True Hoops

True Hoops

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Kevin Durant's Pre-game post work

A little while ago I wrote a post about Kevin Durant using the Dirk Nowitzki one-legged fade away jumper in a preseason game. At the time it seemed that play was simply an ode to a great player that KD respects. However, really it was an indication that the two-time reigning scoring champ added yet another layer of skill to his game.

At 6'9" with over a 7 foot wing span, having a post game certainly seems like the thing to do.

The amazing thing of course, is how quickly and seamlessly KD seems to have incorporated a post game into his offensive arsenal. Therefore, from a practice perspective, it certainly would be nice to look at what sorts of things KD focuses on - from mechanics to footwork - to have efficiently developed this part of his game.

Well, it just so happens a couple of weeks ago I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to see KD actually work on his post moves before his game against the New Jersey Nets.

Take a look for yourself:

Just a synopsis of KD's routine (at least for this game):
1) Durant was the first person on the court to workout. But this was for good reason, as you can start to see, the court gets rather crowded (it got even worse after the video ends). You can imagine how hard it is to practice when you have 6 to 8 people all shooting on one basket. Therefore, to get in good work, you have to get on the court early!

2) KD did not warmup. This was amazing - considering how cold it was in the the arena. He literally walked onto the court and just starting shooting from the corner. I guess that was his warmup.

3) After going "around the world" from mid-range, KD then went back "around the world" working on his post moves. After that, he went "around the world" a third time - getting up three point shots. He finished (not pictured here) shooting pull-up three pointers, dribbling from half court.

Attention to detail. 

Kevin Durant is tall - even more so when you see him in person. So, notice how for every post up he has his knees bent before receiving the pass. This was the first thing that stuck out to me when when I was filming. This actually serves a critical function. Being in a lower position allows KD to make a move once he catches the ball - without delay. You can actually see KD making a lot of quick moves and even moving (his feet) with the momentum of the ball from the right block when he starts (closest to the camera). In all, posting up in this knees bent position enables him to move faster, preventing a would be defender from setting up. Think of it as a "triple threat" position for post players.

Beyond posture, this is really a great video to look at his foot work. 
Almost all of the time when KD catches the ball he establishes his left foot as the pivot. This allows him to face up the defender and place his right foot - which is his strong side being a right handed shooter - closer to the basket and dictate his move:


What KD is great at (along with Carmelo Anthony) is facing up the defender and then hitting them with a quick "rip through" to swing the ball through to his right side and blow by the defender. In turn, KD often counters this with a jab step with his right foot - in essence to fake the rip through - and then go in the opposite direction. Of course, lately KD has added the step-back/fade-away jumper after his initial jab step (check out the 5:30 mark). Keep in mind, any time KD posts from the right block, with his right shoulder closest to the basket (like the picture above) - he is naturally in a position to facilitate this process. However, you'll also notice even when KD catches the ball with his left shoulder closer to the basket, he still uses his left foot as a pivot. In this case, KD will swing his body 180 degrees either to go right into his shot or get his right foot/shoulder is in front to make a move. 

One of the only times KD uses his right foot as a pivot is on the left block (away from the camera). You'll notice here that he turns away from the middle and towards the baseline for a fade-way jumper. Still, he ends up having his right foot/shoulder closer to the basket in a position that favors him going up into his shot.

So, you got all that?
Sure you do.
You'll be a scoring champ in no time!

Not Again

Who needs to leap over buildings, when you can just power through them:

A few things come to mind:

1) Oh me oh my!
Way for the announcer to stay consistent with his catch phrase - while bringing it a different tonal quality. Additionally, way to raise the pitch in his voice in anticipation that something unfathomable is about to happen - before it happens.

2) Maybe it wasn't such a good thing that Kendrick Perkins lost weight during the lockout. Perhaps the extra girth would have prevented Griffin from finishing at the rim.

3) Since coming to OKC, Perkins has been on the wrong end of some pretty nasty dunks. 

4) Is it me or does Griffin actually go higher after the contact?

5) The look of James Harden's face after the dunk is priceless. What is he really thinking? His facial expression perfectly conveys what must surely be the conflict of interest he feels in displaying awe over a play that just embarrassed his teammate. No, he can't show up Perkins on TV......that's what the ride home on the team bus is for.

6) I like how Griffin throws DeAndre Jordan's arms off him. 
You can almost hear him thinking "get off me!" 

7) This is why Griffin and LeBron need to be in the slam dunk contest this year (along with Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook). Their respective competitive natures and athleticism would take the competition to new heights - literally.

