Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Few basketball players ever have possessed the absolutely absurd shooting range of Gilbert Arenas.

He makes shots — either at the end of a quarter, half or game — that would be a one-in-a-million heave for most players.

There is no strain in the release. There is no compromise in the mechanics of the shot. Arenas can shoot a 35-footer with the ease of a 15-footer. His capacity to do this is occurring with greater frequency, as it develops into part of his offensive package.

Arenas did not have a strong shooting game in Toronto. And yet, just before the halftime buzzer sounded, he pulled up from 36 feet on the right side of the court and buried what is becoming his specialty shot.

Those familiar with Arenas were not moved to say, “Whoa.”

For it has become almost routine, even expected.

The NBA is taking notes.

Terry Stotts, coach of the Bucks, knew exactly what Arenas was planning to do before he converted the game-winning 32-footer last Wednesday night on Fun Street.

A few wondered whether Arenas had lost track of the game clock as he calmly pulled into shooting range from well beyond the top of the key.

But Stotts knew, as did Charlie Bell, the defender who was able to get an outstretched hand in the face of Arenas. It didn’t matter. The ball went through the cylinder, and that was the game.

The public relations staff of the Wizards now keeps a running tab on the last-second field goals of Arenas.

He is up to 10 this season, according to Daren Jenkins, one of the team’s thorough record-keepers.

Not all 10 have been from breathtaking range. The one at the end of the third quarter in Phoenix was from a ho-hum 19 feet.

Arenas practices these statistically improbable shots, of course. But it is more than that. He has uncommon strength for someone who is a half-inch shorter than his listed height of 6-foot-4. That strength, especially in his lower body, facilitates the distance on his shots. It also is this strength that allows him to create space for his shot whenever he ventures into traffic around the basket.

He often is able to absorb the blow and complete the play. This is what Dwyane Wade does as well, only Wade lacks the perimeter shooting ability of Arenas.

Arenas does not look exceptionally strong, because he is one massive muscle. His 210 pounds could pass for 180.

Arenas and Wade would be considered the prototype guard of the future if it weren’t for Oscar Robertson, who set the standard for physically imposing guards.

Arenas and Wade are merely following in the path of Robertson, who utilized his strength long before basketball saw the merit in players training with weights. The antiquated fear was players would become less coordinated with the onset of the additional muscle.

Basketball thinkers now know better. They certainly saw what a chiseled frame could do for a previously nondescript power forward by the name of Karl Malone.

Arenas is the product of superb shooting skill, unique physical strength and obsessive practice habits. If he were missing just one of the three qualities, he would not be making shots from 30-40 feet.

His last-second, shot-making ability this season has not matched the gem he dropped on the Cavaliers at the end of the first quarter in Game 2 last spring.

Arenas took a dribble past the midcourt line and unleashed a 40-footer directly facing the basket. His shooting form was impeccable, the shot flawless.

That moment was a precursor of long-range shots to come, including the game-tying one against the Cavaliers at the end of regulation in Game 6.

The distance on the Arenas-inspired bombs is the best guess of those entrusted with monitoring such things, an imprecise figure that is unofficially official.

NBA defenses are learning you cannot relax on Arenas from unthinkable shooting distances.

Arenas does not merely extend the defense. He mocks it.

With the clock winding down, he demands that you pick him up at halfcourt.

His is not the accidental 35-footer. It now is part of his repertoire.

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