Tag Archives: Andrew Bynum

Energy Is A Talent

Watching the Lakers lose to the Mavs was quite a trip.  In my mind, the Lakers were the favorite to win the whole thing — the only team with a superstar on the perimeter, and multiple quality big men.

My theory made perfect sense.

Until the games started.

Watching the Lakers big men be so inconsistent reminded me of a conversation I had during last year’s playoffs, with my friend JZ.  JZ is a wise old hoopserver.  In fact, he’s a member of the Jedi Council of Hoopserving Masters.

Around this time last year, I told JZ that I just couldn’t understand why some players were as inconsistent as they were.  I can’t think of a different profession where someone who performs at a superstar level sometimes, an average level sometimes, and below average the rest of the time is still regarded as useful.  Yet, in basketball, it happens frequently.  We simply accept such players as “inconsistent.”  It was flabbergasting to me, I told him, that such “inconsistent” players get paid millions of dollars and do not even exert 100% effort every time they play.

JZ explained that energy is a talent.  I think it’s an excellent hoopservation, and would only add two points of clarification:

1.  “Energy,” for purposes of this discussion, includes the thing we call “focus.”  The inability to devote the same effort to every game includes “energy,” which refers to the physical component, and “focus,” which refers to the mental component.

2.  When someone like, say, Lamar Odom, or Andrew Bynum, or Pau Gasol, looks like a superstar on Friday and a scrub on Sunday, it’s not because he isn’t trying, or stayed out too late on the Sunset Strip on Saturday night.  It’s just that energy isn’t one of the talents that made him a professional basketball player, so, even though he is exerting 100% effort on Sunday, it is 100% of a different energy level than he had on Friday.  In other words, the players who have the talent of high energy wake up every day with a high energy level, and when they exert 100% effort, it is 100% of an energy level that hardly changes.  The players who do not have the talent of energy do not wake up with the same energy level every day, and when they exert 100% effort, it is 100% of a different energy level on different days.  People who resent these players for not trying their hardest every game are missing the point.

Put a few guys on the same team who do not have the talent of high energy, and you’ll wind up with a team that looks like it has a personality disorder.  Like, for example, the Lakers.  The Lakers won two championships in a row, and looked, at times, like a juggernaut on their way to a third.  But, when their superstar (Kobe) started to slip just a little bit, and one of their other high-energy players (Artest) lost a half a step, then, all of a sudden, the team was heavily dependent on its low-energy guys.

It can work, if a few of those guys are playing at a high level each game, but it’s a risky venture.  There are lots of ways to try to win in the NBA, but talent usually wins out.  And energy is a talent.



  • Champ

    I find the concept of energy being considered a talent an interesing one. How does one distinguish between those with varying energy levels and those who simply don’t give 100% on a daily basis though? Is the assumption that all professional athletes give 100% of their energy every day? More than half the players in the league barely play defense so how could those players be giving 100%? On another note, maybe the Lakers didn’t win the series because Kobe isn’t as good as everyone says he is. If Lebron were in his place, they certainly wouldn’t have lost.

  • ZackNovakJr.

    I think your point that energy/focus has a mental component is a crucial one. Unlike height or athleticism which are god-given talents, energy is primarily a learned skill. Some can learn it on their own, but others need coaching. Teaching players how to consistently focus is a coach’s most important job. The Lakers loss to the Mavs because of a lack of focus is therefore an indictment of Phil Jackson. One could argue that Gasol, Odom, Bynum, etc. are uncoachable, but I’d disagree. Almost all players are coachable, the coach just has to figure out how to reach each one or get rid of the ones that are truly obstinate. However, few truly obstinate individuals ever make it to highest level of their field. Gasol, Odom, and Bynum are all coachable. Phil Jackson just failed. Good thing for the Lakers that they will probably have a new coach next year.

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I wrote in the beginning of the season that one of the main storylines to keep an eye on is the evolution of the center position. (Here, in case you missed it the first time.)

