Back to the NBA Journey, Week Thirteen: Training Mode

The 2018-19 NBA season has reached its halfway point. The Association still believes that its destination will be another championship for the Golden State Warriors. But that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the season as a whole. Last year was wonderful, so let’s return to the path. Let’s go back to the Journey.

Song of the Week: DeBarge – “Time Will Reveal”

On previous stops of The Journey, we’ve focused on the art of improvement. Whether it be tangible or evident in an increase in success rate, video games allow for players and their characters to level up. Most games provide the opportunity to practice newly-acquired skills, whether it be in easier settings within a level or like in Bayonetta, where there’s a place where moves and combos can be tried right after purchasing them. In the Fighting Game Community (FGC), players must use training mode in order to learn new characters and the ability to use them. Players have to hit the lab and practice. And practice. And then practice some more.

Here is where you think of Allen Iverson’s most famous clip of words ever. And yes, that’s what we’re talking about.

A couple of things are overlooked when it comes to practice. First, though the time spent is relatively small compared to a player’s career length, practice takes time. In addition to that, how that time is spent determines how and where improvements are made. Like we shared with James Harden and others with signature moves, honing a single skill can sometimes be better than trying to become great at many things at one time. The adage referencing being a “Jack of all trades” rings true, even including the part about possibly becoming a master of none of those things.

It is easier to curtail expectations when there is difficulty in grasping concepts, skills and abilities. When someone can get the hang of multiple things quickly, especially if young in age, we become enamored with the apparently limitless potential. However, said potential must operate within constraints. Otherwise, the risk of information overload and never reaching said potential becomes greater, even if the person involved wants to take on multiple tasks. Think of it like a computer: give it too many tasks and the processors slow down. Continue to ask more of it, and it may freeze.

This post is inspired by Los Angeles Lakers forward Brandon Ingram. A beautifully written article by LakerFilmRoom suggests that the franchise is doing a poor job of developing its young core—Ingram, in particular—due to the fact that too much is being asked of him. Upon reading this, I realized that every great player I could think of developed within some form of constraint. Whether there was no need for too much responsibility, or a trainer or coach removed the idea of being responsible for more until it was proven the player was ready, no player was given the world in its entirety.

Paul George was not the player he is today since coming into the NBA. He started with basic responsibility and improved a single skill each year. Greatness requires patience because sustained effort and practice produces sustained greatness. Remember that when evaluating young potential.(Celtics Blog)

Here is a perfect example, thanks to the previously mentioned article. Paul George’s first few years with the Indiana Pacers were not filled with the responsibility he has now with the Oklahoma City Thunder. He was not asked to be a do-everything All-Star player, despite having all the tools to do so. He was asked mainly to be an active body on both ends, being able to pick and choose his spots on offense. Over time, George grew into one the NBA’s premier two-way players, and is having a career year in his ninth season. Another example is Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is not asked to take and make a bunch of threes, even though he is working on expanding his game. Again, no player was given the entire world. They were handed it one continent at a time. No conqueror captured every other nation at once. That conqueror led a strong nation and strategically planned how to acquire everything.

Greatness takes time.

Brandon Ingram will turn 22 years old this season. Even if he was an All-Star player by this time, like Giannis for example, he would still have things in his game he’d need to work on. Instead of throwing everything at Ingram and then reprimanding when his brain glitches and that leads to mistakes, scale back the information he needs to process and focus on something he does well. I understand that Ingram and other young players seem so advanced in many areas. And I even understand that some young players do not have the veteran presence around to help shoulder responsibility like Paul George had with the Pacers. But if no player becomes great overnight, and trying to master everything leads to mastery of nothing, then players should be instructed to concentrate on what they do well and hone that skill. Then, it is time to move on.

It’s Blurbing Time!

  • Blake Griffin played his first game against the Clippers in the Staples Center since being traded to the Detroit Pistons last season. There was some lingering bitterness there, as he ran off the court and ignored Clippers owner Steve Ballmer’s extended hand for a courtesy shake. Griffin then proceeded to drop 44 points, leading the Pistons to a 108-104 win last Saturday, and then subsequently got into a small skirmish with Patrick Beverley. The game essentially went how most would have believed it to be if given a synopsis without highlights.
  • Speaking of returns, Charlotte Hornets guard Tony Parker returned to San Antonio to face his original team of 17 years, the Spurs. He received a tremendously warm welcome that made him emotional. While Parker struggled to shoot, scoring just eight points on 4-12 field goals. But the Hornets won 108-93 behind 33 points from Kemba Walker. Parker is a Hall of Fame player and as another point about development, took a while to come into his own as a player. He was even benched in the 2003 NBA Finals for Craig “Speedy” Claxton. Again, greatness takes times and it can sometimes be best developed within the constraints of temporarily limited responsibility.
  • This week’s Hooper Appreciation Blurb goes to Atlanta Hawks forward John Collins. We talk about the idea of a “sophomore slump,” but Collins isn’t experiencing that despite the Hawks’ struggles. Collins is averaging 18.9 points and 10.6 rebounds. He’s expanded his range to beyond the three-point line, and is even trusted with late-game shots, including a go-ahead jumper to beat the Philadelphia 76ers. Collins is on his way to being a quality forward in the Association.

Thirteen weeks in, and we’re still on the Journey. Happy NBA, folks

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