Arrested Development

Over the last couple of years, I have been working on a basketball improvement book. During my research I often ask myself, ‘Why do some players improve and others either stay the same or believe it or not, get worse’?

Is it lack of work ethic? Too much hype as a young player? Uncoachable? Attitude problem? Character flaws? Lack of desire? Burnout? The courage to succeed? Refusal to grasp the concept of improving? A lack of self-understanding of what it takes? Crime? Drugs? Alcohol?

Whatever problem you can come up with, it’s worth talking about.  But for some reason most basketball people fail to bring it up. It’s almost like they turn their backs on it, sweep it under the carpet or wait until it’s too late.

Leigh Kleine runs the famous 5-Star basketball camp and he recently told me, “In order to achieve at the highest level, along the way one must face physical and mental adversity that forces the person out of the comfort zone and to develop other skills. If a player never has to do this, then they will be ill prepared for when they are truly tested.”

I’m currently reading two basketball books; “Pick-Up Artists” and “Heaven is a Playground.”

Pick-Up Artists, written by Lars Anderson and Chad Millman, covers different scenarios pertaining to “street” basketball. The book begins with the story of Speedy Williams, a guard out of New York City. In high school Williams didn’t take the game too seriously; he seemed to have a lot of promise but refused to buy into what it takes to become successful on the court. Not playing a single minute for his high school team, Speedy was able to play at a small college in Brooklyn but never finished his four years. Williams found himself playing street ball then finally getting a chance in the CBA where he did well.

“I didn’t have the discipline to play ball,” Speedy said on page 7 about his high school days.

“I was going to have to bust my butt to make it after my sophomore season,” Speedy said of his college situation at Medgar Evers where he scored 22 points a game his first two seasons. “So I was outta there.”

The past couple of weeks while watching the Eastern conference semi-finals between the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers, Lance Stephenson of the Pacers became more popular for what he did off the court than what he accomplished on the court. The Coney Island native sits at the end of the bench and early in the series when LeBron James failed to make a free-throw late in the game, Stephenson grabbed his own throat, giving the “choke” sign.

Stephenson is in his second full season with the Pacers after playing one season at the University of Cincinnati and at Lincoln High School in Brooklyn.

I don’t expect every basketball player to improve so much that they become an NBA all-star; that’s impossible. My biggest concern is how a player like Stephenson can have so much success through high school and college but find himself at the end of the Indiana Pacers bench?

Stephenson has been on the national hoops scene since the 9th grade. Was he hyped up at an early age? Did recruiting services overrate him? Did journalists see a story and decide to crown him the next best thing?

I see it here in Michigan too; a player dominates in middle school and the media (and even fans) say he is the next “Magic Johnson.”

A friend through the basketball loop, Butch Hawking from Newport, California has this to say, “They have the talent and the potential – the people they surround themselves with and how serious are they about being great generally comes into question.”

With the power of the internet, including message boards and chat rooms, word of a phenom spreads quickly. They discuss how talented a young man is and that we should keep an eye on him in the future.

I got news for you; we will never see another Magic Johnson in our lifetime!

Speaking of Magic, the former Lansing Everett and Michigan State University star has one of the best nicknames ever. And the thing with nicknames is some are justified, some are not. Some live up to the name, and some do not. Magic was sensational as an amateur and went on to win 5 NBA rings, including leading the Lakers his rookie season to the title. Not to mention he won a State title in high school and a National Championship in college.

I have never been a fan of nicknames.

Someone sent me this article from the New Republic on Stephenson, it was written during his senior year in high school. Seems like he had a few nicknames. Born ready for what? How do you expect a teenager to live up to those expectations?

His every move both on and off the court is under a microscope. He’s signing autographs at the age of 15. At 16 he’s being told by everyone around him that he’s the best!

Here’s my guy Art Bernstein: “In many cases the phenom is physically gifted, Lance (Stephenson) was a grown man since he was 14.  It’s a lot different playing defense or taking it to the rack on a player from FDR high school or even someone at St. John’s University as opposed to doing the same thing vs a Pro Athlete.  The minute the player faces adversity which he never has he loses his confidence and his “swag”.

The people who hang around these young players should also be looked at carefully; sometimes they can be a little too involved.

Here’s a quote I came across a few years ago from college basketball coach Rick Majerus talking about young, rising stars in youth basketball: “Everyone wants to be the person who thinks they’re responsible for discovering the next great player.”

Stephenson is young, he has a lot of time ahead of him to improve and turn himself into an all-star.  I just wish adults would stop labeling young kids as “can’t miss” athletes.

LeBron James Steps Up For Miami

The knock on LeBron James so far during his NBA career has been that he wilts under pressure.

Too much of a spotlight in Cleveland? Bolt to South Beach to play with two of his buddies from the Olympics.

Too much attention during the fourth quarter of playoff games last season? Defer to his teammates and become a distributor instead of a lethal scorer.

But, with Chris Bosh out of action on Sunday due to an injury and Dwyane Wade playing through an injury of his own, James took the opportunity to put his stamp on Game 4.

Miami struggled to start the game and James scored his teams first points with an emphatic dunk. Indiana coasted to a 25-18 lead to end the first quarter, but King James did anything but coast. He went 4-9 from the field for a team-high nine points.

Throw in James’ three dimes in the opening quarter and his fingerprints were on seven of Miami’s first nine field goals.

