The stupid argument about the most fundamental player in the NBA ruining the game of basketball

by on December 31, 2015
in Grassroots Basketball

I have had enough. I cannot listen to another ex-jock comment about Stephen Curry ruining basketball without writing. Nate Parham had a good article about the issue, but it will not die. This is honestly the most insane argument that has overtaken the popular culture of basketball in years.

It started, of course, with Mark Jackson. Jackson, and players of his ilk, were the reason that I disliked NBA basketball as a child. I remember players, especially Jackson, starting their dribble at the three-point line and backing down a defender until they were in the three-second area, and then passing out or shooting. It was boring. It is the same reason that I won’t watch Carmelo Anthony. To me, his iso game is boring.

Somehow, Lorenzo Romar commented on Jackson’s comments, and he spread the blame to almost every great NBA player of the last decade.

Here is the thing: Do some players shoot three-pointers who shouldn’t? Sure. Do some tall players dribble or shoot outside too much rather than play in the post? Probably. Should every 6’9+ player aspire to be a guard? Probably not.

However, this misses a bigger point: For the past decade, all we read in the United States is about the poor fundamentals of American players. Players just want to run, and jump, and dunk. Players can’t shoot. Players play too many games. Every day, there is an article quoting someone famous about how bad today’s generation plays the game.

Now, when players excel because of fundamental skills such as shooting (Curry, Durant, Dirk), and not pure athleticism and dunking, famous people complain about their superior fundamentals and blame today’s players‘ lack of skill on the one’s with actual skills. It’s insane.

Here is the argument: Players today have no skill, blah, blah, blah. Oh, well some NBA players are super-skilled (which does not fit the narrative). But, these super-skilled players are the reason that players today lack skill because they are too good and set an unrealistic bar. What?

When Kobe Bryant attacked AAU basketball as a scourge on basketball, he said:

“In America, it’s a big problem for us because we’re not teaching players how to play all-around basketball. That’s why you have Pau and Marc [Gasol], and that’s the reason why 90 percent of the Spurs’ roster is European players, because they have more skill.”

Nobody took Kobe to task for suggesting that children should develop the same skills as the Gasol brothers or the Spurs’ roster, although I imagine something like 1% of high school players are 7’0 tall like the Gasols. Nobody bothered to point out that the Spurs only had 3 European players last season (Parker, Diaw, and Belinelli), which is somewhere south of 90% (7 U.S. born players played for them during the season, but let’s not allow facts to get in the way of a good argument, especially when someone famous speaks. Oh, and the 7 does not include one Canadian who played high-school basketball in the U.S. and 3 others who played four years of college basketball). Instead, everyone was too busy nodding in agreement about the terrible state of basketball in the U.S., and how the U.S. cannot produce skilled players like the Gasol brothers, or, I don’t know, Curry and Durant. But now these skilled players are a problem too…

First, who cares if some young player somewhere jacks threes? Seriously, what is the problem? The child is ruining his game. So what? The chances of any young player making the NBA are like .01%. How is he ruining his game? His game at the YMCA this weekend? AAU National Championships? Who cares? If the child is out of the house and having fun, who cares? Why stop him or her? Every day, articles complain about the sedentary youth playing video games and not exercising, and now we demonize children because they aren’t exercising properly. Seriously, get the fuck out of here.

Second, for years, adults have complained about young people not working on their games. Now, a player comes along to whom many can relate (not too tall, not too strong, not amazingly explosive) and potentially motivates players to work on their fundamentals, and we criticize those players. I wrote about Jeremy Lin’s importance for young Asian-American players in 2010. Curry, unlike Durant, Kobe, Dwight Howard, and others, is someone who children can aspire to be because of his average stature in a game of giants. Will these children reach the heights of Curry? Doubtful, but do we tell aspiring mathematicians not to attempt hard math problems because they’ll never be another Einstein or Tesla?

These players serve as an inspiration, but we criticize them, and the players inspired by them. Why? Because they aren’t practicing the right fundamentals? What? This from a society that plays 5v5 basketball with 6 year-olds, awards national championships to 8-year-olds, and uses balls and baskets that are too big and too high for children.

You want to help the children with their fundamentals? Stop whining about Steph Curry and advocate for change to the way that leagues with young players operate. The problem isn’t that young children shoot threes; the problem is that young children shoot threes on a 10-foot basket with a men’s sized ball on a high-school three-point line. Move the three-point line closer to the basket, use a smaller ball, and lower the hoop, and what is the problem? Why can’t ex-jocks, media personalities, and college coaches focus on the real problem instead of dropping pointless sound bites to get their names heard in the 24-hour news cycle?

Finally, every player, everywhere has emulated older players. That is part of how we learn the game. I wrote about this in 21st Century Guide to Individual Skill Development, and Daniel Coyle has written about it as well:

If you were to visit a dozen talent hotbeds tomorrow, you would be struck by how much time they spend staring.

I’m not talking about merely looking. I’m talking about active staring — the kind of raw, unblinking, intensely absorbed gazes you see in hungry cats or newborn babies.

