Mailbag: T-Wolves shouldn’t wait around for Rubio

What do you think of Ricky Rubio’s decision to forgo his NBA career for at least two years? Is this player really worth the wait? — Anonymous

From what I’ve seen and heard of him, Rubio does indeed have incredible court vision and is an outstanding passer as well. However, he lacks strength, a consistent jump shot and the ability to play acceptable defense. And, yes, since he backed out after the T-Wolves had reached a buyout agreement with his Spanish team, it was strictly Rubio’s decision to avoid playing in the NBA for the time being.

One key consideration in this whole business is that Rubio didn’t exactly distinguish himself when playing against Team USA last summer in Beijing. As a result, I think the kid is just plain afraid to go up against NBA players for 82 games.

The fact that his competitive fire doesn’t burn hot enough for him to want to play against the world’s best hoopers says something significant about Rubio’s makeup. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if he never played in the NBA.

Indeed, he’s hardly worth the trouble and the wait. Ramon Sessions is a much more accomplished NBA point guard than Rubio will ever be.

In your estimation, which was the best defensive team in NBA history? — Daniel Lee, Los Angeles, CA

This is an easy one: The 1965-66 Boston Celtics.

In an era when Wilt Chamberlain typified the league’s emphasis on high-volume scorers — with Wilt, Jerry West and Oscar Robertson all averaging over 30 points per game that season — the Celtics won their eighth consecutive championship on the basis of their defense.

During the regular season, they allowed opponents to score only 107.8 ppg, which was 4.2 points lower than the league’s next best team defense (St. Louis). Boston’s points-against-average was also 7.7 ppg less than the 115.8 points that all of the nine ball clubs scored per game.

In the Eastern Division finals, the Celtics squared off against Chamberlain and his Philadelphia 76er teammates (who had actually finished one game ahead of Boston in the regular season). The 76ers had averaged 117.3 ppg during the 80-game season but were limited to 104.0 while losing the series in five games.

Of course, the backbone of the stingy Celtic defense was Bill Russell. Back then, blocked shots were not included in the official statistics, but in hindsight, it is universally agreed that Russell must have averaged at least 10 swats per game.

Two other starters were also defensive stalwarts — Tom “Satch” Sanders and K.C. Jones. In addition, John Havlicek, who was Boston’s sixth-man, was another ace defender — as demonstrated by his eventually being named to five All-NBA Defensive squads when he became a starter. Moreover, even though Woody Sauldsberry was on his last legs, he was still a plus-defender and was the only NBA player who could routinely shut down Elgin Baylor.

What was particularly interesting about this squad was that they played superior defense even as they played a decidedly up-tempo offense, which proves that, contrary to current thinking, the latter doesn’t necessarily prohibit the former.

Why do you hate the Warriors so much? — Alex Patsel, San Francisco, CA

It’s not the Warriors, per se, that rouses my ire. It’s the coaching and swollen ego of Don Nelson.

For sure, the Warriors did a great defensive number on the Mavs in the opening round of the 2007 playoffs. But the Mavs’ lack of heart as well as Avery Johnson’s abruptly altering the starting lineup for the series were also significant factors in the outcome.

One also has to wonder if Golden State’s defensive schemes in that particular series was devised and overseen by an assistant coach. This consideration is made probable because of what happened in Milwaukee during the middle and later years of Nellie’s tenure there (1976-1987). For several of those years, the Bucks were hailed as being an outstanding defensive ball club — which they were. Nellie, of course, took full credit for this, even though one of his assistants, John Killilea, was totally responsible for every aspect of Milwaukee’s defense. And when Killer was in his cups and complained about this oversight all over town, Nellie promptly fired him.

Otherwise, Nellie’s focus is entirely on offense — a junked-up, shoot-first-and-never-ask-questions game plan.

For sure, he’s been around for a long time, and his lifetime total of 1309 wins is at least as impressive as his 1004 losses are unimpressive. However, one important reason why he returned to Golden State’s bench in 2006 after a one-year absence is simply that several of his real estate deals had flopped and he needed the money. Last season’s dismal performance by both Nelson and the Warriors leads me to believe that Nellie’s heart is no longer in the game, and that he’s primarily indulging in power-motivated mind-games.

