Friday, August 22, 2008

PE: Working Out to Play the Game

Class is back in session. Earlier in the week we had Civics, Science and Math if you want to read up on the other classes. And you don't want to start the school year falling behind in class do you???

So we finish up our back to school week blogs with the most people's favorite class Physical Education (unless you are one of those Bill Gates types who abhor sweat and prefer to make jokes about computer codes). No homework and you usually were allowed to scream, run and create mayhem without getting into trouble. Try doing that in English class! Along this theme I wanted to find out what NBA players in general, and Grizzlies players in particular, do to stay in shape during the off-season. What I found out was quite different than I expected.

There is no 'typical day' per se for NBA players. Some players use the off-season to work on particular weaknesses in their game. Other players continue to work on the strengths of their games. Some work harder on conditioning while others opt to rest their bodies to prepare for the upcoming 82 game marathon season. And of course some players choose to use their summer free time representing their country in the Olympics or other national competitions. Memphis has Marc Gasol (Spain), Darko Milicic (Serbia) and O J Mayo (USA Select team) who all contributed at least part of their summers helping out on the home front.

While working out against the Redemption Team isn't going to put a player at too much additional risk of injury, sometimes the International team workouts can be very detrimental to a players NBA career. Stories about 7 ft players running along rocky trails in mountains are not uncommon. It is not a big surprise that Darko hurt his Achilles tendon while training with Serbia, a country and a team not reputed to be among the leaders in modern training techniques or medicine.

I did talk to Mike Procopio at Attack Athletics about his group's program. Some of you may remember Mike from Chris Wallace's press conference after the O.J. Mayo trade. Mike was the person who pestered Chris into acquiring O.J., saying he was going to be a big star in the league. Hopefully Mike knows what he is talking about.

Attack Athletics program is based on working out 5 days a week for about 6 hours a day. A typical day begins around 9:00 am with an hour and half skills workout including shooting (200-250 shots during that time). Next is another hour and a half of strength and conditioning work. After a short break for a snack the players start scrimmaging. Not just some backyard, pick-up game scrimmaging either. The scrimmages are limited to their NBA players (20 right now, including O.J. Mayo and Antoine Walker) and are officiated by actual NBA and college referees.

Down at Suwanee Sports Academy in Atlanta things are done a little differently. SSA is the home of the Mark Price Basketball Academy for NBA Players. None other than Rudy Gay is quoted saying:

To learn from one of the most fundamental players of all-time has made a major difference for me on the court. Mark Price knows the game so well and has helped me become a more well-rounded player.
Mark's program focuses on footwork not shooting actually which Mark believes is 'the lost art of the game.' Javaris Crittenton has been working with Bruce Kreutzer and Mark Price this summer and Bruce said that he has made big strides this summer. Judging from the fact that JCritt's team won the competitive Atlanta Summer Pro League I would say that is an understatement.

A typical day at Mark Price's camp is not a full day affair however. Their schedule is 2 hours a day, 5 days a week. Occasionally they will do two a day workouts but that is not the normal routine. They offer individualized instruction from Mark Price, instruction in the state-of-the-art Mark Price Shooting Lab, pre and post video Analysis of shot mechanics and footwork, follow-up and communication with player’s and player’s coaching staffs with weights and fitness equipment available.

While these are only two examples of the type of summer workouts available to players there are many other camps around doing similar types of routines. I am sure everyone remembers the video of Mike Conley working on his dribbling skills last summer. That is just another example of a summer league workout routine.

One thing is for certain. Players need to come to training camp in shape. The days of playing yourself into shape during camp are a thing of the past. Kind of like my days in PE class.

BallHype: hype it up!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

NBA Teams Cleared to Talk to Hamed Ehadadi and Give Him Ridiculous Sums of Money

Via Interbasket:

Just days after news broke that the NBA had disallowed any teams to talk or deal with Iranian superstar Hamed Ehadadi, as well as other Iranian basketball players, due to a lack of the correct license and permission from the US Government, reports are that the NBA has been approved for the license and the restriction has been lifted.

So now the Memphis Grizzlies, as well as the other teams who has shown interest in the 7'2" center since his coming-out party in the Olympics, are allowed to enter into contract negotiations. And no, I won't make a joke about camels being involved in the terms. That would be silly.

BallHype: hype it up!

Math: When 1+1 Does Not Equal 2

Robert Ruark's famous Old Man once said: "One boy is all boy, two boys is half a boy and three boys is no boy at all." In the same vein, football has adopted the saying that "two quarterbacks equals no quarterback". In a way, they both say the same thing, which is that sometimes, there is indeed such a thing as too much of a good thing.

