The Fundamentals

» November 11, 2009 8:58 AM | By Brandon Hoffman

Scott Bordow of the East Valley Tribune:  “Now that the Phoenix Suns are 7-1 and the New York Knicks are 1-7, we can conclude something about the working relationship between Mike D’Antoni and Steve Nash. D’Antoni’s free-wheeling, ‘Seven Seconds or Less’ offense was custom built for Nash, who improvises like no other point guard since Pete Maravich. D’Antoni had the courage and vision to put the ball in Nash’s hands and turn the NBA’s belief system on its head. But — and this is the key — the system doesn’t work without someone like Nash. Credit for the Suns’ torrid start can be spread to several sources — Grant Hill’s work on the boards, Amaré Stoudemire’s new-found commitment to defense, Jared Dudley’s hustle — but the primary reason is Nash. Just three months shy of his 36th birthday, he’s playing as well as he did when he won back-to-back most valuable player awards in 2004-05 and 2005-06. … You knew Nash would revel in the freedom given him by coach Alvin Gentry, who has borrowed D’Antoni’s offense. But there’s something else going on here. Nash is having fun again. The journey always has been as important to him as the destination, and the past two seasons were a joyless grind.”

Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel:  “In college football it’s usually pretty easy to identify a team’s biggest rival.  Army’s biggest rival is Navy. Michigan’s biggest rival is Ohio State. Oklahoma’s biggest rival is Texas. Notre Dame’s biggest rival is Southern Cal. But what about in the NBA? Who is the Magic’s biggest rival? These days I don’t think it’s even a discussion. It’s the Cleveland Cavaliers, whom the Magic will play tonight in Amway Arena. And it’s for one reason and one reason only. Not because of LeBron. Not because the two teams met last year in the Eastern Conference Finals. Not because Cleveland fans are just jealous because we get to live in Orlando. No. It’s about Shaq, stupid. He’s the biggest reason the Cavs are the team Orlando most wants to beat. He’s the guy who wrecked this franchise all those years ago. He’s the guy who called Orlando ‘a dried-up little pond.’ He’s the guy who called Magic coach Stan Van Gundy a ‘nobody,’ a ’bum’ and a ‘master of panic.’ He’s the guy who called Magic superstar Dwight Howard ‘an impostor.’ He’s also the guy who has four rings to the Magic’s none.”

Kate Fagan of the Philadelphia Inquirer:  “Before signing a five-year, $80 million contract with the Sixers before last season, Brand, in nine NBA seasons, had never played a full NBA season averaging less than 37.0 minutes a game. Two seasons ago, he missed all but eight games with a torn Achilles. Last season, he missed all but 29 games with a shoulder injury. After averaging 20.3 points and 10.1 rebounds during his first nine NBA seasons, Brand is averaging 13.1 points and 8.3 rebounds a game in 36 games with the Sixers. Added up, all those numbers, spanning a decade, can be summarized with a few words: Things aren’t going as planned. Brand is sitting at the end of close games. He’s become a very expensive fifth option. And Jordan seems less concerned with how to incorporate Brand and more concerned with Brand accepting the situation. ‘I look at how you play in the game,’ Jordan said. ‘It’s not all about stats; anybody can get stats and lose. There are a lot of good stat players on losing teams that when you put them on winning teams, they’re not good players. Not to say I’m talking about our guys.’”

Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star:  “Practice had ended an hour earlier, and most of the Indiana Pacers were long gone. Mike Dunleavy, trying to work his way back from a knee injury, was shooting on one end of the court. All-Star Danny Granger, working his way back from an early shooting slump, was on the other. ‘Come on, Danny!’ a frustrated Granger yelled after he failed to make consecutive 3-pointers during a drill with assistant coach Frank Vogel. Later, after hitting five consecutive 3s, he missed from outside the key. ‘This spot is killing me,’ he said, walking back to the corner. And so the quest to rediscover his shooting touch continues. He hopes all the hard work in a desolate gym pays off, heading into tonight’s game at Conseco Fieldhouse against the Golden State Warriors. Granger still leads the Pacers in scoring (22.8 ppg), but he’s missing more often than usual and acting like the 3-point line is a force field he can’t break through. More than half of his shots — 51-of-93 — have been behind the line. He leads the NBA in 3-point attempts per game at 10.2, but is making just 29 percent.”