Well, we’re almost halfway through the season, and, crunching the data regarding the center position specifically, the first conclusion to draw is that, well… um… there really isn’t much to base a conclusion on. That’s because so many of the centers have been hurt for significant chunks of time. If you play center in the NBA, chances are high that you’re having trouble walking these days. Apparently, having a “C” next to your name on an NBA roster means that you’re likely to be Crippled, or even that you might be Cursed.

Check it out: Yao is out for the season, and might be done forever. Oden, too. Bynum can never seem to give the Lakers a long stretch of healthy productivity. Kaman can’t get back on the court for the Clippers. Okur has hardly been available for the Jazz. The Suns might be a playoff team if Robin Lopez could return to the form he was in for parts of last year’s playoffs. And the Bulls could potentially be lethal — if they could keep their center, Joakim Noah, healthy.

Looking at all these injuries, I postulate that human bodies approaching or exceeding 7 feet in length are just not meant to run up and down a basketball court at the speed of today’s game. Actually, strike that. I don’t “postulate” anything — I’m trying to build up my street cred, and people with street cred don’t “postulate” things. Please let me try again… Looking at all these injuries, I hoopserve that human bodies approaching or exceeding 7 feet in length are just not meant to run up and down a basketball court at the speed of today’s game.

Nice. Now I got my street cred intact.

With my street cred intact, I’m ready for a few other hoopservations about the current state of the center position:
1a. If a team has a 7 foot body it can roll out onto the court, who can both walk straight and catch a basketball, that team is in good shape. Bonus points if the guy was born in the 1970’s, and was a force 5 or more years ago. He doesn’t have to be able to move fast or jump high. So long as he’s 7 feet tall and in one piece, you can fake your way through having a real center. Just roll him out there and hope nobody notices. It’s basically like Weekend at Bernie’s, if Bernie was 7 feet tall and used to be a good basketball player. Evidence in support of my point: Big Z in Miami. Duncan in San Antonio. And, of course, Shaq.
1b. If a team has a center who can stay relatively healthy, and produces about 12 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 blocks, it has a distinct advantage over other teams. In fact, if a team has such a guy, that team is almost certainly a playoff team. Evidence in support of my point: Roy Hibbert (13.5 ppg, 8 rpg, 1.8 bpg), Andrew Bogut (13.5 ppg, 11.4 rpg, 2.8 bpg), and Emeka Okafor (10.9 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 1.8 bpg).

2. It’s possible to win the battle of the paint armed only with a capable power forward. The numbers that some power forwards are putting up are just silly. They’re like video game numbers. I’m talking about Amar’e (26.4 ppg, 9 rpg, 2.3 bpg), Blake Griffin (21.7 ppg and 12.5 rpg), and Kevin Love (20.6 ppg and 15.6 rpg).

Where does this leave us? I think it’s wrong to say that a good power forward without a capable center alongside him is good enough to win with — in fact, it’s interesting that Blake and Love, with numbers like those, aren’t leading their teams to more victories. One possible explanation is that those guys don’t block shots (not the most meaningful stat in the world, but a good indicator of defensive presence in the paint) nearly as often as real centers do.  In contrast, Amar’e is blocking more than 2 shots per game.

Looking ahead, I’m psyched to see what the Bulls do when Noah and Boozer get to play together for a while, what the Lakers do when Bynum and Gasol develop a rhythm, whether the Mavs are able to get over the hump now that they have Chandler playing next to Nowitzki, and what the Hornets are able to do with West and Okafor. (And, as I’ve stated repeatedly, what the Clippers will do once Kaman and Griffin are playing together.)

In closing, let’s revisit the discussion about the Knicks trading for Carmelo, in light of this information. If they keep Felton and Stoudemire, then, with Carmelo and any mediocre perimeter shooter (Gallinari, Chandler, Fields, and Toney Douglas all fit the bill), they would be good enough on offense to play 4-on-5. That would enable them to play Turiaf (an offensive liability who is a presence on D) at center alongside Amar’e, giving them a distinct advantage over most teams in the league.


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