Thursday, March 02, 2006

By John W. Schmeelk

It’s funny how something deteriorates after a long time and you never notice it. It’s like moving a piece of furniture to find the real color your rug used to be. Or having the same bed for 15 years, and absolutely loving it until you lay on a new bed at a store and realizing it is actually uncomfortable. Or better yet, being absolutely in love with a sport and overlooking its faults because you do, not seeing what’s happened to it. This is what happens when you watch a league like the NBA everyday, when the style of play changes slowly but surely and you really don’t realize it until well… you do.

I realized that yesterday when I watched my Knicks dynasty series DVD, and the complete version of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final that featured Jordan’s Bulls and Ewing’s Knicks. It was a game that was only 13 years ago. And the difference in the league then and now was startling to me.

Here’s what’s wrong with the league today:

No ball movement
No true rivalries.
Hot teams play defense
Bad Officiating (caused by bad NBA rules changes)
Lack of Roleplayers

Here’s how I fix the league. Some answers are simple, others are far more complicated.

The last true rivalry to me was Knicks and Heat. You can make the case for Lakers-Kings, but I don’t buy it. There was no true hatred there. In that Knicks-Bulls game there were about 9 technicals, Scottie Pippen was ejected, and so was Greg Anthony for absolutely leveling Michael Jordan on a drive. You had that hatred with Knicks-Heat to a an absolutely extreme extent where there was a better chance of a fight in any given game than either team scoring ninety. Pistons-Pacers? Nah. And what else is there? Nada.

The reason is simple. Players don’t dislike one another anymore. Everyone is buddy-buddy and they take that onto the court with them. If I see any more slaps and hugs not only before the game but during between opposing players I’ll throw up. Never would have happened with the old rivalries where those guys hated each other.

I don’t know how to get players to hate each other again. But dare I say it has something to do with players’ will to win no matter the cost. These guys are more interested in being friends and making money than winning. A lot of this has to do with the ways games are officiated. Hard fouls ten years ago are flagrants now. Games aren’t as physical. It prevents animosity from growing between players. Other than that, I really can’t come up with anything. The only other way is to reintroduce the bruiser into the game, the enforcer, like Charles Oakley, Scott Williams, Dale Davis, or Dennis Rodman.

Get players like these enforcers back into the game. Everyone these days want to score 20 points and look pretty doing it, dunking the ball, crossing people over, swatting shots out of bounds and hitting long threes. This includes centers and power forwards.

What happened to the pass first point guard? The rebounding and defense oriented power forward? The pure jump shooter? The pure post up and shot blocking center? They barely exist anymore in the NBA. Rosters are no longer balanced, rather they are filled with guys that want to be stars.

Look at the Bulls title teams from those days and the breakdown.
Stars: Jordan, Pippen
True Pointguards: BJ Armstrong (a stretch but ill stick with it for the sake of argument)
Shooters: Trent Tucker, John Paxson
Pure Post Up Players: Stacey King, Bill Cartwright
Bruising, Rebounding Interior Players: Horace Grant, Stacey King, Will Perdue

A balanced roster, who would have imagined it? There is a way to get them.

Coaching on every level needs to improve. From high school, to college to the NBA. Good coaching produces roleplayers, good defense, ball movement, and the types of players that make games more enjoyable to watch. This needs to get into player’s head at a young age in high school, be reinforced in college and continued in the NBA. There’s no other way around it. Better coaching turns the sport into a team oriented game. I see these players in college, so they are out there so why aren’t they in the NBA?

GM’s and scouts need to better identify helping talent, with basketball ability, even if it is only in one area instead of trying to find a star in hiding with raw talent and physical ability with no idea what to do on a basketball court. Draft a guy who will be in your rotation for a decade and contribute something to your team than some guy that in five years will shoot 40% from the field but get a spectacular dunk now and then. Disallowing raw high school kids into the league will help this, but NBA talent evaluators and GM’s still need to do a better job.

Back in that 93 game, three pointers were few and far between. I won’t go so far as to say eliminate this in the NBA game. But certainly do away with it in high school and college. It will get players away from the showboat shot few can hit consistently and promote them to develop a far more useful midrange game. So many players shoot the 3 in the NBA that can’t make it and players are obsessed with simply standing behind the line waiting for an open look to hoist. If taking it out in high school and college doesn’t work, then the NBA has to say goodbye. The NBA is wisely experimenting with this in the NBDL .

This is the hard one. Get players to stop being so selfish. I mentioned this in coaching above but they can’t do everything. Having more roleplayers, like I mentioned above, will also help since powerforwards and centers who know their role won’t shoot a lot and pass first point guards promote unselfishness in their teammates. In the Knicks/Bulls game even with all time greats like Jordan and Ewing, and a chucker like John Starks there was 10 times the ball movement you see in game today.

However, the larger problem lies in the greater athletic ability of players today that allow them to go one on one so easily and score or go to the free throw line. This is not so easy to change. There are a few ways to help this.

The first would be to allow zone defense. It is almost impossible to isolate and score on a zone defense. This would force teams to employ good shooters, and move the ball to get open shots. I’m not a huge fan of this idea, as often times zone defenses leads to too much boring perimeter passing.

This is the second way to promote ball movement, allow players to actually play defense again. Watching that Knicks/Bulls game, both teams still scored in the nineties and there was some hardcore defense being played. There was full hand-checking on the perimeter, big men were allowed to contend shots in the paint, and instead of flopping to draw charges guys were actually playing legit D.

Re-allow the hand check rule. I understand why it was taken out, with games getting truly ugly in the late nineties, but I think guys are so athletic now it would never go back to that extreme. Even if you don’t complete reversion on this rule, at least let some more contact go on the perimeter like in the mid to late nineties. Let the guys play damnit. I remember watching those games ten years ago, and thinking that at every little contact Jordan got a foul called on him. Watching it today, if he was playing in this era he would have went to the line EVEN MORE the way the game is now officiated. Allowing this extra defense on the perimeter would make it more difficult to score one on one and promote passing to get open looks.

