Cut & Shooters

The B.S. Report podcast, when NBA-focused, is probably my favorite going right now.  Joe House, a Wizards fan and funny dude, makes a good sidekick for Simmons when talking all the latest in pro hoops.  But in their recent discussion about Ray Allen, Simmons said something that I took issue with:

Simmons: I think the thing people miss with Ray and the reason him and Rondo struggle to play together and struggle to get along.. Ray’s a… you know… everybody.. has to chip in to help Ray succeed.  He’s runnin’ off double and triple screens.  The point guard’s gotta pound the ball, twenty-five feet from the basket, for five, six seconds waiting for Ray to come around all these different things.  And I think Rondo is starting to get frustrated.  That, you know, they’re devoting so much time to helping Ray succeed, almost at the expense of his game.  And when [Avery] Bradley was in there and Rondo could just do whatever he wanted, Bradley’s doing backcuts, all that stuff.  That was such a better fit for Rondo’s game.  I think that was part of the problem.

House: But that was just something that came to light last season.  It’s not like that’s been going on for a long time.  And it happened to coincide with, you know, Ray’s physical aging curve.  He’s right at, kind of, the end of his career.

Even though Joe House did a solid job of quickly explaining Simmons’ comment away, it still bugged me when I listened to it.  For two reasons:

  1. As I’ve written before, I think Rajon Rondo is overrated by a majority of basketball fans and analysts.  (Earlier in the podcast, Simmons and House take it as a given that Rondo is a Top 10-12 player in the league, and wonder if he’s maybe higher than that.  This is what I’m talking about.)  One of the primary reasons that Rondo was able to swim rather than sink on those first great Celtic teams of 2008 and 2009 is exactly the basketball action that Simmons describes.  He was able to dribble around while a legendary jump shooter worked tirelessly to find three feet of separation for a catch-and-fire dagger.  Meanwhile, the other four Celtics who hoped to win another huge game with defense could be mostly stationary, preserving precious defensive energy while setting screens and staying back on defense.  Rondo’s actual contribution in that common set was replaceable, yet his assist totals piled up.  There’s hardly a more “unassisted” assist in the NBA than the one where the guard delivers a pass from the top to a cutting wing who then buries a 23-footer while on the move.  Yet it goes in the box score the same as a Rubio no-look for a Pekovic dunk.  So because I think that Ray’s awesome cutting and shooting ability boosted–rather than hindered–Rondo’s career success, this comment from the Ultimate Celtics Fan irked me.
  2. When thinking about how to build a championship contender, the first few things that come to mind are either a great wing player (Jordan, Kobe, Wade, LeBron) or a great post player (Olajuwon, O’Neal, Duncan).  I wouldn’t dispute the notion that it’s very difficult to win an NBA championship without having one of those two key ingredients.  But not every team can have one of those, and other methods will be required.  One of the lesser thought of ingredients to some other title contenders is the cutting shooter.  Ray Allen is just one example.  Reggie Miller, Allen’s only rival in the “Greatest three-point shooter of all time” discussion, was an amazing baseline runner.  Reggie’s ’98 team was oh-so-close to dethroning Michael Jordan in his final season with the Bulls.  His Pacers teams of the 90′s and early 2000′s were a part of the championship conversation.  In 2004, shortly after the Wolves’ greatest playoff run ended, the Pistons pulled off one of the biggest Finals upsets in league history.  (Because they won the series in five and the Lakers imploded, it isn’t discussed as an upset as much as it should be.  The Lakers were heavily favored to win that one.)  Although Chauncey earned Finals MVP honors–and deservedly so–Richard Hamilton was also an integral piece of that championship formula.  Hamilton is one of the greatest cutting shooters in recent history and his constant motion had the Lakers struggling to communicate screens, exacerbating their chemistry problems.  Game 3 was the biggest one of that series (you might remember how Kobe stole Game 2 with a 28-footer to force overtime) and Hamilton led the way with 31 points.  A final example of a cutting shooter aiding a title contender is Jason Terry.  Last year’s Finals will be remembered most for LeBron’s Letdown.  But Dallas shot the ball REALLY well, too.  Jet had 21 points in Game 5, and 27 in the deciding Game 6.

Who else in today’s NBA can cut and shoot?  Allen, “aging curve” notwithstanding, is still here.  So are Hamilton and Terry.  (Unfortunately so is Reggie, one of the more annoying color guys in the biz.)  Kevin Martin is very skilled at using screens to get open.  Just ask Wayne Ellington.  J.J. Redick mastered the art of shaking a deny-the-ball defender at Duke.  He’s now a good NBA player in large part because of his cut-and-shoot ability. Klay Thompson appears to have this skill and it’s a big reason why I like his future.  O.J. Mayo is fundamentally sound and can both run the baseline, and cut to the elbow for jumpers.  Deron Williams played off the ball at Illinois and sometimes does so in the NBA.  He’s a skilled user of screens.  Who am I leaving out?

Before wrapping this up, I’ll quote from Simmons’ recent column that he wrapped up with some appreciative words for Ray Ray:

As a fan, there was nothing like the experience of coming off a timeout right before a make-or-break offensive play, knowing Ray was coming off a double screen in a big moment — not just the artistry of it (how he had practiced his footwork and release for hundreds of thousands of hours, to the point that it was just as mechanical as breathing for him), not just the degree of difficulty (since the opponent always knew the same play was coming), but the undeniable feeling that you always thought the shot was going in. Following Boston sports for nearly four decades, I can’t remember being more confident in anything than Ray Allen with the game in his hands. I don’t know if he’s that same player anymore, and I wonder if he’ll thrive coming off the bench in limited minutes; that’s why I didn’t mind flipping him into Terry and Courtney Lee. Just know that I enjoyed the Ray Allen era. Better than advertised. And we’ll always have 2008.

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