8) You know who the happiest person in the world is right now???
Timofey Mozgov

Monday, January 30, 2012

Able to Leap Tall Buildings in a Single Bound

Okay, John Lucas is not a tall building.
But the way LeBron is attacking the rim these days......
I don't think it would have mattered if he was:

35 points, 11 rebounds, and 5 assists wasn't that bad either in leading Miami over the Bulls.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Where There's a D-Will, There's a Way

Did I mention I was at the OKC/Nets last Saturday?
For some reason I seemed to have missed Deron Williams.
Against the team with the best record in the NBA and one of the top young point guards in the NBA (Russell Westbrook), Williams recorded a pedestrian (for him) 14 points and 6 assists on 5 for 18 shooting. A little disappointing, as Williams seemed passive throughout most of the night.

Doesn't D-Will know that he is by far the best player on his team (not to mention one of the top 3 point guards in the NBA) and thus for the Nets to have any chance against the NBA's elite he has to destroy the opposition every time he has the ball?

Well, someone seemed to relay that message to Williams the other night when the Nets visited the Atlantic division leading 76ers in Philadelphia.

Want to talk about destroying the opposition?
How's this play from your point guard:

This really isn't a surprise. Deron Williams gets up. And he certainly is not afraid to try and finish dudes. I remember during the 2008 olympics in Beijing, Williams had the audacity to try to finish Yao Ming (the unofficial host of those games) during the highly emotional USA/China opening game. For 4 years I have been relentlessly searching for a youtube video of the play just so I can see that missed dunk again. Yao Ming fell - it was filthy.
But I digress...

As you can see, the dunk against Philly happened early in the game, but Williams carried the momentum from that play throughout the whole night.
Down two with around 10 seconds to go in regulation, Williams calmly manuvered his way by Andre Iguodala to get to the rim and send the game into overtime.
But he didn't stop there.

With the game tied and under a minute to go in overtime, Williams decided he was going home with a W. Check out this nifty move:

Essh, talk about nasty.
I was walking home and stopped in front of a window to watch the highlights. I literally, by myself, said "oh my goodness" out loud with a look of disgust on my face. A little overt, I know. Perhaps I should have tried the Iguodala approach - who simply scratched the back of his head after the play.

We know Williams has a habit of putting defenders in a tough spot, but a crossover/step back-three pointer to take the lead.....on the road? And let's be real, Williams had the open jump shot after the cross-over, there really wasn't any need to step-back. But that's just being in rhythm, feeling yourself,  and dancing on the defender.
Absolutely fan-tas-tic.

Williams finished with 34 points and 11 assists - everyone of them needed.
The Nets visit the Cavs in Cleveland tonight. Good luck Kyrie Irving.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Royal Background

This past weekend, the Oklahoma City Thunder made their only visit to the tri-state area as they played at the Prudential center against the New Jersey Nets.

Like every other member of the media there, I attended the game with the hopes of seeing/speaking with Kevin Durant and/or Russell Westbrook. However, while everyone else in the Thunder locker room flocked to both of the aforementioned superstars - I unexpectedly became enticed with the prospects of interviewing another member of the team. By himself in a secluded corner away from all the hoopla, I couldn't believe who was sitting right next to me......

It was none other than Royal Ivey! you Know who Royal Ivey is?
Let me tell you.

Royal is a self-described "journey man" backup point guard for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Selected by Atlanta in the second round of the '04 draft, Royal has since had two stints playing in Milwaukee, and one in Philly, before landing in OKC. He is currently in his 8th year in the NBA. In college, Royal was a four year starter for Texas and helped them reach the Final four in '03.

While this is all well and fine, more relevant to me is Royal's origin.
He is an NYC product, having gown up and played high school ball in Queens.

But even more exciting for me, is the fact that I actually played against Royal 13 years ago!

We both played in the "Wheel Chair" charity basketball classic - a two day tournament that features most of the top high school basketball players in the city, representing each borough. I played for the Manhattan team and Royal played for the Queens team.
Our teams faced each other in the championship game.
They won.

We didn't know each other. We were both 17 year old high school seniors playing in an exposure game that would alter the course of our respective futures. To be honest, I had no idea who Royal was at the time and didn't even realize he played in the game until several years ago when I went back to check the roster.

In fact, I'm sure Royal didn't even start for his borough. Queens happened to be represented that year by two future McDonald's all-american points guards: Omar Cook and Taliek Brown. I played with Omar for one year at St. John's. After a year in college, he was drafted in the second round but unfortunately never caught on in the NBA - although has had a successful career overseas. Taliek was a four year starter at UCONN, and helped lead them to the NCAA championship his senior year.

