Jump-shooting Wizards can’t come inside

Game Time: Raptors 109, Wizards 107 (OT)

The Wizards lost this game because they failed to come up with sufficient clutch hits, had too many misses, and made too many errors.

The Hits

  • In the closing seconds of regulation, a brilliant left-to-right crossover created enough space for Gilbert Arenas to pull up and make an open 10-footer that tied the score.

  • Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison nailed huge treys early in the extra period.
  • With 30.6 seconds left in OT, Arenas cold-bloodedly dropped a 3-pointer to pull the Wiz even.

    The Misses

  • Except for Arenas’ long-distance accuracy, the Wizards perimeter shooting was awful. Arenas was 5-11 from beyond the arc, while his teammates combined to shoot 5-18 from out there.
  • From 15 feet and beyond, Arenas was 8-18 for 20 of his 34 points. Jamison was 2-10. Nick Young was 3-8. Andray Blatche was 4-9. Earl Boykins was 4-9. Caron Butler was 3-7. And Randy Foye was 0-2.
  • In other words, 79 of the team’s total of 95 field-goal attempts were mid- to long-range jumpers, and they made only 30 percent of these. That’s because too many of these shots were taken under medium-to-heavy defensive pressure.
  • In their half-court sets, their only by-design in-the-paint points resulted from one bucket by Blatche (in two post-up sequences), and two free throws by Jamison (also in a pair of pivotal positionings). Otherwise, the Wiz seemed content to simply jack up long jays.
  • Throughout the game, Haywood flubbed several put-backs and had great difficultly finishing in the paint — 1-7, 2 points.
  • Jamison and Blatche combined to shoot 6-24.
  • Boykins missed an uncomplicated 10-foot floater as the game was ticking away that could have secured the win.
  • In the final 4:22 of the fourth quarter, the Wiz made only six of 10 free throws — Jamison 4-6, Brendan Haywood and Arenas both 1-2.

  • With the Wizards down by a deuce and just a handful of seconds left in OT, Arenas drove, got to the ring, but faded on his release and missed a potential game-tying layup.

    The Errors

  • On two critical plays, Blatche was unsure of the play-call — and his indecision led to Butler missing a forced shot, and then a turnover when Blatche was out of position to catch a simple pass from Boykins.
  • The Wiz committed only nine turnovers, but two were costly.
  • Arenas’ solitary miscue came late in OT.
  • The fourth (and last) TO from Boykins came immediately after this.
  • These two empty possessions were killers.

    What, then, did Washington do to keep the game so close?

    After a lethargic beginning that put them in a 22-7 hole, Boykins entered the game and single-handedly energized the team. In addition to his shot-making, Boykins best move was to dribble past his defender, force Toronto’s bigs to collapse when he entered the paint, then continue dribbling along the baseline. With so many defenders forced to turn their heads and keep Boykins in sight, it was easy for the little fellow to shoot passes to open teammates — hence his five assists. Boykins also made terrific decisions on the run.

    Haywood was incredibly active on the boards — 7 offensive and 16 total rebounds. Plus, he also made several excellent defensive rotations — five blocks and several shots altered.

    Jamison likewise offered excellent help on several defensive stands.

    Boykins, Blatche, and Butler also demonstrated quick hands — two steals each — in the lane and in passing lanes. However, except for Chris Bosh and Demar DeRozan, Amir Johnson (who played only 18 minutes), and Antoine Wright (13 minutes), the Raps are one of the slowest, least athletic teams in the NBA.

    Indeed, Washington’s interior defense was A-OK. But this came at the expense of adequate coverage of Toronto’s perimeter shooters.

    Although his jumper was barely functional, Nick Young was able to hit a couple of soft floaters in the lane.

    Butler played a sound floor game — 4-11, 5 assists, 2 steals, zero turnovers, 16 points.

    And, of course, by any other name an Arenas is an Arenas is an Arenas ¿ One of the most talented backcourtsman in the NBA.

