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.