TrueHoop: Kenneth Faried

The Nuggets take a bold step forward

January, 23, 2014
Jan 23
11:49
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive


NBA players' contracts require them to make a certain number of community appearances on behalf of their teams. They’ll pay visits to hospitals or schools and show up at charity functions or galas. Outside of what they do for their teams, most players will get hit up by nonprofits or organizations who want them to lend their faces, names and free time to the cause. Most of the requests are well-intentioned, but players generally don’t have to do anything they don’t want to do. Nobody will force them to say yes. And if they say no, they still have a laundry list of good works performed on behalf of team and league they can cite.

That’s why the Denver Nuggets’ You Can Play spot featuring Kenneth Faried, Randy Foye and Quincy Miller is meaningful. You Can Play’s mission is to promote an inclusive environment on playing fields and in the locker rooms for gay athletes. You Can Play has forged formal partnerships with NHL, MLS and NCAA teams. A number of pro athletes such as Klay Thompson have participated in YCP videos, but the Nuggets become the first NBA team to have multiple players featured in support of the project.

As agendas go, YCP’s is radically moderate. It wants a world where gay athletes can suit up and play without fear of harassment, physical harm or having their talents passed over because of who they are.

That last item is a big one. Being on the receiving end of an epithet is an indignity, but what really terrifies a competitive gay athlete is not just the threat of physical or verbal abuse, but the prospect of never getting a rightful opportunity to perform and succeed. This discussion isn’t about being nice; it’s about being fair.

Thanks to You Can Play and many others, great progress is being made at the collegiate and high school level, but it’s been a tough season in the NBA. Jason Collins moved the conversation forward when he came out last April. Around the NBA, players have reported that his announcement inspired the most honest conversations to date about homosexuality in basketball. But the aspiration was for something much larger: bringing hypotheticals to real life.

By now, many of us wanted to be talking about how integrating a gay ballplayer into an NBA locker room was made easier, how morale was compromised at first because change is by its very nature disruptive, how that discomfort ultimately receded thanks to strong leadership and an appeal to our better selves. With Collins not on an active NBA roster, we’re not talking about those things. We can debate what role his identity as a gay man plays in that reality, but NBA executives and agents have stated that it’s a factor larger than zero.

That means that there’s work to do -- and the Nuggets, Faried, Foye and Miller are doing it. In the absence of an out gay player in uniform, the onus returns to individual teams and players to lead on the issue. Nothing in the body of the NBA charter or these Nuggets players’ contracts stipulated that they needed to, but they did.

Tuesday Bullets

March, 19, 2013
3/19/13
3:38
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
  • How the Toronto Raptors translate findings from SportVU into practice, and some of the thorny issues that arise in the process.
  • Jeremy Gordon of Brooklyn's Finest on the Nets' enigmatic combo of Andray Blatche and MarShon Brooks: "There’s something that gets me really giddy about Andray Blatche and MarShon Brooks playing together, just a couple of guys trying to take and make the most ridiculous shots possible. Do you think the playful experimentation extends to their personal lives? Like they just sit there, trading implausible feats—eating 100 McNuggets without anything to drink, playing a season of Madden with one’s feet, reading War & Peace without stopping—to see who will be the first one to back down."
  • A few years ago, we witnessed Jason Kidd draw a foul on then-Hawks coach Mike Woodson. Now check out this sequence from France of a coach trying to strip the ball away from an opposing player in a tie game and fewer than three seconds remaining. The best part? The shameless "who me?" plea from the coach when he gets whistled for the technical foul.
  • Kate Fagan with a smart piece on Baylor's 6-foot-7 star Brittney Griner, and how players of a certain size and skill set often breed resentment among fans and opponents.
  • In an interview with CNN's Rachel Nichols, LeBron James has some cheeky, good-natured fun at the expense of Pat Riley, who was on the 1971-72 Lakers team that won 33 games in a row.
  • Couldn't help but think about Kenneth Faried when I read this piece in Scientific American. The gist: "Individual stories will have a far greater sway on our attitudes, intentions, and behavior than any long list of numbers, statistics, and facts." Would a baller from Newark who went to college in rural Kentucky be the most vocal advocate on gay equality if he didn't grow up in a same-sex household?
  • Andres Alvarez of Wages of Wins delineates between big data and useful data and the challenge of eating the elephant: "The problem I see is that there is not enough emphasis on seeing what value the data has, and seeing how to use it. There is a huge emphasis on collecting more data though. We’re in love with this! Teams got the boxscore in the 1970s because they needed better stats ... Then the 2000s saw us get easier access to play by play. And we’re now getting access to visual tracking data of every movement on the court! And yet, through all of the 'revolutions,' I’m not seeing teams slow down to see if the data is useful or how to use it. No, I’m seeing that the trend is to grab more data! As soon as we get more data, the argument goes, we’ll finally understand the NBA. Except, very few people understand the data we have now!"
  • Raleigh-born, Chapel Hill-educated Danny Nowell kindly requests that you stop bashing college basketball during this holiest of months.
  • Yesterday, National Public Radio's Tom Moon referred to Justin Timberlake's new album, "The 20/20 Experience" as the bland product of a musician who is "too big to fail." On Twitter, the Hornets' Ryan Anderson solicits your opinion on 20/20. Andrew Unterberger of The Basketball Jones has your Top 10 Timberlake basketball moments.
  • Actual video evidence that Adrian Dantley is serving as a crossing guard for a middle school in suburban Washington, DC.
  • John Sabine of BallerBall catches up with the Sonics' former mascot, Squatch. Well, sort of.
  • Derrick Williams is a large man and requires more carbohydrates than your average lunchtime customer.

