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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

ESPN's NBA Coast to Coast Discusses Ron Artest, the Importance of Passing from the Post and the Ben Wallace Effect

On most Tuesday nights during the NBA season, ESPN2 airs a program called NBA Coast to Coast. The show features live "look ins" on the night's NBA action wrapped around commentary by several NBA analysts. Mark Morgan hosted the most recent edition, with Greg Anthony, Tim Legler and Bill Walton providing in studio commentary. Marc Stein and Ric Bucher also chimed in via satellite remote during some segments. The three most interesting discussions concerned low post/high post passing, Ron Artest and the effect of the Ben Wallace signing on Detroit and Chicago.

The passing segment was a real treat--and probably an eye opener for viewers who are too young to remember when Bill Walton was a dominant center in college and then for the 1977 NBA Champion Portland Trail Blazers. Walton stood on the studio's demonstration court and began by saying that although Yao Ming is scoring and rebounding at a good clip there is one area in which he could improve: passing. Then Walton moved to the low post and someone from off camera began feeding him passes in the post. As soon as Walton caught the ball he effortlessly delivered passes to imaginary cutters, showcasing over the head flip passes, bounce passes and over the shoulder passes, among others. Walton described how a good post passer can be the hub of a smoothly functioning offensive machine. Then, Anthony and Legler joined him on the court. They executed screens and cuts away from the ball and Walton passed to one or the other as he became "open." Walton emphasized that the other players must not simply stand around; they should constantly move, putting pressure on the defense, and the post player must be able to make accurate, pin point passes when a cutter becomes open. Some "extras" came on to the court as post defenders and Walton demonstrated how a post player should use his elbows to protect the ball, lean into the double-teamer (instead of fading away) and whistle the pass right over his ear in a way that the defender cannot block it.

Next, Walton moved to the high post and showed how a good post player can use well timed pivoting moves to screen defenders and open lanes for cutters. Walton said that Boris Diaw is the best active player at performing such moves. Walton's wheels have been gone for decades, but this segment showed the eyes and hands that at one time helped to make him the best player in the game.

Ron Artest has been grumbling recently that he is not getting enough touches and that Sacramento's offense should be run through him. Stein and Bucher noted that this should not surprise anyone because Artest was originally brought in to be the team's best player and because one of the problems that he had in Indiana was that he felt that he was the best player on the team but played a secondary role to Jermaine O'Neal on offense. Anthony and Legler agreed that no one should be surprised at Artest's complaints and basically said that Artest is right: he is the best player on the team and the offense should be run through him. Legler said that Mike Bibby is a jump shooting point guard and Kevin Martin is inexperienced, so neither one should be the focal point of the offense at Artest's expense. Walton added that Artest plays well and says the right things when the team is winning but as soon as there is any form of adversity "all heck breaks loose."

Artest is probably right, but here is a good thought experiment: what would most NBA analysts say if a certain Lakers guard publicly complained that he does not get enough touches and the offense should be run through him to a greater degree? Would the response be that this player is right, that he is the best player on the team and should get the ball more? Or would the answer be that this player is selfish and only cares about his own statistics? My take is that a team's best player should handle the ball the most and create shots for himself and his teammates based on the situation and the deployment of the other team's defense. If the opening is there for him to shoot a high percentage shot, then that is what he should do; otherwise, he should draw a double-team and create an open shot for a teammate. It makes no sense for a team's best player to go through long stretches when he does not touch the ball.

One of the live "look ins" was Portland's 88-85 win in Auburn Hills versus the Detroit Pistons. Zach Randolph overpowered the defense to score the decisive basket and Rip Hamilton shot an airball three pointer as time ran out. Anthony said that Detroit misses Ben Wallace in critical late possessions when the Pistons have to get a stop. Legler added, "He makes up for a lot of mistakes. He enables you to gamble defensively and gives you extra possessions with offensive rebounding. Detroit is still the best team in the Eastern Conference but when you lose to Charlotte, New Orleans and Portland at home, you still have issues." Walton said, "Detroit is a team that does not come to play against inferior opponents" and he declared that Wallace's signing with Chicago has hurt both teams.

I think that Anthony hit the nail on the head. Detroit's "liberation offense" is great for 40 minutes or 45 minutes but to be an elite NBA team you have to be able to make crucial defensive stops. Without Wallace, Detroit is less able to do that. Legler's point about offensive rebounding is important as well. I don't understand why so many people only look at Wallace's scoring average or limited shooting range and completely ignore the numerous extra possessions he creates with his offensive rebounding; opponents have to deal with Wallace on the glass, which opens driving lanes for other players. By the end of the season, I don't think that too many people will be talking about Wallace's signing hurting the Bulls.

posted by David Friedman @ 12:15 AM


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At Wednesday, December 06, 2006 5:01:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

I agree that the Pistons need someone like the Ben Wallace of 2002-2005, but I don't think that the Ben Wallace of today would help them much. 8.8 rebounds per game and 1.6 blocks per game are very meager stats for someone who has almost no responsibility to score and is supposed to be a premier rebounder and shot-blocker. It might be a little more than what Nazr Mohammed brings to the table, but I don't think it would turn Detroit into champs again.

I think Joe Dumars did the right thing by letting Ben go. If Ben has already showed so much decline, imagine how underwhelming he'd be during the rest of his contract.

At Wednesday, December 06, 2006 3:48:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

It is a little early to say that 8.8 rpg and 1.6 bpg is the "Ben Wallace of today"--or, more specifically, the Ben Wallace that we will see in the playoffs, which is what really matters. Chicago acquired Wallace to shore up their defense in the paint during the playoffs. It is not yet clear if Wallace has declined or if his numbers are down simply because he is adjusting to being on a new team and his new team is adjusting to him. Sure, one could say that all he has to do is just go get rebounds and block shots, but basketball is not that simple. Each team has a different defensive philosophy, so Wallace and his teammates have to get used to how they position themselves on the court. His blocked shots may increase as the guards get a better idea of how to funnel their men toward him. Likewise, as the team's defense gets more in sync Wallace may be in better position to grab more rebounds.

At Thursday, December 07, 2006 7:50:00 AM, Anonymous Shawn Gill said...

Since I'm a Raptor's fan I rarely get to see the bulls,since i don't get league pass. The few timesI have seen the Bulls this season i've noticed that Ben Wallace seems to lack hist characteristic intensity and passion for the game. During the Rockets/Bulls game last month Ben spent a lot of the time on the pine and he just generally seemed disinterested. While, if i were a Bull's fan, i could live with his slow start stat wise I would be very disenchanted by his lack of enthusiasm for the game. You expect a businesslike approach from 'mercenaries' like Tim Thomas, a guy who is clearly only out for himself. With a guy like Wallace you hope for something more especially after he signed such a big contract.

At Friday, December 08, 2006 12:28:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Again, whether we are looking at Wallace statistically or from the standpoint of "intensity and passion," I think that it is a bit early to pass judgement on the Bulls' acquisition of the four-time Defensive Player of the Year. The Bulls brought him in to help them to become a better playoff team; obviously, Chicago wants to do well in the regular season--and having a good regular season record makes things easier in the playoffs because it can result in having home court advantage--but the postseason will be the proper time to assess Wallace's true impact on the Bulls (and the effect of his loss on the Pistons).


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