Be Thy Face or Foul

Sorry to Sean May, who I probably owe some sort of perfunctory NC allegiance to, but I was jazzed about his injury. It meant the unleashing of a Bobcats line-up that would at last justify my interest. I've always kept them on the radar on account of Gerald Wallace, but under Bernie they were something morbid. While I grew to love bits and pieces of them as a coping mechanism, I can't get back those nights I spent waiting for Wallace to take over (which, to his credit, he often does). The J-Rich acquisition was an eye-opener, but I still expected them to field a fairly orthodox look; May at power forward, and the virile Walter Herrmann chomping at the bench.

Now, light showers down from up on high, and we're conceivably looking at a first five of Wallace, Felton, Richardson, Herrmann, and Okafor. Wouldn't that be dizzying. I'd just started to pinch myself and start things crashing when I found this Charlotte Observer article. The gist: Even before the loss of May, Vincent had planned on utmost acceleration. Someone I'd never heard of was playing center, and Herrmann wasn't starting; still, it gave hope to this most fertile, fleeting wish for Cha-Town.

The Bobcats are one among many teams vowing to run this season. Under Mr. Theus, the Kings are tinkering with Artest at PF and Brad Miller tossing outlet passes (thanks, Zllz). Doc Rivers is pondering the difference between fast and up-tempo, certainly a fine distinction that reveals his basic orientation. Under Adelman, Houston has become a place of great zest. Memphis, with its former Sun coach and a shiny new zip-gun of a PG and athletic cast, will probably skew speedy. I could go on all day, but it seems like running has become both the default setting and the idealistic dream for franchises needing a makeover. And why not? Phoenix is the darling of all fans, and they do it. Golden State took that Dallas series with a strategy built to give the half-court short breaths and nightmares. If Phoenix represents the best-case scenario, Golden State gave hope to a slew of teams looking to defy strict construction and revitalize their brand.

The reason the Suns couldn't alone spark this movement was that, quite simply, they show how difficult it is. Nash is as perfect a pure one as the sport has ever seen; Shawn Marion's versatility is obscene and invaluable; Amare is the prototypical running big man; and D'Antoni is a genius of hands-off management and open-ended instruction. The Warriors, so conventional wisdom goes, used the demonic, undisciplined run-and-gun as a weapon of truth, and thus pulled off a chill-inducing upset. They proved that they doesn't need a Steve Nash to trot this new cadence.

Or did they? Not sure how it got lost in the pop shuffle, but Baron Davis is one hell of a point guard. The Warriors may be less carefully-orchestrated, less precise, and more intent on letting multiple hands make quick judgments. However, remember what happened when Baron went out with hamstring. There was no flow, rhythm, movement, or any of that almost mystical coherence. Golden State may occupy the other end of the up-tempo spectrum, in that their approach is totally decentralized and impulsive. Still, they are guided by the steady hand of an All-Star guard, and without him are but jittery phantoms patrolling the simmer-void.

Here's the absolute gospel of this push, run, destroy shit: It's even harder, and more rarified, than running a competent half-court. Granted, in spurts it's nonsense on wheels, and defies pretty much all need for coachly guidance, or a brain on the floor. Try and keep it up for a full game, against a defense adjusting to it, in a manner that truly finds a way to keep things fresh—that's not so simple. To bust out the dread jazz analogy: Any technically adapt musician can play two bars from scratch. Producing something longer, which actually speaks to our deeper faculties, is arguably rougher than competent sight-reading.

Brute leaping and sprinting doesn't win games, as almost everything in recent NBA history will tell you. What's happening here is a gross misinterpretation of the Warriors, in what they do, how they do it, and what wide angle cues other teams can take from it. This blurring of "why not run" with "running has a purpose" is ultimately bad for the league, since it defiles the cause others have so tirelessly polished.

My evidence on this: last season's Grizzlies and Raptors. Under Barone, the Grizz decided to semi-competently careen about like so many rabid teddies. They also gave up roughly six-hundred points per game and summarily cost A.B. any shot he had at keeping the job. The old refrain might be "they had no defense," but I prefer to take issue with their disrespect of the offense they presumed to follow. I point with similar wrists to the more succesful, but no less bad faith-y, Raptors of 2006-07. Although they scored, and won toward the end, T.J. Ford is no master of the form. One need look no further than they playoff disappointment to understand this.

