Monday, June 05, 2006

"Dumb" Answers Part I

Turns out that the request for supposedly "dumb" questions generated a decent response, so much so that we're going to have to split the answers into two parts. I'm including questions I've already answered by e-mail just in case somebody else had the same question. I don't claim to be the ultimate expert, so let me know if I've missed something.

1. In the statistics, what is a "team rebound"?

Every missed shot has to be accounted for on the statistics page with a rebound. Otherwise accountants and fantasy-basketball geeks everywhere go crazy. (Where'd that ball go? Out into space? We shall not rest until we find out!) Most misses are covered by a player grabbing the ball and getting a rebound credited on his individual stat line. But there are some rebounds that nobody ones that go out of bounds or ones at the end of the period after a last-second buzzer-beater falls short. Those rebounds aren't credited to any individual (since nobody in play grabbed them) but to the team as a whole. Thus they are called "team rebounds". It's more of a statistics-keeping line than anything that will help you analyze how well a team rebounds.

2. Is "boxing out" the same as "blocking out"?

Yes...different words for the same thing: getting your body in between the opponent and the ball on a rebound so he can't get it without climbing over your back.

3. What does it mean when someone has "good shooting form"?

It could mean a couple of things. First there's the textbook definition. Just about any decent book or website can give you all the details, but basically it means: shoulders facing square to the basket, feet apart at shoulder width, knees slightly bent, elbows bent more, shooting hand cradling the back of the ball with fingers loosely spread, non-shooting hand on the side of the ball, eyes on the front of the rim...push up with your legs as you shoot, extend arms above and slightly in front of your head, flick the wrist of your shooting hand while gently guiding with your off hand, follow through with your arms, leaving your palms facing outward after release. If that seems like a lot to remember, well, now you know why so few people make the NBA! The guy with the purest form I ever saw in person was Drazen Petrovic. Watching him warm up was like reading great poetry. I'm too young to have seen Geoff Petrie, but I understand he was pretty good too.

But unlike those guys, most NBA players don't have perfect form. Some, like Phoenix star Shawn Marion, are about as far away as you can get without getting laughed out of the gym. Shooting involves rhythm and comfort (which are the two things a defense tries to disrupt, by the way). It's not worth it to monkey with a guy who's shooting well, even if he has bad form. You risk destroying his rhythm, comfort, and confidence. In the NBA form takes a back seat to results.

Two factors that are universally important to NBA shooting, no matter what the form, are consistency and quick release.

Consistency simply means releasing the ball the same way every time. Michael Jordan was a master of this. He'd go up from the most awkward positions, but he had such leaping ability and concentration that by the time he reached the top of his jump, his form would be the same every single time. Even though it wasn't classically perfect, it worked on a regular basis. A lot of Hakeem Olajuwon's shots looked like they came from a cookie cutter too. Part of the problem Travis Outlaw is having on offense is that his shot looks different each time he puts it up. Maybe you noticed he finally developed a consistent turn-around jumper this year, and a lot more of those started going in.

Contrary to popular belief, most NBA players don't have 600 different kinds of moves, at least not that they display in competition. Instead they employ two or three shots that they can hit every time. The unusual shot makes the highlight reel, but the usual shots win games and pay the bills.

Quick release measures the time that elapses between you deciding to put up a shot and it leaving your hand. Releasing quickly doesn't allow the defense time to bother your shot. Shooting slowly, even if you're dead accurate, gives the defense a chance to react and disrupt you. Ray Allen is the unquestioned master of quick release accuracy. If you blink you'll miss his shooting motion. It's near superhuman. Several great college shooters who could probably drain the ball from halfcourt consistently in practice have fizzled in the league because their shot was just too deliberate and always got bothered.

In summation...when people talk about good shooters they could either mean they have great classic form or that they're consistent and quick.

4. I've always thought the old hook shot was one of the most indefensible shots in basketball. Where did it go?

Good question. Actually certain versions of the hook are still around. Both Joel and Theo shoot baby half hooks, which means turning your shoulder to the basket like you were going to shoot a hook shot and extending your shooting arm vertical over your head. But if you're talking about Kareem's sweeping sky hook, you're right. It's as dead as the dodo. Why?

