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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Hubie Brown Breaks Down Cleveland-Orlando and LeBron-Kobe

Prior to Orlando's 107-106 game one victory over Cleveland, I interviewed Hall of Famer Hubie Brown, who is doing Eastern Conference Finals color commentary for ESPN Radio, working alongside play by play man Mike Tirico.

Friedman: "Do you think that the optimal defensive strategy for Cleveland is to single cover Howard and stay at home on the three point shooters or to double-team Howard and then try to rotate to the shooters?"

Brown: "It's not that simple, mainly because if you just play him head up he is quicker than Ilgauskas and he's bigger than Varejao, so consequently at some time during the game you are going to have to double-team him. In the previous (regular season) games, Orlando won two games to one and they made 11 out of 28 threes on average--28 threes is a ton. If they are going to win the series then they will have to shoot that kind of percentage but as far as just saying we are going to single team Howard--if you single him, he kicks out and the shot goes up, he is going to hurt you on the offensive board. He is number one in the league in offensive rebounding and where he made the deciding factor in the Boston series was on the offensive board and with second chance points, so when the shot goes up two guys have got to get to him. No one guy is going to keep him off of the glass, if he's working--that's a big statement: IF."

Friedman: "So you are saying that the Cavs will have to use multiple strategies and coverages."

Brown: "Yeah, you have to change it up and see how he's going but the biggest thing is can Ilgauskas keep him off of the rim and can he force Howard into shooting (rather than dunking)--because he can't shoot: he's not a jump shooter, his hook is questionable. But the big thing is that if he overpowers you with a drop step, now you are in all kinds of trouble. He can do that to Ilgauskas and he can do that to Varejao, because he has a major weight advantage."

Friedman: "Would one good strategy for Cleveland be to double-team him on the dribble, kind of make him catch it further out and then double when he puts it on the floor, trying to take advantage of his passing and ballhandling?"

Brown: "All of that is great but as soon as you double you are opening up three point shooting. The first pass out (of the trap) they'll rotate (defensively) but the second pass is where they (the Magic) will hurt you. Now you are playing their game. That is how they want you to play."

Friedman: "Orlando won the regular season series with Cleveland but who do you favor in this playoff matchup? Who do you think has the stronger team?"

Brown: "Look, throw out the 8-0 (Cleveland playoff record), because Detroit was horrible and then Atlanta had three starters out. So this is their first legitimate competition. Now, you say, how did this team (Orlando) beat them two of out three and eight of the last 11? This team must do something right (versus Cleveland) from a defensive standpoint that nobody else is doing in the Eastern Conference; they play them better than anybody: they change up and they do a lot of things."

Friedman: "I'm sure you heard the statement that Jerry West made about LeBron being the best player in the NBA and Kobe being the best player in the clutch. What is your take on both of those things, best player and best player in the clutch?"

Brown: "First of all, one guy is 31 years old and the other guy is 24, so forget it. One guy is a guard and the other guy is a small forward who is a small forward/power forward. So, they are not even in the same category, but if you are starting a franchise then you are taking LeBron James. He's elevated his game this year; forget the MVP thing, he's second in the league in votes for Defensive Player of the Year and all of the great players--Kobe Bryant is on the All-Defensive Team almost every year, Michael Jordan is one of the greatest defensive players ever, Oscar Robertson--the thing that separates them is not the points but whether they play both ends of the floor. Now LeBron has made a major step in that direction. He's probably the quickest guy with or without the ball from rim to rim--and there are 450 guys in this league. He's definitely the best passer in traffic that we have in the league, in my opinion; if not, you might give me one or two other guys who can pass as well as he does. Plus, he sees over the traps and he will unselfishly make the correct pass every single time. Now, he makes the pass and it is catchable: that is a major issue. So, the points you take for granted, the rebounding, the assists, the steals, the blocked shots--all incredible--but it is the other intangibles that he does that make him an elite force now in the league. Now, you say 'Who is better in the fourth quarter?', you probably take Kobe Bryant but I'm not so sure of that. Kobe can make the threes at a higher percentage over LeBron but Kobe wasn't a great three point shooter either for a while. This guy's three point shooting is coming fast and he's now taking more. You just look at his shooting stats (for the playoffs) going into tonight, he's up at 53% (from the field) and he's over 35% on threes, 75% on the free throw line, so he's improving. He's improving."

Friedman: "It really is remarkable. His numbers in the playoffs are like video game numbers. You said that you can discount Detroit but those are still incredible numbers. Off the charts."

Brown: "Right. He's such a physical force of nature, because we have never seen an athlete his size who is this quick, this nimble, this acrobatic. I haven't seen it and I've been around (the NBA/ABA) since 1973."

Friedman: "Do you see a similarity with the young Dr. J in terms of the way that LeBron attacks the hoop, except that LeBron is bigger? The aggressiveness with which he attacks the hoop seems reminiscent of Dr. J."

Brown: "Well, this guy is a force. Doc could never pass like this. I coached against Doc in the ABA. No, Doc couldn't pass like this guy and he couldn't defend like this guy" (note: Rod Thorn, an assistant coach when Erving played for the Nets in the ABA, offers a much more positive appraisal of Erving's defense: "He had great lateral quickness and he was a tremendous jumper. He was a tough guy--that is one thing that is not talked about that much when you talk about Julius, because of his great athleticism, but he was a tough guy. I mean he would physically get after guys and play hard. He took a challenge. He played 43-44 minutes a game for us and guarded the best guy on the other team every night and was our leading scorer, so the energy that he expended during a game was much more than the average player did. It was just phenomenal what he did").

Friedman: "I meant more in terms of the way that they attack the hoop."

