In years past, I've posted my ideas on the critical components of Championship Defense. Obviously, I am most likely not fit to get water for a graduate assistant for CBH's staff, but I think I have some good ideas to explain what's worked in the past, what's missing now... and what I believe we can do to fix things now.
It's not one thing that's missing, or one person. Instead, it's a slight decrease in pretty much all of the different elements of our defense, resulting in a systemic lowering of the quality of our overall defensive effectiveness. In other words, we're the sum of our parts, and our parts have really changed.
Here are my basic elements of Championship Defense, with the newly added/ realized element of No. 4 (for illustrative purposes, examples are taken from the starters for the 1995, 2008, and 2009 teams, along with descriptions excerpted from some of my past posts):
(1) INTERCEPTOR -- A guy with sufficient quickness to disrupt the opposing PG's movement, and delay the immediate set-up of the opponent's base offense (halfcourt or breakneck transition). Preferably your PG or other good handles guy who can steal the ball and score at the other end on his own.
1995 - Tyus Edney
2008 -- Darren Collison
2009 -- DC.
ANALYSIS: DC still has the speed, quickness, and experience of a top-flight interceptor. However, without a dominant post-presence, and without an experienced backup at the point, DC has seemingly gotten tired more and more at the ends of games. Continued growth and steady minutes by Jerime Anderson -- ready or not -- should help keep DC fresher on D. However, one player does not an entire defense make.
(2) SEEKER -- If the other team has a freakish shooter off screens, or a crazy slash and finisher, you send THIS GUY to cuff him and stuff him. However, this person needs physical toughness to fight over screens, stamina to chase and change direction for 30+ minutes a game, and sufficient length to bother shooters when he's a step behind.
1995 -- Toby Bailey
2008 -- Russell Westbrook
2009 -- Jrue Holiday
ANALYSIS: Personally, I am not big on having seekers at 6-3 or less, as I think it leaves us vulnerable to bigger 2-guards, although RW did an outstanding job last year at 6-3 based on his intensity. In any event, JH has the quickness and length, but right now, the question is not his physical size, but his physical toughness. Indeed, CBH noted specifically that JH did not handle screens well early against WSU, allowing
Rochestie Klay Thompson (thanks, H) to get hot. JH has the physical tools, but he has to learn to just lock people down and shut them up.
It may very well come in time, but for now... it just is not there yet. If needs be, I think Malcolm Lee may yet take the job before the season's out. From what I've seen, he has JH's quickness, but more size, more length, and, after playing center during his senior year in high school, more practice banging around.
(3) INTERCHANGEABLE WINGS -- Again, you know the types. Mainly perimeter defenders, 6-4 to 6-8 guys, long-armed, good quick-twitch muscles. Guys who can double the post and still get back to the shooters. Guys who can switch off on pick and rolls or fon regular screens, yet can still pick up the other guy's man with no worries. These can include your seeker or even your interceptor, or even the 'new element' (No. 4). Since it's a plural designation, you need 2, but 3 is better.
1995 -- Bailey and Charles O'Bannon, occasionally Ed O'Bannon.
2008 -- RW, JS and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute.
2009 -- JS and Nikola Dragovic.
ANALYSIS -- You need two good interchangeable wings, and our two are... Josh and Nikola? Yep, and they're looking fairly good doing it. JS has improved his transition defense (just check the blocks on breaks), and, combined with 4+ playing years in the system and his new decision-making on offense, is establishing himself as an effective two-way presence (if not necessarily a lockdown-stopper). ND has been visibily more active with hands and feet, and is improving on the double-down. Again, however, guards have to run more, and without JH filling in at the switching-wing role as in the past, our schemes look a bit different, as designated backcourt shooters are lighting us up more than shooters at the 3 and 4 positions.
(4) SHOTGUN -- On stagecoaches, there were always two guys riding up top -- the guy wih the reins, and the guy packing heat. Shotgun was there so the driver could do his job. Shotgun gave cover-fire when bad guys were chasing, stiff-armed robbers trying to grab the bank pouch, and glared at would-be trespassers with a nail-spitting glare. On defense, you know who the shotgun is -- he gets rebounds or boxes out so his teammate can get them, he double-teams the post or in the corner when the ballhandler gets lost, he shifts over when a perimeter teammate gets beat.
1995 -- Ed O'Bannon
2008 -- LMRAM
2009 -- ND
ANALYSIS: ND is improving every week at the glass, and his hands are active in the mid-range passing lanes. He's like a sniper rifle for us on offense. But a SHOTGUN? Hooo boy. With LMRAM, we had one guy covering a lot of defensive ills -- or if not ills, then a lot of "just OK's" -- with a lot of superlative play. At 6-8, 230, with a 7-foot wingspan and tireless (if somewhat injury prone) ankles and feet, LMRAM was the prototypical shotgun. Ed O'Bannon also filled much of the same role, filling gaps and punching holes when needed. At 6-9, 216, the lighter, thinner ND is not getting outworked, but he is occasionally out-toughed
What now, then??? Well, we can balance an OK shotgun with great wings, or vice versa, but we can't fix all at the same time, since our guys are either too young (the froshies) or a little light (ND) or not producing (Keefe). Either JH HAS to step up at the seeker, OR we put ML there, OR we put in Keefe at shotgun and risk losing our sniper. I had thought/ hoped Keefe was well on his way to riding shotgun in pre-season, but he hasn't kept the playing time.
(5) BACKSTOP -- Shotblocking is great, but not entirely essential, depending on the team. However, the backstop has to take up space (by muscle or plain mass), control that space (by length or by strength), and make other guys regret going into the surrounding airspace (block 'em or rock' em). Plus, like in baseball, a backspace has to control any and all balls that clang, tip, ricochet, or otherwise just miss their target. In other words, the backstop controls the REBOUNDS.
1995 -- George Zidek
2008 -- Kevin Love/ Lorenzo Mata-Real
2009 -- Alfred Aboya
ANALYSIS: Whether by drawing charges or going beast-like on the glass, AA2 is chipping in with 6 boards a game and effective post-defense. However, we still have a drop off from last year's 6-10, 255 backstop in Love. Add it with all the little drops at each defensive position, and the problems mount.
So, if you made it this long, the point is this: At both the first line (interceptor) and the last line (backstop) of our defense, we're fine. But from seeker to wings to shotgun, we are all a bit different from last year. It's those slight scratches and bends in our gears -- a slow-reacting seeker, resulting in a mis-matched pair of wings, plus a hunting rifle instead of a sawed-off -- that's making our defensive engine stall and sputter.
An opponent's dribble penetration looks burns us 3-4 plays in a game when the interceptor has to go without the interchangeable wings adding defensive backup, and the opponent can drive without changing direction or being forced to give up the ball outside the paint.
Another 3-4 shots become wide-open when a seeker loses sight of his man.
We lose 3-4 offensive rebounds without another physical presence covering the backstop.
Each of these items is small on its own. But add them all up, and what do you get? Anywhere from 3-12 defensive breakdowns a game.
Seem like a lot? Think back over the last 5-6 games. If the devil is in the details, so is our DEFENSE. And our details still need work.
OK, enough from me. Feedback is welcome.