Centers' Little Helper

Dennis Hans, unrenowned former adjunct professor of mass comm and American foreign policy, relentlessly exposed the Bush administration’s “techniques of deceit” BEFORE the Iraq war, when it could have made a difference (see links). For decades he has fought baseball’s discrimination against lefthanded infielders and promoted his ingenious clockwise solution. A lifelong advocate for a flowing, non-brutal, flop-free NBA, he now champions the cause of its second-class citizens: the centers.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Stan Van Gundy still doesn't get it
Piston broadcaster Greg Kelser paraphrased coach Stan Van Gundy on how and why he expects Josh Smith to pull out of his shooting slump: As Josh keeps working at it before and after practice, and sees that ball go through the net hundreds of times, he'll have his confidence back because he knows his shot is back. At that point, it's bye-bye slump. (That's me paraphrasing Greg paraphrasing Stan.)

Alas, in Josh's case it's bunk. Here's the story on Josh: He's great around the basket and pretty good from roughly 4 to 8 feet with his assortment of running one-handers and jump hooks. When he's 15 or more feet away, from which distances he must rely on a different type of shot — a jumper or set shot — he's a lousy shooter. That's been the case for a very long time. A good stretch for Josh would be mediocre by the standard of an average NBA starting forward. That won't change unless he changes his shot, which entails some risk as he could easily go from bad to worse. But change is the only possibility of him getting better.

The same holds for the free-throw line, where Josh is even worse than with the J. That's because of the nature of the shot, where you have a few moments to collect your thoughts, then go through your routine and execute the stroke exactly as you've been taught (assuming you're shooting in a manner you've been taught, rather than shooting your own natural, self-taught way). The following is a small point in the overall scheme of things, but there seems to be a tad more naturalness to some of Josh's outside shots, coming as they do in the flow of a fast-paced game. Not so with the free throw, where he's relying exclusively on the technique he's been taught, which I call "shooting backwards." That is where the problem lies.

Unfortunately, Josh has gotten nothing but positive feedback from his coaches, year in and year out, who tell him his shot looks fine, so he stays the course. But what if these coaches don't know what they're talking about? What if they've been making the same mistake Stan the Van made in Orlando, where for five long years he mistook Dwight Howard's ability to consistently make 80 out of 100 free throws after practice to mean there couldn't possibly be anything wrong with his stroke?

Stan never figured out that shooting one free throw after another in a relaxed setting while an assistant coach feeds you the ball bears scant resemblance to in-game free throws. It's nearly impossible not to get into a groove, as countless in-game bricklayers, from Wilt Chamberlain to Ben Wallace, can attest. Player and coach get fooled into thinking nothing is wrong with the stroke (which for the mid-period of Wilt's career was a granny-style underhanded shot), that it's just a matter of transporting that practice delivery to the bright lights of the arena.

Nor did Stan wonder why anyone with an allegedly fine stroke was petrified of shooting open jumpers in a game. Stan, of course, didn't want Dwight taking such shots, given his well-known disdain for mid-range jumpshots even by certifiably good shooters, when the payoff is so much greater (too great, as I first argued in 2004) beyond the arc. That disdain, while understandable, is short-sighted. It limits the development and versatility of talented young players, particularly big men, who never find out how good they could have been. Or how valuable to their team. The Lakers have their last two titles because mid-range and low-post maestro Pau Gasol had the versatility to excel alongside strictly-center Andrew Bynum or in place of him. For 18 seasons — including five championships — Tim Duncan has provided the Spurs with that same frontcourt flexibility.

Dwight had (and has) the quickness to defend power forwards at an elite level, so if he had had a mid-range game he could have played as many minutes with gifted big man Marcin Gortat as with "stretch four" Rashard Lewis, thus creating all sorts of headaches for Orlando's opponents while allowing Gortat to bloom on the court rather than rot on the bench. Locking up Gortat in the summer of 2009 for five prime years (age 25 to 29) and a modest $32 million was a masterstroke by GM Otis Smith. That should have set the stage for the Magic's greatest era, but it was a waste because of Dwight's limited game and Stan's trey-happy tunnel vision. The problem repeated itself last season in Houston, as no-shot Dwight paired poorly with no-shot Omer Asik, leading to the latter's off-season exit.

By taking open shots in games you might improve steadily (e.g., Gortat, Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, Moses Malone, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Darryl Dawkins, Marc Gasol and many more) or find that you're consistently lousy. If the latter, at least you know where you stand. So you stop firing away in games while you tinker with your shot after practice on your own or with a competent coach, to see if a minor change or two will get you on a promising track that's worth trying in games. If tinkering doesn't work, then it's time for a ground-up makeover. If that doesn't work, perhaps another approach will, as there are lots of ways to be a good shooter. Just don't stick indefinitely with something that's definitely not working. At some point you may have to face the fact that you're destined to be a limited player and make the best of it. But that sad day should wait till you're 30 or so. In the meantime, you've been an effective though limited player for many years while giving yourself every opportunity to be something better without sabotaging your team in the process.

Stan's repeating his Dwight mistake of yesteryear with Andre Drummond today, stunting his growth in this critical developmental stage, all to get a few more trey attempts for Caron Butler, Kyle Singler and Brandon Jennings on a team going nowhere in 2014-15. It's shocking that the Pistons' president of basketball operations, whose chief concern is the long-term big picture, would allow the coach to take this short-sighted approach. Oh, that's right: the president is the coach. Of course, he's following the foolish footprints of previous prez Joe Dumars (who at least had the good sense to draft Andre) and coaches Lawrence Frank, Maurice Cheeks and John Loyer, who despite not having Stan's philosophical aversion to mid-range shots also discouraged Andre in his first two seasons from shooting beyond eight feet.

Getting back to Josh, until he faces the unpleasant truth that he has spent the prime years of his career achieving 70 percent of his potential because of poor coaching and, perhaps, his own stubbornness, he's not likely to improve. How he shoots explains why he shoots so poorly.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Cutting the trey down to size
What is the fair value for a field goal from beyond the arc? Since 1979-80 it has been three points. That may have been reasonable for the first several years of its existence, when the shot was an afterthought, attempts few and percentages low. That hasn’t been the case for some time. It’s now a fat subsidy for shooters who don’t need it, turning the midrange area of the court into a vast wasteland. It devalues the contribution of good midrange shooters and leads coaches to discourage so-so shooters from taking such shots or even working on the shot in hope of getting good. Unless you're deadly, the payoff is too low to compete even with mediocre long-range bombers.

In an essay coming soon I make the case for drastically lowering its value to somewhere between 2.0 and 2.33 points. (Back in 2004 I advocated cutting its value to 2.5 points, but today that would be way too high.) One method would require decimal-point scoring; another approach sticks to whole numbers.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Andre Drummond is The Quickster
Andre Drummond, the sensational young center and power forward of the Detroit Pistons, needs a nickname. He says he likes Goose, which rhymes with Moose, which is the nickname of his frontcourt mate Greg Monroe. I think he'd be the first NBA Goose, as the only other hoopster I recall with that moniker is the late great Harlem Globetrotter Reece "Goose" Tatum. So Goose has its merits.

Still, there are too many boo-sounding "oo" nicknames in sports. We don't need Drummond being serenaded with a chorus of "Goooose" every time he steps to the free-throw line in enemy arenas, which will turn that nickname into a negative, given his troubles at the stripe. Plus, Goose doesn't capture what is special about the player: the extraordinary quickness of the 6-10, 270-pound gentle giant.

Has there been a hoopster of his size with such lightning-quick hands that he can pick a point guard's pocket in the open floor? Hakeem Olajuwon had Drummond's height and Piston legend Ben Wallace had his bulk, but neither had both. And what of his remarkable second jump — his ability to snare an offensive rebound, re-elevate and score before defenders have a chance to react? When such things happen, I want to hear long-time TV voice of the Pistons George Blaha exclaim, "The Quickster strikes again!"

No one has ever seen the original Quickster, he of the International Justice League of Super Acquaintances. But SpongeBob SquarePants wore his outfit and thus assumed his super powers on June 1, 2002 to help Mermaid Man defeat the forces of E.V.I.L. (Every Villain Is Lemons) in Bikini Bottom. Aside from reruns, that is the one and only time the world witnessed the awesome quickness bestowed on he who dons The Quickster's duds.

So what does this have to do with Drummond, aside from the shared trait of superhuman quickness? The Quickster hails from the youth-oriented cable channel Nickelodeon, which is where Drummond happened to spy the apple of his eye: Jennette McCurdy, an actress and singer-songwriter who played Sam on the hit show iCarly and continues to play her on the spinoff series Sam and Cat.

Drummond courted McCurdy on Twitter, and as quickly as you can say Quickster the two luminaries were chatting daily and becoming fast internet friends. (McCurdy recounts the getting-to-know-you process in these modern times in an insightful, beautifully written essay for the Wall Street Journal.) Drummond then planned a trip to California so they could meet in person, and soon the two were dating. Can two bright, busy, talented and likeable kids working in different universes find love and happiness?

Time will tell. In the meantime, Drummond needs a nickname, one that reflects his game and resonates with his millions of young fans in Nickelodeon Nation: The Quickster.

p.s. Drummond has become a nifty, ambidextrous scorer inside of six feet, a terrific asset for a great offensive rebounder and cutter. But he needs to hope that he continues to struggle at the stripe, because that particular shooting motion will never serve as the basis for a quality spontaneous jumpshot — one he could fire instantaneously from various short-to-midrange distances when the opportunity presented itself. That would be a welcome addition to his repertoire, but it won't happen if he sticks with his "shooting backwards" (as I call it) approach. The same holds for Dwight Howard, DeAndre Jordan and Andrew Bogut, among others.



