29 May 2013

Post Moves, Roy Hibbert, and the Ghost of Frederic Weiss

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

My girlfriend works in reality TV production and she viewed footage in which two of the cast members played pickup basketball. One of them kept screaming "Post move! Post move!" My girlfriend was baffled. She didn't know what the phrase meant and wanted to make sure it wasn't inappropriate slang. On the contrary I told her, "It's and old school playground thing. You never see that in the NBA anymore."

My girlfriend is a wonderful and understanding woman. We've been living together for six years and anyone who has been married understands the importance of compromise and give/take as an essential competent to a successful long-term union. For her benefit, I've sat through hours and hours of horrible TV shows and episodes of American Idol, while she endured seasonal sporting folly, like how I rearrange all the furniture in the living room on Sunday mornings during football season for optimal viewing, or how I transform into a raving lunatic during the month of March while I scream at the TV at the top of my lungs, "HIT YOUR FUCKING FREE THROWS!"

She grokked a deeper understanding about sports through sheer osmosis by watching me watch sports, or hearing tidbits from different podcasts I subscribe to (she loves the colorful characters with thick accents from different sportsbetting pods). Despite all of those experiences, she still doesn't know all the in and outs of some sports. For example, last night during the Kings-Sharks hockey game, I had to explain the concept of "icing" and I don't think I did a very good job. She had the same puzzled look on her face before as she had after. A few months ago, she asked me to define "pick and roll." I explained it and showed her a few examples during a Knicks game. She understood it right away and said, "Ahhhhh. Now I get it. I thought it was a pot reference. Seriously, you know, you pick up the weed, then you roll a joint?"

Now, that's fucking hilarious.

Back to the "post move" question. When my girlfriend asked about it, I delivered a 20-minute soliloquy about the rise and fall of the low-post move in the NBA and the evolution of centers from a gigantic mountain-of-a-man (e.g. Shaq) to a sleek, slender, and mobile jump shooters that mesh better with motion offenses and pick-and-roll rendition plays. When I finished, she looked confused. So I summed it up as briefly as I can with a demonstration and I backed my ass into her and put my hand in the air. "It's when the tallest dude on the court stands right in front of the basket, in the post position, and the team tries to pass him the ball for a high percentage shot."

She finally understood. "Post move" wasn't a kitschy drug reference (like she assumed with the pick and roll) and it's definitely not a clever new way to describe a lewd sex-act, or some hip new party thing that all the high school kids are doing on weekends (akin to soaking tampons in vodka and inserting them in vaginal and/or rectal areas... I'm horrified and impressed in the same breath).

The Knicks got whopped by the Pacers in the second round of the playoffs. You can blame Rhianna for being Nancy Spungen in her convoluted Sid-and-Nancy relationship with J.R. Smith (the NBA's incarnation of Sid Vicious). Maybe Rhianna's high-flying lifestyle sparked J.R. Smith's affinity to Bolivian marching powder? Or maybe Melo's torn shoulder is the reason the Knicks are not playing the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals? But the truth of the matter is that the Knicks could not beat the Pacers by playing small ball. Inserting Melo in the 4-slot works in the regular season, but it's an exploitable weakness in the playoffs. The Knicks lacked height and depth had no one who could rebound aside from Tyson Chandler. The Pacers big men destroyed the Knicks. Even if the injury bug did not hit Rasheed Wallace and Kurt Thomas, the Knicks still would have struggled to stop Paul George and the emergence of Roy Hibbert as the new Beast from the East.

Roy Hibbert is on now everyone's radar and he's a throwback to the old days of when Big Men ruled the NBA. It's easy to blame Mike D'Antoni's innovative spread offense (that de-emphasized post play) for ruining the game when big men were kings, but a systemic revolution has been going on for over a decade or more beginning at the earliest levels of player development.

Charles Pierce explained the extinction of post play in a recent article in Grantland:
Nobody teaches low-post play anymore. The kids hate it, so the AAU coaches don't teach it because the kids run AAU ball and everybody knows it. College coaches all run that motion stuff, which means that all the high school coaches run it, too, because high school basketball coaches are like a flock of birds on a wire, to borrow Eugene McCarthy's famous description of the political press corps. One flies off and they all fly off. So every big man in America wants to be a pick-and-roll center, or a pick-and-pop guy. "It's like nobody coaches it anymore because nobody wants to play that way anymore," said Paul George. "They all want to be out there, facing the basket, slashing and driving, or popping out for a J."
You can point fingers at AAU coaches because they're the first rung in the development food chain. Then there's those dictator-like college coaches that love to  grind out buckets through motion offense (and in the modern college game it's gotten extremely boring to watch teams run off  20+ seconds of fake motion offense before finally running the real play with 10 seconds left on the shot clock). The NBA game has evolved out of necessity. You'll no longer see post play as the anchor for the offense. Gone are the halcyon days of Chamberlain, Russell, and Jabbar and when Giants Ruled the Paint.

Remember back in 1999 when the Knicks drafted 7-3 center Frederic Weiss from France with the #15 pick? The knuckleheads running the Knicks at the time were convinced that Weiss was the French savior and the heir apparent to Patrick Ewing. If it weren't for the New York Jets bumbling their draft picks year after year, that horrendous Weiss pick might go down as one of the worst drafting gaffes in the history of NYC pro sports. Instead of drafting Ron Artest (interesting side note, Manu Ginobil was the next-to-last pick in the 1999 draft), the Knicks opted to rebuild their franchise around Weiss... who never played a game in the NBA.

At the turn of the century, NBA scouts were stuck in their old-school ways and never understood that European big men were never going to evolve into prototypical post players. Euro seven footers were always shooters first, which made them the perfect component for a pick-and-pop offense, but terrible candidates for an old school low-post offense.

Roy Hibbert was cast out of the old mold of NBA centers. He's part of a deep tradition of Georgetown big men, a program that always sought out shot blockers on defense and low-post wizards on offense. Late in his NBA career Patrick Ewing eventually became the master of the pick-and-pop, but he was a traditional big man during his days with the Hoyas. Ewing, and other centers that followed him (Zo and Dikembe), paid their dues on the block in the rough and tumble Big East.

I doubt the Heat will lose this series to the Pacers, but the only reason it's tied at 2-2 is because of the forceful presence of Roy Hibbert. Who knows what could have been if Hibbert was on the floor in overtime during Game 1 when LeBron James drove uncontested to the hole and win the game? Had Hibbert been in the game, James would have run into a brick wall.

Professional sports are always evolving, but sometimes trends cycle back. Will there ever be a re-visitation to low-post play? Not until there's an abundance of behemoth Shaq-sized players flourishing in the college ranks. But in the meantime, enjoy every moment that Roy Hibbert is on the court.

Pauly is the author of Lost Vegas: The Redneck Riviera, Existentialist Conversations with Strippers, and the World Series of Poker.

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