The Fundamentals

» December 14, 2009 9:11 AM | By Brandon Hoffman

Jonathan Abrams of The New York Times:  “The rookie point guard Jonny Flynn knew little about the triangle offense when he arrived in the N.B.A., other than that Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant ran it as a conduit to championship after championship with the Bulls and the Lakers. Flynn has been cramming ever since. Kurt Rambis, the first-year Timberwolves coach and a student of the offense’s innovator, Tex Winter, has installed portions of it in Minnesota. Flynn initially thought of the offense as a freelance system that would cater to his skills with the ball. He was wrong. The triangle offense is based on reads and rhythm, spacing and cutting. The players, beyond the center, are interchangeable. Guards play in the post, forwards on the wing. The goal is always to take the path of least resistance — unless you are a rookie learning it. ‘It’s the hardest transition in any sport I’ve ever played,’ Flynn said recently. The offense can seem to be mystical and mythical. To some, it is easily digestible. Others claim it is too lethargic for the fast and frenetic N.B.A. Despite the triangle’s success — 10 of the last 19 N.B.A. champions showcased the offense — few possess the time, trust or diligence to install it. Their reasons are plentiful, and skeptics are quick to point out that Coach Phil Jackson captured all 10 of those titles with Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant at his disposal. (For three of them, he had Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.) ‘You’ve got to spend a lot of time on it, on its reads,’ Denver Nuggets Coach George Karl said. ‘Most coaches are too impatient to sacrifice time teaching at the defensive end of the court for an offensive system.’”

Brian Windhorst of The Cleveland Plain Dealer:  “At the mere mention of John Wall’s name, LeBron James’ eyes soften as he tries to swallow a knowing smile. ‘Yeah, I have a relationship with him,’ James said. ‘A really good relationship. With not only John, but his family. We talk all the time.’ For the past eight years or so, James’ cell phone contact list doubles as a who’s who in international basketball. Say what you will, but there are simply only a few people surrounding the game who can get Michael Jordan, Dwyane Wade, Nike founder Phil Knight, USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo, Warren Buffett, Carmelo Anthony, Jay-Z, Kevin Durant, or famous behind scenes operator William ‘Wes’ Wesley on the phone within a few minutes. You can now put Wall’s name in there. The 19-year-old is, as they say, ‘next.’ A seemingly can’t-miss budding superstar at the University of Kentucky. He is certainly on track to be the No. 1 overall draft pick next June. And with apologies to Blake Griffin, had the NBA’s age rule not been in effect, most around the NBA believe Wall would have been the top pick last June. If he wasn’t already there, the 6-4 ultra-quick point guard hit national consciousness last week, announcing his arrival with a 25-point, six-steal performance as Kentucky went on the road to beat Connecticut. James met Wall a couple of years ago at the LeBron James Skills Academy in Akron, which is a star showcase that Nike runs at University of Akron every July. Not only is it a prime recruiting ground for the nation’s top collegiate programs, but it’s a golden meet-and-greet for James, who has been developing personal relationships with stars in the making by the gross.”

Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press:  “You can credit coaching great Pat Riley with starting the adage of ‘no rebounds, no rings.’ There isn’t any talk of championship rings around the Pistons these days, but they are hitting the glass like champions. The Pistons ranked fourth in the NBA in rebounding margin at plus-3.31 entering Saturday night’s home game against the Warriors. When asked the reason for the Pistons’ success, coach John Kuester credited the player many thought was on the downside of his career entering this season. ‘A lot of it deals with Ben Wallace,’ Kuester said of the veteran center. ‘Ben is really playing at an All-Star level. He’s given us extra possessions — whether it’s off the free throws, whether they’re off of offensive rebounds themselves. He’s playing at such a high level: defensively to rebounding to offensively to get us extra possessions.’ Wallace is the ringleader with his 10.1 average — 13th in the NBA. His 4.3 offensive rebounds per game ranks third. But it is truly a group effort as Jonas Jerebko, Jason Maxiell, Kwame Brown, Charlie Villanueva and even guard Rodney Stuckey are attacking the glass.”