All I can say is that I don’t appreciate the self-inflated fashion with which Nellie conducts his business.

In your last mailbag, you called Wilt Chamberlain, probably the most dominant player in NBA history, a “pseudo-superstar.” Please explain this one. — James Simpson, Statesboro, GA

Wilt Chamberlain was probably the best combination of size, strength and athleticism ever seen in the NBA. In high school, he ran one of the fastest 440 sprints of his contemporaries. With no training whatsoever, he was also an incredibly promising shot-putter and high-jumper. In fact, if he could have mastered pole-vaulting, Chamberlain could conceivably have become an Olympic decathlon champion.

On the basketball court, however, he was always overly conscious about the size advantage he usually held over his opponent. That’s why, instead of looking to perpetually power his way to the hoop, he would rather shoot a fadeaway bank shot (from the left box only) to prove that his height wasn’t the only reason why he scored so many points.

In other words, he lacked the killer instinct that separates authentic superstars from only part-time superstars. The primary proof of this is how Chamberlain was thoroughly intimidated in Game 7 of the 1970 championship series when Willis Reed famously limped onto the court. Also, Bill Russell had an easy time playing push-and-pull off-court games with Wilt’s insecurities.

So prior to the 1967-68 season, Chamberlain made up his mind to lead the NBA in assists. As a result, oftentimes when he came down with an offensive rebound and his defenders had vanished, instead of simply dunking the ball, he’d look to pass it to Hal Greer (the best shooter on the team), thereby gambling on getting an assist rather than registering a sure-fire bucket.

Despite his gargantuan scoring and rebounding totals, Wilt won only two championships. The first one — with Philadelphia in 1967 — primarily because his coach, Alex Hannum, slammed Chamberlain up against a locker and threatened to kick his butt if he didn’t follow orders. The second one — with the Lakers in 1972 — mainly because his coach, Bill Sharman, slicked him into believing that all of Sharman’s good ideas were actually Wilt’s.

Overall, Chamberlain’s teams were victorious in only two of the five championships series in which they played.

Because of all his immense physical gifts, Chamberlain should easily have won at least another pair of gold rings.

I just read an article where you credit Tex Winter as being the developer of the triangle offense. No offense to Winter, but being a big fan of Dick Motta, I’ve always been under the impression that Motta developed the triangle. What’s the truth of the matter? — Glenn Romney, Sugar City, ID

The actual progenitor of what became the triangle was Dr. Walter Meanwell, who taught a “criss-cross system of offense” at the University of Wisconsin (1911-17, 1921-34). Sam Barry played for Augustana College in Wisconsin and after World War I, joined Meanwell’s staff as a graduate assistant. By the early 1930s, Barry was the head coach at USC.

With the Trojans, Barry’s offensive philosophy emphasized half-court patterns that allowed for good spacing, cutting and snappy passes. The mainstay of his offense was the “center opposite” with an option called “reverse action.” This was the genesis of the triangle.

Winter, Bill Sharman and Alex Hannum were teammates who all played under Barry and imbibed his system. But the respective game plans of both Sharman and Hannum never progressed beyond the center-opposite patterns.

After Winter graduated in 1947, he became an assistant coach under Jack Gardner at Kansas State. Gardner had also played at USC and wanted a Barry disciple to help run Barry’s system. Besides Gardner, Phil Woolpert at San Francisco and Pete Newell at California also played for Barry and perpetuated the center opposite. But after he succeeded Gardner, it was Winter who evolved the center opposite into the full-fledged triangle.

Later, as a head coach at Marquette and then back at KSU, Winter’s teams used the triangle to great advantage. And as coach of the Houston Rockets, Winter sought to utilize the triangle — or what he frequently calls the “triple-post offense.” Too bad that Elvin Hayes couldn’t/wouldn’t get the hang of it.

When Winter hooked up with Phil Jackson, PJ made some adjustments in the triangle that made it more suited to NBA action.

Motta was just one NBA coach who used parts of the triangle on a strictly part-time basis. However, in order for the offense to be fully functional, a team needs to make a full commitment to it.