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, April 25, 2017

Don't Fear the Beard. Flunk the Fraud!
How to officiate James “Fake News” Harden

Back in the 1960s, Jim "Bad News" Barnes was a star center/forward for Texas Western, a 1964 Olympic gold medalist and the first player taken in that year's NBA draft, seven spots ahead of fellow Knicks rookie Willis Reed. An achilles injury cut short his hoops career, after which he became an all-star all-around citizen in Washington, D.C. and the brains behind the popular "Bad News Barbecue Sauce." He is not to be confused with James "Fake News" Harden.

A popular method of cheating in baseball is the use of PEDs, as performance-enhancing drugs are known. NBA cheaters, on the other hand, are more likely to opt for EED — efficiency-enhancing deceit — especially in analytics-oriented Houston. Few things enhance efficiency quite like Fake News’s specialty: getting the dumbest people on the planet to award three free throws for committing an offensive foul as a teammate sets a (frequently illegal) screen. Harden is an .847 percent free-throw shooter, so he averages 2.5 points on three freebies, which is the equivalent of 2.5 Showtime Laker possessions that end in the most dependable shot in NBA history, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s skyhook (which he made roughly half the time). That is as preposterous as it is revolting.

Incidentally, Harden's average ill-gotten gain would be a more palatable 1.7 points if the NBA hadn't, in 1994, provided a big fat incentive for leg-kicking fool-the-ref fanatic Reggie Miller and his ilk by foolishly increasing the penalty for a foul on an errant trey from two free throws to three.

The dummies in question aren’t merely the trio dressed as refs, but NBA commissioner Adam Silver and the three league executives responsible for maintaining an honest game — Kiki Vandeweghe, Mike Bantom and Joe Borgia. In this technologically sophisticated age it has never been easier to detect and prosecute fraud, thus ensuring that games and MVP awards are decided on their merits. What is missing is the will, a sense of urgency, a commitment to fairness and the minimal amount of intelligence required to figure out what Harden — the most successful and blatant “volume cheater” in NBA history — is doing.

How UMPs by VIPs set Harden’s stage
If I may introduce two of my acronyms, Harden’s pet play often begins with an UMP (uncalled moving pick) by a VIP (volume illegal picker). The play is just as sordid if it’s a legal pick, but being sensitized to and blowing the whistle on illegal screens would end the play before the Harden portion begins. The root cause for the proliferation of UMPs was the NBA's gradual adoption of the disastrous philosophy known as “reffing the defense,” championed by the late ref supervisor Darell Garretson. Staring at the defender, tunnel-vision style, ushered in an era not only of UMPs, but traveling and palming, as I explained in 2011.

It also explains the modern ref’s susceptibility to Harden. Zooming in on the defender, the ref sees the defender’s arm in the way when Harden’s rising left arm collides with it. Easy whistle for the visually tunneled. But here’s what a pre-Garretson big-picture ref would see: a lefty pretending to shoot without the ball.

What if pre-Garretson refs committed to fair play and ensuring that crime doesn't pay were active this decade and had access to modern video technology? They likely would have made and widely shared with colleagues and league execs a Harden-trickery video, with lots of slow-motion clips from various angles, demonstrating his many methods for getting undeserved free throws. Fake News would have been put on notice by 2012 or so — before he could get fouled shooting a trey 27 times in 2014-15, a record-setting 46 times in 2015-16 (with lots of unseen-by-the-ref lateral leg kicks contributing in those two seasons), and a record-shattering 149 times this past regular season. (The first two stats are courtesy of Chris Herring [see below], the last from Mike Breen on April 23, citing the Elias Sports Bureau).

Here is what happened on many of these 149 occasions:

As Harden dribbles to his right with his right hand, the defender is squeezed by the screener, putting him in contact or nearly so with Harden. Harden will lift his ball-less left arm abruptly, making contact with the defender’s exposed right arm. Harden will then lift the ball with his right hand and attempt a mid-air transfer of the ball to his left hand as he pantomimes a shot with the left. Quite often, the ball will pop up in the air and come down in that same vicinity; rarely will it get anywhere near the basket. (Harden's righthanded teammate, Lou Williams, pulls the same stunt with his right arm while dribbling to his left with his left hand.)