Arash Markazi of  “Few players in the league are as athletic around the rim as 6-foot-9 Hawks forward Josh Smith, who recently became the fastest in NBA history to reach 900 blocks. But that explosiveness hasn’t always translated into efficient production on offense because of Smith’s insistence on proving that he could be a long-range shooter as well. That is, until this season. Smith, 23, has changed his game in his sixth season — with an immediate payoff. A career 27 percent shooter from beyond the arc, he hasn’t attempted a single three-pointer during Atlanta’s 5-2 start. (Even Joe Smith has taken three.) As a result, Smith is connecting on 57.3 percent from the field, well above his career mark of 45.6. He’s also cut down on his turnovers and nearly doubled his assist average from last season (4.4 from 2.4). Combine those numbers with his 6.6 rebounds and 2.9 blocks, and Smith ranks among the NBA’s 20 most efficient players. ‘I don’t feel I have to shoot threes,’ said Smith, who averaged 1.2 attempts per game before this season. ‘I have teammates who can stroke the ball from outside, so there’s no need for me to shoot threes. I can concentrate on the inner part of the court near the basket.’”

Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News:  “There is confidence, and then there is supreme confidence. If ever Manu Ginobili were feeling the latter, it came early in the fourth quarter of the Spurs’ 131-124 victory over Toronto on Monday. Fourteen seconds after checking into the game, Ginobili let fly with a long 3-point try. It was, in NBA terminology, a ‘heat check.’ The shot swished. Ginobili, on his way to a season-high and psyche-soothing 36 points, was officially on fire. The question now becomes how long Ginobili’s hot streak, and his confidence, will last. ‘I’ll tell you after next game,’ Ginobili said. ‘If I keep feeling like this, confident with my shot and attacking the rim, you never know.’ For all the offseason hand-wringing about his recuperating right ankle, Ginobili has been far more concerned about the rehabilitation of a different body part. ‘The head,’ Ginobili said, ‘is a complicated organ.’ Of all the upgrades the Spurs made since last facing Dallas — adding Richard Jefferson, Antonio McDyess, DeJuan Blair and others — none would mean more than the return of a confident Ginobili. For him, basketball has become the ultimate head game.”

Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register:  “Great post players accept and actually initiate contact. They like getting down and dirty. And there’s a reason Bryant chose to share one particular metaphor when we spoke before the season in explanation of his commitment, his craft and his future. Bryant compared himself to a plumber with a track record of fixing the toilet – a laborer who will get the job done again and again, one way or another, even if no one outside the business can truly grasp all that goes into him doing it. ‘If my toilet is jammed up and this guy has a track record of fixing the toilet, I’m not going to come in and say, ‘He can’t do it,’ because I don’t know how he’s going to do it,’ Bryant said. ‘I just know he does it. The (stuff) is gonna get done.’ You know by now that Bryant is all about the work: the icing knees, the studying video, the sprinting at dawn … all stuff that happens to be fun – not work – for him. Playing in the post is just like that, because so much of the job gets done early with the behind-the-scenes dirty work of establishing position, setting up the score once the ball arrives.”

Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel:  “Spoelstra said there is no reason Beasley can’t be a dynamic rebounder. ‘I think he’s a player who can rebound,’ the second-year coach said. ‘He is. He has the instincts to rebound. I think last year, at times, he was thinking about so many other things that he forgot, ‘Hey I’m also as very good rebounder.’ ‘ Then there is the issue of whether Beasley can be an above-the-rim presence. Seven of Beasley’s shots have been blocked this season, one short of Udonis Haslem’s team-leading total of eight. ‘I think that’s part of his growth, of learning his game, learning how teams defend him,’ Spoelstra said. ‘He has skills to shoot outside. He has skills to finesse. He’s got incredible touch. But he also has the ability to go over the top.’ Spoelstra said it now is an issue of learning how to assertively get the ball to the rim. ‘He has the length, he has the leaping ability. He’s done it enough on occasion, especially in practice,’ Spoelstra said. ‘It’s just building the habit. He’s learning where he can get to the rim and how he can get to the rim and how people are playing him there. I think the more games, the more minutes he gets, the better he’s going to be.’”

Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun:  “As desperate as the Raptors appear from a defensive standpoint based on back-to-back humblings in the fine state of Texas, Chris Bosh isn’t about to point the finger at the Raptors defensive scheme. ‘Protecting the house,’ an area extending just beyond the paint, is the core principle of the Raptors defence and while it remains very much a work in progress, Bosh says the onus is on the players to make the system work, not the coaches to change the system to fit the players. Head coach Jay Triano has made it clear that the scheme is here to stay. He says too often in the past the organization has had poor stretches such as the past two games in which it has given up 131 and 129 points respectively and then reacted by changing its basic approach. That’s not going to happen this year and Bosh, for one, is on board with that. Bosh believes the Raptors defensive failures thus far have little to do with the system itself. It’s the players’ lack of execution that is to blame. ‘We’re talking about trying to be a good defensive team but we’re not putting in consistent effort,’ Bosh said after he and his teammates were abused by a San Antonio team that was without it’s top two offensive performers in Tim Duncan and Tony Parker.”