I look at the Kings and Bobcats and I see T.J. Ford. Mike Bibby was never really that guy in Sacramento's glory days, which relied as much on Webber and Vlade; besides, that team and Dallas are wispy pre-history to the current craze. Raymond Felton will be a good player, but lacks the sixth sense necessary to harness the power of running. There's every reason to expect their squads might be entertaining, but to the principled observer, they will ultimately be excruciating, a blaspheme unto the cause we have lashed our very souls upon. This wave of running teams expected to break upon our shores should, until further exigent proof shines forth, be regarded as a plague sent by our enemies.


At 10/06/2007 9:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of your associates at the Fanhouse pondered these thoughts after the May injury, and I had to remind him that our Argentine friend can play the 4.

Also, I don't like much at all about Bibby, but he ran a high scoring offense for several years already in Sacto.

At 10/06/2007 9:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now you've got me wondering if they still have the rights to Ryan Hollins.

At 10/06/2007 9:41 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

first anon, i changed that paragraph up to include my interpretation of bibby. thanks for pointing out how ignorant it sounded before.

At 10/06/2007 10:09 PM, Anonymous Art Tatum Can't Shoot said...

I thought it was a foregone conclusion that Bibby would be traded by the deadline this year.

At 10/06/2007 10:44 PM, Blogger Reno said...

Shoals is back!

Brilliant and beautiful post here.

At 10/06/2007 10:50 PM, Anonymous jspilker said...

I'm looking forward to see how Jared Dudley fits into the Bobcats mix. I'm sure J-Rich is dispensing some interesting advice.

Also, in another article I read, there was some question about Wallace taking Mays' spot at the PF, but Vincent seems pretty certain on not allowing Okafor to be the only decent-size player out there.

At 10/06/2007 11:38 PM, Anonymous johnny5 said...

Speaking of pure ones, WHY did the Knicks have to get the supposed second coming of Nash? I wanted that Marist to do well.

At 10/07/2007 2:16 AM, Blogger Easie said...

As much as I love the majority of your post, I can't help but feel a deep sickness that you can look at the bright side of a player being injured, especially when you later warn about what that bright side entails.
May is a damn good player, one I've been wishing would break free of the injury sacrilage and allow him to preach the truth of his game. He's big and strong, and caresses the ball like the baby belongs in his arms. To gloss over another lost season of basketball art in order to highlight the emergence of another small line-up that you later note is doomed to fail is downright evil, and an insult to the basketball senses.
Don't get me wrong either, I love Herrmann and am glad to see that he is starting, the guy deserves it. But as a fan of the Bobcats (no, they're not "my" team, I reserve that title for the Kings), the loss of what should have been one of the most complete six in the East is saddening, and I loathe the thought of the Bobs becoming nothing more than fodder for every big post-up in the league. Say what you will about the new team, but don't tell me you weren't waiting to see the final combination of Okafor's defense and May's offense surrounded by all those wings... it's a sad day in basketball.
Then, please don't tell me how excited you are for Herrmann at the four, then launch into your argument about how they will fail because Felton isn't a "distributor." So, then what's the point? High-explosion basketball should not be automatically enjoyed merely because we'll see the score go up. We should celebrate a team working together towards a goal, defining themselves in a light that halos around them, binds them together and creates a force hell-bent on destroying it's opponent. Maybe that force is the dynamic ferocity of the Warriors, the unheralded snipe-fest that is the Suns, the straight up hard play of the Mavericks, or the cohesive strength of the Spurs, but pursuit of the W should be applauded, should be relished, should create the excitement and the quickening of pulse that signals your love of the game is to be rewarded, because wins mean the game is being played right.
Herrman at the four isn't the game being played right, it isn't a promise of future victory. It's just the escape plan, a way to get by till the greater good can be achieved. And whilst you consider this, you disregard the present that smacks May. The kid wants to play ball, to do what he does and to fill the shoes Charlotte put him in when they drafted him. He doesn't want to see Herrmann get manhandled by the league's forwards, he doesn't want to see Okafur looking for that partner in the post, J-Rich and G-Wall trying to thread through a non-existant hole because the Bobcats lack a post-up game. You ignore a travesty to the game to celebrate some run-and-gunning, even though you know, and I know, that this run and gunning will fail, merely for the fact that it wasn't built for it. Buying some tires, stripping your car and putting in a muffler doesn't turn your Camry into a racecar, no matter how solid a car it is. All that happens is you sacrifice the original craftmanship that did it's original job so damn well for some cheap thrills.

