Tuesday, January 02, 2007

JO as Defensive Force No Longer a Dream

Finishing off some holiday leftovers, I wanted to highlight this article by Mike Wells on the defensive improvement of Jermaine O'Neal, especially in the blocked shots category. JO currently leads the league in blocks with 3.1 swats per game, up from 2.3 bpg last year and 1.8 bpg over his career. I used NBA.com for these numbers which conflict a bit with the numbers in Mike's story, but they actually reveal an even more significant improvement.

Working to expand his game during the summer, JO made an effort to raise his defensive play with his sights set on the All-Defensive team. Sounds like Larry Joe Legend has had an impact on how his talent views what truly great players bring to the game. One of the keys to his improvement in blocks is explained here:

O'Neal, who spent the summer in Indianapolis working out with the team's training staff, spent part of the off season looking at a tape of Hakeem Olajuwon, a 12-time All-Star who was a force in the paint, that older brother Clifford gave him.

The average basketball fan may not notice the difference, but what caught O'Neal's eye about Olajuwon helped him block more shots.

Olajuwon started his shot blocking motion with his hand up. O'Neal routinely started his motion with arm down by his side.

"Simple hand placement," O'Neal said. "The difference between a guy getting a shot off and you blocking a shot is merely a second. That's a difference from you having to come from your waist to up high. It makes it easier to block a shot when your hand is already up."

Brother Cliff giving Jermaine the Hakeem video and the impact it has had on JO's game raises some questions.

  • Has any coach ever instructed JO to defend with his hand in a better position? Maybe they have and he heard it ten different ways from ten different voices, but seeing it done correctly by a defensive legend made the difference. The whole a picture is worth 1,000 words thing. Still, couldn't any of those coaches gathered some shot blocking clips from the past to show JO. This doesn't shine a good light on player development for the Pacers.
  • Was the Hakeem vid in VHS or DVD? I'm picturing the worn VHS sleeve of an eight year-old video.
  • Was brother Cliff working on his own with the Hakeem video or was he instructed to find it?
  • What if Cliff was really trying to find a 'Best of Rodney Rogers' video in order to inspire JO to extend the range on his jumper, but saw the Hakeem defensive video in the discount bin and figured he might as well save a few bucks? Would the Pacers still be getting MVP-esque production from JO at both ends of the floor?

These are just a few questions this article made me ponder. One thing I do know is that JO has played the best ball of his career over the first two months of the season. In large part, his great play has gone under the radar since he's playing for the currently non-descript Pacers in the uninspired Eastern Conference. He deserves a start in the All-Star game and mention in any discussion of the MVP (at least if you expand the discussion to include Eastern Conference players). The Pacers are still the inconsistent team I expected, but the reliable production from JO has allowed them to win more than they've lost.

(JO Photo: Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

(Hakeem Photo: Timothy Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

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