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The Most Unstoppable Moves in NBA History

22 Apr

moves - feature

By William Bixby

Tim Hardaway’s killer crossover – People now remember Tim Hardaway for a few homophobic comments made well after he retired from his NBA playing days. But, before Hardaway became a flaming bigot, he was the owner and inventor of the killer crossover. He was about 6’1” and 175 lbs. with a lightning quick first step and a mean handle. Hardaway would throw the basketball between his legs hard right, and then cross back left in front of his defender leaving them frozen in place. The play usually ended in a sweet floater or an easy assist.

 

Charles Barkley’s scoot – Charles Barkley was undersized compared to power forwards of his era. In fact, Barkley was undersized for a small forward. Though he was generously listed at 6’6”, his actual height was closer to 6’4”. Barkley had the height of a NBA shooting guard, but played and dominated in the post. Barkley had three assets that aided him in the paint, long arms, explosive leaping, and a big butt. He used that butt to back his defenders under the rim, and then finish over them. He pushed, scooted, and bullied his way to a Hall of Fame career.

 

Shaquille O’Neal’s spin move – Shaquille O’Neal was one of the biggest, most physically dominant players that the NBA has seen. Players had to use all their muscle and weight to fend him off in the post, so he was fouled on most plays. But, Shaq was as nimble as he was big. When he felt a smaller defender pushing with all his might against him, he spun quickly to the basket for an easy bucket. The man who could overpower anyone used their strength against them.

Magic Johnson’s no-look pass – The Laker’s fast break pushed offensive strategy boundaries and Magic Johnson’s no-look pass revolutionized basketball. Before him the standard of passing was the conventional chest pass and the standard of the misdirection was the simple ball fake. After Magic the one-handed bounce pass and the no-look pass became staples of the game. Magic would fly down the court at full speed look left and sling the basketball to a trailing teammate on the right effectively tricking the defense into guarding the wrong players.

 

Larry Bird’s jump shot – Larry Bird was one of the best shooters to ever grace the NBA with his presence. He is one of six players that have had a 50/40/90* year, and one of two players to do it more than once. He could really shoot the lights out, but at least part of the reason that Bird was so unstoppable was his unorthodox jump shot. He stood 6’9” and shot the basketball from behind his head with a ridiculously high release point. Bird shot could not be reached by defenders and was rarely blocked, because the basketball was never accessible.

 

Hakeem Olajuwon’s Dream Shake – Olajuwon’s Dream Shake was all predicated on his jump hook and his immaculate footwork. There is no clear way to explain his Dream Shake, because where he moved depended on where the defense was. That was the beauty of his move, it changed constantly. The shake that was most often referred to when talking about Olajuwon’s Dream Shake was when he fell out of bounds after faking an inordinate amount of times on the baseline. No one has ever seen that shot tipped.

 

Wilt Chamberlain’s drop step – Wilt was a freak athletically, and he made a simple move a staple of post play. He was bigger, faster, and stronger than anyone that he faced. Chamberlain learned that he could exploit defenders by getting them on his hip, turning to face the basket, and finishing over them. He was one of the most prolific scorers in the NBA history.

Michael Jordan’s fade away – Michael Jordan was the most pure scoring force that the NBA has seen. At shooting guard, he shot 49.7% from the field for his career which is incredible considering that his go to move was the fade away. Instead of the conventional, vertical jump that was the standard for jump shots, Jordan jumped away from his defenders, fading away from both contact and outstretched hands. With his outstanding athleticism, he could score in the face of double and triple teams on the basketball court. Jordan’s fade away could not be blocked.

 

Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s sky hook – Lew Alcindor was one of the most dominant players in high school history. When he moved to college, the NCAA instituted a rule that disallowed dunking to slow him. Instead of this rule stifling his game, it forced him to develop a new shot. He invented the most unstoppable shot in the history of basketball, the sky hook. Alcindor made a large sweeping motion with the ball extended, flicked his wrist and with a silky release hit the bottom of the nets. In the NBA, he changed his name to Kareem Abdul Jabbar and went on to score more points than anyone in NBA history with the sky hook. It could not be blocked by the primary defender and was difficult to alter by secondary defenders. The sky hook was the most unstoppable move in NBA history.

