The Fundamentals

» December 18, 2009 10:46 AM | By Brandon Hoffman

Ian Thomsen of  “Greg Oden hasn’t given up on returning this season, the injured Trail Blazers center told Thursday. ‘I just want to get back,’ said Oden in his first public comments since he suffered a fractured left kneecap Dec. 5, resulting in recent surgery. ‘They say I’m out for the whole year, but my plan is to work really hard and you never know. Hopefully I don’t have to [be sidelined all season]. I’m hoping things are way ahead of schedule and I can come back at the end of the year.’ While Oden is trying to return to the court as quickly as possible, agents Bill Duffy and Mike Conley are promising to oversee a thorough investigation to understand why the No. 1 pick of the 2007 draft has suffered two major knee injuries in three NBA seasons. Oden missed his entire rookie season after undergoing microfracture surgery on his right knee. Last year he sat out 14 games after suffering a bone chip in his left knee. ‘Mike and I are going to do a thorough analysis of every aspect of Greg’s physiology,’ Duffy told Thursday. ‘That means there will be no stone unturned in terms of really understanding his body — the balance of his body, the symmetry of his body, the strength of his bones. Every aspect as relates to nutrition, DNA, muscle mass, everything we can study, we’re going to dig into at this point.’”

Ken Berger of  “While Bryant has carried the Lakers on this road trip, which continues Saturday in New Jersey and Sunday in Detroit, Artest is the guy who has changed the champs’ demeanor. And for the better, mind you. There could be any number of reasons for Bryant’s electrifying start — his offseason work with Hakeem Olajuwon has vastly improved his post moves, and he’s more deadly than ever from mid-range — but Artest is where the buck stops on defense. He has demanded the toughest assignment every night the way Kobe has always demanded the ball. Through 24 games, the Lakers are better than last season in nearly every significant defensive category. Points per game are down from 99.3 to 95.5; points per 100 possessions from 105 to 100; opponent field-goal percentage from .447 to .425; and effective field-goal percentage (accounting for twos and threes) from .490 to .457. Much of that, if not all, can be isolated as Artest’s impact. The Lakers have gone from the pliable, gutless defensive team that got pushed around by the Celtics in the 2008 Finals, to the more determined group that beat Orlando last season, to sixth in the NBA in points allowed.”

Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman:  “The dispute between Thunder coach Scott Brooks and star Kevin Durant started in Denver, on a cold Monday night with the media before Oklahoma City faced the Nuggets this week. The point of contention: Durant’s defense. ‘I don’t know if he could have guarded me his first year,’ quipped Brooks, the 44-year-old coach. Let’s just say Durant didn’t mince words Thursday when retorting to reporters. ‘He’s lying,’ Durant countered, only half jokingly. ‘My first year, they put me on everybody. I was guarding Kobe, LeBron, D-Wade. And I was doing decent.’ Said Brooks: ‘Kobe had 48 against him!’ But on this, the coach and the player, as well as anyone else who has paid attention over the Thunder’s first 24 games agree; Durant’s defense is markedly more impressive in his third season. Durant has bought into playing on both ends in an attempt to morph into not only a complete player but also one who is recognized alongside the game’s elite.”

Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal:  “It’s no coincidence that the Grizzlies’ emergence over the past few weeks coincides with Mayo’s hitting his most consistent stride this season. He has produced games with 10 field goals three times in the past six. He’d taken no more than 18 shots on those occasions, which is one reason Mayo is shooting 47 percent this season, up from 43.8 percent a year ago. ‘He’s learning how to play with other players who have talent,’ Griz coach Lionel Hollins said. ‘He’s learning to fit in and get his shots within the system. He knows that when he pushes the ball he can pull up and take a shot. There are plays for him to score but there are also plays for him to create. He’s figuring out the balance and he’s getting better all the time.’ Consider, too, that Mayo’s string of double-digit field goals came in wins against Dallas and Cleveland and a five-point loss to Boston. ‘I told the guys I’m more about being efficient and consistent,’ Mayo said. ‘I just want to make more than I miss when I do get shots. There are nights when I feel like I can get it rolling so I’ll be a little more aggressive. But the plan every night is to be consistent.’”

Eddie Sefko of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:  “Jason Terry has a good perspective on the defenses he is seeing this season, which are giving him a lot more attention than before he became the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year. ’No question,’ he said. ‘I haven’t seen any looks where I’ve been … wide-open.’ It’s because the Dallas Mavericks guard undressed opponents so many times last season with his quick-trigger offense that they have no choice but to cover him up with layers this season. Terry has averaged 16.7 points on 43.4 percent shooting this season. He’s hitting 33.8 percent from 3-point range. All respectable numbers for the 6-foot-2 Terry. But all down from last season, when he was a huge force off the bench, averaging 19.6 points and shooting 46.3 percent, including 36.6 from three-land. Turns out there’s a reason for the downturn. It’s attributable to defenses that are geared to stop him and Dirk Nowitzki. ‘They’re double teaming, both on pick and rolls and on pin-downs,’ coach Rick Carlisle said. ‘When that happens, he’s got to be a facilitator for us and he has to have a level of patience. He’s got to stay aggressive to score when the opportunities are there. But when people commit two to him, he’s got to drag those guys and then make the pass leading to a bucket.’”

