Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Long Lost, The Unstoppable, The Sky Hook

So I just got thru watching an ESPN Segment on Kareem's Unstoppable Sky Hook; and had a few thoughts. First off, naturally, no discussion of the NBA's yesterday would be complete without a few jabs at "today's players"; and at least a good minute or more of this segment was dedicated to multiple people wondering why no one today utilizes the "most unstoppable shot" in NBA history.

But let's step back for a second: since we're dumping on today's players, what happened to yesterday's players? Who else in Kareem's day was utilizing the hook shot? Did the celebrated Moses Malone or the somewhat over-celebrated Bill Walton use said shot? How about Wilt the Stilt or Bill Russell? I mean, the first player to unveil the hook was undoubtedly George Mikan; why did it take 20 years of NBA history before another player picked up the shot? Did Wilt and Bill not think the shot was "sexy" or "cool" enough for them to use like "today's" players? Did Hakeem and Darryl Dawkins not care about working on their game like "today's" players? There had to be 5 or more clips of Kareem killing Robert Parish with the hook; why didn't they have any clips of Parish going back at Kareem with it?

It's been 40 years since Kareem took Mikan's hook to unforeseen heights; and in that video, they couldn't point out even one other player whose utilized it since 1970. But we have to hear about how players in 2009 are neglecting the shot only now. Give me a break.

What was actually comical about that part of the discussion was that, in conjunction with players and coaches lamenting the death of the hook, they showed maybe 4 or 5 straight clips of Yao Ming in the lower box employing the very shot they're telling us nobody uses. Priceless.

My second thought was on the unstoppable-ness of the hook. Now, granted, a one-on-one defender who has been backed down has pretty much no means of blocking a properly-executed hook. That's as much a given as being unable to strip the ball from a guy who has turned his back and put his body between his dribble and the defender. But how about not allowing yourself to get backed down so low? I saw one clip of Wilt Chamberlain simply letting Kareem back him down into the paint, offering absolutely no push back as he dribbled down. As Kareem turned to shoot the hook, Wilt took a step back, gathered himself, and attempted in vain to leap as high as he could to block the shot. Now, as wiry as he is, let's not underestimate how strong Kareem was; I saw Robert Parish in the 80s banging with Kareem hard trying to present some actual defensive resistance. But you can't tell me Kareem is strong enough to out-muscle Wilt Chamberlain; or rather, that Wilt wasn't big enough to offer more resistance to Kareem in the lower box.

So that's one way to limit the hook's effectiveness; body up with the guy and push him away from the paint, further away from the basket. It didn't seem like there was much of that going on until the mid-1970s or closer into the '80s of the NBA.

Another way is help defense. Again, let's give Kareem his due, he was a good if not excellent post passer, and at his height could easily pass out of a hard double team when it came. However, again, in some of the clips they showed, you wondered exactly what was a hard double-team back in the day. By my count, there were at least 4 or 5 clips where Kareem turned to shoot the hook right in front of a guard, lowering the ball to the guard's height, and where the guard did -- absolutely nothing. Another 2 clips showed a guard offering very token resistance; if a guard in today's NBA took such a weak swipe at the ball to 'help' out his teammate, he'd be getting an earful from his coach, and the commentators would be telling us how guys are not willing to give maximum effort on defense. But, apparently, this was a common occurrence in the days of lore. If you're going to stand and watch Kareem bring the ball to your height, turn right in your direction, and do nothing, at least bring a camera to the court. We could all be benefiting from the great-angled shots those guards were privy too. How selfish of them.

So, there are my few thoughts on the subject. We can celebrate Kareem's greatness, but stop dumping on today's players not using the hook if you're going to show a grand total of one player in 40 years utilize it. And try watching a Houston Rockets game or two (you know, early in the season, before Yao's inevitable season-ending injury) before making such a declaration. And let's talk about how little some defenses of early yesteryear did in properly defending such a shot. If we're gonna bust on players today, then let's also talk about players of yesterday who let guys 30 lbs lighter than them move wherever they please, guards who offer nothing in the form of good help defense, and the fact that no one in the heyday worked on their offense any more than players of today.

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