The art of shooting

 

Pure shooters hold a special place in my heart.

Growing up as a basketball fan, and rec player, I loved watching shooters. I, myself, was one. There was nothing more pleasing to me that spending a few hours after school just shooting – free throws, layups, mid-range shots and, of course, 3-pointers.

I craved the peace. Just you, the ball and your thoughts. I craved the routine: Dribble. Breathe. Rise. Shoot. Release. I craved the discipline; my father always preached height, accuracy and distance. Those three things, and you HAD the shot. I will remember that as long as I live, since I was entered in free-throw shooting competitions in elementary school to my days as a college intramural player.

In high school, I would shoot outside, from about 4:30 p.m. to 8, focusing on the craft – how to get open, where to get my shots, where to get the perfect release off, how to set up defenders. My shot was not perfect. My brother says I shot from my chest; it was hardly ever blocked. There was little lift involved. My release was quick and my extension was perfect.

To make a long story short, I admire pure shooters. The dedication, commitment and routine devoted to becoming a special shooter is one that is demanding. So when I was able to watch Ray Allen break Reggie Miller’s all-time 3-point makes record last night, I almost teared up.

The record-breaker could not have been set up any better. Rajon Rondo got the ball on the left side and started a fast break. Allen ran down the right side in transition, as Rondo waved him on to spot up. Allen caught the ball in stride, with no Laker anywhere close, and mounted and shot for 3-pointer No. 2,561.

But it did not come easy. Allen begins his game day arriving to the arena four hours early, shooting all kinds of shots, feeling for his rhythm. He shoots off-balanced, straight ahead, running … every shot he imagines he could get in a game, he shoots. And this is how it is for shooters. This is how it was for Reggie Miller, Steve Kerr, Glen Rice, all of whom would shoot, shoot, shoot, whether it was in damp gyms, under bleak street lights, in snow, in rain. There is no stopping.

It’s why Miller applauded Allen and never once showed discomfort toward his record being broken. He understood what it took to get to that point, and what he loved was that we were talking about shooting, a dying art in a world of Blake Griffins, LeBron James’ and Kevin Durants. Shooting remains the heart of the game, yet so few understand that. Or, they refuse to work at it, willing to train in their JumpSoles instead of shooting at the park, rain or shine.

It’s why I, by no means a complete basketball player, shot whenever and wherever. I loved shooting. I respected it. Shooters do not take their gift for granted. To this day, I pantomime shooting. I cradle a ball and shoot it. It never leaves you.

Rice once said, “Shooting is an art.” And how right he was. Shooters are not born. They are made. Players with spectacular physical gifts were given those at birth. Shooters are made by hours upon hours of work, shooting and wearing out the leather on one too many basketballs.

I remember once, one of my colleagues in college once said he saw me in the gym too much, so he looked up my grades, made sure my priorities weren’t backward. They weren’t. I was a fine student. But any free time was spent in the gym, not trying to dunk or shoot halfcourt shots or work out on weights. But shooting. We all yearn to find a niche, and I felt the only way I belonged a basketball court was because I could shoot. At their ages, Miller, Allen and Rice all felt the same; in an age of ball that is becoming faster, quicker and more athletic with each passing season, they had to find a way to make themselves valuable to still earn a paycheck.

So, they shot. And shot. And shot some more.

Records are made to be broken. But only if you put in the work.

 

 

Advertisements

The madness of Mahmoud

Looking through old NBA game tapes a few days ago, I came across a classic Rockets-Grizzlies late-season affair from the 2000-2001 season. I say classic because of two things: One, it was the last game played in Vancouver before the Grizzlies departed to Memphis. Two, it was the final game of an illustrious career for one of the greatest shooters/scorers to ever put on a pair of sneakers, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf.

Abdul-Rauf, the former Chris Jackson before he changed to Islam, played nine years in The Association, averaging 14.6 points on 44 percent shooting. He owns a career 90 percent free-throw percentage, and once scored 51 points in a game, against Utah in 1995. Scoring in bunches was nothing new for the guard, who averaged 29 points on 47 percent shooting in two years at LSU, and was named first team All-American as a freshman.

But he is most known for the following event. It was a situation that essentially got him frowned upon by the league.

