For years, we've been eagerly awaiting Victor Claver, a Spanish Kevin Durant with the unlimited shooting (and whiteness) of Larry Bird. At long last, the prodigy has arrived
The looming question with regard to Spanish sensation Victor Claver's leap to the NBA was rarely whether he'd be effective defending LeBron James or driving on Dirk, but rather if he'd ever actually arrive. Since the Portland Trail Blazers selected him 22nd overall in the 2009 draft, there's been this extended holding pattern. Three seasons came and went, Portland kicking around the NBA's mediocre, sparkling only when LaMarcus dominated or Nic Batum rained threes. Meanwhile, in Spain Claver remained, while Blazer fans watched stocky point guard Raymond Felton struggle with coach McMillan's snail offense. All of which amounted to great relief in June when the Blazers signed their 24-year-old Larry Bird metaphor.
And isn't it an apt one? The whiteness, being a small forward, standing 6'9, and the shooting of the basketball. Of course, merely looking like an NBA legend does not an NBA legend make. And then there's also the question of whether Claver is ready to glaze over the brazen contrast between the coast of Catalonia and the constant rain of Portland. (Por ejemplo: Qué es un "trail blazer," anyway?) "Barcelona," he says, "is very similar to Santa Monica. I was out there two years ago to watch the NBA Finals. I got a sense of the place—that the people were crazy for the Lakers."
So is it a bummer that you didn't land in Miami or L.A.? "Nah, when you play in the NBA, the city, I think, is not the most important thing. The better place might be one that's not at the top right now—a place that can use me, that can grant me experience." Which is not to write off a winter field trip to the Mediterranean. "Batum, Aldridge, and I were joking about getting the whole team out to Barcelona to practice," he says. "They were joking...but not, you know?"
The NBA season—and Victor Claver's stateside career—is only a month old, and yet it seems like experts have backpedaled marathon miles on their prognostications about how the Spaniard's rookie season might play out. Almost nine rebounds and fifteen points per game; third among Western Conference forwards on the first and second returns of All-Star ballots; January frontrunner for Rookie of the Year. It's sort of strange that we're all surprised by this. After all, basketball brains never seemed to deny that Claver harbored a well of talent; it was more a matter of translation. As he'd worked it for years in Spanish pro ball, could Claver, in the NBA, make it look as though he was the only player on the court capable of a consummate jump shot? Or, more specifically, (the answer is apparently yes) capable of a consummate jump shot right in Dirk Nowitzki's face.
In short, the gamble paid off. The Blazers gnawed on their knuckles for two very uncertain seasons while they waited for Claver to appear; he's brought the fire, made it worthwhile. I recently saw Portland described as the most exciting good team in the NBA. Which by my softspot-scratchpad makes them the team most worth tuning in for.