May 27, 2017

Living the dream

I never meant to become a deadly threat in the low post.  Heretofore my basketball career was marked by a firm commitment to the aerial, a contempt for footwork, positioning, teamwork, passing, and other such "fundamentals".  Fundamentals my eye, Bobby Knight can teach that stuff in his damned labor camp, but in a pickup game I want to run and fly, and someone else can worry about the low post, the high post, the elbow and all that rot.

But about a year ago, something odd occurred.  I stumbled across the Rosetta Stone, a brief sequence by Hakeem Olajuwon from which a middle age man can transform himself from a retired ineffectual aerialist into a Dream Master.  I have studied carefully and learned my lessons well.  Here, in case of my untimely death, is the sum total of my knowledge in this matter.

1)  The quick little layup.  You can shoot a quick little layup, can't you?  Say you're dribbling with your right hand on the right side of the hoop.  A quick, hard dribble to push the ball to the left, go up strong with your left hand and tip it in.  Very nice when no one's guarding you.  Here is Hakeem driving for a quick little layup on David Robinson:



2)  As it happens, someone is often guarding you.  In this case, you will pretend that you are going to make a quick little layup, then stop and pivot.  Here is a picture of Hakeem about 2/10 of a second later after he has stopped and pivoted, and he prepares to take his deadly turnaround jumper.



The start of this video shows how it looked when Olajuwon converted the jump shot he is threatening to take here:



"They know you're going to turn," he says, "but they don't know which way.  And they don't know when."

3)  Now, sometimes the person guarding you is very alert.  David Robinson in the picture above has reacted instantly to Olajuwon's change of plan, and readies himself to leap and contest the shot.  It would appear that Olajuwon's try has failed.  But he has a trick up his sleeve.  He will pretend to take his deadly turnaround jumper, then step past Robinson for a quick little layup.




The whole thing looks like this in real time:



I should add that these moves look better if you are seven feet tall and extremely quick and well-balanced.

When I first saw this, I thought no human being could do it, but then I realized it's actually quite similar to a dance step. Footwork is all. At each stage you must maintain your balance to preserve your next option.  You don't lean into the initial layup, you don't fall away with the jumper - both shots/fakes are made from a well-balanced position so that you can transition to the next option if needed.

The key to making the move work in practice - and this is vital - is that you need to get really good at shooting turnaround jumpers.  I heard an interview with Kevin McHale a while back, and he said all of his fancy moves depended on opponents respecting his deadly turnaround jumper.  If you can't make that shot, the opponent can hang back and meet you at the rim as you try your quick little layup.  No, you must draw him to you, and to draw him to you, you must be able to convert that turnaround.

Fortunately, we have a wonderful practitioner of this art right here in the Bay Area:



The beauty of Livingston's game is that he can almost always get to that spot, and, being a point guard, is always a threat to pass instead of shooting the jumper (unlike McHale and Olajuwon who were notorious ball stoppers).  He's also five inches taller than Tony Parker, which makes things a bit easier.

All good so far?  So you have the ball at midcourt, and are dribbling toward the post.  When you arrive in the area you can simply turn your back to your opponent, notice his positioning, then turn the other way and like Shaun Livingston bury your deadly turnaround jumper.  OR, you can drive hard to the hoop for a quick little layup, and then spin to take your deadly turnaround jumper, and then step inside your leaping opponent and convert a quick little layup.  I have practiced this on all manner of middle schoolers, and I can assure you it is crushingly effective.

Now, if you watch Olajuwon's footwork carefully, you'll see that there are also many opportunities to pass to cutting teammates as well.  So this is not simply a sound platform for scoring in the low post, it can be a blueprint for all of your activity when you have the ball in your hands.

Now it is possible that, after seeing your deadly turnaround jumper a few times, opponents will decide that they must deny you that spot in the low post.  As you bring the ball up they may try to challenge you by guarding you closely and daring you to try to drive past them.  My older son, tired of getting Dream Shaken, has adopted this tactic.

I believe the antidote is a killer crossover.  I do not have this weapon developed yet, but this video from Jim Barnett gives me hope that I can master the requisite skills:






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