As of right now, the Grizzlies depth chart for the players in contention for the much-maligned Three Year Plan looks a little something like this:

PG: Mike Conley/Kyle Lowry
SG: O.J. Mayo/Javaris Crittenton
SF: Rudy Gay
PF: Hakim Warrick/Darrell Arthur
C: Darko Milicic/Marc Gasol

The other players on the team are as follows:

Marko Jaric (PG/SG/SF?), Antoine Walker (SF/PF), Greg Buckner (SG/SF?)

Notice something about those young guys at four of the five positions above? That's right -- there are two of them fighting for the same minutes at the same position. At this point, we suspect that we know who the eventual winners will be, but in reality we don't actually know yet. That doubt in our minds is even more present in their's, because each of them truly believes that they deserve the lion's share of minutes. Well, except maybe for Darko. I don't know what he believes -- mostly because I'm too petrified of him to study him at length. Do you blame me?

Danica McKellar, who actually authored a math book.

There are 48 available minutes at each of those 5 positions and at some point in this season, a player is going to step up and show that he is worthy of 28-35 of them, rather than 13-20. But until that happens, it is anyone's game and that is when issues can arise.

Many people lambasted Chris Wallace for not moving one of the young guards (typically either Kyle Lowry or Javaris Crittenton) during the draft or in the offseason to this point, feeling that there were too many good young players with not enough places to play in the backcourt. I agree about the core idea (too much/not enough), but not about their solution. In this regard, I think that these players have to prove which of them is better and thusly deserve to stay and play in Memphis. In particular, the quartet of Conley, Lowry, Mayo and Critt have proven absolutely nothing to anyone at this point and all should be striving to show what they are capable of. When that happens, then a move can be made based on good evaluations and information. That might be after two months, at the trade deadline or possibly even next offseason. But once it becomes apparent that Player A is a keeper and Player Q is expendable, a move must be made before chemistry is upset and that player's value takes a hit.

With all of that said, I have had some interesting conversations lately about who the perceived "odd man out" is. Fans around the league seem to believe that it is Javaris Crittenton, as his name has popped up in numerous trade rumors. In my unqualified, unmedicated opinion, it would appear that Kyle Lowry is the far more likely choice based on a number of reasons.

First, he was the last draft choice of the old regime led by Jerry West, while the other three guards have been brought in by Chris Wallace. That alone has to count for something, as has been noted by my co-blogger Zack on numerous occasions.

Next, while he is full of grit, determination and tenacity, the perception is that his upside is much more limited than the other three players fighting for minutes in the backcourt. As we all know, perception all too often becomes reality when dealing with unmeasurable qualities like potential. The notion than Conley will become better than Lowry, even if he isn't yet there in many people's minds, will be an important factor in this decision.

Finally, he is a PG and a PG only. Whereas Mayo and Critt (both in the 6'4"-6'5" range) are reputed to be capable of playing either guard spot, meaning that a three guard rotation of Conley/Mayo/Critt is capable of splitting the 96 minutes at PG & SG without there being a dropoff. As anyone who saw the Grizzlies put Conley and Lowry on the floor at the same time last year could tell you, it might have given the team an extra quality ballhandler on the floor, but the lost size was a big issue. That, above all else, proved that 1+1 did not equal a 2 guard on the floor.

Hopefully, all of these things will work themselves out and the Grizzlies will find themselves with quality players at all 5 positions by the end of the season, putting them in a position to draft based solely upon "Best Player Available", rather than worrying about need. Because that's how you truly get better thru the draft -- which appears to be the best way that Grizzlies will have to rise up through the ranks once again and return to the postseason.

BallHype: hype it up!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Olympic Update: Marc Gasol So Far

Vs. Croatia:
Despite rumors that he would be unable to play against Croatia, Marc Gasol had a nice game in 14 minutes with 6 rebounds but only 3 points on 1-3 shooting from the field. Gasol was tied for 2nd on the team in rebounding for the game.

Vs. Angola:
Marc did not play against the hapless Angolan team.

Vs. USA:
Marc Gasol played well in limited minutes against the USA. His performance caught the eye of quite a few USA players including Kobe Bryant who was quoted saying "He's a big man. He can shoot it. In hindsight, we probably didn't have to give him up to get Pau. We should have kept Marc, too." Okay that last comment was a bit of salt in the wound reminding Memphis fans of the original feeling that Memphis donated Pau to the Lakers but in hindsight the Grizzlies gave up Pau and got Marc, Darrell Arthur, Javaris Crittenton and a future #1 pick. It doesn't look like such a donation now as it did back in February.

Kobe wasn't alone in making kind comments about Gasol either. Dwight Howard was quoted saying that "You can see he can shoot the ball." and numerous other USA players including Jason Kidd and Carlos Boozer commented on how big he is. Jason Kidd was quoted saying "Me and Kobe were talking about it. He's a guy who knows how to play the game. Anyone would love to have him on their team."