At 10/07/2007 2:26 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

the whole point of my post was:

High-explosion basketball should not be automatically enjoyed merely because we'll see the score go up. We should celebrate a team working together towards a goal, defining themselves in a light that halos around them, binds them together and creates a force hell-bent on destroying it's opponent.

which is the bobcats are fool's gold. we agree.

At 10/07/2007 3:16 AM, Anonymous 3 point ointment said...

Easie, you really sound like your feeling got hurt by this post... suck it up. May will be back and stronger than ever, or he'll be a younger/fatter chris webber; only time will tell.

Good post but it's important to remember that this whole fast basketball v.s. slow basketball is fools gold to begin with. If a team doesn't have a dominant low post player then it makes sense to speed the game up.
Even if a team does have a great low post player it makes sense to run as much as possible, as the spurs do.

At 10/07/2007 3:20 AM, Blogger personalmathgenius said...

points well made and taken, but man, look at the page you're reading. I could be wrong, but winning comes in like, maybe 3rd place, for enjoyment priorities of the chief posters here. It's not so much that they're like Sidney Deane with a laptop (although I secretly suspect it, and wonder if they could be just as happy watching an And1 league with better production values), but that fundamentally sound, grinding, scheme-following players and teams are about as far from their hearts as health insurance for kids is from Bush's.

At 10/07/2007 12:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's not forget that the Tar Heels won the title as a decidedly running team with none other than Raymond Felton at the point doing a masterful job orchestrating the whole thing and Sean May as the guy who got it done in the halfcourt. He also got his share on the break - he looks soft and slow, but he can get up and down the court. I realize this was college and thus a very different beast, but I just wanted to point out that these guys have won by fast break in the past and that this was what Felton was bred to do.

At 10/07/2007 12:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the weirdest iteration of this new strain of so-called "high-explosion basketball" could end up being the Pistons' second unit. Amir + JMAX + Baby D-Wade? Bot even Flip Saunders can screw that up.

Also, how much money needs to be donated to get some fresh Billups posts up in here?

At 10/07/2007 2:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Also, how much money needs to be donated to get some fresh Billups posts up in here?"

Amen, I would love to see some more Billups. I couldn't stand the guy at first, but I see the glory now.

I wonder if you've ever considered assembling a sort of FD syndicate, Shoals, and bring in some more writers? DLIC and Silverbird posts are pretty much anomalies these days, and I think the place would be much more lively with some new voices.

But anon's comment reveals an uncomfortable truth - this donation monster. Now that FD is beholden to its donators, I hope this place doesn't become an obligation. If there's one thing FreeDarko can't sustain, it's the loss of its enthusiasm.

At 10/07/2007 2:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thirded, I'd forego the occasional 40 to drop some change for more Billups posts.

At 10/07/2007 3:24 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

first off, all the money goes to me. i get us paid work and forget to deduce taxes from the payout. and i write most of the shit on this site, and coordinate a lot of the rest.

it's not about "a post costs X" or "giving billups X will coerce him to post." because honestly, you're not going to give enough per post to make that thinking worthwhile. as a freelancer, i wouldn't do an 800-word piece for $20, and i don't think billups would, either.

the donation model is simple: fd needs content, and a position on news issues, to stay alive. that mostly falls on me, in large part because i'm the only one without other pressing obligations. however, i need money, and FD does feel like an obligation when i feel compelled to write 800 words in the middle of my workday.

this thing has been going on for almost three years. i still like doing it, but i just can't justify it as a pure labor of love anymore. i live in an expensive city and kind of want to lead a reasonably grown-up life. IN A PERFECT WORLD, the hard core of readers could give $1 a month, and i'd get paid a few hundred for my troubles.

most of these posts don't take me that long to write, but i still have to find all the photos. . and think of an argument, or an angle. doing that 3-4 days a week for three years takes it toll.

and look, the other writers all have other shit going on in their lives. they have jobs, are in school (for something that's not american studies), whatever. i'm the one who sits at home all day typing, which is why i'm in a position to force this thing forward at all times.

we had other writers, but they were also busy. we've had some guest posts, but people we'd want guest posting are often busy. we're looking into other ways of getting fd content out there, but these things take time.

i really appreciate everyone who has given money. i'm astounded there's over $1000 in the hoppers. and if people don't want to give, don't give. i just want it to perfectly clear what i think a donation means, and why i don't feel guilty or anxious asking for them.