Taking an actual shot in this situation — which itself would be bizarre, because who shoots while dribbling laterally from 28 feet when closely guarded and no ticking-clock situation? — would take longer than an out-of-sequence, ball-less lightning lift. On an actual shot the defender would be alerted that one is coming by virtue of Harden moving his left hand downward to the right to get it on the ball so he can then lift it with two hands into shooting position. Such a normal, natural movement would, in most cases, give the defender enough time to get his hand and arm out of harm’s way, allowing idiot Harden to fire up a 10-percent shot with 17 seconds on the shot clock.

All that refs and their clueless bosses need do is watch Harden’s left hand and arm on shots he is trying to make, such as catch-and-shoot treys, 18-footers off the dribble and free throws. Is his initial move to lerch his ball-less left arm skyward? No. It’s to get his left hand on the ball before he lifts it, from below his waist.

What a normal shot on the run looks like
Like Harden, I’m lefthanded. I’ve won many games of HORSE shooting running lefty bank shots as I dribble with my right hand to my right and shoot off my left leg. As my intention is to make the shot, my first move as I complete the dribble is to move my left hand down and to the right to get it on the ball. I then lift with both hands and shoot. As I know from experimentation, abruptly lifting a ball-less left hand, then attempting a split-second above-the-head transfer of the ball to my left hand, transforms an easy shot into a low-percentage prayer. And that's without a defender in the picture!

An article by Harden admirer Chris Herring of the analytics site includes video clips of this fraudulent play, and though Herring takes no notice of the UMPs, several gents in the Comments section do. In the clip vs. the Cavs note how Nene moves on the screen then shoves LeBron, giving the ref two invitations to call an illegal screen prior to Harden going into his act. In the Pistons clip you can clearly see him lifting his shooting arm without the ball as the defender tries to get around Clint Capela's moving pick. He's not in the act of shooting. He's in the act of pantomiming and grabbing, with the objective of stealing from the refs three free throws.

Jeff Hornacek (as quoted in Herring’s essay) called attention to this travesty back on Dec. 31, after his Knicks were called for fouling Harden on a trey four times. “He grabs with his left arm, has the ball in the right hand and wraps his left arm with your hand,” he said. “To me, that’s an offensive foul.” Indeed it is. Additionally, it’s not a basketball play. It’s something that would never happen in a game without refs, because no one would cater to this nonsense. Instead of three freebies he’d get a punch in the face and a demand he take his pathetic act elsewhere.

Two ways to deter deceit
Since Harden and coach Mike D’Antoni insist that the ball-less lift is his natural shooting motion, my preferred solution is to require Harden to shoot all his shots this way. If a Harden field goal or free throw doesn’t begin with that abrupt, ball-less lefty lift and head-high or above transfer of the ball from his right hand to the left, the points don’t count. That approach would work for practitioners of the lame rip-through gimmick, too. Commissioner Silver could say to Kevin Durant, Chris Paul or Kawhi Leonard, "So that's how you initiate your stroke — violently swinging your arms laterally and upward — frequently in an absurd-for-righties right-to-left direction? Great! You have to use that motion exclusively and indefinitely on all of your shots. Good luck!"

Or Silver could do what I first advocated in 2000 with respect to another form of hoop deceit, flopping: apply the “Unsportsmanlike” clause, which in the updated 2013-14 Rule Book is Basic Principle B on page 58:

To be unsportsmanlike is to act in a manner unbecoming to the image of professional basketball. 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 $2,000.

In 2012 David Stern finally pulled his head out of the sand and, in his 28th year as commissioner, spoke up for the integrity of the game. He said the term “‘Flopping’ almost doesn't do it justice. Trickery. Deceit. Designed to cause the game to be decided other than on its merits.” Stern called for “the elimination of tricks . . . designed to fool the ref,” which “shouldn’t have a place in our game.”

