The NBA's secret addiction

March, 22, 2017
Mar 22
8:34
AM ET
Holmes By Baxter Holmes
ESPN.com
Archive

Dwight Eschliman for ESPN

THE LEGEND HAS been passed down by NBA generations, chronicled like a Homeric odyssey. The tale they tell is of Kevin Garnett and the 2007-08 Celtics, and the seminal moment of a revolution. Bryan Doo, Celtics strength and conditioning coach, recalls it as if it were yesterday, how before a game in December of that season, an unnamed Celtic -- his identity lost to history, like the other horsemen on Paul Revere's midnight ride -- complained to Doo of incipient hunger pangs.

"Man, I could go for a PB&J," the player said.

And then Garnett, in an act with historical reverberations, uttered the now-fabled words: "Yeah, let's get on that."

Garnett had not, to that point, made the PB&J a part of his pregame routine. But on that night in Boston, as Doo recalls, Garnett partook, then played ... and played well. Afterward, from his perch as the Celtics' fiery leader, Garnett issued the following commandment: "We're going to need PB&J in here every game now."

And so a sandwich revolution was born.

At the time, Doo notes, the Celtics not only didn't provide lavish pregame spreads, they didn't offer much food at all. But he soon found himself slapping together 20 PB&J's about three hours before every tip-off, the finished products placed in bags and labeled with Sharpie in a secret code: "S" for strawberry, "G" for grape, "C" for crunchy. Of vital import: Garnett was an "S" man, and woe unto he who did not deliver him two S's before every game. "If Kevin didn't get his routine down, he'd be pissed," Doo says. "Even if he didn't eat them, he needed them to be there."

From Doo's perspective, PB&J's were a far better option than players seeking out, say, greasy junk food from arena concessions. "It was a win-win for everybody," he says. But as the Garnett-Paul Pierce-Ray Allen Celtics steamrolled to a 66-win season and an NBA title, the secret to their success, so cleverly disguised between two pieces of white bread, was eventually leaked. "Boston was doing it at a mass-produced level earlier on than I noticed other people doing it, for sure," says Tim DiFrancesco, the Lakers' strength and conditioning coach since 2011. "They were really on the forefront of this revolution." In time, as visiting teams swung through Boston, opposing players caught wind that a new day had dawned. DiFrancesco recalls hearing from his troops during a visit: "Wait a minute, there's PB&J's in the Celtics' locker room? Can we get some?" Doo's colleagues around the league were less effusive. "B-Doo, I can't believe you did this for the guys," one told him. "Now you got me making them."

There was no putting the jelly back in the jar. Over the course of the following seasons, as that Celtics championship run ran its course, the pieces of that team would be spread far and wide: Pierce and Garnett migrating the PB&J down I-95 to Brooklyn; Glen "Big Baby" Davis converting the Orlando Magic; Tony Allen spreading the bug to Memphis; coach Doc Rivers bringing the virus across the country to infect the Clippers.

And nothing would ever be the same.

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Shot blocking 101 and the art of the contest

March, 22, 2017
Mar 22
8:20
AM ET
Thorpe By David Thorpe
ESPN.com
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videoIn this excerpt from "Basketball is Jazz," David Thorpe outlines the strategy to productive shot blocking, when to simply contest a shot and understanding the difference between the two.


The single smartest nugget of basketball knowledge I ever heard was from Hubie Brown, who taught that screens are set for one reason -- to make defenders think. It’s pure genius. I could spend an hour discussing its merits. It challenged me to come up with something that perhaps could be that simple yet that insightful. I’m not saying this is as good as what he said -- only that’s it the cleanest and best advice I can offer on any one subject.

Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY Sports


When it comes to blocking shots, I have a simple rule; block the shot of the player that does not see you, settle for a good contest on a shot where the player knows where you are.

If players just abided by this strategy, they’d foul a lot less and offenses would score far less often. Even NBA players struggle to make shots against a good contest. In high school and below, I’d bet most any player would make less than half of any contested shots he takes in a season. Many would struggle to make 30 percent of them.

There are too many crafty offensive players now who know how to get defenders to jump, and that helps them draw a foul, beat the jumping defender to the rim, or both. Our simple call is to “wall up and tall up.” Build a wall side to side, then tall up with outstretched arms once the shot is about to be taken.

That does not mean you can’t block the shot of the person you are guarding, or the driver who you are helping onto who sees you coming. Just don’t make it a goal. Be happy with the competitive contest. If they shoot the ball into your outstretched hand, great. The key is not jumping. And getting that hand or hands as high as possible against a regular shot.

TrueHoop Pod: The great DNP-Rest debate continued

March, 22, 2017
Mar 22
7:32
AM ET
By ESPN.com
ESPN.com

Brian Windhorst, Tom Haberstroh, Tim MacMahon and Tim Bontemps on the debate that's sweeping across the NBA... resting players, specifically during national TV games.

