True Hoops

True Hoops

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Fundamentals with LeBron and Wade

Sometimes the opening act is better than the main show.

Last night viewers on TNT were forced to endure a Heat/Celtics game devoid of LeBron, Wade, Bosh, Rondo, Garnett, Allen, and for the most part Pierce. However, those lucky enough to be in the building were treated to an impromptu practice session before the game featuring none other than LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

Let's just say I was one of the lucky ones.
And now you are too:

That's right.
Just because you take a day off, doesn't mean you take a day off. These two have to stay sharp, after all they have a championship or two still to win.

A couple fo things to point out.
Last time, using Carmelo Anthony as an example, I mentioned how one move can evolve into several variations - as long as you master the initial one. It's really the fundamentals that are important - they enable you to improvise.

The same can be seen in the video above with two of the best players in the world. Look how fairly simplistic their routine is. But also notice how for the first part of their routine - it's essentially one move that turns into three.

If you notice, both of them start from the left wing and then work their way across to the left elbow to receive the pass. This, more than likely, is to simulate coming off a screen from the weak side to get open.

First move/basic move: Catch and shoot.
This is fairly straight forward but the footwork is key. As they come to the elbow, they ultimately will plant their left foot as they catch the ball and use it to pivot around to face the basket. The pivot and their momentum allows them to go right up into their shot (as a right handed shooter, your momentum will be carrying your strong shoulder and foot towards the basket). Sometimes you'll see Wade do a little hop step into it, other times it's more in rhythm. Doing it fluidly gives you proper balance but more importantly prevents your defender from recovering off the screen (we've addressed this before with Kevin Durant). Of course, when you are as good as these guys (and probably only then) you can start to fade away on your shot.

Second move/variation #1: Catch and Rip through.
After coming off a screen the defender is chasing you. If you sense they are going all out to close the gap, one option you have is to rip the ball through in the opposite direction, using the defender's momentum of playing catch-up against them. Again footwork is key - rather than swinging your right foot into your shot, you want to push off it to give you force to move the ball across your body. From here you can drive to the basket, drive and pull-up, or as you see these guys start to do - drive then step-back into their jumper. Think about how hard that is to defend trying to recover coming off a screen then getting blown by - only to get hit with the step back! What's pretty funny about the video is that LeBron and Wade actually try to incorporate Dirk's patented one-legged fade away into their step back. They still have some work to do.

Third move/variation #2: Catch and go.
Okay, so your defender has done a pretty good job closing the gap off the screen and is on your hip preventing you from ripping the ball through. What can you do? Well, you're still in a position to dribble with your strong hand. Actually the defender trailing/being on your hip helps facilitate this. So as you catch the ball on the elbow - you can actually take 1-2 dribbles towards the middle of the foul line and then pull up/fade away into your jump shot.

Okay, this isn't rocket science.
But that's the point. Off of one screen you have three options at you disposal:
1) pivot into your shot
2) rip the ball through
3) dribble to the middle and pull up.
So simple, you can even practice them with a dislocated finger......

Another thing to consider is practicing game situations.
And that's exactly what LeBron and Wade do in the second half of this video.
With LeBron or Wade having the ball above the three point line, consider this:




Pretty simple right???
But I'm sure it can be pretty effective when you have these three guys running it (heck, I even saw it work with Chalmers and Battier running it last right). Look how many options you have. Now go back to the second routine in the video above. What do you think they were practicing???

Situational drills are extremely important (i.e. practicing coming off screens - with and without the ball). You are training your body to recognize and operate in a particular situation that way you can be ready to perform at a high level when confronted with these situation in games. And of course once you have the structure - you can improvise when needed (and look at LeBron improvise with his dribble - he's 6'8" & 250 doing that!!!).

This is something that Steve Nash does all the time during his practice routines. You can see and listen to him discuss training the body to perform for yourself.

Well, that's enough talking from me.
But before you go, you might as well watch them practice isolation moves on the wing......right?
After all, practice makes perfect:

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Hesitate and Go

Perhaps this can be a motto for the New York Knicks after they suffered a minor setback by losing to the Miami Heat on Sunday. No they didn't get the win, but they should still come away feeling good they were able to compete, especially considering no one of the team had a particularly good game other than Carmelo Anthony.

On to the next one!

But before we go, let's take a mandatory pause to consider that Melo didn't have a good game either. No, he had a spectacular game: 42 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists.
Is it me or does it seem as if Melo is starting to do this on a regular basis for the Knicks?

In the past, I have readily stated my infatuation with how profuse content can be elegantly conveyed through simplistic constructs. Well, here is another one for you: Greatness is making something difficult look easy.

Wasn't Carmelo Anthony's performance against the Heat on Sunday a perfect representation of these concepts? Let me rephrase that question: Isn't it amazing how Carmelo can score 42 points against the Heat (i.e. some of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA) using only one simple move?

