What can LeBron James actually learn from training with Hakeem Olajuwon?


Few things in the world of pro basketball are fetishized more than mentorship, particularly when the part of the wise sage is played by an NBA legend. There’s just something about NBA greats — past and present — comparing notes that really sparks the imagination; the idea that some enlightenment could be gained through two people sharing a gym is an alluring one, so much so that current players consulting with some of the game’s all-timers is as surefire way to generate headlines as it is the most whimsical basketball daydreams.

The most recent examples all seem to hover around the same legend: Hakeem Olajuwon. He famously met with Kobe Bryant, and was cited for his efforts every time Bryant set up shop on the block. Then he met with Dwight Howard, a move designed to increase the league’s most dominant center’s post repertoire. This year’s pairing? Hakeem and LeBron James, everyone’s favorite “he-should-really-post-up-more” player of choice. James’ ability to physically dominate his opponents has made him an effective post threat thus far, but his game down low could certainly use some polish. That’s where Olajuwon would theoretically help; a drop step here and a baby hook there, and James would go from an efficient but underused post threat into a certifiable weapon.

Of course, all of this leans heavily on the notion that Olajuwon’s tutelage actually creates a tangible benefit. There’s only so much that can be gained from short-term instruction, and while Olajuwon undoubtedly has much to teach any post player willing to listen, his time and influence are limited in these cases. He may be able to introduce a few ideas or moves, but to expect those skills to be fully formed is asking a bit much. Hence why Howard, who spends as much time in the post as anyone in the NBA, didn’t look the part of a completely reinvented player. He was a bit more fluid and did have a few new tricks this past season, but his moves were essentially as robotic as they had been previously.

A superficial examination of Howard’s case alone would say that Olajuwon’s teachings weren’t able to accomplish their intended goal. Yet where Olajuwon’s advisement may be truly beneficial is not in skill training, but in confidence building. Tom Haberstroh of ESPN’s Heat Index examined the before and after effects of Olajuwon’s instruction on post usage and efficiency, and found a particularly interesting development in the post play of another of Olajuwon’s apprentices:

In 2008-09, [Kobe] Bryant 14.2 percent of his overall play repertoire was used on post-up plays, or, put another way, he used 4.1 post-up plays per game. This includes post-up plays like drop-steps, turnaround jumpers, and even pass outs when the defense collapsed. On average, 1.035 points were scored per post-up play (you can find this under the “Efficiency” column).

And what happened the following season? Everything went up, but mostly his usage. Whether it’s a product of age slowing him down or a newfound confidence sparked by Olajuwon (or both), Bryant almost doubled his diet of post-ups in 2009-10. That’s an astounding change in playing style which we rarely see in the game today. His efficiency also saw a slight uptick from 1.035 to 1.058.

Bryant did become a bit better in the post, but more importantly, he started operating from the block almost twice as often. It’s notable that he was still able to boost his efficiency despite that increase in usage, but the far more relevant aspect of Bryant’s evolution is that he was willing to work out of the post so often at all. Haberstroh wonders if the same product might come from LeBron James’ sessions with Olajuwon, and rightly so; James’ biggest post problem isn’t a lack of effectiveness, but of willingness. If training with Olajuwon would give James the confidence to work down low more often, then that alone could make the NBA’s most brutally effective and efficient player that much more so.

Perhaps this kind of mentorship is guised as a workshop in post moves, but thus far the clearest benefit seems to be the transformation of the low post into a comfort zone.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue sits out second half Saturday with illness

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CHICAGO (AP) Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue remained in the locker room to start the second half of their game against the Chicago Bulls because of an illness.

Lue was on the sideline as the Cavaliers used a strong second quarter to build a 17-point halftime lead. He did not come out for the start of the third Saturday night, and he did not return to the game.

Lue has missed one other game this season due to illness. He is expected back on Monday when the Cavs host the struggling Bucks.

The Cavaliers went on to get the win over the Bulls Saturday, 114-109.

Grizzlies snap 19-game skid with 101-94 win vs Nuggets

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Dillon Brooks scored 24 points, Tyreke Evans added 20 and the Memphis Grizzlies snapped a 19-game losing streak with a 101-94 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Saturday night.

Wayne Selden scored 16 points for Memphis by hitting 6 of 7 shots, including 4 of 5 from outside the arc. Marc Gasol added 14 points as Memphis won for the first time since Jan. 29.

Nikola Jokic led the Nuggets with 17 points and 12 rebounds, while Jamal Murray finished with 16 points on 5-of-18 shooting. Denver shot just 37 percent overall and 27 percent from 3-point range.

Denver entered the night in ninth place in the Western Conference, a game out of the playoff race. Denver played without leading scorer Gary Harris, who is expected to miss the next few games with a right knee sprain suffered against Detroit on Thursday.

The Nuggets struggled through a miserable first half of shooting, connecting on 22 percent in the first quarter. Memphis stretched its lead to 21 early in the second quarter before Denver cut it to 53-48 at halftime.

Brooks hit four 3-pointers to start the second half and keep Memphis ahead.

For more NBA coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

LaMarcus Aldridge’s 39 points lead Spurs past Wolves, 117-101

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) – LaMarcus Aldridge had 39 points and 10 rebounds, and the San Antonio Spurs overcame a sluggish start to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 117-101 on Saturday night.

San Antonio won its third straight to move into fifth in the Western Conference five days after dropping to 10th and out of playoff position.

Karl-Anthony Towns had 23 points and nine rebounds for Minnesota, which dropped to sixth in the West.

The Spurs had lost three straight and nine of 11 but are now unbeaten halfway through a six-game homestand.

San Antonio shot 84 percent in the second quarter, their best shooting quarter since 2010.

Two nights after battling New Orleans’ Anthony Davis on both ends, Aldridge had to take on another All-Star in Towns. Aldridge responded by leading the Spurs in scoring for the 49th time this season while helping keep Towns in check.

Aldridge scored 18 of 21 points during a five-minute stretch in the second quarter, including 12 straight. He capped the run by coming from the weak side to swat Towns’ floater deep into the seats.

Minnesota started quickly, shooting 78 percent from the floor in the first 5 1/2 minutes while San Antonio floundered at 17 percent. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich called timeout, only to watch the Timberwolves’ Jeff Teague steal the ball once play resumed.

The Spurs responded behind veteran reserves Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Pau Gasol and Rudy Gay. San Antonio went on a 16-4 run bridging the first and second quarters to take a 29-26 lead.

Andrew Wiggins scored 21 points for Minnesota and Teague had 16.


Stan Van Gundy goes off on officials: “We got absolutely screwed all night”

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The Pistons were likely to lose to the red-hot Trail Blazers on the road, and that came to be Saturday night 100-87, Portland 12th straight win. The Pistons shot 38.8 percent for the game and had a dreadful offensive rating of 93.8 (points per 100 possessions).

Portland is one the top five defensive teams in the NBA this season, but that’s not what Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy thought was the problem — he laid the blame on the officiating.

That’s going to be a fine.

Van Gundy is frustrated — with this game and with this season. So are Pistons fans, and seemingly so is Detroit owner Tom Gores after his lukewarm vote of confidence in Van Gundy recently. They should be, this team is a disappointment and the Blake Griffin trade was a big swing that has yet to work out. The Pistons are going to miss the playoffs. Around the league, the sense is that Van Gundy will lose his GM job to former super agent Arn Tellem, who was brought in to guide the Pistons into their new building but now whose talents would better serve the basketball side of the operation. The only question is will Van Gundy still be coaching in Detroit next season — just coaching, like Doc Rivers with the Clippers — or of the change will be more sweeping than that.