At 10/07/2007 5:53 PM, Blogger Ty Keenan said...

Really like this post, mostly because it acknowledges that unrestrained shot-chucking (i.e. Harrington taking one-on-one step-back threes) was the bad Warriors last season. Everything was at its best when Baron orchestrated.

That said, I'm not sure it's right to call the Bobcats' running fool's gold, because that system probably the system works best for their current personnel. I agree that running doesn't automatically equal success, but that doesn't mean these teams aren't running for a purpose.

At 10/07/2007 10:49 PM, Blogger T. said...

While the addition of so many latter day Paul Westhead teams is going to be fun - here's what I'm thinking about, since both Bibby and Webber have been brought up.

Adelman's Kings of the late 90s early 2000s (JWill, Vlade, Webber, Peja) were the recent proto-type for the new era of faster basketball. With the back cutting and high post passing, it made for exciting basketball in those dull dull times. But they could never get over the hump - they never had that one player who could take over the game (witness CWebb running away from the ball at the end of those Lakers series)

So now - Adelman + 2 passing posts (Yao and Scola) + a flashy point guard (Skip - latter day JWill?) . . . and then you add scoring off the bench (Mike James AND Steve Francis?).

Oh, and of course, one of the top 5 players in the NBA. . . now who's ready to watch fun basketball?

At 10/07/2007 11:32 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

the mavs scored a lot, and scored fast, but didn't play in an especially fluid manner. they were explosive, but it didn't feel like they were playing a different sport.

the j-wil kings alteranted between proto-suns and something else i can't remember. ziller says it was princeton, but i don't know what that means.

with bibby, didn't think baseline-to-baseline, and relied a lot on high post passing and players moving around. they scored quickly, but it's not like the suns, who come down the court with the aim of scoring quickly.

i could see the rockets being like the bibby kings. but that's different--and a far more specific, sophisticated project--than teams deciding the push the tempo because they saw phoenix or golden state berserking about.

At 10/08/2007 12:48 AM, Blogger personalmathgenius said...

Shoals, Ziller is talking about the Kings having Pete Carril of Princeton U as a asst. coach. Before the pros, he was known for installing this back-door cut, constant motion sort of style that used about 44 of the 45 seconds on the shot clock. It was usually good for bringing down a higher seeded opponent in the Tournament every other year, then fading quickly when they'd face a less cocky, better prepared opponent.
So much of the point of it seemed to be to make people play defense for that long of a time, that for the life of me I've never been able to see the influence of it in the pros. I've heard people say Byron Scott runs it too, but again, without those 19 extra seconds to kill (and make no mistake, it's about killing the clock. it makes Dean Smith's Four Corners look like Prime Time era Lakers), at least for me it's hard to recognize. I mean, back door cuts are back door cuts, but the key thing of a Princeton offense IMO, is the 'weave'. You'd just have to watch it really. I could be wrong (in fact, would be willing to bet so), but I think John Thompson III was still running a version of it at least as late as a couple of years ago there.

At 10/08/2007 1:08 AM, Blogger Ty Keenan said...

PMG: Georgetown still runs the Princeton a bit -- it's still basically their base offense. However, they moved away from it more last year than I seem to remember them doing in the past. It's really quite impressive to watch great athletes (Hibbert, Green, Summers, et al.) do it instead of the white guys at Princeton.

I watched Jazz/Kings Game 5 from 1999 a few weeks ago, and Sacto did it a lot more than I remember (or maybe I just recognize it more now). Most of their early possessions went through Vlade with the intention of a quick pass to a cutter. What made those Kings teams so dangerous was that everyone could pass decently -- not just the guards -- so they could get by with a less-than-stellar distributor like Williams or Bibby.