*50/40/90 is an exclusive club where the players shoot 50% from the field, 40% from the three point line, and 90% from the free throw line. To qualify as a leader in field goal percentage a player needs at least 300 field goals, for three point percentage a player needs at least 55 three point field goals, and for free throw percentage a player needs at least 125 free throws. Only six players have accomplished a 50/40/90 season, Larry Bird, Mark Price, Reggie Miller, Steve Nash, and Dirk Nowitzki. Only Nash and Bird have done it twice. Nash has done it in 4 of the last 5 seasons.

What Post Players Are Missing Today

8 Apr

big men today

The 80s and 90s were the Golden Era of the big man. Centers and power forwards led their teams through the NBA playoffs, and dominated that era with physical defense, tough rebounding, and interior scoring. Big men were a staple of a good team, and the building block of any franchise that needed to mire out of mediocrity. The classic post has disappeared at every level of basketball, because players of this era are missing several of the fundamental characteristics that allowed players from other time periods to dominate. There are at least four basic components to a great post player, the ability to give and take contact, the requisite skills to score field goals, the ability to get good positioning in all facets of the game, and the heart to want to dominate. No big man can succeed without an understanding and some semblance of these four principles.

The problem with a good percentage of big men in the game today is that they do not relish contact. In order to be dominant under the rim, a certain level of physicality is necessary. The larger basketball players have to ward off their opponents while they take shots in the post, jostle for position when they rebound the basketball, and clear space for the smaller guards on every offensive set. Those actions require that big men have an affinity for hitting other people and a certain level of tolerance for being hit. The best big men in basketball have the temperance of football players, and the best teams at any level of basketball are made of players that are willing to use their bodies to score baskets on offense and regularly put their bodies between their opponents and the basket on defense. Big men of yesteryear were intimidators, and the big men of today could learn from them. Basketball is a contact sport, and posts represent the tougher sect of athletes that hit the basketball court. No big man can excel without being willing and able to throw his weight around in the paint.

hook shot

And, in addition to simply being willing to mix it up under the goal, any good power forward or center must have a solid understanding of basic post moves. Delegation of strength or size is useless without the core pieces of interior scoring, the hook shot and the drop step. All offensive moves and countermoves are set up from one of those two basic steps, so post players must feel comfortable using both weapons in the painted area to be efficient scorers. They are the yin and yang of the paint. A good hook starts with the big man making contact with their defender to create separation between them, and then rolling a soft shot off the fingertips of the hand opposite the defender. It is a classic power move. Hit the defender and score. But, the basic drop step represents the basic finesse move. Drop steps use the defenders strength and momentum to slip away from contact and score. Once a defender gives away their position by pushing the offensive player, the big drops the opposite leg past that defender, collects himself with a second step while squaring his shoulders, and slips past the opponent for an easy score. Great forwards and centers throughout NBA history used these fundamental shots in combination with jab steps and pump fakes to set up more complex offensive weapons like the fade-away, powerful spin moves, and the up-and-under layup.

One of the most glaring flaws in the skill set of post players today is their lack of positioning when executing the most basic elements of the game. In order for a big man to play effectively against the athletic point guards and wings of the NBA and to outperform other bigs on the low block, he must always put himself in the right position. Scoring, rebounding, blocking shots, and setting picks, the building blocks of a great big man’s game, require that the player be in the correct spot on most plays. And each category is predicated on a different type of positioning.