When James wasn’t active looking for his shot, he was grabbing rebounds with one hand while holding off an Indiana defender with his other arm.

James finished the first half scoring 19 of Miami’s 46 points while going an efficient 8-14 from the field. His well-balanced game also included five rebounds and four assists.

What was impressive was James’ determination to attack Indian’s defense and either get easy points in the paint or draw fouls. In the second quarter James six of his seven shots came in the paint. This was just an extension of the first quarter where James was attacking the rim and attempted eight of his ten field goals in the paint.

James left the court at halftime with his shoulders dropping and a bewildered look on his face, almost asking, “What else can I do?”

Instead of forcing things in the third quarter or giving up in resignation, James allowed Wade to get some easy looks which got his teammates into a groove. Wade started the third quarter 3-3 from the field with all of those looks at the rim.

James, however, wasn’t a ghost during this stretch. He went 2-3 from the field and continued to be aggressive while helping Wade get into a groove.

Indiana called a timeout in an attempt to stop the bleeding and James answered with an emphatic dunk to pull Miami to within two points. On Miami’s next possession he attacked the rim and forced David West into fouling him and he made both free throws to tie the game at 61.

The play of Wade and James was huge in a 17-2 run that allowed Miami to secure a 68-63 advantage. James and Wade combined to score 27 points on 10-of-11 shooting in the third quarter.  This capped a run that started during the second quarter during which the duo combined 38 straight points for Miami.

Miami’s strong play culminated in a 30-16 advantage during the third quarter which helped move the heat from a seven point deficit at halftime to a six point lead heading into the fourth quarter.

Just when Indiana appeared to be making a run in the fourth quarter, James dunked a miss by Anthony that hushed the crowd. This pushed Miami’s lead back to five and Indiana wouldn’t be able to get any closer the remainder of the game.

One of the main reasons why Indiana wasn’t able to make a run to get back in the game is because West and Roy Hibbert spent most of the second half on the bench in foul trouble. This was in large part due to James attacking the defense and taking the contact on drives to the bucket.

In short, James was focused on getting Miami the win they would need to even this series at two games a piece. His stat line of 40 points, 18 rebounds, nine assists, two steals and two blocks was nothing short of flawless.

It’s a shame that a large group of fans and members of the media will turn a blind eye to James being the reason why Miami was able to snatch a win from the jaws of defeat.

Indiana Pacers Basketball Is Back

“Pacers basketball is back.”

Those were the words of Indiana Pacers head coach Frank Vogel following his squad’s series-clinching win over Orlando in the first round. Now, with the Pacers holding a 2-1 series lead over the Miami Heat, it certainly seems that Vogel was right.

Indiana placed 29th in league attendance during the regular season, but fans turned out in full force Thursday to help the Pacers defend their home court advantage. A sellout crowd of more than 18,000 provided a spark that led to the Pacers 94-75 Game 3 victory. Each fan received a gold t-shirt upon admittance, creating a vibrant aesthetic force to compliment the verbal one.

“It was the best building I’ve ever been in for basketball,” Vogel said following the win. “It was the best crowd I’ve ever witnessed.”

Seventh-year forward Danny Granger agreed.

“With all the gold, I was almost blind,” Granger said of the thousands of gold t-shirts in the stands. “I haven’t seen it like this since I’ve been here. We’re just thankful so many fans came out to support us.”

Granger is the longest-tenured Pacers player, having been selected by the team in the first round of the 2005 NBA Draft.

The Game 3 win came one day after president of basketball operations Larry Bird was named the 2011-12 NBA Executive of the Year. With the distinction, Bird became the first ever person to win league MVP, Coach of the Year and Executive of the Year honors.

“Larry [Bird] got Executive of the Year because he put together a team that likes to play together and share the ball,” center Roy Hibbert said. “That’s how we roll.”

Indiana’s unselfish, team approach to the game has yielded impressive results.

The Pacers finished the season with the fifth-best record in the league, with the franchise enjoying its most successful regular season since 2004. Despite the success, Indiana has been out of the national spotlight for much of the season, playing just one nationally-televised game during the regular season.

“We don’t need credit from the media to know what we can do,”  guard George Hill said. “As long as everyone in this locker room believes that we can win and everyone is on the same page, that’s all that matters.”

Indiana will attempt to take a commanding 3-1 series lead when it plays the Heat tomorrow afternoon.

The Pacers are confident that they can beat Miami.

“We felt confident when we found out we had the match-up with Miami,” second-year guard Paul George said. “We felt confident that we can win it all if we stay playing together.”

And while the Pacers themselves believe they can make a run at a title, there are still many skeptics who doubt the team’s chances.

“The way we’re playing—how hard we’re playing and the intensity we’re playing with—they’re going to have to believe at one point,” Granger said.

Podcast: 2012 NBA Playoffs Preview

After nearly a year, the Hoops Addict Podcast is back on a regular basis. I’ve linked up with Mark Cheel with the intention of bringing back the Podcast on a weekly basis and we started with a preview of the 2012 NBA Playoffs.

Mark and I break down why Atlanta can give Boston a scare, we debate if Utah’s frontcourt can muscle San Antonio out of the playoffs, we lament that the Clippers lack of a strong coach will result in Blake Griffin and Chris Paul not lasting as long as they should in the playoffs as well as the rest of the first round match-ups.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Here’s the MP3 of the Podcast if you want to download it.