I think you're right that the offense as run at Princeton (or Air Force the last few years) kills the clock, but that doesn't mean that they won't shoot if a shot shows up early. It's just easier to get shots late in the clock when your athletes aren't that great. Georgetown and the Kings shot early all the time.

And that's probably as technical as I'll ever get in a comment here.

At 10/08/2007 1:46 AM, Blogger personalmathgenius said...

TK's got it right. If you want to see the Princeton weave circa now, watch Bzdelik's Air Force Academy teams.
And yes, my handle IS ironic, those 19 seconds should be 11. (I had to google to see what the NCAA is actually using. jesus my beads i'm living in the past, I'd forgotten they'd not been using a 45 second clock since like 93)

At 10/08/2007 1:51 AM, Blogger T. said...

PMG - I never really though the Princeton offense was about trying to use up the shot clock. It was just those princeton teams were very patient and really couldn't out athlete any NCAA teams and just waited around for a defense to get caught looking. I think on a team with better athletes, you could play much more uptempo. In the NBA Eddie Jordan was the real brain-trust (after Carrill) for the Princeton offense - he was the guy who implemented it in New Jersey, and he had elements of it in Washington too. Anyways, the NBA version isn't the full version, it just incorporates a lot of elements. Yao has already talked about how much off the ball movement the offense has compared to last year.

There was an awesome SI article about it a few years ago (Kelly Dwyer?) - and a couple of the points I remember about it.

1. The way Princeton runs it, their ideal formation has all 5 offensive players outside the 3 point line to keep the key free and uncluttered.

2. To run it really well, you need a big man who can shoot outside and pass.

3. The real mental block against it - when your teammate is dribbling towards you, a basketball player's natural inclination is to run towards the ball handler (to set a pick) In the Princeton offense, when your teammate dribbles towards you, you run to the basket (backdoor).

4. There's a really cool set of plays based on either handing off from the big man, or cutting backdoor.

5. Obviously the NBA version will use big players at the elbows and the midpost - rather than the 3 point line like Carril's Princeton teams did.

At 10/08/2007 2:59 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

point of order: i have heard of the princeton offense, just never really knew what it was. i blame that on the 2001 nets and recent wizards.

let me resort to my comfort zone: those bibby teams seemed a lot more methodical, and strangely patient, to me. the j-wil ones got down the floor fast and often only took one pass to score.

i guess they didn't spark a revolution for the same reasons the suns didn't. it's the warriors, who stumbled upon greatness instead of carefully building for it, that have made it chic. as organizations, the kings put all their eggs in this basket. it took time, money, and thought, and ended up making a fool of them. the suns might be headed for the same thing; no one wants that.

the wizards, on the other hand, made it look like something you could do to pass the time. and it just might work out for the best.

At 10/08/2007 3:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Until Hibbert loses some weight off those enormous ham-hocks he calls buttocks he can't play at an NBA level.

wv: tgint - thank god I'm nicely toasted

At 10/08/2007 3:03 AM, Blogger T. said...

Huh. Here's an article outlining the top elements of the NBA Princeton offense.


At 10/09/2007 10:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Raptors weren't a running team last year. You should try watching some of their games before pigeon-holing them.

At 10/10/2007 3:21 AM, Anonymous The Gong said...

"the j-wil kings alteranted between proto-suns and something else i can't remember. ziller says it was princeton, but i don't know what that means."

somehow I respect you much more for that shoals.

and angry anon 10:25- they were at the beginning and they were terrible. They still had somewhat of a faster pace for the rest of the season, admittedly not a true speedy team, but they still ran. I would hardly consider them pigeon-holed now.

anonymous nitpickers have been doing some resurging lately, time to call them out again shoals.

At 10/11/2007 12:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"One need look no further than they playoff disappointment to understand this."

Clearly he is not just referring to the beginning of the season. By mid-season on the Raptors were playing at a pace that was firmly in the middle of the pack. Not "somewhat of a faster pace", but right in the middle. Their offense in mostly predicated on ball movement, pg penetration, pick and rolls, and Bosh isos.

The only reason I'm nit picking is that the Raps are misrepresented in the American press so often. They have to be the least US watched team in the league, and it shows in what ppl write about them.


Post a Comment

<< Home