    In the end, nobody could handle Chris Bosh — not Haywood, Jamison, or Blatche. Bosh consistently hit face-up jumpers, and also savaged the offensive glass in key situations. Why, then, did Flip Saunders refrain from doubling Bosh?

    Except for the individualistic brilliance of Hedo Turkoglu’s twisting, baseline 20-footer that proved to be the game-winner in the overtime, the Wiz were incredibly successful running high screen/rolls with Turkoglu and Bosh. Indeed, the Wiz bigs seemed so intent on closing the middle that they also neglected to show when the Raps guards simply dribbled past a high screen and shot uncontested springers — which is precisely how Jose Calderon registered most of his 15 points.

    Still, Washington’s overall defense was sufficiently effective for them to have won the game. But what they require more than anything else is a point-producing low-post player, who will compel opponents to double-team him and therefore generate layups for dive-cutters as well as pressure-free jumpers for the likes of Arenas, Jamison, and Butler.

    For now, the Wiz are a ball club that will live, but mostly die, by the jump shot.

    Straight Shooting

    There’s no such thing as a perfect player — although Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson came the closest. Some guys can do everything but have erratic jumpers or handles. Some make poor decisions on defense. Others are slow laterally or vertically. And so on and on.

    While my latest list includes players who admittedly have notable physical flaws, their understanding of the game is unsurpassed. Here, then, are the current players with the highest basketball IQs.

    Ray Allen’s primary task is to score. He rarely forces shots, looks to move the ball and, given his several limitations, plays above-average team defense.

    Shane Battier never tries to do anything that he can’t do well.

    Chauncey Billups sees all, knows all and does all.

    Tim Duncan‘s fundamentalism includes the physical, emotional and intellectual aspects of the game.

    Michael Finley is still around because of his clutch shooting and his ability to execute team concepts at both ends of the court.

    Derek Fisher knows what’s important and what isn’t.

    Pau Gasol just might have the most intelligent game in the league.

    Richard Hamilton’s perpetual-motion offense and remarkable intuition are functions of his all-encompassing court vision.

    Grant Hill knows his way around the game from tip-to-buzzer and from baseline-to-baseline.

    Jason Kidd sees the game unfolding a heartbeat ahead of everybody else.

    Brad Miller’s on-court savvy far exceeds his limited skills.

    Steve Nash has a genius-level hoops IQ.

    J.J. Redick has survived only because he’s such a quick learner.

    Joe Smith is even smarter than the average 15-year veteran.

    Luke Walton — see Brad Miller.

    Vox Populi

    Could you please deconstruct Kareem’s game. What makes him NOT the best center ever? — Yury, Brooklyn, NY

    Of course, his unstoppable Sky Hook made him a dynamic scorer. He also had a passable half-jump-half-push shot that he used when forced to move to his left. Indeed, the only way to hinder his point-making was for a defender to beat him downcourt and occupy Kareem’s favorite spot just above the left box before he could get there. However, only massive defenders like Bob Lanier and Darryl Dawkins had the heft to accomplish this.

    Kareem’s passwork was likewise acceptable, mainly because his size gave him an unobstructed view of his teammate’s cuts, flares and flashes.

    Although he did average 11.2 rebounds over the course of his lengthy career, Kareem wasn’t a particularly good rebounder. That’s because he was relatively slow off his feet and lacked super-quick lateral movement. Indeed, credit his being 7-2 for the lion’s share of his rebounds.

    Also, despite his many citations on all-defensive teams, Kareem wasn’t a truly outstanding defender. Opponents could negate his sizeable defense by turning, facing, and going; by making tight and quick spins in the low post; by being able to knock down mid-range jumpers; and by outrunning him.

    Moreover, in his early years, Kareem was infamous for his lack of endurance. Every aspect of his game would nosedive in the last few minutes.

