FanPost

Bill Russell and the psychology of Basketball: As related to the Blazers

With all these "toughness" and "experience" posts up recently, I'm surprised no one's mentioned this yet.  I ran into it on basketbawful a couple days back and Henry reposted it, so I assume a fair number of you have seen it.  It's an article Bill Russell wrote for SI in 1965 about the psychology of basketball.  It's long, but it's a fascinating read.  Here's the link:

http://vault.sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1077812/index.htm

He talks about a lot of veteran tricks, but specifically, I think a couple things he touches on have really impacted us in the past couple years.  First is his point about playing and staying on an even keel regardless.  He mentions a lot of little tricks he used to pull to throw guys off their game in some way that he accumulated over the years.  Here is where a lack of experience hurts us.  Watching the blazers last year, it only really felt like a few guys were absolutely sure that they belonged on an NBA court at all times: Roy, Joel, Blake and Jones.  The rest of the team, in particular Webs and TO definitely seemed to go through stretches where they were working hard out there, but maybe just were lacking that belief in themselves.  Watching both of their body language when they were hitting was so markedly different from their bad games.  Both guys clearly reveled in their good games, and kinda moped a little in their bad games.  I love seeing these guys display emotion when they're playing well, but it seemed at times like if they weren't on fire, they could allow themselves to get taken out of the game.  I'd just like to see both of them not let their confidence get so affected if their first few shots don't go down.  More of a problem for Webs, but TO definitely had some of those games.  Jack looked similar at times, which I think led to him pressing and hence the turnovers.   Sergio was so clearly distraught with his shot throughout the season that he wasn't even willing to take layups when he got the chance.

The other guy who I think this really applies to is LA, although more to do with his evolution as a player throughout the season.  At the start of the year, it was pretty clear that guys were willing to let him shoot 18 footers a fair amount of the time, and while LA shoots a great % on those, it would give opposing bigs a couple advantages.  First, they'd have to work way less on defense since they weren't banging, and second, it kept them out of foul trouble.  It felt like the shots came so easy of Lamarcus that he'd allow some early physicality in the paint to keep him mostly shooting jumpers outside, and no matter how good a shooter he is, layups, short hooks and FTs will always be higher % than 18 footers.  He improved tremendously on this by the end of the year, essentially, as Russell says in the article, playing his game without letting the opposing defenders dictate where he would get his shots from.  I have high hopes for Lamarcus next year because of this progression.

Finally, a little OT for the rest of the post, but going to something Russell says in the article, there's really only one definition of toughness: playing to win as hard as you can regardless of what's going on in the game or what your opponent is doing.   Not falling for mind games, not letting physical play throw you off your game, not getting drawn into stupid mano a mano pissing contests with a player on the other team.  This is why, in my eyes, the spurs are one of the toughest teams in the league.  Yeah, they flop, they complain to the refs, but no matter how many calls manu and parker are or aren't getting, they're still taking it to the rack, and when the ball's in play, they're focused on nothing but basketball, how it should be.

 

EDIT: To clarify, I never meant to say that any of our guys wasn't playing hard in the season, just that as an NBA player, if doubt creeps into your mind, your entire game will be off.  The best players never have this doubt.  Webster, TO, and LA just seemed to have a smidgen of doubt in their games at times last year.

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