So here we are, we’ve finally reached number one on our Top 44 Nets of All-Time project and the number one spot belongs to none other than Jason Kidd. The Captain. When trying to think about what it was that Kidd brought to the Nets, I kept coming back to one word: belief.
In the 2001 the Nets traded Stephon Marbury, Johnny Newman and Soumaila Samake to the Phoenix Suns for Kidd and Dudley, and on that day, the franchise was forever changed.
Kidd’s first act as a Net? Declare that he thought the Nets could win 40 games in his first season. (gasp!)
"Hopefully, I haven't put too much pressure on Rod Thorn and Byron Scott," Jason Kidd said.
Turns out Kidd set his sights too low.
After all, the Nets were a team that the season before won just 26 games and, as chronicled at length on this site before, besides short pockets of success were generally considered losers amongst NBA fans. So for Kidd to come in and think we could win at least 40 games, he must’ve known something that we didn’t and he believed. And, once he stepped on the court, he slowly convinced everyone else too.
Let's look at what made Kidd so great.
Looking back, that 40-win prediction by Kidd isn’t so crazy after all. Isn’t intuition part of what makes Kidd so great anyway? An ability to be one step (if not two or three) ahead of his competition at all times.
One of the most thrilling visuals was of a long jump-shot going up and Kidd breaking on the rebound while nine others were statues. Kidd had a radar-like sense for the ball, a bloodhound sense to sniff out where rebounds would land, where passes would be thrown, or most importantly where his teammates would be and how the defense would react to one of his fakes.
He was able to predict, with certainty, that if he threw a pass off the backboard, Kenyon Martin was sure to be there to slam it home. He knew that if he caught a rebound and fired an outlet pass up court without looking, that Richard Jefferson or Kerry Kittles would be there to run on to it.
Kidd's instincts took a great player and made him a legendary one.
The other thing that made Kidd so unique as a player was his creativity. "Nothing ventured, nothing gained," is a quote that could describe the way JKidd played. Jason Kidd had a Brett Favreian approach to point guard, but there is a line between reckless and creative and nobody toed that line better than JKidd.
A Kidd-led fast break could result in literally anything; a fake pass to one side and a behind the back pass to the trailer, a one-handed bounce pass in perfect stride to a streaking teammate, a no look alley-oop lob to a cutter, faking to the trailer before shot-faking and leaving off to another teammate... the list goes on and on.
Bottom line, Kidd was always up to something, always looking for ways to set up his teammates, and for that, he was the ultimate point guard. Just look at Kidd’s teammates on the Nets: guys like Kenyon Martin, Richard Jefferson, Mikki Moore, Kerry Kittles, Keith Van Horn. Guys who played their best basketball of their career with Kidd. Kidd turned a cast of characters that won 26 games without him into a juggernaut.
Besides the intangibles, he had a bundle of tangible gifts that’s made him an all-time great. At 6'4" and 210 lbs., Kidd was physically bigger than all of his counterparts at point guard; yet, despite his sheer size, during his time with the Nets Kidd was often the quickest player. Adding Kidd’s instinctual brain to his massive body was like equipping a Ferrari with a MacBook.
This anomaly posed dilemmas for opposing coaches and often led to cross-matches, which again were advantage Nets. Kidd possessed a handle not so much of the move-you-shake-you Allen Iverson type, but his own of speed and efficiency. He wasn’t a change-of-pace player, the way Steve Nash can lull you to sleep before exploding; instead, Kidd managed to play at his top speed, all the time. His ability to change direction at top speed left backpedaling defenders merciless.
His passing and offensive exploits are well-documented with the Nets, but Kidd was a lockdown defender then too, even more so than he is today. Need help chasing Reggie Miller around screens? Kidd can do it. Kobe Bryant’s starting to get warm? Have Jason slow him down. Pick-and-roll coverage with Kidd was easy because if caught on a switch, Kidd gave up nothing, no matter what the size difference. (I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve seen post players think they could just bully Kidd into an easy bucket, but before getting their shot up, Jason had stripped them of the ball.)
Ultimately, it’s hard to quantify the impact that Kidd had on the franchise in words. He took a team, considered a universal punchline, and turned into the beasts of the East, and did so in such a way that he galvanized a fan base and created a legend.
But since words don’t do the man justice, let’s dive into the numbers and production. He’s far and away the Nets leader in assists, three pointers, and steals. He’s top 5 in games, minutes played, total rebounds, points, and win shares.
He’s third all-time in NBA history in triple-doubles, with a majority of those coming as a Net. (This does not include the number of games in which Kidd missed a triple-double by only one rebound, one assist or one point.)
Kidd became a winner with the Nets too. He dragged a team that had virtually no other All-Star on it to back-to-back NBA Finals. He made All-Stars out of his counterparts. The Nets' only Eastern Conference Championships came with Jason at the helm.
Jason Kidd came into a hopeless situation and made us believe that winning was possible. He did so in such a way and with such style that captured a franchise and state's imagination. At his best, Kidd inspired. He inspired not only us as fans, but also his teammates to a higher level of play than they were capable of without him. There may be players that achieve more in a Nets uniform, but it’ll be hard to find a greater player than the captain.
Here's the genius of Jason Kidd, in video.