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Jersey Sure, or How I Spent the Lockout of 2011, Episode No. 5

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John Wallace didn't want to come to Sacramento, so we have to talk about Peja Stojakovic instead.

section214: Welcome to Episode No. 5 of Jersey Sure, or How I Spent the 2011 Lockout. In the first four episodes, we have seen the sublime (Rock, C-Webb) and the ridiculous (OP, OP). When I did my jersey series back in 2007, no one had worn the #17 or #19 in Sacramento, and Derek Smith (guh!) was the only player to have worn #18. Four years later and that has all changed, mostly for the better. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves…

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"You're going to love Sacramento, Peja. Garry St. Jean is there for the long haul...and he smells like cinnamon!"

16

Exhibit G: Aykis will ramble on for a long time about how much he likes Peja, and why Peja is clearly the only person you can consider for the number 16. Anyone else would be out of the question. But don’t let him fool you; Peja is the only person in consideration because he’s the only player to wear 16 for the Sacramento-era Kings.

 

Even if he wasn’t the only candidate, Peja would likely win out here. An integral part of the early-00s era Kings, we still have fond memories of Peja’s time here. An incredible shooter whose body eventually betrayed him, it is easy to forget that Peja was a legitimate MVP candidate during his time in Sacramento.

 

Finally, it is worth noting that he was with Hedo at the movie theater in the event I mentioned in Part 2 of this series. Like Hedo, Peja was impressively tall. This should not be discounted.

 

section214: I should try to keep this brief, because this is Aykis’ guy. So I will contain my thoughts to one season, and I will leave everything else about NaJohnWallace to the chic Greek.

 

In 2003-04, the Kings started the season without injured Chris Webber. There was an awful lot of slack to be picked up here, and no one answered the call more admirably, efficiently or heroically than Peja Stojakovic. Peja logged 81 games that year, 24.2ppg and 6.4rpg, both career highs. Peja shot 48% from the floor while taking a career high 17.1 shots per game, including nearly seven 3’s a game at astonishing 43% conversion rate. Add in his 92.7% free throw percentage (on 5.2 attempts per game), and you wound up with a guy that had an effective field goal percentage of 56.6%(!) and a true shooting percentage of 62.4%(!!!). This from a high volume shooter that made most of his living from the perimeter. There was no way in the world that this team should have been able to survive as an elite team without Webber, but the team flourished under Peja’s heightened play.

 

Unfortunately, no one seemed to notice this, and Webber was rushed back into the lineup for the last 23 games of the regular season and the playoffs. The Kings probably figured that they were not a championship team without C-Webb, in spite of the 50-19 record that they had crafted in Webber’s absence (they went 5-8 with Webber before ultimately losing in the 2nd round of the playoffs to Kevin Garnett and the Timberwolves). It wasn’t long after that a rift had reportedly been created between Webber and Stojakovic, and broken knees and broken chemistry foreshadowed the eventual downfall of a great NBA team.

All of this said, I submit that Peja Stojakovic’s 2003-04 season was the greatest season by any Sacramento Kings player. Better than Tyreke’s 20-5-5, better than Webber's 27/11 season in 2000-01. I believe that Peja is the all time Kings leader in 3’s made, and he may be Sacramento’s all time games leader as well. Regardless, for one season he was, in my opinion, the best to ever wear a Sacramento Kings uniform.

So much for keeping it brief. Sorry, Aykis.

Aykis16:  I’ve mentioned before that Peja Stojakovic is my favorite Kings player of all time (the 16 in my username is in fact a tribute to him and not my IQ as has been widely speculated) but I haven’t ever really gone into detail as to why.  Long story short, it's mainly because shooting has always been my favorite part of basketball, and Peja was the best shooter I had ever seen.  Growing up and playing basketball with my friends, I’d always be the guy in the corner waiting to catch a pass and hit the three.  At home, all I’d practice would be long shots.  The original NBA Jam?  I preferred shooting threes than doing the crazy dunks.  Love, love, love shooting, and one of my favorite sounds in the world is hearing the net crackle after a perfect swish.

