At times it can be easy to play a video game and think, "Why can't life be like this?" Hopefully we are not thinking that while playing Grand Theft Auto, but that is a whole different conversation entirely.
In the world of basketball improvement could be like it is in a game of NBA2K, but for most athletes it is not.
There are so many opportunities for young players (or veterans) to get better during the off-season that they do not take advantage of. Go work on your strength and conditioning, go shoot 500 jumpers a day, go watch film to develop instincts, or just go do something to get better in general. Often times trips to the club and vacations home trump the development of the best athletes in the world.
If this was NBA2K how would you improve the Phoenix Suns? Let's focus on the youngsters first.
Nineteenth Topic: Roster Battles
1. Breaking the Ice: In NBA2K you have the ability to send a player to a school that automatically makes them better at a specific skill. How awesome would that be in real life? Automatic improvement in any field by simply practicing it...
Jim Coughenour: The causality between practice and improvement only holds true to a certain extent. Despite the message conveyed in a well known aphorism, practice does not always make perfect. Most things I work at I notice at least incremental improvement in, but I also face plateau issues. At least some of these NBA players have actually put in time in the gym (shocking), so many of them are at or near plateau stage. It takes a lot for salient progress to take place. Sometimes people just hit ceilings and can't unicorn themselves into better attributes video game style. So... it would be super duper awesome if the guarantee fairy would leave a quarter under my pillow and I could realize automatic improvement in any field by simply practicing it.
Jacob Padilla: For much of this past summer I either played pick-up ball or shot 400 or more shots every day in the hopes of making even minor improvements in my game. Minor describes the improvement I made pretty well. Video game style improvement would have been much easier and probably would have been a lot more time effective. While we're bringing video game improvement to real life, can we bring video game play as well? I can dunk when I'm playing 2K.
Dave King: The problem with giving K-Butter only one new skill is that still leaves him deficient. I'm getting a little excited about the Suns having a guard rotation someday soon that doesn't need to be hidden on defense (Dragic, Bledsoe, Goodwin). If there was one player I would give a new skill to, it would be to give Dragic the ability to shoot a higher percentage. But, you're asking about the kids. Soooo, I would give Alex Len a healthy pair of ankles, but that's not really playing the game right. Okay, I'll give the Morrii some humility. Still not playing it right? Okay, let's give Archie the sweet jumper so he can become an athletic Klay Thompson/Steph Curry combo.
Kris Habbas: At some point in time every hoop head that played a video game has taken a player they love, that may not be great, and make them a superstar. In theory this exists in real life, but very few professional athletes take their profession serious enough to take the summer to get better. Then again normal people do not take the weekends to polish their skills at their respective 9-to-5, so completely bashing an athlete for taking his "weekend" to relax is unfair.
Sean Sullivan: First thought is that I would love to send Markieff to "big man" school. That's not a knock on him like it may sound. Conversely, it's because I see that he has the potential to be a much better post player, rebounder, and defender than he currently is. He was drafted for this exact purpose, but for some reason seemed to catch "three-itis", and thought he could turn into the next Channing Frye. The Suns could of course use this ability for many of their players who are sorely lacking in at least one department, but I guess that's what separates video games from real life.
2. Let's focus on the young players with that logic. What school of training should Kendall Marshall go to?
JP: I'm going to send him to something called "2000 shots." It's a summer camp put on by a local basketball academy here in Omaha that is all about scoring. Shooting is definitely a big part of it, but it also teaches you footwork, different ways to finish around the basket, some ball-handling moves used to get to the basket and create scoring opportunities, and so on. Marshall of course needs to improve his shooting, but equally or perhaps even more importantly, he needs to learn how to be a scoring threat. That will open his distributing game.
DK: If I had to pick one school for K-Butter, it would definitely be shooting school. He really, really needs a better shot. But everyone else is going to say the same thing, so I'll be a little different. MY shooting school for Marshall is a post-play, trick shot school like the one that Luis Scola went to. If Marshall could regularly post up other point guards (he's 6'4", 200 after all) and score like Scola, he'd be a threat that every team has to scheme against.
KH: Shooting is obviously the clear cut option here, but lets take this in a different direction. In the end Marshall may never be a dead-eye shooter and exhausting a summer to train him may not be the wisest use of his time. Getting a full summer working on in the weight room, on the block, and with his footwork will allow Marshall to play closer to the rim while becoming a more efficient scorer and passer. Adding that to his repertoire could elevate his game. Think of Andre Miller and Baron Davis for the younger crowd or Dennis Johnson for the historians at the table.
SS: Is anyone not going to say shooting? I'll try to switch it up a little I guess and send him to the Jared Dudley school of learned athleticism...where Kendall would begin his own dunk-o-meter each season. Kendall would be throwing down awkward looking, tip-of-the-finger dunks in no time!