Change the way you call fouls in the paint. In that game in 1993, I saw maybe 2-3 charges called the entire game. And these were the two best defensive teams in the league that season. On dribble penetration big men would actually try to block and alter shots instead of flopping to draw charges. And rarely a foul was called unless there was a lot of contact. Let’s please get back to this. As it is in today’s game big men get called for WAY too many fouls and it is rare when they aren’t in foul trouble in a given game. Let more contact go on the inside as well, and you’ll get better flow. The fear of getting whacked going into the lane might also deter some of the softer perimeter players from taking it in themselves sometimes.

The last way to lessen one on one play is to start calling more violations on the offense. Reinforce the traveling rule in terms of lifting up the pivot before putting the ball down and allowing that extra step on dribble drive moves. Don’t let players carry it as much. With these two enforced rules in place believe me, the success of one on one play will decrease sharply, and team’s will be forced to find open shots by passing.

I realize it sounds backwards, that to get a better offensive game you need to allow teams to play better defense, but unfortunately that’s the only way to really do it. The only way one on one play will ever stop is give defenders a chance to stop it. Right now unless you’re Bruce Bowen, you have no shot.

There’s how you fix the league. It’ll never happen anytime soon, play hasn’t deteriorated enough. But where there is a will there is a way. Maybe, we’ll get this some day. Hope you enjoyed the Clyde Frasier-esque rhyming.

Random Rumblings
- Cut day today in the NFL - with no CBA this is going to be REAL ugly, and the teams under the cap this offseason will have ENDLESS opportunities to sign veterans at bargain basemant prices. And the Redskins will finally get their cummuppence for all those bad contracts. That's a shame.
- There are three possibilities as to how Jim Dolan thinks his GM's plan is working:
1. James Dolan is the dumbest man alive.
2. James Dolan is addicted to some sort of hallucinogen.
3. Isiah actually has him hyptnotized.
Maybe it's all three.
- Knicks actually tried last night. They still lost. Score one for Dolan's ability to motivate the team.
- I love seeing people predicting the end of the Yankees dominance of the AL EAST. There is no way their staff could go through more this year, than last. And they STILL won the division last year. Keep prediciting the demise, and keep getting proven wrong.
- Same for the Braves. I will never pick against them again. But I DO like the Phillies.
- I like the Blue Jays too, but are they better than Cleveland? I dont think so. Neither are the Red Sox. Dont be shocked to see the Indians back on top the AL Central.
- Bet the house on the Dodgers winning the NL WEST. That, or they'll finish last. It'll be one or the other. No wait, not last, I forgot the Rockies are in that division.
- Reading the biography on Ben Franklin by Isaacson. Great book. Biggest suprise so far: Big Ben liked hitting on younger women. Quite the smooth operator, old Ben, even in his old age.
- Lost ruled again last night. Why the fake beard? I can't get it out of my head.
- Faireleigh Dickinson starts their conference tournament today home vs. Quinnipiac. There's no way that if they show up, they get knocked out. They are that much better than every other NEC team. They should be going back to the NCAA's as a 16 seed. I'm praying they don't get UCONN in round one. If they go, Ill give you a little live blogging from the NCAA site. Speaking of which I need to go prepare for the game. Adios!


Anonymous PeteJayhawk said...

Good stuff. I mostly agree...but they DO now allow zone defenses in the NBA.

5:07 PM  
Blogger The SportsMaster said...

You claim the Yankees staff "went through so much" last season -- no they didn't -- they got lucky.

Aaron Small was 10-0 with a 3.20 ERA, Shawn Chacon was 7-3 with a 2.85 ERA and Chien-Ming Wang finished 8-5 with a 4.02 ERA. Do you really believe they were "hurt" be having to resort to a rookie, a career minor leaguer and desperate trade (Which worked brilliantly).

The best thing that ever happened to the 2005 Yankees was Kevin Brown (6.50 ERA), Jaret Wright (6.08 ERA) and Carl Pavano (4.77 ERA) going down!!

No one believes those three would have gone 25-8 in those 38 starts had they stayed healthy.

And if the Yankees knew how good Wang and Small were -- why did they go out and spend all that $$$.

Anyway, who's predicting the Yankees demize?

11:12 PM  
Blogger John W. Schmeelk said...

Thanks for the comments.

1. The NBA does not allow straight zones with their defensive 3 second violations.

As for the Yankees.
Randy Johnson was awful the first half of last season.
Mussina missed time with a bum elbow.
Carl Pavano went down.
Jarret Wright went down.
If you want to count Kevin Brown you can, I wont.

Of course they didn't know what they had in Small and Wang, one was a carreer minor leaguer (and pitch like it again this year I bet) and the other was a decent prospect.

But the point is they had two major injuries to the starting staff, one minor one, and their predicted stud was mediocre until September. And they went into the season with no pitching depth.

This season they have seven players that can start on a major league team. (johnson, mussina, wang, chacon, wright, pavano, small) More pitching depth than last year, and it isn't even close. That's assuming there won't be any more suprises like there were last season in terms of unexpected contributors.

The main point being, unless something catastrophic happens they won't be put in a spot where they would have to scramble for 2-3 starters like they did last season when they had to use the likes of Sean Henn, Hideo Nomo, Darrell May, Alex Graman, Colter Bean, and Al Leiter. Odds are it won't come to that this season.

As for those predicting the Yankees demise, they are out there every year - but most specifically I was referring to David Arnott's Yankees snippet in his last article.

1:07 AM  

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