Hoops defense Rod Woodson would appreciate
I stopped Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw last week at practice and asked him a fairly simple question: How much of being a good individual defender is based on the defensive abilities of the four other guys on the floor? His answer didn't necessarily go in the direction I expected, but contained some interesting thoughts:
"The guys who that are good individual defenders just have the knack or desire not to want to allow their man to penetrate or to score on them. Some guys have that, and will fight for every inch of space on the floor, and then when you add to that fact that they have four other guys out there with him that are on the same page and that have their backs, that makes their individual defensive abilities stand out even more.We have guys on the team like Ron (Artest), and Kobe (Bryant) when he wants to be, that when they get into the mindset that they want to shut you down, physically they can slide their feet, they can get in front of you, they can reach and deflect passes and dribbles. So as an offensive player, you don’t even want to come that way if you see them on that side of the floor. As a player, I remember playing against George Karl’s Seattle teams, with Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp, and they some really active big men. I wouldn’t want to get into a screen roll with Gary Payton guarding me, and then Shawn Kemp or someone jumping out and trapping me because they were so active and Gary was such a good individual defender that a lot of times I would think, “I don’t want to deal with that,” so I’d go the other way with it.
Once you establish that you have that mentality, that seeps into the minds of your opponent, and half the battle is won right there."
The notion that great defenders can cut off sections of the floor like an elite defensive back cuts off half the football field makes sense intellectually (great shotblockers have always discouraged penetration) but I've never heard it put quite like the way Shaw did above in regards to play outside the lane. As the season develops, it'll be interesting to see if the Lakers can, at least periodically, create that sort of environment for opposing offenses.
The tools seem available. Artest's defensive reputation carries weight beyond his still-high skills on that end. Kobe, as Shaw said, can be as good as anyone. Add in Lamar Odom's versatility on that end with the (anticipated) development of Andrew Bynum in the lane and on the screen and roll, and it paints a pretty picture for Lakers fans. That's not including Pau Gasol, an underrated defender in his own right.
Here's the rest of the brief Q and A with Shaw:How much of being a good individual defender is athletic ability, how much is effort?
Shaw: It comes down to effort. Athletic ability enhances it and adds to it obviously, because you can recover from mistakes that you’ve made easier if you’re athletic, but really it’s just desire and effort. Wanting to stop people and wanting to do whatever it takes to defend your basket, and not let anybody score.
Q: Is one of the harder things about coaching defense getting people to understand that even though they may feel they’re working hard, they might not be going as hard as they can?
Shaw: Yeah. It helps when you have your best player and best players that are also your best defensive players. If they’re out there giving the effort, then obviously you expect it from the players that are lower in the pecking order. Everybody in this game loves to score. You want them to have the same eagerness and activity level and thrust and drive that they do on the offensive end on the defensive end. If the players can match that, then you should have a pretty good defensive team.
I also asked the same opening question I directed at Shaw about the collective nature of defense to Phil Jackson. His response is another good guide to understanding how each player has a responsibility not only to guard his man but to direct the flow of the opposition's offense to help maintain order in their system:
Our term for the guy that’s on ball is that he’s a container. He contains the guy. If he can’t contain the guy, we’re in trouble because immediately you end up having problems with breakdown. It’s really important that ballplayers can contain, somewhat contain, their man, and control the direction that they’re going to move the ball. Off the dribble, for example, we really ask that to happen. We don’t like middle penetration. We don’t want the middle to be penetrated to where the point guard has both options (pass or shoot), and probably the big man on top of it to make passes to. We want to take those options away.
More stuff to watch for now that the real games are here.