Monday Bullets

February, 25, 2013
2/25/13
5:59
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
  • When is it cool or not cool to boo your own player on his home court? The jeers for Andrea Bargnani have grown increasingly loud at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. Blake Murphy of Raptors Republic writes that as bad as Bargnani has been this season, the former No. 1 overall draft pick hasn't crossed the Vince Carter threshold in Toronto and shouldn't be subject to the home boo. Eric Koreen of The National Post says that while Bargnani is a reasonable target, the booing borders on the absurd when fans start killing a guy because he got caught with a hand grenade at the shot clock buzzer and fired up a desperation heave: "When fans boo him without cause, the valid points get lost. The booing is not helping, as Bargnani is shooting just 30% at home this year compared to 47% on the road."
  • There was an active Twitter argument today about weather as a factor in free agency. To that effect, here's what "relaxing after practice" in February looks like in Los Angeles. And here's what coming home from a long February road trip looks like in Miami.
  • Steve McPherson of Hardwood Paroxysm on dunks in the digital age: "[G]reat dunks are not strictly physical acts carried out in three-dimensional space before disappearing into an unrediscoverable past. They are not simply performed, but witnessed, recorded, replayed, ingrained in our memories. They are spontaneously generated, but not out of the void, not from nothingness. They instead occur where the ley lines of practice, talent, chance, the known and the unknown converge to create something larger than life. In this way, they are less part of a game and more akin to musical improvisation."
  • Let's say you and your teammates make a pact to not shave until the team gets to .500. What happens if you get traded? Dahntay Jones, who went from Dallas to Atlanta at the deadline, is sticking with the pledge even though he's no longer a Maverick [Hat Tip: Rob Mahoney of The Point Forward].
  • At Friday's MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, Kirk Goldsberry and Eric Weiss will be presenting a paper that takes a hard look at how to evaluate interior defense. The Bucks' Larry Sanders plays prominently in the study.
  • Big guys tend to get passed over in final-possession situations at the end of games. Down one in that situation on Saturday night, the Hawks inbounded the ball to Al Horford. The play calls for a hand-off to Devin Harris, but as Peachtree Hoops shows us in pictures, Horford opted to keep the ball and back down Larry Sanders one-on-one. Horford was aggressive on the drive and found an easy bank shot from the right side to win the game for Atlanta.
  • After an 0-for-8 start from the field in his season debut on Saturday, Danny Granger drains his ninth attempt and the Pacers' bench goes berserk.
  • Michael Pina, writing for The Classical, on Kenneth Faried: "Pull any possession from Faried’s career and in some order he will soar, crash, overheat, and explode. Catch him at the right (or wrong?) moment, and all these things will seem as if they're happening at once. He seems to be enjoying himself, and he is already very effective, but he also plays with all dials squarely in the red. But to look at Faried and wonder what will happen when he "learns how to play" doesn’t quite work, either. Faried will get better—in areas like boxing out, setting screens, learning a post-move or two, and gaining overall insight on the defensive end—if not likely to the point of reinvention. He will never be Tim Duncan. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and those responsibilities will never intersect. His job, to stick with the tautological statement thing, will be to be himself, and he will always do it better than anyone else could."
  • Jarrett Jack God Mode is a thing in Oakland.
  • Stephen Jackson: Less impressed with In-and-Out Burger than your average Spur or Californian.
  • The Basketball Jones took a Twitter meme on the road to Houston, asking NBA players (and Russell Westbrook himself) whether Westbrook is a cat or a dog. Watching the video, you get the sense there are some macho implication at work here, as some of the responses suggest that portraying a fellow player as feline is emasculating.

 

TrueHoop TV: Kenneth Faried on gay issues

February, 25, 2013
2/25/13
1:54
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
A couple of weeks ago, Kenneth Faried signed on as an Athlete Ally, the first NBA player to do so. Athlete Ally is an advocacy organization that supports dialogue and awareness that will make the sports world more inclusive toward gay athletes. It was the sort of announcement that's heartening for people who care about an issue, but goes largely unnoticed among most others.

Faried was a natural candidate. He grew up in a same-sex household with his mother and her spouse. Faried doesn't see this as a noble cause or an idealistic vision because, for him, it's a simple reality. He doesn't know any other world. For gay people and those like Faried for whom gay relationships are normative, that's often the most frustrating part of any discussion about rights or working environments. It's so un-radical to propose that we create a world where people don't have to lie or hide or manufacture some parallel but artificial reality for themselves. Suggesting that people live freely seems like the opposite of creating an issue.

Like most athletes I've spoken to about this issue, Faried expresses a combination of optimism and pessimism on the prospect of an openly gay man playing NBA basketball. Faried doesn't feel that there's rampant homophobia or hate in the league. But he also recognizes that real anxieties exist among NBA players, and hypothesizes some of them: Would they be less likely to box out or post up a gay opponent? Could it be anyone other than a star player who has job security and unimpeachable respect?

These are all questions that will arise. When that time comes, Faried will be around to answer them.

video

The book on George Karl

November, 30, 2012
11/30/12
9:44
AM ET
Mason By Beckley Mason
ESPN.com
Archive
George Karl
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty ImagesGeorge Karl: The Enforcer of Freedom (or The Ol' Ball Coach).