At the time, they were seen as the next great NYC point guards.
The NBA wasn't in their futures.
It was for Royal.

And this is what makes Royal's story so interesting: It is the fact that he came out of NYC not as a highly recruited prospect - certainly not considered the best in the city - yet still found his way to the NBA and is the only one from his class to still be playing there. It is the fact that he was able to overcome the odds, fly underneath the radar and hype of his peers, and be the one to accomplish his dreams.

It is a dream and over a decade of devotion to the game that I can relate to. And while ultimately the fruition of my basketball dream turned out to be different from what I envisioned, the pursuit was the same as Royal's. It was with this in mind that I jumped at the opportunity of speaking with Royal and asking him about his New York roots and his journey to and in the NBA.

Take a listen:

A remarkable story with several important concepts.
Royal wasn't heavily recruited out of high school - but because he played with a top recruit, he got exposure and an opportunity to go to a prep school. Similarly, he wasn't a top recruit at prep school - but because he played with Luol Deng he got exposure and an opportunity to get scouted by Texas. And I am sure that despite the fact that his stats weren't gaudy at Texas, he probably made an impression at the pre-draft workout and interviews despite being surrounded by more coveted prospects. And that this was enough impress and warrant him being selected in the second round.

There is so much valuable information here:
The concept of taking advantage of the opportunities you have - even if they come about through someone else. I can't tell you how many times, as a high coaches, my brother and I try to convey this message to our players. That you never know who is in the stands, most likely recruiting someone else. That you always have to put your best foot forward because it may impress someone and cause them to take a closer look at you. And of course this goes beyond the basketball court - you ALWAYS want to do your best and present yourself in the best manner, primarily because you are representing yourself and your community, but also because you will come across so many people and opportunities that you always want to be in a position to take advantage of them.

If you noticed - I made a mistake during the interview when I said that Cardozo high school was "a good catholic school." No, it is not a Catholic (private) school - it is actually a public school. In the tri-state area, many of the top recruits come out of private schools. Therefore, the fact that Royal came out of a public school (PSAL = public school athletic league) with limited funds and resources is even more amazing. It certainly makes his story more relatable for a majority of inner city kids.

How about the fact that Royal didn't even play until he was a junior in high school?
The idea of being persistent, despite little recognition. The idea of being humble. The idea of taking nothing for granted. Of not worrying about more "talented" players but just continuing to work hard.  Staying true to yourself and your craft. Believing in yourself, and believing dedication pays off.

I tell you, in this time of reality TV, baseless sound bytes, instant gratification, and false meritocracy  - these are the most refreshing and reassuring words I've heard in a while.

After the OKC game, I got a chance to ask Royal some more light hearted questions. This time about how often he comes home, what he thinks of the renound NYC street ball scene, what it was like to see Kevin Durant play in the NYC tournaments, and ultimately what separates street ball players from NBA players.

It was a very interesting conversation:

I only spoke with Royal for less than 10 minutes, but the dude dropped a ton of knowledge!

The NBA is a skill league filled with tons of role players. "Only a hand full of players do many things  exceptionally, and those are all-stars." "Everyone else is a role player.""It's not about individual one on one entertainment, it's about winning."

The concept of role players playing their role to perfection to help the team be the most successful it can be.  That a role player has many different functions - making open shots, running the offense, defending, making your teammates better in practice, supporting your teammates during games, etc. Some are less canonical that others, but are still equally important towards an organization being successful. The concept of playing in a system, understanding various parts, and finding your position to make it run better. It seems like such a simple concept, but amazingly this is something many people don't understand, both on and off the court.

I feel like this lack of knowledge is what holds many young players back from being more successful.  I suppose, much of the problem is kids not knowing what their role should be. Many times it's up to coaches to assess and delegate roles every year (while allowing players to develop and understanding that a player's role may change each year as they improve and develop new skills). But also, it's up to players to understand and accept what their role is, ultimately for the greater benefit of the team (also knowing if they want their role to change they have to put in the work to get better).

But this will really bake your noodle: What if the concept of the role player and understanding the system is applied outside of basketball? What if we all knew what our specific skills were and found out a way to harness this towards towards our careers. Or what if we all found our optimal place in society and used this to make our lives, families, or communities more prosperous? Kind of a crazy thought right?

Well let me also say, I don't want to romanticize Royal's situation too much. I know first hand what it is like to sit on the end of the bench - traveling from arena to arena, having what you love right in front of you and not be able to really be apart of it the way you would like to. But I also can appreciate the strength it takes to stick with it, and the personal sacrifice it takes to still be positive, work hard and do what's right for the sake of the team.

