Up-Tempo offense requires each player to know their roles. Easier said than done.
You can see the two extreme styles at play in the NBA today by looking at the Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors. Of course, the Suns style has been the most successful, while the Warriors have often struggled to win games since losing Baron Davis a couple years back to the Los Angeles Clippers. Still…I think it’s important to analyze these two teams before getting all warm and fuzzy thinking about the Cavaliers scoring 110 a game.
The Phoenix Suns last season had two teams in one, and all of them knew exactly what they were supposed to do. As Alvin Gentry stated, their best opportunities to score were off missed shots. Get the rebound, and get down the court.
A typical Suns possession would be Nash up top, two wings, and two on the block, one of them staying down low or setting a pick for Nash, the other setting screens or setting up in the middle in order to get the ball flowing. This all works because of Nash, who is able to see when someone on the defense is leaning one way, or is flat-footed, or is too committed to one side. Nash, if you watch him closely, is almost always fluid. He is continuously moving. Even when he shoots, it’s only until the last second that he decides to spot up. Never will you see Nash take a breath before taking a shot.
Without an all-seeing point guard, you have……………………
The Golden State Warriors…or the Memphis Grizzlies a few years back. The Warriors style relies on what’s called ‘Nellie ball’. Basically, while you have the same pace as the Suns, players have even more freedom to create. Nellie ball needs the point guard to find excellent, lopsided, one-on-one situations in which they can score quickly and get back on defense. To ask a team to, night in and night out, find mismatches in transition is asking a lot, but, if executed properly, can wreak havoc in the playoffs…case in point when the Warriors upset a 60-win Dallas Mavericks team in the first round (6 games). Nellie ball hangs around only because it gets even better in the playoffs. The regular season, however, will always be complicated. Don Nelson’s system is perfect when his team gets to sink their teeth into a team for a seven-game series, but on back-to-backs, it’s absolute hell.
As for the Cleveland Cavaliers, the way their roster is at this point, I would have to point at the Suns as a model, because most of the players we will keep after this Summer of Sedation know how to compromise more than create. When you play behind a giant’s shadow, you find a way to give yourself some light.
Mo Williams: Now this guy has gotten some pretty unfair criticism, but if there is ever a season for him to lead a team, it’s this one. In hindsight, I now see Mo’s first half in game 6 in a completely different light. Did he know something? Probably not, but I have a feeling he could feel something off with Lebron and decided to take it into turbo. Of course when Boston’s defense collapsed on him in the 2nd half, there was no one really to keep up his pace.
Mo’s career will be defined this year. Scott is going to give him the keys. There are times when I see he has court vision and creates incredible opportunities for other players. Of course I’ve also seen more of him scoring, which makes me wonder what he will choose this coming year. No matter which he chooses, this is the year Mo has career highs in scoring and assists. He is the Cavs engine, and it’s going to be a lot of fun watching him keep the pace up, because I assume, from his f-u first half in game 6, he wants his foot on the accelerator.
Now, after Mo drives to the lane, he will need set-up shooters, naturally. We’ve got Antawn Jamison waiting on one side, and possibly Anthony Parker on the other. Both of them, particularly Parker, love to spot up. Jamison can be successful both ways, but I think Mo will learn what Antawn wants and vice versa as the season goes on.
J.J. will be the man setting the pick for Mo to get around his man. If there’s one thing J.J. is already a polished veteran in, it’s rolling to the basket. He is turning more and more into a self-contained Amare Stoudemire. The only difference is that no coach is going to let him go through his career without learning how to play defense. Mr. Hickson will be just fine, and this new offense is going to make him one happy camper.
So naturally, that leaves us with center, that wonderful position normally reserved for two kinds of men, depending on your team. The huge dude down low who knows exactly what’s going on, but simply can’t get younger. (Shaq). Or the high-energy player who is overmatched when it comes to defending the giants of the league (Varejao). Either way, you give up something at the five. We’ll give up pace if we re-sign Shaq, and we’ll give up size if we start Varejao. This is what made the Suns so unstoppable last season. Channing Frye turned them into some kind of amoeba-like, three-point bombing squad. This is the biggest hole the Cavaliers need to address. I would love Varejao to finally get some flashy respect and start, but I love him even more coming off the bench, when the starting five are dragging because of a brutal back-to-back.
So, this is where I leave it. We’ve got shooters coming off the bench (Gibson…could use one more). And we have a pretty solid starting five. We just have to decide how fast we want our center to play. Whoever the Cavaliers choose in these coming months will dictate whether we crumble like the Golden State Warriors, or expand like the Phoenix Suns.