"Defense wins you championships!" James Naismith, 1898.
Ok, James Naismith did not actually say that when he invented [stole the idea for] the sport of basketball.
The only reason I suggest Naismith said this is because it seems as though this cliché has been around since the dawn of the game that Lambert Will actually created.
But does that fact make this cliché true?
If you asked Mike O’Antoni [because there really shouldn't be a "D" in his name], that is hogwash. The Lakers next casualty, along with a bevy of new wave "AAU" style coaches would have you believe the opposite. Their claim would be that the object of the game is to outscore your opponent.
Thus the cliché, "the best defense is a good offense!"
We either are at a crossroads with what to believe, or simply that you can find a cliché for anything, especially in sports.
So which is it? Does defense win championships as Charles Barkley suggests, or does outscoring your opponent get the job done, as Paul Westhead would have you believe?
What about both? Some would suggest that the simplification of combining both ideologies is obvious. Well, you know what William of Ockham said after he shaved…
The fact is, you can make good arguments for both philosophies, and you might even be able to prove them and disprove the other. That’s the problem; both arguments can be proven and dis-proven to a degree. That is why they call it philosophy, and why a lot of people drop that class due to the migraines from over-thinking.
So in regards to basketball, which is correct, because nobody likes being wrong and everyone likes being right? Any answer that lies in the middle is just not acceptable.
Let’s oversimplify then, shall we?
If you could score 1 point, and keep the other team from scoring, you win! What does that mean? It means you need to, at the very least, score a point, so you need to be able to score. Yeah Offense!
But wait a second! Don’t you also need to ensure that the other team does not score more than you, requiring you to stop the other team? That would be defense. Yeah Defense!
Some argue that it isn't about winning or losing, but about being fun to watch. Certainly an offensive onslaught is a lot of fun, especially compared to a grind it out defensive juggernaut. Yeah Offense!
Yet others would say, who chants "Offense! Offense! Offense!"? Nobody, that is who. Yeah Defense!
Does the truth lie somewhere in between?
I have coached somewhere around 28 teams [not really sure of the exact number, have to count] and have had offensive oriented teams, defensive oriented teams, teams that could do both well [i like those teams] and teams that couldn't do either [ugh!].
Looking back at my experience from those seasons helps me develop my thoughts on the philosophy of offense versus defense. Certainly teams that could play on both ends of the floor were very successful teams, while those that were not particularly skilled on either end struggled mightily. Taking those situations out of the equation, what can we learn from the teams that leaned one way or the other?
My teams that played well on offense, but not so on D, could at times blow opponents out in spectacular fashion. When we were rolling on the offensive end, it would seem we were unbeatable. Shots were falling and forced teams into scrambling around trying to focus on stopping us, which would prove the adage that our offense was our best defense. Making a high percentage of shots allowed us to avoid getting beat in transition, put the opponent on their heels, and frankly demoralized them which also played into their lack of confidence on the other end of the floor. YEAH OFFENSE!
Unfortunately, at times those teams would also get blown out of the gym themselves. When our shots weren’t falling, we would start to force the action, resulting in easy transition opportunities by our opponents. We were on our heels trying to get back to stop the other team from getting easy looks. Our heads were down and we were demoralized. There were games against inferior teams we shouldn't have lost, and then games against superior teams we probably shouldn't have won. You never knew which team would show up, and were inconsistent in terms of wins/losses and frankly effort. They were also frustrating teams.
I have also had teams that were not offensively proficient, yet were defensively skilled. While looking at it from a pure wins/losses perspective, I am not sure the record of the defensive team was that much different than the offensive team [although I think on the whole, my defensive teams did win slightly more games]. Yet from a competitive standpoint, one thing was very clear; my defensive oriented teams competed much better than my offensive oriented teams, and it was not even close. Sure, we would lose games, but I don’t think we were ever blown out. In fact, in many of the games we lost, we had chances to win, but couldn't pull it out [ironically enough due to our lack of ability to score].