Let me tell you something that Carmelo Anthony is exceptional at:
1) Squaring up is defender with a dribble.
2) Using his dribble to set up a little hop/hesitation to freeze his defender
3) Then changing speeds to blow by his defender.


Again, repeat after me:



Simple enough right? Already in full speed as Dywane Wade starts to react.
Take a look at the results in real-time:

The best part about this video is how the commentator says Melo's drive to the basket was "easy." Keep in mind, that's Dywane Wade guarding him! You know, the Dywane Wade that has been known to lock down Kobe on occasion (or at least break his nose).

But dig this: the only reason Wade was on Carmelo was because Melo employed this move on LeBron numerous times in the first quarter to get LeBron into foul trouble. The two best defenders on the Heat had nothing for Melo. Any coincidence he was smiling so much during the game?

But here is were simplicity is truly beautiful.
Because this one move is so effective - it actually transforms into several others moves!
And we're talking rapid transformation - like within the same quarter.
As defenders start to play Melo for the hesitation and go, this is how he adjusts his game:

Poor Shane. 
He did nothing wrong there. Seeing LeBron and Wade get blown by regularly - as a defender that's what he tried to take away. However, as a superb offensive talent that is able to read what the defense is giving him - Melo evolves.

Just to be clear, the adjustment is:
Dribble-hesitate-go -------------> Dribble-hesitate-go-crossover

Again, repeat after me:




And as seen above, the result is Melo creating tons of space for his jumpshot:

But it doesn't really stop there.
As a coach I told my players on numerous occasions how important the hesitate and go is. By mastering this one simple move - and I mean really mastering the change of speeds, perhaps accentuated by a little hop after the dribble - in effect you really have maybe 4-5 moves at your disposal (and double that amount if you master it with both hands!).

That's right, the hesitate and go can become:
1) Hesitate-go-crossover
2) Hesitate-pullup jumper
3) Hesitate-reverse between the legs 
4) Hesitate--go-behind the back
5) etc, etc.

Carmelo used at least three of these variations during the game on Sunday. 
Kind of hard to argue with the results, right?

It's such a simple game.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Back Against Wall

Who is this team playing basketball in New York and what have they done with the Knicks?

Can you believe that exactly one month ago the Knicks, after losing 6 consecutive games, were a fetid 18-24? Seemingly no hope and no playoffs in sight. Yes, a coaching change provided an initial spark but then to make matters even worse the Knicks lost Amar'e and Lin to injury.

Well, the one thing about hitting rock bottom is that there is no where to go but up.

In the last month, with the season in the balance, the Knicks are 13-4 (9-0 at home) and now stand at 31-28. They currently have the 7th seed in the eastern conference playoff race, and are only 3 games back of Orlando with 7 games to play. Oh and by the way, the Magic will be with out a guy named Dwight Howard for the rest of the season.

Dare I say the New York Knicks are resilient team???

They came back from 10 down in the 4th quarter last Sunday to beat the Bulls in overtime.
They then came back again in the 4th a few days later to beat the Bucks on the road, on the second night of a back to back game.

And then of course, there was last night's game against the Wizards. A typical Knicks team would have had a let down after a key victory. But not these guys! They destroyed the Wizards by 38 points and held Washington to just 65 points! Wow.

How are they even doing this?
Well, for starters Carmelo Anthony is playing like a super star (which he is). He has taken a lot of the blame for the Knicks struggles this year, but there is no doubt that he is leading this team to the promised land when it counts the most - right now.

Additionally, Tyson Chandler and Iman Shumpert are playing at extremely high levels - particularly on the defensive end. Then you have role players that are playing within themselves and making significant contributions - Steve Novak, J.R. Smith.

And of course, as this all reaches a confluence other guys start to step up.
Take Baron Davis. Yesterday was his 33rd birthday. B Diddy celebrated by having his best game as a Knick - scoring 18 points on 7-9 shooting (4-5 from three). And keep mind, Baron isn't even fully heathy. Self admittedly, he still has some issues with his back:

Happy Birthday Baron!!! 
I guess the Knicks take this Back to the Wall thing both figuratively and literally.

Okay, that was a low blow, but I had to have a little fun. 
And that's how good the Knicks are playing now - you can have fun with them. Perviously, this play would have been embarrassing  - but now, who cares? It's almost embarrassing to the Wizards - after all they got smoked by almost 40.

Of course, a dose of reality comes tomorrow.
The Knicks play the Heat. Might as well face reality now because if things keep going the way they have been - this could be a preview of a first round playoff matchup.
But Fret not Knicks fans! The Knicks (13-4) have actually been a better team than Miami (5-6) over the last month. And remember the last time the Knicks came off a lockout, with a lot of new faces, and had a crazy regular season, and had to go on a ridiculous winning streak just to make the playoffs??? That's right, they beat the number 1 seeded Heat in the first round and became the only number 8 seed in NBA history to make it to the Finals.

