For my first entry, I've chosen a basketball topic that I enjoy enough to blog about: the basketball IQ of a player.
You hear that term a lot. I think it's perhaps the single most important quality in today's NBA player. There is a fine line athletically between Kobe Bryant and Corey Maggette -- in fact, almost no difference. What makes Kobe so much better than Corey? Basketball IQ. Not to diminish ability: no doubt that there is a wide gulf between LeBron James and J.J. Barea. But, as someone wise once told me as I lined up for a bicyle race against guys who had bigger lungs and stronger legs than I did, "It's not always the strongest guy, but the smartest, who often wins the race". Let's start with that thought.
THE GOLD STANDARD
In my lifetime, the smartest players to have laced them up are Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Also possessing the NBA's equivalant of a genius IQ would be Michael Jordan, John Stockton and Tim Duncan. There are others, but let's use these five as an example of The Gold Standard. Not that these guys never committed a turnover or made a mistake, they just made fewer than the rest. These five also were able to elevate their play and thought process during the most high-pressure moments. Each of these Gold Standard players exhibited the same abilities and instincts. They all had/have that innate sense for when to pass and when to shoot. They could all make the great pass. They could all make the big shot. Not freaking out at crunch time is huge when determining a hoops IQ.
The smartest players are always able to think two or three moves ahead of the opponent, and all of these players had/have that. That's how you win a chess match, and that's how you win a basketball game. It's the reason Larry Bird was a good defender and rebounder: he was always two or three steps ahead (mentally and thus physically) of everyone else on the court. Magic and Stockton could see passing lanes that most point guards couldn't even dream about.
Jordan aside, none of these players were ever considered overly physically gifted. Duncan is not the quickest/strongest big man. Stockton was small. Magic was slow. Bird was slow and pasty. But their basketball IQ's were through the roof. Jordan knew when to give it up at crunch time to John Paxson. Magic knew when to toss the baby hook. Only Bird could have stolen that ball against Detroit. Duncan plays defense through fundamentals and thought process to the point of perfection. Opponents hated playing Stockton because they couldn't stand the way he guarded them, which on the surface never made sense because he was tiny and (relatively) slow.
ALL OF THE ELEMENTS
Thinking a few steps ahead of your opponent is maybe the most important, but not only factor that makes up a players basketball IQ. There are many other factors, such as the ability to deal with teammates, coaches, and refs. Knowing how to practice. Knowing how to live your life away from the court so that it doesn't interfere with your play (diet, rest, focus). And of course, simply knowing the game inside and out...from the fundamentals, to being able to read and react to a defensive set, to knowing how much time is left in a possession or a quarter. A lot of this sounds basic, but you would be amazed at just how few players can think about all of these things simultaneously each trip down the court.
THE MAVERICKS AND BASKETBALL IQ
All of this brings us to our home team and their IQ. For years, I've preached about the collectively low basketball IQ of the Mavericks, and how that needs to be addressed. Finally, this off season, Mark Cuban agreed with me. He told us on our radio show just before the season started that one of the biggest differences between this year's Mavs and past teams would be a higher basketball IQ. Good! So, has that really been the case?
The addition of Jason Kidd two seasons ago helped this team -- a ton. I rank Kidd as one of the smartest players in today's game. He would be just below genius level, in my book. I've seen a couple of brain-fart moments at the end of big games, and that keeps me from putting him at the Magic/Bird level. But he instantly raised the Mavs basketball IQ when he joined the team. He makes Magic-like passes. He is still a good defender at age 37 because he knows where to be, knows how to play the passing lanes, and knows what his opponent is thinking. I love watching Kidd play. He gets it. On the Lewis Terman IQ scale, Kidd would fall into the "very superior" category.
Of the other regulars on the roster, I would put Dirk one level down, but still at "superior." He has grown into a very smart player. He still struggles defensively night in and night out, and there is no reason for that. That's what takes his ranking down. He's every bit as physically gifted as Larry Bird, so there is no reason he couldn't defend like Bird. Comes down to basketball IQ. Plus, I'm not always comfortable with his decision-making down the stretch, although it's much better now than it was a few years ago. But, in general, he's a smart-to-very smart player.
The next level on the Terman scale is "average." This is where we find most of the Mavs. Terry, Barea, Dampier, Gooden -- all average. I also put Shawn Marion at this level. He's a pretty smart defender, and also has a decent offensive sense. But I still wonder about the intangibles. Someone close to the Suns recently told me that many on that team say Marion routinely vanished at crunch time, especially in the playoffs. That's low basketball IQ stuff. So his grade is balanced by the good and the bad.
So are the Mavs smarter this year? Maybe, but it's not necessarily by addition. I think it's by subtraction. No Josh Howard. He's basically not played this year, and that's a good thing for Dallas. Howard has, in my opinion, one of the lowest basketball IQ's I've ever seen. The stupid passes, stupid shots, stupid birthday parties, stupid things that come out of his mouth, etc. Is there a worse player on the team to be inbounding the basketball at crunch time? No player has done more to damage the Mavericks on and off the court since the Miami series than Josh Howard. On the Terman scale, he ranks in the "feeble-minded" category. Unfortunateley, he will be a big part of this team, if healthy, going forward.
I would rather have Bob Ortegal playing 2-guard for the Mavs in the postseason than Josh Howard. At least Bob knows how the game is supposed to be played.
That does it for my first-ever blog. I'm certainly not the strongest or smartest blogger in the race, but I've got a lot of basketball thoughts bouncing around in my little brain, and I'll try to post them here from time to time. Or maybe not.
Since I've never blogged before, I don't really know how to end this. So I'll go with the old standby: