Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Saltzman Says...Map to NBA Championship has never changed

The road to a title in the NBA is very simple.  So simple in fact, that more than half of the championships won (34 of 64) have been by two teams, the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics (17 each). The Lakers and Celtics have not only won the most championships in the history of the NBA, but they have faced each other for the title 12 times. 

It really comes down to 5 facts about your team.  If you have these 5, you can win a title too:

1. A center who can defend the paint.

Not every championship team has a dominant center.  In some cases, they didn't have a dominant scorer at either center or power forward.  However, there has yet to be a championship team who didn't have a big man who can defend.  The first step in stopping every other team in the league is to force them to score from outside the paint.  Teams that can intimidate their opponents from entering the paint in the first place, have already won the most important battle.

George Mikan, Bill Russell, Willis Reed, Nate Thurmond, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Robert Parish, Bill Cartwright, Bill Laimbeer, Rick Mahorn, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Ben Wallace, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, and even Andrew Bynum are all examples of big men who can defend the rim and have titles to prove it.

2. A great defender on the perimeter. 

Whether it is the best player on the floor, such as Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant, or whether it is a man who plays solely for his defense like Bruce Bowen or Michael Cooper, having a swingman who can take the other team's best scorer is critical.  All championship teams have at least one great defender who can control the game on the defensive end outside the paint as well.  By limiting the opponents in the paint and controlling teams on the perimeter, the half court game becomes very difficult.  All great teams have a defensive identity that is clear and intimidating.

3. A point guard who can facilitate

Many teams, especially recently, have had average point guards help them win championships.  However, no championship team has had an average leader running the offense.  Whether it was Derek Fisher in L.A., Ron Harper in Chicago, or Sam Cassell in Houston, every championship point guard knew how to run the team's offense to perfection.  Both Fisher and Harper ran the "Triangle Offense" for Phil Jackson and Sam Cassell helped facilitate to sharp shooters Kenny Smith and Vernon Maxwell and big men Hakeem Olajuwon and Otis Thorpe in Houston.  They controlled the game and let their teammates shine more than them.  Fisher and Cassell were able to make some big shots during their championship runs, but it always started with them controlling the tempo of the offense.  Harper knew his biggest role was at the defensive end to help Michael Jordan have the legs to dominate on both ends for four quarters.  However, he also made sure the team ran the offense smoothly too, even if it meant letting Jordan take over.  That kind of team mentality is essential to a winning basketball team.  There can be no egos at the point guard position. 

4. Perimeter scoring

No team can win if they can't score from the outside as well as the inside.  Most teams today have added shooters to their championship teams.  Role players like Jason Kapono, Trevor Ariza, Eddie House, Brent Barry, Robert Horry, John Paxson, Steve Kerr and Vinnie Johnson have all been able to help their teams win titles.  This is where team becomes huge.  These will always be players who could average more points playing for someone else or maybe make more money being the focal point somewhere else.  However, these shooters must be content with not doing much else.  Often times these are not starters, and if they do start, they are only asked to shoot.  So many good shooters want to contribute more nowadays and get lost in the importance of being a deadly sniper.  These players are critical to overall team success but not ultimate financial success.

5. A Closer

Very similar to baseball, basketball in the final two minutes, is left up to one player.  This doesn't always mean they have to take the last shot.  Jordan proved that by winning six titles, but passing off to Paxson and Kerr for two of those titles.  However, you need one player that is clearly your go to guy and will force the defense to do whatever it can to beat him.  This establishes two essential roles.  The role of the other four players, which is to find open space to spot up and shoot or to get great position for an offensive rebound.  It also establishes who is in charge at the end of the game.  The point guard becomes a quarterback with a great running game in this situation often times.  They must make sure they can get the ball to the best player on the floor.  Sometimes it has been the point guard who was the closer (i.e. Isiah Thomas, Magic Johnson)  but usually it is one of the other perimeter players.  If the only dominant player is the center, often times it is impossible to get them the ball at the end of games.  The defense is usually so good by the time a team reaches the finals, that the paint is almost always unavailable.  What made a player like Kareem Abdul Jabbar so great was his ability to score outside the paint with his sky hook.  It allowed the Lakers to use their best player, Magic Johnson, but always have the ability to feed it to their other best player just outside the paint.

No comments:

Post a Comment