Any chance of a repeat?

Monday, April 9, 2012

Captain Clutch

The Bulls folding in the clutch followed by the Knicks making big plays down the stretch to win???
What planet are we living on?

Well, the Knicks/Bulls game Sunday at the Garden certainly provided some out of this world moments.
After being down 21 points in the first quarter, the Bulls managed to fight all the way back to take the lead late in the 4th quarter. No real surprise there. As is typical Knicks fashion, no lead is safe.

However the real shocker was being down 10 points with just three and a half minutes to go in regulation, the Knicks managed to finish the 4th on a 10-0 run to force overtime. This was capped off by the bulls missing 4 straight free throws, the last two by Derrick Rose.

Down three with under 20 seconds to go, this happened:

The only thing better than Melo's actual shot, was Van Gundy saying the Bulls shouldn't foul right before he pulled from 35 feet in Gibson's face.

Of course in overtime, the Knicks found themselves down 4 points with a little over a minute to go. But then a Carmelo Anthony Lay-up followed by a Derrick Rose turnover led to this:

The only thing better than Melo's actual shot was Van Gundy saying "I like that" right before he nailed it in Deng's mug.

Melo finished the game with 43 points on 16-31 shooting while leading the Knicks over the team with the best record in the league.  And this was a much needed win. It enabled the Knicks to stay ahead of the Bucks by one game for the 8th seed in the East and pull to within one game of the 76ers for the 7th seed. Quite frankly, with the season on the line Melo is carrying the Knicks right now. He's averaging 30 points per game on 49% shooting in the last 7 games (in which the Knicks are 5-2).

With 10 games to go, how much more can Carmelo do? 
How far can the Knicks go?

We'll get a good idea this week as the Knicks have a rematch with Chicago on Tuesday followed a showdown with the Bucks Wednesday.

Go NY! Go NY! Go!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

In LeBron's Defense

At the end of my "Durant's Diversity" post last week that depicted how Kevin Durant gave LeBron James and Miami the business in Oklahoma, I proposed out loud that:

"It will be interesting to see how LeBron reacts as an underdog."

Well, after last night's rematch between OKC and Miami, LeBron provided an answer:
34 points (50% shooting), 10 assists, 7 rebounds, and 4 steals.

Something got into LeBron James yesterday.
Maybe it was the Russell Westbrook flagrant foul in the second quarter.
Maybe it was Kevin Durant Slapping him across the head as he went for a dunk in the third quarter.
Or Maybe it was everyone questioning his mettle and saying Durant really is the better player/MVP.

Truth be told, LeBron puts up these types of astronomical numbers on the regular.
The real difference in LeBron's game last night was his aggressiveness on Defense. He was so much more assertive and focused.

If you remember the last game in OKC, LeBron was run off screens and knocked to the floor - which enabled KD to get his shot off quickly and in rhythm. This time in Miami, LeBron was fully prepared for the screens and ran under and/or through them to make sure at the very least he contested all of KD's shots or even better got deflections and steals.
Take a look:

1) KD on the right block, setting LeBron up for a Russell Westbrook downscreen

2) Rather than trail KD, LeBron decides to go under the screen and is met by Westbrook

3) Rather than get in the way, Dywane Wade leaves enough space for LeBron to get under. Plus LeBron is strong enough and determined enough to fight through Westbrook screen.

4) Seeing Perkins pass the ball, LeBron extends his entire body to get a deflection and bat the ball away from Durant.

5) The plays not over yet. Within seconds, LeBron goes from fighting under a screen on the block to chasing the ball out towards half court.

6) Defense to Offense

Believe it or not, but as nice as this play was, LeBron's on the ball defense was even better.

Last game in OKC, if you noticed, LeBron defensively gave KD a bit of space because he was concerned about getting beat off the dribble. As a result KD was in the driver's seat all night long and able to dictate the game. A perfect example was when he hit a buzzer beater at the half over LeBron. KD used the space he was given (and his cross-over) to put LeBron on a string and then comfortably pull up for the jumper. He was in a comfort zone all night, either getting great looks in single coverage or making plays when doubled.

This time in Miami, LeBron was up in the body of KD all game - not giving him any space:

Look at that picture above. LeBron was physical and thus dictated what KD could do. One on one he forced KD to drive or go to his post game and it made all the difference in the world. Confronted with this aggressive defense KD had a whopping 9 turnovers. There was one play in the fourth quarter where KD tried to rip the ball trough on an isolation but LeBron was up on him so much he literally just took the ball from him. Also, think about the buzzer beater KD hit this game at the end of the 3rd quarter. LeBron was playing pressure defense on KD 30 feet from the basket! He forced KD to execute multiple crossovers and then take a tough running floater in the lane. Now, because KD is a great offensive player - he still made the shot. But the important thing is that LeBron made him work for everything and took KD out of his comfort zone. The more you force players to take contested shots off the dribble, even the most skilled like the Durant, the better your chances are as a defender.