After quoting Stern, ESPN’s Henry Abbott pointed out the NBA already had a rule (the one I cited in 2000) it could apply. “‘Deceit’ is the issue in flopping," Abbott wrote, "and the very first example in this list of unsportsmanlike conduct. The penalty is a technical. That's a start."

Fool-the-ref deceit is what Harden's pantomime act is all about. Don’t confuse it with beautiful and quite legit fool-the-foe deception, such as looking left and passing right, loping along to lull the defender before turning on the jets, or playing possum and then snatching a lazy inbound pass. I made this critical distinction in the 2000 essay cited above. If Harden picks up a technical every time newly sensitized refs catch him trying to deceive them — perhaps leading to a few playoff ejections before halftime — he just might clean up his act.

If the refs can't catch this in real time, they need to say so and publicly ask the league for help. He's been doing the ball-less lift trick for years, both within and beyond the arc, and if there needs to be a rule that proven hucksters (Harden's the worst, but he's not alone) are subject to in-game, slow-motion video review, let's adopt it now. It may be too late to re-do the MVP vote, but we can minimize the role deceit plays in determining which teams advance. It’s not acceptable to allow cheating to happen just because refs are too proud to ask for the help they've needed for years.

p.s. Back in 2007 I penned a tour de force on NBA cheating for hoopshype, but the links to all my hoopshype essays prior to 2010 were wiped out thanks to a miscue by that site's techies. Fortunately, that essay lives on here: The NBA’s real integrity problem: Thirty years ago, Red Auerbach called out players and coaches who cheat. The league has yet to act.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Fear the Beard, Flunk the Fraud or Moon the Buffoon?
One way for the Oklahoma City Thunder or possible future 2017 playoff opponents of the Houston Rockets to rain on James Harden's fraud parade is to lobby the league to invoke the "Unsportsmanlike" clause, which is included in Basic Principle B, on page 58:

This is something I first advocated in 2000 with respect to another form of hoop deceit, flopping. In the current Rule Book it is Basic Principle B, on page 58:

To be unsportsmanlike is to act in a manner unbecoming to the image of professional basketball. 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 $2,000.

In 2012 David Stern finally pulled his head out of the sand and, in his 28th year as commissioner, spoke up for the integrity of the game. He said the term “‘Flopping’ almost doesn't do it justice. Trickery. Deceit. Designed to cause the game to be decided other than on its merits.” Stern called for “the elimination of tricks . . . designed to fool the ref,” which “shouldn’t have a place in our game.”

After quoting Stern, ESPN’s Henry Abbott pointed out the NBA already had a rule (the one I cited in 2000) it could apply. “Deceit," he wrote, "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."

Couldn't agree more. It applies equally to Harden's bizarre arm swings that refs foolishly interpret as shot attempts. He's not playing basketball with those actions, he's playing to the refs, counting on them to have no understanding of the actual game but rather take a strict letter-of-the-law approach while disregarding that a shot without the ball in the shooting hand is not a shot. It's just a random swing of the off arm into an innocent defender. In other words, an offensive foul that is also fool-the-ref fraud.

p.s. Back in 2007 I penned a tour de force on NBA cheating for hoopshype, but the links to all my hoopshype essays prior to 2010 were wiped out thanks to a miscue by that site's techies. Fortunately, that essay lives on here: The NBA’s real integrity problem: Thirty years ago, Red Auerbach called out players and coaches who cheat. The league has yet to act.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The fix for the broken NBA All-Star Game: No treys
The 2015 NBA All-Star Game was by far the worst in history. Until, that is, the 2016 one. Nothing but trey attempts and rarely contested layups and dunks. The current crop of stars surely don't want to go down in history as destroying what had been a perennial treat.

Courtesy of NBA-TV and ESPN Classic, over the past 10 years I and countless other fans have had a chance to revisit — or watch for the first time — All-Star games dating back to 1969. These are great games that resemble the game itself as it was played in that particular year. In recent years, however, the games have become exaggerated versions of the current game, which itself features too many threes. Take that and then triple the number of trey attempts in an atmosphere where few are hustling on defense and the end result is a joke.

