On TrueHoop, Kevin Arnovitz profiles the strain of defining and embracing a system of play in Los Angeles. Here’s what he said about the Clippers:
Back in November, when Los Angeles was engulfed in System Overload the week Brown was dismissed and D’Antoni hired, Los Angeles Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro was asked which system he deployed.
“Chris Paul,” Del Negro said.
Del Negro wasn’t being flip or coy. The question was straightforward, and he offered the best approximation of his team’s blueprint when it had the ball — the Chris Paul System.
“All those names and all that stuff,” Del Negro said of the Princeton, the spread, seven seconds or less, etc. “You just put the ball in the best player’s hands.”
To Del Negro and Paul, the NBA is a superstar league, and the offense they run is dictated by Paul. In the Clippers’ world, his instincts take precedent over any dogma. That intuition is rooted in strong principles. Paul will probe, but he’s meticulous and patient, and in the half court he’ll rarely act until the defense is leveraged.
“On offense, you just try to make the right play,” Paul said. “Every time I come down the court, I want to make sure that two people have to guard me, no matter what. If I’m in a ball screen, I want to make two people have guard me and then somebody is going to be open.”
The Chris Paul system has its advantages — mainly that Chris Paul gets to do what he wants. But when he was hurt, we saw the difference between a system that is player driven, and a system, like the Spurs, that is driven by philosophy.
When Parker or Ginobili or Duncan — or even all three! — get hurt, the Spurs
Sometimes, you can feel greatness advancing.
It’s like feeling the rumble of an army marching toward the battlefield. You can feel thousands of footsteps walking with purpose toward a moment that can only end in brief survival or death. The survival is but a delay of the inevitable slaying that will happen by the hands of the enemy or the biology surrounding each soldier.
You can feel that greatness marching toward you in sports too. Back in 2006, Kobe Bryant was on his own. He was flanked by Lamar Odom, Smush Parker, Chris Mihm, and a number of frustrating role players that couldn’t measure up to the title teams he helped lead. There wasn’t a set formula for them winning basketball games. Kobe needed to score an inordinate amount of points. They needed fortuitous long-range makes from Smush Parker, Brian Cook, Sasha Vujacic and Devean George. They needed Kwame Brown to rebound and defend.
They needed a lot.
After having fantastic scoring months in November (33.5 points per game) and December (32.0 PPG), Kobe Bryant began another one of his historic scoring tears. It wasn’t quite as prolific as the extended nine-game 40-point game streak he had in 2003, but it was building toward something astounding. There was the game against Dallas on December 20th in which he scored 62 points in 32 minutes. Then during five games from December 28th through January 11th, Kobe racked up 229 points (45.8 PPG), never falling below 41 in any of those games.
Considering the standard he was setting for himself, Kobe had a bit of a let down right after. He had 27 points against Cleveland on January 12th. The next game against the Warriors, he scored 38 points before following up the next game with 37 against the Heat.
Gregg Popovich, as far as I can tell, is the only NBA coach who routinely fouls bad foul shooters on the opposing teams to gain a strategic advantage. The reaction to this from fans and media has been to paint Pop as sort of rascal — the kind of guy who will game the system without shame or apology.
But the real mystery isn’t what makes Popovich so brazen and inventive, but why the rest of the NBA hasn’t figured out that it should be doing the very same thing.
It’s instances like these that make me wonder if Popovich is as smart as we make him out to be (and I kind of think that’s the case either way), or if everyone else in the NBA is just being stupid by not following his example.
Here’s what John Hollinger said about the intentional fouling and during the 2008 playoffs:
For years, coaches have tripped all over themselves with how to use the Hack-a-Shaq. In the first-round series against Phoenix, Gregg Popovich became the first to really master how to use this weapon to his advantage. He used it in second quarters, when he had guys like Jacque Vaughn andRobert Horry in the game anyway and didn’t care if they picked up fouls, and used it when he had the lead to eliminate the chance of a 3-pointer.
Most of all, he used it at the end of quarters to get the last shot, and is continuing to use it with Tyson Chandler and Melvin Ely in the New Orleans series. If New Orleans has the ball with 25 seconds or less left, Popovich simply fouls intentionally so he can get the ball back for the Spurs. This should be a Eureka! moment for other coaches, and I expect
“We don’t care.”
Gregg Popovich said it with a snort, almost disdainfully. The dismissal was in response to a reporter’s question on how the Spurs aren’t getting much attention, despite all the winning. I was in the press gaggle of a meaningless Warriors game, a bit green to this business, a bit shocked to see Pop fulfill the stereotype up close.
“We don’t care.”
It’s a defensive pose, but one spat with such precision as to simultaneously beam a ring of verisimilitude. It has the aura of a man speaking of a long disavowed family member, where, “I don’t care what he’s up to,” can also carry a hint of, “We’d be close if he was smart enough to value me.”
We aren’t smart enough to value these Spurs, apparently. They very well could be the league’s best team, and few outside of Texas want to see them advance in anything other than age. Get off the stage, gramps, I’m trying to watch Russell Westbrook dunk his arms off. They dispatched the Jazz with the autopilot brutality of a seasoned sushi chef, ripping the tail out of a live lobster. It was an awesome display of basketball mastery that so few saw or cared about. Today is our time to bask in the glory of Chris Paul’s eventually doomed team.