When Peja first came over to the Kings I didn’t know what to expect.  The most I knew about him was that he had played professionally in Greece for PAOK and had been pretty good over there.  The Greek connection was another reason I grew to like Peja (He became a full-fledged Greek citizen while playing for PAOK).  I first really started to notice Peja’s shooting in his 2nd year.  But in his 3rd year he just erupted, going from a quality 6th man to a 20+ points per game starter.  Whenever he got an open shot, it was more of a surprise when it didn’t go in.  He wasn’t just a shooter back then either.  He really worked hard off-the-ball, cutting to the baskets for layups and dunks, or taking it inside himself.  He was a terror to guard, because he didn’t have to be open to shoot.  He might not have been Nowitzki tall, but he still was big enough to rise up over most defenders.  Speaking of Nowitzki, Peja might have been the best defender we had against him.  He played him tough, always contesting shots and never letting him have anything easy.  For a while I called him the "Dirk-stopper". 

I remember the Three Point Shootout where he almost became the first guy since Bird to win the contest three times in a row.  The Bee had a story about the event and how Peja would practice for it with Vlade as his ball boy.  Vlade said that he set up the racks and on the very first practice run Peja hit all 30 of them.  I don’t know if it was true, but knowing how Peja shot the ball, I believe it.

Post-Webber injury he became our go-to guy, and stepped his game another level, as section214 mentions above.  In that 2003-04 season he finished 4th in the league in MVP voting, which still boggles my mind.  He probably could have done even better if Bibby and Miller had deferred to him a little bit, but Peja was never really the vocal type.

I still remember the day we traded him and where I was when I found out.  I was in a High School history class and my teacher had the news on for some reason.  Then they announced that Peja had been traded for Ron Artest (for reals this time, unlike the false alarm prior).  At this point I had become a more educated fan and even I thought the team needed a bit of a shake-up after a terrible start and couldn’t wait to see what Ron brought to the team, particularly defensively.  But I still felt sad that Peja was leaving.

Funnily enough I have never met Peja Stojakovic despite my many attempts to do so.  At one of Vlade Divac’s camps it was rumored that Peja might come to help out, but he never did.  At an autograph session I attended, he left before I reached the front of the line.  And most frustratingly was Easter 2002 or 2003, I can’t remember which year it was exactly but it was one of those.  Peja and I are both Eastern Orthodox, and most Eastern Orthodox go to church for Easter Service at midnight.  At midnight we congregate outside and listen to the priest before going back inside for the rest of the service.  During that time outside, people kept staring at me and I didn’t know why.  It was only after the service when one of my uncles (who happens to be 6’9) came up to me and said, "Did you see Peja? He was standing right behind you!"  So close, yet so far.

Peja ranks prominently in the Kings record books.  He’s 1st in Games Played (518, 1 ahead of Mitch), 2nd in Minutes Played (17,723), 1st in 3PM (1070), 1st in 3PA (2687), 3rd in FGM (3352), 3rd in FGA (7269), 2nd in Points (9498), 3rd in FTM (1724), 5th in FTA (1947), 1st in FT% (.893), 7th in Total Rebounds (2581), 5th in PER (18.3), and 7th in True Shooting % (.585).  Peja hasn’t retired yet so the issue of jersey retirement hasn’t been discussed, but I’d say that based on those numbers alone, the #16 deserves to one day be in the rafters.

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"I'm the greatest #17 in Sacramento Kings history? Seriously?!?"

17

G: In the debate between Will Solomon and Garrett Temple, we all lose.