Michael Lee of The Washington Post:  “Having already blown a layup against Toronto and clanking two free throws against Boston and Indiana, Arenas added another poor finish to his now un-clutch resume when Sacramento rookie Tyreke Evans slapped away his crossover dribble and secured a 112-109 victory for the Kings. Arenas appeared despondent after the game and I asked him if he felt a lot of pressure to deliver for the organization. ‘It’s only pressure whenever somebody mentions my name, they mention one-eleven. They don’t just call me a basketball player, they put a number behind it, like that defines who I am,’ Arenas said. ‘There is no pressure playing the game of basketball. But every time you read an article and they mention me, it’s like, ‘Yeah, one-eleven guy.’ But I’m a basketball player.’ Arenas had to understand when he signed the deal that he would be viewed as the $111-million guy — if he was unable to produce. No one talks about Kobe Bryant’s salary or LeBron James’s salary or Dwight Howard’s salary because they are getting things done for their organizations. Right now, Arenas is struggling to regain the form that earned him the salary, but when you put your name on the dotted line, criticism comes with the territory.”

Chris Mannix of  “Even factoring in their walking wounded, identifying the Sixers’ problems isn’t a Holmesian mystery. It boils down to a lack of understanding of coach Eddie Jordan’s offense and the ongoing struggles of Elton Brand. An offensive guru in Washington (during the 2004-05 and 2006-07 seasons, Jordan’s teams ranked among the top 10 in points scored per 100 possessions) and a proven winner (he made the playoffs in his last four full seasons with the Wizards), Jordan’s offensive savvy was supposed to be the yin to the prolific running game’s yang. It hasn’t panned out, though. With the Sixers fumbling around in the Princeton offense — and with the steady hand of Andre Miller not around to guide it — Philadelphia ranks 22nd in the league (97.2 points per game) in scoring. ‘When they play up-tempo they are a really good team,’ said an Eastern Conference scout. ‘But when they start trying to play the Princeton [offense], they look lost.’ In an attempt to rectify the problem, Jordan has progressively moved away from the read-and-react system toward a more conventional attack. While the shift has benefitted a few players (Thaddeus Young, who looked lost at the start of the season, is averaging 18 points and 8.4 rebounds in December), the results haven’t changed.”

Keith Langlois of  “The Summer of LeBron includes a roster full of NBA All-Stars, franchise-altering talents whose pending free agency for several years has enticed a like number of general managers to shape their decision-making to free cap space for July 1, 2010. The Pistons will stay out of those headlines. Joe D didn’t see the wisdom in biding his time and waiting for an event that might amount to a Wheel of Fortune spin that could just as easily leave his roster bankrupt of talent. He jumped in last summer, walking away with Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, and when healthy they’ve both shown strong signs that they’ll be just what Dumars hoped: building blocks along with Rodney Stuckey and the three young players he drafted last June for the next Pistons era of title contention. But he also has made it clear that Bynum is as much a part of his vision for the Pistons’ future as anyone. ‘I think what Will has done is solidify himself here as a one of our core guys going forward,’ Dumars said. ‘He has cemented himself as one of the core members here. That’s how we look at him. We look at him as a long-term guy who’s going to grow with this team. Will was given an opportunity last year, when we signed him and brought him aboard, and he’s one of those kids that got the opportunity and he just grabbed it and took it and never let it go. He’s the poster child of when you get that opportunity, don’t let it slip. And he hasn’t. He hasn’t let it slip.’”

Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic:  “After a summer of speculation, including some by himself, it has been a fall of serenity around the Amar’e Stoudemire situation. What situation? That’s exactly it. Stoudemire’s contract predicament – in which the forward’s deal can be extended or he can opt in or out for next season – has been a non-issue because of how the Suns have won and how he has handled matters. From town to town, there have been more of the same queries with the same diplomatic responses from Stoudemire. ‘It’s been great, because it keeps us focused on what we’re doing on the basketball court and ultimately winning basketball games,’ Stoudemire said. ‘There are no distractions right now. We’ve got to keep it that way.’ Though most of the focus usually is about whether the Suns will trade Stoudemire, extend his contract or whether he will become a free agent, there remains the less-mentioned possibility that he exercises his 2009-10 player option for $17.7 million. That figure likely would not be matched in the open market because of the expected decrease of the NBA’s salary cap. Stoudemire said staying with Phoenix remains the preference because of his family, fans and friends. Suns coach Alvin Gentry said he is ‘proud’ of Stoudemire for how he has carried himself this season.”

