What is wrong with the Spurs and can it be fixed before it's too late? - TJ, Spanish Fork, UT
The Spurs are still in need of a power center to take some pressure off Tim Duncan. Antonio McDyess is way past his prime and has been reduced to being strictly a mid-range jump-shooter. As ever, TD has to expend too much energy defending bigger, heavier, stronger players -- and over the years this has certainly taken its toll.
Even before breaking a finger on his shooting hand, Tony Parker couldn't keep his wheels properly aligned, which further increased Duncan's burden on offense. Manu Ginobili is also starting to break down due to injuries that are created and exacerbated by his all-out-all-the-time style of play. With Bruce Bowen gone, they lack a defensive stopper who can key their entire approach to defense. Richard Jefferson hasn't been an easy fit and has lost some lateral mobility on defense. Neither Roger Mason's handle nor his defense are good enough to warrant sufficient playing time for his shooting to be properly grooved.
George Hill is very good and still improving. DeJuan Blair is a keeper. But Parker may never recover his jet-speed, Ginobili's shooting has become increasingly erratic, and Duncan is showing signs of wear and tear.
Even if Parker hadn't suffered his latest injury, the Spurs' semi-bi-annual dynasty has run its course. By a mighty effort, and with everybody else in perfect health, they could conceivably survive into the second round of the playoffs. But this would only temporarily prolong the inevitable:
It's time for a major overhaul of the roster.
Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo and Russell Westbrook are all young playmakers. Which of these players in your opinion is going to have the greatest success in the upcoming years? - Kuba, Poland
Of these three, Rondo is the "purest" point guard, primarily because he can't shoot and must therefore concentrate on passing and other aspects of his game. That said, every player who's good enough to make the NBA can always become a better shooter. The only variables are the expertise of the instructor and the player's commitment to put in the necessary time and effort. Should Rondo ever improve his jumpers -- as well as become more coachable -- his speed and his defense will put him at the top of this particular list in the foreseeable future.
Derrick Rose has the most physical strength of this group, and because of the Bulls' personnel has more responsibility to score. Hence his 20.3 points and 17.7 shots per game. Rose has a terrific left-to-right crossover, and is a consistent finisher when taking his right hand to the rim. But his left hand needs to be developed, as does his long-distance shooting -- 24.0% on only 25 treys attempted thus far this season. He is indeed an unselfish player with most of his assists coming on drives-and-kicks. But he often over-penetrates and ends up making poor decisions in the paint. Rose's defense leaves much to be desired.
At this stage of his career, Rose is more of a slasher and a pull-up scorer who's still learning the nuances of point-guard play. Should he be surrounded with more reliable shooters/scorers than he currently is, Rose's development could be much more rapid. But he'll never evolve into being the quintessential point guard that Rondo might easily become.
Russell Westbrook is having an easier time transitioning from a scoring guard to a point guard. However, one reason why his assist totals are so high -- 7.9 -- is that out-passes to the sharp-shooting Kevin Durant are usually transformed into scores. These are relatively "easy" assists.
Also because of Durant, Westbrook isn't required to either shoot or score as much as Rose -- 14.5 shots and 16.6 points. Although they're roughly the same size -- 6-3 and approximately 190 pounds -- Westbrook has more difficulty than Rose finishing in heavy traffic. Like Rose, Westbrook's defense and 3-point shooting -- 25.0% -- are way under par. Look for Westbrook to develop into more of a classic point guard than Rose.
I was wondering if you could do a comparison of Steve Nash to John Stockton. - Blair Farthing, Lethbridge College
Nash operates more on trickery and deceit than did Stockton, but that's because he's more of a scoring point guard and needs to be able to create his own opportunities. One reason for this is the different rules that govern the current game. With players permitted to double-team any opponent regardless of whether the opponent has or doesn't have the ball, and with zones now legal, it's more imperative for point guards to have the ability to score on their own.
