Posted on: September 1, 2011 10:21 pm
By Matt Moore
Stop me if you've heard this one before. Defense wins championships. That's not actually true, as some of the best defenses never win titles because their offense can't muster enough points to outscore a college team. But it's certainly vital. You'll never find a modern NBA team win with terrible defense. But who have the best systems? We know who the great defenders are, but how much are they a product of the system, and how much is the system a product of them? We sought to answer those questions with our own form of the defensive system power rankings.
1. Chicago Bulls: There's a reason Tom Thibodeau is considered a defensive genius. Look no further than the fact that the Bulls were the defensive icon of the league despite considerable injuries last season and the fact that Carlos Boozer was a heavy-minutes starter. The key to Thibodeau's system is help and precision attack. There's no anticipation of meeting the player at the point of field goal attempt, the initial penetration is deterred by a series of help defenders cutting off multiple options. It's a system that masks individual defensive weaknesses. That's why players like Omer Asik, Boozer, and C.J Watson suddenly become strengthpoints.
An interesting component is that the Bulls are so focused on preventing scores, they manage to avoid fouling. They had the 22nd lowest free throw rate in the league. Compare that with Boston's 10th rating, and you find a much cleaner defense. That's partially attributable to the different personnel but it's also indicative of the Bulls' approach. They attack the dribble, cut off the lane, and contain, contain, contain.
Their cohesion is nearly perfect, their communication is nearly perfect, their approach is nearly perfect. Guarding LeBron James nailing long-range threes? You've got be perfect to beat that.
2. Boston Celtics: The ugly older brother of the Bulls' defense. The Celtics use the same help mechanisms to deter penetration and attack the rim, but are far more willing to commit to a club to the head to make their point. Intelligent design matched with brute force. Another key difference is their reliance on their individual personnel. Kevin Garnett is of course the field general, and its his willingness to commit to any assignment or range that fuels the system. But Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo are all equally essential along with the rest of the team. The problem is that the central reliance on personnel gives way to vulnerability. Eventually age catches up with the Celtics.
What bolsters them, though, is a philosophical dedication. The Celtics are willing to do the hard job, no matter how tough. It's not just a matter of professional dedication, its a prideful philosophy, an extension of the family unity they've tried to instill in the team. That's really what separates the Celtics, their almost militaristic dedication to the defensive discipline they try and execute for 48 minutes.
The Celtics' defense is only going to continue to slide as the players' abilities downgrade with age. But until then, they're still stocked with the most experience, ability, and knowledge of their system of any team in the league.
Again, with the LeBron thing.
3. Miami Heat: If the Celtics and Bulls both rely on system built on systemic fundamentals and philosophy, then the Heat's concept is a bit different, if nearly as effective. Their strengths begin with their talent. Having three of the most athletic players in the league gives you a basis. LeBron James' ability to play on the perimeter, on the wing, in the post, and battle for rebounds gives them versatility. Chris Bosh is never going to win anyone's heart over with toughness, but guarding those stretch fours in a league where they can torch you is important, and Bosh does it well. Dwyane Wade still gambles more than he should, but he also makes plays more often than you want if you're facing him.
This isn't to say the rest of the Heat are schlubs. Udonis Haslem is a big, tough, difficult defender who has the savvy to arm wrestle a weapon to the proverbial ground. The Heat have veteran players who don't lack for experience, and it helps tremendously.
The most interesting wrinkle in their defensive system, though, is one of their anticipation. Consider that the Bulls and Celtics both react to where the ball goes. They're always playing a game of stop what's in front of them. It's a very Eastern-philosophy, "stay in the moment" kind of mindset. But the Heat look to anticipate. They run to the corner shooter before the ball arrives. They play on a string, but not just in terms of shutting down one option and then reacting, but getting ahead of the offense to prevent the quick open look opportunity. The result is a load of shot clock violations.
The problem is personnel. They have neither the wing stopper they can commit at the cost of offense, nor the body in the paint at center to defend the rim. There's a reason why Shane Battier and Eddy Curry reportedly top the Heat's list of targets in free agency. A few better options defensively in terms of personnel might have won them two more games in the Finals, which was all that stood in their way of vindicating all that premature boasting.