Monday, July 15, 2013

Hakeem teaches Dwight how to travel
See below for two updates
In his ongoing instructional series, Hakeem Olajuwon teaches Dwight Howard how to travel before taking a righthanded jumphook in a video posted at The Dream's youtube channel July 11.

Earlier in Howard's career, another Hall of Famer, Patrick Ewing, taught him the same traveling sequence from the left side of the block! There's even an official NBA video of the session, posted in March 2009. You can count the steps in the video's opening seconds, as the clueless Ewing praises Howard for his "great footwork."

As I noted last December, the NBA also produced an official "ihoops" video with Raymond Felton on how to dribble that was actually a how-to-illegally-palm-while-assuming-correctly-that-the-refs-won't-call-it video. Could there possibly be a more incompetently run league — not from a business standpoint, but a playing-and-officiating standpoint — than the NBA?

Ewing also taught Howard how to set obvious, blatant, bone-crushing moving screens, as I wrote about in 2009 and 2011. That would seem to be counterproductive, given that these are fouls and the importance of a key player such as Howard avoiding foul trouble. But it's counterproductive only if these obvious fouls are called. If they're not, the team's drivers and three-point shooters benefit greatly from the moving picks, which generally are more effective than legal ones because they trip up the defender or stop him dead in his tracks, as the defender has no time to react to the late movement of the picker. That's why Stan and Jeff Van Gundy are so in love with moving picks and like to have Ewing around to teach them (just as Billy Martin appreciated Art Fowler's ability to teach pitchers how to illegally doctor the baseball).

My theory is refs are even more unlikely than usual to call moving picks (or traveling) when the perpetrator is coached by a Hall of Famer. Some refs may assume that Howard is a terrific, legal screener simply because he's tutored by an all-time great who surely knows how to set a proper screen. Did I mention NBA refs are gullible?

My advice to Howard going forward is to eliminate opportunities for refs to blow the whistle by (1) not traveling and (2) by setting passive, stationary screens before your teammate starts dribbling or cutting in your general direction. It's your teammate's job to direct his defender into your stationary path. It is not your job to move at the last second into the defender's path. That's what football blockers do to pass rushers. Psst: Basketball isn't football. Spread the word throughout the NBA. The league could use a reminder.

UPDATE: Henry Abbott of ESPN's TrueHoop blog — one of the few hoop writers interested in this important matter — asks, "Looks like two steps after the gather to me, right?" In other words, not a travel.

That's not how I see it. I see three steps after the gather. Of course, that depends on how you define "gather" and how lenient you care to be with players determined to have more legal steps for themselves than players in previous eras. What follows is an expanded, edited-for-clarity version of two replies I sent Henry.

This is how a player used to have to shoot a righty jumphook: that first step with the left foot would be his pivot foot, then he'd step with his right and shoot. Hakeem is taking two additional steps (a left followed by a right) after the initial left and right. This is all from a virtual standstill.

If Hakeem/Dwight had opted to shoot a running one hander off of one foot after that same catch and dribble, he would have had to shoot it after the second step with the left foot or before. Even modern NBA refs would be stunned into blowing the whistle if Hakeem/Dwight would have shot it off his right foot — the last step in the video sequence. You shoot a running righthander with a right-hand dribble off the left foot — or the prior right foot to disrupt the defender's timing, as Steve Nash will do. You don't get to take an extra step and shoot it off the right.

My view is that Hakeem's first step (left) is the gather step, which would allow him two more steps: a right and a left. This makes for the standard look of a running layup or an on-the-move hook shot off of one foot — from any decade. The righthander's dribble is opposite the left foot, after which he takes a step with his right and then his left, off of which he elevates. Kareem dribbling across the lane is going to shoot his skyhook off his left foot. Not just because it feels natural, but because he knows he is legally out of steps. One more step and Richie Powers calls traveling.

If you are driving for a layup, you are taking your last righthanded dribble opposite your left foot. After that you get your two steps, and you elevate off that second one, your left (assuming you're a righty).

Now you could get cute and bounce your last dribble out in front of you, so that you have a late gather. You could claim that this entitles you to an extra step. (To be clear, that is not what is going on with Hakeem/Dwight/Patrick.) If I ran the NBA I'd say this: "You're within the letter of the law but you're violating its spirit. We're calling it a travel. Every time. If necessary, we'll redefine 'gather step' so it means 'foot opposite the last dribble,' irrespective of the precise split-second you secure the ball." I fleshed out my views on this matter last December in The James Harden triple-step travel and other adventures in NBA counting.

To me, Hakeem and Dwight are committing obvious travels — even if they were shooting on-the-run shots. But in both videos, they're shooting dribble-in-place jumping shots (a jumphook in Hakeem's video and a fadeaway jumper in the Ewing one), which if anything should mean less leeway with regard to steps, not more. I much prefer the version of b-ball where that initial step — in that circumstance — was seen as a planting-the-pivot-foot step. Wilt, Elvin Hayes, Willis Reed et al., didn't take that step, and then jump and land, and then jump and shoot. Even if they had, they'd still be taking one fewer step than Hakeem and Dwight!

What Wilt and company did when shooting one-dribble jumpers in and around the paint (or Wilt's jump finger-roll, which he shot off of two feet like the modern jumphook) is take that plant step (the foot opposite the dribble), then another, then elevate — or pump fake with the plant step operating as the pivot foot. This was the case whether they began facing the basket or, like Hakeem/Dwight, with their back to the basket. They didn't use that second foot as the pivot because they assumed they'd be whistled for traveling.

That's the game I grew up watching, and I think the way traveling was officiated then made more sense and made for a better game. Wilt didn't feel deprived because he wasn't allowed to leap off his plant foot, land on two feet, and then use one of them as a pivot foot, a la affirmative-action beneficiary Shaq. There was no leaping after the dribble and landing, then going up for the shot. If you leapt after the dribble, you had to get rid of the ball by shooting or passing before you touched down. Someone might want to ask Rod Thorn, who played in Wilt's era and has just replaced Stu Jackson (Good riddance!) as the NBA's president of basketball operations, which era's traveling rules make for a better game. Regardless, I still maintain that even under today's rules, Hakeem and Dwight are clearly traveling in the practice videos linked above.

UPDATE 2: If you care to see how a righthanded jumphooker uses that first step (left foot) to plant his pivot foot, then stepping with the right and elevating, allow me to introduce you to Hakeem Olajuwon and Dwight Howard. From 1:20 to 2:20 of the video that's just what they do. You'll also see Howard demonstrate a nifty, counter-move, as he uses that planted left foot as his pivot foot. He pumpfakes, then steps through with his right foot and elevates. No need for all those extra steps displayed in the other video.

One caveat: On the counter-move, unlike each of the jumphooks they execute flawlessly, Howard may have begun his move by hopping off of both feet rather than stepping with just the left. It's better to do that little hop while the pass is coming to you (that seemed to be Howard's intention), so your feet are on the floor when the ball arrives. Then you can explode into your stepping move. That removes the risk of a travel call for picking up both feet before dribbling.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Houston, we have a problem shooter
Read the full article at HoopsHype.

Dwight Howard picked the right pursuer. The competition — particularly the aged and infirm Lakers — didn't come close to measuring up to Houston. And Howard's best bet, the San Antonio Spurs — foolishly chose not to pursue him, despite having the cap space prior to re-upping Tiago Splitter and Manu Ginobili. But that's water under the Riverwalk.

The Rockets are getting the league's most talented center, presuming a healthy back and right shoulder, yet one who still has tremendous room to improve, particularly at the offensive end. He's pretty darn good inside of eight feet with his ambidextrous assortment of jumphooks, running hooks, spinning push-shots and baseball-toss bankers....

The big problem is when Howard is outside of his eight-foot comfort zone — either on the wing or about to attempt a free throw. It's actually two problems: (1) Howard is a lousy shooter (2) who insists that his poor shooting is all in his head. He has said that he thinks too much, concentrating on too many technical things.... He also talks about transferring his practice delivery, where for years he's made 80 percent in countless sessions of 100 or more attempts, to the bright lights of game night. He is still unaware, thanks to clueless coaches like Stan Van Gundy, that "even a lousy shooter will heat up taking four shots a minute for an hour while an assistant tosses the ball back," as I explained back in 2000 in a column about Shaquille O'Neal's free-throw woes for the online edition of The Sporting News.

Read the rest at HoopsHype.


Monday, July 08, 2013

Jason Kidd is now a cursed coach
In Jason Kidd's first effort as coach of the Brooklyn Nets, he guaranteed that the team will never win a title with him at the helm. Late in the opening day of the Orlando Summer League, he twice ordered intentional fouls of Detroit's backwards-shooting bricklayer Andre Drummond. (The linked essay explains the concept of shooting backwards and how the talented, exciting young center and many of his peers got stuck with this preposterous technique.)

The hoop gods hate off-the-ball intentional fouls and the idiots running the NBA who provide look-at-me coaches with an incentive to bring brisk, enjoyable games to a screeching halt. According to veteran scribe Sam Smith, the odious tactic was first employed in 1966-67 by Bulls coach Johnny "Red" Kerr against Wilt Chamberlain of the 76ers, "but the league was furious and passed a rule for the next season — since overturned — making the tactic a technical foul." I don't know when it was overturned or why, but it has to go down as one of the all-time dumb decisions.

