In a phone call, David Thorpe shared some thoughts:
Back when I was a high-school coach, Lon Kruger was the coach at Florida, and he came to my gym to recruit a player. That's how we first met. I talked to him, and his assistant Ron Stewart, a lot about coaching.
Lon had a line that he used all the time, which I still use every day: "There's nothing else to think about."
Think about it. If Rashard Lewis was guarding you, in the first quarter of some game, and Joe Johnson put that shot up, all he'd have to worry about was making contact with you. That's the main thing. Then he can go get the rebound, or someone else will. But when that shot goes up, it's about contact. There's nothing else to think about.
Now, the only downside of baseline shots is that rebounds can go long and start the break for the other team. It's a debate. Some coaches will tell some players that if a guard like Johnson is out of position to run back to prevent the other team's break, they should.
But think about Rashard! He's not guarding you, he's guarding the guy who might be the most athletic power forward in the game. And there's no time on the clock, so there's no worry about any fast breaks the other way. Orlando doesn't even need to get the rebound. If the ball just hits the floor, the clock expires and they're OK. There's never anything else to think about, but there's especially nothing else to think about on that play.
So, Rashard screwed up.
I'll tell you what, though. I would not be at all surprised if at some point in the near future, late in this regular season or in the playoffs, a similar play will develop and Rashard will make the box-out beautifully. Because you can not have a more powerful teaching point than last night.
People act like players should progress in some way, like you get a certain amount of experience and coaching and then you can check the box that says "knows how to box out." But of course it's not like that. Bobby Knight said the most important skill for a player to have is the ability to concentrate, and he's right. This is the kind of thing that can make you concentrate.
UPDATE: Stephen Danley, former University of Pennsylvania big man, and current grad student, writer and TrueHoop reader, begs to differ:
Not sure it matters, especially with basketball minds as good as Kevin, Thorpe and Stan Van Gundy arguing the other direction, but as a big I completely disagree that the play was a basic boxing out mistake by Rashard Lewis.
Boxing out seems like a simple concept (hit your guy) but in the case of help defense it gets much more complicated. I watched the film. Dwight Howard leaves his man to play help D, leaving Lewis and Nelson guarding 3 players on the weak side. Lewis pushes Nelson up to guard Marvin Williams at the top of the key, leaving Lewis with two offensive players. When the shot goes up, both Horford and Smith crash the boards.
This is where it sucks to be a big man. Because of the defensive scheme, which involved Dwight Howard helping, Lewis now has to rebound the whole backside. Who should he block out? Horford? Smith? Just jump and try to get a piece of the ball?
Obviously, whatever Lewis chose didn't work out, but whatever else it was, it wasn't a simple box out.