What’s more, the physical spaces seem frequently designed for staring: practice areas are shared among different groups, so that older and younger can mix (and stare). Walls feature photos and posters of local heroes (the better for staring). Training sessions often seems to be augmented by injections of high-octane staring.

I learned moves and shots by playing with older players. I taught myself to shoot from a left-handed dribble after watching Steve Smith hit a game-winning three-pointer for Michigan State. I used a Euro Step before anyone called it a Euro Step (and most referees called it a travel) by watching Allen Iverson. I threw behind-the-back passes on the playground like Magic. Did emulating Smith or Magic ruin my game? I had posters of Barkley, Magic, and the Mailman on my wall. Did that ruin my fundamentals?

Emulating, staring, and learning from other players is not not just physical; it is motivational. Curry is a revelation partly because nobody thought that you could do these things (although arguably Pistol Pete Maravich did similar things 40 years ago). Now, possibilities have been expanded, much like the famous story of Roger Bannister breaking the 4-minute mile, and subsequently a number of runners running under 4 minutes within a short time. Before Magic Johnson, a 6’9 player did not think that he could play PG. For better or worse, Jalen Rose, Michael Carter-Williams, etc. would not be the players that they are without Magic. Without Dirk, would we have Porzingis or Durant?

Inspiration and motivation are a large reason for playing basketball. If children cannot aspire to be like Curry, who should they aspire to be? After all, where were these pundits when Gatorade convinced everyone to try to be like Mike?

Kobe Bryant talked this week about trying to be like Jordan, Magic, and Bird when he was young:

“I would’ve tried to carry on Bird’s legacy,” Bryant says without hesitation. “Absolutely. I would’ve done it with a tremendous amount of pride and honor.”

Bryant’s reverence toward Bird might come as a surprise to some, given the Lakers-Celtics rivalry, but Bryant says he studied Bird just as much as he did Magic and Jordan.

Anything specific?

“Timing. Reading situations. Tenacity with his teammates,” Bryant says. “I’ve really studied. That’s like the holy trinity for me — Bird, Michael and Magic. I really watched everything about them.”

And of Bird, Bryant says, “You have no idea how much I’ve studied this guy. Oh, man.”

Kobe Bryant, his generation’s best player, was inspired, and learned from, the best players of the previous generation. Somewhere, there is a 12-year-old who will be the next generation’s best player, and he is studying, learning from, and inspired by Curry. That’s basketball. That’s life. The game evolves.

Curry is the skilled player that everyone wants the U.S. to develop. I think this is somewhat pointless for a college player, but is it really that bad for players to emulate Curry?

If not Curry, who? How should players learn the game? What should players do instead of shooting these three-pointers that destroy their games? When Curry was 12-years-old, did he sit under the basket and do the Mikan Drill for hours or did he jack up threes?

Look, I worked with two young players years ago. One’s dad was a high school coach who coached at least one NBA player, and the other’s dad worked with computers. The first one had to shoot the perfect shot every time; his dad wanted him to practice only an adult shooting technique, which limited him to inside the three-second area. He behaved like he had big aspirations for his son.

The other’s dad really did not care all that much whether or not his son was a good player. He gave him every opportunity, but he was not wrapped up in his son’s success, just that he enjoyed himself. We shot three-pointers; he was 9. He made them. It did not ruin his shot. Well-respected high-school coaches who have won multiple state championships named him the best shooter and the best shooting technique at their basketball camps. He developed into an all-league high school player, and the other one, the one with the adult technique at 10 years old, never played varsity basketball.

Shooting three-pointers did not ruin the player’s life or his game or his shooting technique (of course, we used a smaller ball when he was young, whereas the high-school coach insisted that his son use a men’s ball). Instead, he was motivated, he practiced on his own, he enjoyed the game. He even quit AAU basketball on his own because he said the coach did not do anything worthwhile at practice. He understood. He improved. He developed. Shooting threes had no ill-affects.

Youth basketball should be fun. It is funny that we want “players who play all-around basketball”, as Kobe said, but then we criticize tall players who want to shoot like Dirk or Durant or dribble like Magic. Isn’t that all-around basketball?

Will most fall short of Magic’s, Dirk’s, and Curry’s level? Of course. We’re talking about Hall of Famers. 99.99% of all basketball players, regardless of size, practice habits, athleticism, coaching, etc., have fallen and will fall short of their level. But, that doesn’t mean that children should not aspire to play like Steph or Dirk.

Players need a starting point to emulate, and they provide the starting point. As they develop, they will create their own style, their own game. Kobe started by emulating Jordan, but he created his own style. Curry likely emulated his father, and now he has created his own style. Porzingis looked up to Dirk and Gasol, and now he has created his own style. That’s how it works. Most will not make it all the way, and that is okay. Let them enjoy themselves in their journey.

Before I end, let’s not kid ourselves: Children have been running out and shooting three-pointers since the three-point line was created. When I was in elementary and middle school, our coach forbade us from shooting threes at practice and in games, but we shot a bunch at recess. It’s fun. That’s why we play basketball.

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