4. Orlando Magic: It's good to have the best. Dwight Howard makes more of an impact defensively than any other player in the league, the reason he's the defending Defensive Player of the Year (again), and why he was an MVP candidate last season. If you don't believe me, watch just the Orlando Magic defensively some time. A team with Gilbert Arenas and Hedo Turkoglu in prominent roles was a top five team defensively last season, and that impact begins and ends with Dwight Howard. Howard reacts to the baseline, swats the weak side, covers both the ball handler and roll man on the pick and roll, and is big and tall and super-athletic. He's a freak of nature, and one that's learned to be smarter on defense every year.
But to say that it's all Howard does a disservice to Stan Van Gundy's work. Van Gundy, after all, is the coach that has brought Dwight Howard to the defensive level he's at, making it a priority for the young big man since 2007. And it's Van Gundy who manages to pull this kind of defensive effort out of a team with that roster. That Van Gundy is able to generate cohesive defensive efforts with Brandon Bass, Jameer Nelson, and Jason Richardson in key roles along with the others speaks volumes of what SVG is capable of.
His biggest weakness is that personnel, which has gotten worse each season since 2009. Howard's hit his ceiling defensively. Unless SVG gets better supporting talent, there's only so many rabbits he can pull out of his hat.
5. Los Angeles Lakers: It's good to be tall.
The Lakers' defensive system is a question mark as Mike Brown takes over. But if we look at what the Lakers have done well in the past, it's pretty simple. Be tall, be active, apply pressure. The Lakers will talk about experience and veteran savvy, but their biggest asset is the fact that Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum combine to create a redwood forrest down low through which passes cannot flow. The result is a lot of perimter passing just to get the ball to the other side, or wild looping cross-court volleys. Combine that with Derek Fisher's ability to counter his slowness with pestering opposing point guards into personal fouls, and Kobe Bryant and Ron Artest's proficiency in perimeter defense, and you have quite the set.
Honestly, this roster probably has a lot of upside in defense, still. Jackson was too busy handing out novels and waxing poetic on what other player or coach he was degrading that week to really focus defensively other than to talk about, well, focus. The Lakers with Brown could be the best defensive unit in the NBA next season. Whenever that is.
Milwaukee Bucks: Skiles continues to struggle with offense, but his teams always attack the ball and stay disciplined. It's sloppy at times, but Skiles' grinding approach is a proven tactic.
Dallas Mavericks: Rick Carlisle talked in the Finals about "defending with five guys" and that's the best part of the Mavericks. They use any and all weapons at their disposal. Their defense isn't why they won the NBA championship, but it was why they won the Finals. Versatility combined with determination and good chemistry with sound principles made them formidable enough to compromise teams enough for their offense to do the rest.
Memphis Grizzlies: Unconventional is the word, here, as the Grizzlies run counter to every defensive tradition in the NBA. They don't play position, they attack the ball. They don't focus on misses, they swarm for steals. They don't deny layups, they pester and pressure until the offense collapses. Out of nowhere, Lionel Hollins turned one of the worst defenses in the league into one of the best. Tony Allen's influence helps, so does Shane Battier's, but it's Memphis' adoption of the blue collar ethic of the town that helped them make their playoff run.
Posted on: August 31, 2011 9:22 am
By Matt Moore
Don't ask us why, because it seems like the worst idea ever, to us. Brandon Jennings really wants to start some sort of feud with Kobe Bryant.
It started about a month ago. Jennings posted the picture above on Twitter of himself in a t-shirt that read "nobody likes a snake," referencing Bryant's "Black Mamba" nickname of course. Jennings also made a comment about Bryant dropping 45 and saying he needed to play wherever Bryant was playing next.
Then Jennings backed off in an interview with HoopsHype, saying it was just a joke and that Kobe was the best player in the world. OK, then. No harm done, young fella.
Except on Monday, ESPN spoke with Jennings who said said Bryant shouldn't play for the L.A.-based Drew League in thei rematch against Goodman League, or any of the other organized exhibitions, because Bryant didn't grow up in L.A.
Brandon Jennings on Kobe: "He wasnt born and raised in LA. You gotta be from LA to play for Drew. Show me a birth certificate."via Twitter / @thechrispalmer: Brandon Jennings on Kobe: ....
Jennings defended the statement on Twitter later. He's not backing down from the assertion of determining who should and who should not play for Drew League. He was adamant that he's not saying Bryant shouldn't play in Drew, just not for them in any organized competition. Far be it from me to weigh in on who should and should not play in the streetball organizations' exhibitions, it just seems notable that a third-year player who regressed last season is calling out a Hall of Famer with five championship rings. But he's right, Bryant wasn't born in L.A.. In fact, if we're going there, Bryant's more suitable to play for Italy's Eurobasket team than any team stateside, outside of maybe a Philadelphia team.
