Below you will find Part I of IV of my Obese Hoops Preview. Les Disfrutan!
Vegas note: Odds on all four parts being written and published currently: 50 to 1, which makes the Texans winning the Super Bowl a slight favorite, and the Cowboys a prohibitive favorite.
Browsing my local Half Price Books sometime last summer, I came upon a copy Jack McCallum's Seven Seconds or Less for the whopping sum of $3.00 right next to jonestopten's book. I purchased it and jtt's book because that is exactly the type of buying power I have. First, it is a great read on the inner workings of an NBA team and you should read it if basketball is interesting to you. Second, while it is not an X's and O's breakdown of the Mike D'Antoni's system, it does take a good look at that system as a basketball philosophy. Something that I had long believed was true, but did not have anything but my opinion to back up (or even anyone that was willing to listen to my semi-coherent drunken rants on the subject, Thank You Interwebs), was that comparing Rick Barnes random screening offense to the D'Antoni and Nash led Suns offense was a farce on the level of calling Animal Crackers effing Crackers. They are cookies. End of discussion.
While I will give Rick credit for a marketing coup in this instance, the notion that a college team can run this system is patently absurd. The reasons for this are many.
NBA players are professionals and college players are amateur student athletes. While amateurism in revenue producing college sports is its own farce on the level, of say, Bob Stoops's coaching genius, there are limits on practice time and coach's contact with players in the long offseason (six months or so). In the NBA, there is little or no limit on such things, and the season itself goes from the end of October through June (in the case of the playoffs) with summer league and a month long training camp bridging the gap. In essence, NBA players play and are coached in basketball almost twice as long in any given year than college players.
The Phoenix system functions more as a concept or philosophy than a rigid offensive system (like a Bob Knight Motion, or Phil Jackson's Triangle). It can not be learned by rote or studying a playbook. It has to be orchestrated on the fly by 5 guys in absolute and fluid synchronization with each other. This takes lots of time to teach.
Specilization and Emphasis
Specialization has been a common trend throughout sports and business in the twentieth century. Closers and Setup Men in baseball, no more ironman football players, a wider assortment of packages depending on down and distance, are all more common now than they were in the past. Last year I went on an interview with a very large multimarket construction company as opposed to the relatively small single market company I then worked for. One of the topics in the interview was my duties at my current employer. I detailed my responsibilities for a project from the bidding phase through completion. They told me that in their company there would be between three and eight people assigned to my identical responsibilities based on the size of the project. Specialization made them more efficient and profitable. It is also a luxury that the little guy can not afford.
It is also the reason Henry James is our corporate sex slave wrangler.
D'Antoni's system relies on two old basketball truisms:
1) If I can make you play my style or pace, then I have the advantage.
2) All basketball players want to play faster (for a while at least).
In the Nash/D'Antoni era, if Phoenix made you run with them, then they won.
A common theme in the book was the extreme effort D'Antoni and the coaching staff had to exert in reminding the players to run, run, run. They did this statistically in positional meetings, highlighted it in pregame speeches, and did it audibly during games. I do it in run on sentences. It takes an enormous toll on even professional athletes to maintain the pace that Phoenix had to maintain to have an advantage. Some nights they could not bring the effort, mainly because the NBA regular season is roughly 40 games too long, but the mental and physical strain (especially on Steve Nash) was enormous.
A side effect of being successful in this system is that the defense suffers. Part of the reason it suffers is the extraordinary amount of effort expended offensively. The main reason it suffers is that it is not emphasized by the coaching staff. If we consider the best coaches in college, and even some of the best in the pros, they are all known as offensive guys or defensive guys. Roy Williams, Rick Pitino, Tom Izzo, and Rick Barnes are all known for offense or defense (or pace if you want to get snooty). Lute Olsen once made a postgame comment after playing a Rick Barnes Horns team, that if he could get the defensive effort out of his guys that Barnes got, he would never lose. The two examples that disprove the rule are probably Phil Jackson and Bill Belichik, but they might be the two best coaches practicing their trade in any sport right now.
There was an (unresolved) chicken and the egg argument in the book about whether Nash made D'Antoni or D'Antoni made Nash. As all such arguments are wont to do, they ignore the fact that both parts are absolutely necessary to the whole.