Fortunately, the unemployment lines are littered with modern ex-coaches who showed just how incredibly clever they are by employing Hack-a-Shaq to one or another hoopster who struggles at the stripe. Back in June 2008 I listed a bunch of the miscreant coaches and the fate that befell them after they angered the hoop gods.

I did get one prediction wrong in that essay. I presumed that the hoop gods would not let Doc Rivers — who in 2003 had sent Ben Wallace to the line 22 times in Game 6 as the Orlando Magic was in the process of squandering a 3 to 1 lead to the Pistons — coach Boston to the 2008 title. The Celtics did indeed win, but I take comfort that such a stacked squad only won a single ring. As a fan of DeAndre Jordan I'm sorry to see Rivers bring his cursed fate to the long-suffering Clippers. But I'm delighted that Gregg Popovich remains doomed. Ever since he went whole hog for Hack-a-Whomever in 2007-08, inspiring a host of coaches to follow his lead, his powerhouse Spurs have come up short when it mattered most. Couldn't happen to a more obnoxious guy.


Friday, June 28, 2013

Player who never developed named Laker "player development" coach
Mark Madsen has joined Mike D'Antoni's coaching staff as a "player development coach," Mark Medina reports (scroll to bottom of the article).

I remember Madsen from his playing days as a great guy, thoughtful blogger, relentless on-court hustler and one of the least skilled players in the NBA. He seemed to be too muscular for his own good, but there's no guarantee that he would have been able to do much with the basketball with a less chiseled physique. Although he had yet to make much of an impression, good or bad, by July 2001, having just completed his rookie season, it was players of his ilk I had in mind when I advocated at that time for "admissions testing" in Fifteen Steps to a Better NBA:
Here's a whacky concept: To be an NBA professional, you must be able to play basketball. If testing is appropriate for students seeking admission to sixth grade, it's appropriate for the pinnacle of pro hoops. No one gets a roster spot without an acceptable aggregate score for skills (passing, shooting, dribbling and catching) and athleticism (agility, quickness, speed and reflexes, but not strength). Good riddance to the goons currently making millions to commit four hard fouls in their nine minutes of court time.
Madsen spent his first three seasons with the Lakers, but my lasting memory of him was as a reserve for the Timberwolves, battling his old pal Shaq in the 2004 playoffs by leaning on him in a doomed effort to resist being dislodged by the behemoth, thereby making himself vulnerable to a Shaq spin and dunk because of his off-balance (weight way too far forward) defensive stance. Of course, that oddball stance wouldn't have been necessary if Shaq hadn't long ago been granted by the league a license to dislodge. Madsen's coach, Flip Saunders, proudly announced during that series his intention to intentionally foul Shaq as often as it takes. In so doing, Saunders angered the hoop gods, thus guaranteeing a no-championship future. Of course, Saunders subsequently demonstrated in Detroit that, regardless, he wasn't a championship-quality coach.

Madsen somehow lasted nine seasons in the NBA, despite the steady deterioration of his meager skills. I suppose that's a glowing reflection on his upbeat personality and attitude, but it doesn't speak well of the league. I reiterate: You should be able to play basketball to be on a team's roster and receive regular fat checks from something called the National Basketball Association.

If Dame Fortune shines on the Lakers and free agent Dwight Howard accepts the team's lucrative offer, maybe Madsen can help him with his shooting. He can't do worse than Chuck Person in 2012-13 or Stan Van Gundy and his Orlando Magic staff from 2007 to 2012. Then again, maybe he can.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Monty McCutchen — and "reffing the defense" — may have saved the Lakers season
Trailing by a point with 42 seconds to go, the Lakers got a huge break vs. Golden State April 12. Dwight Howard set an obvious, bone-crushing, shoulder-thrust moving pick on Stephen Curry. Ref Monty McCutchen, staring at the play, called a foul on Curry for grabbing Steve Blake as Curry tried to get around or through the illegal screen. Blake hit the two free throws, so the Warriors got the ball back trailing by one rather than leading by one. A lot can happen in 42 seconds, so it was hardly a cinch that Golden State would have won if the correct call had been made. Alas, it would have been a shocker if the ref got it right, and not because the game was in L.A. Here's why: No matter how many times the disastrous David Stern-Stu Jackson administration makes moving picks an officiating "point of emphasis," it continues to be one of the most frequently missed calls, right up there with palming and traveling.

Perhaps the hoop gods were getting back at Warriors coach Mark Jackson, who loves to play Hack-a-Dwight and Hack-a-DeAndre — a revolting tactic that no sane league would tolerate. Or perhaps this was a bit of "what goes around comes around" justice, as the Warriors have their own bone-crushing moving picker in Festus Ezeli (as Steve Novak knows). More likely, this was just one more piece of evidence of the stupidity of the NBA's "reffing the defense" teaching philosophy, promoted by the late Darell Garretson — a great ref with one ridiculous idea that the NBA hierarchy mistook for a brilliant idea. McCutchen and his contemporaries can never become first-rate refs until they face the fact that reffing the defense is a seriously flawed concept with limited utility.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Andy Enfield and Me
Back in March 2006, a few days after HoopsHype published my essay "How I'll (again) help Shaq at the stripe," I received an email from someone named Andy Enfield. My article struck a chord with him and he asked me to give him a call. He included a link to his website, so I checked that out first.

Given his background I was surprised, maybe even dumbfounded, that I hadn't heard of Andy. Mike Dunleavy hired him to be a shooting coach with the Milwaukee Bucks in 1994. In 1998 Rick Pitino brought Andy to the Celtics for the same job, and gradually gave him more coaching responsibilities. He spent two seasons with each club, then left to pursue private coaching of NBA players and business opportunities. It was in the latter endeavor that he made a pile of dough.

From the website I also learned he set the career NCAA free-throw mark of .925 playing for Johns Hopkins, a university best known for its medical school and international studies program.

I don't have the email and I can't find any notes I may have taken from our enlightening, enjoyable conversation, which might have lasted for 30 or 45 minutes. I do vaguely recall that he had a mixed impression of the NBA. He thought highly of the coaches who hired him, who shared his belief that teaching doesn't end just because a player had achieved pro status. But (if memory serves) he ran into a lot of folks throughout the league — both players and coaches — who thought the solution to any and all shooting problems is repetition, repetition, repetition. Just get in the gym every day and fire up your 500 jumpers and/or free throws. That might work in some cases (e.g., a good shooter in a mysterious slump), but as a general prescription for problem shooters it is nuts. I've made that point with respect to Shaq (though not in the essay that caught Andy's eye) in analyses dating back to 2000. It's too easy to get in a false groove in the unnatural setting of shooting 100 free throws in 15 minutes. As with Dwight Howard, it tricks the bricklayer into thinking there's nothing wrong with his shot; he just needs to translate that practice-session delivery to the bright lights of an NBA game.

A few months after our chat, Leonard Hamilton hired Andy as an assistant coach at Florida State. His good work with the Seminoles led to his first head-coaching opportunity at tiny Florida Gulf Coast University, where this season he led a band of merry upstarts to the Sweet Sixteen. The team's appealing, uptempo style of play made them media sensations and Andy a hot commodity. Now he's off to USC, where he'll try to put a school known for its football prowess on the basketball map. Good luck to a good guy.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

NBA refs facilitate Tony Parker's injury
Tony Parker is out indefinitely with a sprained ankle — an unnecessary injury that occurred Friday night (March 1) after refs Curtis Blair, Brian Forte and Ed Malloy failed to blow the whistle on either of Parker's consecutive palming violations as he weaved his way up court. A second or two later he elevated and came down on the foot of Sacramento King Isaiah Thomas, rolling his ankle in the process. Ironically, by helping Parker and the Spurs by ignoring both the left carry and the right carry, the refs set Parker up for an injury that could put him out for weeks, possibly costing the Spurs homecourt advantage in the Western Conference, which could spell the difference between victory and defeat in a playoff rematch with the Oklahoma City Thunder. [UPDATE: The Spurs have announced that Parker will be out of action for "approximately four weeks."]

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Raymond Felton on the fundamentals of palming
There is no more fitting artifact of the laughingstock Stern administration than this 2010 "ihoops" commercial featuring point guard Raymond Felton. For those not in the know, ihoops is "the official youth basketball initiative of the NCAA, the NBA and the WNBA."

The off-screen announcer informs viewers that "ihoops.com is the ultimate online resource for youth basketball, designed to take your knowledge and skills to the next level." Felton emerges at the 0:24 mark of the commercial and repeatedly demonstrates a lefthanded — and illegal — blatant palming pseudo-dribble as the announcer declares, without irony or sarcasm, "learn the fundamentals of the game from those who play it best."

This is not a case of mismatched audio and video, where Felton is under the impression his task is to demonstrate an illegal act. No, this is how Felton routinely "dribbles" with his left hand. And he's hardly the only point guard who does. Why not? It's rarely called and it's much more effective than a legal dribble.

The slower, looping, palming motion gets the player's left hand under the ball, so he has the option of whipping a one-hand lefty pass with every dribble. If he dribbled legally, he'd only have that option after his last dribble, not any of the ones that preceded it, because once that hand goes under the ball he can only throw the ball or pick it up; he can't dribble again. At least not legally. And by cradling the ball as he "dribbles," the player always has the option of springing a left-to-right crossover on his defender. The ref will not only let the cradle slide, he'll allow an extra step so the driver can finish as a righty (off his left foot) even though his last dribble was as a lefty. Life is good for the modern point guard and others who monopolize the ball.






Monday, December 10, 2012

The James Harden triple-step travel and other adventures in NBA counting
I wrote much of the following during the 2012 playoffs, but never posted or published it. After watching Steve Smith of NBA TV's "Smitty's Top 5 Plays Under the Rim" the other day, when two of the plays, by Kevin Durant (the first of KD's two highlights) and volume-palmer Raymond Felton, were right-handed versions of the Harden move described below, I thought I'd better share this with the world. As is often the case when such plays occur or are later celebrated, no one at the mic or on the set questioned their legality.

At 2:54 of the second quarter of Game 5 (L.A. at Oklahoma City), Thunder lefty James Harden executed his pet driving move by making his last dribble with his right hand opposite his left foot, which as a righty embarking on a running one-hander would entitle him to two more steps: a right and then a left, elevating off that left foot as righthanders do countless times in layup lines throughout the world. But in the bizarre world of David Stern's NBA, Harden, as a reward for having learned how to dribble with his opposite hand (and often in a manner that used to be a palming violation), is granted an extra step by Stu Jackson and Ronnie Nunn's refs. This enables Harden — after completing his dribble — to cover an immense amount of the court with maximum maneuverability (he becomes a running back for those three steps) and to finish with his preferred left hand off his preferred right foot.

Righties do this, too, getting the bonus step by taking their last dribble with their left hand. I've seen Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Derrick Rose, Felton and Durant do it quite a few times. No doubt Ronnie Nunn can come up with some explanation revolving around the precise moment that any of these players picked up the ball to prove that this is not traveling (though that alibi is not available on many if not most of these plays). My response to that is this: Who cares what Ronnie Nunn thinks? Or Bernie Fryer. Or Stu Jackson. Or General Ron Johnson. It's long past time to tune these clowns out.

Having watched Nunn on NBA TV for a few years, I've concluded he's either certifiably insane or a smooth-talking public-relations hack. If it's the latter, it's possible that he thinks his explanations are as laughable as I do, but lacks the courage to be an ex-whistle blower turned "whistleblower" — that is, an ex-ref willing to risk his job by saying what he really thinks.

On a show during the 2011-12 season, while justifying a non-travel call on a Manu Ginobili buzzer-beating game-winning jumpshot from about 18 feet, Nunn introduced the novel concept that jumping off of one foot and landing on two constitutes neither a single jump nor two airborne steps (itself and oxymoron, given that one doesn't leave one's feet when taking a "step"), but simply one step. Needless to say, Ginobili's shot would have been much more difficult if his final effort with his feet had been limited to what the entire non-Nunn world considers "one step."

From near midcourt, Ginobili drove to his left while dribbling with his left hand, picked up the ball opposite his right foot (what's known as the "gather" step), took a step with his left foot, then jumped a considerable distance sideways, landing far from his defender and in balance as his right foot hit the floor a split second before his left. This should be counted as three steps — and thus a travel — whether his feet land simultaneously or not: following the gather step with his right foot, we had either a left-right-left sequence, or a left and simultaneous right-left sequence. Either sequence adds up to three.

What if Ginobili had been limited to two actual steps? He would have had to:

(1) shoot a difficult running one-hander off his right foot (his legal second step);
(2) forego his second step and shoot a pull-up jumper with his left foot being his first and final step after the gather (as Jerry West and Oscar Robertson did thousands of times, though with the steps opposite, as they are righties);
(3) take two legal steps that would hit the floor nearly simultaneously and fire a jumper with the defender much closer to him than on his actual game-winner (the common "jumpstop," though I think the NBA needs to go back to disallowing active jumping after the dribble but before the shot or pass [see LeBron, Shaq, Dwight and many others], and instead just allow what might be termed "two together-steps," which would be counted as two and would leave the player without an active pivot foot); or
(4) take his last two (left, then right) steps in normal stepping sequence, which I believe would leave him with a legal left pivot foot (the second and last step, the right, can't be the pivot foot, because that would give him the option of a third step — an illegal left-right-left sequence a la Harden and Durant). This would have allowed Ginobili other options, such as pivoting counterclockwise on the left foot and firing a tough fadeaway.

Here's a question for old-timers such as West and Robertson: Did they have the option of using that first step after the gather as a pivot foot? It is just so common in vintage footage to see a righthanded player, when dribbling to the right, plant that left gather step, followed by a right step setting down near the left, then either rise for the jumper or use that left foot as the pivot for a pump fake or a step-through with the right foot (the left pivot foot remaining grounded until he rises for a shot or pass). I wonder if the old-timers operated on the assumption that, under those circumstances, their left-foot gather step was their only legal option as a pivot foot, or did they just use it because it was more natural for a righty.

Getting back to that Ginobili game-winner segment, it's fortunate for Nunn his Making the Call colleagues on NBA TV (host Matt Winer and ex-player Steve Smith) did not laugh him off the set. That's because Nunn can pull rank with these non-refs, who in any event are too nice to publicly ridicule their friendly colleague. But what if Nunn had to do that show with Jake O'Donnell, a no-nonsense former ref and an all-time great who officiated far more games in the Finals than Nunn?

Better yet, what if NBA TV developed a backbone and launched a series called Retro Ref, where highly regarded former refs critique past segments of Making the Call and discuss how officiating and the rules have changed over the decades? Which changes have been for the better? Which for the worse? Former players from different eras also could contribute to the discussion. The key to a worthwhile show is to select thoughtful former refs and players who don't work for the NBA in any capacity and thus are free to speak their mind.

The "jump stop equals one step" concept created a flurry of controversy early in the 2011-12 when Rob Mahoney featured a Dwyane Wade game-winner against Charlotte in his "Have Ball, Will Travel" video series. Mahoney was nice enough not to note Wade's left-hand palming violation prior to the alleged travel, which in Mahoney's view was the result of taking a step after coming to a two-footed jump-stop stop. The NBA responded that the no-call was correct because the jump stop (Wade hopped off his right foot and landed simultaneously on both) represented the first of his two allowed steps after picking up his dribble, so that the subsequent step was Wade's legal second step.

Rather than stand his ground, Mahoney accepted the league's correction. At the informative ESPN blog "True Hoop," Kevin Arnovitz congratulated all parties for the civil tone in which they discussed the issue. In my view this is the wrong approach. League bigwigs need to be told in no uncertain terms that their opinions aren't worth considering. When Nunn or some other NBA flunky says that jumping off one foot and landing on two is the equivalent of a single step, the proper response is to laugh in his face — or pat him on the head and give him a lollipop.

Several months ago a "Hardwood Classic" on NBA TV featured Portland vs. Seattle in the 1980 playoffs. O'Donnell whistled Ron Brewer for the same left-hand palm that Wade got away with, and on the replay commentator Bill Russell cackled after seeing how blatant the violation was and how far Brewer traveled while cupping the ball. Today, three-ref crews almost never make this call; 32 years ago, two refs had little trouble spotting the violation. Then again, the NBA now permits "dribbling" the side of the ball, and determining when the hand slips from being on the side of the ball to slightly underneath is a tricky proposition, which refs have solved by pretending not to notice even the obvious violations. (This cupping move, allowing for a stop-and-start motion, may have originated as an NBA gift to Michael Jordan several years into his career. It's something West and Robertson were not permitted — neither would have been crazy enough to attempt it, as the whistle would surely have blown — and it certainly made life easier for Jordan, who without it might have averaged 28.5 on .484 shooting rather than 30.1 on .496 shooting.)

It's quite remarkable that an NBA administration whose mantra is "respect for the game" has so little respect for such basics as what constitutes traveling, dribbling and palming, or the difference between a step and a jump, or the meaning of the words "one" and "two." Of course, what the Stern administration really means by "respect for the game" is "deference to authority" — deference to the refs on the court and the numbskull executives Stern has empowered to interpret and rewrite the rules.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Nothing's more foul than the intentional foul:
The league banned Hack-a-Wilt in 1967. It should ban Hack-a-Dwight today.
What kind of league provides an incentive for low-life coaches to bring brisk, free-flowing games to a screeching halt with intentional fouls? When I become NBA dictator, off-the-ball intentional fouls (and maybe on) will be penalized by giving the fouled team three points. The fouling team gets the ball and play resumes immediately. No fuss, no muss, no free throws stopping play. And, of course, no more intentional fouls.

Commissioner David Stern should have been raising holy hell a dozen years ago, asking why the NBA — the supposed premiere basketball league in the world — can't measure up to the NCAA and other associations that don't tolerate this boring, boorish nonsense. All it takes is a penalty that guarantees the tactic is never attempted.

Way back in 2000, in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals a national TV audience was subjected to dreary Mike Dunleavy sending Shaq to the line for 25 free throws in the fourth quarter alone. Less than three weeks later, Larry Bird gave his Pacers defense the same vote of no-confidence by sending Shaq to the line a playoffs record 39 times in Game 2 of the Finals. Stern's response three days later? "We're not planning to rush out and enact some Hack-a-Shaq antidote. We've been very slow to rush to make changes in our game."

By the spring of 2012 tortoise Stern was finally willing to consider a change. He cajoled the league's Board of Governors, a.k.a. the owners, who must approve every rule change (because no one knows more about basketball than a bunch of middle-aged and older white dudes who made their millions in some other line of work), to agree to a streamlined Competition Committee, which is the body that makes recommendations to the Board. Instead of the established but unwieldy band of 30 general managers, the committee would be trimmed to a mixed 10-man group. Among other issues such as flopping, Stern encouraged the committee to address off-the-ball intentional fouls and to consider extending to the first 46 minutes of an NBA game the current rule that, in the last two minutes only, gives the fouled team the right to choose any of its five players on the court to shoot one free throw, after which that team retains the ball.