Another reason is that, while Stockton played under Jerry Sloan's disciplined offense, Nash came into his prime in Mike D'Antoni's freewheeling system. The difference is evident in the shots per game -- 9.1 for Stockton and, after he became a starter, 12.2 for Nash. Stockton unleashed his jumpers only when a situation demanded that he do so.
Because he had more ball-time, Nash's turnover totals during his prime seasons also exceeded Stockton's. And although the latter was a dangerous 3-point shooter, the former was even more so.
Otherwise, Stockton was stronger, a much better defender, and possessed of a more belligerent disposition.
All things being equal, the pick in this corner of the basketball universe would be Stockton.
I play a lot of pick-up ball, and I'm not the best athlete or natural scorer, so I focus primarily on trying to be the best defender on the court. Could you give me a breakdown on what techniques make great defenders? - Marty Barrett, Berkeley, CA
The basic tools consist of a modicum of athletic ability, quick feet and hands, some strength in the core and the extremities, an excellent work ethic, and an overriding desire to get the job done.
Post-up defense is another game altogether, but a cursory description of face-up techniques include the following:
• Have a good read on an opponent. Does he pull left and drive right? What does he do when his strong hand is overplayed? Is a he a shooter who must be played tightly, or a driver who can be given some space? Does he use screens? Does he move without the ball? Exactly what is his role on his team?
• Overplay the man with your left foot (if he's overtly right-handed) slightly ahead of your right foot so he has to take slightly more of a circle route to get to his strong hand.
• Balance is critical. Bent knees, straight back, one hand shadowing the ball, the other raised to interfere with the opponent's vision. Weight distributed evenly, i.e., not on your heels or up on your toes -- but perched on the balls of your feet so that you can easily move backward, forward or side-to-side.
• Practice defensive slides moving in all directions. Quick shuffles that always keep one foot on the floor, because it's impossible to change direction when both feet are airborne.
• Have teammates warn you of any impending screens and decide beforehand how the two defenders involved will react. The ball-defender going under, going between the screener and his defender, chasing over the top (which necessitates help), doubling the ball, overplaying the screen -- none of which should be done on one's own recognizance.
• Attack a righty's jumper with your left hand, and vice versa. This will allow more arm extension and keeps your hand/arm directly in the shooter's line of vision.
• If the rules or culture of the game allow you to use your hands, occasionally jab-push the opponent's hip to upset his balance.
• When swiping at the ball, try doing so from below the level of the ball as refs will almost always toot down-swipes, whether successful or not.
• If you have to foul somebody in the act of shooting, pin his arms from the top down or forcefully grab his ball-arm so that he can't get a shot off.
• The last act of defense is always to box out your opponent and keep him away from the offensive board.
• Never argue with a ref since they all have long and unforgiving memories.
Dennis Rodman was my favorite player in the 90s. Doesn't he deserve a shot at the Hall Of Fame? And shouldn't the HOF be about basketball on the court? I think the HOF would be better having Rodman in it. - David, Skokie, IL
I agree wholeheartedly. Rodman led the NBA in rebounding inclusively from 1982-97. He played in two All-Star games, was the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year in 1990 and 1991, made the All-NBA third team in 1992 and 1995, was named to the NBA-All Defensive first teams a total of eight times, and made huge contributions to five championship teams.
An incredible athlete, Rodman could run and jump with anybody, and had a much higher basketball IQ than most of his peers. Moreover, he never tried to do anything that he was incapable of doing -- like shooting jumpers. And Rodman was certainly a vastly superior player than several other inductees whose games were comparable -- like Harry Gallatin, Earl Lloyd and Vern Mikkelsen.
For sure, he was also a loony-tunes kind of guy, but the Hall of Fame is peopled by several alcoholics, gamblers, racists and odd-balls. But, as you say, what transpires on the court is all that should matter.
Without Rodman -- and Tex Winter -- the Hall of Fame is more of a subjective exhibit than a true place of greatness.
If you have a question or comment for Charley Rosen, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and he may respond in a future column.