3 seconds left on the clock and Paul Pierce running at him with the Magic down by two.

9. Trevor Ariza (Houston)
Ariza is the only player that can go Ninja on you on this list on either offence or defence.  He always seems to be at the right place at the right time making the right decision.  You do that once, you are lucky.  You do it over and over again then you are just good.  Ariza is good.  He is probably the worst shooter on this list but he is the last person you want to see defending the inbounds pass as your team nurses a small lead.

8. Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas)
When Nowitzki came into the league he seemed as out of place as Tiger in a N.O.W. conference.  Forget "deer in headlights", Dirk had that "No babe those text messages aren't mine" look in his face.  He improved though, boy did he improve.  Whether its that unblockable fall away or his smooth release from beyond the three point arc Nowitzki knows when to go for the dagger.  Like Carter however I wonder about his ability to get those shots to go come playoff time.

7. LeBron James (Cleveland)
This is probably as low as James has been ranked in any basketball related list since he was in the second grade.  I heard he ranked as the eighth best player back then on the High School Varsity team.  With a nod to the shot he hit against the Magic in last years playoffs this is an area of his game the future Clipper can work on.  He knows the game and has great respect for it so I would be shocked if we don't see more daggers from James in the future.  Too bad for Cav fans that most of them will take place in Staples in his Clippers jersey.

5. (Tie) Chauncy Billups (Denver) and Tony Parker (San Antonio)
Basketball is a funny game.  You add the wrong piece to the mix and you get a negative result (see Zach Randolph).  Add the right piece and you get a plus-one result.  Billups to the Nuggets was a plus-one.  It's like they added Billups plus a better Carmelo Anthony.  Billups is calm, cool, collected and a scary good shooter who understands when to take the big shoot.  He is on the down-side of his career but I still don't want the ball in his hands with a chance to apply the dagger if my team is playing the Nuggets.

Parker, like Brandon Jennings, began his career playing professionally overseas.  He never got the same notoriety as Jennings because Parker was born in France where he began to get paid for playing at 17.  Parker not only knows the game and when to go for the dagger he has the advantage of having played in the same system with the same players for a long time.  Understanding the game and the time for a dagger is one thing, having teammates who think like you and work to get you the ball with the best opportunity to succeed is another.  Parker has both.

4. Paul Pierce (Boston)
Not exactly Bird 2.0 but as close as we get on todays Green Team.  Pierce was reborn when Garnett and Allen joined him.  He seemed to have lost his passion prior to their arrival.  Its back now.  Like Bird Pierce has a routine when he launches that dagger three.  His clenched fist and arm pump have been seen in Celtic rivals nightmares for years.  Unlike Nowitzki and Carter I have no doubt when Pierce gets his shot at a playoff dagger he will take it and most likely make it.

3. Dwyane Wade (Miami)
If you need any further proof about how good a player Wade is look at the squad he plays with.  This is his team in every sense of the word.  When everyone known you will be taking the final shot and you still take it and make it -- you are a stud.  Wade has a maturity about him that makes me think not only will he continue to take daggers in his career he will get better at when to take them.  Lets hope he gets more chances in the playoffs.

2. Steve Nash (Phoenix)
How is this skinny little Canadian still dominating at this level?  How?  I need to know!  When he won two MVP's in a row some eyebrows were raised.  Not so much anymore.  Nash is a maestro on the court.  He can apply the dagger in the form of a three, a slash to the basket or a pass that forces you to go "WOW" no matter what team you root for.  Nash as Ninja is a funny mental image but on the court he fits the role perfectly.

1. Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles)
Let the cries of homer and LA bias begin.  This isn't about who takes the last shot or who is the best player this is only about who has the killer instinct, feel for the moment and the huevos to apply the knock-out punch.  No one in todays Association is more Ninja Assassin than the Black Mamba.  No one.

Honorable Mention goes to Deron Williams, Brandon Jennings, Eric Gordon and Chris Paul.  I really wanted to get Paul into the top ten but it didn't feel right.  I have a feeling if we redo this list in a few years he along with the others listed in this paragraph will be there.

Who did I miss?  Who was I crazy to include?