From game to game, it was much easier to predict outcomes based on the level of our opponent. Unlike the offensive oriented teams, our ability to defend was consistent. There weren’t games where we were not effective on that end of the floor, and that allowed us to stay close with superior teams. Our inability to play well offensively would certainly be the blame for the losses, yet we competed on a much higher, more consistent level. While there were frustrations, these teams were much more enjoyable to coach because they players put in great effort and you can’t get too down when your players do that.
The conclusions I draw from these experiences have shaped my philosophy. If you have a team that is good enough to compete for a championship, it is impossible to do so without proficiency on both ends of the floor. Sure, a very skilled offensive, but mediocre defensive team may compile a very daunting record [or vise versa]. However, my experiences with those teams showed that at the point where you are in playoff competition, teams have weeded the weaker element out of the tournament and your team will face only very good basketball teams from that point on. If you are deficient on one end of the floor, regardless of the fact you might have handily beaten almost every opponent that regular season, the top two or three teams in the league will challenge you because they are probably equal to you or better on one end of the floor or the other.
So, all of that and you say "Both!" Jason?
But I will say this… Defense may not necessarily win you a championship, but it will absolutely allow you to compete. Offense may make your games fun and exciting, and you might even blow some people out.
CLICHÉ WARNING: William Osler said, "What is the student but a lover courting a fickle mistress who ever eludes his grasp?" I think the mistress he was talking about is offense.
There are many things that can affect your ability to score. You can be having a good or bad night. Your confidence can be diminished. The defense might match up well against what you do. Any number of things can cause your offensive game to tank from one game to the next.
Defense is constant. It is a mentality of competing. Sure, you might physically be tired or injured, but from a mental standpoint, defense relies less on confidence and feel, and more on aggression and effort. Those two things allow teams to compete at a high level.
When it comes to a team that is bad at both, it is much more appropriate to focus on the defensive end of the floor, because watching a team consistently compete hard every game is better than watching a team that looks good one night and is embarrassing the next, when record-wise there is not much difference in wins and losses.
For a better part of the last decade, Suns fans have endured this debate. Charles Barkley was proven correct, as he noted so boisterously on last night's TNT telecast, about the fact that an all offense, little defense philosophy is fun but gets you nowhere. While nobody brought up the fact that all defense and little offense is no fun and gets you nowhere, it does illustrate exactly why the Suns front office deems it important to inject defense into their culture.
But doing so takes more than saying so. It will be interesting to see the ongoing changes that will be made to begin the transition into a more defensive mindset. Part of that means forgoing players that can score in favor of player that defend. It remains to be seen whether that philosophy will actually translate onto the court and into rotations. Certainly guys like Beasley, Brown, Johnson, Morris and Marshal, all not known to be even adequate defenders, would likely see less floor time than guys like Dudley, Dragic, Tucker, Scola and O'Neal, who all have shown a tendency to put more effort to that end of the floor. Alvin Genrty finally figured that out by going to a lineup of Dragic, Dudley, Tucker, Scola and Gortat. We shall see whether that lineup dominates and holds it's rightful spot under the Hunter regime and whether they are going to be true to their word about defense, or if it is all just words.
For all the hoopla about the melodrama in the Valley the Phoenix Suns took care of business on the court winning back-to-back games in Lindsey Hunter's debut week of coaching in the NBA.
The Phoenix Suns (14-28) finally got some good news to mix in with all of the negative backlash this week both local and national. They took their show on the road knocking off the Sacramento Kings 106-96 for only their 4th road win on the season and now they come right back just 24 hours later to host the Pacific Division leading Los Angeles Clippers (32-11).
In the long arguous marathon that is an NBA season every team has their fair share of back-to-back situations.
This is one of those situations after being on the road last night. On the season the team has played in eight total back-to-back games going 1-7 overall on the back end. If I looked at every team in the league I am sure there are very few that win the second game on a back-to-back especially with travel involved. The only win was at Chicago to end their last road trip.
Granted this is a new coaching staff with an energized team that may come together in the aftermath of all of the moves and drama that was this past week, a back-to-back doesn't get any easier.