Name: George Karl

Birthdate: May 12, 1951

Is he an emotional leader or a tactician?
Karl's tactics require so much passion to properly execute that it's difficult to distinguish what he does strategically from his motivational leadership. Karl preaches the gospel of fast basketball and wants his players to constantly push the pace and attack the rim with the dribble, while also moving the ball as rapidly as possible. A lot of players would say that’s how they like to play, but it takes excellent conditioning and tons of work to actually pull it off possession after possession. Karl doesn’t like to "coach effort" and often butts heads with players he feels don’t prepare to give it their all. He is not a strict tactician on defense, either, and uses loose principles (example: always push pick-and-rolls away from the middle of the court) bolstered by maximum effort. To Karl, it’s more important for his players to give “multiple contests” on defense than to be in perfect position at all times.

Is he intense or a "go along, get along" type?
In his younger days, Karl earned the nickname “Furious George,” which tells you something about his prickly demeanor, and he has been known to blast his players in the media. But after going through an unspeakably brutal cancer treatment and living a healthier life (Karl is much more trim than he was a decade ago), he seems to have mellowed a bit. Still, he's no teddy bear, and players will see a rapid decline in minutes if he feels they are not playing with passion and trust. “Respect the game” is one of his favorite phrases.

Does he rely on systems, or does he coach ad hoc to his personnel?
Karl’s philosophy, dubbed “Random Basketball,” is really an ad hoc system. There aren’t intricate rules, per se, but there are fixed guidelines and easily understood goals. Karl wants 30 free throws, 30 layups and 30 assists every game, which reflects his core beliefs in ball movement, pushing the ball quickly up court and driving to the rim. The only real restrictions on offense: Don’t hold the ball and don’t take 2-point jump shots. That system works for the young, fast team he has in Denver. Last season, the Nuggets led the league in layups, took the fewest long 2s, and were second in free throw rate. As a result, they had the league’s best offense.

In Seattle, Karl was known as a defensive-minded coach, and with Milwaukee he was sometimes criticized for being too focused on offense. The various perceptions of him and his teams speak to his impressive adaptability. He has a talent for developing players and finding ways to get the most out of a player; thus, his teams are defined by the types of players he has.

Does he share decision-making with star players, or is he The Decider?
He isn’t Gregg Popovich, who treats some of his players like assistant coaches. But Karl does consult players regularly in walk-throughs -- going so far as to have them lead sections of practice -- and is known to bring one or two players to his coaching meetings. On a macro-level, he’s definitely a “my way or the highway” type coach. But his system implicitly gives much of the decision-making power to his players, and especially the star players who are aggressive about finding their scoring opportunities.

Does he prefer the explosive scorer or the lockdown defender?
Karl’s Sonics were nasty defensive teams, but over the course of his career he’s had more outstanding offensive teams. Still, his heart will always be with players who emulate his own ethic of toughness and pride on the defensive end.

Does he prefer a set rotation, or is he more likely to use his personnel situationally?
His rotations have received some scrutiny over the years, and players who lose favor with him are hardly heard from again.

Will he trust young players in big spots, or is he more inclined to use grizzled veterans?
Karl was labeled early as a coach who doesn’t play young guys. But it’s hard to find major minutes for young guys on teams that are winning 55 games. In Denver, he’s found ways to get his younger players in the flow. He gave Kenneth Faried substantial court time in his rookie season (partly because of injuries in the frontcourt) and is doing a good job of getting second-year man Jordan Hamilton and rookie Evan Fournier some run this season. JaVale McGee, Faried and Ty Lawson all played huge minutes in the 2012 playoffs.

Are there any unique strategies that he particularly likes?
One quirk is that, except in extreme circumstances, Karl forbids his players to shot-fake -- it’s too slow! The only options are move the ball, shoot it or drive to the rim. Strangely, Karl doesn’t have hard-and-fast rules for how his team guards ball screens, beyond influencing the ball away from the middle. He prefers to let individual players choose how they want to defend; for instance, Kenyon Martin would play for the switch while JaVale McGee prefers the more conventional show-and-recover. This means that big men must communicate really well when a guard is being screened, and that Denver’s opponents are constantly getting different looks from the Nuggets’ defense.

What were his characteristics as a player?
A nasty, hard-nosed player, Karl was a part of successful teams at the University of North Carolina and is still revered as a fan favorite for his hustle and grittiness. In the NBA, he was mostly a defense-oriented guard defined by his toughness and strength. Karl played professionally for five seasons before moving to the Spurs' bench as an assistant.

Which coaches did he play for?
Dean Smith, North Carolina (college); Tom Nissalke, San Antonio; Bob Bass, San Antonio; Doug Moe, San Antonio.

What is his coaching pedigree?
Smith and Moe both had a profound impact on Karl’s coaching philosophies and his path in basketball. All three are North Carolina men, and all emphasized playing fast with rapid ball movement. "Random Basketball" is a direct descendant of Moe’s run-and-gun style that Karl was first exposed to as a player in San Antonio.

If basketball didn't exist, what might he be doing?
Karl would be a progressive urban planner, designing flexible systems to keep the traffic moving and improve quality of life.




The spirit of the 1984 Bill James Baseball Abstract was summoned for this project.

Conversation starters for 2012-13

October, 31, 2012
10/31/12
10:41
AM ET
By Kevin Arnovitz and Beckley Mason
ESPN.com

Getty ImagesMoving the needle in 2012-13: Andre Iguodala, LeBron James and Blake Griffin.

1. Will the Nuggets finally reward their army of boosters?

Beckley Mason: Oh man, I don’t wager money on the NBA, but let’s just say I emptied my vanity coffers investing preseason plaudits on this team. I’m worried that I’m so excited about how fun this team will be, I have overestimated how much it will actually win. The Nuggets represent the open style of team play I wish was more common in the league, getting the best possible shots -- layups and 3-pointers -- all game.

But I have also been encouraged by the preseason.

The early offense is clicking. Andre Iguodala, Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried have been as advertised in the open court, and Kosta Koufos and Corey Brewer look ready to make unexpected contributions. For guys like John Hollinger and Kevin Pelton, both of whom have Denver finishing second in the Western Conference, there’s clearly something here. As usual, the Nuggets project as a juggernaut top-three offense, but this season they’ll have the personnel to play defense in the half court.

Kevin Arnovitz: Aside from the stylistic appeal, where does this collective love for Denver come from? Is it a sincere belief the Nuggets have the necessary tools to mount a guerrilla war in the West and take down the likes of the Thunder or the Lakers or just a desire to see a verdict rendered once and for all that Carmelo Anthony is a bad guy?

I also wonder if the post-Melo Nuggets haven’t become a symbol for those who were repelled by the Anthony saga two years ago. In the era of the superteam, romantics want the Nuggets to prove that a team of non-superstars can compete for an NBA title through sheer effort, athleticism and creativity. A lot of basketball junkies want to live in a world where the 2004 Pistons aren’t a historical outlier and Anthony is the fool. The Nuggets represent their best hope.

Mason: Unlike those Pistons, the Nuggets are a rare case of a superstar-less team that wins without a superstar. Two different models. The question is …

2. What do you do in the NBA if you can’t recruit a superstar?

Arnovitz: The Moneyball principle was never about putting data ahead of scouting. It was about identifying an undervalued commodity in a sport and finding bargains in players who bring that commodity to a roster.

Individual defense -- loosely defined -- is probably that undervalued commodity at the moment, largely because we have a hard time defining it statistically. Players have traditionally been paid based on their offensive stats. You can jump up and down about this guy being a top-five defender (think Tony Allen) and that defense is 50 percent of the game, but we rarely see defensive specialists score the kind of contracts one-way offensive players like Monta Ellis do.

That’s what made Houston’s three-year, $25.2 million deal for Omer Asik so interesting. That’s a significant investment in a guy who most people around the league would regard as a one-way defensive player. Some thought it was an outlandish offer, but would anyone raise an eyebrow if a top-20 offensive player landed the same contract?

Mason: Let's just say Asik has a better chance of being worth $8 million a year than Charlie Villanueva.

Arnovitz: Sure, and if you’re a team that can’t get meetings with the LeBrons of the world and can’t realistically find your way onto the wish list of the truly elite offensive free agents, your best course of action might be to stock your roster with the best value defenders in the league, aspire to be a top-three defense and play it out from there.


Drew Hallowell/NBAE/Getty ImagesTom Thibodeau: Defense first.
Mason: I agree, particularly because it takes a certain ingenuity to be a truly great offensive player. That’s just not the case on the defensive end, where position, intelligence and effort are the hallmarks of excellence.

I’d argue it’s easier to teach a player to be a great defender than it is to teach a player to be a dominant offensive force, which means coaching is key. Is there anything a young athletic team -- and aren’t all young teams athletic? -- can benefit from more than a great defensive mind?

Tom Thibodeau’s success in Chicago is an example of the impact a great defensive system can have, but what about Scott Skiles’ work with the 2009-10 Bucks? That team worked incredibly hard and, anchored by guys like Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Andrew Bogut, had the league’s second-best defense. Even with a rookie point guard and Bogut out with an injury for the playoffs, Milwaukee came within a game of reaching the second round -- all on a serious budget (if you don’t count an injured Michael Redd’s $17 million contract).

Arnovitz: Here’s a question for the defensive savants ...

3. How can anyone match up with LeBron James and three or four shooters?

Mason: Thibodeau has been a master of aggravating big scorers in big series, but this might be the NBA’s unsolvable riddle between the lines. James’ new comfort as a scorer with his back to the basket has made him even better at commanding space near the paint. His most underrated skill is his ability to, with the flick of a wrist, throw a basketball 40 feet on a frozen rope to an open shooter. He throws passes so hard, and with such little warning to the defense, that he forces defenses to stay closer to shooters than any other player while simultaneously overwhelming any individual defender in front of him. Barring a player who can tangle with James in pick-and-rolls and one-on-ones on the block, I’m not sure there is a reliable way to defend the Heat with actual defense.

You have to defend them with your offense. Keep the turnovers low, take good shots and either pound the offensive glass or send at least four men back on every shot. James really kills in transition when defensive help is hard to organize, and he loves to receive a drag screen in the middle of the court and blast past the defense to the rim.

In terms of actual defense, no one bothers James as much as Chicago. Having two bigs -- Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah -- who can handle James in a switch at the end of the shot clock is vital to that success.

Arnovitz: Erik Spoelstra is cracking that code. Getting LeBron to buy into this role was probably the biggest coaching achievement in the NBA last season.

