Sunday, December 2, 2012

Scouting 102: Importance Of "Fit"


Ideally every NBA starter would be a “five-tool” player; they would be able to create their own shot, defend their position, shoot, pass and rebound. It would certainly make a GM’s job easier. But in the real world, there are very, very few basketball players without a single hole in their game. From a suspect jumper to an inability to move their feet on the perimeter or a shaky handle, almost every player has a wart or two.

As a result, “fit” — how well players complement each other on the court — is as important as talent in constructing a team. Building a championship team is like assembling a jigsaw puzzle — sometimes two pieces, no matter how impressive individually, just don’t fit well together.

To win an NBA title, a team must survive a two-month gauntlet of four best-of-seven series, with the quality of competition increasing almost exponentially each round. Rotations usually shrink as teams advance; the smallest weaknesses in a player’s game can be magnified and exploited by a quality opponent.

You want at least one shot-creator — a guy who can “create” an easy look at the basket for himself and others off the dribble — in the back-court. Surrounding him should be two good three-point shooters, because without outside shooting a defense can clog the middle of the court and render even the most dangerous offensive player impotent.

Up-front, one of your bigs should be a good jump-shooter; this creates driving lanes to the basket by forcing his man to leave the paint and defend him on the perimeter. Jump-shooting bigs “open up the floor” and ease congestion in the paint. A “stretch 4″ is the best complement to a low-post game — the easiest way to score on a basketball court and a must-have for a championship contender.

In Dallas, Chandler only has to concentrate on defense and rebounding. One of the best shot-blockers in the NBA at 7’1 235, he has the foot-speed to guard perimeter-oriented big men as well as the strength to shut down low-post scorers. He can guard every type of big man, which works well because Dirk can’t really guard any type. When he is paired with Chandler and Shawn Marion, two of the most versatile defensive forwards in the NBA, he can always be hid on the other team’s worst front-court scorer.

The more holes in your franchise player’s game, the better the players you need to put around him to win a championship. A prime Dirk Nowitzki couldn’t win a championship playing with Steve Nash, Mike Finley, Antawn Jamison and Antoine Walker; a prime Tim Duncan won a championship with an over-the-hill David Robinson (he averaged 8/8 in 2003), a too-young Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, Stephen Jackson and Speedy Claxton.

1) Playing two non-shooters together

Three of the the 2010 Texas Longhorns’ starters (Dexter Pittman, Damion James and Avery Bradley) were drafted last year. But because the other two — Mason and Balbay — couldn’t shoot from outside of ten feet, defenses did not guard them on the perimeter. Their men sagged in the lane, neutralizing all of Texas’ offensive talent. No one can win 3-on-5 match-ups consistently.

This is why the Orlando Magic began looking to trade Marcin Gortat, the Polish seven-footer, almost as soon as they matched the Dallas Mavericks’ contract offer for him last summer. Since neither Gortat nor Howard can hit a 15-jumper, it’s almost impossible to play both of them at the same time.

As a result, Orlando was paying $34 million dollars to a player averaging only 15 minutes a game. Now that he is getting more consistent playing time in Phoenix with a point guard who can get him easy baskets in Steve Nash, his PER has jumped from 13.7 to 16.8. He was worth his contract, just not in Orlando.

2) Playing scorers with no distributors:

One of the primary reasons why the Detroit Pistons traded Chauncey Billups was so that they could play Rodney Stuckey “on the ball” more.

To play with the ball in your hands, you need to be a good shot-creator. To play without the ball, you need to be a good jump-shooter. One of the biggest transitions guards make is moving either on or off the ball; it’s two different skill-sets entirely.

But Stuckey, despite Detroit’s optimism, never developed into a point. He only averages 4.5 assists a game despite a very high usage rating (25.2). Even worse, Rip Hamilton’s game — running through a maze of picks and curling off of them for jumpers — depends on a point guard’s ability to consistently deliver the ball into his shot-pocket. In his six seasons with Billups he had an average PER of 18.2.

After Billups left, it plummeted to 16.9, and he’s had a 14.9 the last two seasons. By keeping the same team but switching Allen Iverson (scorer) with Billups (pure point), the Pistons went from the 6th highest rated offense in the NBA to the 23rd.

3) Playing two guys who defend the same position:

Josh Smith, at 6’9 225, and Al Horford, at 6’10 240, are both excellent defensive players. But neither has the size to handle traditional centers like Dwight Howard. In the regular season, where very few teams have seven-footers with low-post games, this weakness can be hidden. Atlanta, because they started two athletic 6’9+ forwards who each averaged over a block a game, had the 13th rated defense in the league last season.

But when they faced Dwight Howard’s Magic in the second round, they were in a lot of trouble. Howard shot a preposterous 27-32 from the field as Orlando demolished the Hawks in a four-game sweep. Their average margin of victory in the series was over 30 points.

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