So far, so good. Then Stern made the huge mistake of giving coaches three of the 10 seats. Joining Doc Rivers, Rick Carlisle and Lionel Hollins on the committee was a representative from the Players Association, Keyon Dooling; two owners, Dan Gilbert of Cleveland and Joe Lacob of Golden State; and four general managers, Bryan Colangelo of Toronto, Sam Presti of Oklahoma City, Mitch Kupchak of the Lakers and Kevin O'Connor of Utah. Count me unimpressed.

Left out of the mix were insightful outsiders with an independent perspective. I doubt anyone has written more perceptively or prolifically on improving the game and the officiating that has deteriorated so badly on Stern's watch than I, yet somehow my phone didn't ring. In a sane world, seven of the ten seats would have been reserved for my ilk or of my choosing, drawn from the likes of ex-player deep-thinkers such as Bill Russell, Jim Barnett, Chet Walker and yes, Tommy Heinsohn (superb when he's not wearing his Celtic-homer hat); veteran journalists with good basketball values (e.g., Jack McCallum, Mark Heisler and Bob Ryan); and retired refs who enforced the superior traveling, palming, dislodging, block/charge, moving-pick and face-guarding rules of the 1970s and early 1980s (e.g., Jack Madden and Jake O'Donnell). I'd also consider active coach Rick Adelman, a long-time voice of sanity on fixing the bizarre free-throw rebounding rules and other matters.

I don't know what went on behind closed doors, but I presume the coaches successfully lobbied their Competition Committee colleagues not to deprive them of the right to call attention to their tactical and strategic brilliance.

"It's fair to say there was a strong sense that we shouldn't cut down on the toolbox that coaches have available to them, despite what may seem the unseemliness of the way it goes down," Stern said. "But that's just one of the things that you do if you want to win and it works."

Stern sometimes forgets that one of the most important jobs a commissioner has is to protect the game from coaches. Far too many are win-at-all-costs jerks who don't care squat about the game. That is why the commissioner in the 1950s approved the 24-second shot clock. Yes, that change took something out of the coaches' precious toolbox, but it also put an end to lunatics ordering stalls in hopes of improving their win-loss record even if it meant draining every last ounce of entertainment from the sport. Which is more important?

In 1966-67, Sam Smith reports, Chicago's Johnny "Red" Kerr (a good guy but with at least one jerk-like tendency) became the first known NBA coach to try to win through off-the-ball intentional fouls. His target was Wilt Chamberlain.

"Down six to Philadelphia with about four minutes left," Smith writes, Kerr "called for it and Wilt was fouled away from the ball three times and missed his free throws. Wilt, by far the strongest person in the league and perhaps most sensitive, started running away from the ball, screaming at Bulls players, 'I'll break your nose if you foul me.'" Philly coach Alex Hannum "finally took out Wilt and the 76ers hung on to win, but the league was furious and passed a rule for the next season — since overturned — making the tactic a technical foul."

Now that is the way to run a league, though I wonder if the change wasn't in fact imposed immediately or at least by the start of the playoffs. The 76ers won the crown, and I don't believe there was any off-the-ball intentional fouling, despite Wilt shooting a woeful .388 that postseason. I know of no old-timers (me included) who regret being deprived of seven years (1967-73) of playoff Hack-a-Wilt, five of which ended with him in the Finals.

I don't know when the incentive to commit off-the-ball intentional fouls was reinstated or why on earth the ignoramus(es) thought it was a good idea, but I'd like to know. Rather than have a rule that encourages Avery Johnson, Gregg Popovich, Mark Jackson (who sent Dwight Howard to the line a regular-season record 39 times in a nationally televised game last season) and quite a few others to embarrass opposing big men who struggle at the stripe — and there have always been such players — what the NBA needs is something that gratuitously embarrasses coaches. I'm not sure what that would be, but I'm open to suggestions.

On Dec. 3, Orlando's Jacques Vaughn ordered a batch of off-the-ball intentional fouls against Dwight Howard. The next night, Toronto's Dwane Casey targeted Denver's Javale McGee. The night after that, Houston's Kelvin Sampson targeted Howard. Earlier this season, Oklahoma City's Scott Brooks ordered fouls on DeAndre Jordan, and Portland's Terry Stotts got Jordan and Blake Griffin in the same game. Add exciting Pistons rookie Andre Drummond and perhaps others to this season's list. Golden State's Andris Biedrins is a sad shell of his former self in part because of this stupid rule, as noted in a sensitive analysis by Sports Illustrated's Chris Ballard.

If the fouling team is at home, many fans in the stands get a sadistic kick from the routine. But hardly any fan who doesn't have a rooting interest in the outcome wants to watch this garbage.

Maybe public-address announcers who don't care for this could say after each intentional foul, "This stoppage of play is proudly presented by David Stern and the wise men of his Competition Committee: Doc Rivers, Rick Carlisle, Lionel Hollins, Keyon Dooling, Dan Gilbert, Joe Lacob, Sam Presti, Bryan Colangelo, Kevin O'Connor and Mitch Kupchak." Each guy's photo would be displayed on arena big screens as his name is announced. Broadcasters — many of whom despise Hack-a-Whomever — could do the same.

Incidentally, Kupchak played collegiately for a kook who had to be legislated against: Dean Smith, who fortunately has been a good-deed doer off the court (a champion of civil rights for African Americans in the 1960s, when such a stand generated considerable hostility in North Carolina) to compensate for the harm he's done on it. Though his four-corners stall was mercifully banned, his other sterling innovations — group hugs after every free-throw attempt and five defenders always on the lookout for an opportunity to fall down — have had remarkable staying power.

I don't know if the Competition Committee voted 10-0 to retain off-the-ball intentional fouling for the first 46 minutes of the game, but by shining an unwanted spotlight on its members we'll soon find out if any objected or abstained, and who were the most gung-ho on retaining it.

The one good thing about Hack-a-Whomever is it really pisses off the Hoop Gods, something I wrote about back in 2008. Coaches intent on showing the world just how darn clever they are ended up out of the league or out of luck, with few exceptions. Oh, you don't remember Larry Krystkowiak and Sam Vincent?

Monday, December 03, 2012

Einstein declares Dwight Howard insane
Albert Einstein, widely regarded as one of the smartest cats of all time, is said to have defined "insanity" thusly: "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

Here is Dwight Howard, after missing 12 of 21 free-throw attempts December 2 in a humiliating Laker loss to his old team, the woeful Orlando Magic: "I'm going to continue to practice," he said. "That's all I can do, is continue to practice and they'll start falling."

Howard has now practiced his way to a career-low .465 from the line, surpassing last season's career low of .491, which surpassed his previous career low (.586 in 2006-07) by a whopping margin.

The poor guy is at his wit's end. Year after year he practices free throws more than anyone else on the planet, regularly making in the vicinity of 80 percent, but rather than seeing this translate to progress in games, he instead has gone from bad to worse. Six seasons of stagnant stinkiness hovering around 59 percent have been followed by last season's free-fall and more of the same in 2012-13.

Is there no one in the Laker organization, his management team or his family who can persuade him that making 80 out of 100 in twenty minutes while a coach or pal tosses you the ball does not make you an 80-percent free-throw shooter? You could just as easily be a 50, 60 or 70 percenter. A guy or gal who shoots 80 percent in games probably makes 85 or 90 in such an artificial, easy-to-succeed setting. This can mask flaws, because it persuades the player there's nothing wrong with his shot. Before he knows it, he's thinking it must be in his head and he's heading for the couch of the nearest sports psychologist.

As I pointed out last week, Howard needs to ask himself just what is it about the way he shoots that makes him such a poor free-throw shooter in games. Why, for instance, is it so easy for him to shoot way long or way short? Why such a wide range on his distance-related misses? And why does a player of such obvious grace and coordination look nothing of the sort at the stripe? The only exception, as I've stated many times (see the links here), was his rookie year, when he shot a career-best .671. He started listening to assistant coaches in Season 2, and he hasn't shot well or looked coordinated at the line since.

Howard also needs to face the fact that just because a retired player shot well doesn't mean he will be of any use as a shooting coach. He should realize this by now, having spent several seasons with Patrick Ewing, an off-season and shortened regular season (2011-12) with Ed Palubinskas (maybe the world's greatest contest shooter at the line and behind the 3-point arc), and that same shortened season with the magnificent Mark Price.

Let's not forget Stan Van Gundy, who shot .859 in college, including a perfect 33 for 33 his sophomore season. He's been a basketball coach his entire adult life, but if he had any useful shooting advice for Howard in their five years together, I haven't heard it and it definitely didn't stick.

Chuck Person, a Laker assistant coach who is Howard's current guiding light, was himself mediocre from the stripe (.723 for his career) despite being a deadly long-range shooter. Person seemed quite pleased with himself this preseason as he outlined the flaws he detected in Howard's form and how he ironed them out. The results have been downright amazing. But only in practice!

Bob McAdoo was, in my opinion, a better mid-range jumpshooter than Dirk Nowitzki. Yet Shaq went from bad to worse in the three-plus seasons they worked together in Miami. As a Laker, Shaq didn't seem to benefit from brief stints working with deadeye Dennis Scott and Magic Johnson (perhaps the most underrated shooter in NBA history), though the .527 career clunker did have a 100-game stretch of 62 percent amidst the three seasons he worked with the aforementioned Palubinskas. That was indispensable to the Lakers 2002 title run, for if Shaq hadn't got red hot with his illegal step-over-the-line delivery, Sacramento would have won the Western Conference Finals and, in all likelihood, the NBA crown.

