All posts by Shane Koenig

Successful Next Man Up Means Next Round in NFL

This season in the NFL seems to carry a constant theme. Press conferences, media commentary, play on the field and even front office success carries the theme “Next Man Up.” A simple three word phrase when broken down further can explain the NFL and the teams able to rise above. When you apply this phrase to individual teams it’s more evident a team’s success is based on this motto.

The Denver Broncos are no exception. Their reaction to injuries can explain their success AND the hole that could be their downfall

Manning-Osweiler

The quarterback situation is THE biggest “Next Man Up” example for the Denver Broncos. When an aging first ballot hall of famer come up lame and your back up not only contributes BUT advances your division and playoff seeding that is the best case of “Next Man Up” available. The Dallas Cowboys similar situation ended in a completely different way. Tony Romo went down and Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel and Kellen Moore were disastrous. The defense was the anchor of the Broncos but Brock Osweiler steered the ship well.

Defensive Replacements

This defense will lead the Broncos where they are going to end up. Their success with “Next Man Up” was a big part of this. Whether it was Shaq Barrett or Shane Ray filling in for Demarcus Ware or Bradley Roby stepping in for Chris Harris Jr in the AFC Divisional game this side of the ball had an answer for fallen teammates. An example of how poorly this could have gone would be the Baltimore Ravens. A Super Bowl pick by some but losses of Chris Canty, Terrell Suggs and Matt Elam hurt them tremendously. They are now picking 6th in the upcoming draft.

Offensive Line

This is where “Next Man Up” falters with the Broncos. It was and still remains the main weakness looming, ready to haunt a promising team. Injuries to two left tackles, a left guard and having only one right guard on the depth chart is the main culprit of this ghost. It has posed challenges for an average offense. Throwing the ball down the field, opening running lanes and sustaining long drives are issues impeding the offensive success of this team. All issues stem from poor offensive line play and not enough talent for “Next Man Up” to be successful. It will also be the issue that determines how far this team can go in the playoffs.

“Next Man Up” is a rousing phrase for fans and players alike to be ready and know their number could be called at any time. It is inspiring and simple but if the player coming into the game is Matt Cassel or Brandon Weeden the phrase means high draft picks are in your future. A team has to acquire the right players to make “Next Man Up” work. Depth is huge in the NFL. If you don’t have quality depth you will not maintain high performance on the field. The Broncos capable fill-ins are a direct cause of the front office drafting and signing the right players. Brock Osweiler, Shane Ray, Shaq Barrett, Darrien Stewart and Bradley Roby all filled in well AND even excelled. They were also drafted and signed by the Broncos. A strong organization from the front office down makes “Next Man Up” effective. The void of capable offensive linemen ready to step in and maintain is also the front office’s fault. This lack of depth could lead to an earlier than hoped exit from the 2016 playoffs.

The Lakers’ Major League Collapse

Movie quotes are a form of friendship identification for me. If I spout off a line from “Tommy Boy” and you have no idea what I am talking about, we have to re-evaluate the grounds of our relationship. The sports movie that I most quote is a comedic classic with top-notch actors and great plot. “Major League” is the comedic sports movie EVERY person should watch when able. It has everything. Loveable losers, villainous owners and hijinks abound make this a great watch any time (only on channels allowing swearing, the PG version is lame). There is a team in the NBA that reminds me of the lovable Cleveland Indians of “Major League”, but without the winning. The LA Lakers are going nowhere fast and have a cast of characters worthy of a movie script. The line from “Major League” that pops into my mind when thinking of the Lakers this season is “a bunch of has-beens and never was.” This describes the Lakers roster minus a couple players. Let me break down this analysis cast member by cast member.

Kobe Bryant as Jake Taylor
Jake is the older, injured catcher leading a team with emotion and smarts. He solves problems in the clubhouse no coach or admin wants to touch. Kobe is the older, injured leader of the Lakers. Both Kobe and Jake’s bodies are falling apart and they are ready to walk away from the game. Kobe is trying to have fun with a young team and lead them while not wanting to kill everyone for not being better. The flaw in this comparison is everyone likes Jake.