So much of the innovation in coaching today is assignment-based rather than the sculpting of a coherent system for your team. It’s about getting LeBron to buy in as a multitasking power forward, figuring out how to horse-whisper Carmelo into a similar role with the Knicks or crafting an offense for a team that has virtually no reliable outside shooting.

The great system coaches are an endangered species. Phil Jackson is back on his ranch, like Lyndon Johnson after vacating the White House. Although Ty Corbin has preserved much of what flourished over the past quarter-decade in Utah, Jerry Sloan is gone too. Mike D’Antoni is in exodus. Stan Van Gundy tailored a provisional system around Dwight Howard. Even a guy like Eddie Jordan was not successful but certainly ambitious.

Rick Adelman might be the lone graybeard, systems coach left. The rest of the league has moved to a predictable half-court game. The high pick-and-roll is the new iso, and why not? It stretches the defense across the floor for quick point guards who can devour most coverages and dance into the paint.

4. Is most of the cool innovation happening on defense, while NBA offenses are simplifying?

Mason: Thibodeau, Spoelstra and Dwane Casey are young coaches developing creative, principle-based systems for their defenses, which supports that.

The offensive piece we can trace back 20 years, when the NBA began to change the rules in ways that opened up the court and encouraged perimeter-based play. Coaches have come along with systems that can better account for the dangers presented by a quick point guard and three shooters, but we may be stuck with the spread pick-and-roll’s ubiquity until the next round of rule changes.

Still, I sense there is a crop of coaches toiling with terrible teams that will one day number among the NBA’s most visionary. Monty Williams has a record as a strong defensive coach and might have the most creative pick-and-roll schemes in the league. Rick Carlisle is one of the most flexible minds in the game. No one coaches to personnel as well, and his strange roster in Dallas augurs well for those who like to see a hoops genius pushed to his creative limits. I’m also intrigued by Terry Stotts, a Carlisle disciple. Who knows what he has in Portland? If his development chops are legit, that’s another interesting team that will fall well short of contending.


Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images
DeMarcus Cousins: Beast or burden?
Arnovitz: Development is another one of the great unknowns in basketball, and here’s a head-scratcher of a case study:

5. If DeMarcus Cousins doesn’t evolve into a beast, whose fault is that?

Mason: I’ve seen Cousins play in person only once, and it wasn’t even in an NBA game. It was at the Goodman League versus Drew League exhibition in Baltimore during the 2011 lockout, a game that pitted NBA players from the Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles areas against each other.

The game was a microcosm of Cousins’ NBA career. He made jumpers and sharp passes, he bullied JaVale McGee and dunked all over him, and there was a moment when he picked James Harden’s pocket and gathered up the loose ball on the run, keeping his dribble at knee height. His skill and dexterity, at that incredible size, was jarring.

He also failed to finish the game. He argued with his exhibition coach (whoever that was) about playing time and touches, was constantly annoyed with the ref and let the event’s emcee, who dubbed Cousins “Bad Attitude,” get under his skin.

Cousins makes you shake your head for reasons both good and bad, and we have to attribute some of that weirdness to Cousins himself. But doesn’t it feel like the Sacramento franchise hasn’t been doing him any favors?

Arnovitz: This is one of my favorite counterfactuals: What if Cousins were drafted by the San Antonio Spurs? You can try it with any young player who has come through the league. Are we absolutely certain Adam Morrison or Michael Olowokandi couldn’t have put together decent NBA careers had they landed with more resourceful or nurturing organizations? An apprentice can thrive if the workshop is conducive to good training and his mentor rocks (see Lawson, Ty).

Fundamentally, these teams are workplaces, and more professional offices tend to get the best of their team. Individual strengths are fostered; shortcomings are neutralized.

If you’re lucky, you get to work at a place like this. Cousins hasn’t been lucky. So he can either succumb to the worst instincts of his environment or take it a personal imperative to defy them.

Mason: Player development is such a tricky issue because so much happens behind the scenes. But maybe the Internet’s leading Clipperologist can help answer this one ...

6. What does Blake Griffin have in store for the world, and what does the world have in store for Blake?

Arnovitz: I’ve been trying to figure out what to take away from Griffin’s drop this year in #NBARank. Last season, Griffin beat his rookie shooting and efficiency numbers, yet there was constant sniping about his shortcomings. Much of that criticism was legitimate but disproportionate, driven in some part by a certain strain of antipathy.

Yes, his defense needs to be faster and smarter, but it’s not as if Kevin Love and Zach Randolph are winning games as defenders. When Dirk Nowitzki and Lamar Odom came into the league, they had few instincts defensively. But the Mavs have been significantly better defensively with Dirk on the floor the past few seasons, and Odom established himself as a strong, versatile -- even aggressive -- defender before he started taking on weight like a loading dock.

I sense most of the Blake-lashers know that, which means the charges are a little excessive.

Still, a lot of rational people's hoop sensibilities are offended by Griffin’s on-court persona. Many of them love playing the game, but Griffin wouldn’t be a guy they’d enjoy sharing the court with. At least that’s my interpretation.

Beck, it’s fair to say you’re one of those people, isn’t it? You asked Blake last season to cool it with the “WWE heel routine.” Over the summer, did you harvest any affection for Blake? If not, what’s wrong with playing the heel for a few hours a week?