Neither Price nor Dominique Wilkins, nor head coaches Mike Woodson and Larry Drew — three really good shooters and a great one — have helped the supremely gifted Josh Smith develop a jumpshot or decent stroke at the line. (Price is a former Hawks assistant and Wilkins has been a Hawks executive throughout Smith's nine years in Atlanta.)

What most very good shooters have in common is this: Each knows how his or her shot works. That's really all they need to know as players, and it explains why perennial bricklayers don't improve despite being surrounded every day of their professional life by superb shooters. The sharpshooters around DeAndre Jordan or Andris Biedrins, for example, don't want to mess him up further by offering tips when they don't feel they have a good handle on what's wrong with his shot. So rather than risk making a bad situation worse, they leave it up to the coaching staff to address or ignore his shooting woes.

In conclusion, a former player might or might not make a good shooting coach. But Einstein would consider it insane to assume such would be the case, merely because he or she could light it up back in the day.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

2004 Coaching Awards
An excerpt from an April 2004 hoopshype column:

COACH OF THE YEAR
Phil Jackson: Unflappable. Serene. The calm amid the storm in this stormiest of Laker seasons. Always aware of the big picture and the ultimate goal. It’s no accident that the two best coaches of all time – Jackson and Red Auerbach – are well-rounded, sensitive gents who understand people and have diverse interests outside the game.

Take note, all you nut-case coaches who eat, sleep, live and breathe basketball. Do like Phil: stop and smell the incense. Get away and clear your head, then take a fresh look at your team and your coaching.

As for those other coaching awards . . .

Mister Congeniality: Maurice Cheeks, for getting along with everyone in Portland – even Rasheed Wallace and Ruben Patterson – and reaching the homestretch not only in the playoff hunt, but with his sanity and personality intact.

Evening Wear: Larry Brown, stylin’ and profilin’ in his throwback 1970s formal bib overalls and platform shoes.

Swimsuit: Don Nelson.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

What Dwight still doesn't get about free throws and practice
After going 7 for 19 from the free-throw line in a win over the Brooklyn Nets, dropping his percentage for the season below 50 percent, Dwight Howard said, “I just got to do what I do in practice. I make them a lot in practice but I have to transfer those free throws in practice to a game. They will come. I can’t lose the faith.”

As reported by ESPN Nov. 20, "According to a white board hanging in the Lakers' practice facility last week, Howard was 576-of-716 (80 percent) on free throws at practice since Oct. 12."

The first essay I wrote on free-throw shooting, "How to end Shaq's free-throw woes," appeared June 26, 2000 in the online edition of The Sporting News. In it I addressed the common lament of those who, in games, struggle at the stripe: "I make them in practice." I pointed out that "endless reps can create bad habits as easily as good ones. Endless reps also can con a player into thinking he has nuked his nemesis. But it's fool's plutonium, as even a lousy shooter will heat up taking four shots a minute for an hour while an assistant tosses the ball back. I call this a 'false groove.'"

Six years later I elaborated on this theme in an InsideHoops.com essay. Shaq had shot .469 in 2005-06 and was in the midst of a .374 playoff run (68 for 182), which would include a 14 for 48 Finals (.292) that easily could have cost the Heat its first NBA crown:

[T]he fact that Shaq shoots a respectable percentage in practice may have persuaded Riley that there's nothing fundamentally wrong with his technique or delivery. If so, let's count Riley among the many coaches who have yet to figure out that everyone - even Wilt and Big Ben - shoots reasonably well in practice. That's because FTs in practice bear only a superficial resemblance to FTs in games. You shoot the latter one or two at a time in between intense stretches of banging and running, and often with considerable time between trips to the line, even for line-dweller Shaq.

The only FTs in practice that resemble their game counterparts are the first two you shoot. As for the next 48, each becomes progressively easier because you're standing there doing the same thing over and over. It's easy to strike a groove, but it's a false groove. It doesn't help you with your next meaningful FTs, which might come a day or two later mid-way through the first quarter.

The question the Heat should ask is not why Shaq made or missed this or that FT in a recent game. Rather, they should ask: What are the characteristics of Shaq's technique, rhythm and/or routine that explain why, under game conditions, he shoots 42 percent?

That 42 percent figure came from my estimate of what Shaq would have shot in 2005-06 if the NBA hadn't been obsessed with lane violations by defenders that season, which wiped dozens of his misses off the books. Of course, 42 percent isn't much worse than what Howard is shooting this season (.478 through Nov. 27) or last (.491). What he and the Lakers have to ask themselves is this: What are the characteristics of Howard's technique, rhythm and/or routine that explain why, under game conditions, he shoots 48 percent?

Howard is not a klutz. He's graceful, coordinated and ambidextrous. Although I think the NBA would be better off if no one lifted weights, Howard is not dramatically more muscle-bound than any number of other centers and power forwards who shoot in the 70-to-85 percent range. How he shoots explains why he shoots so poorly.

I've written extensively on this matter, starting in 2008 and in subsequent years. I'll continue to do so, just as I will continue to offer my services to the Lakers and/or Howard. What he's doing is not working. He either needs to try something new or, as I've repeatedly recommended, something tried-and-true: his rhythmic rookie routine and stroke that produced a .671 mark and likely would have reached 75-to-80 percent within a few seasons if he hadn't allowed a succession of coaches, beginning at the start of his second season, to make a complete mess of his shot. Laker assistant coach Chuck Person is only the latest.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Mike D'Antoni's MVP season of 2005-06
Glad to see Mike D'Antoni and his new knee back in the NBA, at the helm of the Lakers.

Back in April 2006 I nominated D'Antoni for MVP. As coach of the Phoenix Suns he was, of course, ineligible. But MVP candidates are often lauded for making their teammates better, and D'Antoni was even more responsible for making Steve Nash's teammates better than Nash himself. Read the column here.

In a January 2005 essay I noted the remarkable similarities between D’Antoni’s 2004-05 Suns and the champion 1970-71 Bucks led by Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. That same month, in the New York Times, I demolished the growing conventional wisdom that uptempo basketball can’t win in the playoffs, noting that the Russell-era Celtics dynasty, Wilt’s two title teams, and the Lakers and Celtics of the 1980s (who combined for eight titles and 13 Finals appearances that decade) played much faster than the 2005 Suns; also, two of Michael Jordan's six championship teams led the league in scoring.

Friday, October 12, 2012

HoopsHype archive
All my HoopsHype columns between 2002 and 2011 are archived here. The columns of many other writers are there as well, so you'll have to scroll through the list. No need to scroll any lower than August 7, 2002, where you'll find my debut column on how to officiate Shaquille O'Neal. My sensible advice went largely unheeded, as dislodging has solidified itself as a legitimate "move" rather than an abomination. That, in turn, gave a cloak of legitimacy to flopping as a sort of guerrilla-warfare tactic to thwart dislodgers.

There's still way too much "might makes right" in the NBA. The game would be far better without it — and without all the weight-lifting coaches. A straight line is not a move, and it's high time that dislodging and resisting dislodging were written out of the job description for centers, or any other position, for that matter.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Applying the NBA's integrity clause to flopping
ESPN's Henry Abbott, in his astute column "No time to be timid on flopping," notes that a rarely cited clause in the NBA rulebook could be applied to floppers:
"To be unsportsmanlike is to act in a manner unbecoming to the image of professional basketball," it reads, in a section discussing unsportsmanlike play. "It consists of acts of deceit, disrespect of officials and profanity. The penalty for such action is a technical foul. Repeated acts shall result in expulsion from the game and a minimum fine of $1000."

"Deceit" is the issue in flopping, and the very first example in this list of unsportsmanlike conduct. The penalty is a technical. That's a start.
I agree with Henry: flopping is indeed a form of deceit, aimed at the very people — the refs — responsible for maintaining the integrity of the game on the floor. The first basketball essay I got into cyberprint 12 years ago concerned this very issue and cited that very same clause (see below).

I've felt this way since the early 1970s, when I watched flopping spread like wildfire from hallowed Dean Smith's UNC Tar Heels to other schools in the ACC. In the NBA at that time it was mostly a Chicago Bulls thing (Jerry Sloan and Norm Van Lier in particular), but that would soon change.

My initial flopping piece debuted May 15, 2000 in Herb Boyd's online-only publication The Black World Today. (Alas, TBWT and the link to my essay have been defunct for quite a while.) It ran two days later as a "Fan's View" column in the online edition of The Sporting News; that link, too, is dead. Here's what I wrote:

NBA must restore integrity of game by punishing “floppers”
May 15, 2000
by Dennis Hans

“I fouled out with three or four offensive fouls and played [just] 27 minutes in one of the biggest games of my life, and that doesn’t feel good.”

All-star Chris Webber has every right to be upset. On Easter Sunday his Sacramento Kings lost the opener of their five-game playoff series with the Los Angeles Lakers, and he had to sit and watch for long stretches because he was whistled for two fouls that he appeared not to commit.

Webber was the victim of an ugly, unethical and most effective strategy: Winning through flopping. That is, get the other team’s best player into foul trouble — and off the court — by having your players fall down every time he brushes against them, exploiting the fact that officials have a split second to make the call, hardly enough time to peer into the flopper’s soul.

