Saturday, March 22, 2014
Shooting for nothing, until Rondo becomes a consistent scorer
Last night was a painful game to watch. It reminded me of the Golden State game, where we got blown out by a team playing at a high level. Last night, at least the Cs were more competitive, and - truth be told - they really didn't play badly, and at times they played well ... but you could tell early on that they had no chance. They were a beat behind the Nets all night. It's fun to watch this Nets team pass the ball. Jason Kidd isn't a joke anymore. And Pierce? He seems to have assumed the leadership role he couldn't quite have with the Cs because of Rondo. This Nets team could make some serious noise in the playoffs.
It looks like Pierce and Rondo both needed to get out from under each other's shadow. It's sad that things turned out this way. Perhaps Pierce meshes better with Williams as his pg. Just as KG seemed to thrive when he moved up from pf to center, Pierce seems to have thriven by moving from shooting forward to pf. Perhaps this is natural; as players get older, like most people, they tend to become bigger, but slower. Perhaps Rondo will soon move from pg to sg? Lol! That brings us to the topic of Rondo's shooting...
First, though, let's talk about his passing and playmaking. Remember when the Haters told us that Rondo could never get so many assists without hot-shooting HOFers around him? Not surprisingly, they seem to have been wrong. This team isn't blessed with a single real shooter, nor does it have a real finisher, but Rondo is still racking up assists at a league-leading pace, and that's even though his teammates are constantly missing/passing up open shots and bunnies. When Kris Humphries is one of your best 'weapons'?!! Rondo's playmaking has been getting better and better. When he isn't walking the ball up too much and slowing the game down too much, Rondo is consistently breaking down the defense and getting his teammates good looks on nearly every play.
But I don't think we can win games consistently until Rondo is a consistent scorer, and not just an opportunistic scorer. Almost all his teammates have improved their offensive games over the course of this season, and especially since Rondo's return, but Rondo is still the one with a toolkit of dazzling moves. When he struggles to score, our offense loses its edge. That was increasingly true even during the Big Three era, and it's more true now. I think that Rondo may never be the volume scorer on the Celtics, but I think he will probably always be our key scorer. A team's key scorer and its volume scorer are often, usually, the same, but they aren't always the same. Great pgs know how to leverage their passing against their scoring and their scoring against their passing. I think Rondo has more to learn in this area.
It was interesting, last night, to compare Rondo's shooting to Bradley's shooting, since Rondo has declared that he wants to shoot like Bradley. Bradley shoots with tremendous confidence. Rondo often looks tentative and unsure even after he has committed to the shot. Bradley's shooting motion is smooth, unified. Rondo's sometimes looks like a bunch of legos scattered on the floor. Perhaps most importantly, Bradley's shot has lots of arc. Rondo often linedrives his shots, which makes sense if you are shooting bank shots, perhaps, but which makes it hard to hit jump shots. Last night, Rondo's shots were hard, and low, and they tended to clang against the back rim. Bradley's shots arced high, and soft, and slipped through the strings with a satisfying pffttt.
I think that shooting a basketball is one of the most unique challenges in sports. Almost all sports are very target oriented. There is always a clearly defined goal. A runner sets his sites on a line which he or she must cross. A batter tracks a ball and tries to hit it. A hockey player aims at the back of the net and knows that if he hits that, he will have scored. A basketball player aims at nothing, and not just nothing; he or she aims at a very particular nothing. I think this is why shooting a basketball can be such a beautiful thing. It really has a kind of zen to it.
The mind, it seems, always wants some object to focus its thoughts and intentions on. It wants a bone to gnaw on. A basketball shooter, though, is trying to focus on the empty space inside a metal ring. His or her mind is trying to put something where there is nothing. The mind rebels against this and tries to find a target to focus on. That is why so many shots are what we call bricks, because they clang on the front of the ring or the back of the rim. I think that is why great shooters tend to get a lot of arc on their thoughts - not just to achieve a better angle and a softer touch, but also to help the mind focus its thoughts on the space inside the rim, and not on the rim itself.
The zen of basketball is a big part of what makes it so magical, I think. Rondo seems to have more zen in his game than most, but when he gets anxious about his shooting, the zen seems to go out of it. It's all in the mind. Once Rondo finds out how to consistently get to the shooter's zen within his overall basketball zen, he'll be fine and so will we. More than fine.