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Saturday, June 06, 2009

Bill Russell on Dwight Howard

Ahmad Rashad and the NBA TV pregame show crew (Gary Payton, Chris Webber) spoke with 11-time NBA champion Bill Russell prior to game one of the Finals. Russell made three very interesting comments, two about Dwight Howard and one about the NBA playoffs in general:

1) Russell said that after a person gets to the top of his field is precisely when he has to work the hardest or else "you won't be on top that long." Russell added that Dwight Howard--the All-NBA First Team center two years in a row, signifying that he is the best player in the NBA at that position--is a "very good" player but he must continue to work on his game.

2) Although many people believe that Howard should diversify his post game by adding some back to the basket moves, Russell said that Howard should instead focus on becoming the best passing big man in the NBA. Russell explained that the modern NBA defensive rules allow zones that create certain openings and Howard must become better at squeezing passes through those openings. Russell recalled meeting with Yao Ming when he first entered the NBA and telling him that there are 11 different kinds of passes that can be made from the post, which surprised Yao. Sadly, Rashad, Payton and Webber neglected to ask Russell the natural followup question, namely to describe in brief detail those 11 passes. I suspect that the list would include--in no particular order--(1) the bounce pass to a cutter, (2) a handoff to a cutter followed by screening the man defending the cutter (think Wilt Chamberlain to Gail Goodrich in the classic footage from the 1972 NBA champions), (3) a straight line pass back to the player who fed the post after his man double-teamed the post player, (4) a shuffle pass to a cutter in the lane, (5) a diagonal crosscourt pass, (6) a crosscourt pass to the opposite corner, (7) a pass to an open shooter in the strongside corner, (8) a behind the back pass to hit a cutter on the baseline and (9) a hook pass to hit a cutter if the post defender's hands are low to guard against the bounce pass/behind the back pass. A post player should also be able to make the Wes Unseld two hands behind the head outlet pass after securing a defensive rebound. I'm not sure if Russell was including the outlet pass in his post player passing repertoire but even if he was I still did not quite come up with 11 passes.

3) Russell said that despite all of the talk about teams making adjustments in the NBA playoffs the truth of the matter is that a team has to stick with what it does well. Russell noted that if his Celtics went through a stretch in which they played poorly they did not focus on what they were not doing well but instead tried to get back to doing the things that they individually and collectively did well. Russell concluded, with his trademark laugh, that if a team does not have any good rebounders that it makes no sense for the coach to fret about the team's rebounding and say that they have to improve in that area; it would be more effective for that team to concentrate on the things that it does well.

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:40 AM



At Monday, June 08, 2009 12:15:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting to hear Bill Russell's observations. Howard reminds me of Alonzo Mourning with greater hops and athleticism and a more pleasant demeanor.

Speaking of Russell and his generation, I've been having a debate with a guy about greatest offensive players ever. His view is that players like Wilt Chamberlain should not even be in the discussion (He favors Jordan and Kobe) because of the different style of play and the rules during that era. I find that kind of ludicrous. By his logic, then Russell should not be included in the discussion for greatest defensive players ever, which I find equally laughable.

I know you're busy with the finals, David, but I'd be interested in hearing your take on such a discussion.


At Monday, June 08, 2009 4:08:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Russell has to be on the short list of the greatest defensive players ever; his defense and rebounding were the missing pieces for the high scoring Celtics teams that had previously repeatedly fallen short of winning championships.

Howard and Mourning are obviously completely different in terms of demeanor. In terms of skill sets, Mourning shot better but was not as dominant down low as Howard is. Howard is a much better rebounder and probably at least as good defensively, even though Mourning actually blocked more shots.

At Monday, June 08, 2009 10:41:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comments, David.

I agree with the assessment of Mourning-Howard. I've yet to see Howard hit a face-up jumper in these playoffs, even a short one, something Mourning could do. But Howard is such an athletic beast. It'll be interesting to see how his game develops in the years ahead.

I'm stunned that some people would actually discount a whole generation of great players just because they played "a long time ago." Just found it amusing.

Thanks for taking the time to reply.



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