Thursday, June 12, 2008

SPORTS: Blocking Shots

One of the iconic images of this NBA season has been Kevin Garnett of the Boston Celtics rising into the sky and swatting an opposing player's shot into the tenth row of the stands. Remember it well, you are going to be seeing it less and less.

That's because of two things. Garnett is a very smart basketball player. And this off-season, he's going to spend time with Bill Russell, who will explain how the defensive heart of the Celtics can get better.

I know most of you are too young to have ever seen Russell play. By most definitions, Russell was the best defensive player in NBA history. He was a 6-9 centre in an era with few seven-footers, but a fair number of guys his size. He dominated through intelligent positioning and great timing. And he did something too many of the modern day shot-swatters fail to do. He kept the ball in play.

Russell's ability to DEFLECT shots, especially in directing them to teammates, was worth a half-dozen or more points a game on the vaunted Celtic fast break. He also saved his energy and was usually as fresh in the second half as he was in the first half. The only modern-day equivalent who maintained most of those attributes was David Robinson, the former Spurs star.

Garnett is emotional. He WANTS to shove that ball right back in your face. As Jack Armstrong would say, "Get that garbage out of here!" (Side note, Too Stupid Timmy would try for the entendre here, replacing garbage with shhhhhhhhhot. Pssst, Timmy. It isn't funny and it isn't clever. Shuddap!). But making the hi-lite reel fails in one respect. It gives the other team the ball right back.

When I was in high school, there were a number of good shot blockers wearing Bramalea Bronco double-blue. Steve Chessell, Rick Briscoe, Phil Cadman, Arvid Yorkman. All blocked a fair number of shots, although only Chessell was a pure centre. But the Bronco who was the best technical shot blocker I ever saw was Gary Kynoch. Kynoch was a power forward, but he was more or less, a fullback in a basketball uniform. He was the poster boy for "White Men Can't Jump." He might have had a six-inch vertical. But he blocked shots, got possession and didn't foul. What more could you ask?

Kynoch never played any higher-level basketball. He was a football player, afterall. But I wish I had tape of him. I would pair it with tape from Russell's days and force any centre/shot-blocking forward to watch it until his eyes bled. Then, I show him again the next day.

Give me a shot-ALTERER, who doesn't foul while doing it, and I will win world championships.

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