Jordan Clarkson as Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn
Ricky is a raw talent. He has control issues and doesn’t always fit in. His talent needs guidance and when he gets it he is a true star. Jordan Clarkson is a second round pick (by the Wizards) that flashed stardom last year and was named first team all-rookie. Despite his rookie year success Jordan doesn’t fit in with this team. The Indians featured Ricky the next year, the Lakers are pushing Kobe and Deangelo Russell combo. This could be a huge mistake for the Lakers moving forward.

Roy Hibbert as Roger Dorn
Roger Dorn is a veteran third baseman with an inflated sense of self. He is also deathly scared of using his body to make a play at third. A fear he conquers and becomes a valuable asset and cornerstone to winning. Roy Hibbert is a veteran big man with an inflated sense of self and fear of getting dirty in the post. He is the tallest player on the court most days and isn’t even the rebounding leader on his own team (Julius Randle has him beat by nearly 3.5 rebounds per game). Similar to Dorn, if Hibbert can learn to clang and bang on the inside he would be a valuable part of the Lakers and their rebuilding.

Julius Randle as Pedro Cerrano
Pedro Cerrano is the hot-headed power hitter with a hole in his swing. He can only hit the fastball and looks to everything from Jesus, voodoo and golf head covers to help. When he figures out the solution to his deficiency is in him he becomes the terror the Indians need. Julius Randle is not a one trick pony like Pedro is, but he hasn’t figured out pacing, team basketball or how to fit in quite yet. Julius was taken out of a game recently (after 16 minutes of total playing time) and was not a fan. This led his coach, Byron Scott to say, “He’s got to grow up. Simple as that. I think the main thing I don’t like is when you take him out of games, how he reacts sometimes. I chalk it up to immaturity and just being inexperienced in this level. It’s going to happen again. I’m going to take him out of other games that he’s not going to like.” Similar to Pedro, Julius can be the terror they need. He has the talent and the aggressiveness Hibbert is missing. He just needs to understand his role and the solution is in him.

Jim Buss as Rachel Phelps
Rachel Phelps is the owner of the Indians. She wants to move them to Florida and tries to sabotage the team so they lose value and must move. The team rallies around her plan and wins despite her. Jim Buss is in charge of basketball operations for the Lakers. He doesn’t want the Lakers to move, he isn’t purposely putting a poor product on the court and the team is definitely not rallying despite him. He is the person in charge of this group of has-beens and never-was and that is a good enough reason to cast him in this role. “Major League” is a great movie. It is funny, exciting and lively. The Lakers are…not any of these things and if they don’t land a free agent to pull them out of their current state the sequel will not be worth watching.

NBA Darwinism Must Live On

The political season is here and will last way too long. Bluster, accusations, inflammatory comments and life history of candidates will all be part of the year long agony. The debates and interviews will have topics the American people will stand behind or push away. Present laws will be chastised and proposed rules will be scrutinized. Topics will form people’s decision and nudge ballots being cast. The NBA has two “laws” receiving scrutiny. Two laws with hundreds of proposed changes and opinions. Laws begging for debate, analysis and action. The first is the intentional fouling for possession and stalling…otherwise known as “hack-a-______” The other is changing the draft lottery to prevent tanking. The changes discussed are pollution for what really needs to happen…nothing. Leave the rules as is and the league will be stronger for it. I will show you why and I will expect your “no change” ballot to be cast in 2017. The first issue on the ballot known as “Hack-a-_____” has been around for quite a while. Shaquille O’Neal was the most popular and recent example we all know. The decision seems simple. Option 1 is to foul the most dominant player and force him to shoot free throws where he shoots 50% from the free throw line. Option 2 is to allow him to catch the ball in the post and either try to score or pass out of double teams to open shooters. He shoots 60% from the field and 2.5 assists per game. I know what option I would choose. la-sp-nba-hack-jordan-howard-2015051 This issue has now moved to new players now that Shaq has moved on. Andre Drummond, Deandre Jordan and Dwight Howard are the most recent and popular recipients. These fouls are causing pundits and league executives to scream foul. Their main contention being it slows down the game and causes a boring brand. I would contend the bad brand of basketball comes from one simple source. Lack of ability or dedication to practice a simple skill. Children are taught and forced to shoot free throws throughout their basketball life. I had to run suicides and then shoot free throws. If you made both, you were done running, if you missed one…one suicide, if you missed two…two suicides. The league wanting to change rules so lazy players can stay on the floor is ridiculous.Shaq was a renowned lazy worker off the court. His weight gain, inability to add any shooting to his repertoire and improved free throw shooting points to this. Not to mention Phil Jackson has pointed to it in his book, “The Last Season.” The league has even gone as far as to say a foul must take place in the pace of play in order to keep the hacking from happening at egregious times. Coddling players is causing intentional fouls to look like this:

I don’t think this is what the NBA was hoping for. The promoting of “fake fouling” or nudging players while they set screens is not better than just bear-hugging the intended player. Improvements can be made. Role models are available for today’s player. See Blake Griffin and Karl Malone. Blake Griffin has gone from a 52% free throw shooter in year two to a 72% free throw shooter last year and this year. Karl Malone improved from 48% to 75%. If the league wants to mandate changes to keep “hacking” maybe they should try required suicides and free throw practice. The second issue on the ballot is tanking for high draft picks. There is one “model” franchise taking tanking to a whole new level. The Philadelphia 76ers are the tanking role model. They have announced their plan to build through the draft and even titled it “the process.” The Sixers stockpile of talent from this process consists of three centers (one who hasn’t played a second of basketball for two years), one player over 30, a bunch of role players, foreign players competing across the pond and…nothing else. They traded the poor shooting, pass first Michael Carter Williams after he won rookie of the year and signed the poor shooting, pass first Kendall Marshall as a free agent. They have draft picks abound coming the next two years but when you look at Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel, Guillermo Hernangomez, Richuan Homes, Arturas Gudaitis, JP Tokoto, Luka Mitrovic, KJ Daniels, Jerami Grant, Russ Smith, Vasilije Micic and Nemanja Dangubic confidence is not high for Sixers fans. The NBA is evaluating rule changes to prevent tanking. My question is…why? The Sixers made this decision. They have NEVER received the first pick during “ the process” (which would have garnered Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Victor Oladipo) and they are not going to be good any time soon. Proof that the system is working. Why change a system to keep AN organization from making “let’s lose on purpose” decisions that doom them for a decade? Don’t keep natural selection from happening. If the owners of the Sixers keep Sam Hinkie on as the decision maker they are earning every second of what comes. The NBA needs to let this happen so other organizations will not even think about following suit. Sacrifice the Sixers for the better good of the league. This concludes my campaign and I look forward to your vote in 2016

NBA Darwinism Must Live On

The political season is here and will last way too long. Bluster, accusations, inflammatory comments and life history of candidates will all be part of the year long agony. The debates and interviews will have topics the American people will stand behind or push away. Present laws will be chastised and proposed rules will be scrutinized. Topics will form people’s decision and nudge ballots being cast.

The NBA has two “laws” receiving scrutiny. Two laws with hundreds of proposed changes and opinions. Laws begging for debate, analysis and action.

The first is the intentional fouling for possession and stalling…otherwise known as “hack-a-______” The other is changing the draft lottery to prevent tanking.

The changes discussed are pollution for what really needs to happen…nothing. Leave the rules as is and the league will be stronger for it. I will show you why and I will expect your “no change” ballot to be cast in 2017.

The first issue on the ballot known as “Hack-a-_____” has been around for quite a while. Shaquille O’Neal was the most popular and recent example we all know. The decision seems simple. Option 1 is to foul the most dominant player and force him to shoot free throws where he shoots 50% from the free throw line. Option 2 is to allow him to catch the ball in the post and either try to score or pass out of double teams to open shooters. He shoots 60% from the field and 2.5 assists per game. I know what option I would choose.

This issue has now moved to new players now that Shaq has moved on. Andre Drummond, Deandre Jordan and Dwight Howard are the most recent and popular recipients. These fouls are causing pundits and league executives to scream foul. Their main contention being it slows down the game and causes a boring brand.