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Pablo Torre, BIG Wos, Tom Haberstroh and Baxter Holmes on the NBA's secret addiction, peanut butter and jelly and also the effects of alcohol in today's game.

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Amn Elhassan, BIG Wos, Mariano Bivins, Curtis Harris on LaVar Ball, the Warriors, Durant and OKC, Shaq's flat Earth comment, and later Black Tray on Drake's 'More Life'

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TrueHoop Pod: The Friday Mailbag - Art and opportunity

March, 18, 2017
Mar 18
8:09
AM ET
By ESPN.com
ESPN.com

Kevin Pelton, BIG Wos, Kaileigh Brandt, Justin Verrier, Zach Harper, Cian Fahey and briefly Tom Haberstroh answer listener questions via Twitter.

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The making of Rudy Gobert

March, 17, 2017
Mar 17
8:33
AM ET
MacMahon By Tim MacMahon
ESPN.com
Archive

video

SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert crouches in a defensive stance just inside the 3-point line, far from his preferred territory. There are less than three minutes left in a game the Jazz lead 78-73. He's guarding DeMarcus Cousins, the high-scoring center whose highlight-producing skill set factored into Gobert missing his first All-Star invitation.

It feels like everyone in Vivint Smart Home Arena knows Cousins will attack Gobert. Down five, Cousins' Pelicans need a bucket, and Cousins is among the league's best bucket-getters. Cousins makes his move: a dribble to his left, bringing him to the top of the key, then a nimble crossover followed by devastating power move, dropping his shoulder into his 7-foot-1 defender. Gobert mirrors Cousins' early maneuvers, moving laterally, extending some of the NBA's longest arms straight up and then -- surprise! -- turbo backpedals as Cousins charges forward, expecting contact. Cousins stumbles, flinging up a wild shot that fails to draw iron.

Cousins sits on the floor, scowling at the referee as Gobert grabs the rebound and shovels the ball to teammate Gordon Hayward. Gobert then sprints the floor, seamlessly flowing into a high pick-and-roll with his All-Star teammate. The Jazz get a clean look at a 3, which misses, but Gobert dives down the middle of the lane, slices under All-Star game MVP Anthony Davis and uses his full length to tip in the missed 3.

Gobert ends up with 15 points, 16 rebounds, two blocks and the win.

Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey believes a big man like Gobert, if he is committed to dominating with simplicity, can anchor a contender. And that's the plan he laid out to Gobert and his agent. "We hope," Lindsey says, "that he's the Utah Jazz version of Bill Russell."

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Inside the numbers on LeBron's crazy workload

March, 17, 2017
Mar 17
8:26
AM ET
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
ESPN.com
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video

When it comes to the value of rest, the NBA has had an awakening. Coaches are using DNP-Rest (did not play, resting) at a record pace in 2016-17, nearly twice as often as in 2015-16. The outlier? LeBron James, who in his 14th season ranks among NBA leaders in minutes per game. If he were to suddenly retire -- that's when he told reporters he'd finally slow down -- he'd already have logged more career minutes than Michael Jordan or Bill Russell. Here's a look at how James refuses to slow down, for better or worse.


A RELUCTANT CHANGE

One area in which James lags behind the league? Resting. In his first 12 seasons, he took only nine total DNP-Rests -- all in April, near season's end. Last season he took a game off in December, then four more after that. This season? He's already taken four. It's an evolution, but not at the NBA's record pace.

*Season shortened by lockout **Projected

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Ramona Shelburne, Rachel Nichols, Michelle Beadle and Cassidy Hubbarth on the Spurs-Warriors dud and resting players, MVPs, Fifty Shades of Grey, Game of Thrones and more.

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TrueHoop Pod: Conversations with David Fizdale

March, 17, 2017
Mar 17
7:24
AM ET
By ESPN.com
ESPN.com

Memphis Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale joins Kevin Arnovitz to chat about coming up through the video room, life as a head coach and continuing the Grizzlies' evolution.

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Henry Abbott and David Thorpe on the Rockets and their chances of a title, sorting through the drama when it comes to scouting March Madness and MVP debate.

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This year's MVP debate has no clear-cut favorite -- the players with the gaudy stats don't have the win totals, and vice-versa. So ... who should it be? We assembled some of the world's foremost basketball minds from the analytics community to answer the question.

JEREMIAS ENGELMANN: Here goes: Steph Curry should be the MVP. Since 1985, no player has won the MVP whose team didn't finish third or better in its conference. And with LeBron slowly fading -- his blocks are down, his turnovers are at a career high -- my vote goes to a player from the team that currently sports the best point differential of all time, the Warriors. It's always tough to select a single best player from a team this great. And on paper, if you combined their counting stats, Curry and Kevin Durant, before his MCL sprain, were about equal. But what gives Curry the nod, even before Durant's injury, is that we know he can reach unprecedented heights of team success without Durant. Just look at Curry's +/- per 48 minutes this season compared to the other league leaders.

