Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 1/9/12
The reconciliation of two distasteful defensive options often leads NBA coaches through the turmoil of deciding which is the lesser evil. Coaches really prefer to avoid double-teaming anyone at this level, because doing so escorts their defenders into the dangerous rotation blender. Any mistake or tardy bid to supply help creates an open shot or basket cut for NBA-level snipers and finishers. But single coverage against the typical NBA superstar -- or passive, contain-style looks against ball screens -- can promote a different set of defensive nightmares. It's a tactical dilemma that's lingered on the league's defensive landscape as long as anyone consulted can remember. One advance scout, however, has noticed what could be a trend in NBA philosophy. "It's early, and my scope is limited to teams we're going to be playing soon," he said, "but the teams I've seen are doubling less often." OK, that's good to know. Now tell us why. "Well, with almost everyone so prepared on offense for these double-team situations, rotating to shooters and covering the rim out of double-teams is more difficult than ever," the scout said. "Everyone has become pretty good at spreading the floor or diving to the rim on offense, so the strategy of playing against double teams is almost an offense unto itself now." It makes sense. But there's still an inherent risk in leaving single defenders at the mercy of the league's one-on-one monsters or hanging the defensive guard out to dry in screen-roll. "I think coaches would rather gamble on guys doing a decent job of defending the ball ... even against elite players ... and not allowing so many clean looks from spot-up shooters," the scout said. "The amount of 3s seems about the same, but more of that is coming off of dribble penetration than kick-outs off of (isolation) or blitzing ball screens. Guys still get beat off the dribble ... the point guards in this league are insanely quick with the ball. But teams also are at least trying to help less off the wings, too, on dribble penetration." A look at the early-season numbers tells us NBA teams hoisted 18 3s per game last season and are squeezing off 18 per game this season. The accuracy has tumbled to 33.8 percent from 35.8 percent, but (as the scout concedes) some of that is attributed to post-lockout rust ... mechanically and physically. "Of course, teams are still pretty selective in using doubles either on ball screens or iso situations late in games," the scout pointed out. "When a game is on the line, coaches are still committed to try having someone other than the star try and beat 'em." Elston Turner, in his first year as an assistant coach -- and unofficial defensive coordinator -- with the Phoenix Suns, recently told me basketball life is much sweeter without a reliance on double-teaming. "Ideally, you want your guy to just be able to guard their guy and stay in front of him," Turner said. "When you start to double, there's a good chance you're going to leave someone wide open." And even though that someone may be less threatening than the superstar in isolation, the notion provides little comfort for most coaches. "Guys in this league are too good to leave open," Turner said. HAVE GUN, WILL TRAVEL When the lockout ended and phones began to chirp, the first team to contact free-agent shooting guard Jamal Crawford was ... the Phoenix Suns. "But they never called back," Crawford said. Jamal doesn't seem to mind right now. After reported interest in the Sacramento Kings and Minnesota Timberwolves, the 12-year veteran signed with the Portland Trail Blazers for 10 million over two seasons. Now supplying 12.8 points per game off the bench for the 6-2 Blazers, Crawford is happy to be working in Portland. "It's a great organization and a really good group of guys," saud Crawford, who spent the last two seasons as the Atlanta Hawks' third guard. "We've been able to blend really quickly. Sometimes it just works like that." Although a recent cold snap has dipped Crawford's field-goal percentage to 34 percent, he's the type of creative scorer -- and volume shooter -- who might have flourished in the Suns' system. But the Suns, with an eye on cap flexibility this June, were committed to limiting their 2011 shopping list to players who would accept one-year contracts. "Actually, the second year of my deal is a player option," said Crawford, 31. If things continue going well in Portland, he'll probably be more than happy to exercise that option. REDD DAWN IN PHOENIX One established shooter the Suns did call back is Michael Redd, the former All-Star and Team USA gold medalist. According to head coach Alvin Gentry, the longtime Milwaukee Bucks guard may suit up as early as Thursday, when his new team has a home date with the Cleveland Cavaliers. "I think he's almost to the point where we can stick him in a game for a few minutes and let him get acclimated," Gentry said of the 32-year-old, who -- thanks to two reconstructions of his left knee -- played in only 61 games over the last three seasons. And, as expected, Redd has had high praise for the restorative capacity of the Suns' training and conditioning staff. "They've been phenomenal," he said. "They've told me things about my body I haven't heard my whole career. This is a special group here. My body's already changed in a week, as far as some of the corrective things they've had me doing. Again ... no pain in my knees, no swelling, getting stronger ... it's going well so far." While the Suns and their fans are hoping he supplies additional punch to a lineup that's beginning to find an offensive rhythm, Redd is taking a pragmatic approach. "I don't have any expectations," he said. "I'm just going to play basketball. I never had any expectations in Milwaukee, either. "I'm just going to have fun and help the team in any capacity they ask me to help in and, you know, knock down some shots."
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