Rick Barry Offers His Take on LeBron's Game and Kobe's Trade RequestRick Barry appeared on ESPN's "Mike and Mike in the Morning" to talk about how LeBron James could become even better and about Kobe Bryant's request to be traded. Barry made a total of six main points, which I will list below, with my comments in italics.
1) LeBron James has been in the NBA for four seasons but does not know how to properly use a screen on a screen/roll play. This is the fault of Mike Brown and the coaching staff for not giving him better instruction.
Barry did not specifically explain what James could do better on screen/roll plays but in this article he mentioned that the Cavaliers should involve Zydrunas Ilgauskas in the play and not Anderson Varejao. The Cavs do in fact frequently run screen/roll plays with Ilgauskas, who usually steps back to shoot a face-up jumper, but the reason that Varejao is often in the game is that he moves his feet better on defense. The screen/roll play with Varejao has been very effective for Cleveland in the playoffs the last two years, particularly against Detroit. If Barry means to say that James should take a harder angle off of the initial screen and attack the basket, then he may have a point; James often tends to string the play out, draw two defenders away from the hoop and then look to make a pass. Still, what James does leads to a wide open shot for a teammate and he willingly gives the ball up, so to say that he does not know how to use a screen and has not been coached properly by Mike Brown--who led the Cavs to the Finals in his second season as head coach--is a bit harsh.
2) Along these same lines but speaking more generally, Barry asserted that today's players, including James, are more talented than players were in his day but that they don't know the little nuances of how to play the game. Barry said that his 13 year old son is a better ballhandler than he ever was and that he (referring to himself) would have to learn how to dribble more proficiently to play in today's NBA but that today's players would be even better if they understood the fine points of the game.
Barry cited a specific example in this case: players run to the backboard and try to use their great athleticism to get rebounds but if their opponent has a half step on them then he will get the ball. Why don't guys put a body on their opponent, thus ensuring that they will get any rebound that drops in front of them, Barry wonders. He is right to an extent about the lack of fundamentals in today's game, although if you look at old tapes you may be surprised to see that the fundamentals were not always as great as some people think; plenty of players "back in the day" could not dribble with their off-hand and shooting percentages were lower back then (even without the extra point from the three point shot). Overall, though, Barry is on target with this criticism; my personal pet peeve, which Barry also mentioned as well, is the constant overdribbling that has crept into the game (yes, this means you, Stephon Marbury and Steve Francis): instead of getting the ball and making a strong move straight to the hoop, guys do a lot of "east-west" dribbling that runs down the shot clock and kills any chance of their team developing an offensive rhythm.
3) LeBron James has a fundamental flaw in his shooting stroke.
Barry is right about this. I have mentioned more than once (for instance, here and here) that James shoots more "Oh no--good shot!" attempts than any player in the league; in other words, as I explained in the first post cited above, "shots that look like they are forced or off balance but that he makes with amazing consistency." Needless to say, his lack of good shooting fundamentals came back to haunt James big time versus the Spurs. James has actually improved his shooting form somewhat since his rookie season but he still needs more work in this area. Sometimes, players who are gifted with great jumping ability lapse into the habit of simply elevating from anywhere on the court and firing away, knowing that no one can block or even contest their shot--not that I know this from personal experience, mind you, but you can see this with guys like Clyde Drexler and Dominique Wilkins. Michael Jordan was not a great jump shooter when he was young but he worked and worked until the mid-range turnaround jumper became one of his go-to moves. James needs to put in the same kind of work on this aspect of his game.
4) Kobe Bryant's trade request should have been kept in house.
I about fell off of my chair laughing when Rick Barry said this--the same Rick Barry who talked himself out of Virginia by making derogatory comments about the South that appeared in Sports Illustrated. Barry played for so many teams in his career that an early autobiography that he wrote was titled, "Confessions of a Basketball Gypsy"--and his departures from those teams were hardly handled in the quiet, behind the scenes manner that he now proposes that Bryant should employ. Barry very well be delivering the right message regarding Bryant's situation but it is certainly ironic to hear him say this. By the way, this is why it would be nice if guys like "Mike and Mike"--and other radio or TV talking heads--actually knew enough sports history to call out someone like Barry in this regard: "Hey, Rick, what about the time that you talked your way out of Virginia because you wanted to play on the West Coast?" It would have been interesting to hear Barry's response to that.
5) Barry declared, "I know for a fact that Kobe is not responsible for the Shaq trade," adding that Bryant is rightly incensed that he has been blamed for this over the years.
Barry is 100% correct about this and the particulars of the situation have been publicly documented by none other than Lakers owner Jerry Buss himself, so anyone who continues to blame Bryant is simply ignoring the facts.
6) Barry added that Kobe Bryant "is not selfish" but that he does sometimes force things because the Lakers have failed to give him enough help.
Barry is right on target about this as well. He could have added that, at least in the last month of last season, when Bryant "forced things" it was specifically because Coach Phil Jackson told Bryant that Bryant would have to score a ton of points in order to save the Lakers' season. Earlier in the year, when Lamar Odom and Luke Walton were healthy, Bryant passed the ball more frequently and did not have as many high scoring outbursts. After those guys got hurt--and then came back at significantly less than 100%--Bryant had no choice but to try to score 40-50-60 points. Amazingly, he did that often enough over the last month to set several NBA records and carry the Lakers into the playoffs.
posted by David Friedman @ 4:53 PM