The Fundamentals

» November 30, 2009 9:28 AM | By Brandon Hoffman

Ross Siler of The Salt Lake Tribune:  “Every morning after a game, the Jazz players can look forward to finding a piece of paper on the locker room board at their practice facility. For the first time, they are being graded individually on the number of perfect possessions they contribute to on defense. It’s part of the Jazz’s emphasis on defensive accountability after a season in which they gave up 100.9 points and 46.4 percent shooting on average, with coach Jerry Sloan and his assistants resolving that something had to change. The catch-phrase now is ‘perfect possessions,’ with the Jazz hoping to grade out at 80 percent or better each game. Players are graded on everything from getting back on defense and boxing out to how well they help and stick with the team’s principles. Jefferson Sweeney, the Jazz’s video coordinator, is responsible for breaking down and grading each possession. The Jazz players see not only their grades from the most recent game, but grades from the previous 10 games and season as a whole. ‘It’s not necessarily how much your man scores because you’re supposed to help,’ Deron Williams said, ‘and then the next person helps you. So if you help and then the next person doesn’t help you and your man scores, it’s not on you, because you’ve got to trust that your teammates are going to be there.’ From his perspective, Williams said the grading system — done as a percentage, as opposed to letter grades from school — is working.”

Jeff Rabjohns of the Indianapolis Star:  “Mike Dunleavy’s return is likely to alter the way the Indiana Pacers approach their offensive scheme. Dunleavy gives the Pacers their full rotation on the wing and a player who excels in the pass-and-move game coach Jim O’Brien considers critical.As important, Dunleavy’s return from a serious right knee injury allows O’Brien to use a smaller lineup to spread the floor and take advantage of the Pacers’ shooters. How that works likely will begin to take shape during the Pacers’ four-game West Coast trip that starts tonight at Golden State (5-10). The Pacers (6-8) also face Sacramento, Utah and the Los Angeles Clippers. Dunleavy played for the first time this season on Friday, and it didn’t go unnoticed that his first basket of the season come on a backdoor layup, catching a perfect pass from center Jeff Foster. ‘I can count on one hand how many backdoor layups we’ve had this year, and last year it was a staple for us,’ O’Brien said. ‘We’re trying to re-establish our movement game, which is one that starts with the fact that we’d rather pass than dribble. Michael personifies the type of movement we want. It doesn’t have to do with blinding speed. It has to be purposeful movement, which is what he’s very, very good at.’”

Mike Jones of the Washington Post:  “Though many factors have contributed to the Wizards’ rocky start, the erratic play of Gilbert Arenas has had the greatest impact on the offensive struggles. Saunders has said repeatedly the key to success for his offense is for Arenas to be aggressive. When the guard attacks the basket, it frees up his teammates and also creates opportunities for him. But aside from the season-opening win over Dallas, when he had 29 points and nine assists, Arenas has yet to show an ability or willingness to do so. Saunders on Saturday admitted he is confused by the lack of aggression Arenas has shown and was left to conclude that the two years of inactivity and the rigorous early stretch may have started to catch up with the guard. ‘I read this stuff a lot where Gil wants to be [the leader]. But we’re not doing anything to hold him back,’ Saunders said. ‘I think he’s going through a process right now. He’s not shooting the ball well; a lot of times he’s not quick getting on balance. I think back-to-backs maybe he struggles a little bit. … I knew he’d go through a process. You’ve got to realize since we started training camp, we’ve had maybe six days off and he played some major minutes early, and I think that’s caught up to him a little bit.’”

Jason Quick of The Oregonian:  “The team’s top two players — Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge — are uncomfortable and unsure of how to make the emergence of center Greg Oden mesh with their pick-and-roll magic from a year ago, often leading to hesitant shots and stalled possessions. The defense in the last two games has turned slow and soft, allowing astronomical shooting percentages — the latest a 60.6 effort by Utah, which started when the Jazz (9-7) hit their first eight shots and nine of their first 10. Meanwhile, nobody outside of Oden is performing at a higher level than last season, and key players like Aldridge, Steve Blake and Miller have been well off their standard of play. On Saturday, one night after the Blazers trailed by 29 at home to Memphis, the Blazers fell behind 11-2 only 2:39 into a game they would eventually trail by 27. It created for interesting viewing in the fourth quarter, as the team’s core was yanked and engaged in a series of animated conversations on the bench. Roy reached past Blake’s shoulder and tapped Miller, asking him why he didn’t play after the first quarter. Miller and Joel Przybilla talked, at one time shaking their heads. Roy passed a folded statistics sheet to Aldridge, who studied the sheet, refolded it and then put both hands over his face after discarding the sheet under the bench.”

Brian Windhorst of The Cleveland Plain Dealer:  “Ever since Michael Jordan made a habit late in his career of showing up every season with a new facet to his game honed after hundreds of hours alone in a gym, NBA stars have been asked constantly when they come back for training camp which area of their game they worked to improve. There’s always an answer, but it often isn’t totally accurate. When LeBron James was posed that question back in September, he had a response ready. ‘I didn’t even pick up a basketball over the summer. All I do is what you guys see on TV.’ James was being facetious because it was implied that with his worldwide tour to promote his book, movie and new Nike shoes that he didn’t have time to properly work on his game after winning his first Most Valuable Player award last spring. The truth was that James had been focusing on something and, so far, the results have been quietly remarkable. Over the summer, he took shooting coach/Cavs assistant Chris Jent with him everywhere — from China to Paris to Akron. They worked hard on mid-range jumpers, those spots from 17-20 feet inside the 3-point line that have become a bit of a dead zone in the NBA over the past two decades. The statistics early on show just how much the work is paying off. The season is only five weeks old, but James is off to his best shooting start and much of it is because of the mid- to long-range jumpers.”