Needless to say, Brandon Jennings is taking this summer by the horns, and that brash attitude he's been known for is in full flight. We'll see if he can back it up with his play from here on out.
Posted on: August 18, 2011 11:12 am
Edited on: August 18, 2011 11:13 am
By Matt Moore
So the NBA has this thing they're pretty particular about. They don't want anyone on their side of the table talking about players. Not coaches, not PR reps, not trainers, not management, not owners, no one. It's a total gag rule. They've threatened massive fines for violations of this rule from David Stern, and David Kahn has reportedly felt the wrath already. Now? It looks like the Greatest of All-Time is headed for a lightening of his wallet. Michael Jordan spoke with Australian newspaper the Herald Sun and had a nice long chat with them about the lockout, what the owners want... and Andrew Bogut.
"We have stars like Bogut who are entitled to certain type of demands. But for us to be profitable in small markets, we have to be able to win ballgames and build a better basketball team."via Michael Jordan airs Andrew Bogut issue | Herald Sun.
That's three different mentions of He Who Must Not Be Named Along With The Rest Of His Union. This in addition to Jordan talking not only about the owners' goals in the lockout, but about revenue sharing. That's not going to make the Commissioner happy, even on his vacation.
The whole rule seems a little silly. You don't want to compromise your bargaining position, sure. But Jordan made a comment about a man who exists to a newspaper in the guy's home country. He's not giving up the farm in negotiations (though talking about how important revenue sharing is when the owners want to keep it off the table until the rest of the CBA is settled is probably not the most favorite thing for the NBA). There shouldn't be any big deal about this.
Then again, that's kind of what's been going on with this lockout. Making everything into a huge deal.
Posted on: August 12, 2011 4:46 pm
Posted by Royce Young
One more log on the pile. According to reports, Milwaukee Bucks guard Corey Maggette is in "serious discussions" with PAOK in Greece. Other than the obvious "Hey an NBA player might sign overseas" angle, what's interesting is that Greece, a country whose economy is worse shape than John Daly's liver, has a team making a huge offer to an NBA player.
No word on how much the offer is for, but Maggette currently has $21 million and two years left on his current NBA deal.
A report from TalkBasket.net also notes that if Maggette doesn't end up with PAOK, the team is having conversations with other unknown NBA players. PAOK has housed some NBA talent previously as Rasho Nesterovic, Peja Stojakovic and even Scott Skiles have played there. PAOK isn't the biggest team in Greece, but it certainly is a pretty large one.
Maggette clearly isn't a marquee name, but he is a solid NBA player that makes a pretty good living. But as Euroleague president Jordi Bertomeu said recently, he still doesn't expect to see NBA players in Europe. Regardless, Maggette is just the latest name to jump on the list of players looking hard at Europe.
Posted on: August 10, 2011 1:32 pm
Edited on: August 10, 2011 3:30 pm
Posted by Royce Young
I imagine trying to check Brandon Jennings in a streetball game is sort of like trying to walk over hot coals. Eventually, you're going to get burned. He embarrassed a guy a few days ago by bouncing the ball off his head and now, he did it by going through someone's legs. Not his own, mind you.
Here's my question: Obviously the off-the-head move doesn't do you much if you pulled it in an NBA game. You'd just be seen as a showboating hotshot, which isn't beneficial. But the between-the-legs move -- that would work, right? Streetball tactics mostly don't have a place in actual games, but in some ways, I think Jennings could benefit from busting out some of this stuff.
He's one of the most creative ball handlers in the league, but he's pretty vanilla as a point guard in the NBA. Why not break out some of these nasty moves in a real game? The risk is failing and then being seen as reckless, which you don't want. But it's just like trying a behind-the-back pass or a big crossover. As long as it's not only for show and actually has a purpose, why not use it?
I think I'm just being selfish here because really, all I want is to see Jennings use that on Derek Fisher or something. Now that would be excellent.
