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Friday, November 20, 2009

Gilbert Arenas Sought Charley Rosen's Advice--but Did not Follow It

Charley Rosen recently wrote an interesting account of how Gilbert Arenas responded to some of Rosen's critiques of Arenas' game:

A couple of years back, one of the Wizards public relations staff called in response to my pointing out that Gilbert Arenas tended to turn his head on defense and was burned by two or three backdoor plays every game. Arenas wanted to know, the PR guy said, what he could do to prevent this, and what other pieces of his game I thought could be improved.

Although this was the provenance of his coaches, the PR guy diligently took notes as I discussed how to avoid being back-doored. Actually, it's just by adhering to a fundamental defensive principle--open up until you can see both the ball and your man. If the specific angles prohibit this, then watch the ball while keeping some physical connection--a hand on the nearest hip will do--with your man.

Anything else?

I talked about Arenas' shot selection, and his frequent domination of the ball.

Anything else?

Yes. I wasn't particularly fond of the way Arenas spun the basketball prior to releasing his free throws. Remembering how Arenas had botched a pair of last-second free throws that cost the Wiz a playoff game against the Cavs back in 2006, the PR person was eager to relay my advice to Arenas.

The problem with spinning the ball the way Arenas does is that he doesn't end up with the same grip as he prepares to shoot. Sometimes his fingers are aligned with the seams and sometimes not. And shooting free throws is all about duplicating the same pre-shot posture and preparation, the same grip, the same rhythm, and the same stroke on every shot. Even the slightest variation requires a slight adjustment that destroys the groove the shooter seeks to maintain.

As good a natural shooter as he is, Arenas should also be at least five percentage points higher than his lifetime free-throw accuracy of 80.9 percent--77.3 percent in the playoffs. Paying more attention to being consistent rather than flashy was the answer.

OK! Arenas would be thrilled to hear all of this. Thanks.

Glad to be of help.

The next time the Wizards played, I zeroed in on Arenas' defense.

Nope, he still lost visual and physical contact with his man in order to follow the bouncing ball.

Nope, he still massaged the ball too much and took bad shots.

Ah, but on his first trip to the stripe, he avoided circling the ball around his waist and made sure that his hands were in optimum position on the ball before releasing his shot--which hit the rim softly, made two complete circles, and then dropped off.

On his second free throw, Arenas was back to his great-circle routine. The shot was good.

The experiment was over forever.

So far this season, he's shooting 72.9 percent from the stripe.

The Sporting News--and others--declared that Arenas' healthy return would transform the Washington Wizards into serious Eastern Conference contenders; I predicted that the Wizards would merely go back to being what they have always been when Arenas was healthy: a lower level playoff team. So far, the Wizards have not even met my expectations, compiling a 3-7 record that places them six games behind the Southeast Division-leading Atlanta Hawks in the Southeast Division and just a half game ahead of the cellar dwelling Charlotte Bobcats (who have performed worse than I expected and have already significantly changed their roster by acquiring the volatile Stephen Jackson). There is apparently a mainstream media rule against criticizing the popular Arenas, so his defenders are quick to assert that Arenas is not really himself yet and that he has not fully recovered from the knee injuries/surgeries that cost him the better part of the past two seasons. I agree that the "eyeball test" shows that Arenas does not have quite the same explosiveness that he did a couple years ago--but the numbers show that he is essentially the same player that he has always been. Here are his averages this season after 10 games, with his career averages listed in parentheses:

36.8 mpg (37.3), 22.9 ppg (22.8), 7.6 FGM/g (7.3), 19.3 FGA/g (17.2), .394 FG% (.426), 2.1 3FGM/g (2.1), 5.3 3FGA/g (5.8), .396 3FG% (.359), 5.6 FTM/g (6.0), 7.6 FTA/g (7.4), .737 FT% (.807), 3.8 rpg (4.2), 6.5 apg (5.5 apg), 1.2 spg (1.7), 4.2 TO/g (3.3).