Jonathen Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:  “Carl Landry was stunned. He knew he had been scoring but had no idea about the company he was keeping. The list was filled with MVP candidates, the reigning Sixth Man of the Year and Carl Landry. Landry ranks second in the league in fourth-quarter scoring, averaging 6.6 points per game. He is behind only Dwyane Wade, tied with Jason Terry and ahead of Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James. ‘Wowwww,’ Landry said. Moments later, however, he spoke of his late-game success as nothing worthy of surprise. That’s just the time that I play,’ he said. ‘Two, three minutes left in the third quarter, that’s when I’m getting in. I think it matters who’s in the game at crunch time. Coach (Adelman) and the coaching staff put trust in me to be in there. It’s a good feeling. I still can’t believe some of the success that I’ve had thus far. Hopefully, that doesn’t ever hit. I’m staying humble. Hopefully, I can keep it that way.’ Though the Rockets might not have guessed that Landry was running with such fast company, there was no surprise about Landry’s late-game production. On a team with no incumbent go-to player, the Rockets have increasingly put the ball in Landry’s hands, expecting him to score or draw fouls.”

Mike Jones of The Washington Times: “Gilbert Arenas’ knee has been fine. He has displayed an ability to accelerate and blow past opponents. And he hasn’t shown a physical drop-off in back-to-back games. But in the first month of the season, Arenas admittedly struggled to find a balance between going on the attack and setting up his teammates in Saunders’ system, which is much different from the Princeton offense the guard ran for six years under former coach Eddie Jordan. Arenas also is often guilty of forcing ill-advised passes. So the missed layup and missed free throws (and a 13-for-24 showing from the line in the last five games) only compound Arenas’ frustrations and further rattle his confidence. ‘The things that I thought would be hard aren’t hard,’ Arenas said after Saturday’s loss. ‘The hard part is the little things. Free throws. Sometimes it’s careless dribbling, sometimes it’s at the top of the key. Little dumb things that are irritating me as a player. I don’t know.’ … Arenas and the Wizards headed to Los Angeles on Sunday to kick off a four-game road trip, and the guard said although challenging, the time away may be helpful. ‘I think the West Coast is going to be good for me,’ Arenas said. ‘Get away from the pressure of this building, the pressure of the fans. Just let me breathe a little bit.’”

Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star Tribune:  “Timberwolves forward Kevin Love played 81 of 82 games in his rookie season a year ago. In those six months, he attempted 19 three-point shots and made two. Two. He has played seven games this season since returning from that broken hand and already has displayed ease and range in his shooting that were missing last season. He’s made seven of 11 three-point attempts while he has struggled to finish shorter shots around the basket. That’s 63.6 percent and one per game despite wearing a football lineman’s padded glove to protect his nonshooting hand. Drafted fifth overall in 2008 because he was projected as a unique inside-outside threat for a fellow 6-9, Love explains the difference two ways: Another summer spent in the gym working to perfect his rhythm on 15- to 18-foot shots and beyond. And a different coach. ‘I forget the coach’s name, but at the beginning of the year last season he didn’t want me shooting any shot outside of 10 feet,’ Love said. ‘So that kind of threw me off. I’ve shot the ball well my whole life. Now this season, I have a coach who trusts me and wants me to shoot outside. It feels a lot better knowing he has faith in me out there because I can knock that shot down all day.’”

Marcus Thompson II of the Contra Costa Times:  “Warriors guard Monta Ellis played all 48 minutes of Saturday’s 104-95 loss to the Detroit Pistons, finishing with one turnover — and that one was questionable. Ellis entered the game with a league-high 4.5 turnovers per game. In the nine games he played 45 minutes or more, that number jumped to 5.8 per game. But a little tweak has helped Ellis cut down on the miscues. The Warriors have been using guard C.J. Watson and Stephen Curry as point guards more, moving Ellis over to shooting guard or small forward. Plus, Ellis is getting the ball on the ‘weak side’ — the opposite part of the court from where the play begins — more often. That leaves him attacking against a shifting defense instead of one that is set and waiting for him as he does his thing from the top. ‘As opposed to being the point of attack for the defense,’ assistant coach Keith Smart said, ‘now he’s getting it when the defense has to move and rotate. (ellipses) Anytime the ball moves three times in the NBA, the percentage goes up. So I think that’s what he’s good at.’ As a result, Ellis has four turnovers total in his last two games (he’s had at least four turnovers 14 times this season).”

Howard Beck of The New York Times:  “No one looked worse than Chris Duhon during the Knicks’ early slump. He shot .228 in the first 10 games and made just 9 of 42 shots (.214) from 3-point range. Fans wanted Duhon benched, and D’Antoni was worried enough that he refused to rule it out. Even Duhon admitted there was some doubt. ‘There was,’ Duhon said. ‘It was tough.’ The greatest disappointment was that Duhon had spent the summer reconditioning his body to handle a big load, after burning out too quickly last season. He came to camp with high expectations. ‘I started to beat myself up,’ Duhon said. ‘I started second-guessing myself. I wasn’t really playing on instincts out there.’ Teammates said Duhon spent countless extra hours in the gym, working on his shot with the assistant Dan D’Antoni. The results are clear: Duhon is shooting .461 over the last eight games, going 19 for 40 (.475) from 3-point range. ‘Now I just say, just let it go, let it fly and see what happens,’ Duhon said.”