--It looks awkward, and few of these younger generation folks will do anything that makes them look silly in public, even if it helps them win.
--Players haven't grown up practicing it, which makes the deity-level consistency we just talked about very hard to develop.
--Similarly, it's a slow shot. Defensive speed has increased over years, as have double-team defenses. Though Kareem got the shot off fairly quickly, a lot of his contemporaries would probably find the ball poked away by Dwayne Wade on the backswing nowadays.
--One of the main advantages of the hook shot is height. Part of Kareem's advantage was that he was 7'2" in an era where that was rare (at least combined with talent). There's a lot more height/talent parity today, so while the hook might still be effective, it wouldn't necessarily be as dominant as it looked back then.

Basically I think you can thank Hakeem for retiring the hook and replacing it with the turn-around baseline jumper for guys 6'11" and over. He looked amazing with that shot, and big men just followed. Maybe somebody will bring back the hook someday. But given the paucity of Rick Barry style free-throw shooters out there to this day, I'm not holding my breath.

5. What are the salary cap exceptions? Why have them?

It would be nearly impossible to go into all the details, but you can find a really detailed site here. Here are the major ones:

--The "Larry Bird" exception. The cap was introduced in '84-'85...right in the heart of the Lakers/Celtics rivalry. You may recall that Boston's top 6-7 players at that time were all considered stars and thus were highly paid. This meant that when Larry Bird's contract came up, the Celtics wouldn't have been able to re-sign him under the cap. Faced with the prospect of the marquee East Coast team losing its marquee star (and similar situations elsewhere) the league instituted a rule that a team could re-sign its own players to whatever amount it wanted, even if that contract would take it over the cap.

In order to qualify for the Bird exception a player has to have been with the team for three consecutive years. (Which explains why we can't do it with Joel Przybilla this year...he's only been here two years.) The institution of salary schedules a couple years ago changed the upper limit of the exception from "anything" to "the maximum salary allowed to that player by years of experience" but you can still go over the cap.

While much of the salary cap works against (or at least doesn't help) small-market teams, this is one rule that gives them a chance. Small-market superstars can't simply be bought by big-market teams. A player's original team can always offer as much money as anyone else.

--The Mid-Level exception. Because of the high level of talent in the league (and because owners can't stop themselves from overpaying for it) most teams quickly reach the cap level and stay there forever. To avoid complete stagnation, the league grants an exception to all teams at or near the cap. Each capped-up team has one average salary contract (last year about $5 million) to offer free agents each year. They can spend that money on one player, split it between two or more, or not offer it at all. This allows teams to make some moves (and free agents to get jobs) without abusing the system.

--Each team also has a smaller exception (around $1.5 million) to use the same way, but this exception can't be used two years in a row.

There are lots of other exceptions, but they're pretty arcane. This is why teams hire lawyers to become cap experts. The NBA will never have a true, unbreakable "hard" cap because teams speculate so much on unproven talent. (As I said, owners can't keep themselves from throwing dollars at the "next big thing". You need a way to work around your mistakes.) Also the players' union, happy with expanding salaries, would never agree to it.

6. In an interview the other day, Nate said "You need to execute in the half court." What does that mean?

"Execute" means run your plays well, as opposed to just standing around or throwing up any old shot. "Half court" means basically any offense that's not a fast-break layup. Its origins probably come from the midcourt line, which the offense cannot go behind once they've brought the ball over (see also: "over and back" violation). On a fast break the offense runs the full length of the court all at once. Anything else leaves you only the front half of the court to set your offense in, thus...half court offense.