To a finer point this is another game against a divisional opponent. Through the first six games (2-4) the Suns fared well against the Kings (2-0), but have dropped every game to the other three who have winning records. Looking at the schedule -- including tonight -- there are 10 more games against their divisional foes. An opportunity to salvage some pride from one of the worst seasons in franchise history.
The last time the Suns finished under .500 in the Pacific Division was the 2003-2004 season. At this point they would need to go 6-4 or better to avoid that dubious distinction this season.
(Recent) History Lesson
This season the teams have locked up twice. Once in Los Angeles (99-117 loss) and once in Phoenix (77-103 loss), both with very similar results.
In each game Griffin and Crawford scored over 20 points while Paul directed the offense with a double-double. Those three combined with great defense, causing turnovers, and running up-and-down the floor were the Suns demise.
Head-to-Head (past four seasons)
Suns: 103.57 PPG (10 wins)
Clippers: 100.28 PPG (4 wins)
Blake Griffin vs. Suns: 21.7 PPG 10.0 RPG 52.1 FG% (10 games)
Jamal Crawford vs. Suns: 16.6 PPG 4.2 APG 43.4 FG% 31.7 3PT% (25 games)
Michael Beasley vs. LAC: 20.2 PPG 5.2 RPG 53.8 FG% 51.6 3PT% (11 games)
One thing about Michael Beasley is that he has always played well against the Clippers, including this year when he came out like a house on fire torching the Clippers in the first half of the first meeting. He tapered off in the second and the Suns lost, but he has the ability to put up points against this club.
PG - Goran Dragic v. Eric Bledsoe
SG - Jared Dudley v. Willie Green
SF - P.J. Tucker v. Caron Butler
PF - Luis Scola v. Blake Griffin
C - Marcin Gortat v. DeAndre Jordan
Potential Suns Inactives: Jermaine O'Neal (Undisclosed Injury/Illness)
This season Blake Griffin has become a much better all-around offensive threat and it has showed in the two games this season as he scored 23.5 PPG on 62.1% shooting from the field. He is not going against the best defensive front court in the league, but in Luis Scola he faces a frustrating opponent.
Scola is an aggitator that can get under his opponents skin. Just ask DeMarcus Cousins, Carlos Boozer, and, well Blake Griffin.
In order for the Suns to have a competitive edge in this game Scola has to use his fouls wisely, not allow Griffin to score as easy as he has, and put him on the free-throw line where he is shooting 60.3% (59.9% on the road) career. This season he has improved to 65.4% (63.8% on the road) career, which is a improvement, but still very low for a contact player like Griffin.
Interesting Stat: 17 and 12
The Clippers speed up every team and get them out of their comfort zone, that is why they are so good this season. With the Suns in particular they force an average of 17 turnovers per game and rack up 12 steals along the way. Both are above the season average for the Clippers so those perimeter defenders lick their chops when the Suns come up on the schedule.
Meaningless Stat: .500
For his career as a head coach Vinny del Negro has been .500 (7-7) dating back to his time as the head coach of the Chicago Bulls. There is that.
To criticize Jermaine O'Neal for his age, ceiling or his ability to carry a team anymore is fair when assessing the off-season move the Phoenix Suns made this past summer to bring him here. That is in bounds.
O'Neal is north just north of 34 and his better days are behind him, as it is for most players that have dedicated 17 years to the sport. What he lacks in on court impact he makes up for with a veteran presence for a team that is void of those types of leaders with pedigree and experience after the departures of Steve Nash and Grant Hill. That is the role O'Neal signed up for with this team, to help bring along young players like Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat, to add a certain level of toughness to them on the court.
In the midst of the melodrama this past week arduous disgruntled "shock jock" radio hosts took to the air to vent their frustration towards the team in part by attacking the off-season acquisition of O'Neal and his character.
"To me that is crazy," O'Neal told me as this was the first time he was hearing about the comments. "Everything about this week is assumptions. Until you know exactly what it is, how can you speak about it?"
This week he has had to go to great lengths to defend, not only the paint, but himself, his illness (covered here by Dave King) and now his character.