Personnel and Staff
Not Steve Nash, but Trips would have his baby
Rick Barnes is a great college coach. Texas has had some great college point guards. But, Barnes ain't D'Antoni and nobody is Steve Nash. Marc Iavaroni and Alvin Gentry were verteran NBA coaches. Chris Ogden is about 4 years removed from being a veteran of the Blind Pig. Nash sees angles that no other point guard in the league today (and maybe ever) can see. He is a fucking wizard. There has been some speculation that this has something to do with his soccer background, but I know less about soccer than I know about Jenna Jameson's snatch. What I do know is that DJ Augustin is a real good basketball player that will never run a team like Nash does. DJ was about three more look offs of a post man from me painting myself in a woodland camo theme and shooting him from the Tower (Too Soon?). Dogus Balbay is the closest thing we have to a true point guard and that ain't real close. If I was going to use penis to make a comparison between Doge and true point, then the distance between them would be Mr. Marcus. Let's take a quick look at the unique lineup D'Antoni had at his disposal.
PG: Steve Nash - As good a distributor as has ever laced 'em up.
SG: Raja Bell - The closest thing to a Barnes guy. A tough as nails defensive stopper at the two that wasn't scared of big shots
PG/SG: Leandro Barbosa - A fast as lightning combo guard that played the point in Europe.
PF: Shawn Marion - The Matrix could guard 4 positions, had out of this world athleticism, and runs the floor like a gazelle.
C: Boris Diaw - He was a backup point guard in Atlanta and a center for Phoenix. Needless to say, nobody had that kind of passing ability from the 5.
G/F: Tim Thomas a 6'10" enigma that had tremendous skill in all areas possible for basketball greatness, but could only put it together for about 6 minutes at a time every third Tuesday, except not that consistently.
D'Antoni often had 3 point guards on the court at once. Texas is lucky to have one every couple of years.
What this means for the Horns
The Horns don't have the personnel to run the Phoenix offense. They don't have the practice time to install it. And, most importantly, our coaching staff chooses to emphasize defense. Even with DJ and TJ running the point, Texas was prone to long stretches of ball games where they could not buy a bucket. I think this is because we do not have a base offense for our team to fall back on when we are struggling.
A plague of our basketball team has been stagnation in the second half. In the middle of the second half, there is a period of time where we get tired and the result is a whole lot of dribbling and very little ball and man movement. This has been true during the entire Barnes era, and it is going to be true this year as well. Texas has been able to overcome this problem because of our defense. Eventually our pressure causes mistakes and get us easy buckets, then we get our second wind.
Every team goes through periods where there shots are not falling. There is a glimmer of hope this year. Varez Ward, J'Covan Brown, Avery Bradley, and Jordan Hamilton are all guys that can get their own shots. We have not had four such players on our team in the Barnes Era.
The problem with assuming that our personnel additions will counteract an offensive system that was once described on this website as being coordinated by Greg Davis (If I am quoting myself, then I apologize, because that is hubris even for uhh . . myself, but, I don’t think I can possibly be accountable for which asshole said what here. Not with my IQ in its 16th year of a steady nose dive.) Throwing personnel at a conceptual problem is kinda like throwing government money at a broken economy. Ohh, Shit! No you d’int.
Unfortunately, our best example of this is the offensive side of our football team. I was going to link to an article regarding the offensive conceptual problems of our football team until I realized that is all the articles.
The plays and sets that we do run, we do not teach the counter for the standard defensive alignments. I can spot 6-7 layups per game we miss just because our post man don't pin their man after setting screens for off the ball guards. I am not John Wooden. I am a fat guy that can't play basketball anymore because of herniated disks plus knees sans cartilage, and quit playing basketball his sophomore year in high school.
The simple fact of the matter is that players aren’t going to suddenly teach themselves how to throw the ball to a low post player (since Barnes has not taught this to any previous players). Proper spacing is not going to magically be a non-issue (part of our post entry problem is we are standing in the wrong place). Ball movement is not going to suddenly be crisp and purposeful for more than short stretches. If I see Avery Bradley running around like we ran AJ Abrams around, where he catches the ball at a dead sprint away from the basket and beyond the three point line, then I will probably end up in jail after I throw my shoe from the mezzanine at Barnes's head. This wouldn't be a big deal except Sailor used the entire BC Bail Budget on Scipio's recent 'sabbatical' to Phu Ket. I can buy a 12 year old for the change in my couch in Thailand, but it takes $5,843.00 to bail out a tree rapist. Thank you Southeast Asia.
A quick summary of our offensive problems:
1) Bad Spacing
2) Bad or Ineffectual movement without the ball.
3) No Offensive System
4) No Counters for the things we do run.
5) Egregious and Gratuitous Capitalization that I Can't control and am Tired of Correcting.
Whoops, that last one was my problem.
Part II - Why this is the best Texas basketball team ever and Why Texas will win the National title this year Making everyone our Bitches (Who Must Be Kicked) starting with those Cunts in Kansas.
To be delivered hopefully before the season ends.