JC: What direction to go in for a player with so many flaws? While many areas can be honed through assiduity, others tend to be more innate. That's what I would improve in Kendall - a genetic imperfection. I would send him to a training camp to improve his quickness and agility. If I can help Marshall get to the rim it will make him much more difficult to defend and will help set up drive and kick opportunities. In 2K14 the closest approximation would be the Isiah Thomas training camp. It provides boosts to quickness, ball security, layups and shooting off the dribble. This would help Marshall become a much more dynamic threat on offense and the quicks would even help on the defensive end. Then off to the gym to improve on that K-Mart jumper.
DK: I think both are athletic enough. I'd send Markieff Morris to any school that teaches him balance on his shot. He's got some nice post moves, but when he gets into shooting position he's too often off-balance which makes his shot go awry. If he could find balance on his shot, he'd be a bigger force down low. I'd also get someone to teach him how to get his 3-point shot off quicker.
KH: Players with lesser athletic ability than their peers end up using that as a skill in the latter part of their careers, so athletic training may hurt the Morrii now and later. Over two years in the NBA there have been enough jump-shots (508 three-point attempts and 293 blocks/steals career combined) between the two, it is known that they can and want to shoot the ball, but they need to learn how to defend a position to stay in the rotation going forward. Big Man Defensive Academy for both.
SS: I swear I didn't read "Big-Man School" on this question until right now, after I already answered question one in this very regard to Markieff. This is without a doubt the direction I would go with Markieff...no question. However, with Marcus, I don't see him in the same mold. I think he shows much more promise as a small forward, so for that, I would like to improve his jump shot a little more. So yes, Shooting School for Marcus, but keep Markieff out of there!
JC: I would actually split them up and go in different directions. I think Marcus should work on being more of a perimeter threat (shooting school) and Markieff should play as more of a traditional four. That means off to Larry Bird for tutelage in Marcus's case - to improve three point shooting, free throws, mid-range jumpers and consistency. But with Markieff should the focus be on the offensive end of defensive end? I'll go defense with Bill Russell. Hopefully improving his post defense, defensive rebounding, shot blocking and strength will also translate to a concerted effort to improve on close to the basket skills on offense.
JP: Focusing on their defense will merely get them to passable as they are both somewhat below that level t this point. Improving their athleticism will still leave problems with the rest of their games. Big man school would be a good idea for Keef, but Mook is better suited as a small forward or stretch-four. I'm going in a similar direction as Dave on this one. I'm sending them both to shooting school. But this school isn't just about 3-pointers; it's about making your shots form all over the court. Bo0th Keef and Mook have a lot of natural talent as scorers in terms of making moves and getting off shots; however, neither one is good at finishing off those plays. They need to learn how to finish around the basket, hit the elbow jumper and knock down their threes at a much higher rate.
4. It is hard to know where Alex Len should go since he has not played a game, but which would he most benefit from between Strength Conditioning and Big Man Defense School?
KH: He can shoot a little from the mid-range, is a quality athlete for his position, and can score on the block. Working on his strength and conditioning, especially over his first two years, will allow Len to come back from his injury and become a consistent performer from the five spot.
SS: I think both are good options, though the Big-Man Defense school is probably a little less necessary for him at this point since he already shows pretty good instincts and seems to play like a big man already. So yes, I would send him to strength and conditioning school to help him increase his strength and overall health to hopefully keep him off the injury report and on the court. Len could also stand to get a little stronger, which would increase his effectiveness in the post as well.
JC: Alex and Markieff will be bunking up. I actually wouldn't mind pairing Len with the Dream, but given the two options I would definitely lean toward making our jumbo large 7+ footer a dominant defensive presence. Those types of players tend to be useful. At 20, Len is still growing into his frame. With his body type I expect Alex to naturally fill out. Now, if I can send him to "he will never get injured again school"... sign his ass up.
JP: I agree with pretty much everything Sean said (and him being 7-feet himself and all, who am I as a puny 6-footer to disagree?). Len already has good defensive instincts and just needs to learn his role in the Suns' defensive system and develop chemistry with his teammates. Strength is one of the things he needs to improve in the most. Offensively, I'd like to send him to a polishing school. He already has a nice-looking shot, has a hook shot, shows some nice footwork and can roll to the basket and finish some; he just needs to get to the point where he's consistent with those things.
DK: Len really needs to develop his body. He's got some great natural skills at everything a traditional big man needs to do - shooting and finishing with both hands around the basket, agility, sense of size (ie. reaches high for rebounds, taking advantage of his height). He simply needs to develop the necessary sand in his bucket to fight down low for position when needed for rebounding and/or boxing out. He's got a bright future, but I don't want him to develop a "soft" game.
