Peyton Manning and the spread pick-and-roll

Peyton Manning is often described as a wizard, and genius, and all that may be true. But as Grantland’s Chris Brown writes, he didn’t earn that reputation by mastering complex plays.

His story on Manning and the Bronco offense that No. 18 imported from his time with the Colts got me thinking about, what else, basketball, and specifically about the effecitiveness of the spread pick-and-roll offense.

The obvious NBA parallel to Manning and his simple-but-unstoppable “Dig” and “Dag” plays (more on that in a bit) is Steve Nash, who captained the best offense in the NBA for a number of years relying almost exclusively on the spread pick-and-roll and the occasional quick-hitter.

The reason that the spread pick-and-roll worked so marvelously for the Suns then and continues to be an effective look today for teams like the Knicks, Spurs and Rockets, is that it’s a simple play that can only be defended a few different ways. So, when an offense runs it over and over, it has the opportunity to figure out how the defense is going to approach that play and then can react accordingly. Here’s Brown on Manning’s offense:

By using a small number of personnel groups — typically either three wide receivers and a tight end, or two wide receivers and two tight ends — it limited the number of possible responses from the defense and made it easier for Manning to diagnose its weak spots from both a speedy no-huddle (used whenever a defense tried to substitute) and a regular pace of play.

The small number of plays essentially put the full offense at Manning’s disposal at any time, and by combining few formations with few plays, both veterans and newcomers to the offense had their acclimation eased by the small

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HoopSpeak Network

Daryl Morey and Houston’s Big Freed Three

I can’t remember another NBA moment where a team added three players whose contracts were so openly questioned. Jeremy Lin? A flash in the pan that reflected brighter under those New York lights. Omer Asik? You’re entrusting $25 million to a guy who can’t catch a basketball? Are you an idiot or just stupid? And James Harden, man, I don’t know about him. He just doesn’t strike ya as ya know, a number one guy. An Alpha Dog. The MAN. If he’s your No. 1, you’re never winning anything. You’re seriously going to max out a reserve?

In paying all three, Daryl Morey trusted something quite simple; He trusted what they did. Because, James Harden, Jeremy Lin, and Omer Asik were tangibly good when they played. These guys were doing decent work out in public. It was just a matter of someone trusting that public track record. We’re only three games in, but it would appear, at the very least, that Daryl Morey wasn’t a complete fool for going this route.

It would be ironic if stats-conscious Morey found value in ignoring small sample size concerns. Jeremy Lin’s critics fairly cite his too-brief track record, though some of them will ironically harp on Lin’s one Miami game as more meaningful than the body of work. It is difficult to know just how good Jeremy Lin will be, but we would do well to remember that his late winter success was the result of basketball skill, and not some fairy godmother’s wand wave. Just because “Linsanity!” felt magical, doesn’t mean it was magic. This was just a productive collegian, running a mean pick and roll at the next level.

Players like Lin are always battling against another statistical term–confirmation bias. If  a guy goes undrafted, we keep looking for

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Mike Woodson will succeed in New York*

*to the extent that success is limited, and possible.

We now understand that the Knicks effectively fired D’Antoni the moment they shipped off a group of players well-suited to his system in exchange for a single player, Carmelo Anthony, who was uniquely unfit for his perimeter-oriented, ball-movement focused offense. No surprises here, but twelve months ago, now resigned General Manager Donnie Walsh was against the Carmelo trade.

D’Antoni resigned “on his own,” but the franchise chose incoming talent over incumbent leadership months ago.

D’Antoni cuts a charming and affable character, what with his disarming West Virginia accent and photoshoppable ‘stache. He encourages the kind of fast-paced basketball that we love to watch, and has a reputation as a players coach. We like him, so his resignation with only 25 games left on a four-year deal smells funny to some, rancid to others.

It reeks of valuing the individual superstar (no less a player we now know is undeserving of that distinction) over the team concept. Anthony, a player who contributes next to nothing on defense and has been unwilling to fit his game to his surroundings on offense, was valued above the beautiful basketball that D’Antoni philosophically represents.

We should also consider that while I’ve been a bit fatalistic so far, there were other options, even after the Carmelo trade. Howard Beck reports that D’Antoni pushed for a trade for Deron Williams, a player who would have thrived in his system and made the whole team make sense.

But it sounds like owner James Dolan never considered abandoning the prized superstars he pushed so hard to acquire. Like I said, D’Antoni was gone the minute Anthony came over.

In his place stands Mike Woodson, who is actually a great alternative on short notice. The Chandler-Stoudemire-Anthony frontline presents some

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The Carmelo Problem

Life is a bit unfair to Melo at the moment. Linsanity coincided with an easy Knicks schedule, which Anthony missed out on. Now the schedule is brutal and he’s back. Even if New York loses, the Knick-killing factors could be wholly divorced from whatever he’s doing. So why harp on the guy, especially when Amare’s wane has to be chief among New York’s problems?

