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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Jeff Van Gundy Sounds Off on Iverson, Isiah and Redick

Hubie Brown and Doug Collins have long been the gold standard for NBA color commentators but Jeff Van Gundy's candor and insight have moved him up to just below their level; the only drawbacks with Van Gundy are some of his forced attempts at humor and his occasional off the wall comments (that perhaps are meant tongue in cheek).

During the telecast of New York's Friday night 105-95 win over Orlando--which must have been awkward for Van Gundy since his brother Stan coaches the Magic--Jeff Van Gundy provided concise and accurate analysis about a variety of NBA subjects:

1) Van Gundy said that it is wrong to place all of the blame for Detroit's poor performance this season on Allen Iverson. The Pistons have changed coaches and endured far more injury problems than they faced in previous seasons. Although Van Gundy did not mention this, it is also worth noting that as part of the Chauncey Billups-Iverson trade, Detroit's leading rebounder Antonio McDyess was also dealt to Denver and--by NBA rules--the Pistons could not re-sign him for a month. Van Gundy said that the rest of the Pistons are being given a free pass for their collapse from last season's 59-23 record while everyone simply piles blame on Iverson.

2) Similarly, Van Gundy said that while it is easy for everyone in New York to blast Isiah Thomas, the truth is that Thomas did a great job of selecting players in the draft, particularly his late first round selections (including David Lee and Nate Robinson). Van Gundy added that Thomas made some mistakes with his free agent signings but he deserves to be given credit for bringing in a number of young players who are playing key roles with the Knicks.

3) Van Gundy pointed out that the Knicks used a defensive strategy against the Magic that other teams would be wise to copy: single cover Dwight Howard in the post while the perimeter defenders stay attached to Orlando's three point shooters. Howard has yet to show that he can consistently go off for 35 or 40 points, so there is no need to double team him; Howard has only scored 35 points or more three times this season--and the Magic lost two of those games. Howard is often compared to Shaquille O'Neal but when O'Neal was a young beast he would drop 30 or more points on any team that single covered him, particularly in the playoffs; Howard has yet to score 30 points even once in his 14 game playoff career and has had fewer than 20 points in eight of those 14 contests. O'Neal scored 32 points in his 14th career playoff game and had only two games of fewer than 20 points in his first 14 playoff games; O'Neal added two more 30 point efforts in his next seven playoff games as he led the Magic to the NBA Finals in just his third year in the league, 1994-95, when he won the regular season scoring title with a 29.3 ppg average, a total that Howard has surpassed in just nine games this year while averaging a career-best 20.9 ppg in his fifth season.

That is why even though Howard's rebounding and defensive dominance make him a lock for the All-NBA First Team and a top five MVP candidate there is no way I would rank him ahead of LeBron James, Kobe Bryant or Dwyane Wade in the MVP race--and the same thing is true of Chris Paul, another excellent player whose team can best be contained by guarding him one on one and staying attached to the three point shooters: Paul has scored 35 or more points just four times this season and his New Orleans Hornets lost three of those games. If a team is foolish enough to single cover James, Bryant or Wade, any of those players will go off for 40 or 50 points while shooting a good percentage and their teams will most likely win but Howard and Paul do not have the skill sets and/or dispositions to dominate by scoring in that fashion.

4) Van Gundy observed that the Magic do not have enough players who are capable of creating dribble penetration. Jon Barry accused the Magic of "settling for three pointers" but Van Gundy made an important distinction: the Magic are not "settling for three pointers" but in fact "maximizing what (they) do well." Van Gundy added that Rashard Lewis is not going to post up power forwards, not is Courtney Lee going to break down his man off of the dribble; other than posting up Howard, the Magic's best offensive weapon is the three point shot. This goes back to point #3: Magic opponents should strive to take away the three point shot and dare Howard to go off for 35 or 40 points.

5) J.J. Redick shot 0-7 from the field and he looked even worse on defense. Redick is averaging 6.0 ppg on .394 field goal shooting in 17.5 mpg this season and it hardly seems likely that the former Lottery pick will ever make a significant impact in the league. He is listed at 6-4, 190 but I've seen him in person and can say that 6-4 is a most generous estimate; Redick has hit the weights a bit since entering the league and may very well be a bit bigger than 190 but he is of course still giving away 15-20 pounds to most shooting guards even if he actually weighs 200. Van Gundy said that Redick is simply too short to be effective at either end of the court; on defense, opposing players can just shoot right over him, while on offense Redick's diminutive stature means that he has to alter his natural shooting motion at times even to get his shot off, which is part of the reason that he is not shooting well from the field. Barry--a 6-4, 195, 14 year NBA veteran--added that one of the biggest differences between college and the NBA is the speed of the game. In the NBA it is imperative to have a quick release, something that Redick does not have; Van Gundy and Barry mentioned that similarly sized players from the 1990s and early 2000s such as Jeff Hornacek (6-3, 190) and Dell Curry (6-4, 190) had much quicker shot releases than Redick, while a contemporary player like Kyle Korver (6-7, 210) is much bigger than Redick and has a quicker shot release. An extra inch of height or a split second quicker release may not seem like much but Van Gundy said that those things make the difference between being able to make an on balance attempt with good form and having to change your shooting motion or rush your shot. Of course, long-time 20 Second Timeout readers know that I have made similar points about Redick on many occasions, including a March Madness post in 2006 during the height of Redick's acclaimed collegiate career in which I predicted that he would be drafted higher than he should be and would likely become the next Trajan Langdon. Langdon (6-3, 197) averaged 5.4 ppg in 14.6 mpg while shooting .416 from the field in three NBA seasons and is now a productive player in Russia, thriving in FIBA play where his strengths as a spot up shooter are maximized and his weaknesses as a ballhandler and defender can be masked. Redick has averaged 5.5 ppg in 14.4 mpg while shooting .407 from the field in his three NBA seasons. Perhaps Van Gundy will enlighten David Thorpe about the true nature of Redick's skill set, since my attempt to do so fell on deaf ears.

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:35 AM



At Monday, April 13, 2009 2:46:00 AM, Anonymous JordanPushedOff said...

Van Gundy is correct that Isiah Thomas brought good young talent to the Knicks, including Lee, Robinson, Jeffries, and Chandler. They could still have Trevor Ariza, too, but Isiah inexplicably traded him away in 2006 to get a washed-up Steve Francis. And why did Donnie Walsh let Renaldo Balkman go to Denver last summer? Balkman is very solid at the scrappy role he plays.

At Monday, April 13, 2009 4:30:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jordan Pushed Off:

The Francis deal and the Marbury signing are two reasons that Van Gundy made a distinction between Isiah's drafting prowess and some of Isiah's other decisions. Van Gundy's point is that even though Isiah made some--or a lot--of mistakes in one area he also did some good things, including drafting players who could end up ultimately playing a role in the revitalization of the franchise.

I like Balkman's game and am not sure why Walsh let him go. When Isiah drafted Balkman he compared him to Rodman and the "experts" scoffed but Isiah proved to be right in the sense that Balkman has carved out a role for himself as a scrappy, defensive player.


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