5. Young Archie Goodwin has a long way to go as a player, but is essentially a blank canvas to paint on. Go ahead and paint...
SS: Archie needs shooting school first and foremost... He has the aggressiveness and athleticism already, and if he can develop a consistent jumper he will have a very nice career in the NBA. Secondly, and I know this is a bit risky, I would send him to the Kobe school of self-confidence. Archie needs to have a short memory as a rookie, and as of now it seems he gets a little unsure or overwhelmed at times, which is perfectly normal. But if he could play with a little more confidence in his ability (not reckless abandon, mind you), then I think he can hasten his development and feel more comfortable overall in his ability as a player.
JC: Sticking with the 2K14 theme, I'm going to make Goodwin a deadly two way player by sending him to
some crazy a**hole Dennis Rodman. Archie already appears to have great offensive tools and a knack for getting to the basket and drawing contact (Maybe he becomes similar to James Harden in that aspect?). Let's make him a great on-ball and overall defender (which Harden isn't). The Worm can imbue on-ball defense, defensive awareness, burglary (steals) and offensive rebounding in the Suns' precocious apple. Never hurts to have a 6'6" all-NBA defensive player to throw against the opposing teams best 2/3.
JP: Archie already shows some good defensive tools and instincts; all he needs on that end is some experience and some good coaching. And he can obviously handle the ball, get to the basket and create contact. What he needs is a consistent jumper, so I'd send him to a shooting school. Right now, his form has way too much movement, which leads to inconsistent actions and release points. He needs to tighten up his shooting motion and he needs to make sure he's releasing the ball at the same point every time. His form isn't as ugly as Marshall's, but there are some mechanical issues that manifested themselves in his inconsistency as a shooter in college.
DK: I mentioned Archie above, so I'll do it again. Archie can already handle, drive and finish. If he could add a deadly jumper to his arsenal, the game would come so easy to him. Add in the defensive mindset he already has, and Archie could be a 40-minute player in this game. The only thing holding him are (a) maturity and (b) a consistent jumper.
KH: The team talks about Goodwin like he is the next converted point guard a la Russell Westbrook, but he might be more Monta Ellis with his ability to handle and slash. Early in Ellis' career (28.5% first three years from three) and became a better shooter to complement his blurring speed and attacking style. That is something Goodwin can pattern his game after while working on his shooting these first few years.
BONUS: Hakeem Olajuwon has his famous ranch in Texas to train big men. Who would be your ideal guard, wing, or forward from NBA History to open their own "ranch?"
SS: OK, I traversed into enemy territory and went with the Kobe school for Goodwin... So I have to bring it back to the purple and orange for this one. I would open up the Steve Nash Passing Ranch (sorry Lakers, he'll always be a Sun in my book). Nash, in my opinion, is the most gifted passer of all-time. Not only that, he was an excellent floor leader and shooter as well (sorry, no defense will be taught here).
JC: The Rick Barry Underhand Free Throw Camp. Kevin Fixler with SB Nation did a great piece on Barry titled "Shooting for Perfection." As Barry hilariously asserts, "How can you live with yourself if you can't make four out of every five free throws you shoot?" Yeah, how do you do it Rodman, Russell, Wilt, Shaq, Howard, etc... The "Miami Greyhound" averaged a robust .8998 from the charity stripe for his career (third best in NBA history) with the granny toss. Maybe doing anything and everything possible to help your team win just isn't manly enough... Barry also famously reinvented himself as a player by shifting from a primary scorer to a primary distributor as a "point" forward. Lots to learn from this man. Elliott Perry would be his assistant in charge of dress code. Hard to shoot free throws with cold legs.
JP: I'd be remiss not to throw in a Creighton reference on this Roundtable so I'd love to open up the Kyle Korver school of shooting, movement and passing. Any time you set the single-season record for 3-point percentage and have a beautiful shooting stroke, I think you're worth learning from. But unlike someone like a Steve Novak, Korver has mastered using his textbook jumper from everywhere on the court and not just 3-point range, as he's deadly as either a shooter or passer coming off screens and curling around the elbows.
DK: LOL, I never put any thought into this. I'll be different and say Luis Scola. That man is unique in the way he plays the game without having a lick of jumping ability. We used to kid Jared Dudley on his vertical; Duds was a jumping bean compared to Scola. Yet, Scola found a way to score and rebound at a high level in the NBA with a variety of self-made skills to get the job done. More players should develop those skills.
KH: I am a 1990s hoop head with that being my generation growing up. One of the "lost arts" in the game of basketball has been the mid-range shot and that has to do with a lack of development of off-ball movement and mechanics. It would be nice to see a camp run by either Reggie Miller (gets him off TV) or Ray Allen with Richard "Rip" Hamilton as the assistant. Not sure how any of those three would be as teachers, but their game speaks for itself.
Bright Siders, what do you think?