His on/off (+15.6) dwarfs that of Durant (+7.8). The Warriors simply play at their best when Curry is on the court and suffer significantly more when he sits. And while it's true that Curry is playing a hair worse than last season, it's unfair to compare him to standards he himself set in a season in which he was voted unanimous MVP. He would be on course to have the best 3-point shooting season of all time if it weren't for his own 2015-16 campaign.

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Pablo Torre, Ethan Strauss, Baxter Holmes, BIG Wos, Tom Haberstroh, Amin Elhassan and Zach Harper. Part 1: Will the Warriors flame out in the playoffs? Part 2: Lakers turmoil.

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A Man Apart

March, 14, 2017
Mar 14
8:49
AM ET
Keown By Tim Keown
ESPN.com
Archive

videoYOU'RE ALL ALONE, little man, and you're starting to think it was a mistake to board that plane. Ever since you walked off that jet bridge, people have been asking questions with their expressions: How did you get here? Who told you to come?

You're a skinny 16-year-old taking a trip by yourself for the first time, and you flew 2,100 miles from Los Angeles to Atlanta for a basketball camp, only to be told nobody knows who you are. The guy driving the shuttle from the airport to the hotel couldn't find your name on the players list, so you stand on the curb holding your suitcase and your confusion, deciding what to do next.

You've got the hotel's address on a piece of paper and enough money for a cab ride, and you're determined to get it straightened out.

This camp is one of the big ones for high school players, sponsored by a shoe company. You're here because your coach made a call, and he believed in you enough to convince someone important -- someone you are right now trusting actually exists -- that you belong here with all the best high school players in the country.

You get out of the cab and walk up to the camp's check-in table at the hotel, trying to look like you belong, trying to ignore the buzz in your head that says you might not. "Westbrook," you say. A lady runs her finger down the lists of names, flips through the papers with a concerned look and then starts back at the top. She asks again, and you try to keep it light by saying, "Westbrook -- always at the end." You're trying to be cool, even as she winces. "Honey, I'm so sorry -- you're not on the list."

You ask her to please check once more. She looks up at you with kindness, seeing your eyes widen in panic, and shrugs.

You make a phone call. "Coach, I'm not on the list." Back in Los Angeles, Reggie Morris doesn't sound all that surprised. "Sit tight," he says. "I'll figure it out."

And so you sit. And you wait, shifting your too-big, size-14 feet under your too-small, 6-foot body to shed the nervous energy. Hours pass. Just you and your suitcase. You watch the other players -- the ones everybody here knows just by looking at them -- leave their rooms and pass through the lobby on their way to the gym.

It's like these other guys are a different species. From where you sit, the entitlement comes off them like a smell. They have boxes of recruiting letters from all the top-shelf programs. They'll get smiles and bro-hugs from every tracksuited coach who swaggers into the gym. They're on a first-name basis with the shoe-company reps whose life goal is to compliment 16- and 17-year-olds long enough and loud enough that someday they'll sign up to wear the right logo.

You? You have letters back home too. You can count them on one hand.

Here's a dirty secret: You're a few months away from your 17th birthday, about to be a senior in high school, and you can't even dunk. You're getting there, though, you can feel it. The workouts with Pops -- running the dunes at the beach, shooting at Jesse Owens Park near the house in Lawndale -- have you closer to the rim. The hours spent shooting what Pops calls the cotton shot, a soft pull-up jumper that incongruously appears at the end of a full-speed drive, have given you a sneak attack against anyone bigger and stronger.

Four hours later, someone from the camp walks toward you, smiling. "All set," he says, handing over a shirt and a pair of shorts. The shirt goes to your knees, each armhole wide enough for both legs, and the shorts billow like a parachute when you run. You hold them out in front of you. "Sorry, that's all that's left," the guy says.

And so you show up to the gym late, and scraggly, and unknown, with Pops' mantra running through your head: Your only friend on the court is the ball. You wad all your anxieties and self-doubt into a ball and throw it at the court until a few of those important men in the tracksuits, unable to find you on the camp roster, feel compelled to ask who you are. It's not talent they're seeing but desire, and the sheer amount of space you manage to occupy with that 150-pound body.

The looks on their faces indicate something you've seen before, and something you'll see again: They have no idea what to make of you.

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TrueHoop Pod: Conversations with Andy Murray

March, 14, 2017
Mar 14
8:47
AM ET
By ESPN.com
ESPN.com

Two-time Wimbledon champion Andy Murray chats with Marc Stein and explains how he fell in love with basketball and goes deep into his philosophy as a fantasy GM.

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