Wait, the “NBA on TNT” show sparked a conversation actually related to basketball? Oh, cool!
Tuesday night’s panel of Adam Lefkoe, Shaquille O’Neal, Candace Parker and Dwyane Wade discussed the challenges of playing defense in the modern NBA, particularly when teams have to account for skilled big men who can sink 3-pointers at a high clip. It all started with O’Neal praising Nuggets star Nikola Jokic, who posted 37 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds in a 128-97 win over the Bucks.
“MVP candidate, dominating, playing like a true big man,” O’Neal said. “He has the ability to step out, and he does that, but that’s not all he does. You saw a fadeaway, went inside with the spin moves, keeping his guys involved. I ain’t got nothing bad to say about big fella, at all.”
Parker and Wade then detailed how difficult it is to cover Jokic and Jamal Murray in a pick-and-roll scenario with Wade arguing defenders can’t be “lazy” on switches and must attack the ball handler aggressively at the point of the screen. That led O’Neal to ask why NBA teams switch so frequently.
Leave it to Parker to break it down.
Parker: The NBA switches now.
Parker: Because everybody cant shoot threes.
O’Neal: Whatever happened to man up?
Parker: Because you’re gonna be manning up trying to recover back to your man, and they’re gonna hit a three, just like Jokic did.
O’Neal: Whatever happened to pre-rotating?
Parker: Then they move the ball around, and somebody gets a 3-pointer.
Wade: If you’ve got four to five 3-point shooters on the court, you ain’t gonna rotate in enough time.
It’s fair to say that NBA teams can sometimes be overly reliant on switching instead of maintaining contact with primary assignments. Look no further than Mason Plumlee’s blunder in the 2020 Western Conference finals.
With that said, O’Neal doesn’t seem interested in understanding how the game has evolved since his playing days, even with Parker and Wade laying out the problems of “manning up.” A guy like Jokic has the size to score in the paint, but he’s also shooting 41.7 percent from beyond the arc this season. That puts frontcourt players in a brutal spot, and switching is often the best option. It’s not as simple as O’Neal wants it to be, especially when the ball handler is also a sniper.
As Nekias Duncan of BasketballNews.com noted, the spacing of offenses in 2006 when O’Neal and Wade won the NBA championship compared with the 2020-21 season is stunning. Check out where the players are standing on this pick-and-roll from nearly 15 years ago.
Now fast forward to current day hoops. That’s a lot of ground to cover.
O’Neal continued to push for his strategy, but Parker had facts on her side. Parker calmly informed him that pre-rotating would lead to open corner 3-pointers for teams with multiple shooters, adding that the Nuggets went 11 of 30 from deep against the Bucks (36.7 percent), which was below their usual standards (38.6 percent for the season).
Yeah, let’s just bang the gavel. Case dismissed.