Gregg Patton of the Riverside Press-Enterprise:  “In their Before Pau Power days, the Lakers were 8-3, averaging just three points more than their opponents. Not that this should surprise anyone. Since Gasol descended nearly two years ago as a gift from basketball heaven (well, Memphis, anyway), the Lakers have been as consistently dominant as any team in the NBA. Lately, they have been the most harmonic. In Gasol’s five games this year, all five starters have been in double figures three times, the only three times this year. For a long time, Bryant’s role as the team’s so-called facilitator has been a recurring issue, revolving around Bryant a) sharing the ball or b) taking over the offense, an ever-changing dynamic with Kobe deciding which guy he needs to be on any given night. Heck, in any given quarter. With Pau, it isn’t about deciding. Blending just happens, naturally. ‘It has a lot to do with the fact that he’s a real good, team, floor player,’ said Phil Jackson before the Lakers’ 106-87 victory. ‘Maybe he’s not going to score 25 points every night, but he probably could if that was the direction we wanted to go. He’s a perfect fit. Kobe needs the ball and (Pau) can play off of that. He facilitates that. He complements Kobe.’ He facilitates more than just Bryant.”

Dave Krieger of The Denver Post:  “If there is such a thing as a morality play in basketball, it came in the third quarter. The Nuggets had not played particularly well in the first half but led by 14 anyway. So they came out in the second half and played horse. Nobody passed the ball. They had two assists in the entire quarter. They shot, they missed, they jogged back on defense and waited for a chance to shoot again. They were outrebounded, outshot, outhustled and outscored 31-12. The Timberwolves, who had lost 15 straight, began to believe. ‘Tell me my play-hard team,’ George Karl steamed afterward. ‘Tell me the five guys I put on the court to play hard every possession. Tell me. I had it last year. I had a play-hard team last year. I don’t have a play-hard team this year. And it’s making me very angry.’ The interesting thing about these Nuggets is that when they are caught playing the old way, the lazy way, it’s as if they have been slapped in the face. They suddenly remember the lessons we thought they had learned. ‘I don’t need any more coaching other than play hard with intensity and pride, that we can go in that locker room and feel good about every night,’ Karl said. ‘And that’s my fault. That’s on me.’”

Brett Pollakoff of FanHouse:  “Last Wednesday, I was in attendance for the Suns’ home game against the Grizzlies. Laptop was open, and so was my Twitter client of choice, when my feed was updated with a tweet from @Amareisreal. This made me LOL, as the kids say, because at that very moment, the account’s owner — Amar’e Stoudemire — was on the court not 20 feet in front of me, actively participating in his team’s 12th win of the season. The league doesn’t care who sent the message, though, and their rules governing the use of Twitter or other social media sites like it are pretty basic: don’t do it during the games. So while it may be unfortunate (because it obviously wasn’t Amar’e doing the tweeting), it’s not surprising that Stoudemire was fined $7500 by the league for violating the policy. Tyson Chandler was also fined for a tweet that was sent out during a game, although his case is a little different, because the message updated to his account came from an automated service, instead of from an actual person. Chandler’s account was updated by a site called twitterfeed, which will automatically send out a tweet for you when a website’s RSS feed is updated. Chandler’s website happened to be updated, twitterfeed sent out the tweet announcing this fact from Chandler’s account during one of his games, and thus the league fined him for it.”

Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman:  “It’s one of the most mysterious terms in basketball, a pithy phrase regularly seen in scouting reports, supposedly to sum up a player’s knowledge of the game. Basketball IQ. Defining it isn’t so easy. ‘It’s a feel for the game,’ said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. ‘Some guys have it. Some guys don’t. You don’t necessarily need to have it to be successful. But when you have it you understand the game. You can pick up things quickly. You have a great sense of the team concepts and what the team is trying to do.’ Nearly half the Thunder’s roster at one point has been tagged with the term. You couldn’t find a scouting report on rookie James Harden that didn’t possess the phrase in the weeks leading up to the June draft. Shaun Livingston, Kyle Weaver, Kevin Ollie, Nick Collison and Jeff Green are among Harden’s teammates who also have had the label attached to their names. ‘We have a good IQ team,’ Brooks said. ‘I’m happy with our guys. Their level of IQ is pretty good.’ But the term is widely overused, Brooks said.”

Steve Politi of The Star-Ledger:  “Firing Lawrence Frank now is like throwing the captain of the Titanic overboard after it hit the iceberg. Why bother? To borrow the famous quote from Micheal Ray Richardson, the ship be sinking anyway. The Nets kept the coach around this long for one reason: They were too cheap to hire his replacement, just like they were too cheap to keep this team from becoming a national joke. The issue is not who replaces Frank short term — Red Auerbach and John Wooden combined couldn’t save the Nets from oblivion now. It’s who makes the decision on his long-term successor, since the same executive will be calling the shots on the other moves in this pivotal offseason. That will determine if this franchise digs out of this historic hole. And the man who has had all the answers for the Nets over the past decade is just as stumped as everyone else on this one. Rod Thorn will not name a permanent replacement for Frank in part because of the timing, but also because the pending change in ownership makes it impossible for him to do so.”

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