Regardless of how many times you’ll hear a basketball writer insist that the Spurs aren’t boring, most fans find them exactly that. San Antonio is objectively boring, if the measure is what the average basketball consumer prefers. Call their dullness a myth, but it’s more truth than figment if the buying public refuses to like a brand they’ve been exposed to for 14 years. The Spurs don’t rate. Game 1 of the Spurs-Jazz series garnered roughly three fourths
The usually goofy Duncan tones it down a bit
The most valuable commodity in basketball is space. Defenses are constantly working to devour it; offenses are on an unceasingly seeking to find it. Over the last two seasons, no team has systematically generated and exploited space on the basketball court better than the San Antonio Spurs. It’s no surprise that in that same period, they have had the most productive offense.
For a decade, the Spurs offense was built on the idea that no team could guard Tim Duncan with one player and that Duncan could always establish position to catch the ball dangerously close to the rim. After forcing teams to respond to Duncan with an extra player, the rest of court was suddenly spacious and the Spurs role players feasted on the opportunities.
During that decade the Spurs, lead by Duncan, were lauded as great champions and a model franchise. They were also, to many, incredibly boring.
But that Duncan and those Spurs are long gone. The Big Fundamental can still rebound and score inside with the best of them (check his stats per 36 minutes), but the days of tossing it in to Timmy once a possession for 38 minutes a night are over. So as Duncan slowed down, San Antonio needed to find new ways of creating space on the court.
Let Parker push it
That started in earnest in 2010, when Gregg Popovich decided to design the entire offense around Tony Parker (and to an extent Manu Ginobili, but we’ll focus mostly on Parker here). That meant running. Last year, the Spurs went from the nineteenth fastest team in the league to fourtheenth. This year they are the eighth fastest team, ahead of every projected playoff team besides the D’Antoni powered Knicks and
Winning a title in the NBA has to be a really weird experience.
You prepare for it your entire life (unless you’re Andray Blatche of course) with years of training, fine-tuning, and mentally soaking up the ups and downs of what works for you and your peers and what doesn’t. You’re a sponge for everything good. This guy uses this move and it works. This team communicates this way and they’re successful. You’re also constantly trying to expunge everything that doesn’t work. This set doesn’t work against this type of defense, and this matchup isn’t advantageous to our team so we need to cover it.
As soon as the blood, sweat and fears have turned themselves into winning 16 playoff games in one postseason, everything changes while staying exactly the same. Immediately, you get thrust into the discussion of whether or not your team matters on an all-time orchidometer of sorts. There is little time to sit back and celebrate. You now have to start figuring out how to defend your title and how to tweak a roster that just proved to be the best in the league over the course of nine months. You work so hard to be able to celebrate and revel in your own accomplishment, only to have it pushed aside as something that needs to happen again to immediately validate it.
When the San Antonio Spurs won the 2003 championship, there were concerns over how they could make their team better, even as the run was happening. Much like with concerns in their 1999 title run, the point guard on the roster wasn’t supposed to be good enough to take the Spurs to the promise land. Tony Parker was just 20 years old and in his second NBA season. He was lightning quick, couldn’t shooter a jumper to save his baguette, and didn’t exactly run the team like a traditional point guard.
Parker had a lot of potential and was good enough to start for Gregg Popovich in all 82 games that season. He played the second most minutes on the team behind Duncan. But with David Robinson retiring after the season and no real long-term commitments coming up outside of Duncan, the Spurs were in place to add a big-time free agent if they wanted to. And Jason Kidd was about to be the biggest free agent on the market. Continue reading “Preemptive foresight” »
The only thing more frustrating than watching the Los Angeles Lakers these days is trying to write anything definitive about them. Every assertion seems to boomerang back and to crack the profaner square in the sternum. “The Lakers are, literally speaking, one of the weakest teams still in the Western playoff picture” is immediately countered by “but they’ll probably end up as one of the top two teams in the world.” This method of observation is self-negating and seems to render conclusive statements meaningless.
But we don’t really have any choice.
Blame the Lakers’ greatest rival, the Boston Celtics, for this situation. The way the Boston played possum for two-thirds of the season then roared to life like an enraged phoenix, dousing the Eastern conference and prognosticators alike in vengeful flames for our insolence. Now everyone’s afraid that the Lakers, with their tremendous size and clutch reputation, will do the same.
These shorts were fashionable in Fisher's first year with the Lakers
We are forced to choose between present and historical performance as our guide.
But these Lakers are not last year’s Celtics. The 2009-10 Celtics began the season at an electric 24-5 pace before injury, not complacency, derailed the beatdown express. These Lakers began well against the groveling serfdom of the NBA, but have been only one game over .500 since their 13-2 start.
As John Hollinger points out, were the Lakers to win a championship, given their start it would be the biggest surprise since the 1977-8 Bullets. Yet he also assures that “absolutely nobody is ready to write off the Lakers just yet. We’re not even to the point of sharpening pencils.” Exactly. We’re just draining the ink from our metaphorical pens until the end of the regular season.
The emergent problems with Kobe and