Well, because our conversational scope is still too narrow when it comes to points merchants. We pay homage to the idea of how overvalued some are, without going one step further and drastically adjusting our rankings. It is as though–despite acknowledging the perils of No-D ball-stoppers–the impulse still exists to bless such players as “elite talents,” and “pure scorers.”

So I believe that “trolling” Melo is about having the courage of my basketball philosophy convictions, even if such convictions sound deviant when espoused publicly. Yes, I think Andre Iguodala is better. No, I don’t believe Anthony’s the “best player” on his team–that would be DPOY candidate Tyson Chandler, thank you very much. Defense matters, passing matters, and scoring efficiency matters. And if you believe that, then it is difficult to believe Melo matters all that much.

It would be nice to espouse “I don’t think Melo’s very good,” and have such an opinion recognized as within the sphere of legitimate debate. It feels necessary to say it loudly when Beijing 08′ is often, bizarrely brought up as greatness-proving evidence (Carmelo shot 42% in the games. Wade shot 67% on more attempts). To my eyes, nearly every game–including last night’s–is a reminder of how ridiculous the Knicks were for pursuing The Trade, especially in light of their bad history with overvalued volume scorers.

To those same eyes, Anthony is a value neutral player. Better in

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Playing pick-up ball with “Jeremy”

There’s one podcast name that makes me chuckle every time I hear it, so I was delighted that James Herbert and Marc Juliar invited me to drop by Pod Shammpod for the podcast’s Hardwood Paroxysm reboot.

One of the things we talked briefly about was (of course) Jeremy Lin. Well not Lin specifically, but something I witnessed playing pick-up ball at the gym I belong to in DC.

The evening pick-up games at the Columbia Heights Washington Sports Club are uneven but generally solid, with enough people waiting to create a ring of bodies and gym bags around most of the court. About 80 percent of the participants are black and most of the people who show up to the run are regulars.

On Tuesday night, a flashy Asian-American point guard who wore “Run to Harlem” shorts and sported a slick handle and dead-eye jumper was tearing up the competition. Everyone knew him, or seemed to, and everyone called him Jeremy. When he would cross someone up, the spectators would gleefully yelp “Oh! Jeremy!”

This, by all indications, is not his real name.

This naming issue is not a new phenomenon, or isolated only to Asian-Americans. This summer I played regularly in an almost entirely black pick up game where I was known only as Jimmer. Previously I’ve been Redick, Ridnour or Dickau. These nicknames have never really bothered me, though I don’t think I really look like any of these players. I’m just white, sort of shifty and a good (or at least willing) outside shooter.

The kid going by “Jeremy” a couple nights ago was eating it up. He showed off his whirring handle for the small crowd and soaked in the praise. After his games, he would even do the little bow routine that Lin does

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Making it all fit together can be puzzling or whatever is the best puzzle pun here

Puzzles kind of suck.

There is almost no reward as you are putting them together and there is really no point. I guess you could say it’s a test of will, recognition and patience but you could also just as easily say it’s a complete waste of time. The problem with puzzles is there is nothing to display once it’s done. It’s not like you can frame it or keep it on your coffee table.

While you’re putting it together, everything starts to blend together and all of the pieces begin to look the same. Sometimes, you can’t even tell if something fits into the appropriate cutout because it looks just close enough that you assume the company who made it wouldn’t screw with your head like that. The reward of finishing such a task is knowing you completed it, but if there is nothing to show for it, does it even really matter?

That’s the great thing about putting together a championship puzzle in professional sports. Once it’s completed, you don’t have to just awkwardly display the puzzle for when people come over and you show it to them, hoping to elicit a response other than pity. You don’t have to just immediately take it apart and have that be your little secret between you, your dog and the Roseanne marathon you watched while completing the puzzle.

You get something tangible to show people. You get rings, a parade, commemorative DVDs, a banner, and the ability to complain to the media about how you’re still not respected enough after nobody believed in you and disrespected you before you won. There is no fruitless reward or only being stuck with the feeling of a job well done. Continue reading “Making it all fit together can be puzzling or whatever is the best puzzle pun here” »

The ingredients of Jeremy Lin’s Royal Jelly

For the past week, plenty around the league have wondered how so many teams could have missed out on Jeremy Lin. The answer to that is simple; they didn’t. Lin is still a young player with the some of the same flaws he had just a few short weeks ago. His meteoric rise to success didn’t come from some invisible skill that talent evaluators and league executives failed to notice. Instead, Lin has been given a chance few undrafted second year players ever get, the opportunity to succeed and the permission to fail. It’s David Thorpe’s proverbial “royal jelly”. So what is this jelly made of? Sprinkles and rainbows? Unicorn tears? Here’s a look at six key ingredients to Lin’s exemplary play and what questions are left regarding its staying power.

