What was missed in the Great Pick and Roll Debate


In the Blazer-related blogomediasphere, there has been a lot of discussion concerning the Blazers pick and roll defense, or lack thereof.  Dwight Jaynes, long a Nate McMillan critic, criticized the team for how it defends the P & R.  Jason Quick, who some think is too close to the Blazers and McMillan (a bit of irony considering how poisonous the relationship was three years ago), did an exhaustive analysis (with Nate) of the Blazers P&R strategy.   Blazer fan "blazermvp" analyzed the Milwaukee game, and found that the Blazers (despite Nate's statement of the team's intent) did switch most of the time; prompting further commentary from Dwight.   And several fanposts here on BEdge have covered the subject in depth.

So far, Adam Wojnarowski has yet to chime in on the subject.

However, there's another angle to the whole debate that seems to have been lost in the noise.   Consider the following tidbit from Quick:

With Oden, McMillan wants to engrain the concept of moving his feet early in his career. It may cost him some games now with foul trouble, but down the road, McMillan envisions it making Oden much more of a defensive weapon. Having Oden fall back, much like Shaquille O'Neal has done throughout his career, will only establish bad habits, McMillan thinks.

This was offered as an answer to the question of why Oden was being switched onto guards when his man would set a pick--a tactic that has resulted in Oden picking up lots of silly fouls and looking foolish at times on the court.  As a long term strategy, it may make sense--assuming Greg does indeed learn.  Most players do learn from experience, though some continue to make the same dumb mistakes year affter (cough #25 cough) year.

But stripping off the particulars--basically, it's an admission by Nate that in at least some respects, he is willing to lose games now to improve the team in future seasons.

I think that the underlying question--win now or win later--fuels a lot of the debate.  Many in sports are of the opinion that in regulation games, any tactic not designed to win the game being currently played, is unsportsmanlike at best, dishonest or cheating at worst.  There have been numerous discussions over the morality of "tanking" to get lottery position, resting starters prior to the playoffs when ones playoff seeding is determined, giving rookies more playing time then they might otherwise deserve; this is one of the first times, though, I've seen a coach admit to employing tactics he knows are likely to fail in order to train somebody.

Some might say that this is what practice is for.  Pick-and-roll defense is something that can be repeated over and over again in Tualatin, without Greg getting posterized by some guard.

Others point out that practice is practice, and the game is the game--and indeed, many players at all levels of the game can do things in scrimmages and drills that they fail at doing during games.

But I think a lot of the criticisms of the coaching of Nate--his substitution patterns, his defensive schemes--have a lot to do with the desire of many fans to win tonight.  Many fans will consider this season a failure if the Blazers don't make the playoffs, and will call for Nate's head were that to occur.  Somehow, I suspect that the playoffs this year are less of a priority for the organization, though--and that barring something more catastrophic than that, Nate will be back for the final year of his contract.

Of course, not all commentators are consistent on this point.  John Canzano recently wrote a column suggesting that Oden be sent to the bench and Przybilla given his old job back--but then the other day, suggested that Bayless be given extensive run even when Blake returns; because Rex is "the future" for the Blazers in the backcourt opposite Roy.  Barring catastrophe, it seems that Oden and not Prz is "the future" at center, last I checked.  Many other commentators are similarily inconsistent--we all have our favorite players and our favorite whipping boys; and cringe and curse Nate whenever the latter takes off his warmups and checks into a game.

But the underlying debate--of when to train and when to win--is still highly relevant; especially for a team that has during Nate's tenure, averaged greater than three rookies per year.  (Webster, Jack, Ha, and Monia during 05/06, Roy, LMA, and Sergio in 06/07, McRoberts and Green last year, Oden, Batum, Bayless, and Rudy this year).


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