Yao taking a three, soon part of his regular arsenal
While the reemergence of transition basketball is generally looked at as a happy feat in NBA circles, there are some less amiable aspects to it. One has to do with the fact that while many teams try to run, only a few are truly good at it. But a larger issue for me, and the one I want to touch on, is the lack of remembrance of "how the game is supposed to be played"; Larry Brown I hope you're enjoying your coffee in the Sixers' suite. I'm not talking about how the repositioning of position players has gone too far, although that sometimes bugs me. It is too easy to see the brilliance of Amare at center to get seriously perturbed about that. No, what makes me cankerous is the complete lack of understanding of what a dominant big man can do for you, specifically a center. I refer most prominently to Yao, who I thought was going to be a MVP contender this year. The reasons for thinking this were obvious - Yao has improved every season, he has a better supporting cast around him, and he's freaking bigger than anybody else. So what happens? Adelman decides Yao should play in the high post more, and become more of an enabler for his teammates from that point on the floor. The Rockets are 11-10, Yao is rightly pissed, and you can see why.
With our love of motion offense and running, fans, coaches and GMs seem to have forgotten the inherent brilliance of having a big man who can just wreck a team down low. If Yao was on my team I would almost always have him as close to the basket as possible, because the guy is 7-6 and knows how to use his size. He shouldn't be lollygagging by the free throw line. If coaches of yesteryear saw acts of deviance on this level there would a coup. Today nothing of that sort happens. Everybody is perimeter happy, and the most efficient and obvious way to score has gone to the wayside. A dominant center is the best thing you can have in basketball, Michael Jordan notwithstanding, because it gives you the most efficient scoring option known to the game. Throw the ball down low, and if you have a skilled big man, let the game develop from there. It's better than having your guard skirting around someone from seventeen feet out. But today's audience seems to have momentarily forgotten this. It's sad really.
Adande just wrote about how Phil Jackson fails to acquiesce to Don Nelson's matchup gimmicks, unlike most coaches, who fall under Nelson's spell. The results have been good for Jackson, and you can see why - there is a fundamental advantage when you get to use a talent like Andrew Bynum. Ironically, I think in general Bynum is hardly used enough by the Lakers, who quietly are one of the fastest tempo teams in the league. If I were Jackson I would slow things down and constantly throw the ball into Bynum, making sure he got the second most shots on the team beside Kobe. Believers in Bynum, like myself, should be fascinated to see if Bynum is given more opportunities in the low post as the next few years develop. Because he is one of the few legitimate centers that could potentially dominate the game, and in today's setting we may never get to see that happen.
It is also worth noting the recent (and seemingly consistent) uproar over Shaq's production. If there was ever an argument to throw the ball down low, it would be Shaq. But at this decrepit stage in his career the sad fact is that he no longer is a menace down there. The reason he does not get more touches often is because he cannot get in position to receive the basketball, and when he does he often cannot get in good enough position to take a decent shot. Nonetheless, he is right that his teammates don't get him the ball enough. It is different than 2004, when not getting Shaq the ball enough cost the Lakers the championship, but nonetheless a behemoth underneath should be a consistent offensive option.
I don't consider Dwight Howard a legitimate center, at least not yet, but what I can thoroughly appreciate is Orlando's understanding to just get him the ball close to the basket and the let the heavens take over. That is how you play good basketball, and the biggest reason for the Magic's "surprise" start. Just throw it to the biggest and most highly skilled guy out there in his true comfort zone. Even Duncan has gone away from the basket much more than he has in the past, although I give him and San Antonio a pass for doing what they do so effectively. Still, the fact remains that the only true dominant centers in the league right now are Duncan and Yao. Howard is still too much of an unrefined power forward, Bynum too young, Jefferson too small, and no one else remotely good enough to be considered dominant. Yet if you have any of the players just mentioned, or any big guy with a knack for scoring down low, you would be doing a disservice to your team not to get the ball to him often in his happy zone. The future of diplomatic relations with China might rest on this laurel.