Caffeine. The toll the brutal travel schedule has levied on the players is something that can’t be underscored. For the most part, Lin has been exempt from that grind. As Coach Thorpe previously mentioned, Lin coming in with stores of energy against guys already dragging from 30-plus minute nights during a compacted 15-20 game slate is a nice advantage to have, especially when you’re a player that loves to attack the rim. Once Lin is afflicted by the same nagging bumps, bruises, sore muscles and dead legs, will he be able to produce as efficiently? Cupcakes! During their seven game win streak, Lin has led the Knicks to victories over teams whose combined defensive efficiency rank is 20th. Three of those teams (the Nets, Wizards and Kings) all rank below 25th. Even the two top 15 teams they have played have flaws that have played into Lin’s favor. Both Minnesota and Los Angeles have non-mobile bigs that have consistently struggled in pick and roll coverage throughout their careers. While

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“When I played against Jeremy Lin”

Last week I went on vacation with my family, and apparently some guy named Jeremy Lin became fairly popular in my absence. It wasn’t the first time I had heard of the guy. Back before his name was more (or less?) than the principal element of a headline pun, or a part of any headlines at all, Lin was rumored to be an NBA prospect after four strong if unspectacular seasons at Harvard. He was never the Ivy League MVP, but his quickness, efficiency, and yes, his race, was turning heads nationally.

Around that same time, I had just started HoopSpeak and did an interview with Cornell’s Chris Wroblewski and Aaron Osgood, two rotation players on Cornell’s 2010 Sweet 16 team. As a toss-in question that went unprinted, I asked about Jeremy Lin. The two players clearly saw Lin as a rival and enemy, and though they respected his game, they didn’t think he was an NBA player.

Almost two years later, Jeremy Lin is on top of the NBA following a blistering five game stretch. Aside from the underdog story, what I’ve found so compelling is that before this moment, Lin gave little evidence that he was “undiscovered.” He just wasn’t that good. Some combination of very hard work and enough royal jelly to drown Shamoo and we’ve got ourselves a starting point guard playing All-Star caliber ball.

I circled back to Wroblewski, who is finishing his senior campaign with the Big Red, to get his impression on Lin’s fantastic rise.

I’m the first to say that I am not the quickest of foot or even that long or athletic enough to disrupt anything defensively. I was given the task along with a couple other of my teammates to shadow Lin all over the court, and my sophomore

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The Daily Peep, Feb. 13

From HoopSpeak’s first post on March 17 2010, Beckley Mason: “Some people love candy. Some people love their children. I love basketball.” If you’re reading this, you likely already know that Beckley had his first day as a full-time employee of ESPN.com today. This is me being super happy for him and congratulating ESPN for hiring someone who truly loves this game. You know how I know Danny Chau’s Jeremy Lin piece was beyond awesome? I’m 100% sure you’ve already read it, and I’m not sure you’ve read this similarly-themed piece on the Eastern Conference Player of the Week at The New York f’ing Times. It’s very good and it’s by Michael Luo. We’re not done with Lin links by a longshot. Here’s Ethan looking back on his time with the Warriors. In an interview with Marcus Thompson, Lin talks about not even being high enough on the Rockets’ depth chart to be assured of reps in training camp: “At the time, I was thinking if this doesn’t work out, I maybe needed to take a break from basketball. I put in four months of training. I felt like I worked harder than anyone else. And now I was fighting for a chance to practice. I was questioning everything.” Kevin Pelton’s Lin scouting report. Jay Kang’s report from MSG. Tom Ziller on Lin’s impact. No idea how I missed this a few days ago — his high school coach, Peter Diepenbrock: “He played in the Las Vegas Summer League last year, and he was afraid that he was going to miss the first day of my camp. So his last summer league game ends, and he drives all night from Vegas to the Bay Area in a van with his family so that he can get here in time

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Does it matter if Jeremy Lin is boring?

Jeremy Lin is labels. Harvard. Asian. Asian American. Taiwanese American. These labels perhaps shrouded his talent from those trained to assess it. To be atypical is to often confront skepticism and bias. It is possible that blinkered assessments once hindered the career of a player who–at the very least–should have been drafted. Now that the kid’s succeeding as a Knick, the albatross is actually flying Lin to heights wings rarely reach. To quote Howard Beck: “The qualities that make Lin unique, and seemingly held him back, are now the qualities that make him a sensation.”

Jeremy Lin isn’t Jeremy Lin. For all the talk of him, there is a conspicuously little to shed light on the man’s personality. We know he is religious, we know he’s been sleeping on his brother’s couch. Beyond that, there is not much to draw from, at least not much publicly projected. People are content to embrace Lin as a symbol for now.

Last year, in the Warriors locker room, Lin sat alone. He was back from a Reno Big Horns relegation, I was excited to pick his brain on the experience. After all, a Harvard grad would have some profound insight on this D-League detour, on how Boston and Reno are culturally similar in a way I never would have guessed, on how Nevada’s pro gambling legislation impacts Reno’s economy like so. Was this whole experience Kafkaesque? Was it a quixotic adventure? Lin kindly, patiently, listened to the questions.

The result was platitudes, ushered out of his mouth by monosyllabic mumbles. The monosyllabism was occasionally interrupted by the throaty trill that creeps into the voice of a nervous speaker. Despite an unusual background, Jeremy delivered clichés like an athlete cliché, normal and boring as they come. For my purposes, the Harvard education

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