Mason: One of the primary criticisms of Griffin’s play is that he is just a dunking machine. But if you were to design a power forward, you could do much worse than a machine that did a lot of dunking. Griffin led the NBA in dunks last season by a wide margin, which means he did a better job of getting the highest percentage shot in the league than anyone else. That’s a really good thing no matter how you slice it.

As you wrote, I still have a hard time squaring the guy who is pitch perfect as a book club sensei and the one who gets a preseason technical foul for going after an ostensibly innocent Paul Millsap. Blake stays mean-mugging at opponents and refs, but except for in the instances where it keeps him from getting back on defense, I can live with it -- and even smile at it.

I’m actually bullish on Blake going into this season. He has looked just as freaky explosive and deft around the rim as ever in the preseason, and his passing is world class at the power forward position.

Look, Griffin is going to learn to shoot and play better defense, but it will be a careerlong project. Because Griffin’s flaws are so glaring -- he doesn’t just miss free throws, he air-balls them -- they can seem to counterbalance all the good stuff he does. But that’s ludicrous. He is only 23, and every part of his game is on the upswing. His lower ranking this season was probably a reaction to being overrated after his first season and not an accurate representation of where his game is headed.

Las Vegas Summer League Bullets: Day 8

July, 21, 2012
7/21/12
12:40
AM ET
By D.J. Foster, ClipperBlog
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried talks with Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com on the tragic shootings in Denver early this morning. The entire Nuggets team also paid tribute by wearing black headbands.
  • Decked out in a baby blue argyle polo and a beret (!), J.R. Smith gave the Knicks and his brother Chris a helping hand on the way to his courtside seat. As Cleveland Cavaliers guard Gary Temple spotted up in the corner, Smith walked by and gave a quick tug to the back of Temple’s shorts, pulling them down for a moment before Temple quickly yanked them back up. Never change, Summer League.
  • MVP! MVP! After receiving a somewhat random vote for Most Improved Player last season, Memphis Grizzlies guard Josh Selby solidified his case for Summer League’s Most Valuable Player. Through three games, Selby is 19-for-25 from 3-point land, averaging a whopping 29 points per game on 60.8 percent shooting from the field.
  • Jordan Hamilton talks with Charlie Yao of Roundball Mining Company on the improvements he made during his stay in Vegas, and reveals a hidden gem on the roster for Nuggets’ fans to watch out for.
  • Over the last few years, the Dallas Mavericks haven’t shied away from going after defensive specialists on the perimeter. Over at Hardwood Paroxysm, Connor Huchton has his eye on second-round draft pick Jae Crowder, who was dominant in the Mavericks’ win over New Orleans.
  • Andrew Han of ClipperBlog on positional scarcity in Vegas: “Of the 452 players invited to the Orlando and Las Vegas Summer Leagues, only 76 had the assigned possibility to play center in at least some capacity (16.8%). Of the 76 forward/centers, 41 were positionally designated exclusively as center (9%). Of course, teams fill spots based on their regular season roster needs, but even in summer league the waning of centers is in full effect.”
  • How about some brotherly love? Justin Holiday, brother of Philadelphia 76ers guard Jrue Holiday, showed off some smooth scoring instincts and a nice handle. Lock that kid in the Cheesecake Factory for a few months (Holiday is listed at 6-foot-7, 177 pounds) and he’ll be ready to play with the big boys.

No such thing as a "tweener" anymore

July, 20, 2012
7/20/12
1:25
PM ET
Mason By Beckley Mason
ESPN.com
Archive
Kenneth Faried
Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images
Faried doesn't measure up to the likes of Pau Gasol, but he's an effective power forward nonetheless.

“He doesn’t have a position.”

That right there is one of the most common knocks on future NBA players as they enter the draft, and a criticism that can stick with them as they try to find their place in the league. Yet, as Kevin Arnovitz and David Thorpe point out on TrueHoop TV, every year we see players come in without a position who thrive all the same -- a fact that's especially true for players whose games seem to fall somewhere between traditional definitions of small forwards and power forwards.

These "tweeners" are all 6-8 or shorter, and have the following working against them:
  • Smaller than traditional power forwards (example: Kenneth Faried)
  • Have some perimeter skills but not perimeter quickness (Derrick Williams)
  • Or some combination of the two (like Paul Millsap).

What to do with such players? Make them small "fours" or beefed up "threes?" It has long been an NBA conundrum, especially because plenty of quality players fit this rough description.

It's a conundrum, however, to which a clear solution is emerging: In today's NBA, they're all power forwards.

If there is a question as to whether a player is a small or power forward, that player's almost always better playing power forward. That's just the state of the league these days.

Want proof? First consider what small forwards do. A great way to start this exercise is to spend a few minutes watching small forward Andre Iguodala play defense. A typical possession starts with him sprinting through and around screens. Then, his man may end up as the screener in a pick-and-roll with the point guard. Iguodala then must swallow up a point guard, then dig down to stop a pass to the post with his long arms, and then use his quickness to recover to the perimeter. Yes, Iguodala is strong, smart, and long -- but most of all he’s lightning quick and moving all over the place.

Do you really want Paul Millsap attempting all that?

Being notably smaller than your opponent is a hassle. Being notably slower, against a well-run offense, takes you out of the play entirely. Putting an undersized power forward at small forward just because he has a modicum of perimeter skill is a mistake, especially as every position in the NBA becomes more and more perimeter oriented. It's a strategy rooted in the past and destined for failure.