Make no mistake, Durant still had (as expected) a superb scoring night: 30 points on 52% shooting. But in contrast to their last meeting,  LeBron limited his ability to make his teammates better - relegating KD to only 3 assists and 4 rebounds.

Also, while KD got his points, LeBron's defensive intensity paid dividends late in the game. Think about this: KD started the 4th quarter 4-4, tallying 9 points to lead a late Thunder charge. But with the game in the balance during the last few possessions, KD went 0-2 with a chance to tie or take the lead. One shot was off a KD isolation against LeBron on the left block, which resulted in a baseline fade-away jumper that went off the top of the backboard for a 24-second violation. And on essentaily the final play, LeBron chased down KD off two down screens to contest and perhaps influence a 26 foot three point attempt. It barely grazed the rim.

With perhaps the regular season MVP and best record in the league on the line, LeBron clearly accepted the challenge of guarding Kevin Durant. There were plenty of times last night in which he even waived off his teammates to let them know that he was checking KD. What did we think would happen?

And with this, perhaps we can return to the original intention of "The difference between LeBron and Durant" series. KD is clearly the more skilled offensive player, yet LeBron still outscored him....... and led everyone in the game in assists...... and was the second on his team in rebounds......and led everyone in the game in steals. AND think about this, as much as this dude outperformed KD in every offensive category, I'm writing this post about LeBron's defense!!!!!!

This is the difference between LeBron and Durant. KD gets buckets anyway he wants, but LeBron can score while doing everything else to dominate both sides of the ball.

You might say that even with LeBron's dominant performance the Heat still only won by 5. True story. OKC is after all a really good team and if LeBron isn't the MVP then KD is. No doubt OKC's effort on the road was impressive. But to put LeBron's grip on the game in better perspective, the Heat were +20 when he was on the court. That means the Heat were actually -15 during the time is was not on the court......and that was only 8 minutes!

You might also say a difference is that KD takes/makes more shots/plays in the clutch.
Well what about after the Thunder came all the way back to take the lead in the 4th, LeBron taking over point guard duties to come off screen and rolls on successive plays to find Shane Battier for open threes in the corner? Or how about after the Thunder cut it back to a two point lead, LeBron scored 6 straight points late in the 4th to keep Miami on top? Not to mention LeBron stripping Durant in the 4th and then defending him on the the last two shots mentioned above.

All I can say is, what a difference a week makes.
After the Heat got embarasssed a week ago, they hold court last night and now have essentially the same record as the Thunder and are a game back in the loss column for the best record in the league.
After KD becomes the unanimous choice for MVP, LeBron puts up 41 against Philly, then outplays Durant in every capacity the following night while scoring 34.

LeBron and the Heat back on top?
Let's hope we get to have this debate in June.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


Yes the Kentucky Wildcats won their 8th national championship in school history on Monday night. But at only 38-2, can you really say they are the best college basketball team in the country? How about the Baylor Lady Bears, who just won their second national championship in school history and finished the season a perfect 40-0. Mind you, this is the first team in NCAA history to record 40 wins.

Oh, you still think Anthony Davis was the best player in college hoops this year? Yes, it truly is amazing how he can dominate a game without scoring much. He finished the championship game with only 6 points on 1-10 shooting but still had 16 rebounds to go along with 6 blocks, 5 assists, and 3 steals. He will surely be the number one pick in this year's NBA draft. But still, no way is he more dominant than Brittney Griner, who finished her respective championship game recording 26 points on 11-16 shooting to go along with 13 rebounds and 5 blocks in the championship. Even more impressive, with only a six point lead at halftime, Griner scored 17 points on 8-9 shooting in the second half to blow the game open in route to a 19 point victory. Forget Davis, Griner has a larger grip on the game than LeBron and greater reach over opponents than Andrew Bynum! She will surely be the number one pick in the WNBA draft - the 2013 draft that is. She still has her senior year in college to complete.

For sure Griner is a baller and makes everyone on her side better, even if they don't play basketball. For example, reigning Heisman trophy winner Robert Griffin III recently turned down a request by the Indianapolis Colts for a private workout. What was he doing instead???
Cutting down the net in NOLA:

Who needs to prep for the team with the number one pick in the NFL draft when you can be doing that? Although, perhaps RGIII is getting a little ahead of himself. He recently challenged Griner to a slam dunk contest. Here's a little bit of advice: stick to throwing footballs. Griner throws it down with authority:

Bottom line: pound for pound Griner and the Lady Bears are the best college team in the country.