I would contend the bad brand of basketball comes from one simple source. Lack of ability or dedication to practice a simple skill. Children are taught and forced to shoot free throws throughout their basketball life. I had to run suicides and then shoot free throws. If you made both, you were done running, if you missed one…one suicide, if you missed two…two suicides. The league wanting to change rules so lazy players can stay on the floor is ridiculous.Shaq was a renowned lazy worker off the court. His weight gain, inability to add any shooting to his repertoire  and improved free throw shooting points to this. Not to mention Phil Jackson has pointed to it in his book, “The Last Season.”

The league has even gone as far as to say a foul must take place in the pace of play in order to keep the hacking from happening at egregious times. Coddling players is causing intentional fouls to look like this:

https://youtu.be/Fuk2poi-Vns

I don’t think this is what the NBA was hoping for. The promoting of “fake fouling” or nudging players while they set screens is not better than just bear-hugging the intended player. Improvements can be made. Role models are available for today’s player. See Blake Griffin and Karl Malone. Blake Griffin has gone from a 52% free throw shooter in year two to a 72% free throw shooter last year and this year. Karl Malone improved from 48% to 75%. If the league wants to mandate changes to keep “hacking” maybe they should try required suicides and free throw practice.

The second issue on the ballot is tanking for high draft picks. There is one “model” franchise taking tanking to a whole new level. The Philadelphia 76ers are the tanking role model. They have announced their plan to build through the draft and even titled it “the process.” The Sixers stockpile of talent from this process consists of three centers (one who hasn’t played a second of basketball for two years), one player over 30, a bunch of role players, foreign players competing across the pond and…nothing else. They traded the poor shooting, pass first Michael Carter Williams after he won rookie of the year and signed the poor shooting, pass first Kendall Marshall as a free agent. They have draft picks abound coming the next two years but when you look at Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel, Guillermo Hernangomez, Richuan Homes, Arturas Gudaitis, JP Tokoto, Luka Mitrovic, KJ Daniels, Jerami Grant, Russ Smith, Vasilije Micic and Nemanja Dangubic confidence is not high for Sixers fans.

The NBA is evaluating rule changes to prevent tanking. My question is…why? The Sixers made this decision. They have NEVER received the first pick during “ the process” (which would have garnered Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Victor Oladipo) and they are not going to be good any time soon. Proof that the system is working. Why change a system to keep AN organization from making “let’s lose on purpose” decisions that doom them for a decade?  Don’t keep natural selection from happening. If the owners of the Sixers keep Sam Hinkie on as the decision maker they are earning every second of what comes. The NBA needs to let this happen so other organizations will not even think about following suit. Sacrifice the Sixers for the better good of the league.

This concludes my campaign and I look forward to your vote in 2016!

Stan Van Gundy: Chugging Through Doubt

“One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.” Everyone has heard this phrase or experienced it in life. You see something at a thrift store, clearance pile, garage sale or even from the literal trash and think, “ I can use that.”

The sports version of this is the favorite of fans. When a player from a small school, NBDL, the end of another team’s bench or Europe rises up fans flock. See Linsanity. What about the coaching version of this? Why don’t we celebrate this? Why no Stottsmania or Whittsanity? I feel this is a good time to celebrate one coach rising out of the coaching rubble to lead a new team despite doubt and questions from the outside. This one’s for you Stan Van Gundy.

A very brief history. Stan Van Gundy came into the NBA through the Miami Heat system. Pat Riley was president and hired SVG in 2003 to run a team that featured a rookie sensation from Marquette…Dwyane Wade. A team Pat stepped away from abruptly. The next year Pat Riley wanted to win another title and relieved Stan of his duties after taking the Heat to the Eastern Conference second round and adding Shaq in the offseason.

Two years later the Orlando Magic hired Stan to lead their team or more importantly their star player Dwight Howard. His teams experienced great success with 5 playoff appearances and one Finals appearance in 5 years. Despite the success Stan was fired amidst rumors that Dwight Howard wanted a different coach leading the team. We know Dwight didn’t stay, the Magic have been terrible ever since and Stan stepped into the background.

Then the Pistons came calling in 2014. They needed a coach to lead and a President of Basketball of Operations to get the team back on track. They hired Van Gundy for both. This is his opportunity to lead a team without a President waiting to take over, a star player putting a power play on ownership or another factor getting in the way of what SVG does best…coach. The roster moves Stan Van Gundy pulled off this offseason seem to be working. Josh Smith, Greg Monroe, Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum lowlight the players gone and Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Marcus Morris and Ersan Ilyasova are the building blocks of the new Motown Pistons.