 

Aykis:  On a scale of 1-10, Garrett Temple is a 4 and Will Solomon is a -95 … on a good day.

section: As I mentioned, no one had worn this number in Sacramento through 2008. And then Will Solomon came along in 2009 and "set the bar." Solomon "played" in games 40 through 53 for the Kings in ’09, and the team responded by going 3-11, which was actually right in line with the team’s 17-65 season record. And I don’t want to blame Solomon for the fact that the team was so bad that he actually had to play, but watching him log minutes for the Kings may have been the toughest thing that I have watched in my 26 years of rooting for this team. He was sooooooo bad. So bad, in fact, that I will give Garrett Temple the edge at this number, even though he played a total of 5 games and 23 minutes for the Kings before declining a second 10 day contract with the team and opting to sign with San Antonio near the end of the 2009-10 season. For this single act of clarity (and for not being Will Solomon), I bestow the honor of greatest #17 upon Garrett Temple.

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Cool

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G: Although much of his time here will be seen as unfulfilled promise, Omri Casspi still wins out over Derek Smith.  Personally, I kind of wish there had been a better history of number 18’s for the Kings, simply because I find it fascinating to try to understand Casspi’s legacy here.

 

section: I had a pretty good anti-Semitic rant worked up here, but Omri Casspi saved us. Much in the same way that Moses saved the Israelites from the wrath of Pharaoh, Omri Casspi rescued us from having to honor Derek Smith as the greatest #18 in Sacramento Kings history (no hyperbole here, eh?). Smith wore the #18 in 87-88, the number 43 in 88-89 and the number 33 in 89-90. I think that this was his way of keeping fans from zeroing in on him, but he was on the floor so infrequently it didn’t really matter. In the year of 18, he played 35 games. It wasn’t Smith’s fault that the Kings didn’t bother to find out that his knees were made of straw when they traded the farm for him, but his presence really defined those early years of suckitude.

…and Peja begat Ron-Ron, and Ron-Ron begat Donté and the 23rd pick in the draft, and the 23rd pick in the draft begat Omri, who chose the number 18 to represent C’hai, which is Hebrew for "life." He was a steal in his rookie year, a hard-nosed player that could stroke the 3-ball. But he had trouble with his role in Westphal’s scheme, and he was cast out of the Kingsdom with a mighty hand, but not before he begat J.J. Hickson. But for making us relevant internationally for awhile, albeit briefly, I give the nod to Omri…and I will probably root harder for him than any other non-King in the NBA today.

Aykis:  I’m still sad that it had to end the way it did with Omri (no offense of J.J. Hickson).  The Kings needed consistency at the wing and they weren’t getting it from Omri or Donté.  It’s a bit harsh when you think about it too.  Both guys were essentially thrown into the fire and asked to contribute right from the get-go.  Omri handled it the best I think, but it still wasn’t enough. 

Omri could’ve been the next Peja for me, particularly with how he improved his three point shot in the NBA (he was not nearly as good a shooter in Israel).  He was a different type of European player than we were used to, a fierce competitor who loved the fast break.  I wish him all the best in Cleveland.  His best years are still ahead of him, and I know he has the drive to succeed.

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19

G: Even though he’s the only candidate, I’m happy that Beno Udrih is our best number 19.  If I time traveled to 2009 to find myself and tell myself about this post, I wouldn’t have believed me. I know, because this happened (I borrowed the Jetta from section). Farewell Beno. Nobody expects the Yeti.

 

Aykis: My thoughts on Beno Udrih can be found here if you haven’t read it already.

section: Well, Beno earns the honor of best and worst at this number, as he is the only one to have worn it in the Sacramento era. Udrih reflects both the best and worst of Geoff Petrie - the best in that Petrie picked Udrih off of the NBA scrap heap, the worst being the contract that he ultimately bestowed upon Beno. Fun fact – Bob Cousy wore it for the Cincinnati Royals for seven games in 1969, at the age of 41, after having been retired for seven years. I guess that he was looking for a gig in between the Celtics and "Blue Chips."

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section: Friday is casual day, which means you can read episode 6 with your Potapenko untucked. See you then!

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