Friday, March 16, 2012
If You Hate Isolations, You Hate NBA Basketball
There's been a lot of controversy circling the Knicks recently as you no doubt know if you read this blog or don't live under a rock, most of it centering on Carmelo Anthony. With Mike D'Antoni out of the picture, all of the scrutiny will be focused on the guy who many people think was the reason for his departure. Everything from his sluggish body language and thuggish attitude to his shot selection has already been picked apart by everyone, and I'll admit there's merit to most of the criticism. One favorite gripe of Melo haters that I don't necessarily agree with, however, is this one: Melo's isolation plays are what's wrong with the Knicks offense. Yes, it's true that he tends to hold on to the ball for too long when the call is for an iso, and he needs to make quicker moves and be a more willing passer. But there seems to be a large population of Knicks fans and Carmelo haters (two groups of which there is much overlap) who think of isolation as a dirty word. Like Carmelo Anthony invented this ugly ruffian, selfish style of basketball in order to get his points like the me-first thug he is. Truth is, the NBA has been dominated by isolation plays for years, like it or not (and many people choose to not like the NBA because of this). While Carmelo may tend to isolate more than other players, what he does is not out of line with much of what the rest of the league runs on a nightly basis. To further complicate matters, Jeremy Lin came out of nowhere and initiated a free flowing offense for 2 weeks, that was pretty God damn fun to watch. It's only natural that this will be viewed as the antithesis to the ugly Melo ball, the "right way to play" as opposed to that other way. It was nice to see everyone sharing the ball and multiple passes every trip down the floor, but the way many Knicks fans have lionized those two weeks of Linsanity is bordering on insanity. The average caller into NY sports talk radio (not that these are the examples of intelligent sports fans but I would say they are a good representation of the average ideas of most NY sports fans) has reimagined those two weeks in February vs the Raptors and Kings as the rebirth of Clyde Frazier to Monroe to Debuscchere. The holy grail of beautiful basketball in all it's glory. Sorry Vinnie in Manhasset, that's not NBA basketball. Melo standing on the wing trying to break down a defender is.
Take a look at the last 20 years of NBA championships, when I think isolation play took over the league just as the superstar did. Not one of the champion teams played a Phoenix Sun, D'Antoni style, every one of the team had a superstar who spent at least half of it's team's possessions isolated on offense (a post up also counts as an iso), and the one team that didn't have any superstars ( the 2004 Pistons) played a drag out half court offense that played to it's bruising strengths. That lovely style of basketball that's so adored by both media members as well as the bandwagon Knicks fans who hadn't watched a game since Ewing, the sweet passes that seemed to sail through the air pushed by the spirit of Bob Cousy, James Naismith and Ghandi. That hasn't won a title since before Magic had HIV. The NBA game is predicated on superstar play, and has been since Michael, Magic and Bird became big money makers. Some times it can bog down the offense and make NBA games boring, other times it can result in amazing singular performances. The best teams mix in a little of both, running at opportune times, moving the ball and also incorporating isolation plays for their stars at the right time. There's been an outpouring of love for teams like Philadelphia and Denver who have like 9 guys each that average 11 points and no one can name 4 players in their starting lineup (in particular Denver who has apparently reinvented basketball since ridding themselves of that black hole, Melo). But you know where those teams will be in June? Watching the games just like me and you. The Knicks have a lot of issues that need solving including how to consistently make shots and defend and rebound, etc. But isolation offenses aren't going anywhere. It's a fact of NBA life. Get over your dreams of a socialist basketball offense where everyone is treated equally, and the wealth is shared. Professional basketball is not like that. There's probably a reason you stopped watching a while ago.