Scoring is thought to be dependent solely on footwork and touch, however great scorers work to get to their spots on the courts. Shooters work to get to their favorite high percentage areas on the perimeter, and post players should be working to get the deepest possible position in the paint. In general, the closer a shot is to the basket, the more likely the player who took the shot will score. Big men today are regularly forced off the block because they do not begin fighting for deep position before they receive the basketball. Catching the basketball further out on the floor makes easy scores more difficult, so good athletes should fight for space deep in the paint.

box out

And, the same is true of rebounding. Post players do not properly position themselves to get rebounds before the ball is shot so individual rebounding numbers across the nation have suffered though shooting percentages have remained fairly constant. Long shots generally produce long rebounds, and short shots make short rebounds. Since the same few players take most of the shots for their teams and most missed field goal attempts careen to the other side of the rim, rebounders should be able to track the flight of the basketball fairly easily. Yet, big men find themselves pushed under the rim and out of position for rebounds regularly. Lack of positioning affects rebounding as much as it does scoring.

But, all parts of the game require a focus on getting to the right spots. Consistently blocking shots is a function of being in the right place. Big men have to get their bodies parallel to the offensive player and the goal before the offensive player gets off the ground to block their shot. Failing to do so results in fouls on the defense and converted buckets for the offense.

Even setting picks on offense and playing team defense requires attention to personal proximity on the court. If players are too congested on the hardwood, then the offensive play gets stifled and any pick that was set is rendered meaningless. One man can essentially guard two players without the proper spacing.

On defense, being out of position means giving up easy points. Every defensive player must focus on an individual player, but keep within the team concept of the defensive set. Every good defense depends on each player being in a position to defend the player that they are assigned to stop and help their teammates with the player that is assigned to them.

basketball - shaquille o'neal02

And though physical play, skilled offensive attacks, and focus on being in the right place are completely necessary, the desire to win may be the biggest factor that is missing from today’s big men. Post players today have no heart. Big men from the past wanted the basketball, demanded the basketball, and desired to destroy their opponents. That is what truly separated the great players from the mediocre ones. They wanted to better than their opponents. Post players had the desire to bully teams, whereas in the internet age everybody wants to be friends. Dwight Howard hangs with LeBron James. LeBron is best friends with Dwayne Wade. Wade still spends time with Chris Bosh. And, none of them attack each other with the fervor that it takes to win championships. Hakeem Olajuwon never spent his weekends with Patrick Ewing. Karl Malone would never call Alonzo Mourning for a quick brunch before a day of shopping with the wives. Great big men do not befriend the enemy.

To dominate as a big man you have to relish contact, learn the finer points of scoring, work at getting good position in evert facet of the game, but most importantly, you have to want to dominate. The post players of today have fallen behind other generations because they lack the desire to compete on that level. They are under-skilled, lack the proper countenance, and lack the level of motivation necessary to destroy their competition. Without a new found focus on these fundamental keys of basketball, the true post player may become extinct altogether.

Black Blue Devils

2 Apr

This article was originally posted on January 5, 2010. Enjoy.
by Rodimus Dunn

So, I was watching the documentary The U the other night, and I was compelled by how Howard Schnellenberger went into the hood areas of Florida to recruit football players for the team.  It was awesome, because not only was that something very few white coaches would have done at that time (maybe ever), it also pulled many of these guys out of their particular situation with the added bonus of supplying these guys with a college education!  I’m not really into lists, but I saw this list of players who went to Miami that did pretty well in the NFL.  Here’s a truncated list (albeit rather extensive):

•    Otis Anderson
•    Jesse Armstead
•    Bennie & Brian Blades
•    Jeff Feagles
•    Bubba Franks
•    Frank Gore
•    Alonzo Highsmith
•    Michael Irvin
•    Edgerrin James
•    Andre Johnson
•    Cortez Kennedy
•    Bernie Kosar
•    Ray Lewis
•    Bubba Mcdowell
•    Willis McGahee
•    Dan Morgan
•    Santana Moss
•    Clinton Portis
•    Ed Reed
•    Antrel Rolle
•    Warren Sapp
•    Jeremy Shockey
•    Duane Starks
•    Sean Taylor
•    Vinny Testaverde
•    Jonathon Vilma
•    Vince Wilfork

