The Fundamentals

» October 19, 2009 9:13 AM | By Brandon Hoffman

Brian Windhorst of The Cleveland Plain Dealer:  “So-called ‘star calls’ have been commonplace in the NBA for many years, even if it often perturbs fans. But you haven’t truly arrived until you have your own ‘star rules.’ Shaquille O’Neal has been there for a while, LeBron James is just getting there now.  Decades ago the league installed a rule that players who are fouled before the ball is inbounded or away from the ball in the final two minutes of the game get free throws plus another possession. This was once known as the Wilt Chamberlain rule but over the last dozen or so years has become known as the Shaq rule. It limits the effectiveness of the Hack-a-Shaq strategy late in close games. Five years ago this month, the NBA installed a new hand check rule that prevented defenders from placing their hands on players at all when they’re driving from the perimeter. At the time the league was concerned about the pace of scoring after watching the Spurs and Pistons rack up titles by holding opponents in the 70s with physical defense. The fact there were a host of young, skilled drivers in the league probably wasn’t a big factor in the decision, but it turned out to be a huge benefit for them. There’s no doubt it has been a significant advantage for James, who started exploiting it on a nightly basis and instantly became a regular among the league scoring leaders. It also was a welcome relief to Dwyane Wade, who uses the rule more artfully than James sometimes, and ultra-quick guards like Tony Parker. Now comes this. The NBA has re-written another long-standing rule that directly benefits James and surely will kick off some debate with basketball purists. It is now in writing that players are permitted to take two steps after they ‘gather’ the ball and not be called for traveling.”

Elliott Teaford of the Los Angeles Daily News:  “Coach Phil Jackson could have rolled out the basketballs and then sat back and watched as the Lakers went through the motions during training camp. He wouldn’t have blamed them for suppressing yawns. It’s always tough for a championship team to get back to work. There’s not much glory in shooting drills. So, count Jackson as pleasantly surprised by the Lakers’ eagerness during their preseason workouts. He said they have been ‘motivated and striving.’ ‘They seem to have as competitive practices as I’ve had in my coaching career, and I think that’s a good situation,’ Jackson said before the Lakers defeated the Charlotte Bobcats 91-87 in an exhibition game Saturday night at Staples Center. ‘Sometimes it’s hard for players to push themselves in the preseason. It doesn’t seem to be as important when you come off a high of winning a championship (then going) back to the drudgery of practices. Practices get long.’ When he coached the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s, Jackson used to pit Michael Jordan against Scottie Pippen. With the Lakers, he often has Kobe Bryant play against Ron Artest, and Pau Gasol face Andrew Bynum in scrimmages. ‘That makes for a real spirited practice,’ Jackson said. ‘The white team, the second unit, has given the blues, the starters, a real run for their money. But it’s when I split them up that they get really competitive.’”

Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News:  “After giving his players a day off from the practice court, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich put them through a session on Sunday that lasted slightly more than two hours, part of a planned expansion of activity designed to have his players in peak condition by opening night. By unofficial observation, the Spurs have had three practices of two hours or more in the past six days. ‘For us, training camp practices get harder as we go,’ Popovich said. ‘We don’t start out hard in the beginning. We try to wind it up as we get close to the beginning of the season. It’s a good way to try to stay away from injury and let people get back in the swing of things, and not be Mr. Macho in the very beginning.’ For newcomer Richard Jefferson, playing for his third team in as many years, it seemed like a smart approach for a veteran team. ‘He told us that’s what it was going to be, that he was going to build up,’ Jefferson said. ‘We had a little idea of what he was trying to accomplish. You come in here, and you know every day is going to get more and more intense. Just like when the season starts, every day, every game is going to get more and more intense.’”

Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:  “The Rockets’ difficulties defensively have been in part caused by using different combinations in the frontcourt, leading to a lack of cohesion and communication not uncommon in the preseason. But they also have been held back offensively, with players bringing different styles and strengths, from Pops Mensah-Bonsu’s ability to play above the rim to Brian Cook’s ability to shoot 24 feet away from it. ‘It’s about finding the strengths of different people and then trying to incorporate those strengths in the game,’ Adelman said. ‘I wasn’t sure what was going to be best for us. I think we have a pretty good idea about individual people, what they are going to do. I think we still are going to try to run. We felt that from the start. I think it’s even more apparent that if we get up the court quicker and get into our stuff quicker, we have even more of a chance to attack the other team.’ The Rockets have found that if the motion-based half-court offense does not spring someone open quickly, they are better suited to moving to more traditional pick-and-rolls, the key to their success in the postseason wins against the Lakers after Yao Ming’s injury.”

Julian Benbow of The Boston Globe:  “By his own admission, Rajon Rondo would roll the dice more than a few times a night. He’d let the point guard get by him, then swipe at the ball from behind, trying to poke out a steal, or ‘back-tipping’’ as he put it. ‘I used to be good for four, five, six of those a game,’ Rondo said. Sometimes they turned into highlights. Sometimes they turned into buckets the other way. This preseason, they have been scaled back. And that alone, said coach Doc Rivers, is what could be the next step in improving a point guard who already was second-team all-defense a year ago. ‘I think he’s a better defender this year than he was last year by far because he’s doing more team things,’ Rivers said. ‘He’s not gambling as much, he’s staying in front of the ball, he’s doing a fantastic job of getting over pick-and-rolls. That was one of his weak points last year. He would reach on pick-and-rolls instead of getting in front of the ball and squaring it up.’ Trying to determine how well a point guard defends is less about how many points his man scores and more about what kind of position he allows his man to get. ‘If that guard is in the paint causing havoc, whether he’s scoring or creating scoring, then our point guard’s not doing a good job,’ Rivers said.”

Mike Wise of the Washington Post:  “One of the most telling stories from Gilbert Arenas’s mischievous youth featured his father, the only parent who cared for him growing up. Gilbert Sr., the original Gil the Thrill, tried to compete against his son in Tecmo Bowl, a relic of a video game by today’s Madden NFL 10 standards. ‘He didn’t really know how to play,’ Arenas said. So of course, his son showed him all he needed to know — to lose. After about 10 blitzes in a row, after a confounded, angry father learned his giggling son had tricked him, Gil Sr. punched little Gil in the arm. Hard. ‘Gil ran into the bathroom,’ his father said when he first told me the story three years ago. ‘I yelled: ‘Gil, you quit, you lose! Gil, you quit, you lose!’ He never came out.’ That was almost 20 years ago. Senior and Junior have yet to sit side by side to play another video game. Then and now, it’s all fun and games for Gilbert Arenas until someone gets hurt. Or until an open, authentic player, embraced by Washington when he came to town six years ago almost as much as he embraced the city and its forever-suffering pro basketball fans, suddenly felt like the candor he freely showed was being thrown in his face.”

Jeff Eisenberg of the Riverside Press-Enterprise:  “When Ron Artest signed with the Lakers this summer, skeptics suggested his volatile disposition would be a greater threat to the defending champs’ title quest than any opponent they face on the court. Quietly, however, Artest is taking a proactive approach to addressing his problems of the past. Artest revealed before Sunday’s 114-108 exhibition victory over the Clippers that he has been seeing a Houston-based sports psychologist regularly since last season. The sessions have helped him overcome his well-chronicled anger issues, cope with the pressure of joining the star-studded Lakers and learn how to set aside his ego and become a better teammate. ‘A lot of people always said, ‘He needs a therapist,’ but all my problems came from on the court,’ Artest said. ‘I was wondering, ‘How do I find someone to help me deal with that?’ When we lost I used to hate it so much, but now I found a way not to accept it but just to deal with it.’ … It’s his work with the sports psychologist that makes Artest confident those mistakes are behind him. He’ll even watch tapes of previous sessions with the psychologist before games to drive home the lessons he has learned.”

Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman:  “Kevin Durant grew emotional as he spoke to reporters Sunday afternoon. The topic: his return to the Frank Erwin Center on the campus of his alma mater, the University of Texas. On Tuesday night, the Thunder forward will return to the building in which he began building his basketball legacy when Oklahoma City hosts San Antonio. The last time Durant traveled to UT to be honored he cried as the school lifted his No. 35 jersey to the rafters during a halftime ceremony to retire his number. ‘That’s something you don’t come past every day, people that get their jersey retired at a big-time university like that,’ Durant said. ‘It’s a blessing to go back.’ In Durant’s final home game as a Longhorn, he scored 30 points with 16 rebounds in a classic 98-96 double-overtime win over Texas A&M. Anyone who thinks Tuesday’s return will be just another preseason game doesn’t know Durant. His continued admiration for his alma mater is not just an act. He enjoys riling up the Sooners faithful on this side of the Red River, but he genuinely bleeds burnt orange. It’s a love affair rarely seen between school and one-and-done stars like Durant. Making it even more extraordinary is the love goes both ways.”

Marcus Thompson II of the Contra Costa Times:  “Remember how the Warriors weren’t worried about swingman Stephen Jackson? He’s a pro’s pro, they said. He’s a guy who would do his job and not cause problems. Well, it seems Jackson has finally gotten to that point. ‘Yeah,’ coach Don Nelson said after Sunday’s practice. ‘I feel he’s there now.’ Jackson, who’s been the source of discourse since his desires to be traded went public during the summer, said he’s turned the page. He said he’s going to focus on the basketball court and keep his lips sealed. After all, the regular season is just nine days away. ‘I’m not as dumb as people think,’ Jackson said. ‘I’m a smart guy. Sometimes I might say some things that people don’t expect because it was on my mind. But I know what’s right and wrong. I know what I need to do to continue to build my reputation in this league as a player and as a man. By keeping my composure, it’s going to help me and not take away from me being a great basketball player.’”

Matt Steinmetz of FanHouse:  “It’s probably a little early to say that Warriors rookie Stephen Curry is having trouble shooting the ball at the pro level. After all, he hasn’t played a regular-season game yet. At the same time, Curry has begun to assemble his professional body of work — with a full summer league behind him and six exhibition games. And if that’s all you’ve seen of him, it certainly seems fair to ask: ‘Is this guy really a good shooter?’ On Saturday, Curry again struggled from the field, going 3-for-9 in Golden State’s 101-94 loss to the Kings. Unfortunately, it was just the latest in a string of bad shooting performances. ‘I’m shooting a lot more off ball screens here,’ Curry said. ‘In college it was more in transition, pulling up off the dribble or working the ball and getting it back off a screen. Different shots now in the NBA. I just have to get used to it.’ Curry entered Saturday’s game shooting just 31.4 percent in the preseason. That on the heels of a Las Vegas Summer League in which he shot 34.5 percent from the floor.”

Sam Amick of the Sacramento Bee:  “By Don Nelson’s count, there are 16 NBA teams that could ultimately allow the Golden State coach to use his diminutive guard combination of Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry this season. If that’s the case, it’s welcome news for the Kings. If that many teams have backcourts so small that Ellis and Curry (both 6-foot-3) can survive defensively, it also means 6-7 Kevin Martin and 6-6 Tyreke Evans of the Kings can look forward to just as many nights of mismatch mania, as they had in Saturday night’s 101-94 win over the Warriors at Arco Arena. While this likely was the most extreme example, it was exactly what the Kings envisioned when they drafted Evans fourth overall out of Memphis in June. His size and attack-mode mentality forced Nelson to put small forward Stephen Jackson on Evans for most of the night, leaving Martin to be guarded by the defenseless Curry en route to scoring 32 points. Evans had 16 points on 7-of-14 shooting, six rebounds, three assists and six turnovers. Nelson, who was thrilled on draft day when Curry fell to him at No. 7, said his team won’t be the only one struggling to deal with the problems Evans creates.”