Chris Bosh and Kevin Garnett are so effective as centers and Carmelo Anthony was a revelation as a power forward for this very reason. At those positions, they are fast. Being quick instead of big increases team-wide offensive and defensive versatility while also creating individual advantages.

Teams worry about smallish players getting beat up on the boards, but the fact is that, as David Thorpe likes to say, the player who gets to the ball first is the one that wins possession. Being tall helps, but it's really about hunting "out of area" rebounds and securing good position. Shane Battier is a model for how a slightly smaller player can hold his own inside better than he can defend quicker players on the perimeter.

That’s why it was so curious that the Timberwolves, with Kevin Love already in the fold, drafted Derrick Williams with last year’s second overall pick. If Minnesota hoped he would become an effective small forward, it was wishful thinking. In today’s NBA, that position must be able to operate pick-and-rolls both as a screener and ball handler, make the corner 3-pointer and show hyper-versatility on defense. Basically, a small forward is now just a tall shooting guard; Toronto's Terrence Ross is a ready example.

Williams, despite his protestations to the contrary, is simply not cut out to be a small forward, but boy, could he be a nasty face-up four.

These days, being a "tweener" often just means that player has an opportunity to exploit an advantage in quickness.

With few exceptions, there should be no doubt about what position a front court player plays. It's the one that best suits his speed, not his size.

Las Vegas Summer League Bullets: Day 6

July, 19, 2012
7/19/12
12:06
AM ET
By Sean Highkin, Hardwood Paroxysm
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Since the days leading up to the draft, Royce White has been one of the more intriguing personalities in this year's rookie class, and this distinction has only been strengthened by his excellent play in Vegas. Jason Friedman of Rockets.com has a must-read feature on White. Among other things, he talks about the need to nurture his interests outside of basketball in order to improve his game: “We could say that a basketball player, a young kid eating, sleeping and breathing the sport, might help that player more basketball-wise, but life-wise it can’t. You can’t tell me that’s healthy for your all-around well being to just eat, breathe and sleep one thing. If you’re not a well-balanced human it’s no different than if your game’s not well balanced; if you just focus on passing and you can’t shoot or dribble, it’s not good. If we’re giving up humanity for basketball then we’ve got a bigger problem on our hands. At the end of the day, basketball is important but it can’t be at the expense of the bigger picture. I think there is a way to be the best basketball player you can be and have other interests.”
  • Jim Buss stopped by the NBA TV booth during the Lakers' Tuesday Summer League game. As expected, there's a lot of talk about the Steve Nash trade and Dwight Howard rumors, but Buss also spends time giving his thoughts on some of the players on the Lakers' Summer League squad.
  • The Rockets' Scott Machado and the Kings' Jimmer Fredette break down each other's games in a pair of video interviews on Cowbell Kingdom following strong performances on Monday.
  • Brendan Jackson of CelticsHub thinks Dionte Christmas may be worth a roster spot to back up newly signed Jason Terry: "Christmas continues to show that he’s not afraid to shoot the basketball even if it hurts his chances of making this or any NBA roster. Regardless of Summer League shot selection, Christmas displays the type of fearless and aggressive effort you want coming off your bench. He’s almost ignorant of his own abilities and limitations. As if he would continue to attack the basket and shoot if LeBron James or Kobe Bryant were guarding him. I haven’t decided if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. The Celtics’ options for the backup shooting guard position are looking pretty sparse with the Jason Terry signing officially taking up the mid-level exception, and the C’s could do worse than taking a flyer on Christmas."
  • WEEI's Paul Flannery has a more extensive profile of Christmas, detailing the work he's put in to try to make it in the NBA: “'He stuck with John [Hardnett] and worked out every day, worked out in the gym when there wasn’t nobody around but him,' his trainer Chuck Ellis said. 'He always had the will and he always had the determination. Growing up, he got better and got better just by working hard. He’s what you really call a gym rat.'"
  • Charlie Yao of Roundball Mining Company talks to Nuggets Summer League coach Chad Iske about the play of Kenneth Faried and Jordan Hamilton in Vegas.
  • Several NBA players name their ideal one-on-one opponents.
  • This crossover/no-look pass combo by the Grizzlies' Jeremy Pargo is as impressive as any move you'll see at Summer League.
  • Scott Schroeder takes a look at Milwaukee's Tobias Harris, who didn't play much his rookie season but is trying to make a case for more minutes: "The second-year wing played more minutes than anyone else in the afternoon matchup between the Bucks and Washington Wizards and, in a move that won’t surprise most who have followed his career, he did quite a bit with the time he was given. The 6-foot-8 wing followed up a 19-point performance in his Vegas Summer League game earlier this week with a 24-point, 12-rebound performance in his second game of the exhibition season."
  • Bucksketball's Jon Hartzell was also impressed with Harris: "He seemed superior to everyone else on the court in both talent and size. The Wizards couldn’t stop him in the post, he showed a somewhat unknown touch on his jumper, and he was constantly in the right position for defensive rebounds. If he can continue with this consistent offense throughout Summer League, then hopefully Hammond will stop talking about how it might be hard for Harris to find minutes behind Mike Dunleavy Jr. and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. Harris has the offense this team needs and he deserves to be on the floor."
  • From Red's Army, a few highlights from Tuesday night's Bulls-Celtics game, in GIF form.
  • Truth About It's Adam McGinnis is buying the hype around third overall pick Bradley Beal: "He nailed jumpers on dribble drives, off spot-ups, finished in transition, and sprinkled in a few floaters. When he attacks the basket, he does so instinctively -- almost effortlessly -- and can draw contact for fouls; this aggressiveness will give him the benefit of the doubt on many whistles in the future. Beal rarely forces play, choosing his spots wisely even if he’s mired in a mini-drought of missed buckets. His calm demeanor masks any frustrations while he finds other ways to positively impact the game. Beal recovers sharply on defense without fouling and has advanced timing on his shot-blocking prowess."
  • In this video interview, Beal names some of his favorite movies and restaurants, among other things.