What did he actually do in the game to earn such praise? Well for one thing he wasn't thrown to the ground like his more notorious brother was early in the game, by Kobe Bryant no less. Pau was run over not by Dwight Howard or Carlos Boozer. Pau was taken out by a guard who is also his teammate. Marc was tougher than his brother and refused to back down (or fall down) despite fouling out in 17 minutes. His 8 points and 3 boards were average in production but Dwight Howard only had 10 points and 4 rebounds in the same amount of time.

Vs. China:
Marc Gasol turned in another quality performance in the Olympics with an 8 pt 5 rebound game against China. Gasol focused most of his efforts on defense and only attempted 4 shots (hitting 3) and shot only 3 free throws (making 2). He did contribute defensively to holding Yao Ming to a terrible 4-12 shooting game and limiting the 7-5 center to a mere 4 rebounds. Against Germany Gasol again had a good effort containing Chris Kaman while grabbing 8 rebounds and scoring 7 points.

So far Marc Gasol has not looked like a fluid offensive player but he has had his moments including hitting the big shot to tie the game against China sending it to OT. His defense has been solid against solid NBA players (Kaman and Yao) but it will be interesting to see how Marc matches up against stronger and faster players like Dwight Howard and Carlos Boozer. This should be the true test of his ability to contribute this season as a 23 yr old rookie.

After three games Marc Gasol is averaging 7.3 ppg and 5.7 rpg in just under 20 minutes a game. Solid but not spectacular numbers. This should not be surprising as very few players put up huge numbers on balanced teams in Olympic competition. For instance Chris Kaman is averaging only 5.7 rebounds and his average of 12 ppg is somewhat misleading as he had 24 pts against Angola but only 4 against Greece and 8 against Spain.

So Marc is playing well in limited minutes in a difficult environment. He isn't being considered a star of the Olympics but right now Memphis needs someone who can be solid in the middle not a star. The stars for the Grizzlies future should be on the perimeter with Conley, Mayo and Gay. Memphis needs blue collar contributions in the paint. So far Gasol looks capable of doing that.

Vs. Greece:
First the good news. He hasn't broken a bone in his foot yet! With the realization that Darko Milicic has tendinitis in his Achilles heal from participating with his national team in Serbia, this is very good news.

Spain opened Olympic play against another medal favorite Greece. The Spanish team coasted to a 15 point win. While Marc did not start he did play nearly half the game (19 minutes) and played well. He scored 7 points and grabbed 4 rebounds. He was the 4th highest scorer on the Spanish team and the 4th highest rebounder. He also threw in an assist. Not a bad start for the 23 yr old being counted on for the first time in his career to play a meaningful role on the national team.

On the disappointing side, Marc Gasol was only 2-6 from the field and didn't seem to make a big impact on the game when he was playing. However the international game is not as much a big man's game as the NBA can be so this isn't very surprising. On a side note Greece started former Memphis Grizzlies player Antonis Fotsis. Fotsis finished with 7 points and 7 rebounds in 29 minutes for the Greeks.

BallHype: hype it up!

Science 101: Chemistry vs Biology

"I think our team realizes that talent doesn't just win; you've gotta have chemistry. You can't build chemistry. The players have to do that."
Joe Bugel

Continuing our welcome back to school week (we covered civics yesterday) we now have a science lesson for our readers. It has been posited lately that all a team needs to be successful is talent. If the genes are in place the wins will come. Classic examples of team biology defeating team chemistry include LeBron James and the Cavs reaching the NBA Finals over Detroit's 5 man team concept in 2006, Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers' run to the finals in 2001 and the Jason Kidd led New Jersey Nets reaching the NBA Finals in 2002. Pure and simple these 'teams' were examples of how one incredibly talented individual overcame the accumulated chemistry of well balanced teams.

On the opposite side you have Detroit in 2004 when they dethroned the Lakers led by Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, Karl Malone and Gary Payton. Clearly the genes were on the Lakers side in that series but the Pistons chemistry carried the day. The Pistons have been to 6 consecutive conference finals with a group of players originally believed to be fringe performers at best but their combined strength was better than their individual excellence.

To be a successful franchise you need both chemistry and biology. Just like in the real world neither science exists independently of the other. A team of superstars can't win every time without team chemistry and a team with perfect chemistry can't defeat defeat a star filled team every time. However a biologically talented team with proper chemistry can become a dynasty as the Chicago Bulls proved in their heydays and the San Antonio Spurs and Boston Celtics have proved more recently.

So what does this have to do with the Memphis Grizzlies? Well, nothing right now as the team doesn't have either proven individual talent nor great team chemistry but the 'plan' is to have both within a few years. So what comes first: the chemistry or the biology? Memphis is trying with their youth movement to acquire the genetic material needed to match skills with the best teams and then build the team chemistry behind that talent. As Joe Bugel said it takes players to build the chemistry. You can't just coach chemistry per se. Sure you can have team building exercises and all but true team chemistry comes from knowing the other players on the team's likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses and that takes time.

