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 21, 2006

Paul Millsap is the NBA's version of Jim Brown
Paul Millsap, the Utah Jazz second-round draft choice from Lousiana Tech, is the early favorite to win Rookie of the Year. He also appears to have more long-term potential than anyone else in the 2006 NBA draft, even Tyrus Thomas. The guy Millsap reminds me of is not any hoopster, but the greatest runner in NFL history, Jim Brown.

Millsap, like Brown, combines speed, power, body control, explosive quickness and elusiveness. He even looks a little like Brown and at times seems to be a "man playing with boys," which was ALWAYS the case with Brown. He’s a complete player on both ends of the court, a rebounding monster, a nice shooter and a terrific finisher around and under the basket, which is another aspect of the NBA game where the men set themselves apart from the boys. The boys are trying just as hard (the repeatedly stuffed Knick Charles Smith comes to mind), but they simply don't have the men's ability or combination of abilities to get the job done in the crowded space around the hoop. Millsap gets it done.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Riley’s to blame for Shaq’s knee injury
As I first explained this past June , Pat Riley has foolishly transformed his center into “Shaq Doleac,” charge drawer. All the block/charge collisions the Diesel has been causing have only made it more difficult for him to stay out of foul trouble, which has been his biggest problem with the Heat. It’s also made Shaq, who doesn’t have a malicious bone in his body, the most dangerous player in the NBA.

During the 2006 Finals he nearly destroyed Miami’s title hopes when he fell backwards and crashed into the side of Dwyane Wade’s knee after sliding over way late to try to draw a charge from Josh Howard. Wade was an innocent bystander, and the Heat were quite fortunate that the collateral damage was just a bad sprain and not a shattered knee.

Now fast-forward to last Sunday. Shaq slid over late to cause a knee-on-knee collision with Houston forward Chuck Hayes. Hayes is projected to be out 2 weeks with his battered knee, while Shaq tore cartilage in his own knee, which will require surgery and put him on the shelf for a minimum of 4-6 weeks.

Granted, Riley certainly didn’t want this to happen. But he is one of several tough-guy coaches whose chief legacy will be that they made the NBA a far more dangerous (not to mention ugly) game than it used to be, with their twin obsessions of block/charge collisions and “no-layups” hard fouls.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Ironies abound in Shaq vs. Yao showdown
Imagine you’re a savvy hoops fan from Mars seeing your first NBA game Sunday night. You notice the two big centers, and you’ve been told that one guy is an aging superstar with four championship rings while the other is a promising young guy from a country where basketball is relatively new. But you’re not told which is which.

By the end of the night you’d likely think that Yao is the grizzled superstar and Shaq the still-learning young pup. Shaq would seem younger because he’s by far the more dynamic and explosively quick of the two. Yao would appear to be much older, given his relative slowness, but also more accomplished by virtue of his skill and artistry. You just might blurt out:

“Man, that tall, aging cat has got all the shots — and beautiful strokes for each of them. But that young, massive dude shows me nothing. He’s got no offensive game if the refs don’t let him bull his way to the hoop — which he’d never get away with on Mars. He’s got a mediocre jumphook and no jumpshot. And unlike the tall cat, he apparently can’t finish with his left hand.

“He’s just a raw athlete — but what an athlete! He covers more ground and his quicker off his feet and to the ball than the aging tall guy. Very impressive reflexes for a 12-boulder. [In the Martian metric system, one boulder equals 30 pounds.] But what a klutz at the stripe! That tall cat is automatic; he LOOKS like a shooter. This wide dude looks like he’s never seen a basketball in his life. It’s pretty obvious he’s from a place where b-ball is fairly new and the coaches don’t have a clue. Man, watching him try to shoot, you have to wonder if he’s ever been coached a day in his life.”

The good news for Shaq is that, even at 34 and showing the effects of a long NBA career, he has ample room to improve on his skills to offset what he's gradually losing in athleticism. The bad news is that he's stuck with the Miami coaching staff.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

In NBA caste system, it’s good to be “untouchable”
That’s the title of my latest HoopsHype essay. And here are the opening two grafs:

The NBA is rightfully proud of its missionary role in spreading the game of basketball to the four corners of the earth. But international influence can be a two-way street, and in recent years the NBA has absorbed and replicated, perhaps unwittingly, the worst excesses of one of the world’s worst systems: the caste system of India.

A league that once was an equal-opportunity meritocracy where every player, regardless of position, had a fair shot at greatness, now features a rules regime and style of play that grants privileges to perimeter players while rendering interior players — even Shaquille O’Neal — nothing more than dime-a-dozen, foul-plagued grunts.

Several months ago I penned a related piece, in my capacity as president of the mentoring group "Short People Helping Tall People." In "Starting centers merit more minutes" I explained that most NBA centers lead a life of constant frustration over foul trouble and limited minutes. Most of these guys don’t realize they’re in the same boat, and that’s prevented them from pulling together and advocating some rule changes that will make it as easy for them to stay on the court as it is for their shorter teammates. My essay discusses the modern center’s plight and proposes four such changes.