Eddie Sefko of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:  “It’s a non-issue, and don’t worry. As long as the Mavericks are winning, it won’t become an issue. Not when it comes to splitting playing time between Erick Dampier and Drew Gooden. But there’s a bigger picture that needs to be examined. The more games that Dampier continues to pile up numbers like Tuesday’s against Houston, the tougher it’s going to be to sit him. That said, there’s no way the franchise allows Dampier to reach the minutes-threshold incentive that would trigger guaranteeing the final year of his seven-year contract at more than $13 million. Ain’t gonna happen. But imagine the uncomfortable situation if Dampier keeps rolling up numbers like the 14 points, 20 rebounds and three blocks (while going 6-of-6 from the field and 2-of-2 from the line) he had against the Rockets. How can you not put that kind of production on the court when you really need it?”

Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald:  “Deron Williams makes his annual visit to the Garden tonight, and the Utah Jazz point guard poses the toughest matchup problem for Rajon Rondo. Williams is not only big, physical and capable of hitting the 3-pointer, like New Orleans’ Chris Paul he’s also at the head of the wave of young point guards who are, in every sense of the word, playmakers. They set teammates up before themselves. The age of the so-called scoring point guard, at least for now, appears to be waning in the NBA. ‘This year it’s every night,’ Rondo said yesterday of how frequently he faces opponents in his own mold. ‘Last year it was a lot, too, but now it’s even more.’ Newcomers like Minnesota’s Jonny Flynn and Denver’s Ty Lawson are merely filling out the ranks. ‘Teams are running a lot of offense through their point guards – they’re going with maybe 40 or 50 pick-and-rolls per game,’ Rondo said. ‘That’s what we’ve faced a lot more of lately.’”

Sekou Smith of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:  “Al Horford fell in love with the NBA 15 years ago. He just wasn’t sure the game loved him back. Like millions of young boys who grew up bouncing basketballs in their sleep, the Hawks’ starting center had that childhood dream. Growing up in the Dominican Republic, he remembers stealing any glance he could at the league, but rarely seeing any hint of himself in the reflection. ‘When I was growing up there wasn’t really one guy you could point to and say, ‘He’s just like me,’’ said Horford, whose father, Tito, was the first Dominican-born player to play in the NBA, when the younger Horford was still in diapers. The sort of attention that international players inspire these days didn’t exist during Al Horford’s formative years, when the NBA was stocked mostly with domestic born-and-reared talent, with just a sprinkle of international flair. Things have changed dramatically in the years since. Seventy-five players from 32 countries played in the NBA last season, including players from Poland, Cameroon, Georgia and Latvia. This season began with 86 players from 36 countries. The ranks are now stocked with a diverse group of talent, giving the game a truly global appeal. Few players embody that spirit the way Horford does.”

Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:  “Though McGrady said Tuesday he’s in no rush to return, Adelman understands if McGrady is impatient. ‘The biggest thing in talking to him is he doesn’t have the pain he had last year,’ Adelman said. ‘He still has a long ways to go as far as running the court, moving, defensively, those types of things. The biggest thing in his mind is last year he had a definite limp. He does not have that. Coming off that (microfracture) surgery, you’re not going to have that explosiveness. You’re not going to have the quickness.’ The Rockets also might not be as equipped as last season to adjust if McGrady needs to work his way back. ‘We are not the same team we were last year,’ Adelman said. ‘We had Yao (Ming) and things we could fall back on and work him in, work him out. We don’t have that capability this year. Anytime you throw any player in to the mix it’s going to impact the team.’”

Howard Beck of The New York Times:  “It is an unfortunate quirk of the media age that a career can be reduced to one play, one possession, one 10-second clip played on a maddening loop. Charles Smith played nine N.B.A. seasons, but for Knicks fans his name often conjures a single portrait of heartache: Four attempts near the basket, four rejections, a blur of red Chicago Bulls jerseys and, finally, a Knicks defeat in Game 5 of the 1993 Eastern Conference finals. It was the defining moment of the series, won by the Bulls in six games. But its meaning is in the eye of the beholder. The fan sees failure. The player sees determination, a refusal to give up. ‘You’re always driven,’ Smith said, ‘to get that next shot.’ Smith retired 12 years ago, but he has never shied from discussing the play, nor ceased pursuing the next shot, the next opportunity, the next chance to reshape his surroundings. Last December, after more than a decade as an entrepreneur, philanthropist and motivational speaker, Smith became executive director of the National Basketball Retired Players Association, where he is taking on perhaps his greatest challenge to date: the welfare of former players.”

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

3 Responses to “The Fundamentals”

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    man I’m so jealous I don’t get to live in orlando!

    (Is this writer a junior high student?)

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