Just as Hollywood stuntmen and professional wrestlers stagger from punches that never connect, many basketball players have perfected the technique of careening from the slightest nudge. But what is legitimate in entertainment is cheating in sports. Floppers are cheaters, and the sooner the NBA faces up to the fact and does something about it, the better.

Robert Horry, the Laker most responsible for Webber’s phantom fouls, is a late bloomer as floppers go. He spent his first four NBA seasons in Houston, winning two NBA titles on teams led by the great Hakeem Olajuwon, perhaps the most respected player in the game.

After a 1997 playoff loss to Utah, Olajuwon had harsh words for Karl Malone: “The MVP of the league must be legitimate. He can’t be flopping, looking for cheap fouls. It isn’t right. It cheapens the game and it cheapens him.” (St. Petersburg Times, May 21, 1997)

Olajuwon was a role model for his fellow Rockets. Horry, once relocated to phony Tinseltown, may have found a new role model in 1998-99 Laker teammate Dennis Rodman. Doc Rivers, a former NBA player and TV analyst who now coaches the Orlando Magic, hailed Rodman in 1998 as “a great actor.” Others have been less kind.

Chicago sportswriter Sam Smith, in his 1992 book The Jordan Rules (p. 18), observes that Michael Jordan “didn’t care much for Rodman’s play. ‘He’s a flopper,’ Jordan would say disdainfully. ‘He just falls down and tries to get the calls.’” (Years later, when Rodman joined the Chicago Bulls, Jordan evinced no problem with Rodman’s flopping, which helped the team win three consecutive titles. Yes, the same hoop legend who can’t keep his promise to investigate the conditions under which his Nike shoes are made appears to practice “situational ethics.”)

In his 1997 book This Game’s the Best! (p. 20), former Seattle coach George Karl describes Rodman as a “cute cheater” who won Game Two [sic: it was Game One] of the 1996 Chicago-Seattle championship series all by himself “just by flopping every time our Frank Brickowski came near him. . . . If Dennis Rodman did this stuff on the playgrounds, you’d punch him.”

Alas, what some see so clearly as cheating, others see as creativity or clever “gamesmanship,” to cite the term NBC’s Bob Costas has employed to praise Rodman. Costas’s broadcast partner, Doug Collins, is himself a retired flopper who’d hit the deck 10 times a game [hyperbole on my part; even Collins wasn’t that bad] in an effort to get the incomparable George “Iceman” Gervin in foul trouble.

Another euphemism for flopping comes from Mr. Integrity of Campaign 2000, Bill Bradley. In his 1998 book revealingly titled Values of the Game (p. 149), Bradley sings the praises of former Celtic great Frank Ramsey, who “could draw an offensive foul by placing his hand behind his opponent’s back (the hand away from the referee) and pulling him forward so that it would appear that the opponent had intentionally run into him. On defensive rebounds, if his opponent had nudged him under the basket so he couldn’t get to the ball, he would simply fling up his arms and fall forward, looking for all the world like a man who had been pushed. Often the referee agreed.”

The Ramsey chapter’s title? “Imagination.”

For Bradley, Costas, Collins and all the other ethically challenged commentators, here is the difference between legitimate and illegitimate hoop acting:

The legit stuff is aimed at the opponent: Kobe Bryant loping along for a second or two, lulling the defender into a false sense of security, then turning on the jets; Mookie Blaylock nonchalantly turning his back, then pouncing on a lazy inbounds pass; Jason Williams looking left and dishing right; Tim Hardaway setting up some sap for the crossover. In every case, the player’s body language or facial expression aims to fool the hapless foe, not the official. It’s acting, and it’s beautiful.

Illegitimate acting aims to deceive the official, the judge on the court, the upholder of the integrity of the game.

The league itself seems to understand. Basic Principle C of the NBA rulebook states: “To be unsportsmanlike is to act in a manner unbecoming to the image of professional basketball. It consists of deceit, disrespect of officials and profanity.”

Floppers are guilty of two out of three. They deserve a punishment that fits such a serious transgression, not a reward.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Andre Drummond shoots backwards
Detroit Pistons rookie Andre Drummond — a graceful, talented giant who could be the steal of the 2012 draft — is the latest in a long line of big men (along with a smattering of forwards and guards) who struggle at the stripe because various coaches and shooting “gurus” taught them to shoot backwards.

Being “coachable” is a good quality for a young player, but only if the coach knows what he’s doing. Unfortunately for Drummond, both as a UConn freshman last season with a short stroke and as an NBA rookie with a longer stroke (currently on display at the Orlando summer league) he has displayed the backwards form that is the tell-tale sign his instructor or instructors subscribe to the “scientific” approach to shooting.

Such instructors dream of a hoop landscape where every player of every size and shape has the same identical assembly-line shooting motion, the key to which is the position of the shooting hand, fingers and wrist at the completion of the stroke (a position that should be maintained for at least a few seconds).

Alas, this obsession with follow-through positioning frequently leads the students of the shooting scientists to put the cart (the follow-through) before the horse (the stroke). The stroke, such as it exists, is merely the means to an end: the holy pose that, in theory, guarantees jumpshooting and free-throw success.

Read the rest of this analysis at HoopsHype.

Dan Feldman presents an excerpt at the Piston Powered blog.



Monday, May 21, 2012

Duncan, not Shaq, is an all-time Top 5 center
Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan and the basketball media need to drop the pretense that Duncan is a forward. He's mostly a center — a supremely gifted and fluid one — and he should be compared to the greats who have played that position.

I rank him in the top five in the history of the game. I'm not sure of the order, but Duncan is in the elite class with Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Hakeem Olajuwon and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Behind that quintet is a one-man group consisting of the one man large enough to constitute a group, Shaquille O'Neal.

A huge difference between Duncan and Shaq is that Duncan has not required referee leniency to be great. Most every element of his game would be legal in any era. Granted, Duncan continues to take advantage of the modern refs' bizarre inability to spot obvious moving picks, and on rare occasions he'll "earn" two free throws by swinging his shooting arms in an odd, unnatural motion to initiate contact against an innocent defender (exploiting another aspect of official incompetence). But these make a minor contribution to Duncan's value. Not so with the official incompetence Shaq exploited. Back in 2002, in an essay on how to ref the behemoth, I noted this about the remarkably spry 30-year-old:
Most of what Shaq does on offense is beautiful. The principal reason he’s a handful is his combination of dazzling, lightning-quick footwork, massive girth, and an ever-improving repertoire of jumpers, bankers and jumphooks. But when the refs treat dislodging — not to mention three seconds and traveling — as a superstar’s right rather than a violation, Shaq goes from awesome to unstoppable.
In the years that followed Shaq grew increasingly dependent on the application of (presumably illegal) brute force. Too much of his offensive game consisted of dislodging defenders with his hips or left-shoulder battering ram, spending more than three seconds in the lane, "walking" defenders under the basket, accidentally-on-purpose elbowing defenders in the head, finishing his low-post moves with jump stops (something Duncan has never done and which would have been called traveling in the pre-David Stern years), and sometimes pretending that he had a live pivot foot to work with after the jump stop and counting on the refs to be clueless or pretend right along with him.

Pardon the aside, but those are some of the reasons I think Stern has been an absolute disaster for the game of basketball, which is not to be confused with the business of basketball. Because of all the special privileges accorded Shaq, it's very difficult to compare him to these other legends. The league allowed Shaq, as well as his overmatched but often quite brutal and/or flop-prone opposing centers, to play football and a blend of sumo and pro wrestling.

If the refs — and the incompetent Rules and Competition Committee — had forced Shaq and his foes to be strictly basketball players, Shaq would have been a very different player. Quite possibly, he would have honed his legit basketball skills and been even better, and thus worthy of inclusion in the Greatest Group. But we'll never know, and the game is far worse off because of the way he was allowed to play, which led to most centers bulking up — and therefore slowing down — to prepare for banging battles in the paint. Who knows, maybe Greg Oden wouldn't have had the rash of knee injuries if he didn't put all those extra pounds on his young and (we now know) fragile frame in an effort to excel at the center "skills" of dislodging and resisting dislodgers.
Getting back to our center rankings, Group Three consists of Moses Malone, David Robinson, George Mikan and Artis Gilmore.

Group Four features three ferocious competitors who wore out their legs before turning 30: Dave Cowens, Willis Reed and Indiana Pacer legend Mel Daniels, who was a two-time ABA MVP and three-time champion.

Hot on their heels is Group Five: Patrick Ewing, Robert Parish and Elvin Hayes. (The Big E — one of the NBA's all-time great athletes — played center his first four seasons before joining Wes Unseld on the Bullets, where the two were interchangeable at the center and power-forward positions, though Elvin spent most of his time on offense in the left low post, where he was a bit too predictable for his own good.)
Group Six is comprised of Unseld, Walt Bellamy, Nate Thurmond, Bob Lanier, Jack Sikma and brittle Bill Walton. Group Seven consists of perhaps the most well-liked NBA personality of all time, Johnny "Red" Kerr, and the most despised, Bill Laimbeer.

If Walton had had healthy feet he likely would have landed in the first group or with Shaq. Good knees might well have elevated Lanier to the third group and possibly to Shaq's. Reed had just emerged as possibly the best center in the game in 1968-69 and 1969-70 when his knees started going bad at age 27. If he had been blessed with sound knees that could hold up to age 35 — or if the Knicks had provided caring, competent care from the moment the tendinitis first flared up — Reed might well have had a career worthy of that first group. Good knees might have helped another forgotten giant, Chicago Bulls' passing and rebounding whiz Tom Boerwinkle, reach Group Six.