The trey is bad for regular season basketball. It's ruinous for the All-Star Game. Let's play the 2017 edition on a court without an arc. I predict you'll have the most competitive game in years, which in turn will spark interest in banning the trey or, at least, devaluing it to a more sensible 2.25 or 2.33.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Lakers should "opt out" of trey
Los Angeles Lakers coach Byron Scott should act on his disdain for three-point shots by eliminating them from his team’s home court. He can do so by announcing to the world that, in 2015-16, teams arriving in L.A. to play the Lakers will discover a court devoid of a three-point line.

Scott and the Lakers won’t have to resort to civil disobedience if NBA owners, acting through the league’s Board of Governors, approve my “Trey Opt-Out Clause": “Any team that prefers all outside shots to be worth two points, as was the case until the 1979-80 season, may play by that rule in all its home games, playoffs included.”

A team wouldn’t be able to pick and choose. Either it plays all home games on a court without an arc or all with an arc.

Imagine the fun of watching opposing robo-shooters search in vain for their security-blanket trey line and the ensuing hilarity as they’re forced to play by feel for the first time in their lives.

NBA teams played at a much faster pace in the pre-trey 1960s and 1970s than at any point in this increasingly trey-crazy century, where per-game per-team attempts have risen from 13.7 in 1999-2000 to 22.4 in 2014-15.

Some folks who associate the trey's introduction as ushering in a Golden Age might be overlooking another major event of October 1979: the arrival of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Throughout their first seven seasons — the last three of which coincided with the first three of Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon — NBA fans were treated to some remarkable basketball. Just don't credit the trey. The typical team attempted 89 field goals, with just 2.5 of those coming from behind the arc. And that includes end-of-quarter heaves. Field goal attempts in the current century have ranged between 79.0 and 83.6.

Magic's first two titles with the Lakers, in 1980 and 1982, saw his team play 30 playoff games, during which the Lakers attempted a grand total of 30 treys. That's one per game. Those Laker teams would have played exactly the same if the Fabulous Forum court did not have an arc.

If Byron Scott wants to bring back that style of play, good for him. The results won't be the same, at least for a while. But the tempo can be, and that's good for fans and good for multi-skilled players, regardless of position. Forwards and centers won't have to pass up good mid-range shots because a one-dimensional shooting specialist is open for a lower percentage but higher yield three-pointer.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

John Lucas is the latest — and perhaps the first — to make a mess of DeAndre's "stroke"
Why does former player John Lucas think it important that DeAndre Jordan made (allegedly) 1,000 free throws in his gym? One presumes DeAndre hit a pretty good percentage, but that doesn't matter either — unless he's trying to challenge Dwight Howard for the 2015-16 Free Throw Differential award. This honors the player with the greatest gap between his practice FT percentage and the percentage he shoots in games. Dwight routinely makes more than 80 percent of his tens of thousands practice free throws each season, while shooting quite a bit lower on the 35 or so per week that count.

Perhaps one of these years it will dawn on Dwight that making 80 out of 100 in ten relaxing minutes is not equal to making 8 of 10 over the course of a rambunctious, 150-minute NBA game, but don't count on it. As long as he equates the two, he'll keep scratching his head and wondering what mental block or some such other nonsense accounts for him being a career .573 (regular season) and .551 (playoffs) free-throw shooter. He needs to look at how he shoots. If there was nothing wrong with his stroke then he'd have something that translates to the jumpshot. He doesn't, not now and not at any point in his pro career.

On July 7 Lucas posted a pair of photos of him working with DeAndre. In the first he's helping DeAndre achieve what Lucas regards as the ideal position from which to begin the forward phase of his stroke, which we'll call Point A. The second features DeAndre's Lucas-approved shooting hand finishing pose (Point B).