=====================================

Abdul-Rauf is perhaps best known for the controversy created when he refused to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner” before games, stating that the flag was a symbol of oppression and that the United States had a long history of tyranny. He said that standing to the national anthem would therefore conflict with his Islamic beliefs. On March 12, 1996, the NBA suspended Abdul-Rauf for his refusal to stand, but the suspension lasted only one game. Two days later, the league was able to work out a compromise with him, whereby he would stand during the playing of the national anthem but could close his eyes and look downward. He usually silently recited a Muslim prayer during this time.

In an apparent publicity stunt gone wrong linked to this controversy, four employees of Denver’s KBPI radio station were charged with misdemeanor offenses related to entering a Colorado mosque and playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” on a bugle and trumpet, in a provocative response to Abdul-Rauf’s refusal to stand for the national anthem.

========================

The 6-foot Abdul-Rauf, a mercurial figure to say the least, also overcame Tourette syndrome during his career and was a godsend for basketball purists. He lived on a deadly midrange jump shot. Not much of a 3-point shooter or driver to the rim, he boasted one of the most beautiful releases ever, as quick as a blink, and was a master at using screens to get himself open. This was never more apparent, fittingly enough, in his career finale against the Rockets in the Grizzlies’ 100-95 loss, when he scored 25 points (on 12 of 19 shooting) in 23 minutes, exclusively in the second and fourth quarters.

His performance in the game is a thing of beauty. In a contest that featured a myriad of quick, athletic talents, such as Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley, Mike Bibby and Shareef Abdur-Rahim, it was Abdul-Rauf, who averaged 19.7 points per 36 minutes played, who stole the show, keeping the Grizzlies afloat early and late. It would be the last game of a terrific career; a career that too often goes unnoticed for reasons that may be obvious.

Still, when it comes to the great shooters and scorers to ever step on a NBA floor, Mahmoud’s name should be up there with some of the greats.

 

What to make of Miami’s XMas win

 

LeBron James may have stood tall over Kobe and the Lakers on Christmas Day, but their is no hiding his team's flaws.

 

 

Watching Miami’s blowout 96-80 win over the Lakers on Christmas Day, only one thing in particular struck me about the much-hyped, sensationalized game between one NBA heavyweight and another supposed contender.

That thing was this: How blatantly obvious it was that the Lakers did not care.

This was supposed to be a game that declared the Lakers’ supremacy as the league’s best. It was supposed to be another opponent that the Heat fell to; one that showed that Miami still has quite a way to go, no matter how sexy its winning streaks.

Instead, this was a Los Angeles team that showed little effort or heart, aside from the first play of the game on a beautifully designed alley-oop set from Kobe to Lamar Odom.

Instead, it was all Miami, all the time. The Heat held the Lakers 25 points below their season average. LeBron James earned his third triple-double of the season. Chris Bosh destroyed Pau Gasol in the paint, opening a lot of eyes for those who suggested the Lakers’ frontcourt would deem Miami’s laughable.

The bottom line came to this: Miami, simply, cared. Los Angeles did not. This was a game that was so much more important to the Heat that I’m not exactly sure what to take away from it. Yes, I was impressed by Miami’s relentless defense and a much improved passing game thanks to an offense that is moving freer and more often.

But this was a game the Heat needed to win if it wanted to be amongst the true legit title contenders. The problem was, the Lakers so willingly let them have it. Phil Jackson might as well have been absent, refusing to pound the Heat inside or go zone to negate the driving and passing lanes and force jumpers. Kobe forced some things, showed some anger but otherwise seemed disinterested. And when Kobe and Phil are disinterested, it’s very easy for the rest of the Lakers to follow suit.

As two-time defending champs, the Lakers – rightfully so – don’t have anything to prove until the playoffs. These games mean little to them, no matter how much ESPN and the media wish to hype them up. Kobe and Co. are clearly saving their energy for the more important games in late April, May and June. After all, a third consecutive title won’t be won in December, no matter how titanic the matchup.

“These games mean more to our opponents than they do us,” Kobe acknowledged following the game, stressing a need to fix that.  “We always suck on Christmas … they should just take us off this day.”

As far as Miami, it was a solid road victory. Impressive? At the very least. Their defense was excellent. We knew that. The offense looks a whole lot healthier. That’s a positive sign.