This team seems to represent all Stan Van Gundy has been working for since his Miami days. A big man working the post and 4 shooters ready around him. Andre Drummond is a true star in the making. A team that can win in the regular season with Reggie Jackson shooting and penetrating, but can slow it down and pound it inside when the playoffs come around. This season and this team also show Stan’s patience and silence prove his decisions and attitudes correct. Shaq could have been the most dominating player in NBA history IF he had put the work in off the court. The work Van Gundy would have pushed and Shaq would have pushed back to the point that Van Gundy was pushed out. Dwight, just like his idol, did not like Van Gundy’s pushing and also pushed Stan out.

Now Stan is the only one pushing. He is the judge, juror and executioner of the Pistons roster and philosophies. This feels like a moment most would respond with a middle finger, a nasty letter or a big, fat “I told you so” for the two franchises that previously scorned you. Stan just stands on the sidelines with his golf shirt, sport coat and arms crossed…coaching a team he can be proud of. He is just doing what he has wanted to do since 2003.

The NBA’s Usual Suspects

The sun coming up and going down, the moon taking the sun’s place, getting old, having a crush, embarrassing yourself in school, standing in line, the weatherman being wrong, the weatherman being right,eating too much at Thanksgiving, my daughter getting her way and taxes. All things we know we can count on.

The NBA season has ups and downs, twists and turns, surprises and disappointments. It is the ultimate reality show,but it also has things you can count on day in day out, game in, game out. Here are some of those guarantees:

-The Spurs will be in title contention and no one will favor them to win it.

-Dwight Howard is overrated. Houston is not looking like the Western Conference finals team of last year and Howard not competing or responding  to adversity is apart of this…again. The Lakers know this.

-Defense wins championships. Teams want to play faster and score more but the teams that grind together win together.

-The East is top heavy and the West is deep. Cleveland, Toronto and Chicago are the top three teams in the East….Toronto is #2…enough said.

-Kobe Bryant will shoot

-Stan Van Gundy will prove he is a great coach. Ask the Orlando Magic.

-Dallas will be in contention for the playoffs despite never landing a star in free agency. Deandre Jordan, Dwight Howard, Deron Williams (the first time), Carmelo Anthony, Lebron James, Chris Paul and Lamarcus Aldridge all met with Cuban and passed.

-Rick Carlisle will prove he is a great coach

-Lebron is still the premier player in the league. Sorry Brow, Durant and Steph. He is just getting worked into shape for the postseason

-A young Eastern Conference team will make the playoffs, give their fan base hope and then crash and burn. See the 2015 Brooklyn Nets, 2014 Charlotte Bobcats, 2013 New York Knicks and 2012 Orlando Magic.

-A team will fire a coach mid season despite the team being awful. I would guess George Karl or Randy Wittman are the number 1 candidates

-Alternative jerseys will be hit or miss. SLEEVED jerseys? C’mon Adidas. Nike should get the contract for NBA jerseys just for that reason alone

-Carmelo Anthony will learn what Lebron learned when he made the Decision. A team compiles trophies and an individual compiles numbers

-Seattle will be sad during basketball season

-A team with great promise will let us down. The Big 3 Heat, The Big 3 Celtics and The Shaq/Kobe/Malone/Payton Lakers are examples. The 2015 Clippers or Miami Heat seem to be on that track

-Coaches will deadpan answer mid-game interviews in hope the NBA doesn’t require it. The NBA will respond by not responding 

-Shoes will get uglier and more expensive

-Players will get more athletic-The Brow, Karl Anthony-Towns and Andre Drummond are leading this charge

-Injuries will derail teams. Golden State losing Klay Thompson broke an historic winning streak. 

-Teams pacing themselves will be strong at the right times. Cleveland and San Antonio seem to have the right idea thus far.

-The Sixers will…you know there are some things you just don’t try to understand.