And that's it. That's Royal's success story.
He is a humble, hard working man that understands his role and how he can play it to perfection to make the team better. He understands the system and knows how to do what is needed of him to make it run better. And because of his intelligence, his dedication, and acceptance, he has become an essential component of one of the best teams in the NBA!

Royal Ivey has career stats of 3.5 points, 1.1 assists, and 1.2 rebounds per game.
But the numbers don't do justice to his value as a teammate.
They don't convey his role of mentor to Kevin Durant ("Mr. Fifteen" @
Coming from New York City, having hoops dreams like millions of other kids - the numbers don't mean anything.

Wearing an NBA uniform and being a professional in the true sense of the word is everything.
He serves as an reaffirmation to my basketball dreams and an inspiration to those of tons of kids growing up in the city. After our interview, I told him in reference to myself "even if you don't make it, you want to at least know that you knew someone or played against someone that did."

Having finally met and spoken with Royal after all these years  - I can say that I played against someone that did in fact "make it."
How did he make it?
Royal said to me, "I am a winner" on the court.
Let me correct him. It's because Royal Ivey is a winner off the court.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Just Boshing With You

What's the third part of a big three worth?
That's probably a question you don't have answered until one or both of the other triumvirate constituents are missing.

So naturally, when Dwyane Wade and LeBron James are healthy and doing their respective things we  tend to over look the value of Chris Bosh. As outstanding as 20 points per game (12th in the league) on 51% shooting to go along with 8 rebounds per game is (as a third option), we tend to take it for granted. Or even worse, some fools may get the notion that this guy isn't a great player  and somehow is "soft."

However, as we saw last year in the Eastern conference finals against Chicago, when Wade struggled to the point peopled question whether he was healthy, Bosh got to display his worth. He averaged 27 points and 9 rebounds on 59% shooting.

How about this year?
Remember Miami's first loss of the season to Atlanta?
What about the rematch a week later when Wade and LeBron were out due to injury?
No Wade, no 'Bron, no problem.
Not with Bosh leading the way to a triple overtime victory.
33 points, 15 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks.
(who does this guy think he is? Josh Smith?)
Let's not forget the three pointer he made at the end of regulation to send the game into the first overtime.

And what about the other night agains the Spurs, after the Heat lost 3 in a row?
No Wade, so Bosh was elevated in stature to second fiddle behind LeBron.
How does 30 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, and 4 steals sound to you?

This guy is a beast.
And a skilled beast at that.
Check out this nifty play from the other night:

Yeah, that's a 6'11" - 235 pounder taking the ball up the court to first in-and-out then spin off a defender at the foul line and finish above the rim with two.

It just seems time and again, that Bosh comes through for the the Heat at critical junctures throughout the season and postseason. Perhaps I'm starting to sound like a broken record.

That guy can be the 2nd or 3rd option on my team anytime.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Five by Five (almost)

Have you ever heard of it?

No, it is not some reference to the latest installment of the Fast and the Furious franchise.
A five by five is when a basketball player records a total of at least 5 in 5 statistical categories.
Yeah, I had no idea what it was called either.

Maybe the reason it's not such a household name is because since the 1984-85 NBA season, it is a feat that has been accomplished by only 7 players.

Why do I bring up this interesting fact? Because it almost occurred last night.
Check out Josh Smith's stat line in leading the Hawks to a win over the Bulls:
25 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals, and 6 blocks.
Has a 4 (or a 6) ever looked so out of place to you?

Even though Smith missed out on achieving basketball immortality by 1 measly steal, it was still an awesome display of basketball versatility - that deserves a shot out.

I must say I have always tended to be hard on Josh Smith. He seems to have all the tools to be a great player but not necessarily the intangibles. Still he can certainly be an impact player in many facets of the game when he wants to be. Perhaps because of this, I once heard Jamal Crawford rave about how he should be an All-star year in and year out.

I like to use Josh Smith as a measuring stick for what type of players there are in the NBA.
In the NBA you have tons of 6'5" - 6'9" wings players and shooters. Many are role players (think Bill Walker - 6'6"- of the Knicks), some are really good at one thing (for shooting think Kyle Kover - 6'7", for defense think Shane Battier - 6'8"). Then you have those, like Josh Smith - 6'9" - who are not quite stars but are talented and can do many things on both sides on the floor. Then of course, you have LeBron James - 6'8" - who is All-World.

It always makes me think, if guys like Smith and LeBron have essentially the same physical attributes and athleticism, what makes them different players? Just food for thought.

But I digress.....
You have to be impressed with Smith's game last night, and the Hawks in general early on.
They are the only team to beat Miami and one of only two teams to beat Chicago.