But no matter how many wins they compile in the regular season, their true essence lies in this: They are weakest at the league’s two most vital positions, center and point guard. And until that is resolved, this is a team bound for the Eastern Conference semifinals, maybe the East finals if the cards fall right. Individual games can be easily won courtesy of individual greatness. But in a seven game series against the likes of a Chicago, Boston or Orlando, that lack of size and a true playmaker – not to mention substantial depth – will become their downfall unless it is addressed before March.

The Lakers, meanwhile, are not a cast of emotionally empty talents, which is why it’s simple to cast Saturday’s episode as an aberration. They will be heard from when it counts, and it’s because of what they DO have – superior size, depth and playmaking – that I’m not sure their ugly holiday loss should mean much in the big picture.

 

A new road for Rhodes

"The Franchise"

Diehard Rockets fans are familiar with the name Rodrick Rhodes. Rodrick was the 24th pick of the 1997 draft of the Rockets; a prospect so tantalizing broadcaster Calvin Murphy nickamed him “The Franchise.”

As a Rocket, I remember him as an athletic guard who could play either backcourt position; a solid defensive player and passer who was not the best of outside shooters. Rhodes played in 61 games as a Rocket and averaged 5.7 points and less than two assists and two rebounds per game. He shot 36 percent from the field and attempted just eight 3-pointers (making two) during his time in H-Town.

Rhodes enjoyed a five-year NBA career with the Rockets, Vancouver Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks from 1997-2002, and also played professionally overseas in Greece, Cyprus, the Philippines, France and Puerto Rico, before embarking on a coaching career, which has now taken him not far from my location, to Edinburg as an assistant coach with the University of Texas Pan-American.

Here is Rhodes’ bio: http://www.utpabroncs.com/coaches.aspx?rc=150&path=mbball

I have requested an interview with Rodrick, just to get his thoughts on his pro career and his new career in coaching.  Of course, I shall update you should Mr. Rhodes get back to me.

 

My Top 5

I haven’t done this in a while, so I thought I’d report my starting lineup if I was given a pick of today’s players; my top players at each position in the game.

Wasn’t easy, obviously, and I think some picks may surprise some. But, here goes. Stats are compiled before Sunday’s games.

POINT GUARD

DERON WILLIAMS, UTAH JAZZ.

Anyone who knows me knows I think Williams is the best PG on the planet. His combination of size, speed and strength is second to none at this position, and he has continued to evolve as a leader and playmaker, someone who knows when to take over games. I love how recklessly he attacks the rim, and he is always looking for the open teammate, a dying art in today’s game.

2010-11 STATS: 21 games, 21.6 ppg, 10.0 apg, 4.2 rpg, 1.43 spg, 46.7 FG%, 35.2 3%.

SHOOTING GUARD

KOBE BRYANT, L.A. LAKERS.

Every year, Kobe is supposed to take that inevitable dive down back to mortality. Apparently, that’s not this year. Bryant is as good as ever, and why not? There’s not a more dedicated student of the game. Over the years, his game has evolved radically, and he is the best player on the league’s best team. I learned to stop doubting Kobe years ago. The so-called “experts” should learn to do the same.

2010-11 STATS: 20 games, 26.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 4.6 apg, 43.1 FG%

SMALL FORWARD

KEVIN DURANT, OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER.

There’s not a better pure scorer in the league, and while Durant has struggled – by his standards – early this season, he’s still a dominating scorer and someone whose defensive ability has progressed so much that he’s guarding whoever necessary in order to win games late (see Durant on David West in the Thunder’s recent victory over the Hornets).

2010-11 STATS: 16 games, 27.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.19 spg, 1.o0 bpg, 41.9 FG%

POWER FORWARD

KEVIN LOVE, MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES.

We all know what a great rebounder Love is – he leads the league – but did we see him eventually becoming a 20-point per game scorer? Love is having a beast of a season, but what I specifically like about him is his ability as a 3-point shooter and his great passing. He’s unselfish and can step out and spread the defense and open lanes for teammates. If he wasn’t abandoned in Minnesota, he’d be on everyone else’s radar as well.