Among active centers, Dwight Howard appears destined for Group Three or Four, although if he works with me he'll develop the spontaneous scoring skills and a rhythmic, repeatable 75-percent free-throw delivery that could catapult him to Group One. Still too many question marks remain about Joakim Noah and Andrew Bynum, but both have a shot at Group Six and possibly Five.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Orlando Magic should pursue Phil Jackson
Rumor has it that Phil Jackson is considering a return to the coaching ranks for the 2012-13 season. If such is the case, the Orlando Magic should pursue him. He said in an interview a while back that Dwight Howard would be his choice if he could pick one current player to build a team around. In Los Angeles, Jackson transformed Shaquille O'Neal from a stat-stuffing star to a championship centerpiece. As great as Shaq was, he easily could have played an entire career without winning a title if he had continued to be coached by the likes of Kurt Rambis and Del Harris. (Kurt was a lost coaching cause even then, while Del had plenty of good qualities but seemed to lack that certain something a championship coach needs.)
If the Magic sign Phil for four years, there's a great chance that Dwight would follow suit. Actually, it would probably need to happen simultaneously, as Phil would want to know that Dwight would be his cornerstone. Then again, Phil's ego is sufficiently (and justifiably) large that he might be willing to coach Dwight as he plays out his option in 2012-13, because (as Phil might reason) their first season together would surely leave Dwight hungry for more.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

No need for smooth Blake to struggle at the stripe
Media folk are poking fun at Blake Griffin for firing back-to-back free-throw airballs Wednesday night. They’re also expressing concern that his free-throw woes, along with those of D’Andre Jordan and Reggie Evans, could cost the Clippers dearly in the playoffs.

If I ran the Clippers the first thing I would do is have one of the video assistants make a DVD of all of Blake’s free-throw attempts in March 2011. As a rookie he shot a very respectable .695 from the line after the 2011 all-star break, and .725 (79 for 109) in March. That’s impressive improvement for a young power forward who struggled at the stripe in college (.589 and .590 in his two seasons) and shot just .617 prior to the 2011 all-star break.

I don’t have any of those March 2011 attempts on hand, so I don’t know what the Clippers would discover. But there’s a chance that one or more aspects of that stroke will differ from his current stroke — or should I say his current abrupt snap.

I actually see two different Blakes today. The guy shooting jumpers, in both warmups and games, has a natural-looking delivery. You watch it and say, “That big bruiser is a mighty smooth athlete with a pretty nice stroke, as bruisers go.” But then you watch his routine and delivery at the line and he looks like a poorly programmed robot with a highly technical and technically flawed stroke — a robot whose stroke is short-circuited by some bizarre need to achieve a ridiculous, unnatural, put-your-hand-in-the-cookie-jar-while-holding-it-high follow-through pose.

My guess is that he’s fallen under the spell of some shooting guru with a bogus “scientific” approach built around an obsession with an exaggerated gooseneck finish.

If Blake or the Clippers want help in smoothing out his free-throw delivery so that he looks and feels like himself and gets back on the road to a rising percentage, I’m available. There’s no reason he can’t shoot 70 percent down the home stretch and in the playoffs, and beginning next season settle in to a long career shooting around 80 percent.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Some oldies but goodies from InsideHoops.com
I noticed recently that a number of essays I penned in the early years of this century are now archived and accessible. Brimming with insight, passion and, on occasion, humor, these gems appeared at the website InsideHoops.com, which is run by long-time hoop enthusiast Jeff Lechiner, who had the wisdom to take a chance on a brilliant but unknown writer. Imagine how much better and fairer the NBA would have been this century if I had been calling the shots — hiring the key people who write and interpret the rules and train the refs.

Players Who Cheat and the Announcers Who Love Them (March 8, 2002)
Turner Broadcasting NBA analyst Danny Ainge declares his love for players who deceive officials; no fine or suspension under consideration at this time.

Fifteen Steps to a Better NBA: There's nothing wrong with pro hoops that freedom of movement and an influx of speedy short guys can't cure (July 1, 2001)

The NBA Needs a New Cliché: "Make him earn a defensive stop." (Dec. 24, 2002)
League executives should take a cue from America's corporate scandals and enact penalties that deter rather than reward intentional fouls and thuggery.

In search of colorblind NBA commentators: NBA analysts should follow Sean Elliott's lead and desegregate player comparisons (Nov. 18, 2002)

Blow the whistle on the foul-out rule: Throughout the NCAA and NBA playoffs, this unspeakably cruel rule turned great competitors into frustrated spectators (Nov. 8, 2002)

NBA Refs Need to Put Themselves In the Driver's Feet: Current block/charge interpretation unfairly favors defenders over high-flying penetrators (May 29, 2002)

Ray Allen tops Dirk and Peja as NBA's most efficient gunner (March 2, 2002)
Back in 1997 I created a scoring-efficiency stat, Points Per Scoring Opportunity, which incorporates deuces, treys and free throws. It wasn't until 2002 that I could find an outlet to present it. While Ray Allen (late in the 2001-02 season) led those who averaged at least 22 points, Reggie Miller and Steve Nash would have ranked 1-2 if the cutoff was 16 ppg. Brent Barry dominated the 15-points-and-under crowd.

Shaq Passes the Brick to Baron and Big Ben: Laker center no longer the player most likely to hurt his team's playoff chances by struggling at the stripe (April 24, 2002)
Amazing article where I accurately predicted that Shaq would win games at the free-throw line in the 2002 playoffs. Granted he violated the step-over rule on most of his makes, but there were only three refs staring at the violation. Thus it is understandable that they missed the call every time.

Blame Riley for Shaq's free-throw woes (May 25, 2006)
Four years later, in Miami, Shaq was lost at the stripe. I explained why. He's fortunate his ineptitude didn't cost the Heat the 2006 NBA crown.

Nash's reading material matches Suns playing style (Feb. 3, 2005)
Steve Nash told the New York Times he was reading the autobiography of Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara. To help him better understand Che's political philosophy, Nash also was perusing one of the books that influenced Che: The Communist Manifesto, by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. I took it from there.

"Samurai Boardsman" Fortson Fuels Sonics (Dec. 5, 2004)
A comparison of John Belushi's Samurai Swordsman character from the early years of Saturday Night Live with Seattle Sonics rebounding maestro Danny Fortson, whose girth and hair style led me to dub him the Samurai Boardsman.

Team USA steals Ric Flair's script for rivals, buzz (Aug. 27, 2004)
Turns out I was wrong. Team USA's early struggles weren't a pro wrestling-style act to boost ratings by making it appear that other nations had a legit shot at beating Uncle Sam. I failed to factor in the incompetence of Larry Brown, who coached the 2004 men's Olympics basketball team to a bronze medal.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Dwight is lost at the stripe but still setting great moving picks
I’ll soon be seeking employment with one or more NBA teams helping tall guys develop a jumper and improve at the stripe, and if I land a position it likely will entail surrendering my free-speech rights on basketball issues. Alas, that’s the NBA way, First Amendment be darned. So in the meantime I’m going to get some things off my chest.

One player I think I could help significantly is Dwight Howard, either on my own (my preference) or in conjunction with his personal shooting coach (Ed Palubinskas, assuming their off-season partnership has extended into the season) or Orlando Magic assistant coaches Mark Price and Patrick Ewing. My objective would be to help Howard develop — or rediscover — his very own shooting style, so he can be as spontaneous and instinctive with jumpers in the 10-to-15-foot range (much like one of his mentors, Hakeem Olajuwon) as he already is from in close with his lefty and righty jumphooks.

Read the rest at hoopshype.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

LeBron breaks through at the stripe by breaking a rule
It's early, but LeBron James looks very good at the line. He's got a relaxed, fluid and free arm motion, which is working well with his somewhat more open stance. But he's also following his shot, stepping over the line with his right foot before the ball reaches the basket. It's like he's daring the refs to whistle him for this rather obvious violation of the rules.

According to Ronnie Nunn, the former ref who oversaw the development of officials until being laid off this past fall, it’s a violation even if that step doesn’t hit the ground before the ball reaches the rim. (Nunn made that point on one of his “Making the Call” shows on NBA TV.) So the new LeBron is always (at least on the free-throw attempts I’ve seen this season) in violation, even though it’s often a close call as to whether his right foot has landed before the ball reaches the rim. He's definitely stepping before the ball arrives at the basket.

Can LeBron keep his new delivery while discarding the step-over? I think so. With LeBron, it looks more like an affirmative confidence-building measure — he's following the shot right into the basket, and he’s also guarding against his old habit of leaning back on his release. It’s not like Reggie Evans trying to get a head start on rebounding his own miss. Nor does it seem to be an involuntary reflex, as with Shaq at various stages of his career when, by design, his weight and release point were well-forward and there was a lot of acceleration in his stroke. Refs allowed Shaq to get away with this when the Lakers needed it most (against Sacramento in the 2002 Western Conference Finals). But in the 2008 playoffs when Shaq was a Sun facing the Spurs, the refs didn’t allow it. All of a sudden Shaq was losing points on the violation and trying to break a habit while simultaneously sinking a shot in a pressurized environment. Perhaps that explains why Shaq shot .500 (32 for 64) in the playoffs after shooting .595 (309 for 519) in the regular season. It certainly didn't help.

That’s the risk LeBron takes. He doesn’t want to arrive in the 2012 playoffs — or worse, the Finals — comfortable and confident with his deeply ingrained step-over stroke, and all of a sudden the refs decide to enforce this rule.