At any rate, this got me to thinking about my favorite college basketball team the Duke Blue Devils.  (For full disclosure and transparency, Duke has been my favorite college basketball team for almost twenty years, so I’m a huge Duke honk).  Watching Duke play this year and last year I just knew that they were a good team with no realistic championship capability.  Moreover, I noticed that there was a scarcity of black players.  Now I’m not saying that only black basketball players are of any quality, what I am saying is that for an institution (the NCAA) that has mostly black basketball players (so does the NBA for that matter), it strikes me odd that a quality program, such as Duke has such a small number of basketball players of color {I don’t have exact recent percentages, but the last I saw accurately published was 82% blacks in the NBA and 61% blacks for NCAA basketball, and this was from 1997 data}.  So what follows is my examination of when Coach K lost his eyesight? Or where are all the Black Blue Devils? What happened to the Underground Tobacco Road?
To see if I could quantify any of my hypotheses, I researched the last 15 years of the Duke basketball roster starting with the 2008-09 team.  It was fitting that the last team on the list was the 1994-95 team (the “this year never happened” team which went 13-18 because Coach K was out with health issues). So here are my findings:

  • In those 15 years, there have been a total of 102 black players at Duke (for an average of 6.8/year)
  • In the most recent 5 year span, the average was 5 black players/year
  • In the middle 5 year span, the average was 7.4 black players/year
  • In the most distant 5 year span, the average was 8 black players/year

In these 15 years, there have been 20 Duke players to land on an NBA roster (I’m even counting guys who had very short, middling careers, such as: Roshown Mcleod, William Avery, Daniel Ewing, Shavlik Randolph, Demarcus Nelson, Josh McRoberts)

  • 75% of those Duke NBA players were black
  • In the most recent 5 year span, the black players who have played in the NBA are: Shelden Williams, Daniel Ewing, Demarcus Nelson, and Gerald Henderson
  • In the most recent 5 year span, the white players who have played in the NBA are: JJ Redick, Shavlik Randolph, and Josh McRoberts (Kyle Singler will almost assuredly be added to this list, and probably Jon Scheyer).

If those pieces of information aren’t damning enough, I’ve got some NCAA tournament stats to wow you (Remember all of this data is from Dukies who played between the 1995-96 season through 2008-09 season):

  • # of black players on Duke’s 2000-01 Championship winning team- 9
  • Average # of black players on Duke teams that made it to the Final Four- 7
  • Average # of black players on Duke teams that lose in the Elite Eight- 10 (one team)
  • Average # of black players on Duke teams eliminated in the Sweet 16- 6.5
  • Average # of black players on Duke teams eliminated in the First Round- 6 (in actuality the # should be 4.  The 1995-96 Duke team’s (which had 8 black players) inclusion into the tourney was somewhat controversial, as they were only 18-13 during the season, and 8-8 in conference.  It was regarded as a popularity pick, as they were not a strong team

If even those pieces of information aren’t damning enough, I’ve got some data regarding NBA accomplishments of Duke players (All of this data is from Dukies who played between the 1995-96 through 2008-09 season{the cutoff is at least 50 games played in the season}):

  • # of times a white player from Duke has averaged 20 points/game- 0
  • # of times a black player from Duke has averaged 20 points/game- 11
  • # of times a white player from Duke has averaged 15 points/game- 1
  • # of times a black player from Duke has averaged 15 points/game- 21
  • # of times a white player from Duke has averaged 10 points/game- 6
  • # of times a black player from Duke has averaged 10 points/game- 31
  • # of times a white player from Duke has averaged 10 rebounds/game- 0
  • # of times a black player from Duke has averaged 10 rebounds/game- 10

A few more NBA accomplishments from black Duke grads (the # for all white Duke grads for each of these is 0{once again all of this data is from Dukies who played between the 1995-96 through 2008-09 seasons}):

  • All-Star selections- 4
  • All NBA selections- 2
  • All Defensive Team selections- 2
  • Rookie of the Year Awards- 1
  • All Rookie Team selections- 5
Recruits like this are the real reason Duke doesn’t win the title every year


