The Phoenix Suns' closing kick in the chase for a Western Conference playoff ticket will greatly depend on their navigation of "The Nash Rules."
For the record, The Nash Rules have nothing to do with the avoidance of processed foods.
Instead of registering as guidelines for a fastidious diet, The Nash Rules are a defensive blueprint other NBA teams use when dealing with the two-time Most Valuable Player. More specifically, they have a lot to do with how the opposition handles the Suns' high pick-and-roll tactics.
"That's what we called 'em," said one NBA assistant coach, referring to a previous coaching stop where The Nash Rules were in effect. "There are several ways to defend the high screen-roll, but some of those ways don't work against Nash ... so they were forbidden.
"The biggest key is making sure the guy guarding Nash gets up into his his trail hip as the teammate guarding the screener makes an aggressive show or hedge ... if you don't have any pressure on him, well, then it can get pretty ugly."
Yeah, from the Cleveland Cavaliers' perspective, a loose approach to handling Nash on screen-roll was the first misstep in allowing Suns center Marcin Gortat to score the opening 10 points in an eventual 25-point Phoenix triumph on Sunday.
It also should be noted the Suns have counters for each and every tactic used to limit Nash-related damage in PNR. When their shooters are dialed in, defenders are forced to choose between staying attached and opening the middle or jamming Gortat's basket dives while his teammates find openings to spot up. As Phoenix attempts to move from 10th position in the conference to a cozy spot in the top eight, winning this chess match will go a long way toward deciding this season's fate.
"With pick-and-roll used in so many possessions -- not just by the Suns, but by the league in general -- proper execution within your scheme to stop it is pretty much everything on defense," the coach said.
A good test for how the Suns handle efficient screen-roll defense will come Tuesday, when the San Antonio Spurs visit US Airways Center.
"They (Spurs) like to play it with -- I guess you could call it -- medium resistance through the first three quarters against the Suns," our expert said. "As long as Nash hasn't turned the game into a rout by then, the Spurs will blitz or trap in the fourth quarter and mix up their rotations. If you do it early in the game, Nash will have enough time to adjust ... and kill you."
HANDLE WITH CARE
A troubling issue for many young players I'm asked to worked with -- in a hoop-training capacity -- is the inability to beat someone off the dribble.
Although proper shot mechanics are an important part of a prospect's development, there often is too little emphasis placed on teaching the art of timing, leverage and using dribble-move foot fakes to create an imbalance for the defender.
This problem can be seen at all levels of basketball, including the Elite Eight round of the NCAA tournament. According to a scout employed by an NBA team, two projected high lottery picks -- North Carolina sophomore three man Harrison Barnes and Florida freshman two guard Bradley Beal -- still have problems in this area.
"They both have NBA bodies, solid shooting skills and are pretty decent athletes," he said, "but in our league, elite perimeter players are expected to be able to create their own shots against high-level defenders. These two have the potential to be really good pros, but it's a bit disappointing to think that they're two of the most-liked prospects in what's considered a strong draft but are deficient in a pretty important area."
Barnes, a capable perimeter shooter at 6-foot-8, is expected to be a top-five pick if he leaves Chapel Hill for the NBA draft. Beal reportedly has grown to 6-5 after arriving at Florida as one of the top shooters in high school basketball's class of 2011. His perimeter success was sporadic this season, although much of his rhythm was compromised by the often-reckless approach of the other two guards in the Gators' three-guard deployment.
Beal, on occasion, has demonstrated off-the-dribble potential, and any reluctance to attack may be generated by his role at Florida. But when Louisville went to a switch-everything man-to-man defense in the second half of Saturday's win over the Gators at US Airways Center, Beal didn't use the bounce to his advantage when matched against Cardinals center Gorgui Dieng.
Barnes, it should be noted, has put in considerable work to improve at putting the ball on the floor with a purpose, but he still lacks the fluidity necessary to maintain balance once he makes his move.
So while young players should continue developing as shooters, time spent on dribble-penetration (and dish) skills is just as important. Once players get older, improving the ability to get into the lane usually is more difficult than making upgrades in shooting.
While this year's potential draft pool has stirred considerable optimism, some prospects have more than a few personnel sharpies "terrified."
"That would be a word I would use in association with some of the players expected to be available," one assistant general manager said. "The guys in this class have the talent to be from really good to even special ... but there are some red flags attached."
This particular expert's list includes Mississippi State's Arnett Moultrie, a 6-11 forward with bounce, quickness and almost three-man-like face-up skills. But his 34-point explosion in the Bulldogs' NIT loss to UMass also featured Moultrie's seeming disinterest in mixing it up on the defensive end.
"It's almost like two different players," our personnel guy said of Moultrie on offense and Moultrie on defense. "Too bad we can't use a platoon system."
Other players on this fear-factor list are freshman Tony Wroten and sophomore Terrence Ross, two extremely talented guards from Washington. The Huskies' appearance in the NIT (instead of the NCAA tourney) is evidence enough, our expert said, to make you wonder about their future consistency.
"You'd hope a team with two guys of that caliber could make the NCAA tournament," he said.
He also mentioned 6-4 Syracuse sophomore guard Dion Waiters.
"The thing about Waiters is that he's spent most of this season off the ball," our assistant GM said. "I think he might have the vision and skill to play point guard, but if he comes out, teams will have to make that decision without really seeing him in that role. He's a bit short, defensively, to play the two, and the fact that we've only seen him play in that 2-3 zone makes him a question mark at either spot.
"But he's just really electric with the ball in his hands, and that often is enough in the NBA."