Monday, October 15, 2007

Rockets Defense

The Jeff Van Gundy era in Houston is mercifully over, as it was once mercifully over in New York. JVG was a coach who put his stamp on every possession of every game, and harped on the combination of physical defense and a plodding, shot clock grinding offense that was truly horrible to watch. As a strategy, Van Gundy's system was not substantially better or worse than the other systems employed by NBA teams. It created winning situations season-in and season-out, but led to a number of bigger problems around his teams. Players got banged up on both ends of the floor and had a very difficult time enduring the marathon 82 games of the current NBA format, not to mention playoffs. The lack of diversity in the offense also fostered boredom and stagnation on the floor that manifested in a lot of griping about opportunities or "looks" and took the joy out of the game for the more dynamic players on the roster.

From an aesthetic standpoint, the JVG brand of hoop was unwatchable. It was unwatchable from afar, as Eastern Conference fans only had to sit through a few meetings a season in the local market. For Western Conference fans, and particularly the fans of the Houston franchise, it was brutal. I witnessed this miserable excuse for a basketball program for years when JVG was scowling along the Madison Square Garden sidelines, but all that has changed. Rick Adelman brings a brand of successful basketball to Houston, which features a good deal of offensive variety and opportunities galore for the gifted athletes on the club. The question that he brings with him to the Rockets is how well they will continue to play D. An article in the Houston Chronicle addresses just that point:

"Jeff Van Gundy was a proponent of trapping the ball-handler on pick-and-rolls. Adelman will never trap with his centers, having Yao Ming or Dikembe Mutombo instead sinking back into the lane. He also will more often have guards try to guide the ball-handler toward the baseline."

This seems like a better situation in Houston. Yao Ming is not laterally quick enough to play the trap on a guard. It's also a waste to have one of the premier shot blockers in league history operating this way in Mutombo. Both of these guys are mountains in a league of relatively smaller players. Adelman's proposed scheme works to that strength, and while more traditional and safe from a defensive perspective, it's also going to keep the big men out of foul trouble. I should say, it's going to keep them out of foul trouble related to poor lateral movement on the screen, and reserve any fouls to the shot blocking function of the center position. Finally, it will save these players the fatigue associated with chasing guards and the pressure that their knees and ankles would bear in trying to keep up with a smaller player on a switch. Next.

"Van Gundy insisted on contesting every jump shot, and last season wanted closeouts, even if they meant going for pump fakes, believing that shooting percentages decrease off one- and two-dribble jump shots when compared to spotting up. Adelman will more often let a specific game plan determine whom the Rockets must close out."

As a rule, it's safest to treat each situation as a unique set of variables that require a unique solution. If you try to apply a science to everything in the world, the science is bound to fail. One of the strong points of the Rick Adelman system is its flexibility. Most often that flexibility is associated with the fluid offense, but also has to apply more broadly to an entire philosophy of basketball. Van Gundy's philosophy of rigid, hard and fast protocols for playing both ends of the floor are unmanageable and in the end make for a very long and grueling season. Essentially, the Van Gundy system is an 82 game playoff style of basketball that most players have a hard time playing for 10-20 games at the end of the year. Adelman's system is much better suited to keeping players interested and will prove valuable in the specific instances of Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming. A lot will be asked of these players and it should be interesting to see how much lighter they appear after the All Star break. Two statements that Coach Adelman made tell a big part of the story, in my opinion:

"I want to do some of the things they did because they were so solid at it," Adelman said. "I've said before, Jeff did a great job with them. When you start with the guys we have like Rafer (Alston) and Shane (Battier) and Chuck (Hayes), there's good defenders out there. You're going to be pretty solid defensively." "A little is on veteran guys, to see if we have the knowledge as the games go along, to see what the offense is trying to do," Alston said. "As opposed to having 20 to 30 set ways to guard, we might switch (on screens), or force a guy down, or chase a guy around screens. But it helps to have guys like Shane Battier and Chuck Hayes to facilitate defense."

What Adelman's system does that Van Gundy's didn't allow for is a level of trust among players that allows each man to do something different. On most successful teams the roles are divided according to strengths and weaknesses. With the dilution of talent in a 30 team league, there aren't enough big time players to fill out every roster. No one is going to have a team of 12 outstanding defenders, who can also play great on the offensive end of the floor. Guys like McGrady and Yao are more important as scorers than they are as defenders, and therefore should be complemented by the defensive role players on the team. Where JVG applied 48 minutes of tough pressure by contesting every shot, help defense from the Battiers and Alstons and others will allow McGrady to shoot the gaps, release early, and go for the steal. Yao will be able to hang back to block a shot or two, and cover for any mistakes that the guards make in man defense. Every player doesn't have to play tight defense on every possession.

This is not to be mistaken for giving up on the defensive intensity that is the hallmark of champions. Successful teams all play very good defense. The problem is, over the course of 82 games the "all out" style of play will kill you. A well rounded team that can score in a variety of ways can afford to be less intense on defense. In Van Gundy's world view, plodding "high percentage" offense necessitates tough and intense defense. His strategy is to reduce the number of possessions in a game, putting the clamps down on the opposition while maximizing his own looks at the basket. Rick Adelman's brand of basketball is a brand of trust. Play fluid, motion basketball on offense with a high IQ and stay in front of your man on defense. With guys like Yao and Mutombo you have a level of trust that a layup is not a guaranteed end result of a blown assignment. Use that. The Rockets are not the Nets, fielding mediocre big men that have little lane presence.

I think you'll see a much better season from the Rockets than you witnessed in the JVG era. Houston fans should breathe a sigh of relief that a more open brand of basketball will be played on their home court that doesn't sacrifice quality for giving up some of the control from the coach's chair.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The New "Allan Houton Rule"

Rule: Never sign a player who just took millions of your money and returns the favor by not playing a single damn game in the past two years despite being the #2 highest paid player the league.