Alan Hahn of Newsday:  “Nate Robinson hinted after he soared over Dwight Howard to win his second Sprite Slam Dunk title last February that it might be his last jump. He figured after three appearances in the popular All-Star Saturday event, fans ‘might be sick of me.’ On the contrary. His jersey skyrocketed in popularity (top 10 in the NBA) and he often drew cheers in road arenas. So when I asked him before Sunday’s exhibition game against Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv if he was reconsidering his plans for All-Star Weekend, Robinson used the opportunity to throw out a challenge. ‘It’s a definite,’ he said, ‘only if LeBron does it.’ You remember last year, on the TNT broadcast of the contest, LeBron James told TNT’s David Aldridge that he was ‘preliminarily putting my name in the 2010 dunk contest.’ … We already started offering some ideas. One was to have a 2010 contract taped to the backboard and sign it while dunking. Another would be to sign the actual backboard. ‘That would go right on eBay,’ Nate laughed. What about jumping over a carboard cut-out of LeBron in a Knicks jersey? There are so many options. But they have to be good if they’re going to be enough to keep the crown away from the King.”

Jonathan Abrams of The New York Times:  “Much to Mike D’Antoni’s delight, the Orlando Magic dispelled the notion that a team that relies on the 3-pointer could not reach the N.B.A. finals. Orlando reflects the trajectory the league has taken on the 3-pointer. Teams attempted a record 44,583 3-pointers in 2008-9. They made 36.68 percent, the second-highest success rate in league history. Teams converted 36.69 percent in 1995-96, when the 3-point line was a uniform 22 feet from the basket. Since 1997-98, the arc has ranged from 22 feet at the corners to 23 feet 9 inches. Last season, D’Antoni’s Knicks set an N.B.A. record with 2,284 attempts, or nearly 28 a game. His Suns made the most 3-pointers in N.B.A. history with 837 in 2005-6. Bell’s attempts rose to 446 in 2005-6, his first season with Phoenix, from 134 with the Utah Jazz a season earlier. Some purists bemoan the lost art of the midrange jump shot, a sign that fundamentals are being extinguished beneath a mix tape of long shots and slam dunks. As the N.B.A. slowly turns toward more analytical measures, the 3-pointer is viewed under a new prism. The most ideal shot, Nets Coach Lawrence Frank said, is from the free-throw line because it almost always results in at least a point. The next-highest-percentage shot is at the rim. Three-pointers are next. But a team would have to shoot 60 percent on 2-pointers to match the offensive output of a team that shoots 40 percent from beyond the arc. ‘Teams have all caught on to the whole points-per-possession argument,’ Frank said.”

Richard Sandomir of The New York Times:  “Mikhail Prokhorov reached an agreement last month with the Nets’ principal owner, Bruce C. Ratner, to pay $200 million for 80 percent of the team and 45 percent of the proposed arena in Brooklyn that is the showpiece of Ratner’s Atlantic Yards development. But to complete the deal, Prokhorov will have to win the approval of at least 23 of the N.B.A.’s 30 owners, which may not be easy, even for a tycoon who capitalized on Russia’s shift of state enterprises to private ownership in the 1990s. On Wednesday, he will try to make a positive impression on some of the owners during a meeting of the league’s advisory and finance committee in Manhattan. Like any prospective owner, Prokhorov will be investigated by the N.B.A. and a security firm that specializes in risk management. They will try to ascertain his net worth, debts, character, associates, personal history and integrity. The process is designed to rule out inappropriate buyers who lack financial clout or present public-relations risks to the league. Commissioner David Stern, who has led the league’s efforts to export its brand for decades, said, ‘We have a very extensive, stringent, some would say, invasive, but I wouldn’t, process for vetting the character and financial capacity of all owners.’ With Prokhorov, he added, ‘We may have to look wider at our sources, but it’s the same route you travel, just a little longer.’ But experts in the oligarchy and corporate risk-management said it would not be easy because public records from Prokhorov’s world are scarce or incomplete, Russian bank records are difficult to examine, and news media reports are not always reliable.”


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