Many people equate running a halfcourt offense with being slow and stagnant. This is not necessarily so. Back in the 70's and 80's the Denver Nuggets ran a halfcourt offense that was full of cutting, passing, and people moving everywhere. A fluid halfcourt offense can actually create more movement from more people than a fast break. The simultaneous evolution of the early 90's "Bad Boy" Detroit teams and Michael Jordan conspired to slow the game down. The Pistons were very physical on defense, making it hard for offensive players to move around without getting clobbered. Jordan was such an impresario that Chicago's offense often consisted of getting him the ball and letting him score. (Or him and Pippen, as the case may be.) Since both teams were so successful, many teams patterned their styles after them and the game slowed to a crawl. The mid-90's Houston teams with Olajuwon, Pippen, and Barkley were particularly painful to watch, as their offense consisted of getting the ball to one player and everyone else standing as far away as possible so that player could make his move. There wasn't much "execution" involved and it hardly qualified as "offense". With new NBA rules making it illegal to mug dribblers and cutters, teams like Phoenix and Dallas have started to resurrect motion in the halfcourt offense and the game is getting more interesting to watch again.

That's long enough for today. A couple more questions/answers tomorrow. Thanks for the questions folks!

--Dave (


Blogger ignacio said...

It seems like I rarely meet anyone anymore (male) who has had extensive athletic experience, whereas when I was young I sort of hated to be a "jock" (it was uncool) but there I was.

Charles Barkley not long ago said to Ernie Johnson, "I bet you've never been in a real fight in your whole life."

So, if one has never played sports, known violence, or (here's something vaguely related but semi from left field) been in the military, we really do approach a new definition of the contemporary male, one closer to Alan Alda or Woody Allen than, oh, I don't know... (sticking to white guys) Harrison Ford or the ever-useful John Wayne.

I bring up this rather large issue because of course the answers to so many of the "dumb questions" are elementary to those of us who were on the team in high school (leaving aside arcane salary-cap matters, but so what?)

Amd many young women will have played basketball intensively for years and joined in this culture -- is the culture of male and female athletes identical? Unclear.

I know I enjoy watching baseball in part because I was so good when I was young. I was on some very good basketball teams, but above a certain age I functioned as a role player. I still fall asleep however dreaming of long jumpers from the left corner --- how different is it to be a fan if one scarcely played, or never played well?

3:41 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Interesting question. You could expand it to ask how important it is for a head coach to have had playing experience in the league and such.

I would venture to say that picking up concepts is not too isn't brain surgery. However language often becomes an unneccesary barrier. I often hear people using jargon (like "halfcourt offense" or "pick and roll") that many of us have lived with for most of our lives, without acknowledging that there's a substantial segment of the population who can only pick it up by inference, if at all. This is not exclusive to sports, but is common to any field of knowledge.

The thing is, what is our responsibility to each other as fans and/or just friendly people? I've observed a lot of people, especially online, who like to use knowledge/language as a boundary defining who's "in" and "out" if the whole sport/hobby, and discussion thereof, existed just to make them feel privileged and powerful compared to the next guy. I hate that crap. Always did. I'm a smart enough person, but I don't know a lot of stuff about a lot of stuff. I'm always grateful when somebody bothers to clue me in.

I think there's room for a lot of basketball fans, and I think we need a lot more Blazer fans involved (or re-involved) in the life of the franchise. If the definition of two words is going to make people feel more engaged and enjoy the experience more, isn't it smart (and just plain decent) for those in on the definition to share with those who'd like to understand it better?

One of the cool things about this little exercise was that every person but one who sent in a question had already been corresponding and had talked at length at one time or another about basketball theory/concepts. (Very thoughtfully too.) There's obviously no lack of intelligence or passion out there when it comes to Blazer talk. It's just that some of us mis-spent our youthful years learning the jargon while other people were doing more important things...


4:53 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Oh...and I am really interested in your juxtaposition of sports and violence, though I wouldn't go as far as to divide folks into Woody Allen and John Wayne categories. (Most folks I know are some of each, depending on the situation and need.) I have done a fair amount of thinking on the sport/athlete/violence issue and might write more about it in the future. Thanks for your thoughts!

