I was out of town this past weekend, so I didn’t catch Friday night’s Bucks-Pistons game or Saturday night’s Bucks-Cavs game. Even when I’m away, I try and keep an eye and a half on the game, just in case something major happens. I hate missing games entirely, especially home games. There’s always that chance something really cool might happen, something that makes you say, “Ah, I wish I saw that.”
Especially in April.
In meaningless April games, the court becomes wet with opportunity. Rookies who typically wouldn’t be playing find themselves thrust into action, given a chance to show what they can do and veterans get the opportunity to either rest or work on parts of their games that they don’t showcase all year. More importantly, guys get to gun for stats.
If a player gets even a whiff that he may be able to do something cool, you better believe he’s going to try and make it happen in April. For everyone saying these games are meaningless, you’re half right. In the grand scheme of things, yes, they are. But in the small picture, they are huge opportunities for players to do outrageous things.
Being a Bucks fan has taught us that much.
Remember Ramon Sessions? The little used rookie had played in just seven games, all in the month prior to April of 2008. In April, Sessions averaged 38.8 minutes per game and produced 11.35 points and 11.3 assists per game, peaking with a 20 point, 24 assist effort against the Bulls. His season ending hot streak left his name on the minds of Bucks fans all summer, as they waited to see if he would take the reigns the following season.
The season before, it was Dan Gadzuric tossing around double digit rebound games like he was an NBA center or something like that. Gadz logged three straight April double-doubles and had everyone thinking for a second that he may still have something to offer.
And while Sessions was stacking numbers that April, he had a teammate right with him. Charlie Villanueva finished off a mediocre second season as a Buck in stylish fashion, averaging 17.9 points and 8.3 rebounds. Charlie V. was at his sweet shooting finest against the Raptors that month, making seven of 12 threes en route to 38 points on April 9. It seemed as fine a performance as any Buck would have on an April 9.
At least until this season, when Drew Gooden went out and did the cool thing I would have loved to have seen in person but couldn’t because I was out of town for the first time all season. Gooden has hinted all season that he could have some special nights with his passing. He’s dropped in the occasional no-look and swung the ball to open shooters more than I expected from a guy with a “shoot first, ask questions later” reputation. So, when I saw that he logged five assists in the first quarter, I wasn’t totally shocked.
When I saw that he had a triple double though, I was damn near floored. Bucks players haven’t been much of a threat to dish 10 assists this year. They haven’t shot well enough, plain and simple. But against the Cavs, the Bucks have had some success this year, as most teams have. And as shots kept falling, Gooden knew he was close — he said as much to the media after the game.
And that’s the beauty of being out of it in April. Guys can smell those rare achievements and chase after them. It’s fun, even if it is relatively hollow. As Sessions and Villanueva before proved, racking up special numbers at this point in the season isn’t necessarily an indicator of future success as a Bucks player. Both of them were gone just a season after their late season surges.
Gooden’s big game likely won’t buy him the same goodwill Sessions and Charlie V.’s comparable acts earned them, not after an injury plagued, underwhelming debut season as a Buck. It will take a few more triple doubles to sway the masses when Gooden’s long term, moderate money contract is figured in. But this isn’t about all that. It’s about April, and the fun it can produce when a talented player meets an opportunity for noteworthy statistics. It may not be The Masters, but it’s a Bucks tradition.
Thanks to Drew Gooden, the tradition lives on.