None of this is data is to disparage white basketball players, or to suggest that black basketball players are better than white basketball players.  What I am suggesting is that Duke teams fare MUCH better when they have a higher percentage of black players on their teams, and that many of those black players have legitimate NBA success.  Despite what the detractors think, Duke still has national cache, and it’s hard for me to believe that such a small number of talented black players would want nothing to do with a school that has the vast majority of its games nationally televised, has a world renowned coach, and makes it to the NCAA tournament perennially, and has clothes/shoes contract with NIKE.  In all honesty, it’s impossible to argue that there aren’t talented black athletes who play for nearby teams such as NC State, Wake Forest, or Clemson that wouldn’t have obviously wanted to play for Duke instead of their current team.  I’m not insinuating that Coach K is a racist, but seriously, this doesn’t make sense to me.  Whatever the current recruiting strategy is, it’s not working very well.  The only 2 white players from Duke who’ve enjoyed even a modicum of success on the next level in the last 15 years are Mike Dunleavy and JJ Redick.  In the last 15 years!
Lastly, it appears that not only is Duke running with significantly fewer black players than they used to, the quality of player that they are recruiting isn’t all that great either.  As previously mentioned, the white athletes that have been on their rosters the last several years just haven’t been NBA quality, by anyone’s measure.  Coach K certainly has two Herculean tasks facing him this decade: acquiring more black talent, and acquiring more talent period.

Best NBA Players Without a NBA Title

1 Apr

basketball - steve nash

John Stockton – John Stockton is the all-time leader in both assists and steals in the National Basketball Association. For a slow, non-athletic, and undersized point guard from a small college, Stockton carved out a great career for himself. He ran the Utah pick and roll offense for two decades with teammate Karl Malone. Under his direction, the Jazz made two NBA Finals where they were defeated by Michael Jordan’s Bulls. Stockton won a co-MVP award in a NBA All-Star game and was regarded as one of the best point guards in the league for most of his 20 year career.

George Gervin – The “Iceman” could score on anyone in the league during his NBA career. He took his unorthodox jump shot to multiple scoring titles and put on a show wherever he played. Gervin was a holdover from the ABA merger, and he believed in entertaining fans when he hit the court. Only Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain have more scoring titles than the Iceman (he has four). To win his first scoring title, George Gervin scored 63 points in the final game of the season. He had 53 at the half, and sat for most of the 3rd and 4th quarter after he reached enough points to secure the title. Gervin scored 40 or more points 68 times in his career and retired as the leader in blocks by a guard.

 

Reggie Miller – Reggie Miller may be the most polarizing superstar in league history. Miller was as clutch as anyone in the history of basketball in the closing minutes of a game, and he was more devastating on the road than he was at home. At the end of the game, he found a way to get the ball and get his shot off. He was not above shoving an opponent or flopping to get a rise out of a player or a call from a referee. Miller antagonized everyone, but his skill trumped any of his antics. Miller could shoot the basketball. In one stretch during a Division playoff game, he scored 8 points in 8.9 seconds to defeat the Knicks. He scored 57 points, his personal high and the league high against the Charlotte Hornets in the 1992-93 season. In his one trip to the NBA Finals, the Pacers were defeated by the LA Lakers, but Miller retired as the all-time leader in 3-pointers made (it has since been broken by Ray Allen).

 

Dominique Wilkins – ‘The Human Highlight Film’ is the most exciting player to never win a title. ‘Nique may be the best pure athlete that the NBA has seen. He was bigger and stronger than Jordan and every bit as athletic (if not more athletic). He had quick feet, and could explode at the rim with more force than anyone in the league. Plus, Wilkins rebounded and scored. He is one of six players to average 25+ points for 10 consecutive years of his career and is one of the few NBA guys who finished their career with over 25,000 points. He finished his career with more points than Magic Johnson and more than Larry Bird. He has more rebounds than Alonzo Mourning and Kevin McHale. Dominique is unfairly undervalued in the course of history because he never won a title.