Sweet merciful crap, the Knicks signed Allan Houston.

After all the Knicks have done to themselves recently (Steve Francis, signing Jared Jefferies for more than $18, waiving Jalen Rose rather than sitting on his expiring contract, the Isiah Harassment case and Marbury intern limo bang this off-season, etc.) surely they must view the second-coming of Houston as good news.

But I am here to say signing Allan Houston is worse than all of the other moves Isiah has orchestrated.

As any Knicks or hoops fan would tell you, Houston was (is) a soft jump shooter with no heart whose career peaked when his ugly random runner fell in off the backboard in Miami. But more than that, the dude was one of those overpaid bitches who actually hurts you while he is on the floor. No defense, no guts, no intangibles. and the bitch (can Isiah still call a man a bitch?) has the nerve to declare he is coming back to the NBA.

Go back to your charity luncheons or else you'll get swatted.

In 2001, Houston signed a maximum 7-year contract extension with the Knicks, a decision that any intelligent creature knew to be a huge mistake for New York because it prevented them from making any moves for years and also paid a fluff player tons of cahs reserved for true stars. Houston's yearly salary of over $20 million made him a total anchor around the Knicks necks. Houston missed 32 games in 2003-04 due to a knee injury, and despite claims in the summer of 2004 that he would be ready to play the next season (he even refused to have surgery on his knee that summer), he played in only 20 games that season because he claimed injury hadn't completely healed. The knee injury would eventually force Houston to announce his retirement, on October 17, 2005.

And when he "retired" he took all of his damn guaranteed money with him. You know who was the 2nd-highest paid NBA player the past 2 years, right? Yep, this bitch. And he didn't play a single game.

For fans of Allan Houston, I think you might be mildly retarded or, at best, ignorant about hoops. His play was always super soft and one-dimensional. He was more Jeff Malone than anyone else. The stats that jump out? He averaged more turnovers and fouls combined than rebounds + assists + steals + blocks. What a sad little bitch.

93-94 DET 79 20 19.2 .405 .299 .824 .2 1.3 1.5 1.3 .43 .16 1.25 8.5
94-95 DET 76 39 26.3 .463 .424 .860 .4 1.8 2.2 2.2 .80 .18 1.49 14.5
95-96 DET 82 75 37.5 .453 .427 .823 .7 3.0 3.7 3.0 .74 .20 2.84 19.7
96-97 NYK 81 81 33.1 .423 .385 .803 .5 2.4 3.0 2.2 .51 .22 2.06 14.8
97-98 NYK 82 82 34.7 .447 .385 .851 .5 2.8 3.3 2.6 .77 .29 2.44 18.4
98-99 NYK 50 50 36.3 .418 .407 .862 .4 2.6 3.0 2.7 .70 .18 2.60 16.3
99-00 NYK 82 82 38.6 .483 .436 .838 .5 2.8 3.3 2.7 .79 .17 2.27 19.7
00-01 NYK 78 78 36.6 .449 .381 .909 .3 3.4 3.6 2.2 .67 .13 2.06 18.7
01-02 NYK 77 77 37.8 .437 .393 .870 .5 2.8 3.3 2.5 .70 .13 2.21 20.4
02-03 NYK 82 82 37.9 .445 .396 .919 .3 2.5 2.8 2.7 .66 .09 2.17 22.5
03-04 NYK 50 50 36.0 .435 .431 .913 .4 2.0 2.4 2.0 .76 .04 2.04 18.5
04-05 NYK 20 11 26.6 .415 .388 .837 .2 1.0 1.2 2.1 .40 .10 1.05 11.9
Career 839 727 33.7 .444 .402 .863 .4 2.5 2.9 2.4 .67 .10 2.10 17.3

Dear Allan Houston,
If I catch you hanging out at the Garden like Charles Smith did for a few years, brave enough to show your ugly mug after what you did to this team, then I'll suckerpunch yer ass, too.
Mr. West

News Flash! Pat Riley Finally Realizes Antoine Walker is a Fatso! Jabba the Hut sues for harassment.

In this world of insane media coverage, I think I am most amazed that this writer, Tim Reynolds, actually earns a salary. Dude, Tim, you wrote a fluff piece on 'Toine being fat! And you treated the story seriously!! Either you have the best sense of humor ever or you deserve to be eaten by the Jabba the Toine.

By TIM REYNOLDS, AP Sports Writer
October 10, 2007
MIAMI (AP) -- Antoine Walker's level of conditioning is still a concern for the Miami Heat, and coach Pat Riley predicted Wednesday it may take the forward until January to meet his team-mandated body fat level.

The issue has been a thorny one for Walker and Riley for the past two seasons. Walker was briefly suspended by Riley last season over body-fat measurements, and was kept out of the opening day of training camp practice this year for the same reason.

According to the story, this is the deal with Toine's size as of Oct 10th:

Riley would define "optimum" as 235 pounds with 7 percent body fat. Riley estimated that Walker weighed 262 pounds with 15 percent body fat at the start of camp, and the three-time All-Star has been slowed by a sore Achilles' tendon for the past week. Walker currently weighs 256 pounds, Riley said.

OK, sure, like I am supposed to believe 6'8" Walker who is very out of shape only weighs 256. IF ANTOINE WALKER WEIGHS 256 LBS. RIGHT NOW THEN I AM ROBBING HIS ASS MYSELF NEXT TIME.

No, seriously, my man, the corned beef sandwich was this friggin big, dog!! And so I said to myself "Toine you love corned beef!" and so I ate the whole thing before the trailers even ended!