Marc Berman of the New York Post:  “Mike D’Antoni, inventor of the ‘Seven Seconds or Less’ offense, admits he has tinkered with his formula during the Knicks’ surge, having slowed the attack. ‘As long as it’s 24 seconds or less,’ D’Antoni said jokingly before the Knicks won their fourth straight and fifth in six games in a comeback victory over the Hornets at New Orleans Arena. D’Antoni said the dramatic change came after their franchise-worst 1-9 start, finally realizing the talent does not translate to speedball. When D’Antoni accepted the Knicks job before the 2008-09 season, there were questions if D’Antoni would adapt his system to the talent. It took him a while, but he’s finally adjusted. Indeed, point guard Chris Duhon, who got off to an awful start to the season but now is on a major roll, has proven better at running a halfcourt offense. ‘We’ve slowed it down,’ D’Antoni said. ‘We’d like to run at every opportunity. This pace suits us better as a team.’ Jack McCallum authored a book on D’Antoni’s Suns, called ‘Seven Seconds or Less,’ championing D’Antoni’s style. It encourages the ball to be rushed up court to keep the defense off balance and launch a shot or be in position to shoot seven seconds into the shot clock. But D’Antoni admitted the pushing the ball led to ill-advised shots.”

Kate Fagan of the Philadlphia Inquirer:  “We know the 76ers are practicing behind the curtain. We hear balls bouncing. Afterward, we see sweat dripping. For the final few minutes, we even watch, glued to the glass windows in the gym at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. Now, exactly what the Sixers are practicing remains an A-list mystery. For example, it would come as quite a surprise if they spent hours a day diving into the intricacies of perimeter defense, defensive rotations, and closing out on outside shooters. Why? Because through 23 games, the Sixers are on pace to become the worst perimeter defensive team in NBA history – this according to the numbers, which can be twisted, of course, but never lie outright. … How did this happen? The first answer that springs to mind is the Princeton offense: That thing casts a mighty wide shadow and gobbles an awful lot of practice time. The second answer is that Jordan, never known as a defensive coach, has seemed particularly overcommitted to the offensive side. The third is the rotations, which tend to exclude the team’s best defenders and are often, at the end of games, much smaller than the opponent’s.”

Paul Forrester of  “One, measly point separated Tyreke Evans from making Kings history. One point would have made him the franchise’s first rookie to register eight consecutive 20-point games. Yet, with 3:11 left against the Knicks, Paul Westphal motioned Evans to the bench, a request greeted with a look of mild surprise from the 20-year-old. ‘We had put the game away and he was playing on a bad ankle,’ Westphal said after the King’s 111-97 victory. ‘So I said, ‘Tyreke, I’d be crazy to leave you out there and have you twist an ankle out there trying to get a record.’ … Everybody likes records but he wasn’t going to chase a record at the expense of the team. ‘And he said, ‘You’re right.’ That was really impressive; it’s a total buy-in to doing the right thing rather than setting himself apart.’ The Kings have followed suit, melding into the type of cohesive unit that has overcome a string of obstacles — last year’s 17-win debacle, rumors a franchise shift, the loss of leading scorer Kevin Martin for all but five games — to put together a 9-12 mark through Wednesday. Seven players are averaging double figures in scoring, and five are pulling down more than 4.9 boards a night. ‘We have a lot of players who, offensively, can blend into any style,’ Westphal said. ‘But you have to be at least decent at rebounding and defensively in order to have your offense mean anything in terms of success. We looked at what [the Kings] did last year; they were near the bottom of the league in rebounding and dead last in field-goal defense. Well, you can’t have any success in this league being at the bottom in both those areas, so we made it a priority to improve them.’”

Kevin Spain of The Times-Picayune:  “An hour after he took over the New Orleans Hornets head coaching duties from Byron Scott last month, Jeff Bower met with his assistants before reviewing tapes of the Portland Trail Blazers. Consumed by his new duties, Bower said he did not have time to celebrate the promotion. After telling his wife about his new role as head coach along with general manager, Bower said he was immersed in trying to make a successful transition. Now a month into the job, Bower’s schedule has remained hectic. He is awake by 4 a.m. on non-travel days, working. He usually leaves his Alario Center office by 5 p.m., but he is back to the grind of watching game tapes at home after spending time with his family. ‘The fun and the challenge of it is a great thing,’ Bower said. ‘But it takes a little thought process to manage my schedule, but I do a lot of different things at odd hours. I get up early and do a lot of studying and reviewing. At 4 a.m., it’s a great time of the day because it’s quiet.’ Of the league’s 30 coaches only Bower, the Los Angeles Clippers’ Mike Dunleavy, San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich and New Jersey interim coach Kiki Vandeweghe are coaching and running their basketball operations departments.”

Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel:  “It’s 10:42 on a Saturday night, and Ahmad Ajami and Adam Glessner are sitting in front of their computers, working to make the Orlando Magic a better basketball team. Ajami has planted himself near the Magic locker room at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif. His laptop screen displays a live feed of the Golden State-Orlando game and shows Rashard Lewis intercepting a bad pass into the paint by Warriors point guard Monta Ellis. Ajami clicks his computer mouse a couple of times. He’s recorded and logged his first video clip of the night. Meanwhile, Glessner sits inside a windowless room at Magic headquarters in Maitland, surrounded by 11 DVD recorders, 10 DirecTV receivers and six digital videocassette recorders. A computer monitor shows the Utah Jazz playing against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Utah’s Paul Millsap makes a reverse layup, and Glessner taps several buttons on a keyboard. He’s recorded and logged his 159th video clip of the game. Such behind the scenes work serves a critical purpose for the Orlando Magic. Ajami and Glessner compile and organize the video that Magic coaches watch to study their team and learn about future opponents. ‘Oh, my God,’ Magic coach Stan Van Gundy says. ‘In terms of game preparation and stuff, what they do is probably the most important thing that’s done.’”

Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post:  “Morning shootarounds are becoming an endangered species in the NBA, and now the Nuggets are the latest team to tinker with cutting them back. The Nuggets’ practice Sunday served as their shootaround for tonight’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Denver coach George Karl, who was against the trend of not having traditional shootarounds, is now rethinking that philosophy. Sleep studies have been all the rage in the NBA this season, and they are showing that players and coaches aren’t getting enough of it. The result is low energy levels for players on the court and decreased focus for everyone. A reduction in shootarounds, thereby allowing players and coaches to sleep in longer on game days, has been the quick-fix answer for some teams. Karl hopes he will see increased focus and intensity out of his team. ‘I think we’re listening to some needs of players and philosophies of some other teams, trying to get more focus and seriousness into the moments that we’re together,’ Karl said. ‘Shootarounds seem to be very tedious and nonenthusiastic situations. There’s a lot of different philosophies out there. Some teams have totally gone away from shootarounds, some very good teams. We have a lot of every-other-day games. I think we have an opportunity over the next four or five games to experiment a little bit.’”

Howard Beck of The New York Times:  “The explosion of statistical analysis in sports is now leading to an explosion of interest in the explosion of analysis. It might take an army of statistics whizzes to process it all. The M.I.T. Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, the movement’s signature event, has grown so large that sponsors are moving it off-campus for its third edition, on March 6. It will be held at a Boston convention center. ‘We outgrew every building at M.I.T.,’ Daryl Morey, the Houston Rockets’ general manager, said proudly. Morey, the event’s co-chairman, said he is expecting 800 people — up from 300 in 2009 and 150 in 2008, the event’s inaugural year. The number of panel discussions has nearly doubled, to 15. … The use of advanced metrics has become commonplace in baseball but is still developing in the N.B.A., the N.F.L., the N.H.L. and soccer. Morey estimated that about two-thirds of N.B.A. teams and about a third of N.F.L. teams employ at least one analyst.”

Daniel Edward Rosen of The New York Times:  “Marcus Brown had played 27 games over two seasons in the N.B.A. and moved on to European leagues when, in 2004, he received a multimillion-dollar contract from CSKA Moscow that made him one of the highest-paid American players in Europe. Now playing in Lithuania, Brown would like some form of a retirement plan to show for his 13-year basketball career. ‘It justifies that I worked hard to get where I’m at,’ he said. As basketball becomes increasingly global, teams throughout the world are competing against the N.B.A. for top players. Many European teams pay most, if not all, of the salaries for their American players up front, and often pay their local taxes. But many European teams do not provide a pension. Brown is not alone among American basketball players abroad with scant N.B.A. experience who realize, perhaps too late, the benefits of a pension system. ‘There is nothing like what the N.B.A. provides to whoever qualifies for the minimum pension,’ said Maurizio Gherardini, assistant general manager for the Toronto Raptors and former general manager for the Italian team Treviso.”

(Photo by Noah Graham NBAE/Getty Images)

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