Does motor matter?

June, 25, 2012
6/25/12
3:49
PM ET
Mason By Beckley Mason
ESPN.com
Archive
Perry Jones III
Ron Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Perry Jones has scary talent and size, but there are questions about his motor.

Endless questions swirl around Perry Jones III, the highly rated prospect from Baylor. At 6-11 he has a guard's handle, but what position does he play? Who will he guard? Can he shoot well enough to play on the perimeter?

But the most pressing questions are about his motor, as in, why doesn't Perry Jones play harder, more assertively?

On Hardwood Paroxysm, James Herbert interviews Jones' trainer, who says he has some answers:
“I think they’ve got that wrong,” said the Harvard graduate who worked with elite athletes at the U.S. Olympic Training Center before opening his own facility in Santa Barbara, California. “I don’t even know what that is: ‘A weak motor.’ I’ve heard that around him now over these last few weeks quite a few different times and I don’t know quite what that means. Is that like lack of effort? Does it mean not a lot of drive? Does it mean he can’t work at a high level for a long period of time? I don’t know. I don’t think any of these things are going to be true with this kid.

Elliott has worked with Jones for the last month and a half, preparing him for the Chicago pre-draft combine, team workouts and the leap to the next level. What he found was a mechanical issue, not one involving a lack of heart, desire or focus.

“When you create force for any kind of athletic movement out of your lower half — whether it’s jumping or sprinting or cutting — you use a combination of force generated from the ankle, the knee and the hip. We call those ‘force moments,’” Elliott said. Jones’ problem is that he was creating a bigger force moment over his knee than was desirable. His work at P3 has been about shifting his incredibly powerful force moments to his hips. While “motor” is a murky term, sports science showed something specific: His movement pattern put too much pressure on his knees to produce maximal force on a consistent basis. Perry’s smooth athleticism made everything look easy, but it was not.

I don't doubt that improving his functional mobility can make Jones more consistently explosive. But does anyone really question whether he's athletic enough to play in the NBA?

Jones’ trainers aren’t just working on his mechanics, they’re working on his sales pitch. If a team's general manager is torn on how to evaluate Jones, perhaps the right pitch can help make him a believer.

Motor may be elusive to define, but it doesn't mean it doesn't exist, or that we couldn't measure it. A simple test measuring a players' heart rate under game-like conditions in practice would create the necessary baseline to see how hard they are working during games. In crude terms, players who work harder for more of the game have high motors.

And for all of Jones talent, there's no doubt he's something of a tweener, a player who will need to stake his own identity on the court. If Jones drifts for 10 minutes in an NBA game, he may never see the ball.

The tweeners who thrive in the NBA all share one skill: a tremendous work rate.

6-7 center DeJuan Blair doesn’t even have ACLs, but no one ever wondered if he was playing his hardest. Paul Millsap is an undersized power forward who forced his way into Utah's starting lineup with his relentless rebounding.

Ditto Kenneth Faried, one of the big surprises from last year's draft. Faried is four inches shorter than Jones, can’t dribble or shoot and is not especially savvy as a defender. Teams hardly thought he was a sure thing, as evidenced by his selection at 17th overall.

But oh man does he hustle! And when does that ever go wrong? Is taking that kind of player really a risk?

Any team that drafted Faried was going to get the hardest working player in the draft, and that effort ultimately made him one of the most effective rookies in his class.

Working the way Faried does is the one skill that can make all the other skills look better. In college, Jones' motor tended to give the opposite impression.

But like any skill, motor can be improved with deliberate practice, which means Perry Jones' career is very much an open question. That's frightening to general managers drafting in the top 10 but more palatable to those with a mid-to-late-first round pick.

Despite protestations to the contrary from his camp, history shows that whether Jones makes the leap from scary to scary good will have little to do with his vertical and a lot to do with motor.

Meet Kenneth Faried

March, 6, 2012
3/06/12
1:34
PM ET
Mason By Beckley Mason
ESPN.com
Archive
The inconsistent Nuggets have won four straight since the All-Star break while playing Kenneth Faried a ton of minutes. To NBA Playbook's Brett Koremenos, that isn't a coincidence:
Let’s play a trivia game quickly. Which player currently ranks 18th in TS% (True Shooting Percentage), 2nd in Offensive Rebound Rate, 7th in Overall Rebound Rate and currently sits 9th in PER, sandwiched between Kobe Bryant and Russell Westbrook?

If the names Howard, Love, Griffin or Anderson are popping into your head, guess again.

Still stuck? Try Denver rookie Kenneth Faried.
Click the link to see video of Faried flying across the court and making incredible plays with his hustle and athleticism.

Sometimes players who come through the draft lacking good or even adequate dribbling, shooting and scoring skills make us wonder how they can survive in the NBA. Faried reminds us that effort is still one of the most important and undervalued skills there is.

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