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Monday, June 16, 2014

Would the NBA Continue to Thrive if More Teams Played Like the Spurs?

I thought that the answer would be an obvious yes, but some callers to sports talk radio in Philadelphia disagreed.  And that got me to thinking of a comment that Temple's Hall of Fame coach John Chaney once said about the NBA, "it's not about basketball anymore, it's about entertainment."

One caller said he wouldn't watch, because he goes to watch the superstars do their thing and that the Spurs' offense doesn't allow for that.  Initially, I scoffed at the point -- who wants to watch Allen Iverson go one on three and shoot seven for twenty one to get his twenty points and have his team be in the middle of the pack at best?  I didn't and wouldn't, but apparently many do (witness the hero's welcome Iverson received when the 76ers retired his number earlier this year).  And that gets to Chaney's point about the NBA's being about entertainment.

And that got me to thinking -- could LeBron James play in the Spurs' offense?  Could he win?  The answer -- given the construct of the verb "could" is an obvious yes, but that's not the right question.  The right question is, "would he?"

And there the answer gets difficult.  Because it raises other questions, such as, "do the Spurs do what they do because they don't have superstars, and what they do is a way to counteract that fact?"  Or, "would LeBron really want to or need to do that if he had a reasonable supporting cast, because he is so hard to guard?"

My answers to those three questions are as follows:

1.  Perhaps.
2.  Not really.
3.  Perhaps again.

LeBron might do it if it would guarantee him more rings.  But whether he's capable depends on whether he'd be as coachable as the three future Hall of Famers (Duncan, Ginobli and Parker) let themselves be (they also signed for less than the max).  My view is that James would let himself be coach if he respected the coach (and he'd respect Gregg Popovich) and if he had a reasonable supporting cast (and this year, in Miami, the spare parts that the Heat assembled wore out before the main engine ever did).  As for the second question, well, Duncan and Parker are stars, Duncan was a superstar and Kawhi Leonard's last two post-seasons suggest that he will be.  There are stars on the Spurs, but there are different stars every night.  And, yes, if Lebron were in the right situation he'd run the Spurs' offense.  And he'd enjoy it very much.

As for the overall question, I find it hard to understand fans who want to watch sequences where the superstar does a clear out and his four teammates stand to one side so he can go one-on-one with his defender.  Once I saw the 76ers run a three-man half-court weave consisting of Iverson, Andre Iguodala and Chris Webber, while two other teammates stood in the corner and watched.  What was so hard about that?  What was so innovative?  The key to the Spurs is that they play the "beautiful game" the way Barcelona and many other international football teams do.  They look for that extra pass to get a good luck, as opposed to having a superstar cough up the ball by trying to play Superman and dribble effectively between two defenders (lotsa luck with that in the NBA).  I, for one, would watch, even if this style might define a different kind of superstar.

One who wins games consistently.

That, by the way, is by no means a criticism of LeBron James.  He's a great player, perhaps the best in the game.  But what this series proved is that you can be the best in the game, but if you don't get consistent support, you still will not win.

Because involving five players each offensive series is smart basketball.

It's just funny that what Gregg Popovich has achieved is being lauded as so novel and innovative.

Whatever the case, it is a lot of fun to watch.


Blogger Phil L said...


First off, congratulations to the USA on their win over Ghana last night. Best of luck for the rest of the tournament.

Now let me take you up on your individual versus team point in basketball and second it wholeheartedly with an example from the world of soccer.

This season's European Cup final (Champions' League be damned) was a classic team versus collection of individuals matchup. For most of the game, the hard-working discipline of Atletico Madrid threatened a mighty upset over their grab-bag-of-superstars and cross-city rivals Real Madrid.

In the end, however, Real found an equaliser at the buzzer and then poured it on in extra time, running out 4-1 winners. The game finished with Cristiano Ronaldo, the me-first soccer player par excellence, celebrating an academic fourth goal from the penalty spot as if it had been the winner driven in from 35 yards at the end of a fifty-yard dribble. It drove the Athletico manager, Diego Simeone, to rush the field in anger. Real's comeback had been paced by De Rossi, Marcelo, Modric and Ramos. Aside from the penalty, Ronaldo's contribution had been minimal.

So far, Self-centred individuals 1-0 Self-sacrificing team players.

Fast forward to yesterday, however, and the World Cup. In soccer, the great players are those who have led their national teams to great deeds in World Cups. Pele, Maradona, Cruyff, Beckenbauer, Eusebio, Charlton all had the strength of character to carry the hopes and expectations of a nation, harnessing their individual talent to the needs of the team.

In contrast, here's the BBC's summary of Cristiano Ronaldo's contribution to Portugal's 4-0 defeat yesterday by Germany, the soccer nation that embodies the virtues of the team better than any other:

"After winning and goal-scoring starts for Lionel Messi, Neymar and Robin van Persie, Portugal's talisman Cristiano Ronaldo endured a frustrating afternoon as his team were given the runaround in a 4-0 defeat to Germany. The Real Madrid attacker took seven shots - but managed to hit only two on target. Only Ronaldo's club team-mate Karim Benzema has taken as many shots at goal so far in the tournament and he scored twice in France's win over Honduras. Both of Ronaldo's attempts to dribble at the Germany defence ended in failure."

So, Ronaldo can be considered an exceptional talent, a ball-juggling wizard, a show-stopping show pony.

But, at least in soccer, the word 'great' is reserved for stronger souls than he.


5:20 AM  

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