I can't envision DeAndre getting from Point A to Point B in any kind of natural, fluid way — that is, in a way that's easily repeatable under game conditions. The problem with Point A is that it doesn't take into account DeAndre's exceptionally long arms. Could Robert Parish, Bill Cartwright or James Edwards, to name three similarly built centers, shoot well from that position? Not likely. And even if any of the three could, what would be the point of a fairly low release point that, if transferred to the jumpshot, would be easy to block? Those three gents were exceptional shooters from 10 to 15 feet, including when closely guarded by tall fellows. If DeAndre were ever given permission to shoot from that range, that release point would only work when wide open or guarded by a much shorter foe.

The problem with Point B is that it looks forced. It's a sign of shooting backwards, a concept I introduced in 2012. Instead of allowing your shooting motion to determine the finish of your stroke, you put the cart before the horse by pre-determining the finishing position. The stroke becomes merely the means of arriving at the presumably all-important destination, where the fingers and wrist of the shooting hand are arranged just so, and the arm is at a precisely elevated angle. All very "scientific" — in a middle-school, C- science project kind of way.

From those photos it looks as if Lucas is following in the failed footsteps of Bob Thate, who in the summer of 2012 gave a gung-ho DeAndre a head-to-toe free-throw makeover. DeAndre had just shot a miserable .525 from the line in the 2011-12 regular season, or, if you tend to look on the bright side, an encouraging, career-high .525. Anyway, the drastic changes — including scrapping DeAndre's high release point — were implemented in the summer and road-tested in October when the Clippers and Heat toured China. At one point in the preseason DeAndre was 8 for 31! For the 2012-13 regular season DeAndre shot .386. In the playoffs he was 2 for 9, as a spooked Vinny Del Negro foolishly limited his immensely talented center to a mere 24 minutes per game, meaning he kept him on the pine for long stretches even when the Clippers weren't in the free-throw bonus where the foe could employ the odious Hack-a-DeAndre strategy.

At the same time Thate was setting DeAndre back, he was doing some good for Blake Griffin, and would continue to do so in the following seasons. Blake is now a solid mid-range shooter and a nearly average free-throw shooter, so Thate has earned his salary. However, as golf fans and pro golfers know, a swing coach may be a good fit for one player but a bad fit for another. The same holds for shooting coaches. If both parties understand this before teaming up, it's easier to part ways with no hard feelings once it's clear that what this particular coach is offering isn't working and likely never will, at least for you. If that coach says, "Just stick with it for a few more seasons, and sooner or later everything will click," direct him to the nearest looney bin.

In Ramona Shelburne and Tim MacMahon's terrific report on DeAndre's free-agent saga, we learn that Lucas has been advising and tutoring DeAndre, off and on, since the latter was in 9th grade. So it's quite possible that Lucas shares much of the responsibility for more than a decade of shooting ineptitude. DeAndre is way too coordinated to be a dreadful free-throw shooter who isn't even given the opportunity to shoot in games beyond five feet. Alas, these days many tall guys are in the same boat. Unless they're very good shooters from the get-go, they're relegated on offense to setting picks (usually uncalled illegal ones) to get teammates open for treys and rolling to the rim for alley-oops.

As I've argued since 2004, the payoff for the trey is too great, which leads to a variety of negative consequences for the game in general and big guys in particular. At the time I advocated reducing the payoff to 2.5 points. With the dramatic increase in trey attempts in recent years with little or no drop in accuracy, 2.5 points is too much to have the desired effect. My current preference is to reduce the payoff to somewhere 2.2 and 2.33, while also giving teams the freedom to opt out of the trey by playing all home games — regular season and playoffs — on a court without an arc.

Good-shooting big men inside the arc (e.g., the Gasol brothers, Al Horford, Dirk Nowitzki and Anthony Davis) don't get their just due from the current scoring system, which explains Alvin Gentry's desire to extend Davis's range to the corner trey, which will simultaneously lower his percentage while boosting his "efficiency." Big guys who are average and mediocre shooters aren't encouraged to improve — or even to shoot — especially if they play for one of the growing number of analytics-oriented organizations.

