Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Superstar Swingers

My post is in response to Doctor MJ's "Chamberlain Theory."   This was his general conclusion:

"There is more to judging the effectiveness of a scorer, or a player in general, than simply his most obvious related statistics, and pursuit of those obvious statistics without proper awareness for the rest of the court can erase most if not all of a scorer’s positive impact, even when those obvious statistics are as great as any in all of history."

In basketball, attacking the basket and scoring buckets efficiently occurs when the offense manipulates the defense. The offensive players always have to remember that not only are they a five-man unit with a singular goal, but that defensive players are a five-man unit with a singular goal as well. 

Building chemistry on defense is easier because the five pieces don't have an object- the ball- to fight over. There is less selfishness, and thus a greater desire to accomplish the common goal. The offense's advantage is that the defense is reactive to it. Generally, the offense always makes the first move. The more you manipulate the defense, the more chaotic the formation of the five-man defense becomes. Hopefully for the offense, the defense makes a mistake (in the NBA, before 24 seconds). Hopefully for the defense, the chemistry and combined effort of the individual pieces prevail, and the defense takes the ball away somehow without the ball going in the basket.

The problem for coaches is figuring out how to best manipulate a defense with his or her five pieces.

It's great when a coach says to pound the ball into Shaquille O’Neal and space the floor or let Lebron James create or let Michael Jordan iso or put the ball in Wilt Chamberlain’s hands. Yeah, that's fine. They are talented offensive players. We get it. If we get it, so will the defense. Cleveland fans have realized this the past two years. You can't just space the floor and let one guy do all the work, regardless of how efficient he is and how he creates for others. Ironically, Orlando found this out in the 2009 Finals, right after they took Lebron's team out. Orlando's plan was to spread the floor with 3-point shooters and let them play a give-and-take game with their dominant center, Dwight Howard.  I don't think Orlando lost because Dwight had limited post moves at the time. I think they lost because they couldn't manipulate the opposing defense enough with the strategy of spacing the floor with jump shooters. When L.A. took those 3's away, Orlando's perimeter offensive players seemed to have no idea what to do.  Mickael Pietrus and Rashard Lewis looked clueless as they put the ball on the floor and took awkward-looking floaters. 

This strategy of spacing the floor with a bunch of spot-up shooters is a dangerous trend in the modern NBA because it ignores the other facets of playing off the ball that are sometimes more effective in the long run at manipulating a defense. Cutting, offensive rebounding, slashing off of the cross-court pass/inside-out pass, simply moving without the ball to manipulate the guy guarding you- i.e. a piece of the defense, moving the ball unselfishly a la Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett in 2008, etc. These are all extremely effective ways of attacking a defense. 

A superstar making swing passes makes an effective offense. 

Look at Jordan and Scottie Pippen in the triangle offense. They were wing players who handled the ball and weren't elite outside shooters.  It doesn't seem like the ideal duo.  Yet, it worked.  Why?

They were great off-ball players and great offensive rebounders for their respective positions. MJ moved well without the ball. The triangle made it harder than ever to guard Jordan because instead of MJ creating with a defense able to focus on him and his effect on teammates, he was attacking at points in time when the defense had no clue the attack was coming. The triangle is a great offensive system because it rewards player movement and ball movement, instead of just standing around and watching your superstar go to work and simply playing off of him.

Look at Shaq in Orlando. The offensive strategy was to get the ball to Shaq and then space the floor with shooters. You can do so many more effective things with a dominant offensive player like Shaq. The triangle took advantage of that starting in 2000, and Shaq had his greatest team and individual success because of that. 

A more modern example is Miami. Dwyane Wade and James are underrated long range shooters, but that certainly isn't their strength. By my observations, they are doing just fine together though. Why? Because they take advantage of each other's presence on the court. A reasonable account of a good Miami possession goes like this:

Wade slashes from the top of the key and gets into the paint.  He passes out to Mario Chalmers in the corner, who swings it to Lebron on the wing. Now instead of Lebron driving into the teeth of a set defense every single time like he did in Cleveland, he is driving by a recovering defender and into the heart of an already chaotic defense (chaotic because they had to stop Wade). Miami will get:

1. Another series of passes resulting in another slash by a superstar

2. An efficient shot at the rim by James

3. Free throws for James

4. An open, in-rhythm 3-pointer from one of the spot-up shooters

All it takes is a little patience. Just manipulate the defense enough, and you'll get your efficient shot.

You don't manipulate a defense with one guy doing all the heavy lifting, regardless of his talent. He can be the key. He can be the base on which your offense is built. But he can't do everything. That's why in the playoffs, your fourth, fifth, and sixth plays/options/best players always make the difference. You can't make a difference if your role is to stand 25 feet away from the place where you want to put the ball. It makes things too easy for a defense. In a seven game series, those first few options will be taken away when it matters most.

You need a plan B. You need a plan F, too.

I totally agree with the Chamberlain Theory. Even what looks to be the most dominant scorer ever can have a net "blah" effect on his team's offense. Who better to represent that than the king of stats?

1 comment: