Debunking Common Strategic Myths of the NBA
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The typical commentary surrounding NBA strategy is replete with countless, repeated memes that inform our understandings of the game and how it works.
Some are repeated because they're truisms that defy refutation, but some have simply been hammered into our heads so much that we don't even think to refute them. For coaches attempting to turn the art of winning into an operational science, those accepted myths are of little help.
Success requires strategy that actually works. That reality doesn't always square with popular misconceptions.
Here's a look at some of the strategic myths that just don't add up.
Scoring in the Paint Requires a Post Game
We've long been indoctrinated about the value of a big man who can score in the post and there's good reason for that—namely an empirical record that includes names like Shaquille O'Neal, David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing.
Surely there's a reason such dominant interior scorers have led their teams to so much success. Star power forwards like Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett won their championships, at least in part, because of their skills in the post.
You really can't argue with that.
But, the notion that an inside-out game requires a post-up game simply doesn't hold water in today's NBA. Houston Rockets head coach Kevin McHale likes the idea of scoring in the paint as much as anyone, but he understands that there's more than one way to do so (via Rockets.com's Jason Friedman):
Now you can play inside-out different ways. We might play more inside-out by driving the ball into the paint and then kicking it out. We might play more inside-out off the dribble. But I still think you have to collapse the paint all the time.
Recent history suggests McHale is correct. The reigning champion Miami Heat won their title with power forward Chris Bosh sidelined for much of the second and third rounds, and even a healthy Bosh does much of his damage from mid-range. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade did most of the team's scoring at the basket with dribble-drives and off-the-ball cuts, not a post game.
Other elite teams rely on guards like Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker and Rajon Rondo to get the ball into the painted area.
It's not that the NBA has become a perimeter game; it's just that perimeter players now find themselves doing so much of their work from the inside.
You Need a Superstar Closer to Score in the Clutch
The San Antonio Spurs and Boston Celtics came awfully close to facing off in the NBA Finals They did so with superstar scorers built to take all those final shots. There's no question that players like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant can make life a lot easier, but their value has more to do with what they're doing over the course of the full 48 minutes.
Every possession is equally important. Good teams find themselves in position to win close games precisely because they've kept those games close throughout.
When they come away with a tight win, it often has more to do with execution and poise than feeding the ball to a superhuman scorer.
After all, the downside to just giving the ball to someone like Kobe or Carmelo Anthony in isolation is that the other team expects it. When defenders can anticipate and react to a situation, your best scorer will probably have to take a tougher shot.
In contrast, teams with multiple scorers who actually get their fair share of touches throughout the game are in better position to run plays with multiple options.
Long Two-Pointers Are Bad Shots
There's certainly a logic to the notion that a two-pointer that's just a step or two inside the three-point line is a bad shot.
Ideally, there's no question a perimeter shooter is better off setting up behind the line. If you're just as likely to make both shots, the one worth an extra point is clearly the better option. But, long two-pointers typically aren't the product of ideal situations.
They're sometimes the best looks a half-court offense can get. Given that bigger defenders are more likely to be patrolling a range between eight and 17 feet from the rim, players take more mid-range jumpers from just outside that area.
Players also settle for those long twos because their feet are set. The delay needed to find the three-point line and reset behind it is usually long enough for a defender to close out.
Given the choice between losing out on an open shot, risking an off-balance shot or taking that annoying 19-footer, the long two-pointer may be the best option. The next time you see Kobe Bryant or Dwyane Wade taking one of them, you might be a little more forgiving.
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