In the biggest game of the year so far for the Cardinal, we went over to Hug Your Shrubville and really trimmed the bushes. What a difference between 5-2 and 4-3, particularly when you have another road trip to make next weekend. Breathing room anyone, anyone. The tone of the whole conversation seems to have changed, hasn't it? Suddenly, people are buying in to the program, seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and recognizing it isn't a train (obscure Cracker reference for the Camper Van Beethoven crowd on the Bootleg). Now it seems folks realize, both on this Board and elsewhere, that regardless of our issues, we are for real.
But, is our backcourt for real? This game is a clear indicator that we gotta get out some Prozac or single malt or something and smooth out some of the edges of our guard play. Anthony goes spastic from deep again, while Mitch Johnson looks rock solid on the jump shot. Drew Shiller even shows up. Hey Drew, that is what we are talking about buddy! But lets talk for a moment about Anthony's shooting, which is ebbing and flowing like a true streak shooter. Anthony is not shy about shooting the ball in the games, he is for the most part taking good shots, and he has all kinds of range. Some folks may look at Anthony's stroke and say he needs to be more on balance—that isn't it for me. That is not the issue. And anyone that knows Anthony knows it is not a confidence thing. Its far smaller than that.
My issue is with his mechanics. Anthony jumps very high on his jump shot, meaning he gets off a lot of his three pointers in particular at a high altitude. Remember Julius Barnes? Same thing. Notice any similiarities in the streakiness? It's a double-edged sword because they can get shots because of that lift and the athleticism that goes with it, but it does make you a bit prone to streakiness. Why, you ask? Because it takes a lot of energy to jump that high, because every time you jump that high it elongates your pickup and carry-up to the release point, and because of the long carry-up there is a tendency to two things at the top of that jump, (i) tilt your shoulders back slightly, and (ii) hang in the air for a fraction of a second before you release. The shoulders being back slightly tends to flatten the arc on the jumper out (think of the arc of an Aaron Afflalo jumper or a Kobe Bryant jumper) and the hang does the same thing. Both of these things tend to make for misses that are hard. creating long rebounds off the front rim or the back of the rim. And because Anthony occasionally drifts going up anyway, think of his step back move or when he catches the ball on the left side of the court, you can get several different minor mechanical issues going at the same time. None of which, by the way, can keep a streak shooter from going on a shooting streak. But when you start to press a bit, these little things are hard to fix precisely because they are little and precisely because when you practice they aren't there. Can the coaches see this stuff? Donny is probably the only guy that can, because he is a shooter, too. Otherwise, I am sending an email to Doug Oliver to offer my two cents to the flood of advice that Anthony is probably getting. My advice to Anthony, should he ask for it, would simply be to try and concentrate on releasing the ball just a touch earlier, get back to feeling the smoothness of the release. There is a sensuality to a fluid release of the ball that gets lost sometimes in the search for a mechanical or mental issue.
Now, lets get back to Trent Johnson and his decision to simply get Anthony off the floor against the Weenies and go in a different direction. Welcome to coaching when you have depth. Nothing like sending a loud and clear message that the coach loves you, but it is time to produce. Drew Shiller can't guard anyone quick, period. Cal figured this out. However, I want to applaud Drew for coming in against a crappy zone prepared to do his job—shoot the ball. Add to that no turnovers, two rebounds and pretty good ball movement out of him. That means he was mentally engaged on the bench. Excellent. When you are a defensive concern for your teammates, you go a long ways in building their confidence in you when you come in to the game and do the job they know you can do. Drew felt the shots coming, saw where they were going to be coming from and was ready to lock and load.
Mitch Johnson, yes, we know that Jerome Randle is quicker and can get by him. But what the hell. I thought Mitch did another very solid defensive job out there. Randle went nuts when Mitch wasn't in. Mitch did a very good job of playing smart, not going for every fake (unlike Drew), and playing strong and confident. On the other end, great adjustment by Trent in the zone offense to move Mitch to the primary wing entry point to Brook. Yeesh. That didn't work too well, did it. Mitch's mechanics continue to evolve right before our very eyes. His pre-shot footwork and butt preparation are now the best on our team. Several of those threes were gone very quickly and fluidly. It will never be particularly pretty, but he had some wonderful rotation and arc on a couple of those, as well as a few against Zona and ASU. Film won't lie much longer—teams are going to have start adjusting to the fact that Mitch just might go 3-5 from deep if you leave him that open. By the way, Mitch and Fred and Anthony and Drew combined for one turnover. I just don't know whether to credit them or the bad defense they faced. However, seven assists to one turnover from your point guard, particularly one that has struggled the last few games with entry passing decisions, is damn solid work.
Kudos to Fred Washington for being very solid throughout the game and for not taking the bait and taking shots that he doesn't feel comfortable with. When you have a big fella going like Brook was, there is no need to take the bait. You just grind away. And by the way folks, cal's defense is absolutely bad. Bad, bad bad. They not only baited Fred unsuccessfully, but they didn't take away the one reason that could have made Fred take more shots—namely Brook. They took away nothing. 81 points and if Robin makes some cripples and Anthony and Law make just a couple of shots, we score a hundred on them. In fact, I think we should have scored a hundred, their defense is that bad. How bad must their man to man be?
I know that cal was concerned about giving up too many points in the paint, trying to stop the Lopez express. But, doubling down on a 7'0" lottery pick that loves to turn baseline over the left shoulder with a midget is baffling. That is not a double team. Cal is very tough to stop, great balance on offense, a lot of nice weapons. But, that really is 9th place defense. We had 19 assists and eight turnovers, folks. We had 21 offensive rebounds against a team that starts an NBA front line and comes off the bench with real nice active players like Kamp and Boykin. Say what you want, but from a defensive position, that is pretty much the definition of weenie, isn't it?
Final thoughts: Patrick Christopher is the most improved player in the conference not named Jordan Hill. Nice player on the offensive end of the court, hard to guard, very good range. Ryan Anderson, welcome to the NBA, pal. Yes, Robin Lopez missed too many bunnies again, but that was a manhandling he put on a real good player in Anderson. He played tall, he played strong and he just pounded Anderson on the offensive glass. And that is fatiguing folks getting worked on the glass like that. No one has effected Anderson all season until Robin. Talk about depth, but once again Taj Finger just gets it done. Think that maybe ASU or OSU or UW or cal would like to have a Taj in their starting lineup? Man, I am not impressed with Eric Vierneisel. I thought for the whole game that Law was going to suddenly sneak a 15 point game in there for us—he was so achingly close to breaking out. I like us on Thursday in Seattle. Will Romar go small or will he go with Wallace and Brockman? It doesn't matter—we can beat them any way they want to go personnel-wise.
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