Elgin Baylor – Though Elgin Baylor may not be the best player on this list without a NBA title, he definitely wins the title of most disparaged loser. He went to the NBA Finals eight times with the Lakers without winning one championship ring. Then, he became the general manager of the Los Angeles Clippers (insult to injury). Elgin Baylor has long been thought of as the predecessor to guys like Michael Jordan. He was one of the first, big scoring guards and he was known to fly in over an opponent and finish in the tress.

 

Tracy McGrady – Though Tracy McGrady technically never led a team out of the first round of the playoffs by himself, he also never was surrounded by great talent when he was the best player on the squad. T-Mac is one of the most underrated players of this era of basketball. He is a seven time All-Star, seven All-NBA team, with two scoring titles. McGrady was one of the few unstoppable scoring guards when he got hot. At 6’8″, he handled the basketball like a point guard, scored by shooting the three and slashing to the rim off the dribble, and defended 3 positions. McGrady averaged 19.6 points, 4.4 assists, and 5.6 rebounds on his career despite playing the last five seasons in limited minutes and never scoring more than 9.4 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 3.9 assists. He was a great player who was undervalued because of lack of success in the playoffs.

 

Patrick Ewing – Patrick Ewing was one of the most dominant centers to ever play in the NBA, and if his knees could have held up for his entire career, or if micro-fracture surgery had come a decade earlier, he may have challenged Shaq or Olajuwon for most dominant big man in the league. Ewing was one of the first centers that could step out and hit jumpers, and that added to his solid footwork in the post. Plus, his long arms and defensive positioning led him to the NBA Finals where he was defeated by an old rival, Hakeem Olajuwon.

 

Charles Barkley – Barkley has always been dynamic and enigmatic on and off the basketball court. Sir Charles was one of the most prolific scorers and rebounders of his era despite regularly giving up three to seven inches to the man that was guarding him. He utilized explosive leaping ability, a variety of pump fakes, and his derriere to maneuver around the basket and dominate his opponents.

 

Jerry West – A testament to how talented Mr. Basketball was is his play in his first NBA Finals. Jerry West holds the distinction of being the only player in NBA history to win an NBA Finals MVP award without winning a NBA title. Mr. Clutch could score with anyone and made shots from all over the court (including the other half of the court) when the game mattered most. His playoff scoring average still sits among the league leaders after 40 years of retirement.

 

Allen Iverson – Allen Iverson one of the smallest men to win a MVP award, and may be the most dominant little man to ever guide his team to the NBA Finals. Every other small guard had a post that they could dump the ball to for easy scores. Iverson lead his team and the league in scoring with Dikembe Mutumbo, a defensive specialist as his best offensive option. Iverson lead the league on scoring three years at a generous listed height of 6′ (he is actually closer to 5’10″ or 5’11″). In addition to his healthy career scoring average of 26.2, Iverson also averaged over 6 assists per game too. He utilized supreme quickness and speed to overcome his physical deficiencies.

Steve Nash – Steve Nash is the most criticized two-time NBA MVP in league history because he never reached the NBA Finals. However, despite limited playoff success, he changed the way that basketball was being played in the early 2000s and made the game of basketball enjoyable to watch again. Steve Nash changed the culture of basketball by taking it back to its glory days of fast break basketball with Magic Johnson. Nash could score as evidenced by a 50 point game and a few 40+ point games in the playoffs, however he preferred to orchestrate the offense and keep his teammates involved. Nash’s first MVP year had the lowest scoring average in the history of the league attached to it, but his impact was greater. The following year was better than the first, so he had to be re-crowned, and his third year when he lost the MVP race was arguably his best year as a pro.

 

Karl Malone – Karl Malone won two Most Valuable Player awards during his career and finished his playing time as the second highest scorer in league history with 36, 928 points. Over the course of his nineteen year NBA career, Malone averaged 25.0 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. He was either the best or second best power forward that ever played the game of basketball depending on if you classify Tim Duncan as a center or power forward.