The main difference in Arenas' game so far is that his reaction to his lower field goal percentage is to jack up a couple more shots per game. He has always been an erratic, inefficient player; that has not changed and it is not likely to change. Arenas is not entirely to blame for Washington's disappointing start; the Wizards missed the contributions of Antawn Jamison, who just scored 31 points in his season debut--a victory over Cleveland--after sitting out the first nine games because of a shoulder injury. Assuming that Jamison stays healthy, the Wizards will likely rally to finish above .500, some fools will say that Arenas deserves All-NBA (or even MVP) consideration and then the Wizards will get blasted in the first round and we will not have to hear about them until next fall.

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:01 PM



At Saturday, November 21, 2009 5:07:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

I wonder if this is a true story, or if Rosen just made this up (as he has shown he is capable of doing).

Anyway, I agree with all of your critiques of Arenas and the Wizards. I'm still scratching my head over the fact that the Wizards gave him a huge extension after he had missed virtually an entire season.

I know this is off topic, but I was wondering what you think of the Spurs so far. While I certainly expect them to improve upon their current winning percentage, I think their championship window has closed for good. And it's not just because fielding a healthy team has become such a problem (Manu Ginobili seems to be turning into Tracy McGrady). Defensively, they've slipped too far from where they were 2-3 years ago. I think this is because:

1. Bowen is gone
2. Duncan has lost a step and can't cover up his teammates' mistakes as much as he used to
3. Guys who simply can't guard anyone (Matt Bonner, Michael Finley, Roger Mason) are getting too many minutes

Popovich has proven himself as a top-notch coach, but I can't understand why he keeps playing horrible defenders. Maybe he feels he has no other choice if he wants to keep the minutes of his star players down.

Sorry to go off topic. I'm just really interested in any thoughts you might have regarding the Spurs.

At Sunday, November 22, 2009 1:55:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I know that you do not think highly of Rosen. I do not agree with everything that he says but his remarks about Arenas are on point--and it is certainly plausible that Arenas would act like he is interested in becoming a better all around player (presumably hoping that Rosen would report about Arenas' diligence) but not really make the effort to change how he plays.

I think that it is too early to make any definitive judgments about the Spurs, particularly because they tend to peak later in the season. However, your observations are generally correct regarding their problems and you are right to be concerned. Bowen had lost a step, so it is understandable that the Spurs let him go but it is true that they have not replaced Bowen's defensive tenacity. Popovich concentrated on upgrading his team's offensive firepower (Jefferson, McDyess) both as a cushion against injuries to key players and also because he felt that the Spurs had to be more explosive offensively to compete with the Lakers, Nuggets and some of the other West teams that outperformed the Spurs last year.

The biggest problem for the Spurs appears to be that Duncan has lost a step, something that is particularly evident on defense. I am not sure if this is a permanent condition or if he is simply laboring due to injury. Duncan's lack of mobility is all the more glaring because he is not paired with another seven footer who can block (or at least contest) shots.

Although it does seem like the Spurs' window is closing, this could still be a formidable team come playoff time if Duncan's leg heals and the Spurs put out a crunchtime lineup consisting of Duncan, McDyess, Jefferson, Ginobili and Parker.

Ironically, the Spurs handed the Wizards their worst loss of the season (106-84) on Saturday night. Arenas shot 7-18 from the field--a .389 percentage that is right in line with his season average--but griped that he is the player who is sacrificing the most on the team and that he could have shot more times but he tried to get his teammates involved. He apparently failed in that regard, with three turnovers but just two assists, and it is hilarious that he thinks that what his defense-challenged team needs is for him to jack up more shots at a conversion rate below .400.

At Monday, November 23, 2009 11:42:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

Rosen is in many ways worse than some of the writers that you've recently been critical of. He makes just as many careless errors in his work as some of the people you've singled-out. But on top of that, Rosen has shown a willingness to make up elaborate fictitious accounts of historical events involving players he doesn't like (see his book on the 1972 Lakers). That's pretty low, and goes way beyond being biased. Any writer who blatantly lies like that that loses all their credibility. So I have no idea if Arenas' PR guy actually contacted Rosen, or if any of his other stories are true.