Brown: "Going to the rim and the sensational (moves)--look, in the ABA before Doc got hurt (suffering tendinitis in his knees), what he did in the ABA dunking and so forth, I have never seen in this league, ever; by the time he came to the NBA, he was damaged--and he was still spectacular, but nothing like he was in the NBA: he would turn your building against you. Back then we would play each other like 12 times, six times in each building, and your building would be sold out and he would do things that were just amazing, how he would hold the ball and come from the wing and do all kinds of great stuff. He was terrific."

Friedman: "Do you see a comparison between LeBron and the ABA Doc purely in terms of attacking the hoop?"

Brown: "No, I wouldn't say that. This guy doesn't play like that. Doc was more in the air, floating, doing all kinds of spectacular stuff. This guy is a brute force. This guy splits double teams and he is a better dribbler than Doc."

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posted by David Friedman @ 6:07 PM

7 comments

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7 Comments:

At Friday, May 22, 2009 2:50:00 AM, Blogger JLK said...

Absolutely wonderful stuff from Hubie.

Despite all the match up issues, I keep coming back to the fact that Orlando shot 55% and only won by 1 point.

It was kind of an odd game. Orlando played a decidedly outside-in game, lots of assists, but only one for Howard, and you have Howard taking 20 shots but only attempting 2 free throws. Cleveland had more 3 point shot attempts, and despite James carrying so much of the scoring load, every Cavs starter scored more than 10. In short the box score has some strange things in it. There will be big adjustments for the next game, will be very fun to watch.

 
At Friday, May 22, 2009 9:46:00 AM, Blogger madnice said...

Hubie is the best. James is no where near as graceful as Doc with the dunking but I think people underestimate the power Doc dunked with. He has broken peoples wrist with his dunks.

The James and Bryant comparison he explained perfectly and you can go no further than the first sentence to understand why. one player is 31. one is 24. thats makes all the difference.

you need to interview hubie more frequently. i know you cant but he doesnt buy into the hype of the media. he straight basketball and the truth and essence of the game.

 
At Friday, May 22, 2009 3:46:00 PM, Blogger FreeCashFlow said...

Hubie is awesome, I could almost hear his voice as I read that!

 
At Saturday, May 23, 2009 2:47:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

Nice interview, David.

It's interesting how varied the views of Julius Erving's defense are. Some guys, like Kevin Loughery and Rod Thorn, have nothing but the best to say about that aspect of Erving's game. Others, like Hubie Brown and Jack Ramsay haven't seemed that impressed. Several basketball books I've read have also sort of mentioned in passing that Erving wasn't much of a defender (I believe one was about street basketball legends, another was a book by Ralph Wiley).

I know you generally feel otherwise, but I wonder how much a reputation, once it is established, matters in the general opinion of a given player's defense. For instance, Julius Erving made the All-Defensive First Team his last season in the ABA, but never made an All-Defensive Team in the NBA. Did his defense really change all that much? One thing which may be likely is that after Bobby Gross and Bob Dandridge had big playoff series against the 76ers, Dr. J got the reputation of not being a top defender, and this stuck throughout his career. His reputation from the ABA as a top defender didn't carry over because he was dealing with a new crowd in a new league. (I know Gross and Dandridge weren't blowing by him in one-on-one situations, and that they were getting a lot of their points on the break or with the help of screens. As you know, however, basketball analysts sometimes do not look at the entire picture.)

By contrast, I wonder how much of an impact Larry Bird's Game 7 performance against the 76ers in 1981 (where he made several key steals) and other similar performances had on his subsequent (and questionable) All-Defensive Second Team selections. Did some high-profile steals establish Bird's reputation as a good defender?

It's interesting to see how much people rave about LeBron's ability to get steals and block shots as a wing player. Dr. J was even better in this aspect of the game, and I wonder how much publicity he would have gotten for it if he played today.

 
At Sunday, May 24, 2009 3:15:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Vednam:

You are correct that there are widely divergent views about Doc's defense. He obviously was great at playing passing lanes and blocking shots. In general, I don't think that he was a "lockdown" defender; in certain situations he proved capable of playing that role--as Thorn told me--but he was at his best as a "free safety" and Loughery used him in that role to good effect during the Nets' championship seasons. In fact, early in Doc's first season with the Nets Loughery almost over used Doc, wearing him out because the Nets pressed so much; Loughery backed off on that and only used the press in key situations after that.

Despite all of the fuss made about LeBron's "chase down" blocks and Wade's blocked shots, the numbers that those guys put up in that category would have been subpar for Erving for most of his career. I agree with you that if Doc played in today's climate he would have a better defensive reputation, because all of his steals and blocked shots would be on the nightly highlight shows.

 
At Sunday, May 24, 2009 5:34:00 AM, Anonymous Metin said...

As much as i respect Hubie Brown, he has some listening problems, i guess. You asked "Is there a similarity between Dr.J and LeBron in terms of attacking the rim and after saying irrelevant things in the first two, he could come up with a relevant answer. Well, i'm not a native speaker but i could understand everything the first time.

 
At Sunday, May 24, 2009 12:16:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Metin:

Part of the time that I was interviewing Brown a singer was practicing the National Anthem pretty close to where we were standing, so it is possible that the first time through he did not completely understand that I was asking about comparing their playing styles in terms of attacking the hoop rather than their overall games--and there was not time to wait for it to get quieter because Brown was pressed for time to attend to some of his other duties, so I was trying to ask as many questions as I could in the amount of time that I had. Imagine the kind of interviews I could do if I had the luxury of getting an hour one on one in a quiet studio like Stephen A. Smith and Michael Wilbon get!

 

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