DeMarcus Cousins loves to shoot from 15 to 18 feet, but at this point is merely respectable from that range. Look for fireworks between him and George Karl, an early analytics enthusiast who was the first to push the "layups, threes and free throws" offensive philosophy currently championed by the Houston Rockets. Karl won't look kindly on Cousins jacking up a 40-percent 17-footer when he could kick it out to a teammate who shoots a putrid 30 percent from beyond the arc. It's not good for the game to have the latter significantly more efficient (the equivalent of sinking an outstanding 45 percent from 17 feet) than the former.

Another unfortunate figure in DeAndre's career is the agent Dan Fegan. Let's set aside any role Fegan may have played in selling DeAndre on Dallas. Either L.A. or Dallas would have been a fine destination, with the Mavs being somewhat more likely to help DeAndre develop shooting skills and give him the latitude to apply those skills in actual games, and the Clippers much more likely to contend for titles over the length of the contract while keeping him in an offensive straitjacket. For years Fegan and his team failed miserably to get Dwight Howard the help he needs, thus leaving him at the mercy of coaching staffs in Orlando, L.A. and Houston who either didn't want him shooting beyond 6 feet or weren't able to help him develop a jumper worth firing. (It didn't help that Dwight was so protective of his field goal percentage that he'd rarely shoot from mid-range even when the defense invited him to. The constant prodding of assistant coaches Patrick Ewing and Dan D'Antoni made little difference.)

Granted, it shouldn't be the agent's responsibility to coach his client or find appropriate tutors. But when his client's own highly paid coaches and staffs aren't up to the task, and the client hasn't been able to develop a functional stroke on his own, the agent has to step up. He needs to get his client to listen to some fresh thinking, to give new ideas a try. Otherwise he's likely to end his career with a whole lot of regrets, wondering how good he — and his teams — could have been if only he had expanded his game.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Cutting the trey down to size
Earlier this year in an essay for Bleacher Report, I showed that the payoff for the three-point shot has become grossly disproportionate to its degree of difficulty, and proposed two methods through which the NBA could remedy the situation. Granted, league bigwigs at this point simply aren't interested, but awareness is building that it makes no sense to transform the vast mid-range expanse into a howling wilderness. Most of the scoring artistry from past decades came from this area. But it's being phased out, derided by the analytics crowd as "inefficient." Alas, that's generally true, but it wouldn't be if 25-foot shots were worth two points, as was the case until the 1979-80 season.

I first took up this cause in the 2004 Hoopshype essay "Compute to Achieve" (the link for which is either temporarily or permanently inactive):

A common lament these days is that the mid-range jumper is going the way of the dinosaur. Are Glenn Robinson, Richard Hamilton and Sam Cassell the last of a dying breed? Only if NBA poobahs keep thinking like dodo birds.

Because the NBA awards a ridiculously high 50-percent bonus for every shot sunk behind the arc — 3 points instead of 2 — a player making a paltry 35 percent of his trey attempts generates more points than a hard-working sap sinking 50 percent of the same number of mid-range attempts. Thus, it’s perfectly rational for a perimeter player to work hard at mastering the 24-footer, even if it takes practice time away from 15-to-20 footers or requires him to alter his stroke so it’s better suited for long distance than medium distance.

To revive the mid-range game and get field-goal percentages on an upward trajectory, cut in half the bonus for beyond-the-arc shots. Make the shot worth 2.5 points, and sell it to the masses by anointing it the “5-spot,” “the Lincoln” or “el cinco.”

At the time I didn’t realize that hardly anybody makes half his mid-range attempts, or that 42 percent is an excellent mark. In retrospect, my 2.5 proposal was far too generous, so in the 2015 Bleacher Report piece I not only trim the subsidy, I give teams the right to opt out of the trey entirely (when at home) by playing all home games on an arc-less court. This would make for a dramatic home-court advantage, particularly if, say, Memphis nipped Golden State for best record and thus had Game 7 at an arc-less Grindhouse.

(This post was revised and expanded Aug. 7, 2015.)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Stan Van Gundy still doesn't get it
During a recent game, Piston TV analyst 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, 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 " 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:

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 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.