Saturday, May 14, 2011

Help me, Defense! And Why the Media Won't...

Since around the end of the third quarter of Game 6 of the Bulls v Hawks, the NBA talking heads around the world began to wonder, "Who on the Heat will guard Derrick Rose?" The retort that soon follows is often, " Well, who on the Bulls will guard LeBron James and Dwyane Wade?" These questions seem legitimate enough, but do they matter? My answer is: not really.

Everyone is well aware that basketball isn't a one on one sport. There are five guys on a team, and they have to play like a team to win. Sure one or two superstars can take over on offense and go 1v5 and score points, but defense is a five man game. A defense is only as strong as its weakest link. Does anyone think the reason the Cavs lost to the Celtics in the 2010 playoffs is because Paul Pierce locked LeBron James down in the series? I hope not. Paul Pierce is a good defender, but he's no Scottie Pippen. The reason LeBron struggled with the Celtics all those years is because of team defense or help defense.

Guarding perimeter players one on one in the 2011 NBA is virtually impossible. Once upon a time a defender had a chance against the Derrick Roses and Dwyane Wades of the world. Nowadays you can't put a hand on a perimeter player without getting a foul called. The only way to legally defend a player one on one is with incredible lateral quickness and luck, really. This is an incredibly daunting task for a player, which is exactly why no one is asked to do this. The best defenses in the NBA are played by the teams who are great at helping and rotating

Picking the Bulls because you don't think any of the Heat PGs can stop Derrick Rose is an asinine position to take. No PG in the league can guard Derrick Rose. He's simply too fast. Jeff Teague, the PG for the Hawks, just had a great series against the Bulls, where they couldn't keep him out of the paint. He even shot 55% from the floor against them. That's Jeff Teague! Am I to believe that Derrick Rose is a terrible defender? He's not the best in the league, but he's a decent defender. The point is if you're a good player, you're going to beat the guy who is guarding you. The question is, "Can you beat the help that will come afterwards?"

Check out this video by Sebastian Pruiti of the (Truehoop Network) of the Heat defending Derrick Rose coming off a pick and roll.

If you want the full break down of the defensive match up go here, but from the video it's clear enough. Regardless of whether Bibby, Chalmers, Wade or LeBron guard him, they won't be doing it alone. This is not to say that who's guarding him doesn't matter. A super poor defender can put more pressure than necessary on help defense, which can eventually lead to problems, but people seem to pretend that Rose will dominate because Bibby can't guard him or Wade will dominate because Bogans can't gaurd him. These are nice stories, but it's not how NBA basketball works.

Now this gets me to the real reason I'm writing this post. (It only took me 750 words to get to my point. Terrible writing.) I'm not going to pretend to know everything about basketball. I'm not even going to pretend to be all that knowledgeable about the X's and O's of the sport. I do believe I have more knowledge of the sport than your average sports fan, but I'm very well aware that any college/NBA player is a Deep Blue of the basketball world compared to me. What I don't understand is: When I'm watching Inside the NBA, Sportscenter or reading a column from a beat writer of an NBA team, why don't I feel like I know much less than these experts? The reason we watch, read and/or listen to these people is because we want to learn something. We want their knowledge of what's going on. What I don't want is Jon Barry giggling because Derrick Rose crossed someone over. If I wanted that kind of insight I could watch the And1 Mixtape Tour and listen to the emcee scream "OOOHHH BABY!!" over and over. Conversely, this is why most people love listening to Chris Webber. When he's on television, he always seems to explain to you why a team or player did what they did. Sadly, it's refreshing, and it really shouldn't be.

So why is this? For once, I don't have a lot of answers. Just a few theories.

1) They're dumbing down the game for an audience they don't believe can handle the nuance it would take for real basketball analysis.

I think this is the case with the majority of the talking heads. You don't make it in the NBA or around the NBA without understanding at least the basics of the game. I've watched the youtube video of the Phil Jackson and the LA Lakers teaching the triangle offense to the Laker beat writers. (If you haven't seen this, you really should) I'm sure beat writers aren't basketball savants, but you can't make me believe that some form of osmosis doesn't occur when all you do is hang around basketball games, players and writers all the time. So even the beat writers have an advanced knowledge of the game, yet they perpetuate the lazy analysis. This obviously isn't the case with everyone, but it seems like far too common a problem.

2) They're just saying stupid stuff that even they don't believe for shock and awe value. (I'm looking at your Skip Bayless)

This theory pertains to the talking heads who know that help defense is more important than Rose v Bibby or Wade v Bogans, but care more about the narrative. These people are usually writers who want to write the story instead of analyze what's actually happening or going to happen. You'll never get a good sense of what's going on from these people, but you'll always enjoy reading/hearing what they have to say (as long as you don't care or know about what's actually happening).

Those are the two best theories I have. If you have some others, I'd love to hear them. All I really know is there's a lot of good basketball analysis in the media, but very little of it is coming from the mainstream.

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