Plays Well with Others, an NBA Necessity

Three years ago my grade school alma mater reached out to me regarding coaching basketball. I was intrigued. I had coached during high school and loved it. I decided to jump in and give it a shot. To say we were not good would be an understatement. The average experience of the kids on my team was 2 years of competitive basketball. Practices were spent doing drills just so we could actually get the ball up the court and pretend to run an offense.

Despite our unwinned season there were various bright spots. Whether it was the diabetic player that competed the whole season and finished with a huge smile on his face…a well-deserved smile or the short point guard that could steal the ball from anyone the bright spots could be found every game. The real bright spot was Jerry. The lacrosse star was giving basketball a shot for the first time ever. He was not as polished, not as skilled and not as ready as any of the other players, BUT he had one thing that the others did not. A drive to succeed. He picked up defensive principles and rebounding instantly. He also understood something kids his age don’t understand easily. Passing the ball helps us. Lacrosse principles translated very easily for Jerry and he was easy to keep on the court.

The NBA is in a resurgence. A resurgence led by amazing stars, strong teams and passing. A resurgence that has left the days of Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury and ball-stopping isolation players in the dust. The reasons for this resurgence are varied and unproven, but the reasons matter less than results. The NBA is becoming the 2nd most popular in America and more fun to watch now than in a long time. I think there are a few reasons for this.

Xerox method

The phrase is a popular one in sports. “Imitation is the best form of flattery.” We see it all the time in sports. The wildcat, four corners, isolation offense, catcher hitting last and the read option are all fads in sports that have come and gone and come back again. Some things change and stick. Ball movement in the NBA is one of those things. I think the San Antonio Spurs are one of  the reasons for its renaissance. Greg Popovich and RJ Buford built their team around three players (Duncan, Robinson, Elliott then Duncan Parker, Ginobli now Parker, Aldridge, Leonard) and a cast of characters with specific roles and one particular skill set…to pass the ball to the open man.

The league didn’t really heed the change in the championship trend until the Spurs won their second title in 2003. When the Spurs beat the New Jersey Nets in 6 and did it with some international players (Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli), defensive specialists (Bruce Bowen and David Robinson) and one superstar (Tim Duncan) people started changing their philosophies. Those second round picks that you include in trades to get players or 1st round picks now have value. You can draft international players, let them develop in their home leagues and then bring them over when they are ready. Most importantly it changed how a team functions on offense. When Duncan and Robinson are passing to Manu and Parker and trusting them to make the right decision rather than isolating and allowing the defense to focus in on one offensive component people took notice.

2005 was the big turning point. The Pistons and Spurs matched up in the Finals this year. The team that put team ball on the map (the Pistons beat the star-studded Lakers the year before) would lose in 7 to a team that did what they do, just better. This is when the tide started turning.

Stars Demanding Help

Lebron James is the catalyst of the next step of our metamorphosis. A star…THE star of the NBA took a TERRIBLE cast of characters (Sasha Pavlovic, Larry Hughes, Donyell Marshall, Daniel Gibson, Eric Snow, etc) to the NBA finals, lost and then lost in the Eastern Conference finals the next year. A team at the top of the Eastern Conference running an isolation offense through the best player in the game.

Then, the Decision changed everything. He left Cleveland, he left a town hating him, he left the big fish in a little pond, he left the hometown and left the isolation style of basketball. He joined a Heat team with all the hype, all the talent and an offense focused on ball movement. When the highest profile player leaves a team running one style to another focused on a different style the league takes notice and starts reacting. Although the Big 3 did not win the title every year they did show unselfish play and team ball could win you two titles and get you to the final dance perenially.

Teams Rebuilding Differently

It’s great when you can attract players like the Big 3 to your team, but how do other teams build for the future? The league is responding by gathering two types of players…shooters and athletes that pass. There seems to be an epidemic of building teams that are good but waiting to either develop or sign stars to get to the next level. The Pistons, Jazz, Celtics, Suns, Hornets, Magic, Nuggets and Timberwolves are on the fringe of tanking AND making the playoffs. They also all push spacing, shooting and BALL MOVEMENT.

The draft, second round draft picks, fringe free agents and depth are now at a premium while huge free agent acquisitions, building around one player and isolation offenses are on the way out…for now.