Eric Pincus of HOOPSWORLD: “The Lakers are 12-1 with Gasol this season after an 8-3 start while Pau nursed a preseason hamstring strain back to health.  Since the team acquired Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies, they’ve been to the NBA Finals two straight times with their most recent championship to show for it. It’s no wonder the team is looking to keep him around for as long as they can . . . A well-placed source has told HOOPSWORLD that Gasol and the Lakers are nearing a three-year contract extension. Currently Gasol’s deal is set to expire after next season.  He’s currently earning $16.5 million for the current campaign and $17.8 million for the next. The additional three years would be the maximum permitted under the rules of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). While it’s not clear what dollar figures are being discussed, Gasol would be eligible for $18.7-$19.7 million in the first year of the extension depending on where the salary cap falls that year. Of course the CBA still needs to be renegotiated, which could have an impact on the numbers. With Gasol, the Lakers would have five players under contract for the 2011/12 season with around $56 million invested in Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom, Ron Artest, Luke Walton and Gasol.”

Ken Sugiura of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:  “In recent years, basketball fans have been introduced to numbers and metrics never seen in box scores. Player efficiency rating, plus/minus rating, productivity value and won-lost profiles are among an array of statistics that measure players and teams. In the way that Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane’s use of statistical analysis to evaluate talent has changed baseball scouting, the NBA is seeing a similar trend. Woodson, though, goes with the basics. After all, the guy played for Bob Knight. ‘I look at defensive field goal (percentage), I look at offensive field goal (percentage),’ he said. ‘Are they a terrible free-throw shooting team? Do they turn it over? Are they a good rebounding team?’ He looks with some skepticism at statistics like plus/minus, which rates a player based on the number of points scored for and against his team while he is on the floor. ‘Sometimes, the guy that’s getting the bad marks is the guy that’s making plays to help them win,’ he said. ‘It can go against you sometimes. I don’t feed into that.’”

Brian Windhorst of The Cleveland Plain Dealer:  “There was a time when LeBron James was nervous, scared and even intimidated before a game. ‘I mean I was nervous as hell,’ James remembered. ‘Like, scared nervous, shaking nervous.’ It is hard to believe, even for James himself, that it was 10 years ago this month that he first stepped onto the basketball scene in this area. Now known worldwide, in December 1999, James was a lanky 14-year-old with incredible skill, but a dearth of experience. And he felt it. Which is why he sat in the bleachers on the night of Dec. 3, 1999, at Cuyahoga Falls High School with his stomach churning and his mouth dry. He looked up at the large gym, which had rows of seats high up into the ceiling, and felt uncomfortable and worried. In an interview recently, James reflected on the night that effectively was his introduction to Northeast Ohio fans — a night that has reached its first significant anniversary. ‘As I look back on it now, making that jump from middle school to high school is just as big of a jump for someone as going into the NBA,’ James said. ‘Because when you look at the other kids, some of them were three years older than me, and that was the first time I’d experienced that. They were bigger and more confident than me.’”

(Photo by Sam Forencich NBAE/Getty Images)

One Response to “The Fundamentals”

  1. Basketballogy Says:

    I clicked through and read Ken Burger’s highly questionable analysis of Ron Artest’s impact on the Lakers.

    “[Artest] has demanded the toughest assignment every night the way Kobe has always demanded the ball.” Give me a break. High praise for Artest and a dig at Bryant in the same breath? This is what happens when sports writers write with an agenda.

    Does this guy even watch Lakers games? Or just stats sites?

    That the Lakers’ defense is better this year than last year is irrefutable, but crediting Artest for it is a stretch.

    And as for Berger’s high praise of Artest’s basketball IQ, Artest is nearly always the first player to abandon the triangle to create for himself, not Kobe.

    Berger’s brush with reality came when he wrote, “The Lakers have gone from the pliable, gutless defensive team that got pushed around by the Celtics in the 2008 Finals, to the more determined group that beat Orlando last season, to sixth in the NBA in points allowed.”

    In other words, the Lakers have steadily improved their defensive commitment long before Artest arrived.

    I’d like to see Berger account for the fact that the Lakers now have a healthy Bynum and 2 7-footers defending the high percentage shooting area of the floor now, and now the Lakers have Odom anchoring the energetic second unit. These two differences alone could well account for nearly all of the improvement the Lakers have made on defense.

    And let’s not overlook the impact the Lakers’ new commitment to rebounding has on opposing teams’ shot attempts as well.

    Again, this writer has an agenda.

    Credit Lakers’ defense and tout Artest’s role in it, but don’t put Artest on a pedestal and infer that Kobe Bryant, Pao Gasol, Derek Fisher, Lamar Odom and company are Artest’s supporting cast on the defensive side of the floor.

    Or, if you are going to make such an inference, you better bring something better to back it than what Berger did.

    The Lakers’ defense is better because the LAKERS are playing better defense. Not because Artest asks for the tough covers.

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