Posted on: July 29, 2011 10:34 am
Edited on: July 29, 2011 5:09 pm
By Matt Moore
What kind of message is Keyon Dooling trying to send here? Because outside of "Get Yours," I'm not really seeing much in the way of leadership in this latest turn of events. From the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:
Bucks guard Keyon Dooling is nearing agreement on a contract with Efes Istanbul, the Turkish team which recently signed New Jersey Nets guard Sasha Vujacic.via Dooling nears deal with Turkish team - JSOnline.
Now, I'm of the belief that players pursuing employment overseas is the best thing that the NBPA can do. Proving to the owners they can make a living without the NBA removes the teeth from the lockout. There's still the jaws' vice grip, but no incisors. That's a crucial part of the union's strategy if they're going to get the owners off their hard line.
The players simply have not formulated a coheseive strategy. If this was done with the approval and support of the NBPA, it's a thoughtless maneuver that won't do anything to impact the owners. Not like they're losing sleep over Keyon Dooling not being available to put butts in seats. Dooling's a decent enough player, a quality role player in this league, but no one's going to be writing requiems for his departure. Meanwhile, it sends a message to the union that their leadership would rather go get paid than keep trying to get them paid.
The only way this lockout ends, like it or not, is by wearing the other side down. Constant meetings to keep appealing to the rational owners who don't want to miss the entire year, constant talks to try and open up outside-the-box solutions. That's how you wear down the other side and get progress, save the season, and keep the players in the lifestyle to which they've come accustomed to.
Having union leadership head for the hills (does Turkey have hills?) won't do anything but pad his pockets. You've got to lead by example, but this example doesn't lead the players anywhere.
Posted on: July 27, 2011 7:59 pm
Posted by Ben Golliver.
This is the type of Power Rankings list you don't want to be on.
Two former members of the Milwaukee Bucks -- guard Latrell Sprewell and forward Anthony Mason -- are listed on the state of Wisconsin's Department of Revenue website's list of top 100 delinquent taxpayers.
Sprewell leads the entire state in unpaid taxes -- in the amount of $3,533,426.49 -- while Mason checks in at the No. 3 spot, owing $2.070,061.26.
Sprewell played for the Bucks in the 2003-2004 and 2004-2005 seasons but is also a native of Wisconsin. Mason, better known as a member of the New York Knicks, played for the Bucks in 2001-2002 and 2002-2003.
TheBigLead.com notes that these tax debts, while enormous, represent just a fraction of each player's career earnings.
According to one site, Mason was paid about $16 million with the Bucks over four years, and his career NBA salary totaled about $45 million. Sprewell made in the ballpark of $97 million on the basketball court in his career.Clearly, the point of this list is to shame its members into stepping up and paying what they owe. Applying a little public pressure is a no-lose and no-cost tactic for the state. But is it actually effective? Who knows.
But imagine if every state with an NBA franchise followed suit. How many former NBA players would find their way on to a similar list? 50? 100? 200?
Wisconsin, one would imagine, is one of the cheaper places for an NBA player to work and live. In states like New York and California, where the cost of living -- and the cost of living large -- is significantly greater, I'd expect to see even more former NBA players on this type of list.
Whether Wisconsin ever receives its money or not, Sprewell and Mason become two more cautionary tales for current NBA players at a time when financial management is at center stage during the ongoing lockout. The NBPA should send out a link to the Top 100 list to its members with the subject line: "What not to do."
Posted on: July 22, 2011 10:39 pm
Edited on: July 22, 2011 10:43 pm
Posted by Ben Golliver.
Dunking after throwing the ball off the backboard to yourself has become all the rage this summer.
Miami Heat forward LeBron James did it during a charity game in Ohio. Milwaukee Bucks Brandon Jennings did it during a scrimmage in Baltimore. And now free agent guard Nick Young has done it, but with an added twist.
In the video below, Young channels former NBA Slam Dunk champion J.R. Rider by putting the ball between his legs and throwing it down after executing the off-the-glass self-pass. That's right: Young executed the famed "East Bay Funk Dunk" after collecting the ball off the backboard in mid-air.
The springy Young, who averaged 17.4 points and 2.7 rebounds per game for the Washington Wizards last season, makes it look easy, but this combination takes an absurd level of leaping ability, timing and hand-eye coordination. Want to see more? Young, a California native, will bring his high-flying, high-scoring, no-passing brand of basketball to a highly anticipated exhibition game between the West Coast's Drew League and the East Coast's Goodman League in August.
Here's the video courtesy of YouTube user chumpclown.
Hat Tip: Ball Don't Lie.