Friday, May 22, 2009

NBA Musings: LeBron D Hurts Cavs, Where Was Bynum?, JVG on the Press, Quick Shaq Check

Upon re-watching the final five minutes of Game 1 of the Cavs-Magic series, we noticed that LeBron's (lack of) defense on Hedo Turkoglu down the stretch - often because he couldn't get through a high screen, forcing a switch - really hurt the Cavs.

Hedo was the primary ballhandler down the stretch for Orlando on eight straight possessions. Let's break 'em down quickly:

5:15 ORL 90 CLE 90: Pick/Roll - Hedo-Howard v LBJ-Varejao
LeBron goes under the screen, Hedo nails the 3 (3 pts).

4:25 ORL 93 CLE 90: Pick/Roll - Hedo-Howard v LBJ-Z
LeBron can't get through screen, forcing a switch. Orlando resets the offense, and James ends up with a steal after Hedo tries a poor lob pass to Howard (0 pts).

3:45 ORL 93 CLE 92: Pick/Roll - Hedo-Howard v LBJ-Z
LeBron can't get through screen, forcing a switch. Hedo drives past Z for the hoop (2 pts).

3:05 ORL 95 CLE 94: Pick/Roll - Hedo-Howard v LBJ-Z
LeBron and Z trap, which leads to a missed 3 by Rafer Alston (0 pts).

2:35 ORL 95 CLE 94: Fast-Break Transition Action
Hedo gets a defensive rebound and goes, beating LBJ upcourt w/help from a Pietrus screen in the backcourt. LeBron tries for a steal from behind, but Hedo hits Rashard for 3 (3 pts).

2:00 ORL 98 CLE 97: Pick/Roll - Hedo-Howard v LBJ-Z
LeBron and Z trap, which leads to a backcourt foul by Z. 2 FT for Hedo (2 pts).

1:40 ORL 100 CLE 98: Pick/Roll - Hedo-Rashard v LBJ-Varejao
Varejao in the PnR instead of Z seems good for CLE, but LeBron can't get through the screen and they have to switch. Hedo gets Andy into the air with a head fake, drawing the shooting foul (2 pts).

1:10 ORL 102 CLE 100: Pick/Roll - Hedo-Howard v LBJ-Z
LeBron and Z trap, which leads to a missed 3 by Pietrus (0 pts).

On the last two possessions, Orlando went away from the Hedo high screen:
:40 ORL 102 CLE 103: Pick/Roll - Alston-Howard v Mo-Varejao
Out of a time out, Stan mixes it up, leading to Rashard nailing the long tough 2-point jumper (2 pts).

:25 ORL 104 CLE 106: Random offense
Orlando runs a play which doesn't go anywhere, LeBron contains Hedo when he has the ball, and then Rashard knocks down the 3 after Hedo swings it (3 pts).

As stagnant as Cleveland's offense was down the stretch, they still produced points. On the defensive end, they gave up 17 points on the last 10 possessions, and 12 points on the 8 straight possessions where Hedo handled the ball while guarded by LeBron. Both of those are poor numbers.

Whether by design of scheme or LeBron's fatigue, switching the pick and roll really hurt Cleveland down the stretch, as LeBron and the Cavs were unable to contain Hedo as a playmaker.

We have felt all season that Andrew Bynum is the X-factor for the entire league. When he defends the basket with vigor, we think the Lakers are unbeatable.

That's why we wonder if we're the only ones asking: where was he last night in Game 2? Bynum played 18 minutes, and checked out for good at the 7:18 mark of the third quarter. He had a team-high +7 for the night (in part because he was not on the floor for Denver's big run at the end of the first half).

It's a ridiculously small sample size, but DEN was 15-36 (.417) when Bynum on the floor and 20-43 (.465) when he was on the bench. We'd have to re-watch to see if that was random or if Drew actually had a big impact on team D, but we thought he looked pretty active last night, with 9 pts, 2 reb, 1 stl, 1 blk in his 18 minutes.

Of course, Kleiza was in at the 4 for DEN, which made it hard for Gasol and Bynum to be on the floor at the same time, but bad matchups go both ways, you know, and it's not like LA was covering Kleiza successfully as it was. But we still believe what we have all season: when Bynum is active, this Lakers team is unbeatable. We thought he at least deserved a shot in the 4th quarter.

We consistently enjoy listening to and reading what Jeff Van Gundy has to say about basketball, whether it's on the ABC/ESPN broadcasts (when he's not on a hysterical rant), on the Bill Simmons podcast recently, or in a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal.