    Let’s compare the primary numbers as registered by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, George Mikan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal and Bill Russell, who are universally considered to be the NBA’s best big men ever

    Points per game

    1. Chamberlain, 30.1

    2. Shaq, 24.7

    3. Abdul-Jabbar, 24.6

    4. Mikan, 22.6

    5. Hakeem, 21.8

    6. Russell, 15.5

    Rebounds per game

    1. Chamberlain, 22.9

    2. Russell, 22.5

    3. Mikan, 12.9 (counting only those seasons when this was officially recorded)

    4. Abdul-Jabbar and Shaq, 11.2

    6. Hakeem,11.2

    Assists per game

    1. Chamberlain, 4.4

    2. Russell, 4.3

    3. Abdul-Jabbar, 3.6

    4. Mikan, 2.8 (with the same caveat as above)

    5. Shaq, 2.6

    6. Hakeem, 2.5

    An unofficial ranking of defensive prowess

    1. Russell

    2. Chamberlain

    3. Hakeem

    4. Abdul-Jabbar

    5. Shaq

    6. Mikan

    Of course, there are huge differences in the relative styles and quality of play in the eras in which these guys played — and each was dominant among his peers.

    However, it says here that both Russell and Chamberlain had more complete games than Kareem.

    Travels with Charley — Part 3 of 3

    Life as a CBA coach

    Click here for Part 1 (offseason duties) and Part 2 (tryout camps and training camps).

    Aside from actually coaching ball games, CBA coaches had many other duties — only some of which were partially assumed by diligent assistants.

  • Distributing per-diem monies, and deducting any fines from these amounts.
  • Making sure that players got wake-up calls on the road.
  • Overseeing ticketing and baggage check-ins at airports.
  • Arranging for the home teams to either pick up his team upon arrival, or else have a van (and directions) available to be driven by the visiting coach.

  • Arranging for practice sites on the road and at home. In Savannah, we’d often practice at a community center that was 15 feet shorter and 10 feet narrower than regulation pro courts. In Columbus, OH, I drove a van for 30 minutes, and then discovered that the assigned gym was locked, and nobody knew who had the key. In Rockford, sometimes we practiced at a college court that featured a two-foot high bump near one of the baskets. We often practiced in unheated gyms during frigid weather.
  • Because the fares were cheaper, it was common practice to take the earliest flight out of a city — usually 6 a.m. Which meant a 4:30 wakeup after not getting to sleep until about 1 a.m.
  • After ball games in cities like La Crosse, WI; Wichita Falls, TX; Moline, IL; Rapid City, SD; Rochester, MI; Caspar, WY, and the like — it was virtually impossible to find a minimally decent eatery that was still open.
  • Nobody flew first class, so even 7-footers had to squeeze into coach seats.
  • Most of the motels featured either cockroaches in the bathrooms, bedbugs in the sheets, large spaces under the doors that let the cold in, and/or noisy heating systems that loudly banged on and off all night.
  • Game tapes were usually blurry and taken from so far away from the action that the players’ numbers could hardly be discerned.
  • Because of players being called up to the NBA, suddenly going overseas, getting injured, or quitting, CBA teams went through as many as 30 players during a normal season. That’s why so many practices were devoted to a rehashing of the same basic offensive and defensive elements that were covered in training camp.
  • At least three hours a day were spent on the phone trying to replace players, discovering which players were about to be cut either by teams overseas or NBA teams. Plus, trades were always being explored.
  • Game preparation was often severely hampered by the sudden and radical roster changes made by the opposing teams.
  • The locker room in the Washington Avenue Armory — home of the Albany Patroons for many years — had rusted pipes overhead, a dirty sheet thrown on the cold, dusty floor, and a missing outside windowpane replaced by a piece of cardboard.
  • In the Armory, the players also had to share the only available bathroom and showers with the public.

    During ball games, all basketball coaches have to make literally hundreds of decisions dealing with matchups, substitutions and play-calling. One right after another.

    Unique to the CBA, however, was that the quarter-point system resulted in four pressurized end-game situations. Also, when calling a play, a CBA coach had to be cognizant of exactly who was on the floor, how long each of them had been on the team, and how much of the playbook each player commanded.

    But, as Phil Jackson, George Karl, Flip Saunders and others have demonstrated — there is life after the CBA.