Let's talk about the culture, because you want to change the culture, but it was these guys that are in charge right now that brought in Jermaine O'Neal who was a part of the worst culture team in the history of the NBA and brought in Michael Beasley. It was your general manager who wants to change the culture of the team, but on one hand he is bringing in guys that aren't Steve Nash and Grant Hill. Guys who have questionable character. -- John Gambadoro 620 KTAR Radio Host
Those were pointed words that are not hard to misinterpret. As the conversation continued, he put a finer point on his opinion of the former Indiana Pacers All-Star: "Jermaine O'Neal was the leader of the worst culture of any NBA team in the history of the NBA."
Throughout his career O'Neal is accustomed to defending the paint and his teammates, but other than one instance where unique blend of people and circumstance allowed fans and Pacers players to initiate in a brawl now known as the "Malice in the Palace" he is being referenced to as a bad character guy.
In that situation it was the imperfect storm where Stephen Jackson, Ron Artest and Jamaal Tinsley who all have had off the court issues that were in some manner tracked with mug shots, suspensions, arrests, fines, etc. Should simply being the best player on that team be the smoking gun to his character?
"Character? We had issues just like every other team," emphatically stated O'Neal. "One person isn't responsible for everybody. We are grown men, our responsibility is to come in and be as professional as we can possibly be, do our job, go home and lead our community. That is our job."
During his career O'Neal won the Kia NBA Community Assist Award four times for his work in the community.
One thing I say about people is that they speak from their seats in their houses. You take Peyton Manning, who, his team had all sorts of problems with domestic violence, with DUI's, and do you say the same thing about him? (Long Pause) So why would you say it about me? Same people that said that, ask them how many times I won the community assist award? Pumped millions of dollars of my money into the community, ask them about that. It is easy to sit down on your couch or where ever you are at and determine who this person is when you never even met him before. -- Jermaine O'Neal
Speculation, sources and sensationalism are elements of that are unavoidable in this day and age, they are only going to get worse. They are perpetuated by emotion. That can make or break a person depending on the situation and with thousands to millions of listeners those comments carry weight for a player that most fans do not know much about.
Sources come forth to give information, but a lot of time they are unreliable.
"Listen, here is how I feel about sources," stated an agitated, but smiling O'Neal. "Nine times out of 10 the sources are wrong. If you are a source why can't you say who you are?"
They cannot say who they are because usually they are within an organization and if the team knew they were pumping out info to the media they would be done, but I get the general sentiment. In regards to his time in Boston, where it was said the team was "excited for him to leave" and "only got better after he left" there was more to that than meets the eye.
"Boston was a situation where I tore my wrist taking a charge, at the time leading the league in taking charges. I gave up my body every single night and tore my wrist. Tell them to talk to Danny Ainge, get the real, if these sources are saying something tell them to call the people that really matter. Danny Ainge is one of my favorite people in the world and I guarantee he won't say anything different. No issues. I have never had an issue with the team. I came in, did my job, and went home."
In the end O'Neal understands the sensationalism, after all he is a 17-year veteran who has been in this circus for years. This week has been a new kind of circus adding more rings to the three with all the drama and "sources" reporting what he has called "flat-out lies."
"People call in and live off of these radio shows and that is there chance to get their five minutes of fame and say what they want to say, but at the end of the day I live what I say. My history states that. Before they say anything negative about me, look at my history. All the people that are talking from the couch, that is OK. It doesn't bother me, but if they ever want to know the truth, just ask me or tell the source to ask the real people that run the show."
There is no question that the "Malice in the Palace" will always haunt him, but one moment where he was not the antagonist should not define Jermaine O'Neal the person or even the basketball player. He is not that 27-year-old in a defensive stance as fans rushed the court in pandemonium. He is a seasoned vet of 17 years on the court and 34 years of life off the court. He knows that it is about more than basketball for him now.
"More than anything, it ain't about sports. I am a father, 13 and 6, that is what matters to me. So when my kids look at TV and tell me what their dad is doing I better be a great representative of my kids. The first thing on my list is that I do the things necessary so when tell my daughter you work hard and be the best person you can be, I can't come out and do anything differently, because I wouldn't be a good leader."