Of course, Malcolm Gladwell's recent New Yorker piece on how underdogs should use pressing defenses to better their chances against more talented teams has been widely discussed in basketball circles.

I was interested to read JVG's take on the concept:
    WSJ: Malcolm Gladwell in a recent New Yorker article asked why few coaches are willing to employ a full-court press even though it gives weaker teams a greater chance against far-stronger teams. You were an assistant coach at Providence College under Rick Pitino, very much a full-court pressing coach. What do you think of this premise?

    Mr. Van Gundy: I haven't seen the article, but I'd say the key to success in coaching is getting your team more better shots than your opponent and more free throws than your opponent. As a coach, you look at anything that helps in those two areas. Hubie Brown used a press successfully with the Knicks, mostly a pressing second unit coming off the bench. Rick Pitino used it with success in New York and then for some of his time in Boston. But if you have talent, any style of play can work in the NBA, and there are lots of talented players in the NBA. But style can't overcome a lack of talent.
I added the emphasis to the Hubie sentence above not just because of the picture on the upper right of this page, but also because I found it intriguing. Whereas Gladwell's theory had plenty of holes because he was a bit breezy and fast-and-loose with the facts as he often can be, Bill Simmons really boiled the pressing concept down to a premise that made a lot of sense, and that sounds a lot like what Hubie did:
    With a 12-man roster, you'd only need to train five or six guys to pull off that press. Let's say next season's Bulls trained the following five: Joakim Noah, Ty Thomas, Kirk Hinrich, Lindsey Hunter and Generic Athletic/Hungry Swingman X. They practice and practice until they become a well-oiled pressing machine. For the first five minutes of every second and fourth quarter, they unleash that killer press on their opponents … who, by the way, would be playing backups during that time, making it even more effective. Wouldn't that be an ENORMOUS advantage? Wouldn't that swing a few games? Wouldn't opponents dread playing them? Wouldn't opponents have to waste practice time preparing to break that press? Wouldn't it be even better at home with the Bulls flying around and their fans going bonkers? The key would be not putting "press miles" on your top guys and your wealthiest guys (who would never be totally invested because, again, they're really, really wealthy and don't need this crap). In this scenario, the Bulls wouldn't press with Rose, Deng, Brad Miller, Ben Gordon or even John Salmons if they could help it.
I had forgotten that Hubie had an employed a similar concept with New York. Sure enough, Darrell Walker was quoted as saying the following in a recent obituary for Marvin "The Human Eraser" Webster:
    "That second unit we had when I was here, it was myself, Trent Tucker, Louis Orr, Ernie Grunfeld and Marvin Webster was our center on that second unit," Walker said before the Pistons faced the Knicks. "The second unit, we’d press and trap, and Marvin was back there erasing it. He was a great shot blocker, one of the best shot blockers of all time."
In 1981-82 under Red Holzman, the Knicks were 33-49 while ranking 17th of 23 teams in defensive efficiency.

In Hubie's first year in 1982-83, the Knicks jumped to 44-38 and 3rd in defensive efficiency. Then in 1983-84, New York went 47-35 (and took a legendary Celtics team to a seventh game) and ranked 1st in defensive efficiency.

Of course, if it's good enough for Hubie, it's good enough for us. Score one for the dilettante GM-wannabe. Intriguing concept.

In answer to the question "Have you ever taken performance-enhancing steroids?" in a recent appearance on 790 The Zone in Atlanta, Shaquille O'Neal said the following:
    Like me, like I've told the world before, only thing I had was Frosted Flakes: Super Enhancement Cereal. That's the only thing I've put in my body. Frosted Flakes Athletic Performance Enhancement Cereal. They ain't even out yet… For all the little kids, the Performance Enhancement Cereal is you take the Frosted Flakes, and you take the Froot Loops, and you mix them together, and then you get some of them sliced bananas and you put them on that thing, and then you get a big old bowl. The kind of bowl if you pull out out your mother say, "Boy, you better put that bowl back!" And, then you pour that milk… "You better get a job eating all that milk." Mama, we ain’t got no milk. "You better put some water on that boy!"
Very entertaining, of course. For an alternate viewpoint, we turn to Shaquille O'Neal, in the book Shaq Talks Back, page 185:
    [W]hen I ripped the backboard down in New Jersey my second year in the league, the league gave me a urine test two days later. I'm serious. Maybe they thought I was on steroids or something.

    I tried Creatine when it first came out and androstendione, the pill that Mark McGwire has used. But I didn't feel anything. I think I used it for one summer, and then they started testing for it. So I gave it up.
All right, enjoy the Conference Finals over the holiday weekend, folks.


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