I'm not saying Rosen is incapable of making good points. He sometimes does. And I like that he actually tries to analyze games from an x's and o's perspective. But even if you discount the fact that he's a liar, he is very inconsistent in his own opinions and analysis, makes lots of outrageous assertions, and indulges in too much armchair psychology. He's as much of a hack as anyone.

Anyway, I think you might be right that Duncan's decline is the Spurs' biggest problem. Even in decline, he's still a tremendous player. I don't know how a guy with mobility issues who can't jump anymore manages to get as many rebounds and block as many shots as he does. The fact that it's not quite enough for the Spurs just goes to show how important he has been to the team.

From what I understand, Duncan suffered last year from tendonosis, which is a chronic condition. He rested a lot over the summer, so I don't think his leg's condition will be much better than it is now.

The Spurs have made tried to get Duncan some help. McDyess is more mobile than other recent Spurs big men, and Theo Ratliff can still block shots. But both of these guys are in their mid-30s. I still can't figure out why Popovich plays Matt Bonner so much. I can't think of a more athletically challenged big in the league who logs regular minutes. Maybe Popovich is just trying to save his older, more capable bigs for the playoffs.

As for Ginobili, most guards who rely on athleticism decline noticably in their early 30s, even if they are healthy. Ginobili has been so injury-prone over the last year and a half that it's very difficult to project him returning to his 05-07 form.

At Tuesday, November 24, 2009 4:45:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The guys I have referred to as "hacks" are incapable of writing coherently and display no insight whatsoever about the sport. Rosen writes in a lively, engaging style and he certainly knows how to analyze the sport.

Duncan is a highly skilled, highly intelligent player who has long arms and great hands; those are the reasons why he is still productive on the boards even though he is obviously laboring physically. I agree with you about how important he is--and always has been--for the Spurs.

The corner three pointer is a big part of the Spurs' offense and Popovich believes that it is important to have shooters on the floor to provide good spacing. That is why he uses Bonner so much. Whether he will continue to do so--particularly in the playoffs--depends on a variety of considerations, including matchups and how well/poorly some of the other Spurs play.

I agree that Manu will likely never return to his 05-07 form but that is part of the reason that the Spurs acquired Jefferson. If Manu can simply get healthy enough to return to action in some capacity then he will provide an important boost to the team.

At Friday, November 27, 2009 4:11:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

Rosen can make some good points, as I said before. But I think anyone claiming to be a historian (even a "basketball historian") should be held to a certain standard.

Here's a quote from one of his books. I don't know how anyone who has any respect for the history of the game or any sort of integrity as a writer could come up with it. I am sure you'll see how ridiculous it is on many levels.

"Indeed, the Lakers were in firm control of the game when Chamberlain committed his fifth personal foul late in the third quarter. Coach Butch van Breda Kolff immediately sent Mel Counts, a lanky seven foot jump shooter, in for Chamberlain.
Unfortunately, one of Chamberlain's most cherished personal records was his never having fouled out of a game. So when van Breda Kolff called for Chamberlain to reenter the fray midway through the fourth quarter, the big man refused, mumbling something about an aching knee. Infuriated by Wilt's monumental selfishness, van Breda Kolff vowed to keep Chamberlain on the bench and win the game, and the championship, with Counts.
As the game raced toward the wire with the Celtics relentlessly eating into the Lakers' lead, Chamberlain approached his coach and asked to return to the action. But the always stubborn van Breda Kolff refused, and Chamberlain sat on the bench for the duration."

The sad thing is most basketball fans know little about the history of the game. Guys like Rosen can go around rewriting history and no one will call them on it. Instead, such alternative histories will be accepted as fact.

At Friday, November 27, 2009 9:49:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You are correct that the quoted passage contains several errors. I take what Rosen--and anyone else--writes with a serious grain of salt but his comments about Arenas ring true: Rosen accurately described Arenas' skill set weaknesses and the fact that Arenas has not taken any noticeable action to fix those weaknesses.


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