4:56 PM  
Anonymous jorga said...

ignacio - interesting perspective. I am a female coming from an era when it was nearly impossible for girls to be jocks. I can't remember any h.s. girls' sports outside of PE. Even in college I don't recall anything above the level of intramural for women although we may have had golf and tennis teams. And I, totally uncoordinated, barely passed my gym classes. But for whatever reason I have been a sports fan all my life. (I don't have brothers and my dad was more likely to watch boxing on tv than MLB.) But I started going to minor league baseball & hockey games while still in grade school. I was a rabid fan of many sports when in h.s. and college.

But because I have never been taught how to play, I have had to learn the games as an spectator. When I was young I didn't care beyond the basics. I knew about "icing the puck" and "forcing the runner at 2nd" and could identify a balk or a passed ball ... which actually was pretty knowledgeable for a high school girl then. I learned h.s. and college basketball in person without play-by-plays so I only knew what I saw, not what it was called.

So when it comes to watching the NBA it's literally starting from scratch. What's the role of a two guard, what do you expect from a power forward, Where do they play on the floor? Offensively? Defensively? I don't really know how the game should be played. So while you, as a player, are able to judge levels of execution and can see when someone "moves well without the ball" or "leaves his man on defense", I can only see the big picture. Play by play accounts have to assume a certain level of knowledge on the part of the viewer/listener - resulting in "dumb questions" from those of us who never called anyone "Coach".

And thanks to Dave who has a sincere interest in helping us dummies learn!

5:53 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Ooooh Jorga! Good questions! I'm going to borrow those too...

Way to carry the torch for women jocks before it was cool to do so. And major props to you for wanting to learn more about the game. It seems like nowadays everybody just likes to complain without taking a real interest in what they're complaining about. That gets soooo old. In my opinion you are exactly the kind of person the team (and the Blazer online community) needs to cultivate if there's to be a renewal of spirit.

Your presence also makes me look forward to the start of the season more, because I always do game recaps and I reference certain events during the game (like when somebody loses his man or doesn't block out). Now as I see them I will be wondering, "Did Jorga see that?" I guess we'll get to find out.


8:20 PM  
Anonymous Lance Uppercut said...

I've got a question for you Dave: How come your so much better at blogging than I am? And how do you get people to send you e-mails? I've probably received about 10 e-mails the whole time I've been blogging. What's your secret? Where are my keys? Why did I go to Arby's this weekend?

8:45 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

Arby's breath cuts down on e-mails dude. People can smell it from miles away. Pugh.

Seriously, I love the e-mails and I don't know why people write, I'm just glad they do. But it probably sounds more impressive than it is. There are some wonderful regulars who account for a lot of them, so it's not like there's a mass following around here. (At least not a traceable one.) But maybe a cult following? Ooooh...I kind of like that. Like one of those films that wins awards in Cannes but nobody sees here.


9:26 AM  
Anonymous Davey said...

Here's another take: sometimes a "dumb" question is asked with the hope of getting a little different perspective. We may think we already know the answer but it can be refreshing to catch one of those "Oh, yeah...I never saw it that way.."
And yet another angle: in my case, I WAS very active in sports in my younger days, then through the twists of life, lost touch with the sporting scene. Now I'm at a point where I am eager to get back in the "game". Problem is, the game has changed , with new concepts and vocabulary. When someone offers to help me get up to speed, I'm jumpin' on it.

9:34 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

My question is, why aren't the Blazers doing something similar? Pick any Sunday game that's not going to be too popular. On the Saturday before hold an open house including lunch, a 2-3 hour clinic for "dummies", and a ticket to the next day's game, all for $20. Have a couple assistant coaches come in to demonstrate basic rules and concepts. Have a couple players show up to shake hands. Let folks run a pick and roll with Steve Blake or try to dribble across the timeline in 8 seconds with Juan Dixon guarding them. Everybody comes to the game the next day watching for the things you taught them, they feel more involved in the action, and they start cheering things they never noticed before (and telling their friends about them). This seems like such a no-brainer to me, especially if you want to connect with the community beyond the typical hardcore guys. Does anyone know if they do offer this kind of thing?


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