2010-11 STATS: 20 games, 19.4 ppg, 15.3 rpg, 2.1 apg, 43.4 FG%, 38.6 3%

CENTER

DWIGHT HOWARD, ORLANDO MAGIC

Howard wins this almost by default, because the lack of the true center in today’s NBA is embarrassing. But he has expanded his offensive game, thanks to a summer learning under the wing of Hakeem Olajuwon, and that tells me he truly cares about the game, something I doubted before this year. He’s still the best defensive big in the league, though Joakim Noah is hot on his tail, and his growth as an offensive player is very encouraging. He now has more offensive moves other than a dunk, as seen in his slight drop in field goal percentage. That’s a good thing, as it means he’s taking more liberty with his shot selection. His immense athleticism is such that he averages more steals per game than Bryant and almost as many as Durant.

2010-11 STATS:  18 games, 21.3 ppg, 12.1 rpg, 2.39 bpg, 1.17 spg, 58.5 FG%

State of the Rockets

 

Luis Scola and the Rockets have had a tough go of things this season.

It has been a tough year for the Rockets so far this season. Mind you, I was never delusional enough to see the Rockets as a sincere threat in the West even with a healthy Yao (this team’s defense has regressed so considerably the last two years that it deprived of them of serious contender status), but I certainly never saw this either.

The Rockets are sitting dead last in the Southwest Division at 7-13. The defense, as mentioned, has been horrific, allowing 106.9 points on 46.8 percent shooting, and forcing just 13 giveaways a game. This is a team that won’t truly challenge the league’s elite until the defense improves, and it doesn’t help that its two most significant players – Luis Scola and Kevin Martin – also rate as two of the league’s worst defenders.

Slowly  but surely, the Rockets have sacrificed defense to improve and diversify offensively, and that has come to bite them big time.

Offensively, there is no go-to guy; the team is essentially a slew of role players and second-tier talents without a true playmaker. Aaron Brooks best fits that role, but he’s miscast as a point guard when he’s really a shooting guard in a point’s body.

But they have overachieved more often than not this season, boasting wins over the Lakers and Thunder. There have been glimpses of promise, and that is because this is a team that relishes team basketball.

While there is, indeed, no true interior or perimeter presence to make defenses shake in their shoes, the fact is this is a team where anybody, at any given moment, is a threat to score. The Rockets do a sound job of moving the ball, ranking fourth in the league in assists, and getting quality shots; it’s a testament to Rick Adelman’s offensive system that the team scores 105.7 points per game.

The Rockets, through the motion offense, often catch defenses out of position, leading to a slew of free-throw attempts and open 3s. Houston averages 28.3 free throw attempts a game, connecting on a healthy 79 percent. The Rockets also get a bushel of open, 3s, connecting on 38 percent of their 20.2 bombs per game.

It’s a testament to the Rockets’ willingness to play team ball and to never give up that they are competing hard every game, often falling short when the lack of talent starts to hurt them deep into games.

This team’s fortunes won’t turn around until drastic changes are made. They need a true interior presence, and that may have to come at the cost of Brooks. Yao is who he is at this point, probably a center who can offer no more than 25 minutes per game and get maybe 12/7 a night.

Yao is no longer the team’s centerpiece, and the sooner the Rockets come to terms with that, the better.  Perhaps if the Rockets tried to target the likes of a Marc Gasol, they could see a big boost in production. Not sure Memphis would be willing to be suckered into trading a Gasol a second time around, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to try; say like a deal of Jordan Hill, Jermaine Taylor and a pick for Gasol.

Ideally, you’d like, for example, a starting lineup of Gasol, Scola, Battier, Martin and Brooks. Yao would be the backup C, and then you’d have a nice bench of Chase Budinger, Kyle Lowry, Courtney Lee, and bring up Patrick Patterson. Essentially, the days of leaning upon Brad Miller and Chuck Hayes would be gone; as much as I admire their effort, these are players you can’t be relying upon for big minutes if you intend to be a true threat in the West.

Either way, it starts inside with the Rockets. This is a team that has a history of success playing inside and out, and that style of play wins in the NBA. You don’t need a motion offense to create shots if you have big men who can do that, and having Gasol (or someone along his skill set) and Yao split the 48 minutes gives you room to do that and opens opportunities for Martin and Brooks and the spot-up shooting of Battier.

The Rockets have been said to have been interested in Carmelo Anthony and Andre Iguodala, names that will improve the team but won’t make it better in the long run, or a championship contender for that matter.

GM Daryl Morey promises fans that he is doing his hardest to put a championship team on the floor. For him to do just that, it starts with rebuilding the middle.

It starts with rebuilding the foundation.