Right now the Grizzlies are building the biological base with such talented players such as Rudy Gay, O J Mayo and Mike Conley. Next the Grizzlies need to add the players that will be the glue to make the team hold together. That chemical bond that will make the individuals function as one cohesive unit. There will be times when the chemical bond won't hold but from those failures comes the knowledge to build better bonds and stronger chemistry among the team.

What is needed most on the young Grizzlies roster is some consistency to let the bonds grow. The most experienced player in the team is Hakim Warrick and he is still on his rookie contract. So the entire roster has been turned over in just over three years. It is difficutl to establish solid chemistry with that much turnover. Next season there could be many more new faces. There is an over-crowded PG position, a big need for depth at both forward positions and inexperience in the middle. Even with all of these weaknesses the Grizzlies have a strong biological base and need to develop the chemistry among the players to become winners.

So basically you need the biology (talent) to win in the NBA but talent alone is not enough without the chemistry to make them consistently successful.

Class is out for today.

Related Stories:
Finding the Formula for Team Chemistry

BallHype: hype it up!

Consulting a travel advisor is mandatory before making travel plans on travel trailers or thinking of bus travel.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Hamed Hadadi vs the US Government

Most children have started back in school this week. In honor of this glorious event in a parent's life I thought it appropriate we have a little U S Government lesson. And naturally I am going to find a way to inject the Grizzlies into this civics lesson.

No. There won't be a test at the end so you can relax.

By now most Grizzlies fans have heard the rumors about Hamed Hadadi's interest in playing for the Memphis Grizzlies this coming season and suspected the Grizzlies have a similar interest in signing him as well. After all the 7-2 Iranian is leading the Olympics in rebounding, 2nd in blocks and has played well for a particularly poor Iranian team that has little talent outside of Hadadi.

Unfortunately signing an Iranian is not as easy as signing a Spanish player (and as Memphis knows signing Spaniards isn't that easy). Hadadi is an unrestricted free agent. That is clear. However, the NBA has contacted all 30 teams and informed them “We have been advised that a federal statue prohibits a person or organization in the United States from engaging in business dealings with Iranian nationals” according to Yahoo Sports.

So the US Government has put up road blocks. Iran is one of the 'Axis of Evil' countries and Americans aren't allowed to enter into contracts with Iranian citizens without a background check. We can't have any terrorists coming into the country after all. The NBA is acting to get an 'OFAC license' on behalf of all 30 NBA teams plus the NBDL teams. This would allow any team in the league including NBDL teams to enter into a contract with Hamed.

What is an OFAC license? OFAC stands for Office of Foreign Assets Control and is a division of the Treasury Department. These are the guys who freeze foreign assets in times of domestic concern.

You may not realize this but freezing assets and issuing sanctions has been around a lot longer than the Patriot Act too. During the War of 1812 Secretary of the Treasury Gallatin administered sanctions against Great Britain. During the Civil War congress approved laws prohibiting transactions with the Confederacy. The OFAC actually replaced the Office of Foreign Funds Control which was created during WWII following the German invasion of Norway. The idea was to stop the Nazi's from repatriating funds in the US to be used against the US in the war. The OFAC was originally established during the Korean conflict against China attempting to do the same thing.

Now joining the Nazi's and the Red Army of China we have Hamed Hadadi. Wow! Now that is some auspicious company wouldn't you say?

Basically the OFAC prohibits any financial dealings with individuals or country's on the banned countries list. There are naturally exceptions made all the time but protocol has to be followed and that is what the NBA is doing presently on Hadadi's behalf.

There is little doubt that the license will be issued and Hadadi will be able to sign with a team in the NBA. The problem is that he played really well in the Olympics. Sure he is slow footed and never played anywhere outside of Asia prior to the Olympics and the Utah Summer League but he created quite a stir in those appearances. The longer this takes the more possible it is for some other team to convince him to sign with their team. That is never good for Grizzlies fans.

So what are we talking about? How good is Hadadi?

Hadadi is basically a 23 yr old, inexperienced, slow big man who scores with either hand, rebounds well, doesn't mind mixing it up under the basket and shoots a decent Free Throw percentage. And let's be honest, there aren't a lot of 7-2 centers around right now capable of doing those things who don't cost multi-millions to acquire. Will he be a star in the NBA? Probably not but he is worth a look.

Here's hoping the US Government acts quickly enough for the Grizzlies to sign him before someone else starts whispering in his ear.

Related Stories:
Hadadi Hits Out at NBA Legal Counsel
Trading with the Enemy
US Should Allow Iranian to Fulfill NBA Dream

BallHype: hype it up!